Opinion

How long, how high and how heavy?

what chain of responsibility?

The recent meeting of transport ministers in Canberra shows some real progress from the decision-makers at the top and the possibilities of real productivity improvements, begging the question, how long, how high and how heavy? Plus, the important question, when?

The really good news is that the ministers are taking notice of what the peak trucking and truck industry bodies are saying, the bad news is, the process has to go through the National Transport Commission (NTC).

Most of the productivity gains are likely to be swallowed up by the extra mass and dimensions needed to make the transition across to Euro 6 for diesel engines or to zero emission technology, as it comes into play. However, this does mean productivity will remain where it is now, or better than that, where smart design and operation make it possible.

Up to 7.5 tonnes on the front axle will mitigate the issues around heavy batteries and hydrogen tanks. Pushing semis out to 20 metres long and B-doubles to 27 metres would make it possible to use longer cabins for driver comfort and allow the entry of the latest cabins out Europe like the DAF XG+ or the Volvo Aero, without compromising payload as well as reducing fuel consumption, or increasing electric truck range. So far, so good. 

Adding a bit of allowable trailer height, from 4.3 to 4.6 metres will be of benefit to quite a few freight tasks, which cube out before they mass out. For this productivity improvement the likelihood is that stability control would be mandated. For many operators in this space, this would not be much of an imposition.

There are more items on the wish lists of the interested parties, like a simpler work diary, but the fact of the matter is, without a real push in the right direction, the issue will be getting these top priority items up in a timely manner, without too many caveats and without differences between states in their introduction.

This is where the rubber hits the road, getting these changes from good intentions to real rules being enforced in a sensible manner on the roadside. This process is a long and arduous road, and one full of pitfalls, deeper than the potholes on the Newell Highway.

The NTC is not necessarily the problem, but is the enabler for the parties which will subvert and water down, what are, modest improvements in the rules to make the transition to a zero carbon economy less of a handbrake on productivity.

Since its time as a fair arbiter of discussions around law reform over twenty years ago, the NTC has been hijacked by the state and federal bureaucracies. Since then, the needs of the various ministries and departments have been taken into account and only lip service has been paid to the opinions and recommendations of those actually doing the work of keeping the economy’s supply chains effective.

The prime example of these issues is the debacle over the reform of the Heavy Vehicle National Law, which is still on going after, getting on for, ten years. Then there’s the fact that ADR 80/04 landed only ten years late.

Judging from current form, we can expect the higher axle masses, longer and taller trailers to be on the road at some point in the 2030s. Can we wait that long? No!!

 

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