Picking up speed

Australia’s Performance-Based Standards (PBS) scheme has come a long way in its 10-year life span. First introduced in 2007, the high-productivity vehicle design concept started out almost too difficult to comprehend, resulting in a slow take-up and mixed industry feedback.

It wasn’t until 2014 that PBS experienced a genuine turning point, with the establishment of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) as the sole administrator of the scheme under national law.

Since then, the number of PBS-approved vehicle combinations on the road in Australia has risen to more than 6,100, with NHVR CEO, Sal Petroccitto, saying the potential of the scheme is only starting to truly show. “We are seeing volumes growing at 30-40 per cent per year,” he explains. “Truck and dog combinations are a great example, with PBS-approved dog trailers representing more than 90 per cent of all new dog trailers.”

As such, there was a distinctly different feel among the crowd when the NHVR’s Chief Engineer, Laszlo ‘Les’ Brusza, took to the stage at the Technical and Maintenance Conference (TMC) in Melbourne last October. Previous speaking engagements had seen Brusza passionately defend the scheme to a frustrated audience, but the 2017 outing in the Victorian capital was different. Brusza proved surprisingly upbeat as he addressed a highly engaged audience, having been publicly recognised the night before for his contribution to the Australian transport industry (see breakout box). “The importance of PBS is increasing,” he said. “Registration data shows that this year, roughly 20 to 25 per cent of all new registered vehicles are PBS-approved.”

According to Brusza, the lengthy process for having a combination approved under PBS had been one of the most consistent operator complaints since the scheme first started – prompting the NHVR to direct major resources towards simplifying and speeding up the procedure. “I’m happy to say that we have implemented significant improvements,” he said in Melbourne – pointing to a major shift in perspective within the administrating organisation.
In the past, one of the most time-consuming parts of the approval process involved sending applications to a so-called Performance Review Panel (PRP), which provided the NHVR with “independent advice” on each individual combination. The NHVR then used that feedback to make a judgment of legal compliance. “That process could have taken anywhere between 20 to 40 days, depending on the PRP, but the National Heavy Vehicle Law (NHVL, ed.) required it,” Brusza tells Global Trailer in a follow-up interview. “So, in May 2017 we began to trial pre-approvals for certain combinations that still complied with the law. The PRP was supportive and gave us the power to approve truck and dog combinations without waiting for a response.”

Under the trial, Brusza says PBS combinations were approved within three working days, making for a strong business case to expand it across the board. In late 2017, the NHVR thus rolled out pre-approvals across three additional vehicle classes – A-doubles, B-doubles and semi-trailers – to cover some 80 per cent of the PBS market.

But the NHVR didn’t stop there. According to Brusza, next on the list were combination variations. Until late 2017, the NHVL only recognised two types of applications – either a new application, or an amendment, both of which had to be sent to the PRP as part of the approval process. “What that meant was, if the truck manufacturer changed an engine, or if a tyre brand no longer made a certain model, all these little changes were considered an amendment of the current design and had to go before the PRP,” he says.

To ease the pressure on operators, the NHVR convinced the PRP to give it the power to approve some amendments without sending the application to the panel, again reducing a 20-plus-day process to three days. “Let’s say you have a three-axle truck with a four-axle dog that is 19.6m long with one truck, then you replace the truck and the new overall length is 19.8m,” he says. “That’s a variation, but now we don’t have to apply to the PRP – the NHVR has the right to approve this amendment.”

As well as approving overall length within the 20m limit, Les says width, height, axle mass and component selection – including suspensions, tyres and axles – are now covered in the variation process, too. “We receive the modified application, make a judgment if it complies or not,” he explains. “If it does, we do all the process and issue a permit. If not, we prepare a recommendation to the PRP and go through the normal process.

“These two main elements, the pre-approved designs and variations, give much more certainty and flexibility to the industry, and might change practices in terms of the PBS applications submitted.”Yet, there are still a number of pain points with the scheme, particularly around access, NVHR Chief Petroccitto admits. “A lot of headway has been made in this space but there is still more to be done,” he says. “The NHVR continues to work with road managers to highlight the benefits of PBS vehicles and the productivity these vehicles represent.”

To do so, the Regulator has been actively promoting the safety and productivity benefits of PBS networks through various forums and demonstration days with road managers across all states. “Our briefings with a group of 11 councils in central New South Wales resulted in the first group of councils to sign up in whole or part to the PBS truck and dog notice,” Petroccitto says.

The NHVR has also held successful PBS demonstration days with the Wide Bay Burnett Regional Organisation of Councils and with the Australian Local Government Association, as part of its National Roads Congress in Toowoomba, where it promoted the benefits of PBS to improve the freight task. “We have also developed PBS videos to help local councils understand PBS networks and the productivity gains they bring to communities,” Petroccitto adds. “We look forward to further leaps in PBS access.”

According to the NHVR leadership team, 2017 has been another turning point in the progression of PBS down under, with both Petroccitto and Brusza saying they are proud to have helped make an impact on the Australian commercial road transport industry through the scheme.

Each new trial and simplification the NHVR makes for operators to gain productivity benefits goes a long way to changing the overall acceptance of the scheme, yet there is still more room for improvement, Petroccitto points out. “Our visions for PBS are significant, not just for 2018, but many years to come. The PBS scheme is world leading and we intend to keep that crown.”

Fast Fact
As part of the 2017 Technical and Maintenance Conference (TMC) in Melbourne, Australia, National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) Chief Engineer, Laszlo ‘Les’ Bruzsa, was honoured with the coveted Industry Achievement Award for leading continuous improvement in heavy vehicle regulation and standards. NHVR CEO, Sal Petroccitto, said the award, which recognises technical innovation and achievement within the Australian trucking industry, acknowledged Bruzsa’s passion and expertise as Australia’s foremost authority on high-productivity freight vehicles. “Les has a reputation for heavy vehicle innovation that not only extends across Australia but across the globe where many international organisations seek his advice,” Petroccitto said. “Australia’s Performance-Based Standards (PBS) program is one of the most progressive heavy vehicle design and regulatory schemes in the world, thanks to Les.”

Case study: 50.5 tonne LPG tanker
Melbourne trailer specialist, Peter Max from gas tank hire and transport equipment supplier, Fuwa K-Hitch, unveiled a record-breaking Performance-Based Standards (PBS) approved tanker design in June.
The LPG tanker has a Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) of 50.5 tonnes, with 30 per cent more payload than a standard design and was in development for a decade, according to Max.
“The idea has been in development for quite some time, but it wasn’t until the advent of PBS that we found a way to make it a reality,” he said. “It is a great scheme that helps manufacturers design and build better, safer trailers that increase productivity and reduce the number of trucks on the road – and provided us with a pathway to make our vision a reality.”

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