The Minister for Roads has failed to address community concerns or to take appropriate safety measures regarding plans for high productivity freight vehicles (HPFVs) on Victoria’s roads. 

The news that Victoria, in conjunction with the NSW O’Farrell Government, is “aiming to start a local pilot program to test a radical new mode of transport,” i.e. B-triples, was revealed incidentally by a report in the Australian Financial Review on Tuesday, 11 September 2012. There have been no official announcements from the Government.

When in Opposition, the now Minister for Roads and Minister for Ports had a tendency to describe large trucks as “super monster trucks” and shop conspiracy theories about secret plans. In Opposition, the current Minister demanded that the community be consulted and insisted that investments in road infrastructure should precede the introduction of such vehicles onto Victorian roads and decried the prospect of “by stealth, B-triples being rolled out into rural and regional areas (Terry Mulder, Hansard, 19 August 2008, page 2986).”  

Despite the attitude shown prior the 2010 election, only one month later Minister approved in principle an extension of the trial, documents obtained by the Opposition under FOI show.  

Nine months later the department was advising that:

VicRoads is considering the following:

  • Developing a volumetric (cubic) network at up to 68.5 tonnes on strategic and priority  freight routes;
  • Remove peak hour restrictions from all metropolitan roads;
  • Allow PBS approved A-double combinations to enter the trial; and
  • Increase vehicle combination lengths beyond 30.0 metres where appropriate.

 The Parliamentary Secretary for Transport, Edward O’Donohue, had secretly confirmed the trial at an industry forum in 2011:

“I can assure you that the Minister (Terry Mulder) is keen to see more use made of HPFV’s (High Productivity Freight Vehicles) in the metropolitan area, and it’s an area he will be devoting considerable attention to.”

The Minster recently told another industry forum (on 1 September 2012) that a new road freight route had been developed and would be announced publicly in the near future.

The VicRoads Annual Report for 2011-12 released last week again confirms that the Baillieu Government is planning to increase these trucks’ presence, noting that in 2011-12 work was done to increase access for larger and heavier vehicles including:

“Evaluating the trial of next generation high productivity freight vehicles and commencing the developments of options for future access arrangements.”

It seems consultation is something that this Government only values from Opposition or when they are talking to themselves.  

The Minister’s actions on road safety have so far included a reduction in road maintenance, a 60% reduction in road resurfacing, cutting VicRoads staffing by some 450 personnel, and a failure to outline his intentions with regard to the further roll-out of truck exclusion lanes.

The Government’s neglect means that it may not have capacity to deal with an apparent extension to the Victorian freeway and arterial road network of HPFVs and B-triples. Despite this neglect, the Minister announced on 15 January 2012 a sixfold increase in space available for HPFV vehicles on Victoria’s arterial road network.

The Minister needs to come clean about his proposals and include community input front and centre of any dealings with on-road high productivity freight vehicles. He could start this process by disclosing the proposed maps of approved routes, vehicle types to be approved and truck and car separation safety strategies underpinning these proposals.

In order to address growing community concern over the interaction of private vehicles and larger, on-road freight vehicles, the Minister needs to make a more substantive effort to engage with the community and ensure our road network is adequately prepared.

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