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Opinion: The uncertainty principle

Looking forward and back is what the start of the new year is for

 

Christmas was approaching – again – as this column was being constructed, and questions went backward and forward as they are wont to do at this time – are these the best years we can hope for at present or will we all be ‘rooned’?

Call it the ‘uncertainty principle’, just as long as quantum mechanics is left out of it. In quantum mechanics, that relates to the behaviour and measurement of subatomic particles – just the sort of stuff it’s hard to see ever make running a trucking business better or easier in our lifetimes. It says measuring the precise position and velocity of such a particle is impossible to do at the same time.

“Excellent,” one might think, summoning a hefty degree of irony.

But wait. Just as getting a handle on an electron is going to affect its velocity, so defining the actual pressure of a commercial vehicle tyre is affected by the act of measuring it manually, becuase air escapes when you do. Well, just a little bit, but tell a prosecutor that.

“Hah!” the modern, often big, fleet owner exclaims. “We’ve got tech for that and it won’t happen that way.” Good point. But, in a nation with one of the most aged fleets in the advanced world, it might go all that far, no matter how strong a point it actually is.

How strong? Well, it depends on how bluntly-wielded this year’s Chain of Responsibility (COR) reforms become.

“Not very,” the cynical angel on the left shoulder of some might chime in. “A few minnows in the third and fourth link of the chain after the drivers and their managers might cop it, but it’s the energy and resources to take it further up than that which is lacking.”

Even so, some limited developments have occurred after all this time and COR tools have been beefed up considerably. And that brings us back to tyre pressure and how strong the safety systems in the modest company might be in the event of, say, a fatal rollover.

Yes, it can sound like a pudding being slightly over-egged. Indeed the sort of thing that has scared those “other links” into making unwarranted and over-the-top demands of contractors big and small, which have then been kicked down to subcontractors.


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Another example, perhaps, of stronger parties loading this industry with burdens rather than doing a proper job themselves.

The message many of these customers are to get form the authorities is: “Cool it. You are only responsible for what you can reasonably control – not everything.”

But that won’t lessen the perceived responsibility on small to medium operators if something goes wrong and, who knows whether – in a case that fits the criteria – the mere running of an older fleet might one day count against an owner?

Like electric prime movers, you’d not like to hold your breath waiting, but it’ll be difficult forgetting about it entirely and it does seem inevitable.

And what about being rooned, sooner or maybe later?

To the sound of sighs and the sucking of teeth, the answer is “dunno” on both counts.

Just as freight is the bellweather for the economy – canary in the coal mine, for the morbidly pessimistic – so truck sales give an incisive view of where confidence is at amongst commercial fleet owners.

Match that with the likes of the Sensis business confidence survey and there must be a fair few company leaders sitting pretty comfortably in their office chairs and new-truck seats.

Supporting the observation is the near universal industry silence about the high fuel price.

As we’ve said before, it’s almost eerie, even if actual concern is very real.

Those of even relatively tender years might recall alternative fuel purveyors being pestered for cheaper solutions early in the decade. Sure those backing gas because they can and it works for them will make their savings and be sitting pretty if the balloon goes up, but the care factor is minimal amongst those seemingly too busy to care.

And yet … these are just not times where the mystified can be greeted with condescension, as the feeling is too general. Big city house prices, anyone? Trade wars?

Certainly deep industry reform has been mighty slow in coming, but a change of federal government may see a lot of that inertia slide.

But at this point, it seems almost impossible the Scott Bucholtz, as minister in charge of road charging reform, will be allowed to do anything along the lines of a “big new tax” reform before the election.

 

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