As CEO of the Victorian Transport Association I am often asked in public forums: “How do we get trucks off our roads?” We also often see the public messaging stating that the new ‘tunnel’ will get thousands of trucks off our roads.
In the contrarian world we live in, and within which public debate seems increasingly black or white, it is acceptable in many circles to advocate for absolute views about issues without a thought or consideration for what the alternative might look like.
In this magical utopian world, our streets are absent from the very vehicles that keep our economy humming along, and that stock grocery store shelves, and keep our construction and building sites equipped with supplies, our factories stocked with raw materials, and our cars filled with petrol or diesel. The goods that people demand, that are essential to businesses and maintain our standard of living just don’t ‘appear’.
The scale and enormity of the freight task is lost in the narrowly focussed, ‘not in my backyard’ mentality of not knowing how goods move through our communities.
But let’s consider the impact if such draconian bans were to occur, against the backdrop of the slippery slope many inner-city councils and local governments are putting us on, through increasingly restrictive conditions on heavy vehicle movements in our cities and towns.
For one, congestion would be worse, with the increased reliance by businesses and consumers on smaller vehicles making many more journeys and offsetting any benefit of having no or fewer trucks on our roads.
Streets would be gridlocked with vans and lightweight delivery vehicles that experience the same demand for goods, but with the additional pressure of more frequent deliveries required to keep shelves stocked and construction sites busy.
And as for parking, well you can forget about that. In the face of fewer loading zones in our cities thanks to new infrastructure and dedicated lanes for bicycles on most of our city streets, all these delivery vans will be fighting for what little street parking remains, with an influx of motorcycles and delivery scooters dangerously littering footpaths.
The safety consequences are equally stark with road accidents likely to increase thanks to additional congestion and more vehicles occupying the roads, with the added heightened risks to pedestrians having to navigate trolleys and pallet jacks carrying goods to shops from delivery vans parked blocks away.
The benefit of less noise and fuel emissions from supporters of no or fewer heavy vehicles is just as mythical, with the explosion in numbers of delivery vans and motorbikes needed to meet consumer demand more than negating any ‘benefit’ brought about by less trucks.
These examples may well be extreme but does serve to demonstrate the worst-case scenario of reducing or removing heavy vehicles from the supply chain.
We can take comfort that level heads are prevailing in the upper echelons of state and federal governments, who recognise the vital work transport workers do in keeping supply chains functional, together with how essential heavy vehicles are in delivering the growing freight task.
Regrettably, the same cannot be said for a growing number of local government authorities around Australia, whose transport plans seem to be predicated on reducing or eliminating trucks from roads and thoroughfares, and taxing transport operators for doing their jobs.
The City of Melbourne has reduced the number of loading zones in the CBD over the past 12 months in order to provide fixed infrastructure and new dedicated lanes for bicycles, forcing delivery trucks to park many blocks away and walking trolleys through the pedestrians. Greater traffic congestion is a by-product of reducing loading zones, with operators remaining in town for longer with nowhere to park.
This is exactly the kind of slippery slope we must avoid, and actively discourage transport policy makers from setting us on – often encouraged by fringe groups and their ‘ban trucks at all costs’ mentality.
Supply chains must flow and decision makers must understand the size and scale of the freight task that keeps the millions of people supplied with the goods they need every day determines the nature of the vehicle size on our roads.
The industry is improving with low emission vehicles, enormous investments in technology, superior safety systems and a call for more driver training.
The industry needs clearways not curfews. The industry needs better road management through dedicated routes and varied access permissions. The industry needs a far greater maturity shown by those advocating to get heavy vehicles off our streets.
The VTA continues to advocate for the legitimate rights of operators to use the road network, and to articulate the vitality of trucks and heavy vehicles in our supply chain.