PBS expert warns operators to do their homework

By: Steve Skinner

Industry veteran Ken Cowell tells Comvec conference there are numerous potential pitfalls

PBS expert warns operators to do their homework
Ken Cowell: calls for ‘in principle’ access permits


A player in the Performance Based Standards (PBS) system says there are some "great concerns" with the scheme.

"Take the issuing of access permits. They are a nightmare," says Ken Cowell, a speaker at the recent Commercial Vehicle Engineering and Technical Conference (Comvec) in Brisbane.

"They take 28 working days, then you can get bounced by council. And that means further negotiation; getting your swept paths done; getting your assessors involved."

In the meantime, an owner-operator could go broke, Cowell warns.

Comvec is organised by the Commercial Vehicle Industry Association of Queensland (CVIAQ).  At this year’s Comvec it was announced that Cowell has been appointed national policy director of the CVIAQ.

An engineer by trade, Cowell has been in the trucking game for more than 30 years, most of that time with Volvo. He is a Sydney-based consultant and PBS certifier.

The PBS scheme was introduced in 2007 and taken over by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator in January last year.

"The PBS Scheme offers the heavy vehicle industry the potential to achieve higher productivity and safety through innovative and optimised vehicle design," the NHVR website says.

"The basic tenet of PBS is matching the right vehicles to the right roads. PBS vehicles are tested against 16 stringent safety standards and four infrastructure standards to ensure they fit the existing road network and are safe."

But as Cowell points out, just because you get your innovative vehicle approved by the NHVR, doesn’t necessarily mean the owner of the road you want to drive it on will grant you access.

Cowell says trailer manufacturers come up with some great ideas, but sometimes put the cart before the horse.

"They will put their heads together with the truck salesman, they will build the sucker, and then they want to PBS it − which is the wrong way of doing it.

"You need to talk to a PBS assessor first ... the talk will save you money in the long run."

Cowell recommends going for "in principle" access permits, "so that at the end you have a chance of at least getting your access permit down at the same time as your assessment.

"In meeting standards, you could have something related to drivelines, suspension, axle spacings, centre of gravity or even tyres that could pose an issue.

"If you are a trailer manufacturer, talk to the truck manufacturers you are looking at putting this together with, because when you sit down with the assessors they are going to say ‘okay, what wheelbase truck, what front overhang, what engine horsepower, what torque, what suspensions?’ − they will hit you with a lots of what's."

Later on in the process certifiers like Cowell will audit the vehicle as built against the NHVR-approved document, and after final approval you can apply for your full access permit.

"Sounds all really simple doesn't it, piece of cake. The reality is its 23 to 35 weeks for that journey."

Cowell warns there are many pitfalls to think about, and related the story of a client who had splashed out on 10 big truck and trailer combinations without doing his homework properly.

"There was a big bull bar that didn't meet requirements, a fifth wheel too far forward … (and ) he hasn’t even thought about access permits or where they are going to run."

For more on issues raised at Comvec, check out an upcoming issue of ATN.



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