Celebrating mass

In Australia, vehicles approved for Performance-Based Standards hit a new record for uptake last year with an upsurge in approved PBS applications as the scheme surpassed the number of design applications achieved over the same period in 2018. Recommended changes to the design approval process, in which pre-advised applications and also the variations, have had a desired effect, with the average PBS application now approved inside seven days spawning renewed industry confidence.

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) administers the PBS scheme under the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL). It is an alternative regulatory system for heavy vehicles, which replaces the prescriptive method of using mass and dimension limits. The purpose of the PBS scheme is to make freight transport safer and more productive, and to reduce impact of freight movement on the environment and society.

NHVR Chief Engineer Les Brusza considers the record number of approvals further endorsement by the industry this year following active engagement by the NHVR who has looked to spread the message regarding PBS access, accreditation and education to regional communities ahead of its anticipated next phase of the reform scheme, known currently, as PBS 2.0.

“The system is now flexible enough that should a customer want to change the design they will no longer have to wait up to eight weeks,” he says. “They have increased confidence in the framework and especially how we are handling PBS applications. Instead of having very complex PBS applications for prime movers, trailers and suspensions some of the numbers for simple designs have started to go up. In terms of the preadvised applications we are getting those designs through the system in only two days.”

At present, one in five new heavy vehicles in Australia are PBS-approved as fleet managers seek to address increasing freight demand and to improve the productivity and safety of the heavy vehicle fleet.

Global interest in PBS, however, continues to grow with several international territories now in varying stages of commitment to the Australian-devised scheme.

As the total number of units currently in operation has gone past 10,000 in Australia, Bruzsa believes the scheme is gathering traction in parts of Europe, South Africa and New Zealand.
A guest speaker at the International Transport Systems World Congress in Singapore last November, Bruzsa says Australian high productivity vehicles were again a hot topic of interest among overseas attendees with a number of European countries actively looking to develop PBS programs.

These included Sweden, France, Belgium, Holland and Norway although the driving force behind the introduction of high productivity vehicles in Europe, according to Bruzsa, is not so much the productivity but rather the environmental benefits.

“They have very ambitious targets in terms of reducing the greenhouse gases of the transport sector and this applies to the individual countries in general,” he says. 

“Transport can have a major say in that and, as we’ve already demonstrated in Australia, high productivity vehicles can deliver significant benefits in this area by lowering emissions.”
With developments for connected vehicles in the heavy vehicle sector still some time away in Europe, network connected vehicles remain a topic of contention especially in regard to braking standards and how they apply to electronically connected trucks.

A recent European Transport Union study undertaken to assess potential options for Performance-Based Standards in a European environment found that the standards initially drafted up by the NRTC (National Road Transport Commission) and NTC (National Transport Commission) 15 years ago in Australia were still very much relevant according to the German-born Bruzsa.
“They are complementary even for the unique European environment. Where we started at Level 1 they are thinking about Level 0 in which they are looking at introducing a special city-based set of standards that consider delivery vehicles in completely different city design specifications and urban environment,” he said.

The extremely large vehicles classified as Level 4 in Australia would, as part of the program, not be considered in the short term with vehicle lengths likely to be capped at 46 metres according to recommendations made from the study.
However, the PBS standards would be supported across smaller commercial vehicles validating the work of the NHVR.

Bruzsa said Sweden was already underway with evaluations with Denmark set to follow.
“For the application it is a generic trial appropriated for delivery vehicles that are accessing city environments,” he explained.

“For PBS Level 0 they want to reduce the swept path of the vehicle. So that means they can negotiate smaller intersections, and smaller roundabouts.”

Every two years the Institute of Road Transport Engineers New Zealand (IRTENZ), where PBS legislation is currently being finalised, holds an event with international speakers. Bruzsa was one of them at last years’ gathering, where he gave two presentations. One looked at PBS in general while the second incorporated PBS tyres and technology issues. All those presentations were well received he says.

In 2019 he also spent ten days in South Africa, where PBS has been involved in a range of ongoing evaluations for over a decade.

For the past 12 years most of the country’s provinces have been part of a PBS trial in which 600 vehicles were, at some point, in operation and monitored.

The results, according to Bruzsa, have been something of a revelation.

“What’s very interesting in terms of the trip reduction and fuel savings and the environmental benefits and the safety benefits is that in South Africa their statistics are almost identical to ours in Australia,” he said.

This includes a 46 per cent reduction in major crashes and heavy vehicle fatalities compared to 44 per cent locally.

“It’s a different road environment and vehicle environment but they are using the Australian PBS framework as the basis of their PBS trial. They are using our standards. They are using our assessment methods. Sometimes they are using some of Australia’s PBS assessors to assess applications. There is a very close connection between their system and ours.”

During the trip, Bruzsa was part of an overarching two days of training courses for industry and government representatives in which he delivered a series of ten lectures covering the historical and technical context of the Australian Performance-Based standards scheme. 

It was his second trip to South Africa having first given presentations in Cape Town and Johannesburg in 2016.

Prompting greater agility remains a focus in Australia where the rigid descriptions across the heavy vehicle classifications has meant that the current legislative framework can be too restrictive. 

Removing some of the PBS vehicle combinations from the scheme and then transitioning it back to the prescriptive fleet was one of the original principle objectives of PBS when Bruzsa first started working on it in 1999.

In New Zealand, where heavy freight vehicles have been allowed to operate at 2550 mm width without restriction since 2017, approved non-standard vehicle combination designs have been introduced to streamline the approval process for applying for high productivity commercial vehicles. The proforma designs for new non-standard vehicle designs that meet the Performance Based Standards in New Zealand are, according to Bruzsa, worth looking at from an Australian perspective.

“It would be great in the new year to create these sort of classes of proforma designs,” he says. “For some of these higher mass combinations New Zealand has created proforma designs and what it means is that they use PBS to create those proforma designs and then you use the vehicle to meet those specifications. So if they have a B-double then they specify the length, the axle space, the widths and some other elements based on PBS and then you approach the manufacturer and say ‘build this.’ When you get that vehicle you don’t need to do a new PBS assessment.”
New Zealand is currently in the process of finalising its own PBS legislation. Unlike Australia, it will opt for a generic tyre model.

“We have had some interesting discussions about our experience with some of the management issues of PBS such as the PBS tyre issue,” Bruzsa says. “In their PBS legislation they think that a generic tyre will be more practical and more beneficial for operators and would make their PBS system more accessible.”

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