Election done, it’s on with the (road) show

In the lead-up to the election, ALC published Freight: Delivering Opportunity For Australia, which set out an ambitious, but achievable program of policy action for the new Parliament to undertake.

The use of the word ‘Parliament’ is deliberate. While the Federal Government naturally must lead the reform agenda, it is incumbent on all political representatives to work collaboratively to secure the long-term reforms needed to meet a growing national freight task efficiently and safely.

That growth is significant. From 2012-13 to 2016-17 the Total Tonne Kilometres (TKM) for road freight increased by 3.5 per cent year-on-year. For 2016-17 the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) estimated total road freight at approximately 228 billion TKM.
Analysis conducted for the Inquiry Into National Freight and Supply Chain Priorities released in 2018 found that Australia’s overall national freight task was likely to double in the next two decades. However, the anticipated growth of road freight in major urban centres is even greater. For instance, urban road freight in Brisbane and Perth between 2010 and 2030 is expected to increase by 157 per cent and 141 per cent, respectively.

The symptoms of this challenge are already evident in the levels of congestion we see on the roads in our major cities. Although record amounts are being invested in the development of new urban transport infrastructure, it will still not be enough to meet the increased demand for freight.

This means more must be done to enhance the productivity of Australia’s existing freight transport infrastructure and optimise its capacity. ALC believes that road pricing reform is a crucial aspect of achieving this – provided it is undertaken in close collaboration with industry participants and appropriate mechanisms established to ensure that revenue raised through heavy vehicle charges is actually expended on enhancements to infrastructure used by heavy vehicles.

This need for action in this area will only grow, given that revenue raised from fuel excise is no longer providing a pool of revenue sufficient to maintain our road networks.

Another obvious way to improve the productivity of our road infrastructure is to facilitate greater use of High Productivity Vehicles (HPVs), possessed of a higher payload that allows more freight to be transported using fewer vehicle movements. This can help to alleviate road congestion, and deliver other safety and environmental benefits that flow from the more modern technology used in HPVs. However, accommodating HPVs will require regulatory reform, so that their access to key freight routes is not impeded by inter-jurisdictional inconsistences and delays in obtaining necessary permits.

Industry and governments will also need to work cooperatively to overcome a lingering misnomer in sections of the community that HPVs, because of their physical size, are more dangerous than other heavy vehicles – when in fact, HPVs can be among the safest vehicles on our roads. ALC has suggested that these issues should be addressed via the establishment, at the federal level, of a High Productivity Vehicle Infrastructure and Education Fund. This resource could be drawn upon by local governments and road managers to upgrade local road infrastructure to facilitate the use of HPVs, and to support community education campaigns that can improve social licence for HPVs.
Although industry participants understand that safety is the highest priority for all those involved in freight transport using heavy vehicles, it is a regrettable fact that this perception is not shared by the wider community.

The public at large would likely be staggered to learn that in 93 per cent of fatal crashes involving a heavy vehicle that occurred in 2017, the heavy vehicle driver was not at fault. This suggests there is a continuing problem with ensuring the drivers of light vehicles understand how to interact safely with heavy vehicles on the road network.

ALC has suggested that in the immediate term, funding provided through the NHVR’s Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiative should be prioritised to support the development of educational initiatives that address this problem, and provide practical advice to the general community about how to safety share the road with heavy vehicles.

These reforms will not be easy to achieve. However, the first year following the federal election is the ideal time to secure the cross-party collaboration needed to begin work in earnest and make meaningful progress.

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