The future of transport technology was one of many hot topics during the recent NatRoad conference
TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENTS and digital transformation emerged as a key theme at this year’s NatRoad Conference, with safety, fatigue technology, and autonomous vehicles dominating the discussions. In a recent submission made to a Queensland Parliamentary inquiry, we indicated that in the next 20 years the advances in technology and data availability will be a major driver of productivity growth in the freight sector in areas such as automation, data processes, and product delivery. These include the use of automated vehicles, telemetry, drones, and big data, supported by international data standards.
However, much of the technology depends on improved infrastructure. There are, for example, several barriers to adoption of alternatively fuelled vehicles, not the least of which for electric vehicles is the lack of infrastructure especially for long haul vehicles and the current and projected length of ‘down time’ for re-charging.
In addition, many of the advanced technologies and systems being adopted in overseas markets are yet to become available in this country. This applies in many areas of technology because of adaptation costs for Australia’s relatively small market and higher prices for on-road vehicles. The pace of change is very much going to depend on the rate at which the technology can be tested for unique Australian conditions.
The inquiry is also examining the effects of technology on employment in transport. There is a significant amount of anxiety among smaller operators that the introduction of automated heavy vehicles will put members out of work. The impact on jobs in the transport industry must be considered in any policy relating to the introduction of automated heavy vehicles.
Governments must work with the industry on the issue of how jobs are expected to transition in an automated environment. Yet, ironically, one of the immediate constraints on growth that members have reported to NatRoad is the declining number of skilled workers in the industry, particularly truck drivers. We aim to address this skills shortage problem with our Future-Ready project in collaboration with Paccar and the Paccar dealer network.
SMARTER AND SAFER
Technology is also providing fresh opportunities; allowing us to work smarter and safer. In examining the impact of technology on employment and safety, NatRoad is of the view that the inquiry should reject arguments that any industry participants are protected by safe rates, a concept which one of the inquiry’s terms of reference seems to encompass. The so-called ‘safe rates’ model is discredited. We oppose legislating rates for owner-operators or any other contractor now or in the future: that step creates market distortions and adds to the stress of the people it aims to help.
Vehicle tracking has also made monitoring driver behaviour easier. With the new chain of responsibility duties under the Heavy Vehicle National Law introduced from October 1, businesses need to assess whether the time is right now for embracing new technology.
WARREN CLARK, NatRoad’s chief executive officer, has more than 20 years’ experience leading and developing business for emerging companies. Warren has held the position of CEO at various companies and is a certified chartered accountant.