NSW leads the way with SPECTS

For some time now, the Truck Industry Council (TIC) has been highlighting the safety, environmental and productivity downsides to Australia’s aging truck fleet, those vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) of more than 4.5t. With this on-road heavy vehicle truck park likely to break the 15-year average age mark in 2016/17 we are faced with one of the oldest truck fleets in the western world, having a fleet age that is typically twice that of countries that we would like to benchmark ourselves against. This is not a record that we should be proud of. Flat new truck sales and an ever-increasing freight task predominantly carried by road are ensuring that Australia’s truck fleet continues to age.

The heavy rigid portion of our national truck fleet is even older, fast approaching 16 years average age. With many of these heavy rigid trucks operating in metropolitan areas, the environmental and safety downsides of these older trucks manifests itself in areas such as higher levels of exhaust pollution, particularly in confined areas such as road tunnels, while the lower levels of productivity means simply that more trucks are required to move the given freight task, leading to more traffic congestion and potentially more crashes.

TIC has long called upon Australian governments to recognise the growing implications associated with our aging truck park and offer suitable incentives for operators to upgrade to newer vehicles. Hence it was with much interest that I read the recent announcement by NSW Roads Minister, the Honourable Duncan Gay, of the NSW RMS Safety, Productivity and Environment Construction Transport Scheme, quite a mouthful, or SPECTS for short.

Faced with more construction and infrastructure projects than Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the ACT combined over the next 12 months, the NSW government was under pressure to find ways of minimising heavy vehicle movements on the State’s roads. SPECTS is estimated to save up to 1,000 heavy vehicle trips across the State every week by allowing trucks and trailers to carry up to 20 per cent more mass than General Mass Limit (GML) vehicles. These productivity benefits will allow truck operators to realise savings of about $80,000 per vehicle, per year, according to NSW RMS modelling.

The scheme came into effect on 1 July 2016, and is claimed to be an Australian first that will allow eligible vehicles and operators to carry higher masses on their trucks and trailers with almost unlimited access to the NSW road network. In fact, only two bridges in the entire state are said to be “off limits” for the new scheme. To enter the scheme, trucks and trailers will need to be Performance-Based Standard (PBS) approved, fitted with electronic weighing scales and run one of two government approved telematics systems to monitor axle masses and vehicle location. A further requirement for trucks is that they must be fitted with ADR 80/03 (Euro V or equivalent) engines. Other scheme requirements include enhanced (hi-vis) vehicle markings and systems to improve visibility/detection of vulnerable road users, such as blind spot mirrors and smart reversing alarms that adjust the alarm’s noise level appropriately to the environment, on both the truck and trailer. More stringent requirements will apply to those wishing to join SPECTS after 1 January 2017 when cutting-edge Electronic Stability Control (ESC) safety technology will be a requirement on new vehicles entering the scheme, further increasing the safety benefits.

SPECTS is a fantastic concept. Operators gain substantial bottom line productivity benefits that can be used to fully justify their upgrade into newer Euro 5 trucks and PBS approved trucks and trailers, replacing older equipment that is less safe and causing more environmental harm, particularly in metropolitan areas. While at the same time, air quality and associated human health issues can be expected to improve, as will the safety benefits for vulnerable road users and passenger vehicles who share the road network with trucks and trailers.

Now all we require is for other states and territories to roll out similar schemes and for the SPECTS concept to be extended beyond government infrastructure and construction projects. One step at a time, though, and this is one very significant step. Congratulations to Minister Duncan Gay.

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