Talking Turkey About Trucking

Whose side are you on?

This week has seen an interesting twist on the normal narrative from the NSW Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight, Duncan Gay. Departing from the rhetoric of recent times, when dealing with the trucking industry, he came out with a comment about the chattering classes in Sydney causing more pollution than trucks.

 

 

This came about in a presentation in Sydney and was reported by Jacob Saulwick from the Sydney Morning Herald. Duncan was defending the development of motorways in Sydney against, what he called ‘anti-roads zealots’. He has been under attack from a group called the Committee for Sydney, who are calling for upgrades in public transport and a reduction in the development of new road routes into the centre of Sydney.

 

 

“If you talk about particulate matter, there is more particulate matter goes into the air over the city of Sydney from the chattering class sitting around their log fire and a glass of chardonnay [talking about] that horrible Duncan Gay, they put more particulate matter into the air of Sydney by a factor of four or five than heavy vehicles ever did ” said Duncan, according to the SMH.

 

 

It’s nice to hear the NSW Minister can be on our side a bit more often than he has been in the past two years or so. Ever since the unfortunate incident in Lane Cove with the Cootes tanker, Duncan has stuck with the hard line favoured by the RMS, when talking to the general media. Of course, he has been more conciliatory when talking directly to the trucking industry. He is a politician after all.

 

 

In actual fact, the article in the SMH does illustrate something the trucking industry and those who represent us should think about a little more. In many ways, road transport and governments of all persuasions do have common cause when it comes to dealing with the fear of all things trucking, which appears to have become embedded in the general public.

 

 

The trucking industry does need an improved public relations strategy, just to get some simple basic points about the absolute necessity of having heavy trucks on the road in the middle of our big cities, just to keep the wheels of the Australian economy turning. We can go on and on, preaching to the converted about without trucks Australia stops, but the message is not cutting through.

 

 

On the other hand, the state and federal governments do need to improve the road infrastructure. Even modest economic growth is going to create massive congestion in our capital cities, if new infrastructure isn’t in place. Funding big infrastructure projects is also going to stimulate the local economy, injecting cash into sectors which need to grow.

 

 

There are always going to be NIMBY issues when roads are built. We can also always expect opposition to every large truck travelling through or close by a inner city suburb. This is simply human nature, protecting what’s ours.

 

 

What both trucking and the governments require is for the opposition to be limited and local, area specific. In that scenario individual pinch points can be worked out one at a time.

 

 

What we need to avoid is a situation where the general feeling in the city community, in all suburbs, is generally anti-truck. That is when major infrastructure projects get canned.

 

 

Perhaps Duncan’s comment were a bit confrontational, but the point needs to be made and we as an industry need to be making it as well. There is a need to separate the issues out a little. Trucking has to go hard on governments about the fine detail of regulation and planning to ensure productivity and safety are preserved, but work along with them in the broader project of dampening down some of the truck bashing in the general community.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Let’s get moving

Overall, the trucking industry has welcomed the measures laid out in the federal budget this week. The core of the trucking industry is the small to medium fleets, who do much of the heavy lifting in road transport. This is the business size singled out by Joe Haughey for some extra help as part of the plan to get the economy moving.

 

 

Company tax rates being cut for businesses with a turnover of less than $2 million will be welcome news for many small operators who may be struggling. It is estimated 45,000 of the 49,000 trucking businesses in Australia will come under this threshold and be able to benefit from the reduction of the rate from 30 per cent to 28.5 per cent.

 

 

The allowance to be able to immediately set the cost of any asset purchase under $20,000 against tax will also help to ease the strain. Although, this limit means the purchase of a new truck or trailer is not going bring any immediate tax deduction with it. There is also some capital gains tax relief for businesses changing their legal structures.

 

 

Elsewhere in the budget the commitment to allocating funds for any future Victorian government to build the East West Link and a further $100 million to improve the Northern Australia Beef Roads, are both welcome and indicative of some positive pressure to stimulate economic growth.

 

The question for the trucking industry is whether the modest measures announced are enough to enable trucking to kick on and grow, not continue with the current situation with patchy growth and some sectors growing while others remain static.

 

 

There is a high level of turnover in trucking businesses, compared to their profit margins, mainly due to inputs like fuel. This kind of cash flow means the Treasurer has been advised by NatRoad to raise the turnover limit to $5 million to encompass many more of the smaller firms with relatively high turnover who are looking for a stimulus.

 

 

What the trucking industry needs is also what Australia as a whole needs. This is a more dynamic stimulus, something which will kick start economic activity and get the juices flowing throughout industry.

 

 

The Central Bank has tried to reduce interest rates to a point where they free up funds for investment and stimulate growth. However, those holding the purse strings remain cautious and new investment is slow to get going.

