When looking back over history in the trucking industry the lines can get a bit blurred as to just how long ago some events were, but this month is ten years after quite a traumatising period for road transport.
It had been talked about and previewed for some years before, but the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator became a reality this month ten years ago. Many people will still be traumatised by the experience.
Anyone in the industry who depended on permits within their business were in the first group to see real problems arise and cripple some operations. The method of issuing permits to be used by the fledgling authority was clearly not up to scratch, and chaos ensued.
In the previous years, in the lead up to the NHVR going live, the industry as a whole was not optimistic about what the new authority could achieve and common comment at the time ran something like, “It’s probably not going to be much good, but it should be better than the rubbish we had before.”
In my opinion column on January 30 that year I said, “The other reason for cautious optimism is the imminent, if delayed, birth of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator. It has been a long time coming and has yet to prove its worth, but there is no denying a large amount of goodwill towards the NHVR, and its aims, exists throughout the trucking world. Even if the NHVR doesn’t fulfil all of its many promises, the situation with the new regime in place must be an improvement on what has gone before.”
In that first year, the situation was a nightmare and there would have been times it looked like the NHVR could not be saved. Permit applications piled up and industry anger grew. It was difficult to work out just how the dysfunction happened, but it surely wasn’t helped by state authorities with their noses out of joint being unhelpful and obstructive.
For those in the middle of it, this was a stressful time and those first six months would have felt like a decade. Action was needed and it was needed fast. Major changes in personnel happened relatively quickly and the new team had to work out what was going wrong and how to sort it out.
The issuing of permits was handed back, in some cases, to the authorities who had been doing them a couple of months before. The popularity of the NHVR within the trucking industry couldn’t have been lower.
The arrival of a new team, led by Sal Petroccitto, didn’t appear to have much of an effect in that first period. It was simply a case of going back to basics, finding out what was happening at ground level and starting again to try and build something saveable and eventually fit for purpose.
Here we are now, ten years on, and there is a functioning NHVR in most states. The whole permitting debacle took a long time to come good, but it is an improvement on pre-2014. The roadside enforcement has migrated across, slowly, to the NHVR with Queensland expected to come on board this year.
PBS has grown with the NHVR and seems to be something which will continue to take us forward. Access is still an issue, but with our three levels of government and regions starved of funds, that looks like remaining a perennial problem.
Roadside enforcement activity seems to have a much calmer atmosphere around it than it did in the past, but that depends on your perspective. The emphasis on safety is still paramount across the board, but last years fatality figures may cause a few shockwaves when they are published.
At the end of the day, if you were to ask most people in the industry whether things are better than they were in 2013, the answer would be a positive one. There are still, of course, plenty of niggles between the industry and the regulator, it’s the name of the game.