Talking Turkey About Trucking

A map of state inefficiency

If the trucking industry is looking for a way to illustrate just how much inefficiency and waste is involved in the continuing separation of powers and regulation between the states, we need to look no further than the mapping systems in place to ‘help’ the industry understand where we can and cannot go, under various heavy vehicle schemes.


As the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator tries, manfully, to make its place in the world secure, it is stopped by interstate rivalry and mandarins in each state capital hanging onto their power for grim death. Meanwhile, the transport industry is crying out for a rational single national system which works for trucking and a single portal for information.


This process has been going on for some time, but progress is exceedingly slow. At the same time, each state has been, individually and separately, developing a web-based mapping system to show trucking operators where they can take different trucks and combinations within the various schemes, HML, PBS etc.


A quick tour of these mapping sites shows the massive degree of variability in the way the information is presented and how simple or hard it is to use. Each state has clearly invested a lot of time and money in developing web tools, at the very same time as the NHVR has been trying to get these kinds of functions to become part of its central role.


Each state has developed a different interface, each is clearly loading different data in the back end of the site. The data and the routes are classified slightly differently, state bureaucrats love to reiterate the different nature of the rules in their state.


The initial vision for the NHVR was for the functions of the individual state regulators to come under one umbrella organisation. A single system was needed, where trucking interfaced with regulators. Once this was stated openly, it seems the state regulators set to work to make the integration task as tough as possible.


By developing widely different systems, they have simply made it harder to build one system, incidentally, spending vast tax payers’ funds on the way. A co-ordinated approach could have seen one system in place, state by state. This could then be integrated into a national whole.


Another inefficiency introduced is the difficulty in working out an interstate route for a particular type of truck or load. Each state looks at the problem in a different way and the way a route must be planned is different. Operations staff in a business planning freight routes need to be up to speed on a bewildering series of very different systems.


We look at these sites and witness the waste of state funds in developing separate systems when one unitary national system is needed, and mandated. Don’t even try to calculate the cost in integrating these disparate data bases into a single NHVR-run website.


At the same time the industry has to deal with as many completely different data sets as the number of states they operate in. Time is wasted drilling down through the differently designed interface in each state to get the answer to a simple operational question about getting a truck from A to B.


The icing on the cake is presented to us by the usual suspects, New South Wales. Simply go onto their map system and look at the HML routes, to see how strategic gaps have been left in the network, rendering it so much less effective in improving productivity than it could be. These small things are sent to try us!

Talking Turkey About Trucking

NSW reverting to type

If the authorities who regulate trucking in New South Wales are one thing, then they are reliable. Yet again today they have reinforced the stereotype by aggressively threatening the poor old trucking industry with massive fines and prosecutions.

Nobody is saying trucking operators who consistently, blatantly or even occasionally break the law should not be prosecuted. ‘You do the crime, you do the time’. What sticks in the craw is the way the NSW authorities go about their job and the way the trucking industry is portrayed in their announcements to the media. Read more

Talking Turkey About Trucking

You couldn’t make it up

This is one of those occasions when I would rather not be able to say, ‘I told you so!’ but, unfortunately, no sooner had last week’s opinion page appeared than one of the problems discussed reared its ugly head and the trucking industry is back banging its head against a brick wall.


In last week’s Diesel News we said, in the story comparing Australia with Mexico, Every week there is some state bureaucrat shoving another stick into the spokes, to make some self-interested point along the way’.


The stick this week has been wielded by the usual suspect, New South Wales’ Roads and Maritime Services, everybody’s favourite RMS. Right in the middle of the difficult and lengthy process of creating a single national law for the trucking industry on our roads, the RMS decide to start a campaign which is at odds with practice in the rest of Australia, but also at odds with their own practice up until Christmas.


The ridiculous decision to stop low loader drivers and check their driving licenses in order to tell them they need an MC license to drive, what is essentially, a semi, beggars belief. Changing the way low loaders are regulated without telling anyone in advance suggests this act was designed to upset interested parties for some strategic reason. What that reason could be, we will leave that to your imagination.


