Heavy vehicle operators could increase the payload of certain heavy vehicle combinations by up to 16 per cent on some routes under reforms proposed today by the National Transport Commission (NTC).

Chief Executive of the NTC Paul Retter said certain heavy vehicle combinations were currently unable to be used to their full payload capacity.

“We’re investigating whether quad-axle group vehicles should be able to use higher mass limits without having to go through the performance based standards (PBS) application and approval process,” Mr Retter said.

“This could unlock significant productivity gains for many transport operators by cutting red tape and reducing fuel use.

“Quad-axle group vehicles have the capability to safely carry up to 12 per cent more payload than the current mass limits allow, but are currently restricted to the same limits as tri-axle heavy vehicles under the law, unless they undertake the performance based standards (PBS) application and approval process.”

The NTC’s preferred option would allow quad axle vehicles to carry increased mass on routes previously assessed as adequate for PBS approved vehicles without having to go through the PBS process.

Under this option, a class 3 notice would be developed to allow vehicles with quad-axle groups (primarily used by B-double and semitrailer combinations) to increase mass by 4 tonnes at general mass limits to 24 tonnes, and to operate at 27 tonnes under higher mass limits, without the current need to obtain approval through PBS scheme.

“The PBS scheme was always intended as a platform where we could test innovative vehicle designs, and this would eventually lead to broader use of these vehicle designs outside the scheme. After seven years operating safely under the PBS scheme, it is clear we have enough evidence to take these vehicles to the next stage,” Mr Retter said.

General mass limits determine the maximum weight an axle group or heavy vehicle combination can carry to gain access to the general road network. Higher mass limits are available to operators in a restricted road network under a special permit or notice.

The NTC also proposes that twin steer prime movers towing a semi-trailer be allowed to increase their mass by 4 tonnes to 46.5 tonnes at general mass limits under the Heavy Vehicle National Law, and to operate with a class 3 notice at 49.5 tonnes under higher mass limits.

“For example, currently some shipping containers are double handled once they leave port because twin steer semi-trailers can only carry their full payload capacity in a restricted area, even though these kinds of heavy vehicles are designed to carry this weight safely,” Mr Retter said.

“Heavier containers often have to be unloaded and broken down to be transported by multiple vehicles, wasting time and money.”

The NTC’s investigation also explored a change to the mass limits for tri-drive prime movers towing a semi-trailer but found this to be unnecessary, as these vehicles are not widely utilised within the jurisdictions that have adopted the Heavy Vehicle National Law.

These proposed reforms are described in the Twinsteer and tri -drive mass limits and Review of quad-axle groups discussion papers, released for public consultation today.

Public submissions are open until 5pm Tuesday, 26 April 2016 and can be made through the NTC website.

Following public consultation, final proposals will be considered by the Transport and Infrastructure Senior Officials Committee.

Mr Retter said these projects were examples of the NTC finishing the operational and technical work that it had started before the outcomes of the 2015 NTC review, which recommended NTC to continue to transition its focus to higher level strategic policy work.