National PBS Fleet Report

Australia’s unique high productivity Performance-Based Standards (PBS) scheme has come a long way in its ten-year life. First introduced in 2007, the complicated system was almost too difficult to comprehend and PBS struggled to take hold.

In 2014, PBS experienced a turning point with the establishment of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) as the single administrator of the scheme and it became part of the Heavy Vehicle National Law, which NHVR CEO, Sal Petroccitto says had a significant impact on the effectiveness of the scheme.

Indeed, there has now been more than 6,100 PBS combinations approved and the potential of the scheme is starting to truly bloom as sentiments change. “We are seeing volumes growing at 30-40 per cent per year,” Sal says. “Truck and dogs are a great example, with PBS-approved dog trailers representing more than 90 per cent of all new dog trailers.”
As such, there was a distinctly different feel to the crowd when the NHVR’s Chief Engineer, Laszlo ‘Les’ Bruzsa, took to the stage at the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) and Australian Road Transport Suppliers’ Association’s (ARTSA) Technical and Maintenance Conference (TMC) in Melbourne this October. Previous occasions had seen Les passionately defend the scheme to a frustrated audience.

This year however, Les was all smiles as he addressed a highly engaged audience, having been publicly recognised the night before for his contribution to the Australian transport industry at the Castrol Vecton Awards. “The importance of PBS is increasing,” he said to the delegates. “It’s interesting that based on the ARTSA review of registration data, this year roughly 20 to 25 per cent of all new registered vehicles are PBS-approved.”

The lengthy process for having a combination approved under PBS has been one of the most consistent complaints from operators about the scheme. However, Les explained that the NHVR is trying to address some of the operational issues and both simplify and speed up the vehicle approval process. “I’m happy to say that we have implemented significant improvements,” he said.

One of the most time consuming parts of the process involves sending applications to the PBS Review Panel (PRP), which provides the NHVR with advice on the combination. The NHVR then uses the feedback to make a judgment of legal compliance. “That process can sometimes take between 20 to 40 days – depending on the responses – but the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL, ed.) requires it,” Les explained. “So, in May this year we began to trial a process that complies with the requirements of the law but improves the efficiency of the PBS design approval process with the introduction of an alternative process for certain pre-advised vehicle designs. The PRP has given us the power to approve a set of truck and dog combinations without being individually considered by the PRP.”

Since the pre-advised trial was introduced, Les said there have been 37 truck and dog combinations approved through the new process. “The introduction of this alternate, ‘type-approved’ process has been a success as these PBS applications were approved within three business days,” Les said. “That’s a significant improvement over the average 20 to 30 business days that I hope the industry will find very useful in terms of response time for applications.”
Sal adds that, given the success of the trial, the NHVR will be extending this process to include a number of other common PBS designs including prime mover and semi-trailer combinations and certain B-double combinations.

According to Chris Blanchard, Workshop Manager and Herb Blanchard Haulage, the ‘type-approved’ process is light years ahead of where the scheme started.
The NHVR has also taken steps this year to address the complications with combination variations of PBS designs. The HVNL currently recognises two types of PBS application: either a new application, or an amendment, both of which must be sent to the PRP as part of the approval process. This requirement has given operators no end of grief, Les said.

“If the truck manufacturer changes an engine, a gearbox, or if a tyre brand no longer makes a particular model, all these little changes are considered an amendment of the current design and have to go before the PRP.”

The NHVR has been able to identify a number of minor and inconsequential changes that are regularly made to PBS designs but have no material impact on safety and infrastructure. Working with members of the PRP the NHVR has developed a process for the approval of these ‘variations’ which can now be approved by the Regulator, again reducing that 20-plus day process to within three days. “Let’s say you have a three-axle truck with a four-axle dog that is 19.6m long with one truck, then you replace the truck and the new overall length is 19.8m,” Les proposed. “That’s a variation, and now the NHVR has the right to approve this amendment without referring thems to the PRP.”

As well as approving overall length increases within the road classification limit, Les said that width, height, axle masses, payload heights and component selection including suspensions, tyres and axles are now covered in the variation process.

“When we receive the modified application, we make a judgment if the proposed modification to the existing design is low-risk and inconsequential or not. If it is, we assess the application and issue the new PBS Design Approval,” he said.

“If not, we prepare recommendation to the PRP and the application goes through the normal process.

“These two main elements, the ‘type approved’ pre-advised designs and variations, give much more certainty and flexibility to the industry, and might change practices in terms of how PBS applications are developed and submitted.”

Yet there are still a number of pain points with the scheme, particularly around access, Sal admits in a follow up interview. “A lot of headway has been made in this space but there is still more to be done,” he says. “The NHVR continues to work with road managers to highlight the safety benefits of PBS vehicles and the productivity these vehicles represent.”

To do so, the NHVR has been actively promoting the safety and productivity benefits of PBS networks through various forums and demonstration days with road managers across all states. “Our briefings with a group of 11 councils in central NSW resulted in the first group of councils to sign up in whole or part to the PBS truck and dog notice,” Sal says.

The NHVR has also held successful PBS demonstration days with the Wide Bay Burnett Regional Organisation of Councils and with the Australian Local Government Association as part of its National Roads Congress in Toowoomba, where it promoted the benefits of PBS to improve the freight task. “We have also developed PBS videos to help local councils understand PBS networks and the productivity gains they bring to communities,” Sal says. “We look forward to further improvements in PBS access.”

This year has arguably been another turning point in the progression of PBS, and both Sal and Les say they are proud to have helped make an impact on the Australian commercial road transport industry through the scheme. Each new trial and simplification the NHVR makes for operators to gain productivity benefits goes a long way to changing the overall acceptance of the scheme, Sal says.

“Our vision for PBS is significant, not just for 2018, but many years to come. The PBS scheme is world leading and we intend to keep that crown.”

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