Talking Turkey About Trucking

Damned with faint praise

The National Transport Commission (NTC) and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator has issued the first phase in the ‘Heavy Vehicle Roadworthiness Report of Current Practice’. The report goes into lengthy descriptions of how the different ways of ensuring safe trucks on our roads work, but one of the points it returns to is the fact, none of the current ways the different states monitor truck maintenance work particularly well.


An issue it does mention, without commenting on, is the variation, state by state, in the way truck maintenance is regulated. Surprisingly, for a combined effort from two national bodies which espouse the idea of a single national standard for the trucking industry, they fail to hit home the obvious point, a single way of regulating maintenance across Australia would benefit everyone, except the bureaucrats in the various state capitals. Many fleets move from state to state and have depots around the country, the simple act of trying to remain compliant with the plethora of different rules diverts resources from simply keeping the trucks well maintained.
The National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme (NHVAS) is damned with faint praise by the report. The NHVAS is the baby of the state regulators and, as such, can get in the way of truly national regulation of maintenance. It may be the same for everyone but is policed in a myriad of ways in the states. The NHVR and NTC hold back from out right criticism of NHVAS but the message is not good.
“At this stage, data collection methods do not yield sufficient, reliable data to reach a conclusive determination about whether the NHVAS provides an effective mechanism for achieving road safety outcomes relative to its objectives,” says the report.


The question of how the auditing process works has always been a grey area for the NHVAS and the provisions of the National Heavy Vehicle Law (NHVL), which the NHVR is set up to administer, does not help the improvement of secure auditing outcomes.


“The HVNL contains provisions allowing for the recognition of auditors, but provisions for the governance, accountability or liability of auditors are not included in the legislation nor the NHVAS Business Rules which set out the high level policies and process for the Scheme,” says the report.


Here is a recommendation the trucking industry needs to push for in the lead up to the second phase of this reporting process, get the law sorted out! The second phase will include how to move forward from the current regime to improve outcomes. This is where the trucking industry needs to speak with one voice and push for the kind of reform we must have, or we will remain the whipping boys, in terms of truck safety, for the enforcement agencies.


Most agree accreditation is the way forward, but the only way accreditation actually works is if it has credibility. This is the touchstone for all of the various accreditation schemes around the country, for some more than others. Credible auditing and transparent maintenance regimes breed confidence. When credibility is lacking the kind of actions by the NSW RMS in the wake of the Cootes tanker accident are always going to happen.


Roadside enforcement will harass a truckie at the roadside even if all of the certificates for all manner of things are present and correct. The result, antipathy and downright aggression between the two parties. Complain about harassment and the authorities can rightly point to transgressions by other operators with similar accreditation. Get the accreditation right at the ground level so it is as watertight as possible then roadside enforcement will have to back off and concentrate on the ones they should really be after, the cowboys who are out there taking the piss out of us all!


Talking Turkey About Trucking

Looking for good news?

The hunt is on for good news. Even when the news is good, it’s bad. The trucking industry doesn’t stand a chance. Even if we do something right and get a result, someone else takes the credit. We just can’t win.


I was interested to read Andrew Higginson’s thoughts on this subject recently. He talks about a ‘Kick a truckie’ attitude in the media and government, demonstrated by the recent publicity around the Austrans operation and coverage talking about transporting drugs in trucks.


One of the issues which galled him the most was the publicity generated around good news about trucking. Excessive speeding truck incidents in NSW had dropped by 91 per cent and the annual deaths from accidents involving trucks has decreased by over 30 per cent in the last ten years. We should expect the take-away for the general public from this would be positive. We were wrong!


In fact, according to the media reports, these falls were due to NSW having the toughest truck compliance regime in Australia. Don’t let me get this wrong but hasn’t NSW ALWAYS had the toughest truck compliance regime in Australia? It didn’t just start a few years ago.


This ongoing misrepresentation goes to the heart of the problem for the trucking industry. This unrelenting negative bias against the vast majority who are responsible, honest and safe means it is always a vote winner for the politician who talks about cracking down on this rogue industry.


We have the recent example of the Mona Vale incident for Cootes last year It was amazing how a Minister who has been supportive of trucking came out with extremely harsh language and actions against the whole industry, not just Cootes. There was no balance in the coverage of the event, just demonisation of a significant industry sector and a plague on all of our houses.


