Win-win for Melbourne’s inner west

The Victorian Transport Association (VTA) and our former adversaries the Maribyrnong Truck Action Group (MTAG) notched up a significant victory recently, with the Victorian Government agreeing to proceed with a variation of our innovative solution to addressing heavy vehicle movements in Melbourne’s inner west.

For years, inner-west residents in and around suburbs adjacent to the Port of Melbourne – Australia’s busiest container port – have waged a campaign against the industry to reduce the amount of trucks on local streets.

Safety, traffic congestion and emissions were common themes in what has often been a very public campaign, with the VTA on behalf of the industry advocating for continued seamless access to the Port of Melbourne for operators to be able to remain productive, efficient and profitable.

The Andrews Labor government announcing permanent restrictions on key inner west streets after the West Gate Tunnel is built, was one of many triggers for us to engage directly with MTAG to end the long-running dispute and come up with an innovative solution that would incentivise operators to continue working in the area whilst improving safety and amenity for residents.

Our jointly developed Maribyrnong Cleaner Freight Initiative was put to VicRoads in 2017 and represented a world-first collaboration between previously staunch opponents in the interest of developing effective transport policy, independent of government.

The proposal would incentivise operators to upgrade their fleets to ‘cleaner’ lower-emissions vehicles and require drivers to complete specific training on local transport and infrastructure issues to improve safety and amenity for residents. In exchange, those operators would be granted access to presently curfewed roads for longer, providing a significant productivity dividend compared with other operators.

After 18 months of lobbying, we welcome progress on implementation of our proposal in the form of the Smart Freight Partnership – Inner West.

The Smart Freight Partnership is an Australian first in terms of encouraging freight operators to modernise their fleet and is seen by industry and the community as one way of reducing the age of Australia’s aging heavy vehicles.
With an average age of 14.9 years Australia has one of the oldest truck fleets in the developed world, prompting industry groups to come up with incentives for operators to transition to new trucks that are quieter, safer and use less fuel.

The initiative is a great example of how traditional adversaries can work constructively together to achieve solutions that benefit residents and operators.

Industry and community groups can achieve great things when they work together and acknowledge their individual needs and interests can be achieved through compromise and mature discussions.

It is encouraging that the Victorian Government has recognised the merits of the visionary plan we developed with MTAG by establishing the Smart Freight Partnership, and we look forward to implementing it in conjunction with operators, residents, Freight Victoria and local and state governments.

As part of the Smart Freight Partnership, an Environment Freight Zone covering Somerville Road and Moore, Francis and Buckley streets in Melbourne’s inner west would be established. Access times to these roads would be reduced for trucks that don’t meet current emission control standards, resulting in a reduction of two hours per day for the first two years, followed by a further two-hour reduction per day in subsequent years.

Trucks manufactured on or after 1 January 2010 that meet stricter emission control standards (Australian Design Rule 80/03 or EURO V equivalent) will have three hours more access on weekdays than the older trucks and two hours more time on Saturdays.

Industry-led training is a key element of the program which includes measures to deliver driver awareness training on local access, safety and amenity issues.

A key reason we were able to constructively collaborate with MTAG was a shared willingness to compromise, and recognition by both parties of each other’s legitimate concerns. For our part, it was vital that the rights of operators to be able to run productive and efficient businesses was paramount, whilst MTAG were after improvements in safety and amenity.

We were only able to reach a consensus because of mutual respect and a determinedness to get a positive outcome, and I applaud MTAG for their mature and respectful approach throughout our negotiations.

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