If you, as a responsible regulator, reckon there is reason to be concerned about the skill set of drivers handling low loaders which have to use a low loader dolly to spread the weight across more axles at the front of the trailer, then tell someone about it. There may be cause for concern, there are a lot of very big and very loads out there on inadequate roads. (Far be it for me to suggest the RMS or Transport for NSW has anything to do with this inadequacy).


Legitimate concerns can be raised and the trucking industry engaged, along with the other states, who are part of this elusive single national system. A measured approach could have been taken, everyone should agree on an increase in safety and competency among those in the industry. NSW could have got an improved safety outcome and everyone would have been happy, even if it didn’t mean low loader drivers needing an MC license.


It’s not like NSW doesn’t have a track record of these unilateral acts arriving on everyone’s doorstep without prior discussion. The virtual national mandating of electronic stability systems on all hazardous chemical tankers by the NSW Environmental Protection Agency being a recent case in point. The ramifications of that one will be playing out over the next few years!


The questions for the trucking industry are twofold. Firstly, how long do we have until all of our drivers, who handle low loaders with dollies, have to hold an MC? Secondly, how long is it going to be before we get some real national heavy vehicle rules and a system strong enough to tell the rogue elements in enforcement in NSW to get back in their box?


Talking Turkey About Trucking

Not setting the world on fire

Just so we, here in Australia, know our place in the world, some news from Mexico has shown just how far we are behind the rest of the world. The government of Mexico has announced the country will be introducing new truck emissions regulations as of January 1 2018. This will see the introduction of trucks onto the Mexican market compliant to either the US EPA 2010 or Euro 6.


Here in Australia, the introduction of these new rules has been delayed by a series of factors, including the 2013 election. Currently, the smart money doesn’t see the new ADR 80/04 actually being implemented until January 1 2020. This is ten years after the standard was set in the US and seven years after Euro 6 came in Europe.


This puts us two years behind somewhere regarded as a third world country struggling along in the shadow of the United States and regarded as having slack regulation, encouraging US companies to transfer industrial capacity south of the border.


As a country we expect to be taken seriously on the global scene. Brisbane hosted the G20 Summit recently and spent a lot of money to build up the city’s profile as being globally significant. Our Prime Minister stands side by side with the US President, or Chancellor of Germany and expects to be treated as an equal.


At the same time, our law makers and jurisdictions spend their time making problems as legislation winds its way down the long and winding road it needs to travel before having a chance to become a bill before parliament. The legislative process is beset with petty arguments between fiefdoms within the public service. There are internecine battles going on between federal and state bureaucrats.


On the other hand, Mexico, not known for its fast moving bureaucracy or legislative correctness, can pass a law introducing these exhaust emission rules. Meanwhile, a Regulatory Impact Statement is backed up somewhere in the corridors of our bureaucracy waiting for someone to sign off on it, or whatever is needed.


From the trucking industry point of view, we are probably not that bothered about the delay in ADR 80/04. The jump from Euro 5 to Euro 6, in terms of improved environmental outcome, is not that huge. The new engines are definitely going to be more expensive and probably run hotter than the current ones.


What Mexico being ahead of us does demonstrate, however, is how clumsy our legislative system is. Other legislation changes and new regulations are delayed even more than the exhaust gas emission rules and they do have an effect on productivity and profitability in the trucking industry.


The National Transport Commission was set up back in 1991 to make some real improvements to the regulatory environment. 24 years later we are just starting to glimpse some real progress, as the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator stumbles onto the trucking scene. Every week there is some state bureaucrat shoving another stick into the spokes, to make some self-interested point along the way.


If we are happy with the situation, then perhaps we need to learn from the Mexicans. Life would be a lot easier if we accepted things are not likely to change, and if they do, it will take decades. Perhaps we have to accept we have a third world legislative system. All we have to do then is sit down with our sombrero on our head and try to catch forty winks waiting for ‘mañana’!

