In spite of a decidedly lacklustre year on a number of fronts, the uptake of Performance-Based Standards (PBS) by a broad cross section of the trucking industry has continued unabated as operators seek out ways to improve productivity and efficiency. PBS is a world-leading program that enables Australia’s heavy vehicle industry to use the most productive vehicles for specific freight tasks. It fosters innovation in vehicle design to improve productivity while achieving safer operation and making minimal impact on road infrastructure.
A PBS retrospective
The National Transport Commission (NTC) implemented the current PBS scheme in 2008. Now 12 years down the track, it is more than delivering on the opportunities that were foreshadowed at the outset to unlock productivity gains and improve safety outcomes. Indeed, it would appear the exponentially increasing success of the PBS scheme over the past decade is a clear testament to the freight industry’s desire to innovate and be smarter.
As the freight task continues to grow, PBS will be an essential tool in meeting this growth in the safest, most productive and efficient manner possible.
The Australian Road Transport Suppliers Association Institute (ARTSA-i) and the National heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) want to see further barriers removed that potentially limit this innovation to ensure future generations of PBS vehicles are safer, cleaner and even more productive.
To achieve that goal the current scheme framework needs to be continuously improved and hurdles to the use of PBS equipment need to be tackled to ensure Australia continues to lead the world in innovative regulation of heavy vehicles. When it comes to talking about PBS and the benefits it can deliver to the industry, none are more passionate than Les Bruzsa, Chief Engineer at the NHVR.
Enter the Quadfather
As an Automotive Mechanical Engineer, his background includes over three decades of experience in various fields of the road transport industry both locally and overseas.
Between 1995 and 2013 he was employed by the Queensland Transport Department and Transport and Main Roads as Principal Engineer, responsible for assessing new vehicle combinations, developing technical standards, policies and guidelines for vehicle use, access and management.
In his current position, Les provides engineering and technical leadership to the strategic development and improvement of the PBS Scheme and leading the development of NHVR engineering and technical standards related to heavy vehicle safety and productivity.
Speaking about the current state of play with PBS, Les says a significant milestone was reached early this year with approval granted for the 10,000th PBS combination.
“That number has continued to grow significantly this year, reaching 11,350 at the end of October, and it’s very important to celebrate that achievement because it far surpasses original predictions when the Scheme was first implemented,” he says.
Les explains that when the fledgling PBS Scheme had its first review in 2009 the prediction was that there would be 12,000 PBS combinations registered by 2030. Instead, that number is set to be reached some ten years earlier.
Has Covid-19 impacted PBS?
In addition to the higher than expected uptake over the last decade or so, Les also notes that the effects of Covid-19 and a weaker economy have not significantly lowered the PBS uptake this year. In fact, he states that year-on-year results comparing this year’s forecasted total with that of 2019 are surprisingly similar.
“I estimate that this year we will end up with a total of 1,600 to 1,650 combinations compared with around 1,700 last year,” he says. “This is no mean feat considering the whole country is in an economic downturn with around a 20 per cent drop in new truck registrations.
“The fact that the PBS uptake rate is still increasing, rather than reducing in line with the drop in new vehicle registrations, shows that the industry is supporting PBS and selecting these PBS vehicle options when available.”
Expanding further, Les says over the past three years around 20 per cent of the total new heavy vehicle market has been PBS approved which he describes as very good market penetration.
Innovative combinations have their perks
“What’s also interesting is that the median age of PBS vehicles is 4.3 years compared with 11 years for prime movers – and around 13 years, for rigid trucks and trailers.
“What this means,” he elaborates, “is that the PBS fleet is fitted with superior safety technologies and designed to higher level technical standards.”
This observation aligns with data garnered by the NTC which suggests a 46 per cent reduced crash rate can be attributed to the use of PBS-approved heavy vehicles.
The split between the four PBS levels (L1, L2, L3 and L4) of different PBS combinations is also a point of interest.
“L1 accounts for 16 per cent while 42 per cent is L2 and 35 per cent has dual L1 and L2 approval, the latter being vehicles approved for two different levels,” Les explains. “Adding these figures together means that around 93 per cent of the PBS fleet are the shorter combinations in the general access vehicle and B-double classes, with 56 per cent coming in under 20m overall length and largely comprising truck and four-axle dog combinations.”
He adds that this should allay any fears that some road managers may have had that PBS would be responsible for putting ‘monster’ trucks on the road.
Of the common criticisms of the PBS Scheme, excessive time taken to grant approvals has been arguably the most prevalent. However, Les is adamant that big strides have been made in this area, particularly over the last three years, and will continue to be made moving forward.
“We have made a lot of internal process changes and improvements to help make the approval process more efficient. In terms of the design and vehicle approvals, we are monitoring our response times to ensure expediency,” Les says. “We have also introduced the PBS pre-advised design approval process.
“For instance, more than 70 per cent of the PBS design applications are now handled under the pre-advised process which means that the NHVR is able to approve the combinations for these specific designs within two to three business days.”
Les points out that this is a huge improvement compared with just a few years ago when this same approval process took 20 to 25 business days.
“I think the industry really appreciates this process improvement and is generally trusting the NHVR to be responsive and to deliver reliable and quick services to the industry,” he says.
In sum, from the comprehensive rundown Les Bruzsa provides, it appears that trucking operators and the NHVR are working more co-operatively than ever before to achieve the best PBS outcomes.
It seems that the industry has recognised that selecting pre-advised designs is a sure-fire way to ensure a speedy approvals process which, in turn, enables operators to get the most productive combinations quickly on the road and earning them better profits.
Smedley’s Engineers on staying ahead of the curve
As the industry continues to gain more confidence in the PBS system and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) that controls it, more innovative and larger PBS combinations are hitting the roads around Australia.