“I apologise for thinking the majority of the industry who go about their business day in day out trying to do the right thing in delivering the goods for all Australians have played an important role in improving safety outcomes,” said Andrew, in his Livestock and Bulk Carriers Association Newsletter. “Or that these are the people who have been campaigning and encouraging governments and enforcement authorities to target the minority doing the wrong thing, not to focus on those trying to do the right thing.”


Apology accepted, Andrew!

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Say it like you mean it


Sometimes, we have the best intentions when we say something or make a promise, but circumstances conspire against us and we can’t deliver. Other times, we say something because we think we should, but do not wholly, in our heart of hearts, intend to carry it through.


It’s difficult to tell which of these applies to the trucking industry’s attitude to fuel economy. Most people running a trucking operation will tell anyone who wants to listen, one of their chief concerns is good fuel economy. Look at the way the operation is running and a number of ways to save fuel will always pop up, but are rarely carried through.


Why is this? Why do we say we think a subject is very important and then carry on as if it is not? The answer is, of course, complicated. In an ideal world we would all like to save on costs and reduce fuel consumption, but running a truck, a driver and a trucking operation get in the way.


There are so many imperatives in the operation of a trucking business. The goods must arrive at the delivery point safely and on time, they must also be in the right condition, drivers are needed who can handle the task with little direct supervision and freight carrying capacity must be maximised on every truck.


These automatically eliminate a number of fuel saving strategies. Run at 90 km/h and below and the amount of fuel used to get the task done is reduced considerably. The loading and scheduling process can’t help but put pressure on drivers to get there ASAP. Getting to the delivery point in good time takes a lot of stress out of their lives.


Training drivers to use fuel saving driving strategies may get results, but this gain can be short-lived, if reinforcing incentives and follow up training are not part of the process. This means more expense and more time off the road. An employer can also can alienate experienced staff who don’t need to be taught how to suck eggs, and good drivers are hard to find.


Slow running and training tend to be half done and end up in the too hard basket. Proper training can reduce fuel by 20 per cent, if done correctly. Speed reduction is an substantial automatic reduction in the fuel bill. They are also the hardest to introduce and implement, so what’s the alternative?


This leaves us with equipment solutions, which are those which yield the lowest results. Put an air kit on the prime mover and it will shave a very small percentage off the fuel consumption, as long as it is always set right. We have seen enough flat tops being pulled by prime movers with a full air kit to know this is not always the case.


Aerodynamics on the trailer can also shave a little off the fuel bill but it’s difficult to quantify. Close coupling the trailer will get good results but often compromises front axle weight. An overloaded front axle can be quite expensive. Fuel saving tyres may help but, again, the results may be hard to calculate.


Then we come to the snake oil salespeople. There are any number of fantastic sounding fuel saving devices arriving on our shores every year. Some may have merit, some definitely do not. How can you tell? The way they work is often surrounded in mystery or the examples quoted are from overseas.


The truth of the matter is, we have learned to live with the fuel consumption we currently get and we will be able to in the future. Saving costs is always going to be attractive, but getting the job done on time must always be paramount. For most of the Australian trucking industry, seriously reducing fuel consumption is on the wish list but not on the to do list.


Talking Turkey About Trucking

Darth Vader at the NTC

Comments attributed to the CEO of the National Transport Commission (NTC), Paul Retter, this week, have him saying, “I’ll be like Darth Vader entering the arena”. This kind of talk is not out of character as earlier this year, at the LBCA Conference in Tamworth, he talked about NHVAS maintenance being a joke which the NTC needs to fix.


This is the kind of talk needed from someone in his position. We have been hedging around these issues for too long and now it’s about time the truth was told and the issues faced head-on. The issue where Retter plans to do his Darth Vader impersonation is on access for higher mass vehicles and the intransigence of the road managers.


Retter can’t do this on his own. As he says, “I’ll need industry’s help to do this because, trust me, this is cultural change 101 when it comes to road infrastructure managers.” What is needed is dropping the petty rivalries. Industry, policy makers and regulators need to demand a sensible approach from the protectors of OUR infrastructure.


This is all about getting the road managers to take on a new philosophy and a risk based approach to access for trucks. In the past, calculations were done, bridges assessed and a formula used to work out mass and dimension rules for a particular road. The arithmetic included an assumption trucks would be way overloaded on some occasions and was also a very conservative estimate of the stress any road would come under.


The world has changed, there is onboard mass monitoring on each axle and systems guaranteeing no overloading on set routes. However, the calculations are still done the same way with a unsustainable margin for error. The way Retter sees it the process needs to work in the opposite direction. Access should be a given unless there is evidence to the contrary. The default setting should be yes, unless there’s a good reason why it should be no.


