2015 Cover Stories: L.Arthur Transport Services

By: Paul Howell

Established in 1898, L.Arthur has been a constant presence on the Melbourne waterfront for 117 years. But managing director Vincent Arthur says the company’s brand and legend are still evolving

2015 Cover Stories: L.Arthur Transport Services
L.Arthur managing director Vincent Arthur has big ambitions for the 117-year-old wharf transport specialist.


With 117 years in the business, it would have been hard not to pick up a trick or two along the way.

For dedicated wharf transporter L.Arthur, the corporate memory is further enhanced by the four generations of the Arthur family that have been at the helm in that time.

Today’s managing director Vincent Arthur says the company’s competitive advantage lays in its ability to offer a full and complete range of wharf cartage services.

That’s not just containers, but also oversized and over-dimensional work, customs clearance, quarantine washing and fumigation, and reverse handling of empty containers.

"A lot of transport companies tend to work in a more limited area, but the work we do requires the full range of capabilities," he says.

"We have several long-term clients who are with us because we can cater to all their needs."

L.Arthur Transport Services has long been a family company, but each generation of service and leadership has joined the business of its own accord.

Vincent Arthur signed on as the company’s managing director in 2003, having spent more than a decade of his early career in the mining sector.

He joined up with his brother Dominic Arthur, who is the company’s operations manager.

"I worked with Rio Tinto in a number of roles and locations," he says.

One of his last roles with the company was based in Balikpapan, Indonesia.

He says he relished the challenge and the work, but priorities changed as his children drew closer to school age.

"Joining the family business fitted in with family aspirations and lifestyle choices at the time," he says.

Now, 12 years later, Vincent Arthur says the job and the wider business are each evolving to deliver ever more to an even wider range of customers.

"There’s probably no one else that has the range of services we offer — that’s been something a bit unique about our company throughout history."

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Full service

Based at a large facility directly across from Swanston Dock, L.Arthur aims to be a one-stop shop for customers that have a variety of transport needs.

Arthur says the company has several large and long-term clients who appreciate having a single transport operator regardless of whether they are moving a container, a piece of machinery, or entire construction projects.

"We offer full service in terms of over-dimensional and heavy haulage, traditional wharf cartage, standard, and sidearm deliveries," he says.

The company can also offer use of its site for quarantine cleaning, longer term storage and equipment repair, and as a staging area for large-inventory projects.

For example, the construction partners behind a significant shopping centre redevelopment are bringing in more than 160 containers’ worth of building material, fittings and facade over the life of the east Melbourne project.

With space on the site of the still operating mall at a premium, L.Arthur is providing space at its warehouse and container yard for the imported materials to stand, before providing just-in-time delivery to the project site.

During the mining boom, the L.Arthur site commonly hosted machinery and equipment en route to Western Australia.

One project involved keeping a particularly large, but malfunctioning, machine on site while the customer’s Melbourne-based engineers diagnosed and, eventually, repaired it.

The transport and storage of the machine for 12 months proved more economical than the alternative plan of taking the engineers to the mine site.

Arthur says this sort of flexibility and service is part of the company’s "full service reliability" ethos that the company aims to live by.

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Diverse fleet

Such a wide range of possible services requires an equally extensive set of equipment on hand.

In this respect L.Arthur boasts a fleet of more than 200 pieces of machinery, from the warehouse forklifts to the four reach stackers to its prime movers.

"We have a large range of cranes and forklifts, and different types of prime movers, with different engines and capabilities," Arthur says.

Across the fleet, the company has a preference for Caterpillar-powered equipment where they are available. It looks to ensure each new investment offers value for money and also fits in with the existing assets.

"We need to be ready and prepared to move near anything and everything, so we have a pretty diverse fleet to cater to every possibility," Arthur says.

Likewise, the company has developed a workforce that features a wide range of different skills.

The company’s 110 staff includes around 60 dedicated drivers, as well as warehouse, workshop, and administration staff.

