14 August 2019

How can the PBS scheme make Australian transport competitive globally?

After years of lobbying by the transport industry a standardised national scheme for classifying vehicle combinations and matching them to permissible access to road networks has come into effect in Australia. But is this enough?

This performance based standards (PBS) scheme is intended to encourage the increased use of larger vehicles and combinations to move more freight quicker, which is what Australia needs to be to meet demand, which is projected to double by 2030.

But Gary Mahon, CEO of the Queensland Trucking Association (QTA), says that realistically, in order for Australia to keep up with demand and compete with global service providers entering our transport market the PBS scheme also needs to

  • enable greater flexibility in truck and trailer configurations
  • fast-track approvals on innovative combinations
  • take action on identifying and classifying a high performance road network.

Queensland was an early adopter of B-double configured vehicle types and Mahon is a champion of creatively configuring different types of truck and trailer combinations.

“You can’t homogenise road transport,” he insists. “The transport industry in Australia is made up of a conglomeration of niche providers who have developed specifications and capabilities around that niche.

“Generally speaking you need an integrated classification system but you also need to maintain hybrid flexibility because within the different states there are relative differences in vehicle types that are most appropriate to the conditions.”

Gary Mahon, CEO of the Queensland Trucking Association

PBS assessment is not mandatory, but preliminary results show that innovative combinations of trucks and trailers that comply with PBS ratings can improve safety and productivity by reducing truck passes by up to 30%.

“Why wouldn’t you want that technology?” Mahon says. “Better use of the network within existing dimensions leads to greater productivity. All the action in productivity based standards is in configuring combinations to give you a competitive advantage.”

What Mahon wants to see is a commerce-driven approach to streamlining industry competitiveness. “Where we really need growth in productivity based standards is in combinations of multi-trailer doubles. What productivity gains could be achieved by moving up a class from 19 to 20 metres?”

Double-ended approach

He also wants to see the PBS road access process streamlined to enable pre-approvals of innovative configurations to encourage operators to invest in new equipment and combinations, and for permits to be issued with more confidence.

“The term of some permits is as little as six or 12 months,” he says.

Classification and permits for most states (excluding Western Australia and the Northern Territory, and one vehicle class in Queensland) are administered by the National Heavy Vehicles Regulator (NHVR).

Australia’s network of 817,000 km+ roads is divided into three classes

  • the National Land Transport Network (2.8%) controlled and funded by the federal and state governments
  • arterial roads (about 20%) controlled and funded by state governments
  • local roads (about 80%) controlled and funded by local governments.

Mahon believes roadwork controllers need to think in business rather than bureaucratic terms and that issuing permits to approved high capacity vehicles is only one half of the process; that there is a need to also establish networks of matching road systems.

“Everything in this industry is time sensitive. We need to be able to [introduce an innovation] in six months. We need a network of high productivity routes. The industry is lobbying for that.”

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