Performance Based Standards review needed in 2019: NTC

By: Andrew Hobbs

Regulatory review of PBS is needed to restore industry faith in the scheme, the National Transport Commission says

Performance Based Standards review needed in 2019: NTC
NTC chief executive Paul Retter


The National Transport Commission (NTC) has recommended Australia’s Performance-Based Standards (PBS) be revised by July next year in a bid to attract more industry interest in the scheme.

The recommendation is one of four made by the group in a report into the scheme which was approved by state and territory transport ministers in a meeting held last month.

First developed in 2007, the PBS scheme was designed to help deliver further productivity without developing further infrastructure – encouraging industry to develop innovative vehicles that could carry a greater volume of products safely.

NTC chief executive Paul Retter says vehicles developed through the scheme are about 15 per cent more efficient for the transport of cars and groceries and about 30 per cent more efficient for movements of general freight.

"This means the same freight task can be delivered with fewer vehicles on our roads and the flow-on effects include reductions in fuel consumption, carbon emissions and road maintenance costs," Retter says.

"However, our review of the PBS scheme has revealed that the take up of the scheme has not been as strong as it could be because of issues such as barriers to access, leading to a reluctance from industry to participate."

System update

Specifically, industry uncertainty as to whether a vehicle will be approved to access a particular route was identified as the "single biggest barrier to the take-up of the PBS Scheme", the report says.

"Respondents also reported that they can easily manage popular vehicle types through the PBS process, but truly innovative ideas are put in the ‘too-hard basket’."

All but one state and territory government respondent to an NTC survey supported changes to the existing PBS standards, with many saying they were too inflexible to handle recent innovations.

Compliance with the PBS stability and braking requirements, which were first developed in the late 1990s, can now be achieved through alternative solutions, such as anti-lock braking system (ABS) / electronic braking system (EBS) and roll-over protection, the NTC said.

The NTC said that a change to the standards recommending that they be reviewed and revised by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) by July 2019, and that they continue to be revised every seven years.

It also recommends that the NHVR develop and lead the development of a communications plan to further promote the benefits of the PBS.

NHVR CEO Sal Petroccitto sees the recommendations as allowing further strengthening of the PBS scheme.

"In particular, I’m keen to expand our work with our 400 road managers to ensure they better understand how PBS vehicles can improve safety and reduce the impact on their infrastructure," Petroccitto says.

An NHVR spokesman tells ATN the regulator is keen to see a review, and is "reasonably confident" that it would be able to meet the target.

The NTC will now work with road managers, the NHVR and Austroads to implement the recommendations of the review, it says in an announcement.

Network connection problems

Australian roads are classified into four levels under the network classification guidelines published under the scheme – with level 1 roads open to cars and single articulated trucks, level 2 to B-doubles, level 3 to double road trains and level 4 to triple road trains.

To travel on a route that is outside a normal road network for one type of vehicle, a vehicle operator must apply for a PBS permit from the NHVR in places where the scheme is operation, such as New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory.

The NTC report says that when the Australian Transport Council approved the introduction of the PBS scheme in October 2007, "state and territory governments agreed to make best endeavours to determine access to their road networks by the end of 2007 and to publish network maps for PBS-approved vehicles."

But almost 11 years later, "at the time of writing no jurisdiction has passed legislation or regulations, or gazetted approval, as to right-of access, thus requiring every PBS-approved vehicle to seek a permit for its operation in each jurisdiction", the report says.  

The report said a NTC survey had found that many operators were thus forced to deal with the NHVR, state road agencies and local government to seek approvals – with some survey respondents reporting a wait of several years to obtain permits.

To help resolve this, the NTC has recommended that state and territory governments identify their PBS networks for each access level, with the NHVR to publish a national notice for each by July 2021 – improving the infrastructure access approval process for PBS approved vehicles.

This will involve assessing priority freight routes under the PBS network guidelines, identifying any mass or dimension limits for particular infrastructure and working with local governments to map their own access levels – as well as publishing all this information online within the NHVR Journey Planner.

The NTC also recommended that the NHVR work with Austroads to compare the methodologies used to assess infrastructure across Australia in order to build a nationally consistent assessment methodology by July 2020.

Retter said a key recommendation from the review was for states and territories to allow as-of-right access for PBS certified vehicles to operate on PBS declared road networks, rather than having to constantly seek approval.

"There are currently around 16,000 separate PBS registered trucks, trailers and buses which address some of the unique freight and environmental challenges we face in Australia, and we hope that these changes will allow the scheme to continue to grow," he says.


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