• Aug7

    WA Regional Freight Networks Need Investment Focus

    By Cam Dumesny

    The WA Road Transport industry primarily uses our state’s road infrastructure consisting of over 180,000 km of roads less than 30% of which is sealed.

     

    2.5% of Australia’s Population Generates over 40% of Exports

    The regional economy of WA generates over 40% of Australia’s export income.  The WA road transport industry not only supports these key drivers of the Australian economy, it also supports the surrounding communities and businesses.

    To provide this support the road transport industry uses both state and local government funded road networks.  The road quality varies but is increasingly considered to be poorly maintained both at the state and local level.  The Local Government Association in WA, has advised WARTA that it has a $100m a year short fall on road funding to maintain the “as is” state.  At the State level, WARTA has been reliably informed that there is a $750m back log of work, on the 18,000 km of State maintained roads.

    There is a strong perception in the WA road transport industry that federal funds for roads are being directed towards the metropolitan areas, neglecting the needs of regional communities and the broader road freight industry.   For example, it is estimated that of the $2.3 billion joint federal and state funded projects announced in the May budget, over 90% went into the Perth metropolitan area.  Some examples of WA regional roads issues are:

    • The wet season regularly disrupts resupply on the Great Northern Highway (Perth to Darwin) in the Kimberley. Flooded roads and load restrictions prevent or delay the supply of goods and services into Kimberley communities and businesses.  Low lying sections of the Great Northern Highway contribute to seasonal outages.
    • The Goldfields Highway connecting Meekatharra to Wiluna is unsealed. This road provides a resupply connection for materials including oversize over mass loads from the South East of Australia to the Pilbara.  Sealing the road would reduce the travel distance by 140 km.  Furthermore the existing road is regularly cut by even light amounts of rain.  Concerns are held that previously announced funding for this project is at risk. Hugh Gallagher from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Kalgoorlie, said:

     

    “We produce nearly 70% of Australia’s Gold yet the infrastructure needed to support our region’s economy and communities has been neglected. Just 5mm of rain and some of our region’s roads are closed.  Road infrastructure maintenance and investment is a priority election for domestic and industry road users. “ (Source WARTA joint press release on Crumbling Freight Networks Feb 17)

    • The Great Eastern highway connecting Perth to Kalgoorlie (and to the East) is in such a poorly maintained state around Westonia, that some transport operators’ geo-fenced mandated lower speeds for their drivers.
    • Truck rest areas with amenities for our industry’s truck drivers are almost non-existent, with almost all requiring the driver to still carry a shovel for calls of nature.

    It is a tribute to the resilience and professionalism of the WA Road Transport industry that it is able to operate on much of the road network, yet still remain globally competitive.

    Recommendation

    A de-politicised and objective strategic framework must be developed to ensure the regional freight networks that underpin Australia’s export income are properly funded in order to maintain the global competitiveness of our commodity exports. This recommendation correlates with the intent of the Freight and Logistic Council of WA submission to National Freight and Supply Chain strategy.

    Disparate Information Sources

    WARTA acknowledges that various government departments and joint industry/ government reports have identified regional road freight issues.  However despite good work, it is perceived that much of the effort is fragmented undermining efforts to efficiently build on previous bodies of knowledge.

    Recommendation

    A detailed audit of road maintenance and investment priorities be conducted and published of regional WA freight networks. This may involve the consolidation of data from different source organisations and/ or committees, such as the good work done on the Wheat belt regional freight networks and Road Safety Commission work on rest stop locations.

    Systems Approach To Freight Network Investment

    Regional freight networks can be a combination of multiple local government roads and state roads.  This is particularly the case in the wheat belt.

    From a road freight industry perspective the road network needs to be maintained to the same standard and access levels.  The road freight industry views the network as part of the supply chain system, whereas road asset owners view it in terms of who owns each section.

    Road funding needs to be applied based on optimisation of the road network.  Current road funding models and programs are not perceived as meeting this requirement.  WARTA notes the work being undertaken in developing a Wheat belt freight network, this provides a potential solution to a network approach to funding.

    Similarly the highly developed RAV network in Western Australia, could also be a recipient of a network approach to road funding to improve connections across the network.

    Recommendation
    Consideration be given to developing regional freight networks as identified systems, with road funding allocated specifically to optimise the system for productivity.

    Industry Data for Planning and Information

    Increasingly transport companies of all sizes are using fleet management tools to track and monitor vehicles.  Such data, when aggregated can provide a potential source of information to aid infrastructure planners, with decisions on choke points, locations for rest stops etc.

    Additionally, a number of WA transport companies are using spatial tools such as geo-fencing to identify risks along infrastructure corridors as well as enhancing driver training to increase fuel efficiency, enhance brake life and reduce maintenance costs by driving to the conditions and the environment.  Such spatial data, if shared, could assist in identifying maintenance priority areas, particularly in regional areas.

    During consultation and discussions with members, it was identified that such data if shared must be via trusted party and be “washed” to remove commercial sensitivities.  Members were particularly adamant that such data must be used to improve infrastructure planning and maintenance, not for use by regulatory authorities.

    Recommendation

    Government engage with industry to access existing industry telematics data to assisting regional network planning. This data can be used to help model freight network activity (albeit based on the extrapolation of available telematic data). It should be noted that in consultation with members regarding data, if it is to be supplied it will only be to a trusted source, not a regulator.

    Regional Road Funding Investment Reform

    WARTA is strongly advocating that there be a fundamental reform of regional road funding.  Poor infrastructure maintenance on regional roads costs road transport operators substantially via increased maintenance and operating costs.

    A WA triple road train supplying the North West, will each year pay over $100,000 in road user contribution via registration and fuel excise.  BUT operators will also pay approximately $21,000 twice a year for full sets of tyres given the often poor maintenance standards of regional roads.

    The ATA has detailed a strong argument for road funding investment reform in its submission to the National Freight and Supply Chain strategy.  WARTA supports this argument as the current means of funding roads is failing.  As the RAC WA report in June 2016 identified,

    “….the Federal Government will collect about $2.4 billion in motor vehicle-related taxes from WA motorists but just $1.1 billion will be returned in Federal funding for local roads.”  (source:  The West Australian 30 June 2016 – article Billions of dollars in WA fuel tax go east)

    Additionally the decision of WA to remain outside of the road user funding model applied in the east has been vindicated, as the Eastern States Heavy Vehicle and Bus operators continue to be over charged by nearly $250 million dollars per annum. Funding models would be impacted by any move toward the introduction of toll roads in the future.

    WARTA supports the Recommendations 3 to 7 of the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) submission to the National Freight and Supply Chain strategy.

    Changing Local Government Funding Programs

    In regards to local government road funding, WARTA proposes that the current ad hoc programs from black spots to roads to recovery and others be consolidated.  The effort required and availability of resources of small regional councils to prepare submissions for the plethora of funding programs often means that local government roads that need the most maintenance investment have the least probability of getting it.  As the CEO of Westonia Shire Council Jamie Criddle said,

    “The disjointed approach to road maintenance and capital improvements by the State and Federal government agencies and programs is appalling.  We should not be pitting one region against another for funding – we need a co-ordinated approach by all levels of Government.” (source WARTA joint press release on Crumbling Freight Networks Feb 17)

    Recommendation

    WARTA recommends that the current fragmented programs for funding local government roads be abolished and a simplified funding model be developed

    The above content was taken from the WARTA submission to theNational Freight and Supply Chain Strategy, Aug 2017, read full submission.