Ten years ago in the lead up to the establishment of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, via the Heavy Vehicle National Law, we were told about a big hairy audacious goal, to improve productivity across the trucking industry by $12.4 billion.
Looking at how far we are from achieving that goal or anything at all has been on the mind of David Smith, ATA Chair, this week. He points out that there have been some productivity gains on some routes, but that overall productivity has fallen, rather that risen.
How have we come to such a point, after ten years of effort to turn the situation around? Were the predictions just hype, with figures just plucked out of the air? Was there any real basis for the productivity gains claimed? What have been the stumbling blocks to real improvement?
There were warnings to be seen at the time of the drafting of that original HVNL. The Performance Based Standards scheme was already up and running and it had similarly promised genuine productivity gains.
Parts of the PBS scheme worked well and engineers came up with innovative freight solutions, which the panel of experts eventually passed as fit to run on our roads. But, there was a big but, no-one was talking to the road managers, who, it turns out, have to sign off on these super-dooper new trucks to travel on their roads.
Those in the know, were very aware it was coming and fought long and hard to get local authorities and other road managers up to speed on individual applications with some limited success.
Along comes the new HVNL with similar ambitions to rationalise the whole way access is granted across the board, to enable the trucking industry to embark on a program of much improved productivity and safety.
At its inception the poor old NHVR was mired up to its neck with trying to make the permit system work with some form of rationality. It has taken several years to get the system working to most people’s satisfaction, but it has been a struggle.
Why? What is the common denominator in all of these issues? It’s access and the effect on access decisions by our archaic decision making system at state and local authority level. These processes are not incentivised to improve the nation’s productivity, they are looking after their own little kingdom, to the exclusion of others.
At a local government level, the kind of funding the regions and shires receives drop every year and they have to survive on less and less resources. Road engineers and other infrastructure managers will often leave, and not get replaced. We end up with a situation where there is often no-one competent to understand an innovative access application.
At a state level, the fear in transport departments is that their organisation will be eviscerated, if the finance boffins realise some of the departments responsibilities are being handled nationally. Plus, we have the perennial interstate rivalries which have dogged history, still popping their heads up.
With all of this going on, all rationality gets thrown out of the window, bureaucrats are snowed under with applications they don’t understand, and others are just trying to keep their job. Perhaps, a big hairy audacious goal and a call for real productivity gains is a bit premature? Perhaps, we should just begin by demanding rationality?