The trucking industry is an Australian success story. Australian trucking operators have pioneered modern, safer, and more productive vehicle designs. Road trains in the outback, B-doubles on our major freight networks, and high productivity vehicle combinations on specific routes are critical to Australian supply chains, with only 10 to 15 per cent of the freight task considered to be contestable across both rail and road.
The industry’s labour productivity has been a particular strength over the last 15 years. Through working smarter, innovation, utilisation of technology, and capital deepening, trucking operators have increased economic output, and in turn, supported the growth of Australia’s supply chains and industries.
Trucking operators have also delivered positive outcomes under the Performance Based Standards (PBS) scheme. The NTC discussion paper on the effectiveness of the Performance Based Standards (PBS) scheme shows that PBS vehicles are involved in fewer major crashes, reduces truck travel time, boosts productivity across commodities carried by PBS vehicles, saves in road maintenance expenses and in fuel.
But if Governments do not press on with further productivity enhancing reforms, then trucking industry productivity will get stuck in decline. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data shows that multifactor productivity for the sector has slowed since 2002-03 and declined since 2012-13. Capital productivity has been in decline since 2002-03.
Similarly, the NTC discussion paper shows that road transport GDP has not kept up with the growth rate of the national GDP over the last 10 years. The road transport sector experienced negative results in 2015 and 2016 despite an improving national GDP.
It is important to recognise that the PBS scheme is not positioned to solely enable the handling of the predicted increase in the road freight task. Due to the restrictive nature, limited road access, long lead times and other features of the PBS scheme, it is not suitable to the significant part of the road freight task that does not have predictable freight volumes and does not provide sufficient lead time for PBS approval.
The PBS scheme should be part of a policy framework that delivers safer, more productive heavy vehicles available under prescriptive regulations, with as of right road access conditions. The true success of the scheme should not be measured by the number of PBS approved vehicles, but by how well it facilitates the incorporation of modern, safer, more productive vehicle designs and modular combinations in the prescriptive vehicle designs available for use by trucking operators. The benefits being delivered by PBS approved vehicles need to be made available to the wider heavy vehicle fleet.
In our submission to the NTC review of the effectiveness of the PBS scheme, the Australian Trucking Association has made a number of recommendations focused on improving the PBS scheme, improving the pathway to progress popular and mature PBS designs to becoming available under prescriptive regulations, and opposing any increase in the regulatory burden on the purchase of new heavy vehicles over 42.5 tonnes.
Existing and known problems with the PBS scheme should be fixed, and this should be a priority before any attempt to extend the scheme. This should include removing inconsistent advice, reducing costs, reducing complexities and reducing delays.