NatRoad CEO, Chris Melham has come out this week in support, “The NTC is right in calling for a risk-based approach to road asset use and maintenance. Realistic and practical solutions need to be found that deliver to the community the efficiency and productivity benefits that improved access can provide.”


In fact, everyone with an interest in this subject has an incentive to get the way we look at access changed. For trucking it is a matter of much improved productivity, for the NTC this productivity increase is part of their KPIs, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator needs to show it has some rational control of access and state government’s life would be much easier if they put the road managers back in their box.


Can we get this up? Why not? A single rational approach, with trucking demonstrating a united, responsible approach would give the law makers something to work with. We get our house in order and we will leave the road managers without a leg to stand on in their dogged opposition to progress.


Progress has to come, a crisis in infrastructure availability, and consequently the economy, is looming. Let’s get in there and be part of the solution, plus, get vastly increased productivity as part of the bargain. Retter is talking the kind of talk trucking needs to hear, we need to get involved and help him make it happen.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Jerking the chain

A review of the chain of responsibility rules and their enforcement is long overdue and the National Transport Commission (NTC) has released its draft proposals to improve the effectiveness of the Compliance and Enforcement laws, as they stand. As to whether the changes proposed will make any difference to life for the truckie, there’s another question. Perhaps we need to think a bit more out of the box to make it work?

Read more

Talking Turkey About Trucking

It’s the infrastructure, stupid

In the US Presidential campaign of 1992, Bill Clinton’s team famously had the slogan, ‘It’s the economy stupid’, pinned to its office walls. Clearly, the Coalition Governments, both federally and in the states have something similar reminding them just how important the improvement of the country’s infrastructure is to the economy, or their ratings in the polls.


This year has seen a series of commitments to infrastructure spending from governments with massive figures being bandied about, a few billion here, and a few billion there. This week has seen another series of announcements in speeches by politicians.


The ‘Infrastructure’ Minister in Abbott’s ‘Infrastructure’ Government is Warren Truss and this week he continued his tour of the country by talking about how much is going to be spent on the new Bridges Renewal Programme and Round Four of the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program.


These are relatively small commitments, $500 million over the next five years, but Truss is pronouncing these kinds of things weekly. Last week, it was Northern Territory development, Queanbeyan bypass and the Bruce at Cairns. The week before it was the second Toowoomba Range Crossing…..


In New South Wales, Roads and Freight Minister, Duncan Gay, talked about record funding to up productivity and efficiency of the NSW freight network, as part of the 2014-15 State Budget. His statement is another list of spending commitments for freight related improvements.


As an industry, trucking needs to work out how much of this is new money and how much was already in the pipeline. Is there actually going to be that much more and improved infrastructure available to freight, than there would have been before all of these announcements were made?


What we do know for sure is, governments now understand spending on and thinking about freight is important. This is a victory for lobby groups who have been banging on to the authorities about the massive increase in the freight task for well over ten years.


Another victory is the presentation to the Senate of rule changes to increase the independence of Infrastructure Australia. This should free up the way infrastructure development is planned, funded and carried out. More good news for the freight industry.


This all seems to be good news, and it is. We are still not sure how much of this spending is new money, but funds from government asset sales will definitely boost the amount available. If there is a cloud on the horizon, it’s the prospect of massive road works over periods of years in the areas where congestion is already a major problem. C’est la vie.


Talking Turkey About Trucking

Maximising productivity


All the time a truck is parked up it is spending money not making it, so one of the best ways of making money is to keep the truck moving. This is one of the simplest rules to follow in terms of productivity in the trucking industry.


I have recently spent a week in Italy at the global launch of the new Daily van range and noticed just how our European cousins perform in the productivity stakes. The trucks in Europe spend a lot of time not moving, the inefficiency is palpable as trucks will spend large chunks of the day and night sitting idle.


Now, this is not a dig at the idle Italians or Australian arrogance about our superior trucking industry, it is simply an observation about the practices on the two different continents. The sharp contrast between the two systems serves to demonstrate just how much more efficiently we are using our resources (vehicles) than some of the most sophisticated economies on earth.


The problem for the Europeans is the regulatory environment. Driving hours rules are strictly enforced and extremely stringent when compared to our own. The maximum number of hours a driver can drive in one day is ten hours, and only for two days in a week. The rest of the time they are limited to just nine hours driving. Overall in the week they must not exceed, averaging over a two week period, 54 hours driving.