Arthur says continuous training and professional development come with all roles, and there are several staff who are able to work across functions as required.

"That adds a tremendous amount of flexibility to L.Arthur’s offering in the market," he says.

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Higher productivity

Realising the very real value of operational flexibility, L.Arthur has been at the forefront of moves to get more high productivity vehicles (HPVs) handling the freight task in Victoria.

The company has been both a determined advocate for change, and an early adopter of bigger vehicles as more combinations and routes become permitted.

Arthur says local authorities — the State Government and VicRoads — have been actively engaging with the industry on the issue, and several operators have been able to access new HPV permits.

Super B-doubles, in particular, are moving from the port precinct only on to key freight routes around metropolitan Melbourne.

"The Government and VicRoads have acknowledged the need for those HPVs to be more widely introduced through the city," Arthur says.

He says the growing freight task is forcing authorities’ hands.

"One of the challenges for Melbourne as a city at the moment is moving all the freight that goes with a growing population around the city," he says, adding that the disparity is only likely to increase in the near future.

"People talk about the freight task possibly doubling over the next 10 to 15 years.

"In order to try and manage that on our road network, which is not going to be increasing as much as the freight, there needs to be big productivity improvements."

L.Arthur now has permits for Super B-double combinations to move regularly between its Footscray Road premises and a key client just off the Tullamarine Freeway.

"The vehicles all have monitoring devices in them that alert VicRoads if they veer off their permitted routes in any way," Arthur says.

"There‘s a whole heap of oversight but there exceptionally safe vehicles and the drivers in those vehicles are of the highest calibre."

For L.Arthur, the HPVs mean carrying two 40-foot (12m) containers per journey, rather than a single container only.

"That means half the truck trips; half the emissions; and half the traffic congestion.

"There are benefits for the whole city."

Arthur says the company has further ambitions in this space, with new road train combinations likely to star in upcoming applications.

"We are exploring different vehicle configurations that enable us to improve productivity to our customers," he says.

"It’s a matter of working with the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, VicRoads, and the equipment manufacturers to come up with designs that are innovative."

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Safety focus

It’s not just road authorities keeping a close eye on L.Arthur. The company itself takes a stringent approach to safety both on the road and everywhere the company finds itself at work.

"It really is the most important thing," Arthur says.

The company has developed externally-accredited procedures (to International Standard 18001) and has its own safety compliance department that reports directly to the management.

That three-person team is responsible for safety compliance across the in-house workforce, and visiting stakeholders, including subcontractors and clients.

Arthur says safety procedures become even more important when the business involves irregular operations and when every day could involve a different project or task.

"It’s unusual for a business of our size to have an externally-accredited safety system and the number of resources that we do," Arthur says.

"But I think that highlights the importance that we place on safety to everyone who is involved in our work."

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Custom-built IT

Arthur says the company is also extremely proud of its home-built IT platform and applications.

It has invested time, money, and dedicated staff into a technological solution that benefits itself and its customers.

"We didn’t think anything off the shelf was really able to cater to our clients’ needs," he says, noting that common IT systems for transport companies struggle to integrate with those of other organisations.

L.Arthur’s platform has this functionality at its core. Most importantly, it is able to integrate with the systems of Melbourne stevedoring terminals to keep close tabs on its clients’ containers from the moment they arrive on dock.

"It’s integrated with the time-slotting process, so we have that data in our system," Arthur says.

The platform has its own dedicated staff, continuously developing, upgrading, and debugging the software.

The result is something much more expensive than a generic IT solution, but also something that is much more reliable, intuitive, and responsive to the needs of the company and its clients.

Developing a company-specific solution is par for the course for L.Arthur, whose key competitive advantage lies in doing exactly that for its customers.

Arthur says the company’s reputation for having the capacity and flexibility to transport almost anything is what keeps many clients with L.Arthur for the long-term, and what he hopes will bring even more in through the doors in the future.


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