Talking Turkey About Trucking

A glass half full

Many of us who have been associated with the road transport industry for a long time cannot help but feel, it just never gets any better. Life seems to be full of disappointments, we get excited about some new promise and then are let down in its execution.


The prime example of a disappointment, this year, has been the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator. It was all going live earlier this year and then…. Suddenly, it wasn’t. Of course, things are progressing now, but slowly and the state authorities have been throwing their weight around, hanging on to the power they have left.


We’ve had disappointments before. The Performance Based Standards scheme was going to make a massive difference to productivity. It hasn’t, hamstrung by niggling access problems and the lack of a genuine nationally agreed network.


Back in the early nineties the National Transport Commission was going to save the world, change the way the trucking industry was regulated and bring in national reform. It is coming up to 25 years soon and hasn’t quite lived up to that promise.


If you want to get really pessimistic, just compare freight rates from many years ago with what you can get these days. Some change but not a lot.


In fact, it’s worth taking some time to sit back and actually recall exactly how it went in those days. Then compare them to the life of the ordinary truckie today. Suddenly, it’s not so bad.


The trucks themselves were hard work to drive, uncomfortable and loud. I have the sciatica and deafness in the right ear to prove it. It was physically draining just to get a truck from A to B. The famed camaraderie on the highway was forged in the tough conditions the people woking in trucking had to suffer.


The modern truck is, generally, comfortable and quiet. Climb down from the cabin at a truck stop half way to Sydney now and there is no stiff back, ears ringing and scrabbling for change for the pay phone.


We complain about the roads today, but they are heaven compared to their predecessors. Schedules are tighter but average road speed is much, much higher. The change has been gradual, so we hardly notice it, but conditions have changed dramatically.


Some differences in the rules for trucks in each state are still with us but every year they do get less. Change is incremental but all going in the right direction. One day, even Western Australia and the Territory might decide to become part of the Commonwealth!


As we approach this festive time of year, I think it right we should put a positive spin on the past year and take an optimistic view of the year ahead. So, from Diesel News, it’s a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from the team.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

They are coming to get you

One rule of business is to keep moving forward, slow down or stay where you are and it all starts to go wrong. Any business needs to develop constantly, adapting to the commercial climate. There just needs to be a flexibility built in to be able to make changes quickly and keep up with trends.


The transport industry is, in essence, very conservative, we really don’t like change that much. If we did, we wouldn’t keeping harking back to the ‘good old days’.This is surprising, as we work in a dynamic industry which has to adapt constantly to new rules, rocketing oil prices, new types of customer etc.


Some of this conservatism comes from the fact so much of the industry is based on family businesses. In this case the pressures for change also come from the tensions between the different generations.


Most of the successful trucking businesses grew out of the explosion in road transport after the government regulation and restrictive practices of the fifties dropped away and the baby boomers started running trucks in a free-for-all during a long economic boom through the sixties and seventies.


Many of those businesses are now in the hands, or about to pass into the hands, of the next generation, Generation X. Again, this group of trucking people are still quite conservative and attack problems in a fairly traditional way.


Talking this week to a young couple who are just starting out their journey in the transport industry, I was struck by just how fresh their thinking about the business was. Both have come from other industries and have no preconceived ideas about how to go about things.


In fact, the strength, of the business plan they have, is the difference between the way they approach people and present themselves, when compared to the traditional players in the industry. They understand the demographic they are targeting and look at the job from their point of view. The result is a solution which is fresh and very successful. The business is growing fast, just on word of mouth.


OK, they are just small niche players in a particular area with specific needs, which the transport industry isn’t fulfilling in a satisfactory way at the moment. However, there are plenty of these little holes to be filled, plenty of opportunities for the boutique business to get a foothold in the industry.


This is the kind of philosophy the trucking industry needs to take into account, and, perhaps, bring in its thinking. This is a new dynamic generation who aren’t going to sit around and wait for the oldies to pop their clogs.


