Past Issues

Nov/Dec 2009

Following on from last month’s story titled ‘Outrage at DoT proposal’ where we solicited comment on the proposal by the DoT to reduce the single rear axle mass load from 9 000 kg to 8 000 kg on all secondary roads, FleetWatch correspondent Max Braun, who has over 50 years experience in the industry, gives his thoughts on the issue. He, like many in the industry, is angry.

The NDoT’s ill-considered intention to reduce the axle mass to 8 000 kg from 9 000 kg for all vehicles plying secondary roads and then “nogal” to ban certain unspecified commodities from being transported by road is a slap in the face for the road freight industry.

This is especially so since it comes at a time when the road freight industry is acting as the glue holding our national freight logistics together - regardless of whether or not the industry wants to transport a host of commodities and products that should ideally be hauled on rail. 

This proposal is totally unrealistic - if not an idiotic notion - that spells out an almost total lack of understanding of the most fundamental aspects of current road traffic regulations and the true reasons for the serious deterioration of the majority of our roads other than the national and tolled highways.

Without going into technicalities, the following details just a few of the reasons why a decision to implement this suggested amendment would be chaotic, disastrous, expensive and inflationary, with almost zero contribution to solving the problems at hand.

Hopefully, we will hear a unified voice from all spheres of freight transport loudly articulating the stupidity of tinkering with regulations. The NDoT should focus on the cause and not the symptoms of the problems we all want to resolve.

Here are just a few reasons why lowering the current maximum axle mass is a ‘no brainer’:

  • Imagine a truck carrying a load - any load that may be perishable, fresh produce, palletised or bulk - travelling along a national road becoming illegal as soon as it moves onto a road that is not a national road. Other than underloading these vehicles, how do you cope with this problem and who pays for having to make more trips to move the same amount of goods?

  • Now reverse the above example of a vehicle carrying the envisaged lower payload on a secondary road. When it reaches the national road, it will be under-loaded and more trips are needed. Who pays? It is incomprehensible to contemplate vehicles being partially unloaded at the side of the road when they leave a national road.

  • Hauling less than the optimum payload increases the fixed costs of operating trucks. Given the huge problems with delays at most retail and other outlets, how can the increased cost be recovered? Do we put up the price of foodstuffs? Is this not what we are striving to make more affordable?

  • What about the impact on the cost of transporting coal for Escom? What about the impact on the cost of transporting our export fruit, virtually all of which is moved by road and will remain so for at least another 12 years?

  • If the average traffic officer admits he has never been trained to undertake a roadside roadworthy check on trucks, who will police and enforce this complicated amendment? Will traffic cops just straight out ask for a bribe and let the truck move on without any checking?

  • When will all the accredited weighbridges be re-calibrated to monitor the change in legislation?

  • Why should any operator purchase an urgently needed replacement truck if they are uncertain what the law will allow in the future?

  • Drive axles limited to 8 000kg would reduce the GCM of 6x2 truck-tractors to 40 tons from 45 tons (see Regulation 239) robbing those who pursued this configuration of its attractive fuel and other operating economies.

  • What is the intention when it comes to the overall GCM limit of 56 000kg? In terms of the present regulations, the sum of the axles in say a 7-axle interlink is 61,5 tons. The intended amendment would reduce this to 55 500kg plus 2%. What then is the purpose of this fatuous intention - or are we still to learn that the agreed maximum will be some lesser figure?

  • According to the CSIR, SANRAL and the transport minister’s office, they were not consulted about the intention nor had any knowledge that it was being discussed. How can road traffic regulations concerning axle mass and road damage be discussed publicly before the CSIR has investigated the viability and wisdom of the notion?

  • Roads in South Africa are built to the E80 specification. Failure to maintain them over a long period is the reason for the current state of roads other than national roads. If you want proof of this, see representations made by SABITA to government before 1994 suggesting an amount of R40-billion was needed to get our roads up to standard. See Moving South Africa – the Vision for 2020. This excellent project - tabled in 1998 - highlighted the urgent need for a proper, ongoing strategy to repair and maintain the roads. See the 2008 State of Freight Logistics Survey where it is reported that road freight has suffered serious increases to its operating costs due to the poor state of the roads. See the AA Report of October 2008 drawing attention to the R95-billion needed to save the provincial roads. Why has government not displayed the political will to solve this problem?

  • Yes, overloading does have a detrimental impact on roads. Why has the overload project supported with our world class road traffic legislation not enforced the law? If the fundamental elements of the law are not enforced, why should anyone believe an amendment to the Act will be efficiently enforced?

  • Why threaten to move freight on to the rail when the rail has publicly stated (see Transnet’s latest operating results) that it will focus on transporting coal and iron ore for the medium term and in due course, will focus on the corridors. Yes please, we need the rail to take on the heavy, bulk commodities as soon as possible. But, the reality is that road freight will have to move the bulk of all freight logistics for many years to come. Please do not unnecessarily screw it up.

Once again, we feel the brunt of government’s lack of respect for road freight transport. This, surely, is a clarion call for all stakeholders and roleplayers in the business of freight logistics to form a working group that is properly representative of this vital national function and get down to some serous engagement with all the relevant government agencies where freight transport is applicable.

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