News that  there may be some movement on opening up Australia’s truck regulations, and aligning them better with International heavy vehicles standards, has brought some hope that we can shift our truck and bus industry firmly into the 21st century.

However, the long delays in implementing efficiency improvements to our truck and bus rules, may continue, given the pot shots taken at the initiative by the Local Government Association, and the fact that state and federal transport ministers are still not declaring if and when a definite decision on the reforms could take place

Despite this the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has welcomed news from the latest meeting of the nation’s infrastructure and transport ministers regarding the review and development of the Heavy Vehicle National Law.

But, it actually has to happen first and as the ATA  well knows, the consideration of better truck and bus rules has been going on for the best part of three decades with no result so far.

The ATA has been agitating  for at least the past five years and has often slammed the NTC for its lack of action, in fact delivering a pointed criticism of the NTC in the past weeks, saying it was far from happy with the progress the NTC has been making with its review which began in 2018.

The announcement last Friday, (11 February), that infrastructure and transport ministers from around the country held a productive discussion about the review and that they were emphasising the importance of close engagement with industry, has earned some endorsement from the ATA.

The transport ministers agreed there needs to be further consultation before bringing back more detailed policy work for consideration at their next meeting. So still no firm action!

ATA Chair, David Smith, did however declare it’s a step in the right direction.

“We welcome this announcement because it shows the ministers understand the need to consult with industry. Quite honestly, we’ve been very unhappy about the slow pace of this review, so let’s hope this latest development will speed things up,” David Smith said.

“We believe it’s vital that the new Heavy Vehicle National Law delivers a safe and productive working environment for the delivery of goods and services across Australia. It’s also very important that truck drivers are able to understand and abide by these laws.”

“We want to thank the ministers for intervening at the meeting on Friday, especially the leadership from deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Barnaby Joyce”.

“Maybe now, we’ll see some real progress. We will continue to develop a common-sense version of the Heavy Vehicle National Law for the Ministers to consider.”

“The heavy vehicle drivers have continued to deliver for Australia no matter what’s been thrown at them, including COVID-19, bushfires and floods. We need this review to deliver for them.”

However the progress with reforming the rules has drawn criticism from the Local Government Association which seems to be crying foul, despite the fact that some of its fears appear to be misguided.

According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald  the councils fear they will end up paying for the cost of work  they believe will needed to upgrade local roads and bridges to accommodate wider trucks if heavy vehicle laws are changed.

However, the change in width will only mean a move from 2.50 metres to 2.55 metres, in other words the width would only change by 50mm, in the old language just less than two inches.

Of course what the LGA neglects to mention or seemingly factor, is that a move to a 2.55 metre width will not necessarily mean the truck will be wider in reality, because the current measurement doesn’t take into account mirrors or buckles on tautliners, etc. The fact is the trucks are already over the 2.5metre width by more than the 50mm proposed increase.

Federal and state transport and infrastructure ministers particularly considered during their recent meeting regulatory changes to increase the width of heavy vehicles to 2.55 metres from 2.5 metres.

That has prompted the peak national body for councils, the Local Government Association, to warn that changes to the allowable size of heavy vehicles, without an increase in road funding for local governments will be a ‘‘ potential recipe for economic disaster’’ .

Australian Local Government Association president, Linda Scott said the peak body was disappointed that the proposed changes were considered without input from councils because it would be them that would have to foot the bill to upgrade local roads.

‘‘Increasing heavy vehicle sizes may mean local governments need to retrofit roads and bridges, prioritising funding away from other front-line community services and reducing footpaths for pedestrians and footway dining, and reducing green spaces,’’ she said.

Clearly Cr. Scott, a councillor with the Sydney City Council, does not understand what is being proposed for reform of truck and bus dimensions. The fact is, if vehicle width is increased by 50mm it won’t result in extra weight allowances, nor will it require massive road and bridge retrofit or upgrade programs.

The bottom line is that the Councils are urging the federal government to inject $300 million a year into first and last-mile freight transport over the next four years to assist in the upgrade of local roads.

Cr Scott, said an annual $300 million funding injection would cover only an existing infrastructure backlog, warning that larger trucks on local roads would result in a significant increase in costs for ratepayers. However as we said  the proposals aren’t about adding extra weight or length to trucks, just a miniscule 50 mm of width to bring us in line with international standards.

In a pre-budget submission, the peak national body for Australia’s 537 councils has urged the federal government to extend for the next four years a $500 million-a-year local roads and community infrastructure program.

Clearly the claim by the LGA is a cash grab and a bid to obtain more money for council activities around the country. That in itself is not an issue, however linking it to the reform of heavy vehicle rules and specifications, and trying to put a road block in place to what would be a massive safety and efficiency gain for Australia, turns Ms. Scott’s ambit claim into wanton political opportunism with no great benefit to the nation as a whole

A spokesman for federal Transport Minister Barnaby Joyce said the ministers at the meeting were in favour of increasing the width of heavy vehicles, as part of broader changes that were expected to improve road safety and reduce red tape for industry.

“This will mean there is less need for manufacturers to redesign or modify heavy vehicles, the majority of which are imported ,” he said.

“Both levels of government are acting on industry’s calls for change, and we note the sector’s support for the progress made at last week’s infrastructure and transport ministers’ meeting.”

T&B News knows of several examples of trucks and buses that have been put on the backburner by manufacturers planning on bringing them to Australia because of the misalignment of our standards.

Mercedes-Benz’ acclaimed and advanced Citaro bus has not been launched in Australia because of the disparity in rules.

Volvo’s EV FL truck, currently undergoing trials with two of them here working with Linfox, is running under a PBS certificate. When production models hit here later in the year they will have to be built to local rules, a situation that will cost more than selling a Euro size truck that’s 50mm wider.

At some point the lunacy of these delays in aligning Australia’s insular rules with international standards will have to end, particularly with zero emission on the horizon, and we will be able to move on into a new era with a global truck and bus standard.