Truck­ing an easy tar­get

Politi­cians, pol­icy mak­ers, au­thor­i­ties and pub­lic have lit­tle idea about the diver­sity within road trans­port

Owner Driver - - From The Ata Council -

I’M GO­ING to start this col­umn with an apol­ogy be­cause I’m still harp­ing on about elec­tronic work di­aries (EWDs) and ev­ery­thing else that needs fix­ing. I guess a few owner-driv­ers and op­er­a­tors might be keen on vol­un­tary EWDs but, to be hon­est, the rest of us will keep go­ing as we are. That is un­til the next big col­li­sion where I think we’ll see every sort of tech­nol­ogy and track­ing im­posed very quickly.

Let me be clear, I don’t want to see more of the tragedy of what hap­pened ear­lier this year, but I think it’s in­evitable that when loss of life hap­pens, the me­dia and oth­ers will put pres­sure on govern­ment to get heavy handed on trucks – and the pub­lic will agree. It won’t re­ally mat­ter about the cir­cum­stances or fault be­cause we’re a big, easy tar­get.

The more miles I do, the more I’m re­minded that the in­dus­try seems to be op­er­at­ing at a cou­ple of lev­els, and those lev­els aren’t re­ally on the same wave­length. Some might say they’re even fight­ing against each other.

We’ve got op­er­a­tors, owner-driv­ers and em­ployed driv­ers out there do­ing the job every day. They face end­less chal­lenges every sin­gle day – drive safely, get the goods to where they’re go­ing, get there in time, don’t mess up the log­book, or­gan­ise to­mor­row’s job or work, grab a feed and a shower, re­fuel, hit the road again, make sure the truck is main­tained or still right to go. Never mind check in with the fam­ily or think about what needs do­ing at home or deal with the bills or pa­per­work … the list goes on.

Plus we’ve got what I’ve been known to call the shiny-arse level and ev­ery­one else. The pol­icy mak­ers, the politi­cians, the govern­ment bod­ies, the Na­tional Heavy Ve­hi­cle Reg­u­la­tor (NHVR), the en­force­ment agen­cies, big com­pa­nies, multi­na­tion­als, con­sul­tants, ex­perts – and the me­dia and the pub­lic. You know what I mean.

AP­PLES AND OR­ANGES

Let’s be hon­est, the driv­ers work­ing for big com­pa­nies have dif­fer­ent is­sues to an owner-driver above and beyond their ex­pe­ri­ences be­hind the wheel.

Those of us in ru­ral and live­stock are very dif­fer­ent to freight truck­ies run­ning up and down the M1 or the Hume. Com­pare live­stock trans­port to our coun­ter­parts in out­back Aus­tralia vs Vic­to­ria, which is pretty ur­banised for the most part.

This makes it hard some­times to com­pare ap­ples and or­anges but I like to think that most of us agree on a lot of the stuff that mat­ters. And you’ve got one-truck op­er­a­tors like me, small fleets, big fleets, sub­bies, con­trac­tors, fam­ily com­pa­nies and ev­ery­thing in be­tween.

It can be so bloody frus­trat­ing try­ing to ex­plain the re­al­i­ties of driv­ing a heavy ve­hi­cle full of cat­tle into Mel­bourne to some­one who mostly lives in an of­fice and drives a small car or catches the train. As hard as they try, the ex­perts have rarely even sat in a truck, let alone helped load pens of fizzy cows with­out get­ting in­jured them­selves mak­ing sure the an­i­mals get on safely. Nor do they have any idea about nav­i­gat­ing them across bouncy, rough, nar­row coun­try roads through busy traf­fic into a fa­cil­ity, get­ting them off in one piece and with­out get­ting in­jured all over again.

After that, it’s clean­ing the truck/trailer and your­self, find­ing some­where to get a feed and some fuel and get home be­fore your time’s up, then do it again to­mor­row. Never mind an an­i­mal ac­tivist block­ade or a de­tour or a bin­gle or bro­ken load­ing ramps or a cow that won’t walk off for an hour be­cause she’s tired or cranky or a thou­sand other sce­nar­ios added into the mix.

You just can’t ex­pect to say you un­der­stand if you don’t drive a truck. Even driv­ing that route in a car tells you noth­ing about what that truckie ex­pe­ri­ences. Yet we have pol­icy and law and re­search telling us what to do and think and change that isn’t com­ing from those that have to do the job and live and breathe it and live with the con­se­quences of is­sues that choke the trans­port sec­tor.