At the same time congestion on the busy European motorway network means drivers are not guaranteed to reach planned destinations reliably in the allocated time. The combination of limited driving hours and uncertain scheduling mean a lot of slack has to be built into the system to ensure the goods get to the customer reliably on schedule.


The slack built in to the scheduling means there is a lot of idle time for drivers and trucks. A load being shifted to a site 8.5 hours away is not guaranteed to get to the destination in a single shift. As a result, the schedulers have to always assume the worst and get trucks and loads close to their destination well in time for their slot.


Of course, this ends up with loads waiting close to their destination for long periods of time. The punishment for a late delivery can be very harsh. In my own experience, we lost up to $1000 an hour on a load rate if the truck missed its allotted delivery time. This was urgent perishables, but the payment structure certainly concentrated the mind on making absolutely sure the truck didn’t miss its window. Often this meant a truckie getting a good run was on site over twenty hours before delivery time.


This kind of wasted time is very expensive, in terms of productivity. Waiting around all day would be completely unacceptable in an operation in Australia. We are lucky to be able to work with uncongested inter-capital routes and fatigue rules which give some flexibility to the driver in managing rest.


Of course, all of our competitors have the same opportunities and rates reflect this. Therefore, our fantastic productivity capabilities do not result in equally high profitability for Australian trucking. Comparison with the European system does give us an opportunity to understand our trucking industry is at the leading edge of transport and logistics around the world. Looking at Europe we are able to benchmark our industry and realise we are not going quite as badly as we thought!


Talking Turkey About Trucking

Reinforcing stereotypes

Trucking industry people have a legitimate gripe when they claim their industry is badly represented in the media with a consequent negative attitude to all things trucking from the general populace. Again this week, a story hits the newswires which will reinforce all of the bad things people think about trucks and truckies on the roads.

The massive fines handed out to Scotts Transport will have brought every one up with a start. Every operator knows they are vulnerable to situations like this where the enforcement arm come down hard and start a deep investigation of one aspect of the trucking business. Scotts will not claim there is no blame attached to the company, there has been wrongdoing by drivers and some in the company have allowed a situation to develop which left a major transport company open to big fines and public humiliation.

However, the decision by the Roads and Maritime Services in NSW to come down hard on them owes a lot to the fraught situation at the time of the investigation after truck crashes caused public concern. It has to be pointed out, the decision by the court found there was not a systemic failure in the operation, but mistakes and bad decisions were made.

The general public will only see what gets through to them in the general media and use the information gained to inform their feelings when large trucks pass them and intimidate them out on the highway. Talk of trucks at 143 km/h and large fines for speeding tell them the trucking industry is mad, bad and dangerous to know. This just creates more distrust and causes more antagonism.

At the same time, the RMS feel pressured to make an example of someone to reassure this general public, who also happen to be voters. Trucks crash, people die and someone has to pay. We have already seen Cootes put through the wringer in this way.

We have a situation here where everyone is reinforcing negative stereotypes, to the detriment of the situation of all stakeholders in the trucking industry, for both the short and long term. There can be no co-operative attitude or inclusive action when trucking operations and roadside enforcement hold each other in contempt and view the other with deep distrust.

People in the trucking industry feel victimised, as they are being demonised in the media and news outlets run their own agenda, where engendering more fear in the car driver public, to increase website clicks, simply reinforces their concerns.

Who wins out of all this? Not the trucking industry. Not the general public. Not the regulators.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Coming to a DC near you, a raid

The authorities in New South Wales are always going to be an issue for the trucking industry. The stats tell us 70 odd per cent of the road freight moved in Australia passes through NSW at some point in its journey. To the Roads and Maritime Services and the NSW Police Traffic & Highway Patrol, this means they reckon they have responsibility to keep the road transport industry on the straight and narrow.


In the last week the RMS and NSW Police executed one of their hard hitting raids. This time on a distribution centre in Huntingwood, in Eastern Sydney. Looking at the news the authorities released to the press demonstrates just what value the RMS think this kind of operation achieves. It’s all about the numbers.


The headline on the statement was all about how many tickets the zealous RMS enforcement officers handed out to the unsuspecting and trapped truckies. The RMS inspected 111 trucks and trailers and issued 22 defect notices. How severe these defects were is hard to tell, but by just using the word ‘defects’ without further explanation suggests most of them, if not all, were minor. Why let that get in the way of a good story? The story is, of course, for the general public’s consumption, and it’s all about how the RMS and NSW Police are coming down hard on these terrible law breaking truckies, yet again!