 

 

Many economic observers have looked at this situation and are of the opinion the parameters have changed since the GFC. It is no longer possible to accelerate and decelerate the economy using interest rate changes and small targeted stimulation through funding.

 

 

There is a growing opinion, the need is for a big funding commitment similar to those used in the thirties to bring the world out of the Great Depression. Major public investment in big infrastructure projects would get industry going and the benefit would spread through the rest of the economy. The dangers of inflation are minimal and the results would be overwhelmingly positive.

 

 

Where do the funds come from? The government has the capacity to borrow, and at rates much better than commercially available. Also there is a superannuation sector with plenty of cash available looking for a relaxation of the regulations to let them invest in the kind of infrastructure we need, projects which stimulate growth and increase productivity.

 

 

Yet again we appear to be in a situation where politics is getting in the way of what we need to do as a country, and as an industry. It’s about time there was less worrying how it will play in the media and more doing the right thing for the economy. Let’s get going.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Talking turkey

News of the forum on Thursday morning at which the road transport agencies, the police forces and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator got together to nut out a plan for the future of compliance and roadside enforcement in Australia, couldn’t have come soon enough. The general feeling the trucking industry will express will be one of relief, someone is, finally, getting down to brass tacks.

 

The forum was convened by the NHVR in Brisbane, ostensibly, to set national priorities for heavy vehicle road safety. Hopefully, it will be more than this. It should be the beginning of the creation of a genuine and unequivocal national approach to dealing with the trucking industry, when it comes to compliance and enforcement.

 

This is simply what we were asking for all along, but the idea seemed to get completely lost in the fog of war, as the NHVR battled for its own survival and the state authorities stood by and let it happen. The reason everyone was seeking a genuinely national, and genuinely rational, heavy vehicle law and regulator was precisely to avoid these squabbles at an inter-governmental level, and consistency of both the style and content in the roadside enforcement truckies could expect to come across on a day-to-day basis.

 

Events like this forum should be an opportunity to bang a few heads together and get them to get with the program. The event is also an opportunity for the NHVR to show it does mean business, it is not going to go away, and the sooner the state authorities accept this, the better it will be for all of us.

 

The cause of the NHVR is aided by the kind of rhetoric it now engages in. No longer are there extravagant claims and demands. The new NHVR comes across as a competent and well informed body with a transparent plan and the full backing of the powers that be to implement a fully functioning national system for us all.

 

The comment by Paul Retter, CEO of the National Transport Commission, last month when talking to the Australian Logistics Forum, about not worrying because there are now ‘adults in the room’ hit the nail on the head. When the NHVR says something or introduces a new idea, there is an inevitability about now. The uncertainty has gone and now those involved in enforcement better sit up and listen to the adults.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Let’s get serious

How the atmosphere has changed in the last few months? After a bad year in 2014, when it looked like the project to get a true national legislation and regulator for the trucking industry looked in danger of stalling, and the various state ministries and regulators were rubbing their hands in schadenfreude at the misfortunes of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, we seem to be turning a corner. Read more

Road pricing is on the table

The idea of charging vehicles for the distance they travel, the the time they use the road and the mass they carry has long been the desired outcome for the bureaucrats who control our road systems. Every time a review of vehicle registration and road funding comes around the mandarins in Canberra add in the option of going down the mass/distance/time charging model.

 

Scott Charlton lays out the Transurban position
Scott Charlton lays out the Transurban position

 

Now, the infrastructure owners are getting on board as well. This makes it more likely something will get up in the future and not wither and die like the last heavy vehicle charging project, which got caught up in a number of issues and couldn’t find a way out.

 

The latest player in the game is Transurban, owner of a sizeable chunk of the toll roads in Australia, and a couple more in the US. The company is getting into, what it calls a ‘major road pricing study in Melbourne to explore options for a more sustainable road funding model for Australia’.

 

People in the Transurban customer base will be asked to trial a number of scenarios, including distance based charging, annual kilometre estimates and price per trip tolling. Other parameters will be included, like time of day and charging to enter busy CBD areas.

 

The word from the Transurban CEO, Scott Charlton is, traditional funding models for road infrastructure is outdated, unsustainable and unfair. He reckons the current model will not be able to sustain funding to cope with the infrastructure underfunding already in existence.

 

A recent survey carried out by EY Sweeney, for Transurban, came up with a figure of 60 per cent ofall city motorists wanting a user pays road system, as opposed to 15 per cent who do not.

 

Talking about the ideas being broached, Charlton talks about equity being at the core of the possible reforms. This is probably going to be a word which could come back to haunt the trucking industry.

 

When these people are talking about equity, they are not talking about equity for all road users, they are talking about equity for all car drivers, for all voters. This is an important distinction and one we need to be aware of, going forward.

 

The trucking industry already pays a disproportionately high percentage of the contributions, through both vehicle registration and fuel duty, when compared to the wear and tear it creates on the roads of Australia. This new reform process may make this inequity even more acute, if we are not engaged at the heart of the process dragging us towards reform.

