Past Issues

October 2009

A letter of intent of law, dated October 6, 2009, being circulated by the acting Chief Director: Road Traffic Regulations (there is no name on the document and the signature is illegible), is requesting transport stakeholders to submit inputs and comments to Deputy Director General; legislation, N A Thoka, at the DoT in Pretoria within 30 days on a proposal to reduce the axle limit from 9 000 kgs to 8 000 kgs.

A second letter explains that the DoT is “looking at reviewing axle mass limits, as provided in Regulation 240(c)(v) (Act 93 1996) to relieve the burden off the secondary road networks infrastructure,” which, it says, “has reached a state of disintegration thus necessitating measures to be put in place in order to salvage these road networks.”

The DoT says a principal aim of the amendments is take the load off the secondary road networks and prohibit the operation of certain axle loads from the secondary road networks and migrate them to the primary networks. Further to this, the DoT intends to prohibit the transportation of certain commodities on both the primary and secondary road networks and move these to rail.

While the DoT says this is due to the fact there needs to be a reduction in the damage to the roads this is, at best, a very thinly veiled disguise to move goods onto a rail system which has proved over a sustained period of time its incapability to provide an efficient and viable freight transport service.

In spite of repeated efforts, at the time of going to press, FleetWatch was unable to elicit any comment from the DoT.

However, Gavin Kelly, the Road Freight Association’s (RFA) technical and operations manager, tells FleetWatch that in a discussion he had with Mawethu Vilana (also described as a Deputy Director General at the DoT), the circulation of the letter is in line with a new project started by the DoT (the Road Freight Strategy) for which a consultant has been appointed and which involved the activation of a committee to look at relieving/reducing the load on the secondary network and revitalizing the rail branch lines.

The DoT’s proposals are a direct form of unfair discrimination against the freight industry with severe financial implications that can’t be justified within the guidelines as set out in the South African Constitution

Patrick Pols, CEO,
United Bulk.

No funds available

According to Vilana, the proposal to reduce single rear axle mass loads from 9 000kg to 8 000kg is due to the urgent need by treasury to look into the deteriorating road network. Vilana says no funds are available to continually sustain and repair the road network and claims research shows that the network has a five year lifespan left before collapse.

Gavin Kelly
Technical & Operations Manager RFA... a meeting was held with RFA executive to discuss a way forward.

Kelly says while the RFA was advised by Vilana that the notice was badly compiled, did not deal with all the issues and that it was  timeline at DoT (no real detail could be gained from this comment); the following points were gleaned from the meeting:

  • The “secondary network” refers to all public roads not proclaimed as national roads (or those identified as part of the primary network – thus toll roads were inclusive as being part of the national road scenario).

  • There is no intention to reduce passenger carrying vehicles (buses) on these routes from 10 200kg on rear axles, nor “premature” in terms of the project the fact that some of the BRT vehicles would use parts of the secondary network to complete transit/transport routes for the coming World Cup.

  • The statement “prohibit the operation of certain axle loads from the secondary network and their migration to the primary network” was meant to include all loads above the 8 000kg rear axle mass (irrespective of axles and wheels on these axles). There is, therefore, a greater implication for axle masses than noted in the correspondence.

  • The “prohibition of certain commodities on both the primary and secondary road networks and the migration of same to the rail branch lines” could not be clarified or any further detail given. This was to “come from the work of the consultant.”

On receipt of the letter, the RFA immediately convened a special meeting of its executive committee to discuss the proposed changes to the regulations and the intended route forward.

Should be resisted

In the meantime, technical consultant and IRTE technical committee member, Jim Campbell, says the proposed amendment will have major ramifications on the road freight industry and should be resisted and rejected outright by all interested members of the freight industry.

“The point of particular interest to the road freight industry is the consideration of reducing the single axle mass-load on freight vehicles only to 8 000kg. This will further widen the divide between freight vehicles permissible single axle mass load and other specified vehicles (currently operating at 10 200kg on a single axle), and the BRT bus single axle ratings at 12 000kg and 13 000kg.”