23 more tickets were given out to truck drivers who were found to have breached load restraint rules, either on their way in or out of the DC. If you are an inspector and you want to knock off a few truck drivers, load restraint is the easy route. The load restraint rules are not particularly clear and to get restraint right every time requires a belt and braces approach, try as many ways as possible to meet the rules. The statement implies gross negligence on the part of truck drivers.


In practice, the loads are secured, most of the time, in a way to ensure they don’t move and a cursory look from an inspector would see a secure load. Drivers do have experience and they definitely don’t want the load to move, so they are incentivised to make sure its secure. They are also under time constraints all of the time, so making the load secure is a priority, making it compliant to complex rules is less so, it’s human nature.


This doesn’t stop the spin from the RMS. These drivers are endangering the general public by using ‘broken gates, and significant amounts of goods not strapped down and only held in by side curtains’, according to the statement.


“Unsecured loads are not only a risk to other road users, those unloading the goods at Distribution Centres are also placed at risk,” Acting Assistant Commissioner Smith Commander of the Traffic & Highway Patrol Command said, in the press statement. “When inspecting one of the loads, a gate gave way which struck one officer and nearly hit others, which is a prime example of why loads need to be properly secured.”


The item inserted near the end of the statement is bound to get lost in the rush to bag truckies. There were 149 random breath tests and 38 drug tests carried out during the raid. All of them proved to be negative. This doesn’t fit with the image of the demon truck driver, so it was probably jettisoned by any journalist covering the story.


This is not the end of the story. RMS are promising to continue with the raids though to the end of June, so trucking operators can’t say they weren’t warned. We can also be sure the press and TV stations will also be well informed throughout ‘Operation Austrans’, showing how the NSW public can sleep safe in their beds because the RMS are getting tough with the demon truckie.


Last week, Diesel News reported on improved relations between truck drivers and RMS inspectors at Marulan. Now, because the spin suits them, it’s time to demonise the truckie, get a bit of political capital out of it, make the agency and minister look good.


Where’s the inclusive attitude? Where are the liaison officers going round the DCs chatting to drivers and explaining the rules and showing the industry how to remain compliant? Why are these raids targeting the trucks in the DC, but not the system and practice of the DC operator? The answer lies within the culture of the road authorities at the coal face. While Peter Wells, Director of Safety and Compliance, does talk the talk and engage thoughtfully with the industry, the teams on the ground are still in the business of pinging truckies.





Talking Turkey About Trucking

Isn’t this what the NHVR was supposed to stop?

This week the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) has announced the loosening of work diary restrictions for primary producers and their transport providers in Queensland. Just Queensland. Not nationwide, or for a small niche group, but for the farming industry in one state.


Good on the primary producers for getting this concession! They have obviously lobbied hard, made their case and got an exception. Nobody wants to turn down concessions which make life easier for the truckie. As of June 1, primary producers and transport companies working for them do not need to keep a record of driving hours in the work diary if they travel within 160 km of base.


Until the National Heavy Vehicle Law was introduced the exemption radius in Queensland was 200 km. However, it was vital to ensure there were consistent rules across Australia under the NHVL. So, the limit was reduced to 100 km, a distance all of the state authorities involved could feel comfortable with. Bingo, we have a nationally consistent law.


Now that consistency is gone again and other interest groups all over Australia will be looking for their exceptional case to be considered and allowed by the NHVR. Consistency should involve the NHVR going back to the states and arguing for a 160 km exemption nationally for primary produce transport. Experience tells us this would not get up.


This is a victory against red tape, primary producers do have a case especially over the vast distances involved for primary produce in Queensland. The is also a victory for pragmatism in the NHVR, developing a rule which will keep a section of the trucking industry happy. It is also a victory for the states to get special treatment for their own area.


All of those operators in Queensland, who aren’t involved with primary production and used to have a 200 km exemption, are not happy. What about the trucking operations handling primary produce just over the border in Western NSW? 100 km is the limit for them, no exceptions.


State legislators are happy because they have established the principle allowing them to work for individual exemption for their own interest groups, at the expense of the other states and a nationally consistent transport law.


What the trucking industry needs to ask itself is what do we actually want. The clarion call for decades has been for one consistent national law and a reduction in regulatory differences as you cross a state border. Is this latest change a step in the wrong direction?