Mid-market transport companies have called for all road users to share the burden of paying for new roads, despite a recent push to sting trucks with increased tolls.
The main problem on Australia’s increasingly congested roads was “millions and millions of motor cars”, said the chief executive of the Australian Trucking Association, Stuart St. Clair, at the BRW/GE Capital ‘Momentum for the Mid-Market’ transport industry last week.
Earlier last week, the Victorian state government announced an $850 million widening of the Tullamarine Freeway, which toll roads operator Transurban will partly pay for with an increase in truck tolls.
In Sydney, there is a proposal for trucks to be fined if they don’t use new toll roads, including the $3 billion NorthConnex tunnel, in a bid to ease congestion on surrounding roads.
Ron Crouch Transport managing director Geoff Crouch said the trucking industry - which includes many ‘mid-market’ operators turning over between $10 million and $250 million per year - shouldn’t be forced to pay for every new road through higher tolls.
Fuel excise and road user charges should be used by governments to build new highways before tolls, he said.
“I’ve got no problem with paying my fair share because we get the benefit of better roads. But if mine’s going to go up, then everyone’s should go up,” he said.
Increased spending on public transport to get more cars off the road was also a way of making the industry more efficient.
Crouch said the current investment in public transport in the major cities wasn’t going far enough.
“Before we have a congestion tax, how about we have some investment in a really good public transport system that Sydney and Melbourne desperately needs,” he said.
The panelists agreed that an investment in safety programs was good for the bottom line. Improved safety had led to a 50 per cent drop in road fatalities over the past two decades.
However, customers who favoured speed over safety were a continuing challenge for transport companies.
“Some of them do want us to have safety programs in place, some don’t care. They just want us to have the product on the ground as cheaply as they can get it,” said Gravel City managing director Peter Turner.
The trucking industry admitted it had a lot of work ahead of it to convince motorists the broader roll-out of three-trailer B-triples could improve road safety.
Truck companies have long been calling for the introduction of B-triples, claiming the extra length would boost productivity in the road freight sector by 30 per cent.
“The challenge is how do you bring the community and the general public along with you. And how do you bring the media?”, the Australian Trucking Association’s St. Clair said.
Longer trucks are safer – and the driving public needed to remember cars, not trucks, were the real threat on the road, St. Clair said.
“We need to remember that 80 per cent of fatal accidents involving heavy vehicles are the fault of the other driver. The public doesn’t want to know that.”
UP TO SPEED ON CARBON REDUCTION, BUT LAGGING ON GPS
While the road transport industry has kept pace with European efforts to combat climate change, Australia’s adoption of GPS tracking lags far behind.
Heavy trucks on Australia’s roads are required to comply with Euro 5 emissions standards – “the air that comes out of our trucks is cleaner than the air that goes in thanks to Euro standards,” Crouch said.
“And it costs us money. And we get no thanks for that.”
But while GPS tracking – known as telemetry – had become obligatory in Europe and across other sectors in Australia, Australian truckers hadn’t shown the same hunger to adopt new technology.
Trimble, a global fleet management company, has been trying to roll out GPS analytics in Australia for several years. While companies such as Telstra have been quick to embrace the technology, which allows companies to track the performance of mobile teams, truckers are yet to come on board.
“The Europeans, western Europeans... they’ve done it. Their view is that’s done,” Trimble’s Australia and New Zealand managing director Tom Scahill told the panel.