It is a no brainer to say PBS vehicles are more productive than comparable conventionally designed vehicles, this is one of those facts which seems to get lost in the other arguments around the whole scheme. Overall, 7,000 vehicles have been approved.
According to the NTC report productivity improvements range from 15 to over 30 per cent, but the operators hauling A-doubles in and out of ports like Brisbane and Melbourne could point to a virtual 100 per cent productivity gain.
The report also estimates the scheme reduced the distance travelled by trucks by 440 million kilometres between 2014 and 2016. This resulted in a $65 million reduction in road maintenance costs in 2016. PBS also saved 94 million litres of fuel, or 250,000 tonnes of carbon emissions.
One of the big ticket items in this analysis is the results around safety. Insurance data tells us the major crash involvement per kilometre travelled rate for PBS vehicles is 46 per cent below that other trucks.
The disappointing aspect of the scheme has been its take-up by the industry. Between 2009 and 2011 there were 709 vehicles approved, 2012 saw 450 new approvals, but in 2017 that number had only grown to 1416, much lower than expectations at the start of the project.
A joint report, put out earlier this year by the national Heavy Vehicle Regulator and the Australian Road Transport Suppliers Association, tells us the biggest penetration of PBS has been in the truck and dog sector, with 3873 on the road, that’s 55 per cent of all the PBS vehicles in Australia.
17 per cent of all heavy vehicles manufactured in 2017 were PBS approved, of that, 11 per cent of all three and four axle prime movers were approved. Compare this to the fact 73 per cent of all three-axle rigids were PBS approved, to see the strength of the scheme in truck and dog applications.
Changing the way PBS works
The NTC analysis of the PBS system came up with a number of suggestions as to how to go about changing the way PBS works. These included having a look at the system and reviewing some of the basic tenets of the scheme. The NTC will be taking another look at the standards on which the performance is based.
They’ve done a lot of work to streamline the process for the more popular PBS vehicles, with what they call ‘pre-advised’ combinations. This includes most truck and dogs, single semis, A-doubles and B-doubles. If the design meets the basic criteria for each combination it will sail through the design approval process.
It will take a day or two, rather than a month, for the NHVR to turn an application around into a Design Approval, and that’s been a good thing for operators, who are usually under time pressure meet their own customers’ needs.
The review also recommended publishing National Notices for all levels of PBS network. Currently, operators developing PBS trucks cannot be 100 per cent certain of access on many routes. It is not clear quite what these Notices will cover and whether they will streamline the process.
The way roads are assessed when making access decisions for different vehicles is inconsistent and unpredictable. The review calls for a nationally harmonised infrastructure capability assessment.
“I’m sure if you look at any bridge engineer’s performance plan, it wouldn’t incentivise them to allow heavier trucks on their bridges, it would be more about making sure bridges last a long time and don’t need a lot of maintenance work,” said an industry insider. “There’s just no incentive for them to allow anything larger on them, unless there’s pressure from another area of government that has responsibility for economic growth and our competitiveness in global trade.”
While the amendments are being requested by the road managers, who only have responsibility for the road stock, the Minister also has a responsibility for the improvement in the productivity of the state. Unfortunately, it is the bureaucrats who make the changes and the Ministers are only faced with a yes or no to the final document.
Much of these policy developments are beyond the control of the NTC. The team putting together the policy can only translate the views of the road managers into the document.