From the CEO: No Christmas shortcut in sight when it comes to access

Read time: 3 mins

By Warren Clark

Original Article Published in Deals on Wheels Issue 495

We’re past the midway point in the calendar year but it’s not too early to be thinking about Santa.

Our industry has been promised an online system that improve road network access by automating much of the decision making.

For an industry that struggles with all manner of permits and often finds itself at the mercy of local road managers working to long and inflexible processing deadlines, it would be like all our Christmases coming at once.

Such a system already operates in Tasmania but with due respect to operators from the Apple Isle, instigating a national counterpart is a wholly different beast.

Under the current system, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator considers requests for access on an individual basis and makes the final decision to grant a mass or dimension authority.

The NHVR can only grant access if it is satisfied that the use of heavy vehicles under the authority will not pose a significant risk to public safety and that each relevant road manager has consented.

Heaven help an operator when a local road manager goes on holidays and forgets to turn on his or her out-of-office email.

The Kanofski Review into Heavy Vehicle National Law reform recommended we start moving towards a national online approval system by introducing an as-of-right-access along specific routes between major cities.

Makes a lot of sense to me and it would bring a lot of seasonal cheer to the bottom lines of operators wanting to deliver on the freight task in a more efficient but safe manner.

A major barrier to operators buying new, safer and more efficient PBS vehicles is the lack of certainty on access, which could be addressed with the automated access system.

Making online approval work for smaller routes is going to involve an assessment of current road freight routes to make sure they are as described in terms of width and bridge capacity and working through changes with local government.

Minimising turnaround time for approvals not deemed as-of-right-access would be a gift.

Mapping every road accessed by a heavy vehicle sounds a daunting task but it’s not. You’ll find proof on your mobile phone. Google has managed to capture terabytes of images and regularly updates what its library.

I couldn’t help thinking that our bureaucrats had missed a golden opportunity to get things moving when I saw a government tender in June for the government’s forthcoming national mobile signal audit.

There’s talk that this audit may involve Australia Post vehicles carrying signal measurement devices.

Mobile dead spots are the bane of long-haul operators with regard to both safety and efficiency.

But how much smarter would it have been to wrap a mapping survey of road capacity constraints into the same project?

The kicker is that the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts tender looks to be spreading the audit over five years.

The Kanofski Review set a target for a new automated access system to be in place within three years, and for the number of access permits required to be halved in the same period.

In June, national transport ministers approved proposed amendments to the HVNL and tasked the National Transport with drafting a new Bill and regulations.

Industry will be consulted and a package is scheduled to go before ministers for approval in July 2024.

The wheels of reform do move slowly but rest assured NatRoad will be pushing hard in the next few months for some early presents under the tree for all of us.