 

This is another issue where the trucking industry, and its institutions, need to stand together to make sure we are paying our fair share, and no more. There will be some winners and losers if and when mass/distance/time charging does eventuate. We just have to make sure the whole of trucking is not the loser and the molly-coddled car driving voter does’t get all of the benefit.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Communication, communication, communication

Diesel News would like to congratulate Chris Melham on taking over the role of CEO at the Australian Trucking Association. This is not such a big move, physically, for Chris, he has been working in the same building as CEO of NatRoad for a number of years. In this time he has shown his grasp on the issues and an ability to get things done, get issues worked through and bring the trucking industry along with him.

 

In one sense, however, this is a big move. He is no longer a representative of a particular group of individual members all with their own interests and problems. He is now out there representing the trucking industry as a whole, all of us. This is something very different, the problems are bigger and take place at a higher level, it is a step up.

 

Now is the time to really build on the achievements of the ATA, so far in its 25 year history, and take the whole thing to the next level. The ATA is now a well-established lobbying organisation based in its own building in Canberra. With the Minter Ellison building close to being paid off, funds for improved research and policy development should start to come on stream.

 

The essence of how the ATA moves into the future can be boiled down to one thing, communication. It’s about time the trucking industry’s voice was heard at all levels and in all fora. There is no point in being a shrinking violet about this, there are important issues coming up and our voice needs to be clearly heard.

 

Communication is not just about the public presentation of the industry. However, the industry’s voice has been lost many times in the general cacophony around trucking in recent years. The TWU and the NSW RMS have got plenty of airtime, on TV, radio and in the newspapers in recent years, but a clear message from trucking has been missing.

 

We have allowed rogue reporters from TV shows, like A Current Affair, to make outrageous claims and set back the agenda, without any protest from a wronged trucking industry. We have an articulate and plain speaking Chair in Noelene Watson who comes over as forthright and reasonable, sadly unused on the issue.

 

At the same time, the communication needs to be precisely targeted behind closed doors, both in Canberra and the state capitals. The ATA needs to have access throughout the back rooms of Canberra. Perhaps funds freed up by from the HQ building could be used to bring together research to help our politicians introduce legislation which helps trucking, get over the line. At a time of drastic cuts, well funded research will be useful tool in paving the way for reform.

 

Recent years have seen rifts appear as bureaucrats and state governments hamper attempts to get us a genuinely national regulator. An organisation as big as the ATA can get in there and help get recalcitrant nay sayers to reform. It is in the interest of the NTC, the NHVR and all of the industry associations to use coordinated pressure to make progress.

 

There is also communication needed between the ATA and its constituency. Its members are a select band of associations and companies, but its constituency is the broader trucking community. Perhaps there should be more talking directly to truckies and those representing them in different fields. Education about the issues, and the role of the ATA would go a long way to getting the agenda clear.

 

So there it is, only one thing to do, communication!

Talking Turkey About Trucking

When two becomes four

This week has seen our dependable Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, Warren Truss, confirm the Australian and NSW Governments’ duplication of the Pacific Highway from Hexham to the Queensland border. It is on track to be completed by the end of this decade.

 

By 2020? Well its about time too! The ongoing underinvestment in our infrastructure is demonstrated by the length of time dualling the Pacific has taken. Is thirty years enough time to get the job done?

 

In the aftermath of the horrific crashes at Grafton and Kempsey in late 1989 the nation was in shock. 21 people had been killed in the head on crash between a truck and coach at Grafton and then a few weeks later 35 were killed when two coaches crashed head on. These were a damning inditement of the quality of the highway and the transport industry.

 

The inquest into the Grafton events began on January 29 1990 with, Coroner, Kevin Waller, presiding. This was followed by a second inquest and then a hearing looking into road safety issues in Australia. At its conclusion, Waller called for a reduction in the truck speed limit to 90 km/h and a two cents a litre fuel levy to pay for the improvement of the Pacific Highway into a four lane highway.

 

The trucking industry would find a 90 km/h limit a little hard to swallow, but increased speed monitoring and control means average truck speeds are lower now than they were in the late eighties.

 

A fuel levy would also be hard to swallow and impact on the sustainability of many operators at the time. However, if such a fund had been created, we would not have had to wait the full thirty years for the four lane highway. That’s if we get in the next five years, work is ongoing on many stretches of the road, but not all of the routes are locked in.

 

How many lives would have been saved and how much would productivity have been improved if government had moved with the kind of urgency demanded at the time of the carnage?

 

Do we really want to hear politicians, of all parties, congratulating themselves, while bagging the other parties, on delivering something which was needed thirty years ago, and never delivered?

