In 2006 the National Transport Commission (NTC) estimated that Performance-Based Standards would account for 12,000 vehicles by 2030.
At the end of September 2021 the PBS fleet had reached 13,262 combinations, which is significantly more than those early projections.
Prime Mover: Can you explain the exponential growth of PBS?
Les Bruzsa: The industry is recognising the safety and productivity benefits of PBS combinations and at the same time, we’re working with stakeholders to resolve access issues, and that means there is even greater demand for PBS vehicles. We had consistent growth over the years and when COVID-19 started we expected it was going to slow down but it hasn’t. The industry is very active and by the end of September this year we had approved 1,634 combinations. 2019 was a fantastic year for the industry with a record breaking 1,750 approvals. Encouragingly, in the first ten months of this year, we’ve already surpassed that number.
PM: What other benefits does PBS deliver?
LB: I want to emphasise it’s not just the productivity benefits of PBS. From the NHVR’s perspective that’s extremely important. The National Transport Insurance report earlier this year demonstrated that PBS vehicles have 60 per cent fewer crashes. B-Doubles were recognised over the years as a very safe combinations, but if we look at the safety performance of PBS A-doubles, their crash rate is around half of the B-doubles. So we have a new PBS combination which is a little bit longer and probably a little bit heavier, but it delivers all those safety benefits.
PM: Are the standards and the processes keeping up with the technology?
LB: It is important that PBS is reviewed and updated to the current standards because industry is moving extremely quickly and new technologies are being developed all the time. We now have an opportunity to look at some of the current technologies and how they improve performance and consider them in the PBS assessment and approval process, and it is why we are putting so much emphasis on the review of the standards. The NHVR is running a number of projects where we are trying to establish how much performance improvement these new and different technologies can deliver to heavy vehicle combinations. Road managers and authorities can sell the concepts of different vehicles to the public more easily if they can demonstrate that these vehicles are safer and fitted with the latest technologies. That’s a critical selling point about the technologies these vehicles will have which would mitigate the risk of crashes with pedestrians and other vulnerable road-users. PBS is continuously evolving and we are always looking at ways we can tailor the scheme and include all the technological enhancements.
PM: Has there been a trend to semi-type trailers rather than truck and dog combinations?
LB: Trucks and dogs are still representing the biggest group in terms of the PBS family but there are certain trends emerging. Within the truck and dog combination type we now have a much wider variety of truck and dog combinations. While in the early days we only had three axle trucks, with three or four axle dogs, currently you see a wider range of different axle configuration options, so we’ve got the three axle trucks, four axle trucks, five axle trucks, and three axle dogs, four axle dogs, five axle dogs and even six axle dogs. And we are currently looking at a five-axle tri-steer truck. Trucks and dogs are still there and then you’ve got the prime mover semis which is probably the second biggest group, then the B-doubles and the A-doubles. Sometimes access is driving the popularity of certain combinations.
PM: Can you elaborate more on this?
LB: For instance, in Victoria A-doubles are now more popular than the prime mover semis and we receive more applications for A-doubles because Victoria has opened networks for high productivity PBS vehicles. That means industry is currently shifting towards these combinations. We are seeing the same trend in Queensland as well, because of the port operation and the opening of the Toowoomba Bypass. In NSW, again, the A-doubles are very close to the prime mover semis and what we see in prime mover semis is not just the longer ones, it’s more the split axle configurations. Obviously, any potential changes in vehicle dimensions, especially width, are going to drive some of these developments. The NHVR is releasing a number of PBS Notices this year which will provide eligible PBS vehicles immediate access to certain networks. The level of access certainty is very important for the industry and will enhance further the uptake of PBS combinations
PM: Are you seeing that the OEM truck manufacturers are turning their attention more towards PBS?
LB: While initially PBS was a niche market, now almost all of the current truck manufacturers are represented in the PBS fleet. Australia currently has around 100,000 combinations – truck and dogs, prime mover semis, B-doubles, roadtrains and the fact that around 13 per cent of them are now PBS approved combinations is a significant achievement.
PM: Which other components are considered when looking at PBS?
LB: It can be many components such as suspension, tyres and even couplings like fifth wheels, kingpins and drawbars. We are currently looking at the different ratings for different couplings, especially for some of these larger combinations. There is a key movement around the world toward more efficient tyres with reduced rolling resistance that can lead to reduced fuel consumption and reduced greenhouse gases. We are researching the tyre situation here in Australia with the use of super singles and examining the impacts of current weight penalties operators might be experiencing for certain applications.
PM: A number of other countries are beginning to look at systems such as PBS. Is the Australian program still unique?
LB: There are different regions looking at us and trying to see which elements of our PBS system they could utilise. Different regions have different motivations. In Europe, for example, it’s mainly the environmental impacts and CO2 emissions that’s driving the interest. Many places have driver shortages so a more efficient road transport system can deal with some of those problems. Internationally, Australia is still the leader in PBS and there is no other country which has a fully comprehensive performance-based regulation for the management of heavy vehicles. Now we’ve got the data to demonstrate the safety and productivity benefits of PBS.In terms of the PBS fleet we have saved 2.7 billion truck kilometres since the beginning. That accounts for reduced environmental impacts, exposures for accidents and a reduced impact on the infrastructure as well as benefits for operational efficiencies.