Jonathan Bhana-Thomson, CEO, New Zealand Heavy Haulage Association.
The Oversize Freight Sector is one that has many extra layers of regulation on top of the normal set of requirements for transport operators.
This association is calling on various regulators to be smarter and more efficient in the way these rules are being applied to transport operators. What is of concern is that some permit issuing authorities are seeking to impose greater restrictions at a time of increasing costs and compliance on businesses.
On top of the various compliance regimes for heavy vehicles – such as loading limits, road user charges, worktime logbooks and numerous vehicle requirements – the oversize transport industry faces many additional requirements for moving loads due to the size and mass of the loads.
These loads in our industry are indivisible. This is – they cannot easily be made smaller without considerable effort, and under regulatory controls they must be transported in compliance with the Vehicle Dimension and Mass Rule. This imposes a whole range of measures that directly manage the safety of oversize loads being moved – such as restricting travel times, having various lighting and warning sign requirements, and having load pilots travel with the load to provide on-road warnings to other road users.
The VDAM Rule also requires that, depending on the size of the load, approvals are issued by other various infrastructure owners – such as overhead cable and rail line operators.
Together, these can require a multitude of different approvals and permissions, depending on the length of the haul route. The process for applying and getting approval for these permissions, and the approval conditions, add to the stack of compliance requirements that oversize transport operators need to abide by.
Our experience with all these permits and approvals is that – if they are easy to obtain, provided in a timely manner, and simple to understand and comply with, then the outcome is positive.
Conversely, if approvals are difficult to apply for; the advance notice too long; having to chase permits; or permit conditions are too difficult – then the outcome will be negative with less compliance.
We understand that agencies, authorities and asset owners all issue their own approvals to ensure the safety of large loads on our roads and maintain the integrity of their assets – be it road surfaces, bridge structures, or other assets.
To iterate, if those approvals are difficult to comply with then, ultimately, this jeopardises the level of compliance, and increases risk to their assets.
So, we are calling for a pragmatic approach to the permit and approval issuing processes and conditions that will result in greater certainty and timelines for operators and positive outcomes for everyone.
What can the authorities do?
Quite simply they can use online applications and approval processes for those ‘everyday’ oversize loads and concentrate their greater risk management for those loads that are larger in size and require closer attention.
Over dimension permits – Category 3 and 4A – currently have to be applied for on an individual basis and are only issued during normal office hours. This application and approval process needs to go online where transport operators are able to use an account-based system to apply for permits and monitor their progress.
For those everyday permits (such as Category 3 and most Category 4 loads), these should be issued directly online without office staff handling. The NZTA has promised such an upgrade to the permit system for some time but has been slow in delivering.
For overhead authorities such as power line owners and telecommunications companies, the lead time to provide notice to move high loads has been increasing over recent time.
In an age of increasing costs and health and safety requirements, it would be more efficient for operators to be able to nominate their date of travel (or perhaps a range of dates). And if these loads are less than the legal maximum height of 5.5 metres, then over-height approvals should be issued immediately.
The checking process for higher loads should be focused to a specific timeline.
We encourage all permit issuing and approval authorities to look at their systems to see how they can improve their systems to make it more efficient with shorter notification time frames and make it easier for transport operators to comply with.
The ultimate outcome will be better compliance levels and safer travel of oversize loads, while at the same time looking after roading and infrastructure assets which must be a good for all.