PBS, who knew?

PBS, who knew?

Pioneered by the timber industry in South Africa, performance based standards (PBS) measure how a truck and its load behave on the road against national safety and infrastructure protection standards, rather than on the implications of their dimensions and physical mass for performance. STUART MOIR takes a look at the system and evaluates its benefits for local commercial transport.

The aim of PBS is to promote technological innovation in heavy vehicle design that will improve road safety and productivity. “PBS has the potential to provide a safer, more cost-effective alternative to the current system in selected transport applications,” explains Andrew Crickmay, managing director of Crickmay and Associates. It requires heavy vehicles to perform dynamically to acceptable levels against national safety and infrastructure protection standards, raising the bar for heavy vehicle management and loading in general. According to Paul Nordengen, research group leader at the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the introduction of PBS in South Africa would be in line with world-wide trends towards implementing performance-based codes and standards that have already been adopted successfully in Australia and New Zealand.

Locally, PBS is being pioneered in the forestry industry and undoubtedly complements South Africa’s industry-led, voluntarily self-regulated Road Transport Management System (RTMS) initiative; a strategy aimed at protecting the road network while, at the same time, improving road safety and road transport productivity. “All players in the commercial road transport industry’s logistics value chain are aware of the problems affecting their businesses,” says Nordengen. In his view, one of these is our country’s already deteriorating road infrastructure. Another is the unacceptable number of accidents on our roads attributed to overloaded trucks. Crickmay agrees. “Even though it’s still early days for PBS in South Africa, given our poor safety record, the deteriorating conditions of our roads and our high logistic costs PBS is a system that should be seriously considered,” he maintains.

PBS, who knew?“In most countries, heavy vehicle usage of the road network is controlled by prescriptive regulations,” says François Oberholzer, a consultant for RTMS. However, he goes on to explain that one of the motives for developing PBS is that the success of these regulations is limited by the extent to which they differ from country to country. “The PBS approach optimises the match between a PBS vehicle and the road infrastructure it uses,” he continues. Typically, heavy vehicles operating within the PBS framework are limited to travelling on a sub-set of the road network in order to facilitate the protection of road infrastructure and promote acceptable safety levels.

According to Oberholzer, the potential safety and productivity benefits of the PBS approach to road freight transport management will need to be demonstrated practically, quantified and evaluated  under South African conditions, a process in which RTMS will play a pivotal role. An operator wishing to adopt and implement the PBS system must have a permit to do so, and this can only be obtained through RTMS accreditation.

In Nordengen’s view, the only way to overcome the problem of poor compliance with changes in government legislation and the extent to which this can undermine fair competition is to pro-actively promote and encourage self-regulation amongst transport operators. RTMS is one way of doing this and, if widely adopted, could go a long way towards assisting Government in creating standardised rules for the industry. He believes it is for this reason that the issuing of PBS permits was given as a concession to RTMS. “It is essential that all PBS participants are certified in accordance with the RTMS scheme to avoid a situation where truck and trailer manufacturers start designing vehicles on an ad hoc basis,” he explains.

“PBS vehicles are designed to include certain safety features and to be loaded in the correct manner. The RTMS approach offers the most suitable way of ensuring that these requirements are met,” Nordengen continues. Mondi and Sappi have each commissioned a PBS demonstration project, with implementation solely within the forestry industry. “The two PBS vehicles concerned were designed and manufactured to comply with Level 2 of the Australian PBS system,” Oberholzer says. These PBS vehicles are 28% longer and permitted to carry 22% more load than their predecessors in the industry; they are 18% more fuel-efficient per ton transported; and they could reduce the number of trucks required to transport timber for Sappi from the current 70 to 55. “Beyond efficiency gains and cost reduction, this new PBS vehicle system focuses on improved road safety, driver wellness and road stability, as well as reduced impact on roads and lower carbon emissions,” comments Jan Labuschagne, chief executive officer of Sappi Southern Africa.

“Not only do the results of the Sappi and Mondi trials in KwaZulu-Natal demonstrate that PBS vehicles are safer and more cost effective,” says Crickmay. “In our opinion they show a high level of sophistication on the part of the Department of Transport (DoT) for entertaining the system in the first place.” Labuschagne agrees: “The PBS vehicle demonstrates the clear benefits of close cooperation between industry and Government in achieving a common goal.”

DoT support for the initiative is motivated by an acknowledgement of the need to improve the overall efficiency of South Africa’s road transport system by optimising truck payloads, improving truck safety and protecting road infrastructure through innovative vehicle design and the application of state-of-the-art technology. According to Nordengen, “While Government will continue to implement its regulatory interventions and ensure compliance with legislation through intensified law enforcement, it will encourage self-regulation initiatives by facilitating the granting of specific concessions.”

It was in November 2007 that the first completely new PBS prototype entered service in South Africa on specific routes in KwaZulu-Natal, with provincial DoT permission and collaboration. After excellent results during
the first 21 months of testing, the DoT permitted a further 15 PBS vehicles of the same design to transport timber to Sappi’s Saiccor Mill. Sappi is therefore the first company in any local industry to have experienced the benefits of using PBS vehicles on a commercial basis. As Oberholzer emphasises, however, the PBS vehicle system can be adopted by any commercial enterprise dependent on heavy vehicle road transport on the understanding that RTMS accreditation has been obtained.

Yet Crickmay believes that improving rail transport is just as important as introducing PBS, which was never intended as an alternative to rail. “The application of PBS requires a high level of maturity from the authorities and the public, as well as from transport operators themselves and the users of their services,” he explains. “We have a long way to go before we have an environment suitable for blanket PBS usage.” Nevertheless, the results of PBS vehicle trials over the last 21 months have been encouraging. 

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