AWAIT­ING PER­MITS

It’s this di­vide that draws me back to EWDs, and to a num­ber of other is­sues. Things like heavy ve­hi­cle user charg­ing, ac­cess per­mits, driver li­cens­ing, tolls and fa­cil­i­ties. And I guess fa­tigue and safety sits next to and above them all. We keep danc­ing in a cir­cle but we can’t get away from the fact that much of what we need to do our job just isn’t there.

I know of op­er­a­tors who have waited weeks for an ac­cess per­mit then, after some help from the reg­u­la­tor, it was fixed in a day. But you gen­er­ally need a com­puter or a smart­phone to ap­ply, and al­legedly some­times op­er­a­tors just run hot with­out one be­cause the re­al­ity of get­ting one be­fore you do the job can still be a prob­lem.

And you need to know who to ring to get this stuff fixed, and what if you don’t? What if you don’t have time to sit on the phone for two hours or longer? Or if you don’t have a smart­phone or an of­fice per­son to do your book­work and chase it up? That’s the re­al­ity.

There are thou­sands of op­er­a­tors who are a one-man band. Even those with the time have strug­gled to get them ap­proved. And if the call is that a job is to­mor­row (and that’s pretty stan­dard in my game) and a per­mit takes 48/72 hours, a week, two weeks, what then? In times gone by, the lo­cal coun­cils were okay to deal with. We could leave the com­pli­cated ones out­side our area to the NHVR, but some­times talk­ing to the lo­cal per­son seems a bet­ter op­tion.

RAM­PANT OVERCHARGING

So now we’re go­ing to have vol­un­tary EWDs, and the is­sue of heavy ve­hi­cle charg­ing and telem­at­ics and safety is also on the agenda.

I don’t think it’s any se­cret or sur­prise that heavy ve­hi­cle op­er­a­tors have been get­ting screwed in terms of overcharging for the last 10 years – if not longer. How it’s go­ing to look is the ques­tion, but the big­ger is­sue is how are we go­ing to en­sure that the overcharging doesn’t con­tinue? Any model has got to re­flect road qual­ity and even com­mod­ity type, be­cause many of the type of things I move (e.g. live­stock) are the ul­ti­mate in time-sen­si­tive freight.

There are also dirt roads and tracks and dan­ger­ous lo­cal roads to con­tend with. Then there are the roads I use that aren’t even on maps or Google. Never mind where we load from and where we are ex­pected to get them to.

An­i­mal freight makes ef­flu­ent, so how do we make sure op­er­a­tors can move them and keep roads and ve­hi­cles clean and biose­cure? Surely road user charg­ing should take into ac­count the costs of clean ve­hi­cles and pro­vide for wash bays and ef­flu­ent dumps? It’s not just stock trucks that need to be cleaned – fer­tiliser, grain, fuel, chem­i­cals, ce­ment are some ex­am­ples of freight moved by heavy ve­hi­cles and those trail­ers need to be cleaned prop­erly.

I say the par­ties that con­sign loads and con­sume goods must be brought into road user charg­ing. It doesn’t work to sim­ply in­cur a cost on the truck owner and hope that they stay vi­able.

How do roads get built and main­tained and in­fra­struc­ture done prop­erly but also make sure small trans­port busi­nesses sur­vive? If road user charg­ing gets tied to EWDs and telem­at­ics, how do small own­er­drivers fit into that model?

Yes, ev­ery­one should pay their way, but trans­porters have been sub­si­dis­ing a bro­ken sys­tem for too long. Can we just keep it sim­ple? Leave it on fuel or gas or elec­tric­ity for now and re­duce our costs? And can we fix some of the prob­lems be­fore we keep look­ing for the next shiny thing to solve and write re­ports about?

The tolls we pay are de­ter­mined of­ten by the time of day we use a free­way. Yet this is rarely, if ever, the choice of the trans­porter. Nor usu­ally is the route. Yes, we are told to pass on our costs, but the trans­porter is the vul­ner­a­ble party in the sup­ply chain. Charge too much? There are plenty of oth­ers who’ll un­der­cut to get the work. They might be cow­boys and run bad gear but they’re still run­ning around. I hope that changes but it hasn’t yet, de­spite prom­ises.

“Even driv­ing that route in a car tells you noth­ing about what that truckie ex­pe­ri­ences”

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