New alternative solutions are now emerging, as the trucking industry and regulators start getting smart about mass. The issue around access and how trucking operators can confirm compliance with mass restrictions has always been a contentious one.
The strength of the Australian road transport industry has always been its drive to improve productivity and utilisation. It has also been about pushing the boundaries of what is allowed and what is possible.
As a result of this business philosophy there has developed a dynamic between the trucking industry and the owners of the road infrastructure, the road managers. This dynamic has not always been healthy. In fact, the relationship has been one of confrontation and suspicion. Road managers have set ever stricter weight limits at the same time as trucking operators have pushed the boundaries on what they tried to get away with.
In the modern era this confrontation moved on from truckies trying to sneak overloaded trucks past roadside weighing stations. Now we see a constant to and fro of pushing for improvement in infrastructure quality from the trucking industry, while the road managers hold on to historical weight limits, presumably assuming the industry is still rife with overloading.
In the last 20 years the discussion has become more scientific, there are quantifiable ways to assess where and when a load can move. The process of classifying the road network is not complete, but getting there.
At the same time, the ability to ensure the truck movement is not breaking weight restrictions has become more sophisticated. We have begun getting smart about mass and moved from analog air pressure gauges being read and the figures recorded to ensure compliance, through to on board mass sensors relaying mass data direct to the authorities.
This level of sophistication has been a godsend to the highly specialised operators who run very specific equipment over specific routes. The introduction of Performance Based Standards (PBS), combined with the Intelligent Access Program (IAP) meant some operators could vastly improve productivity in return for a watertight guarantee of compliance for the road managers.
This left a wide gap between operators using prescriptive combinations with set mass limits and those spending large amounts on specifically designed trucks for particular tasks with expensive compliance assurance equipment.
The industry needed to be able to cover the middle ground between these two extremes. There were productivity gains to be had, but not large enough to justify fitting an expensive IAP package and paying to manage it in a large fleet.
The last 10 years have seen a closing of the gap between the two extremes. Improvements in the PBS system have seen larger numbers of trucks being built to enable improved productivity, enough to justify expensive tracking and mass recording.
This has still left a large part of the road infrastructure able to cope with larger and heavier trucks but the insistence on the use of IAP by the authorities hampering many new developments.
The IAP was like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Improvements in productivity were possible, but insisting on IAP made them unviable. There is a need for the IAP for high-risk applications, but for many others getting smart about mass meant a simpler solution has been needed for some time.
New specifications for the kind of systems which could open up new productivity opportunities have now been released. A key feature of this new data is that it separates core monitoring requirements from additional requirements reserved for applications for which the authorities still demand high levels of assurance.
The amount of assurance required by the road managers has now been broken down to three levels. These are related to what the road authorities regard as risk, but also correspond to the level of productivity improvement allowed.