Consultation is essential as regulators mull over heavy transport reforms, with the sector ready to play its part in crucial policy debates, writes Ton Klijn, ESTA director.

Those of us working in heavy and abnormal transport have often felt that our concerns have not been taken seriously by our political masters, whether in national governments or the European Commission (EC) in Brussels. Despite the importance of our work for society’s well-being, we have struggled to receive a hearing. We are, admittedly, a smallish industry. But in terms of economic and social impact, we punch well above our weight.

Today maybe – just maybe – our voices are starting be heard as companies and politicians alike struggle to improve our industry’s environmental and economic performance through practical and deliverable policies.

ESTA – the European association of abnormal road transport and mobile cranes with members in 27 countries – has long argued against the plethora of petty and unnecessary national regulations governing abnormal transports. Such regulations have also been a lever exploited by local authorities for protectionist ends.

For years, we have called on the EC to enforce harmonised standards for abnormal transports across its member states.

As a result, we strongly support the commission’s recent moves to revise the directive that regulates weights and dimensions of commercial vehicles and hope we can make the most of the opportunities this presents.

Game changer

This may seem like a dry and technical issue, but if handled correctly, carefully considered changes to Directive 96/53 could be a game changer.

Back in 2008, ESTA contributed to, and supported, the publication of the European Best Practice Guidelines for Abnormal Road Transport. It was an excellent document. Unfortunately, since then not a lot has happened. Most member states have not implemented any of the recommendations, even though they helped to draft them, and it has, by and large, been ignored.

To our surprise and pleasure, the commission has said now that it wants to revisit the guide and the measures it proposes such as the Special European Registration for Trucks and Trailers (SERT) intended to reduce paperwork and bureaucracy.

Essential approach

When it comes to the abnormal transport industry, a lot of Brussels’ aims can be achieved by revisiting the guide. But it is also crystal clear that without making any new regulations compulsory, no changes ‘on the ground’ will come about.

A revision of the Best Practice Guide would help create a European abnormal transport system of regulations and permits that is fair and harmonised. That is to say, a one-stop shop in every EU member state.

We are also calling on the commission to ensure that the reforms use modern information and communication technologies to ensure compliance with national permits and road access limitations. There are huge benefits to be captured.

Cost reduction

We know from experiences in other parts of the world – in particular, the USA and Australia – that the introduction of effectively designed online permitting systems leads to a rise in the number of transport permits applied for, and at the same time reduces costs for the issuing authorities. In addition, the number of infrastructure damage incidents is significantly reduced.

None of this is ground-breaking – the systems we describe are already in use in various parts of the world. The only reason we are not using them in Europe is because of regulatory barriers at a national level.

A further possibility we see for information technology in abnormal transport would be to connect the vehicle position by GPS to an intelligent access system. Systems already in place in Australia and the USA have shown a reduction in road congestion problems and fewer transport route violations, again with reduced government enforcement costs.

We have the opportunity here to develop a better regulated, more efficient and safer abnormal transport industry, but only if the developments are both agreed and acted upon by all member states.

But if the recent communications from Brussels are a cause for guarded optimism, the news from Germany is not so good and contains an important lesson.

We are still waiting for a reply from the German authorities in response to serious concerns about the new VEMAGS permit system for heavy transport.

Along with other organisations, we had a meeting in Germany at the end of last year, and I think the authorities there were a little shocked at the strength of the opposition.

VEMAGS is the German online system for the application and approval for oversized and heavy transports in all 16 federal states. The new rules were intended to make the system more efficient, but instead are leading to increased costs, unnecessary bureaucracy and greater delays.

Reduced options

They mean that permits can only be ordered from the regional authority where the transport starts, or where the transport company has its headquarters or a major branch office.

This leaves foreign transport companies with fewer application points and the number of authorities from which a transport company can obtain a permit for a heavy transport or abnormal load has been reduced, with some authorities becoming overwhelmed by the demand.

Photos courtesy of Bolk Transport and Baumann.

This article has been taken from HLPFI’s March/April 2022 edition