FleetWatch asked a number of hauliers for their opinion on the proposed changes to the regulations. Without exception, they say not only it is unworkable but will have serious impact on transport operating costs and the South African economy as a whole.

... the proposed amendment will have major ramifications on the road freight industry

Jim Campbell
IRTE Technical
Committee Member

Total catastrophe

Louis Malan, who recently retired after 40 years in the transport industry, describes the proposal as ludicrous and remarks that “nobody in their right mind will allow this to happen. “Cutting a ton off the rear axles will be a total catastrophe for road transport,” he says, adding that the idea is “just one more expression of misunderstanding at the DoT.”

“One has to ask what the DoT is trying to achieve with this,” Ajesh Sunnnyhall, operations director, Sentinel Logistics remarks. “It will have a major negative impact on the price of transport and the cost of the end product for which the consumers will pay. Further to this, should these proposals be ratified, it will cost the South African transport industry literally billions of Rand to change the design and specifications of their equipment in order to comply.”

Garth Bolton, joint CEO of Cargo Carriers concurs: “There is no doubt that this will not only increase the cost of road transport but will have a serious negative effect on the economy as a whole. While the DoT claims these changes are aimed at protecting the road infrastructure, reducing legal axle mass limits will not help if there is a lack of law enforcement as there is at present. They (the traffic authorities) should start by improving the policing of overloaded vehicles and increasing expenditure on road maintenance.”

The DoT is trying to regulate the efficiency of rail by making road transport inefficient...

Garth Bolton, Joint CEO
Cargo Carriers

Lack of insight

Bolton says further that the DoT has not gone about proposing changes to the existing regulations in the right way. He says there has been a distinct lack of consultation with the road transport sector and that there is a profound and alarming lack of insight as to the impact the proposed changes would have.

Stating that Government is simply trying to look after State interests, Bolton says: “It appears  the DoT is trying to regulate road transport inefficient so as to make rail competitive.”

Kevin Martin, CEO of Freightliner Transport, says whoever has been involved in mooting these changes does not understand how road transport operations actually work. He did say, however, that if one had to apply the proposed 8-ton axle limit to a tridem- ridem rig with a 6.5-ton limit on the drive axle and a 10-metre wheel base, it would be possible to achieve similar payloads to what is being transported by superlinks and these rigs would be kinder to the road surface. (Bridge formula and joint suspension on drive axles would have to be looked at.)

“While this is all very well in theory,” he says, “on a practical level it would mean the entire national truck fleet would have to be re- configured to meet the new regulations. You can imagine how long this would take and how much it would cost.”

While Bolton says road maintenance and law enforcement should both be improved, Martin says the DoT should look at alternative ways to reduce the stress on the road infrastructure. “For instance, why don’t they promote a shift from steel suspension to air suspension which dissipates the load onto the road more gently?”

The primary cause of the damaged and pot-holed roads is the result of inadequate maintenance over an extended period combined with gross overloading by a small irresponsible portion of road transport operators.

A backward step

Ian Freeman, MD of Freeman’s Transport, describes the proposal as a backwards step. “More attention should be made to maintaining the roads properly he says. In many instances incompetent contractors are engaged to carry repairs which are poorly done. Adding to this, unscrupulous local hauliers and overloaded foreign trucks are destroying the roads with impunity.” Freeman says the proposed amendments will not solve the problems.

Applying his mind to the proposed amendments, United Bulk CEO, Patrick Pols, says there are several reasons why the DoT is considering such drastic action as reducing axle mass limits.

“If we take a step back and examine the core problem, it is quite obvious that the road network has not been sufficiently maintained over an extended period of time due, in the main, to a lack of planning, a depletion of the expertise required to maintain roads properly and tender inefficiencies.”

Money never got to the tar

On the subject of tender inefficiencies, Pols says he is personally aware of the setting aside of tenders in North West and Gauteng Province. “In one town,” he claims, “a road maintenance tender was granted to a dentist. Court records in this regard are abundant. The money was allocated by treasury but never got to the tar.”