Are they Gen Y, or Millenials, or something else? The fact is we don’t need to give them a group name, we just need to engage with them, take new thinking on board and give them a chance. Other wise they may be coming to get us.


This is not something to be sniffed at. New technology and new thinking is forcing big changes in the way business works. Just look at what Uber is doing to the taxi industry and AirBNB is doing to the hotel and accommodation game.


Thinking outside the box is always going to be a healthy idea, for any enterprise. Things may be going quite well at the moment, but it’s always a good idea to keep a weather eye out for what’s out there and understanding just what is actually going on.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

It never stops

If there is one thing in life of which we can be certain, it is there is always a potential public relations disaster just around the corner for the trucking industry. The art is to know where it is coming from next, and to be able to react in a timely fashion to get something out there in the media to counteract the inevitable negative spin, just about, every media outlet will put on any story.


Just on the horizon this week is a trucking company owner who is facing trial for manslaughter through gross negligence in Adelaide. The trial is expected to drag out over several days with 40 witnesses to be called in the case surrounding the death of a truck driver, killed when his truck collided with a road sign.


The driver himself was swerving to avoid a collision with other vehicles on the road, but police allege the cause of the crash was brake failure. Two other drivers are involved, as the operator is also accused of endangering their lives when they drove the truck beforehand.


The case is expected to be long and complex. The trial has been scheduled to start on December 15 in the South Australian Supreme Court. The timing could mean the story will get national coverage during the Christmas period when the news cycle goes quiet relatively quiet.


A loophole created by mistake by the law makers in NSW, in which the rules do not specify the need for a technician working on truck repairs needs to be qualified, looks like it will be closed, but not before the media have gone to town on the subject, bringing out a litany of fatal crashes involving trucks, in which maintenance was said to be a factor.


Here, the story should have been about the incompetence of those drafting legislation in the state, but the news stories around the issue only seemed to put the trucking industry in a bad light.


The difficult situation the federal government finds itself in, with regard to getting legislation through the Senate is also going to spell trouble for trucking. The failure to deliver on the promise to repeal the legislation introducing the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal means the subject of irresponsible trucking operators putting truck drivers lives at risk is going to get a good run in the New Year.


The Tribunal has become a well designed stick for the Transport Workers Union to use to beat the trucking industry with. Many involved in trucking have little understanding of the implication of the Tribunal, but the union certainly do.


The TWU is well organised and thorough in its preparation before bringing issues to the table for consideration by the Tribunal. The ground is prepared with research into the issue, facts are ascertained and surveys carried out.


A complete package is presented both to the Tribunal and the media. The facts are clearly stated and described in simple terms for the most impact. There are plenty of articulate and passionate spokespeople available and, as a result, the story gets a good run in the media.


Where the trucking industry falls down over and over again is being ready for this sort of thing. Where are their facts and figures, surveys and passionate spokespeople? The response is often too little too late, the news cycle has done its dash on the topic and the trucking industry message is minimised or lost.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Keep moving forward

I have been pleasantly surprised by the feedback we have received to a story in the November/December issue of Diesel. Normally, the amount of feedback is relatively low and limited to people annoyed when you get their name wrong or caption them wrongly in a photo.


This time it’s different. The story which got people talking was looking back to the events of 25 years ago and the fall out from the Grafton crash, when the trucking industry was faced with a major crackdown and draconian new rules to improve safety on the highways.


People are talking about what they were doing at the time, how they got involved with the campaign to save the trucking industry they knew and loved. The nostalgia about the late eighties also provoked some thoughts about parallels between then and now. Have we learned our lessons? Could something similar happen again?


There is a certain amount of pride from those involved at the time in the achievements realised in a period where the need to find a solution was so urgent. There is also a perception about how far we have come since those days, but also about how far we still have to go.


One correspondent looked at the difference between the equipment used in the trucking industry back in 1989 compared to the sophistication available to us now. If the trucking industry’s professionalism and community engagement had kept pace with these technical developments, we would be in a much better position than we are now.


