Trucking to be reshaped under ambitious reform

Government freight strategy calls for a single national network, dedicated truck routes and greater access for higher productivity vehicles

Trucking to be reshaped under ambitious reform
Trucking to be reshaped under ambitious reform
Brad Gardner | February 22, 2011

Dedicated truck routes will be built and high productivity vehicles will be given greater access to the road network under an ambitious proposal to reshape Australia’s freight task.

In a draft blueprint for a national land freight strategy released today by Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese, Infrastructure Australia wants governments to rethink their approach to transport planning to lift productivity and competitiveness.

The report proposes a single national network to improve interoperability between transport modes and for truck-only roads between capital city ports and intermodal terminals.

The draft report recommends a second tier of freight-specific routes running from jurisdiction-designated freight clusters to the national network.

"Currently, most of the transport infrastructure used by freight is also used for personal transport. There is virtually no freight specific transport infrastructure," its draft proposal says.

"The essence of any freight network is that it should ‘add’ something – analysis, priority, rights and responsibilities – for freight which is not available off the network."

While regulators have so far granted limited use of high productivity vehicles, such as vehicles capable of carrying two 40-foot containers, Infrastructure Australia wants the trucks to be given access to national highways such as the Newell, Hume, Pacific and Bruce.

"Easing any unjustified limits to the interoperable access of high productivity vehicles would have an immediate productivity pay-off, reduce the number of vehicle movements, and have positive impacts on energy consumption," it says.

Infrastructure Australia says B-doubles have delivered widespread productivity gains but further benefits on main routes are limited.

"Potential productivity gains from a next generation of trucks, higher productivity vehicles, have been described as a ‘quantum leap’, however, their use is restricted," the government body says.

Infrastructure Australia says current restrictions on high productivity vehicles preventing them from using local roads to reach their destination hinders productivity.

"Consequently either the freight needs to be double handled, or inefficient vehicle sizes are used on highways," it says.

Infrastructure Australia says there are complaints from industry that restrictions imposed on the larger trucks on some main routes are unjustified.

It recommends an independent review system to identify impediments to access.

The Australian Trucking Association, which has long pushed for governments to grant high productivity vehicles greater access to roads, has welcomed the report.

"The trucking industry has long argued that we should be able to operate B-triples and other high productivity trucks on appropriate routes. A B-triple is a prime mover with three trailers linked by turntables," ATA Chairman David Simon says.

As well increasing productivity by reducing the amount of trucks needed to deliver goods, Simon says the vehicles are fitted with the latest safety features and have greater roll stability.

He wants more of the network opened to AB-triples and BAB-quads, which are a modern variation of the road train.

"These truck and trailer combinations are safer than traditional road trains. They are less likely to roll over because of the way they are designed," Simon says.

With the freight task predicted to treble by 2050, Infrastructure Australia says governments need to switch their focus to land use planning.

"General freight is likely to grow near population centres. However, population growth and urban consolidation can place pressure on routes used by freight vehicles and on freight precincts, particularly if there are major changes in the locations of residential lands," it says.

"Therefore, better integration of freight transport and land use planning is important for freight productivity, as well as for amenity. Better integration may also assist to address some ‘last mile’ issues."

It has proposed governments develop a document marking likely major freight routes and precincts.

Infrastructure Australia has also suggested a "freight policy veto" on planning decision where urbanisation affects the freight task. However, it adds that the policy will be difficult to introduce and is wholly reliant on jurisdictions implementing it.

"Such a process may not result in greater community support for the efficient conduct of freight tasks," the draft report says.

Unless potential freight routes are reserved, Infrastructure Australia fears there will be implications for private investment and the cost of providing infrastructure in the future.

The report also addresses subjects covered in last year’s tax review, such as road pricing and allowing freight operators to invest in road infrastructure.

Infrastructure Australia says the trucking sector does not directly pay for the infrastructure it uses and has no "property rights" in the services it uses.

"Users of other infrastructure make payments to infrastructure owners, regulated to efficient price levels, in exchange for rights of use and rights of improvement," it says.

According to the draft report, a direct road pricing scheme is more efficient and should apply to motorists and the freight task.

"This would help to assure the neutrality of road, rail and shipping," it says.

Governments are currently considering a new pricing scheme such as mass-distance-location, which monitors vehicles by GPS and charges them based on the weight they carry, the distance they travel and the roads they use.

Albanese says the freight strategy, commissioned by the Federal Government, sets out a long term program for reform and investment.

He says all governments will need to agree to the proposals to ensure meaningful reforms.

"With freight volumes nationwide set to double between 2007 and 2030, there’s a clear and urgent need for national leadership and long term planning to make sure our transport infrastructure can cope with this much greater demand," Albanese says.

"We must avoid the bottlenecks at our ports and the capacity constraints on our roads and rail lines which cost the economy tens of billions of dollars in lost export earnings during the previous mining boom."

Albanese says Australia’s prosperity relies on better roads, faster rail and more efficient sea and air ports.

In a speech to the Australian Logistics Council’s (ALC) annual forum in Melbourne today, Albanese told the industry it needed to support the reforms to make them a reality.

"Too often industry has not put its shoulder to the wheel when it is necessary to campaign for these reforms. I can’t do it alone," he says.

"My request to you is to join with me to ensure that these measures are adopted."

What do you think of the proposed reforms? Leave your thoughts below or contact ATN

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