Want HML? RTA tells industry to cough up

<b><font color=red>REVEALED:</font></b> RTA denies cash-starved councils HML funding, telling them to charge operators up to $30k for the scheme

Want HML? RTA tells industry to cough up
Want HML? RTA tells industry to cough up
By Brad Gardner | August 27, 2009

The higher mass limits scheme in NSW is close to failing, as the Roads and Traffic Authority refuses to finance cash-starved councils and tries to make trucking companies pay for the scheme.

Councils are struggling to grant access to higher productivity vehicles because of an inability to recover costs for HML route assessments, which may be up to $6,000 a bridge.

Junee recently had to deny Berrigan-based operator Baxter Transport HML access for B-doubles due to funding constraints, and other councils at Cootamundra, Parkes, Dubbo and Lachlan are doing the same for other configurations from applicants.

The RTA will not help the councils, but ATN has learnt the department is privately telling them to recoup the costs from the trucking industry.

"The RTA is saying go and get the money from the operators," Kel Baxter of Baxter Transport says.

He says the Lachlan Shire Council was told by the RTA to bill him almost $30,000 for a requested HML assessment, despite a spokesperson from the RTA denying the claim.

"The RTA has not issued any recommendations to councils concerning funding of assessments," the spokesperson says.

However, Lachlan Council has supported Kel’s comments, saying applicants face "a doozy of a bill" under the RTA’s approach.

"At the moment they [the RTA] don’t give us a cent. They say we should recover the costs from the applicants," Lachlan Council Director of Technical Services Phil Newham says.

Furthermore, Director of Infrastructure at Parkes Council Kent Boyd says he is aware of the RTA telling councils to charge trucking companies.

Boyd, however, is reluctant to follow the RTA’s requests and says the council is trying to absorb the costs.

"We are aware you could charge people for the assessment process but we are taking a different view," he says.

Kel is unwilling to pay for the HML assessment, saying another company may then come along and use the route despite not having to pay a fee.

NatRoad Chief Executive Bernie Belacic says trucking companies should not be paying for HML assessments because it is government’s responsibility.

"It is not fair or feasible. It is what we pay registration and road user charges for," he says.

While saying the department covers all costs for assessments on state-owned roads, the RTA spokesperson claims the department has no responsibility to councils.

"Local councils are responsible for conducting and funding assessments of higher mass limits on local roads," the spokesperson says.

"Under the Roads Act 1993, any road authority (which includes a council or shire) can charge a fee for services related to management and assessment of a road."

But the spokesperson failed to point out the Act also allows the RTA to fund local road projects and administer federal or state grants to finance road works by other road authorities.

Despite this, council pleas for more money to carry out assessments are being met with hostility from the RTA.

"They just change the subject and call us ratbags for not approving this initiative," the Managing Director of Engineering Services at Junee, Colin Macaulay, says of his experience in asking for financial assistance.

"It just seems to fall on deaf ears."

Cootamundra Director of Engineering Gary Arthur has also accused the RTA of incompetence.

He says the department is attempting to run the HML scheme by dictating to regional councils from its office in Sydney.

"I am loathe to give [HML] approval because I don’t think the RTA knows what it is doing," he says.

Arthur claims the department incorrectly told an operator a route in the shire was HML approved because they mixed it up with another road 40km away which was capable of carrying heavier loads.

"No-one really understands what is going on as far as I am concerned," he says.

Fiona Baxter, who looks after HML applications for Baxter Transport, says there is also a lack of communication between business and government.

"There seems to be no communication between the RTA, councils and grain loading sites," Fiona says.

"There are issues where the RTA has granted access to sites but then the site is unaware of this and does not believe that the HML access is there."

However, Baxter Transport has praised the RTA for opening up the state network to HML, while Fiona says a section of the department is helpful.

"The people at the RTA in the Intelligent Access Unit are brilliant. You could not fault them" [for approving route confirmation]," she says.

Fiona says some local governments also try hard to get the approval process completed as quickly as possible.

But the inability of operators to gain greater route access has once again cast doubt on the future of the Intelligent Access Program (IAP), which companies must be enrolled in to operate under HML conditions.

Baxter Transport was one of the first companies to enrol in the scheme but Kel is now considering his involvement because the business cannot recoup the outlay it has made.

Baxter’s IAP contract ends this year, at which point Kel will decide whether to continue with the scheme.

The operator paid $20,000 to install the GPS monitoring technology in five of its trucks and must also pay an $800 monthly fee.

"At the moment I can’t even get my $800 back," Kel says.

Despite this, he adds that the increase in the freight task means there must be a system in place to permit the use of higher productivity vehicles and manage the number of trucks on the road.

But he questions whether IAP is the answer to addressing the issue because of the problems Baxter Transport has had in trying to gain approval.

"This is just too hard in relation to the benefits," Kel says.

Junee Council has also raised concerns about the effectiveness of IAP, which Macaulay doubts is foolproof.

While supportive of HML due to its potential to cut truck movements, he says it can only survive if the RTA comes on board.

"If you want us to assess these routes give us some money," Macaulay says.

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