PBS struggling under weight of inefficiency

Ignorant councils, costly assessments and inconsistent standards are crippling PBS. We need reform, NTC urges

PBS struggling under weight of inefficiency
PBS struggling under weight of inefficiency
By Brad Gardner February 10, 2010

Transport ministers are being urged to reform performance based standards (PBS) after a senior policy maker raised concerns over the effectiveness of the scheme.

Greg Martin from the National Transport Commission (NTC) says trucking operators are turning away from the initiative because of an inability to gain road access.

According to Martin, who is an NTC commissioner, many local governments are rejecting applications because they have no idea what PBS is, while states and territories have inconsistently implemented it.

As the NTC prepares to release its regulatory impact statement (RIS) on proposed changes to the system, Martin says a national model is needed to promote consistency and give operators confidence they will get a return for their investment.

"Many in the industry have been discouraged from participating in the scheme, largely because of difficulties in gaining access from state road agencies and local governments," Martin says.

"Industry participation has not been as high as it should be because of limited flexibility and the upfront costs of an assessment, with no guarantee that an approved vehicle can again access to the network."

"…a national PBS assessment and access framework offers the greatest benefits in terms of productivity, safety and environment. It is, therefore, the road the NTC would prefer governments to take."

Martin claims a national model will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 3.75 million tonnes, put more than 13,000 PBS-approved vehicles on the road and save $5.45 billion by 2030.

He made the comments during a speech to attendees of the Regional Truck Forum held by industry group NatRoad last week.

The PBS scheme was introduced in 2007 and was designed as an alternative to prescriptive mass and dimension rules, potentially allowing operators to carry heavier loads if their vehicles meet specific design standards.

A review into the scheme was conducted last year to look at how it could be improved.

The NTC is also pushing for changes to the assessment process to reduce the administrative and financial burden on trucking operators.

Martin wants the restriction lifted that forces companies to gain re-certification if they want to use a non-modular approved truck.

"Modular assessment will allow industry to mix and match PBS vehicle components, making it easier for manufacturers…to offer a more flexible combination."

He says self-certification will also reduce the cost of vehicles to operators because manufacturers will be allowed to mass produce PBS-approved vehicles for their customers to buy.

And in a sign the industry’s call for higher productivity vehicles is getting through, Martin told the forum a national policy on B-triples is currently being developed.

He says the combinations are more stable than other vehicles and have the potential to boost productivity and reduce road wear.

However, Martin says more needs to be done to allay community fears over the size of the trucks.

"The NTC is currently working towards educating community leaders and opinion-makers about the facts and benefits of higher productivity vehicles," he says.

"We also call upon you, the industry, to work on changing the negative perceptions of higher productivity trucks in the community."

The NTC is also poised to release its recommendations to improve the basic fatigue management (BFM) module criticised for being too inflexible.

During his speech, Martin indicated areas the recommendations will focus on, such as split rest breaks, the 14-day work cycle and early starts.

"By adjusting these hours of work and rest it may be possible to safely address practical issues and ensure BFM is more attractive for industry to adopt," Martin says.

He also urged the industry to get involved in the proposed changes to make sure operators have their voice heard.

Martin says the feedback will be taken on board and presented to Australia’s transport ministers.

"It’s important for industry to have its say and ensure those benefits are realised where it counts – on the roads and highways," he says.

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