Prime Mover Magazine

Late transport reforms have failed to deliver expected gains: Productivity Commission

Reform in the transport sector has been disappointingly slow and has not delivered the expected productivity gains, according to a draft report released by the Productivity Commission.

After eight years Productivity Commissioner Paul Lindwall said it had achieved national consistency in the safety regulation of heavy vehicles, boats and trains but that there was still much to be done.

"Creating national regulators and laws was ambitious and has taken longer than anticipated," he said.

"The pace of reform has picked up recently but more action is needed to deliver the expected safety and productivity gains," said Lindwall.

Reform was expected to unlock large efficiency gains for heavy vehicle operators. While gains have been made, these forecasts were optimistic and have not been achieved found the Report.

By most measures, safety has continued to improve since 2011.

But it was unlikely, at present, that the recent reforms have contributed to additional improvement to safety outcomes.

Gains from reform were considered modest with the main benefits likely to be lower compliance costs for businesses and a lift in heavy vehicle productivity from improving access to local roads.

Regulatory reform has not come at the expense of safety — safety outcomes continue to improve in the road and rail sectors.

Crash rates for heavy vehicles continued on their long-term decline.

At present, the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) remained inflexible, encouraging an old-fashioned ‘tick the box’ attitude to safety rather than innovative risk management.

The Commission supports moves to make the HVNL less prescriptive and more focused on results than rules.

It said a fit-for-purpose regulation was critical to have calling
national consistency only useful.

Moving to national regulation should be seen as one practical step towards improving safety and productivity.

But more efficient trucks and use of the road network are key to containing costs and congestion, with road freight expected to grow by about 50 per cent over the next 20 years.

"Achieving the productivity gains predicted in 2011 will require much more than regulatory reform of safety. Governments need to continue and, in some cases accelerate, broader reforms to infrastructure investment, its use and management, and pricing of access,"said Lindwall.

Governments and industry also need to reap the benefits of technologies such as telematics.

These offer exciting opportunities to improve safety and lift productivity.

Governments will have an important role in facilitating data collection and sharing across governments and industry.

While reform has delivered more consistent regulation across most jurisdictions and is likely to have reduced compliance costs for some operators.

Insofar as reform had lifted productivity by improving road access for larger, more efficient trucks there was much unfinished business to address including the participation of Western Australia and the Northern Territory  in the national heavy vehicle regime; the NHVR had yet to assume full responsibility for enforcement; derogations from the national heavy vehicle and rail laws in some jurisdictions created unjustifiable compliance burdens for businesses.

It was recommended that a new Council For Australian Governments agenda build upon the regulatory reforms such as:

- accelerating reform of infrastructure planning and management, including the Heavy Vehicle Road Reform agenda and trials of road user charging
removing unjustified derogations and grandfathering, using risk based assessments of the evidence

- strengthening the safety culture of industry through education and regulatory incentives for capable businesses to switch from ‘tick the box’ compliance to accredited, risk based safety management systems
realising the full potential of new data technologies to improve safety and productivity

- removing regulatory barriers — such as some Australian Design Rules — to the early adoption of new technologies which can lift productivity and improve safety.

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