This week the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) announced the milestone of 10,000 innovative heavy vehicle combinations hitting Australian roads under the Performance Based Standards (PBS) scheme, but has PBS delivered on its promise?
The obvious answer to this question is, yes. It has delivered 10,000 trucks with improved productivity and improved safety. They are on the roads now helping to reduce the death toll and keeping the economy productive.
However, for those of us around at the beginning of the scheme and, even more so for those involved in its development, it promised so much when it first got going. Much of that promise turned to disappointment in those early years.
Many a misstep caused frustration and economic hardship. One of the first PBS operators I interviewed found out the hard way, that the process of getting the truck on the road had not been fully worked through.
He ended up watching his Kenworth with multiple axles come down the line in Bayswater and then have to run well under its design weight for a year, while he contacted each and every local authority he would travel through, to explain what he had and to gain access.
His issue was the first of many, as intransigence and simple lack of knowledge saw road block after block created by the local authorities. This is still the major problem for operators wanting to go down the PBS route, getting the permission of the road owners to run a vehicle which is safer and more productive on the road.
What has worked on the PBS scheme is how to design and develop new ideas in truck design to get a truck which is safer, more productive and causes less road wear than some prescriptive models. The group of engineering businesses which have emerged have come up with some very smart solutions and lead the world in truck technology.
The process of getting a basic truck design from the drawing board to fruition is also very smooth for most operators. The knowledge base within the industry can come up with a viable solution to just about any problem.
Where we are still looking fore a viable solution is in the process whereby local authorities give their permission for the truck design to travel on their roads.
There has been some valiant work done by the NHVR, since it took over the running of the PBS scheme, but it is still banging its head against a three tier governmental system which just does not have a suitable mechanism for permitting access.
The NHVR’s work in trying to get roads classified correctly so that a truck can be designed for a pre-determined route with guaranteed access when it is built, has had some success.
Has PBS delivered on its promise? There is still plenty of work to be done to make it what we want. However, it is still the envy of many trucking nations around the world. Countries look to Australia and consult with our expertise to try and improve their country’s road freight productivity, and this is something we should be proud of.
When announcing the 100,000th PBS truck this week, the NHVR did list some of the successes of the scheme:
- One in five relevant new heavy vehicles manufactured in 2019 were PBS approved
- In the last five years, new PBS combination approvals have doubled, while the heavy vehicle market has grown by 20 per cent over the same period
- The median age of PBS vehicles is 4.3 years compared to over 12 years for the entire heavy vehicle fleet
- Around 60 per cent of the new PBS approved combinations are towed by prime movers, a 12 per cent increase from 2018
- PBS vehicles have more than 80 per cent market share in the four-axle and above, dog trailer market