Let’s encourage innovation and technology

Technology has brought massive change for the better in our industry. The saying ‘Don’t let those who say it can’t be done interrupt those who are already doing it,’ certainly applies. Road transport operators have consistently demonstrated their ability to innovate and develop new solutions over the years.

But some of the current legislation and rules and regulations are lagging behind and creating a barrier to the adoption of the very technology that can help manage our challenges.

Here are some of the ways in which technology is making a positive difference – and areas which could do with some improvement.

Fuel technology

Diesel engines emit CO2 (carbon dioxide) and NOx (nitric oxide) gases. However, modern lean-burning diesel engines are far more fuel-efficient than older models, and diesel itself is cleaner than it was even a decade ago.

The industry is already demonstrating leadership and innovation by investing in new technologies. An example is Invercargill- based HWR, which has introduced dual-fuel hydrogen-diesel hybrid trucks to its fleet. The engines work by using clever fuel injection, so they can run on 30% to 50% green hydrogen.

According to HWR, one dual-fuel truck running an average of 384km per day can eliminate 200kg of carbon emissions per day. If all of New Zealand’s fleet were to transition to dual fuel, millions of kilogrammes of carbon emissions would be eliminated each year. HWR chief executive Anthony Jones says the dual-fuel project will significantly impact the road transport industry.

Vehicle technology

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs), also known as ZEVs (Zero Emission Vehicles), are already proving efficient, especially on shorter routes, for example, in cities where smaller heavy vehicles dominate. Larger long-haul electric trucks are under development but still seem a way off. Their cost premium is a barrier, but there are some exciting developments. Watch this space.

One of the current setbacks is entirely avoidable. Batteries increase vehicle weight, proving a barrier to adoption because the smaller trucks require Class 2 driver licences rather than the car licence required for their diesel equivalent. Transporting New Zealand is seeking an interim blanket exemption and change to the Land Transport (Driver Licensing) Rule.

There are also opportunities to increase productivity by increasing cubed and gross weight. Fewer, larger trucks on the road would also produce fewer emissions. Allowing increased axle weights and powered axle technology could also encourage the take-up of more environmentally friendly vehicles, so a change really would make sense.

Vehicle and driver safety

Unquestionably, all vehicles have become safer. New technology, in the form of blindspot and lane departure warning sensors, help prevent accidents.

Driver impairment is still a major risk factor, so better risk management of driver fatigue is another positive development. In-cab cameras that monitor driver reactions have been available for some time. Now there is technology that can assess driver cognitive performance, and that, along with other countermeasures, is being trialled in the livestock sector.

Again, legislation must keep pace with technology; therefore, we are seeking more flexibility in the worktime and logbook rule, especially for the livestock sector (see page 106), to manage unexpected circumstances such as delays caused by weather, accidents, road closures and ferry delays.

Dashcam footage has also recorded some shocking incidents of dangerous driving, including cars overtaking on double yellow lines or blind bends.

Transporting New Zealand is currently working on sharing this footage with the police. If car drivers know beforehand that they will be recorded and prosecuted for dangerous driving, it should act as an effective deterrent.

Improving financial literacy and the bottom line

Another old saying goes, “If the wheels are turning, you’re earning.” But are they turning as efficiently as possible? Business sustainability depends on being on top of the game when it comes to managing costs. Software programs make the process easier and make a real difference to your business’s bottom line.

An example is Transporting New Zealand’s new Cost Model Tool, which is available free to members. To find out more, please get in touch by emailing info@transporting.nz, or see our website, transporting.nz.

Technology continues to evolve and contribute to potential solutions to manage our most significant risks: climate, safety, and commercial sustainability. Despite our reputation as a technology-taker, our industry is not waiting. A diverse range of applications, from engineering hardware to spreadsheets, is now available. Let’s make the most of them.

I also firmly believe that transport operators are more than happy to take on new technology as long as it makes good sense, which ultimately means there’s a positive return on that investment, and that often means it’s supported or paid for by the procurer of the transport services.