Figures don’t tell the whole story

Read time: 3 mins

By Warren Clark

Original Article published in Deals on Wheels

“Lies, damned lies, and statistics” is a quote attributed to American author Mark Twain.

It’s meant to be about the way some people use numbers to prop up a weak argument.

The team at NatRoad read volumes of reports and studies, most of them based on statistics.

It’s part of our job.

We do it so you don’t have to.

And as hard as it is to believe, some of us even enjoy it.

The fact is that you need statistical evidence to support policy change. No policy-or law-maker, or politician for that matter, should act without it.

It’s interesting then to reflect on some recent statistics that appeared in mainstream media as we focussed on a new year and some of the challenges our industry is facing.

One of them is access.

According to Federal Government figures, in 1976-77, rail moved 22.8 percent of domestic non-bulk freight in Australia, while road transport took 65.5 percent.

By 2021-22, rail had dipped to 16.7 percent of domestic non-bulk freight, with trucks taking 79.8 percent.

Coastal shipping’s share of the freight task has also fallen – from roughly 13 percent four decades ago to under four percent.

States and Territories across Australia have set targets over the last decade to increase the use of rail by up to 30 percent of the freight task.

Despite best efforts, rail’s share of freight movements in and out of container ports sits at between two and 17 percent.

Let’s not play one mode off against the other.

Road, rail and shipping will always have differing roles to play in the freight task.

Road can’t move bulk freight in the volumes that rail and shipping can.

Rail doesn’t have the reach of road.

And most rail freight runs on lines shared with passenger trains and can only pass through built-up areas at off-peak times.

The Last Mile is becoming increasingly important in the logistics chain as consumers demand more convenience.

We’re familiar with the Climate Change Authority’s statistic that road transport of all kinds accounted 16 percent of Australia’s total emissions) in 2018.

All governments need to do more to make the transition to net zero easier for our sector.

According to the European-based International Transport Forum, only four countries (Canada, China, Japan and the US) currently have fuel economy standards for trucks, covering 51% of the global road freight market.

The Australasian Railway Association says rail is expected to meet almost three quarters of the growth in demand for freight to 2030.

The construction of Inland Rail could be a driver of that – but I’m not so sure.

Its primary objective is to move bulk and container freight more easily between Brisbane and Melbourne.

It has the potential to boost economies in inland cities where intermodal terminals will facilitate mode shift to road.

NatRoad is supportive of improving efficiency and safety across all modes – but more needs to be done to make them operate in synch.

Let’s ensure that when those goods trains arrive at inland terminals, they are operated in a way that makes the mode shift to road as seamless as possible so operators don’t take on more cost.

Improving road access around major seaports should be another priority. Road transport needs to operate around the clock to make the best use of these expensive facilities.

High handling costs, new and mysterious access charges and penalties for delays that aren’t the fault of heavy vehicle drivers are all barriers to improving waterfront productivity.