 

 

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Maps, maps, maps

At the Livestock and Bulk Carriers Association conference last weekend, a questioner highlighted something which is going to be an ongoing issue for the industry. It was about maps, and the plethora of maps we have to deal with. Every state has a different kind of access and freight route map, some interactive, some not.

 

This has now been joined by a few more different maps from the Transport and Infrastructure Council with the full set of maps showing the key freight routes of Australia. In fact, there are forty maps in all, available for download. 

 

Yet again, another organisation is adding another layer of complexity into planning for the freight industry. These bureaucrats are all in their silos creating wonderful maps to show what is going where, or what is allowed to go where. They clearly don’t talk to each other and all use different software and parameters to make their maps.

 

So, back to the poor freight operations planner trying to get a truck load of whatever from A to B. They are working through a series of completely incompatible maps online to work out how a particular truck, at a particular mass can legally get from consignor to consignee. A unified system, with one map, overlaid with all the state based regulatory differences would actually be more than useful.

 

One basic map could also be used by strategic planners, like Transport and Infrastructure, as a basis for their freight route analysis. The trucking industry could then look at where the industry needs to go and where it is allowed to go, at the same time and demonstrate what a bad job the, so called, strategic thinkers have been doing on our behalf.

 

Good strategic thinking is based on good data. This is what we have been lacking for a long time, precise data on where the freight of the today is going and where it will go in the future. This lack of co-operation between the various interest groups is part of the struggle for power and control, we are continuing to see between those who make decisions about the way the trucking industry is regulated and will develop.

 

If anyone is looking for inefficiencies in the national road freight transport system, thy need look no further than the time and effort transport companies have to waste just deciphering the many and varied mapping systems they have to use just to be able to get freight on the road from one state to another.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Facing the demons

Sometimes it’s difficult to face reality, to accept there is a problem, and the only one who can fix it is yourself. This is as true in business as it is in life. Often, we know there is something wrong and it is going to get worse, but it is not at crisis point yet, so we put it out of our minds and carry on.

 

The trucking industry, and those who regulate it, are often guilty of this kind of thinking, allowing small issues to carry on until they are big issues, and then leaving them until they are a crisis. Then the solution is a panic fix, not a well thought out thorough strategy.

 

This is what has happened with the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme. I have been hearing for many years about trucks in a bad state of repair getting away with it because they are accredited under the lax system of allocating auditors. The vast majority of operators were doing the right thing and genuinely doing their utmost to ensure safe trucks on the road, but some, especially those under massive economic pressure, were able to let standards slip and still get the correct piece of paper.

 

Now the basic problem has been addressed and the new regime for allocating auditors in the NHVAS is in place, with all set to comply by July 2016. Problem solved? Let’s hope so. However, the industry is still having to deal with other fall out from the problem, because it was allowed to reach a crisis point without being addressed.

 

The draconian attitude of the Roads and Maritime Services in the past year or so can be attributed to the lack of confidence shown in NHVAS. There were other factors, including an opportunity to get some good publicity for the enforcement arm acting tough onto the TV news. All at the expense of a trucking industry unable to police itself.

 

Perhaps it is time the trucking industry started to be a little more honest with itself and admit not everything in the garden is rosy. Can we honestly identify exactly where there is a potential crisis and try and do something about it before it gets too bad.

 

It is in the interest of both the operators and the regulators to catch these problems early. A bit of co-operation and trust would go a long way in making life out on the highway a bit safer, easier, and, ultimately, more productive.

 

There is a drug problem in the trucking industry. We all know there are enough crazies out there to mean there are going to be more events happening which are going to show trucking in a bad light and bring on a clampdown.

 

There is some drug testing going on and zero tolerance schemes, but they are few and far between. Roadside drug tests catch a few offenders but many, many more are still on the road. Is there any initiative to grab this bull by the horns?

 

A couple of years ago, I spoke to Don Osterberg who runs Safety and Security for the massive Schneider National fleet in the US. They run tens of thousands of trucks and employ tens of thousands of drivers. They tried a couple of drug testing programs and found them OK, but finally bit the bullet and went to the expense of regular hair follicle testing of all of their drivers.

 

This kind of test is far more accurate than the saliva swabs we see here, and more expensive. It does give and accurate picture of a driver’s drug taking activities and the Schneider scheme has seen a massive drop in drug taking behaviour in drivers and a real reduction in accidents as a result. This is as a result of one operator taking responsibility for their own actions and doing something about a growing problem, not shying away from responsibilities.

 

If we are honest with ourselves, there are a number of issues like drug use, which could do with the industry taking the bull by the horns. The question is, are we brave enough to be honest and open enough to face these issues now before another crisis comes along and makes us face reality?

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Dreaming of the grand final

It’s like waking up on the morning after losing a grand final. Your team made it all of the way to the big day and then messed up, going down meekly to the opposition. There’s a blame game to be had, if you want to take it out on somebody, and then there’s just crying in your beer. Read more