Breakthrough: Streamlined road access for big buses

By: Jason Whittaker

By Jason Whittaker Transport regulators have opened the way for larger, higher-capacity buses to access more of the road network under

By Jason Whittaker

Transport regulators have opened the way for larger, higher-capacity buses to access more of the road network under changes to vehicle application processes.

The national performance-based standards, or PBS, scheme was designed to streamline the design and road access for non-prescriptive heavy vehicles. But regulators now admit buses were ignored in developing a scheme primarily for freight vehicles.

The National Transport Commission (NTC) is now proposing a unique bus classification under PBS to address specific operational requirements.

A review into the PBS framework acknowledges bus transport as a crucial component of the transport map.

"Bus transport is a key part of the public transport network which contributes significantly to facilitating the movement of people to and from work and around cities and urban communities," an NTC report says.

"Improved transport productivity can, therefore, reduce the cost of moving people and freight and, ultimately, the cost to consumers for goods and services."

Longer buses are currently assessed as ‘Class 2’ vehicles, meaning they are subject to restricted road access.

But the bus and coach industry argued the manoeuvrability requirements were too restrictive for passenger-carrying heavy vehicles.

The Bus Industry Confederation (BIC) offered the example of a 14.5m coach with standard steerable axle settings. Despite meeting PBS requirements for "frontal swing, swept path and steer axle friction" the vehicle fails level two access requirements because of a tail swing 20mm greater than the allowable 350mm.

"This results in the vehicle being classed as a level 4 vehicle which is only able to operate on road train routes," BIC wrote to the PBS review.

"We have in effect a 14.5m coach being placed in the same category as a 53.5m road train."

The NTC says the new bus level could be based on migrating existing permitted bus routes and developing unique performance requirements based on the conditions appropriate to these routes.

"Vehicles using these routes would need to be primarily for the transport of people and meet all level 1 requirements with the exception of low speed swept path, frontal and tail swing requirements," the NTC says.

"Limits for these manoeuvrability requirements could be derived by reviewing the fleet of vehicles currently using the controlled access bus routes, thereby ensuring that approved PBS buses will be no worse than current vehicles operating on these routes."

Like freight vehicles, the bus sector could then develop so-called ‘blueprint’ vehicles to fast-track road access.

Manufacturers will drive the creation of new "achievable, realistic" PBS-compliant designs, the NTC says, and will be allowed to sell pre-approved vehicles to operators.

"Controlled access buses fulfil a different role in society to freight vehicles and generally have a different public perception of risk and social reward," the NTC paper says.

Meanwhile, the NTC report finds the reluctance of councils and road agencies to allow road access to PBS vehicles as the primary drag on the slow take-up of the scheme.

Only 52 vehicles have been approved under PBS, of which less than half-a-dozen are buses.

Recommended changes to the scheme include model legislation to harmonise the application process across state borders. The recommendations will go before transport ministers next year.

The NTC also wants a working group set up to streamline the assessment of bridges to handle heavier and longer vehicles, cited as another excuse by regulators to reject PBS applications.

The NTC report admits having only 52 vehicles approved by June is low compared to the 15,000 heavy trucks sold per year.

"It represents a scheme that in operational terms remains in its infancy," the report says.

Industry has adopted a "wait and see" approach to participation, the NTC says, largely because early adopters "have not realised the desired network access".

"There is clearly more work to be done in improving the access arrangements and information available in all states," the report says.

The NTC also found a lack of qualified assessors, operational information and resources to meet demand.

Testing standards also face review, with the NTC saying the current practice of static physical testing or numerical modelling doesn’t take into account active safety systems now standard in most vehicles.

A regulatory impact statement on the changes will be developed in the first quarter of 2010 to go before transport ministers.

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