The number of heavy vehicles on Melbourne’s roads could double or triple as the population booms. (ABC News: James Hancock)
For more than two decades, residents of Melbourne’s inner west have been fighting a losing battle to get trucks off their streets.
So the thought that Melbourne’s freight load could triple by 2050 is, quite simply, horrifying to them.
“I can’t imagine what the streets would be like around here if we had a massive increase in the truck numbers,” said Martin Wurt from the Maribyrnong Transport Action Group.
“We have got some of the worst health statistics in Australia because of the diesel pollution we are experiencing now.”
In the past 10 years, the amount of freight moving around Victoria has increased by more than 30 per cent.
The vast majority of it is moved around on trucks and, in the next seven years, the number of kilometres travelled by road freight is tipped to rise a further 70 per cent.
|Long combination vehicles||490,513||580,727||652,020||675,606||+38pc|
Source: ABS Survey of Motor Vehicle Use
At the Port of Melbourne, which is the biggest in Australia, the projections are even higher.
Its current volume of 2 million containers a year is projected to quadruple to 8 million by 2035 and, unless something drastic happens, most of that will also be moved around on trucks.
Martin Wurt from the Maribyrnong Transport Action Group says residents are “choking to death” on diesel pollution. (ABC News)
“When you look at those expected numbers, the increase in truck movements, there is no way that can all be carried by road,” Mr Wurt said.
“Without freight on rail, without better road infrastructure, we are just going to sink under these trucks. We are just choking to death, basically.”
In July this year, the state transport department released a strategy, known as the Victorian Freight Plan, to deal with the massive increase in freight being forecast.
It predicts a future in 2050 where trucks are less polluting, traffic flow is better managed by technology, and containers are shuttled between Melbourne’s major docks by rail.
But local residents like Mr Wurt, who have spent years watching trucks squeeze down their streets, are sceptical.
“These plans come and go and they don’t get built,” he said.
“It’s incredibly frustrating. [Former premier] Steve Bracks had a plan in 2003 to get 30 per cent of our freight movements onto rail. By the time he left office, it had gone backwards.”
Mr Wurt said Australia also lagged behind on pollution controls for heavy vehicles.
“Europe has had Euro 6 [emissions] standards for quite a number of years now. They are considered superclean trucks. We are not going to have that legislated until 2027,” he said.
Bigger and heavier trucks to come, industry says
Residents have long laid the blame for the issue at the feet of Victoria’s trucking industry.
But recently they have changed tack and have banded together with the Victorian Transport Association against a new common enemy: government agencies.
Trucks are a common sight on the roads in Melbourne’s western suburbs, such as Footscray. (ABC News: Gemma Hall)
“We have actually come to the realisation now that we have much more in common with the industry than we do with the Environmental Protection Agency, for example,” Mr Wurt said.
“Because the industry actually realises that they need to clean up their act.
“They actually realise that a lot of the things we are asking for is what a professional industry should be doing.”
The Victorian Transport Association agrees wholeheartedly.
“We understand that [for] local residents, who are experiencing 10,000 vehicles a day driving down their major streets, that’s a lot of truck activity,” said its chief executive Peter Anderson.
“They are experiencing that every day, day after day. Night and day. It’s breaking down the value of their community. And we as an industry need to acknowledge that.”
But the industry is the first to concede that despite this, there will be more trucks — and they’ll be bigger, longer and heavier.
Melbourne’s roads are gradually being opened up to even larger B-double trucks, also known as higher productivity freight vehicles, or HPFVs.
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To address congestion, the trucking lobby is instead proposing more clearways for heavy vehicles and diverting trucks onto other roads at night.
But it is also unashamedly advocating for more, and bigger, roads.
“We’re building West Gate Tunnel, the North East Link, the M80 is being widened, and that will be finished soon,” Mr Anderson said.
“And there are other plans afoot to make bigger roads and bigger connections between road and rail.
“That’s the thinking that we encourage and that’s what we think will drive the industry and the community into a better standard of living going forward.”
But Mr Anderson said in the long term there needed to be more ambitious solutions like decentralising the Port of Melbourne or building a special rail tunnel to shuttle containers between docks.
“For example we could build one here at Webb dock, build a terminal here, and another over at Swanson dock, and take containers between the two ports.
“Doesn’t mean we get all the container trucks off the roads, but we probably get 80 per cent or 90 per cent of the container trucks off the road.”
Mr Wurt said the city needs more than a strategy — it needs a plan.
“We know that the freight load is going to keep increasing, so what are we waiting for?
“More community protests? Or community blockades?
“Why not get on the front foot and actually plan for this?
“Our expectations are so high in so many areas, but when it comes to freight movements, it’s seriously — it’s third world.”