The kind of equipment which could be out there on our road would mean lives could be saved every year. The trucking industry is being dragged slowly into the 21st century. There is a suite of safety features available on just about every truck sold in Australia but not many people tick the option boxes for additional safety systems.


Our regulators don’t help much either. Inconsistency and state differences mean we are fighting to be compliant, rather than safe. It is still possible to put a truck and trailer combination out on the road, which is compliant but not safe.


The moral of the story seems to be, it is possible to make and see real change if you put your mind to it. The real improvements made by those pioneers 25 years ago is proof it can be done if you want or need it to happen.


What is also clear about a quarter of a century ago, is the genuine fears people at the time had for the future of the trucking industry. This fear was a considerable spur.


It is possible to effect change and make the world a better place to live in by improving behaviours and equipment in the trucking industry. Progress will be made, one way or another, but it will always be better if it is driven by the trucking industry and not forced on us by a government panicked by some horrific event into being seen to crack down on truckies.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Pulling in the same direction

Quite often when an issue raises its ugly head for the trucking industry, a clear consensus emerges quite quickly. Although there may be nuanced differences between the positions taken by the various stakeholders, the general good is recognised and the various spokespeople for organisations and associations take a fairly similar line.


If there is no clear consensus between all of those involved and associated with road transport, there is little hope of us getting our voice heard. The trucking industry faces a number of implacable foes on the policy and PR front and cannot afford a disunited message. Any sign of weakness is all that is needed for organisations like the RMS et al, the Greens, anti-truck community groups, the general public and, of course, A Current Affair to stick the boot in.


Road transport is not like the farming industry, there is not a well stocked well of sympathetic goodwill towards the hard working truckie and their problems. For many the truckies are the problem. We need all of the stake holders involved with the trucking game to sing from the same, or similar, hymn sheet, otherwise the interests of trucking community, as a whole, will be adversely effected.


One area where this kind of disunity is obvious is the debate about roadworthiness for trucks. It is an issue we come back to again and again, and again, but there is a process in hand which a disunited truck community will have no chance of influencing, without speaking with one voice.


The events in Mona Vale were a catalyst highlighting a long term issue and one which does need a solution. It just needs a solution we can live with and not some knee jerk solution from the regulators. This is where a single voice comes in useful.


Instead we have a side issue which won’t derail the changes, but will take the focus away from getting the best result for the trucking industry.


Introducing the concept of extending the chain of responsibility to truck maintenance standards doesn’t sound like a bad idea at first glance. There is a COR system already there, however ineffective, and rule changes could bring the condition of the truck itself under the umbrella of COR.


However, just let this concept run for a bit and a few problems start to emerge. These problems are those which will effect those closest to the trucking industry, our customers and suppliers. The implications for them mean they are unlikely to support the inclusion of truck maintenance into COR.


Look at it from the point of view of the suppliers of truck maintenance or modification services. To avoid prosecution under COR they are going to have to add a long list of conditions to any invoice for any job, list any unresolved defects every time they work on a vehicle. The result is a legal and paperwork nightmare, paid for by higher charges from the supplier. It will form a wedge between trucking operator and supplier.


From the customer’s point of view the legal minefield of COR gets a lot more complex when maintenance is involved. They have some control over loading and unloading times, as well as the freight schedule. They can provide facilities to help drivers control fatigue. What they can’t do is go through a truck and trailers’ maintenance history and check if all of the jobs have been done before releasing a load.


Yes, COR for maintenance would be nice, but unlikely to get up. Wouldn’t it be better to come to an effective compromise which ensures improved maintenance outcomes for the trucking industry. A workable practical solution would be possible if everyone involved in the transport industry talked to the project developing the solution with one voice (or a selection of similar voices). The danger, in the current situation, is a solution will be found with which no-one is happy.


Talking Turkey About Trucking

Getting passionate

Attending the ATA/ARTSA TMC in Melbourne this week was an interesting experience with some aspects of the event giving us hope for the future and others, more depressingly, going over issues which come around every time and don’t look like getting any better in the foreseeable future. Read more