Long slow path to PBS reform takes shape

It has been a long time coming, but the necessary pieces of the puzzle for the future of PBS are finally coming together.

The Performance Based Standards (PBS) scheme has been the best safety, productivity, and environmental innovation in the road transport sector since the introduction of B-doubles in the early 1980’s. 

The PBS marketplace report released by the National Transport Commission in 2017 demonstrated the compelling case for PBS vehicles.

It said they could generate productivity improvements of between 15 and 30 Percent (typically over 20%), while improving safety, reducing fuel consumption, reducing emissions and reducing wear and tear on the road system.

As successful as PBS has been, however, Heavy Vehicle Industry Australia (HVIA) has long argued for improvements to the PBS system. 

HVIA initially argued for fitting of advanced braking systems to PBS vehicle in 2016; we called for improvements to the certification process and access decision making processes, network access improvements and ADR exemptions in 2017, and first raised the issue of PBS tyres in 2018.

HVIA’s members, and in particular the consulting engineers and trailer manufacturers, have been a big part of bringing these benefits to the community.

Since 2018, HVIA and its members have worked with the NHVR on the review of PBS tyres, and the reviews of the PBS standards, but progress on these issues has been slow. 

We have also worked with our members on promoting the PBS scheme more broadly through training and information sessions to spread the word about the scheme’s immense economic, productivity and safety benefits. 

There has been some progress with the NHVR on improving PBS application processing, and with NHVR and the jurisdictions on access improvements. 

The NHVR has introduced streamlined processes for some common combination types and the proportion of the network covered by PBS notices has increased in recent years but there is more work to be done. 

Meanwhile, HVIA members have also continued the process of innovation, with new PBS combinations becoming available on a regular basis delivering vehicles and combinations that set new benchmarks for safety and productivity.

At their meeting August 5, Federal and State Transport Ministers endorsed some key recommendations for the review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) which touch on access reform for PBS.

The NHVR expects to announce implementation details for the Revised Directional Stability Under Braking (DSUB) and Pavement Horizontal Loading standards (PHLS) and the new Generic PBS Tyre scheme over the next couple of months. 

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) is also expected to release an options paper for Phase 2 of the PBS marketplace review and their PBS 2.0 Discussion Paper over the coming months.

Once all these changes are on the table, we will have a clearer understanding of the priorities for the next phase of the reform of the PBS scheme.

The imminent release of the DSUB, and PBS Tyre initiatives will lead to some short-term changes which will be welcomed by many in the industry.

Ministerial endorsement towards improving certainty of access for PBS vehicles, and a move to take common and proven PBS combinations out of the PBS approval process are important steps forward. 

However, HVIA recognizes that there is further work required to ensure that the regulatory agencies live up to the agreements by Ministers. 

One of the main problems with the initial PBS implementation was road managers insistence on separate, more restrictive networks for PBS vehicles.

Ensuring that those same road managers live up to the Ministers’ commitments will be a big challenge.

As always HVIA remains committed to working with our members, their customers (i.e. road transport operators), regulators and other stakeholders, to facilitate and remove the roadblocks to innovation.

Why? So that we can bring safer, more productive and more efficient heavy vehicles to market for the benefit of all Australians.

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