Tonnes of confusion

Raising the bus weight to 18 tonnes in NSW has led to confusion over mandatory braking equipment

Tonnes of confusion
Tonnes of confusion

By David Goeldner | March 27, 2013

In the wake of the NSW Government’s announcement that it will raise permissible load weights on two-axle buses from 16 tonnes to 18 tonnes from April 19, there appears to be confusion over which buses will legally carry the greater weight.

NSW Roads and Ports Minister Duncan Gay says most chassis for two axle buses are manufactured in Europe and are designed to operate at mass limits greater than those permitted in the majority of Australian states.

"Major manufacturers like Scania, Mercedes and Volvo have been producing vehicle chassis designed to weigh 18 tonnes at Gross Vehicle Mass for a number of years," Gay says.

"Our buses should be allowed to travel at the weight they are designed to safely operate at."

He says the new mass increase will not compromise road safety as bus operators still have to make sure their vehicles comply with relevant safety requirements to be able to travel at 18 tonnes.

To take advantage of the reform, buses with a mass limit of 18 tonnes must have standard safety equipment, such as anti-lock braking (ABS) and electronic braking systems (EBS)," says Gay.

A leading supplier of new buses into NSW, Bus and Coach Sales Australia’s Director Rodd Hood sees there is the potential for confusion as to who will be allowed to legally operate at the raised 18 tonne weight.

Hood cautioned operators on the apparent differences between NSW and Victoria with regard to Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM), which is the loaded vehicle weight.

He says Victoria’s increase to 18 tonnes in 2012 was made without the caveat of requiring ABS, and in particular, EBS equipment.

Hood says hypothetically a Victorian operator running a bus without EBS from Victoria into NSW might be ‘legal’ south of the border at 18 tonnes, but might still be fined for being overweight as a non-compliant vehicle in NSW.

"In NSW it appears you now need an electronic braking system (EBS), which is a $6000 option on a new bus," he says.

Hood says electronic braking systems are a relatively recent technology inclusion on new vehicles, where many buses more than two years old, irrespective of the make, are unlikely to have EBS fitted.

He says the NSW rule coming into effect on April 19 appears to mean that for buses without EBS, the raised gross limit to 18 tonne does not apply.

"It appears to be a new rule that only applies to vehicles with EBS, and to retrofit a system is a ‘minefield’," Hood says.

"It’s something you just can’t bolt on after the event."

While most buses would have ABS – anti-lock braking – only very new buses have EBS.

Hood is also aware that Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) attached to a new bus will record details on the DOTARS (Department of Infrastructure and Transport) registry whether it has EBS fitted, or not.

He says this means NSW road transport inspection officers will know whether a weighed vehicle will have EBS, based on VIN data supplied through the Federal DOTARS authority.

"There will be many operators in NSW who might think they are exempt because their chassis is compliant to carry 18 tonnes," Hood says.

Hood says increased bus weight became an issue two decades ago when steel rollover bars became mandatory in buses in 1992.

He says this extra weight wasn’t accounted for in the 16 tonne carrying capacity limit in force across all Australian states at the time.

Hood says seat belted buses can also add 500kg to a vehicle’s weight.

"It’s taken 20 years to get the weight raised in NSW – it’s a big win."

He says the next step is to raise the weight limit on three axle vehicles, a move supported by Sydney-based Tourism and Transport Forum.

TTF Acting Chief Executive Officer Trent Zimmerman says his group looked forward to the NSW government extending the reform to 3-axle buses.

"This reform brings NSW in line with Victoria which increased weight limits for two-axle buses last year," Zimmerman says, adding the 16 tonne rule in NSW was an obsolete regulation.

"Due to changes in suspension, braking systems and steel frames modern buses have become heavier and so regulations must evolve to accommodate this," says Zimmerman.

However, Hood says the NSW ruling – although welcome in principle – requires further clarification.

"Unless someone says otherwise, buses in NSW that have a GVM of 18 tonnes still can’t carry 18 tonnes if they haven’t got EBS," he says.

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