Hard work but little reward for operators

Operators will be working harder but still struggling to increase profit margins in the coming decades

By Brad Gardner

Trucking operators will be working harder but still struggling to increase profit margins in the coming decades.

The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) predicts transport costs will drop by as little as 0.5 percent per annum between now and 2030, with the savings projected to coincide with only a 2 percent jump in productivity.

The findings are based on the expected uptake of larger heavy vehicle combinations under Performance Based Standards (PBS) and road infrastructure upgrades, but the negligible savings are in sharp contrast to the increase in freight levels.

The BITRE's National Road Network Intercity Traffic Projections to 2030 report claims inter-regional freight moments between major cities will grow 2.8 percent a year, representing a doubling of total tonnage over 25 years.

Inter-city road freight levels are also predicted to increase by 3.3 percent over the same period, while the non-bulk task will expand by as much as 3.6 percent on all road transport corridors each year from 1999 to 2030.

"Road is projected to increase its share of freight between centres less than 1500km apart, while rail and, to a less extent, sea are more significant for longer distance movements," the report says.

Basing its findings on the projected increase in heavy vehicle productivity, the report claims demand for interstate road transport will jump 2.1 percent each year, while intrastate freight levels will grow by up to 1.5 percent a year.

The increase in total tonnage is expected to push up heavy vehicle traffic by almost 1 percent. However, the BITRE says this may more than double without the use of higher productivity vehicles.

"In the absence of any growth in heavy vehicle productivity, total heavy vehicle traffic would grow by 2.3 percent per annum across all interstate corridors and by 2 percent per annum across all intrastate corridors.

The BITRE predicts freight levels on the interstate Sydney to Brisbane corridor to increase from 4.2 million tonnes in 1999 to 12.8 million in 2030, while traffic on the Pacific Highway from Brisbane to the Gold Coast will almost double to 172,990.

Freight levels on the Sydney to Melbourne corridor are expected to increase by as much as 13 million tonnes or 3.4 percent from 7.3 million in 1999 to 20.4 million in 2030.

Despite the recent economic downturn, the minerals and resources sector is still expected to expand based on the projected near doubling of copper, gold and uranium production capacity.

The report also predicts timber production levels to grow by 2.6 percent a year as plantation levels increase by as much as 4.6 percent in Western Australia, Tasmania and the Green Triangle in Victoria.

Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese says the report's projections justify the Rudd Government's approach to transport infrastructure.

"The research vindicates our decision to significantly increase the roads budget.
It also highlights the need to invest in the alternate ways of moving people and freight such as rail," Albanese says.

He says the Government needs to encourage more people to use public transport while also investing in rail to increase its share of the freight task.

"A greater investment in rail will not only be crucial to tackling urban congestion, but also to reducing carbon emissions and lifting Australia’s export performance," he says.

The report predicts interstate passenger transport levels will increase by as much as 2.3 percent a year, with intrastate travel growing by as much as 2.7 percent.

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