The road transport industry around Australia has been dogged by problems created by the lack of consistency between state authority regulations, where operators in one state have worked with completely different rules to those just across the state border, doing the same job. One of the worst inequalities has been in the livestock transport industry with both Queensland and Victoria developing a volume loading scheme and New South Wales stubbornly refusing to make any concessions to the livestock transport industry in their state.
This sorry state of affairs has all changed in the last 12 months and the recent conference of the Livestock and Bulk Carriers Association of NSW held in Dubbo was the venue for an announcement by the NSW Minister for Roads and Ports, Duncan Gay, of a practical volume loading scheme. The news livestock transporters in NSW have been waiting to hear for many years was greeted with a great deal of relief and some scepticism at the conference.
The arguments are simple for volume loading, livestock operators are dealing with freight which moves about in transit and where the total mass of a load can only be an estimate. They load their trucks in areas where there are no truck weighing facilities and are reliant on the word of the consignor as to exactly how heavy the load may or may not be. All of these factors have made loading livestock crates to travel on the roads of NSW a bit of a lottery.
For many years negotiations between the LBCA and the RTA had hammered out the skeleton of a scheme which could work both for the operators and the regulators but the continuing reluctance on the part of the RTA to make further concessions stymied its development. Hard work put in by the likes of Jim Savage of Stockmaster and Bob Richardson from Martin's Stock Haulage in the committee rooms of Sydney kept hitting a brick wall.
With the election of the new Coalition Government in an NSW election last year, new breath was given to the issue. The change of structure within those regulating road transport in NSW meant the process could be completed. The RTA has had its responsibility divided between Transport NSW and RMS (Roads and Maritime Services) in a series of changes introduced by the incoming Minister, Duncan Gay, with a new emphasis on working with the trucking industry and not against it.
“We’ve got a vision to deliver better road freight outcomes in rural and regional NSW,” said Minister Gay at the outset of his speech to the LBCA. “Put simply, to make NSW number one again, we need to get it moving by both road and rail. That's why the government has created an agency wholly and solely dedicated to the task, called Freight and Regional Development, and it sits within our new Transport NSW structure.
“We are also making deep and genuine structural and general changes within the old RTA, with particular emphasis on improving customer service and industry engagement. By November this year, the state will have, for the first time, an integrated freight and ports strategy.”
One of the early changes made after the Coalition Government took over last year was to clear up anomalies in the transport of wool, hay and cotton bales and give transport operators concessions over width rules – problems created by the inconsistent size and shape of the goods being transported.
“I think I have a bit of good news for the livestock transport industry,” said Minister Gay. “If ultimately successful, it will represent an historic reform for livestock transport in NSW, a reform which has already happened in every other state of the Commonwealth. I will be taking a proposal to my colleagues in Cabinet to introduce a new and improved Livestock Loading Scheme.
“Any livestock loading scheme will have a total combination and axle weights at Higher Mass Limits (HML), that’s 68 tonnes for a B-double. Furthermore, a half tonne tri-axle floating mass concession will be granted and this will mean, for a 26m B-double, operators will be able to load between 66 and 72 head of cattle, when, at the moment, they can only load 56 to 60 beasts. That's a 15% increase in freight productivity meaning fewer truck movements. In fact, it means for every B-double operating at HML, we can reduce semitrailer movements on the road by nearly 40%.
“It’s important to reflect on the unique nature of livestock transport. First, livestock crates have physical restrictions in terms of length, breadth and height. Secondly, under animal welfare loading standards, you can only fit a certain number of livestock into a crate. Furthermore, over 80 per cent of livestock truck movements are on state owned roads, most of which are already approved for HML. These factors are a built-in check and balance which make a capped, volumetric livestock loading scheme a viable option for our state.”
Under the scheme, livestock vehicles operating at HML will be given general access to approved restricted vehicle routes unless otherwise signposted. Ongoing discussions are continuing between the LBCA, the NSW government and local authorities to make sure regularly used stock routes are open to be used by those involved in the scheme.
Intelligent Access Program (IAP) equipment will not be required on the trucks unless they are running as B-triples or AB-triples at over 90 tonne GVM. The Minister will also reconsider the requirement for IAP after the first year of the scheme as there is a concern IAP may act as a disincentive for operators in the west of the state to run higher productivity vehicles.
There will be a driver training requirement for those wishing to participate in the scheme similar to the one currently in force with the Victorian volume loading scheme. Timetabling within the NSW regulatory authorities suggests the scheme may be up and running by the end of 2012. Delays may be caused by the need for the RMS to signpost wooden bridges unable to cope with the stresses and strains of HML.
“The long-term success of any future scheme will largely depend on the behaviour and professionalism of stock carriers,” said Minister Gay. “The government wants to work closely with the LBCA to weed out rogue operators and customers who threaten the integrity of the scheme. You have already seen evidence of this government's determination to remove rotten apples from the trucking industry.”
Further work is being undertaken by the NSW Ministry for Roads and Ports on developing new routes for what it calls ‘modernised road trains’ east of the Newell Highway. Consultations with organisations like NatRoad, LBCA and NSW local governments should lead to the publication of the draft road train use and access policy for public consultation. This follows the decision made last December to allow these road trains using tri-axle dollies, as well as B-triples and AB-triples, to use the important livestock route between Narrabri and Gunnedah.
“These are real reforms delivering real benefits for livestock transporters in this state,” said Minister Gay. “As part of our modernised road train initiative on the Kamilaroi Highway, we stipulated the requirement of tri-axle dollies to deliver better safety through improved stability and increased freight productivity, through slightly increased axle weights. I can say we are happy to look closely at the merits of extending the use of tri-axle dollies at these increased axle weights.
“We don't want to get bogged down with too many reviews but I have asked my teams to get the ball rolling in the area of additional access by starting route assessments on a handful of key roads east of the Newell Highway. These include livestock routes between Berrigan and the Corowa saleyards as well as between Ardlethan and the Wagga Wagga saleyards.
“I have also heard from the industry that the rules around B-triples, west of the Newell Highway can, in some instances, be too restrictive, potentially resulting in reduced road safety and freight outcomes. Again, we are prepared to carefully look at this issue.”
The promise of ongoing discussions about further reform from this NSW Government has given rural operators an opportunity to finally compete on an even playing field with their counterparts in other states. Similarly, the removal of what Minister Gay describes as ‘the road bump in the Commonwealth’ will also be a boon for operators from interstate who can now run at similar volumes and weights to those they have been allowed to operate in their home states for sometime.
For many in the room, when the announcement was made at the LBCA Conference, this was a day they never thought would happen, a day when common sense prevailed in the regulation of trucking in NSW. Rural operators throughout the state will be hoping continued reform along with the introduction of a National Heavy Vehicle Regulator will see even more common sense starting to appear in the relationship between trucking operators and regulators in the coming years.