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Ham-fisted RTA under fire over loading policy

The RTA is enforcing a wool loading policy despite knowing for a year that it cannot be legally complied with

By Brad Gardner | October 29, 2010

The NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) is enforcing a wool loading policy despite knowing for more than a year that it cannot be legally complied with.

ATN has obtained a report showing the RTA knew as far back as September 2009 that trucking companies could not legally load wool bales according to a regulation it introduced in 2004.

The regulation states that wool bales, which vary in shape and size due to the different presses used, must not exceed 2.5 metres in width.

But following an inspection of loading practices, RTA Compliance Officer Doug Dewberry wrote to his superiors on September 28, 2009: “Due to the lack of uniformity of wool bale production on farms it was not possible to load the bales within the maximum width dimension of 2.5 metres.”

Although Dewberry recommended the reinstatement of a pre-2004 regulation to fix the problem, the department has so far refused to act.

The pre-2004 regulation, scrapped by the RTA, addressed problems with the shape of wool bales by permitting the butt of them to exceed the width so long as the bale seam fell within the vehicle’s dimensions.

Butts protrude when the bales are pressed and bulge during transit from pressure from loading straps.

As Dewberry noted in his report, the RTA’s decision to include butts when measuring a load means a truck’s width is about 2.7 metres.

The situation has led to respected companies like Bathurst-based Burke’s Transport being continually fined.

“In my case we had one officer at Mount Boyce who knocked us off seven times for the same loads. After the fifth time I said, ‘No, I’m not paying this anymore. I’m going to take this to court and we’ll fight it out’,” Burke’s Transport Managing Director Graeme Burke says.

He says the company spent about $35,000 taking on the RTA despite knowing it could not win because of the wording of the policy.

Industry group NatRoad has campaigned since August last year to get the RTA to address industry concerns and reform the policy.

NatRoad Member Services Manager Gavin Klingner says a meeting is scheduled with the department on November 8 to reach a resolution on the issue.

The trucking industry has gained the support of Independent MP Dawn Fardell and Nationals MP Katrina Hodgkinson, who have both blasted the RTA’s antics.

“Transport operators have no control over the precise length that the wool shed staff makes the bales, and to begin with there are many different types of wool presses that form bales,” Fardell says.

“No amount of fines, or reloading of bales, can or will change the shape of a bale of wool, nor the thousands of wool presses which produce them.”

Hodgkinson says the RTA is imposing an “impossible requirement” because no two bales are exactly the same size.

“Under these conditions wool carters will have to massively reduce their load to uneconomical levels, or risk fines for being 1 or 2 millimetres over the specified width,” she says in a statement.

“My office has been flooded with complaints from wool carters who know this is an impossible requirement and they face heavy fines if they venture onto the road.”

Burke has also questioned the RTA’s commitment to chain of responsibility because trucking companies are being fined despite having no say over the size and shape of wool bales.

“We talk about chain of responsibility. Whose problem is it?” Burke asks.

He says the RTA is targeting trucking operators as a simple solution to the problem because it would be expensive to make farmers buy new wool presses to produce smaller bales.

“It’s just persecute the transport industry,” Burke says.

An RTA spokesman says penalties for exceeding the 2.5 metre width can range from $258 to $659. He says continued breaches can lead to court action.

“Penalties for non compliance of the dimensional limits vary depending on the severity of the offence,” he says.

The spokesman says the width restrictions exist to protect motorists and the community.

“Over width vehicles are a risk to themselves and other road users. The vast majority of heavy vehicle operators do the right thing.”

Despite the RTA spokesman yesterday denying it, Hodgkinson claims the department is warning trucking operators of a November 1 crackdown on wool carriers.

Her comments support those made by Fardell, who says she was approached by a Dubbo trucking company saying RTA inspectors were threatening to ground trucks on November 1 if they exceeded the 2.5 metre width.

The spokesman says inspectors were handing out information sheets to remind the industry of its responsibilities and that education is the most important stage of the RTA’s compliance program.

However, the RTA’s denial contradicts claims made by Burke. He says his drivers were handed the sheets at Mount Boyce and Marulan with a warning a targeted campaign would begin on November 1.

Burke says the RTA decided to begin stringently enforcing the policy in response to his company’s decision to challenge it in court.

“They had a planned blitz but when it was brought out into the open the blitz has now been cancelled,” he says.

“The RTA denied it, but there was going to be a blitz.”

Burke fears the wool bale policy is indicative of a heavy-handed approach by the bureaucracy to regulating the trucking industry. He believes reform is needed.

“We will become so unproductive and so cost ineffective we’ll never be able to compete with the rest of the world,” he says.

“We are in a diabolical mess.”

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