While the relatively straightforward designs and route access requirements have made truck and four- or five-axle dog tipper combinations the bread-and-butter of the PBS Scheme since its inception, new larger combinations like quad-quad B-doubles, split axle group tri or quad semi-trailers and over 30m A-doubles are becoming more popular. According to Robert Smedley, the Managing Director of Melbourne-based Smedley’s Engineers, these three combinations are starting to cause more interest in terms of productivity benefits among operators.
“We’re seeing in the split quad semis as much payload mass although not quite the payload height of standard B-doubles,” Robert says. Innovative combinations such as these are not as easy to get on the road compared with truck and dog combinations where access requirements are still rather complicated, particularly in Victoria. ERH Refrigerated Transport is a Victorian based company that runs a number of split-quad semi-trailers.
“The NSW and QLD permits came in within one month but the Victorian permits took well over six months to be granted, which meant it took a lot of effort on our part to get these combinations on the road,” he says.
Robert says this is a good example of how an organisation such as Smedley’s Engineers – that covers everything including access permits, assessment and certification in-house – can make the whole process much less complicated and achieve better outcomes for operators than if they tried to organise everything themselves.
“We have a lot of experience with the access requirements of PBS and are able to manage the whole PBS process every step of the way in a very streamlined manner,” Robert says.
In line with many businesses connected with road transport, Smedley’s Engineers has actually seen a marked increase in its workload this year, as opposed to other industries that have been plagued by the detrimental effects of Covid.
“When Covid first hit there was a lot of uncertainty because no one really knew what was going to happen and whether or not road transport would be deemed an essential service,” Robert says. “Especially from a consultancy point of view and in regard to vehicle inspections and certifications there was a period of a month or two where we weren’t sure which way it was going to go. Nevertheless, we kept ourselves busy, but our revenue for that two-month period was probably the lowest we’d seen for about two years.”
Robert says after the stimulus packages were announced by the Federal Government the rate of enquiry and subsequent business growth quickly bounced back and has stayed buoyant ever since.
“We have seen a 40 to 50 per cent growth in the amount of work coming in this year and in the month of October we employed three new engineers, bringing our total number of engineers to ten,” he says. “Even with three additional engineers, we are still struggling to catch up with the backlog of work, meaning we will probably need to employ another engineer before too long.”
Robert mentions that being a member of ARTSA-i means he’s across all the new truck registration data which shows there’s been a significant slump in new truck sales this year. He contends that the rise in workload his company has seen this year in the face of a downturn in new heavy vehicle sales indicates that PBS uptake is well and truly on the rise.
“New vehicle registrations are down but PBS approved vehicles now make up an increasingly larger proportion of the overall truck market and this is a trend we expect will continue,” Robert says. “Further to this,” he adds, “we believe our market share in terms of PBS approvals and certification work has increased markedly this year because we as a business are a lot busier this year compared with 2019.”
Robert concludes that the growth and operations of Smedley’s Engineers is being carefully monitored to ensure the high standards of customer service the company is known for are maintained as employee numbers grow to meet the
Case study: Nolan’s Interstate Transport
Longstanding transport company, Nolan’s Interstate Transport, specified a FTE quad axle trailer (26-pallet capacity) which is paired with a Kenworth T610SAR prime mover. The combination length is 20,560mm with a mass limit of 50.5 tonnes.
New vehicle approval, at the time of writing, is also underway for a PBS split quad and prime mover combination.
Other PBS combinations the fleet has invested in, with the support of Smedley’s Engineers, includes PBS A-double, two FTE tri-axle trailers (paired with either a Kenworth T610SAR or T409SAR) spec’d at 22-pallet capacity and combination lengths of 35,384mm or 35,389mm. Mass limit is 85.5 tonnes.
There are also two FTE tri-axle trailers (22-pallet) paired with Volvo FH16 with a combination length of 34,954mm and a mass limit of 85.5 tonnes.
The PBS quad trailers with prime mover are approved to run between Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia – as per state-approved road networks and conditions as well as point-to-point nominated routes such as markets and Nolan’s depot access.
As for the PBS A-doubles, they are clear to run between Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.
“Smedley’s knowledge, advice, experience and contacts in the industry has assisted with recommendations on the route access and submission to the NHVR for road access permits,” says Nolan’s Director, Flea Nolan.
He added that there are numerous important features across these PBS combinations, including the ability to move a greater volume of produce/product per combination within the same timeframe, fewer vehicle movements for greater volume, a reduction in running costs per pallet space movements and increased productivity.
The quad, Flea explains, provides better access to sites where lay parking, access and coupling/uncoupling times can be an issue.
“Over a 12-month period, this saves hours of wasted time at point of loading and unloading,” Flea says. “Some sites do not provide parking and have your drivers coupling and uncoupling in streets within a few blocks around the site.”
He says that for every three A-doubles there is one fewer B-double trip. Similarly, over a 12-month period this means a large decrease in the number of heavy vehicle movements on highways.
“These PBS-approved truck-trailer combinations, with the implementation of ABS and EBS, means greater safety for our drivers as well as other road users and the general public,” Flea says. “In addition to improving safety, we are also minimising our impact i.e. wear and tear on the road networks as we’re running fewer truck trips as a result of streamlining our operational efficiencies.”
Flea is also pleased with Smedley’s assistance with the submissions to the NHVR for vehicle approval.
“Smedley has assisted with achieving a shorter route access approval times by submitting an application for a Notification of PBS In-Principle Access Support during the build stage,” he says.
“During the build and approval stage you are reliant on efficient timeframes form all parties for a time effective and seamless approval.
“Smedley’s has been extremely knowledgeable and forthcoming with information to assist with seamless approvals. Overall, top notch customer service and ability to work in with our needs and requirements.”