Pols says the DoT wants to relieve the problem by getting business to pay for its mistakes. He says this will have a ripple effect with serious increases in pricing and capex.

“Quite simply they want to try and blow some life into rail transport, another parastatal of which the assets were not maintained. Transnet will, in my opinion, neither have the capacity nor the efficiency to deal with such an influx. After all, the DoT is talking about secondary roads and this is exactly where the difficulties in rail freight lie.

“In a similar vein, it can be seen that the problems of the DoT’s and Transnet could have been taken directly out of the manual written by Eskom and the municipalities, which is, getting business and consumers to pay for their inefficiencies.”

Further to this Pols asks: “Who is going to pay for the equipment that has been built and now becomes obsolete or has to be modified. In addition, these proposals will result in the increased handling of product as well as the increase in spillage and losses. There is also the problem of efficiency. In most instances, rail does not have point-to-point delivery.

“Based on the above, I can only say that this entire proposal is totally absurd. It a direct form of unfair discrimination against the road freight industry which will have severe financial implications that cannot be justified within the guidelines as set out in the South African Constitution.”


Alta Swanepoel
Legislation correspondent for FleetWatch and legal expert on transport legislation

Swanepoel says she cannot see how this change will be practical “under any circumstances”. “Unless off-loading areas are provided at exits on national roads, any vehicle that travels on a mix of national and other roads during the same trip will, in any event, not be allowed to load 9 tons on an axle as it would mean that he is then stuck on the national road if he wants to remain legal. He would obviously also be illegal in travelling to the national road in the first place. As far as I know, an agreement was reached in SADC to have a single axle limit of 10 tons, but I am not sure to what extent SA is planning to deal with that.”

Executive director of the Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations, Barney Curtis, tells FleetWatch that the matter will be taken up with SADC and COMESA, as it goes against the SADC Transport Protocol.


Paul Nordengen

President of the SA Road Federation and Research Group Leader at the CSIR Built Environment

Nordengen says the primary cause of the current situation with respect to provincial roads in many parts of the country is inadequate maintenance over an extended period combined with gross overloading by a small and irresponsible portion of road transport operators. “Reducing the axle load limit from 9 to 8 tons will theoretically extend the remaining life of secondary roads by varying degrees but the fundamental problem of delivering timeous road maintenance and effective overload control on secondary roads needs to be addressed,” he says.

He believes that the negative impacts, such as increased traffic congestion, fuel consumption and emissions as well as an increase in the cost of logistics, which in turn will negatively impact on SA’s global competitiveness, far outweigh the benefits in terms of a reduction in road wear.

“Furthermore, enforcement of heavy vehicle loading is concentrated on the national road network so controlling vehicle loads on the secondary road network with the current weighbridge infrastructure will be very difficult.” Nordengen supports the government’s drive to move a higher percentage of freight on rail but this should be achieved by improving rail service delivery, thereby attracting freight back to rail.

“Regulations to force the transport of specific commodities by rail where the service is not adequate will further increase SA’s already-high cost of logistics,” he says.


Dai Davies

Chairman, Institute of Road Transport Engineers

Davies says in his personal opinion, while there is no doubt that the road infrastructure is under pressure and has been severely damaged by overload trucks, reducing the axle mass limit will not solve the problem. “Secondary roads are, in the main, controlled and managed by town councils and councillors who have little knowledge of commercial vehicle operations and, in particular, the application of regulations pertaining to vehicle mass and the bridge formula.

“A major problem would be policing the regulations. We are unable to police the current regulations so there is little chance new regulations will be enforced.” Adding to this, Davies says while there has been a lot of talk about self-regulation in the road transport sector, with few exceptions this has not proved viable.

Davies says a major problem with local hauliers compared to their European counterparts is that when new regulations are introduced in Europe, the hauliers look at how they can comply while in South Africa they look at how they can get circumvent it.

Copyright © 2009  FleetWatch magazine and FleetWatch On-Line.
No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior written permission from the publishers. 
Views published are not necessarily those of the publishers.