Prime Mover Magazine

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Michael Kilgariff

Towards a better road transport network

March 2017

The Australian Logistics Council (ALC) applauds the Federal Government providing more money for land transport, particularly for interstate routes. It also applauds federal engagement in regulation, but only where it aims to eliminate duplication and create greater efficiency and safety, not the reverse.

So ALC and many in the road-transport business were pleased to see last year the end of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. The Tribunal added nothing to safety or, at least, nothing to safety that could not be achieved by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator.

At the time, the Government promised to spend the money saved to improve safety through the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator. That is all very well and was probably a necessary commitment to get the abolition through, however the Federal Government needs to be a permanent player in national heavy-vehicle road safety. To that end, ALC has recommended in its submission to this year’s Budget process that this funding level be made permanent.

ALC also submitted that the Federal Government fund the development of a single and accessible set of guidelines for an amended Heavy Vehicle National Law to ensure that the industry is ready for the new laws. This would increase safety outcomes in the heavy-vehicle sector.

Better road transport needs more than better roads and more streamlined regulation. It also requires the removal of bottlenecks. To that end, ALC has been pushing for more federal funds to duplicate the freight rail line at Port Botany.

The benefits of better roads can often be defeated if there are bottlenecks at ports and inadequate intermodal facilities for freight to be moved quickly between sea, rail and road.

Unfortunately, it is more often the case that funding for road projects is geared towards voting motorists than the needs of the national freight effort.

Research late last year by the respected Grattan Institute was insightful. It looked at all 836 projects that cost $20 million or more between 2001 and 2015.

Premature announcements – when a politician promises to build a road, bridge or rail line without a funding commitment, often in the run up to an election – caused three-quarters of the total $28 billion in cost overruns, yet they comprised less than a third of the projects, the research found.

In short, when proper analysis is done before a commitment is given, projects generally run on time and on budget. But if politicians (of whatever party) get in too early, bad decisions are almost inevitable.

Politicians and each mode of transport have to look at the bigger picture rather than their immediate desires. That way we will all be better off.

To that end, ALC – in its submission for this year’s Federal Budget – called on the Federal Government to fund an independent inquiry to help in the development of a National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy.

It may seem abstract, but in the longer term it will do a lot to drive efficiency and profitability in the heavy-vehicle industry. This is because it will help eliminate bottlenecks, give priority to roads that will give the highest economic yield, remove unnecessary regulation and start a program of preservation of road corridors which will in turn make road funding cheaper. That can only be good for the heavy-vehicle industry.

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