Peak traffic hour restrictions on trucks

JB Cronjé, tralac Researcher, comments on South Africa’s draft road traffic regulations concerning peak hour restrictions on trucks

THE SOUTH African Minister of Transport recently published draft road traffic regulations prohibiting trucks with a gross weight of more than 9 tons in urban areas during morning and afternoon peak traffic hours. Traffic congestion is a challenge in most major cities in the world as an ever increasing number of vehicles need to compete for access to limited road space. Truck bans are primarily designed to shift the movement of large vehicles to less congested day and night periods. These bans, especially during peak traffic hours, might be popular from the motoring public’s point of view because trucks are perceived to be slowing down traffic flows and occupy large amounts of road space. However, such regulatory measures could have negative and harmful economic effects.

In order to remain profitable, transport vehicles must perform as many trips as possible. Prohibiting vehicles in urban areas during certain periods of the day will negatively affect turnaround times of trucks. This will necessitate changes in logistical planning and may require many businesses to conduct loading and delivery operations at night. It may also force transport companies to use smaller freight vehicles with lower loading capacities not covered by the ban. It will prevent transport companies from taking advantage of the economies of scale of larger vehicles and load consolidation. This will create higher traffic volumes, especially during peak traffic hours, and more CO²  and other emissions. In the end, the cost of doing business will increase.

Nonetheless, road space rationing strategies aimed at reducing traffic congestion or air pollution are implemented by a number of metropolitan cities around the world. This objective is usually achieved by restricting vehicles based on the last digit of their licence plate numbers into central business districts during certain periods and on predetermined days. For example, vehicles with even-numbered licence plates would be prohibited from entering a city every other day. Such a strategy would require proper law enforcement and alternative transport options for motorists to be successful. It also requires cordon parking areas for trucks outside urban areas for the duration of the restriction period. This brings us to the rationale for the proposed measure. If the objective of the Minister is to alleviate traffic congestion in urban areas during peak traffic hours, why target only large vehicles? Should the objective of such a strategy not be to reduce the total number of vehicles on the road? It also raises a number of questions regarding its feasibility and implementation. Ports are located in all major coastal cities. How would truck restrictions in urban areas affect port operations and containerised transport? There are generally a lack of parking areas for trucks and resting facilities for truck drivers along all main transport routes. Transport companies have major concerns regarding the safety of drivers and security of cargo on South African roads let alone when parked next to the road. It has become common practice for companies to arrange security escorts for trucks with cargo values above a certain amount.
Another concern relates to the definition of an “urban area” in the National Road Traffic Act 93 of 1996. The Act defines an urban area as “that portion of the area of jurisdiction of a local authority which has by actual survey been subdivided into erven or is surrounded by surveyed erven, and includes the public roads abutting thereon”. This proposed restriction will, by definition, apply to even small towns throughout the country. The South African Constitution does confer concurrent legislative competence to the relative national department on matters relating to road traffic regulation. However, “provincial roads and traffic” and “traffic and parking” matters are functional areas of exclusive provincial and local government legislative competences, respectively. Municipalities are undoubtedly the level of government best suited to formulate strategies addressing local traffic problems.

However, media reports suggest the Minister had a different objective than the alleviation of traffic congestion in mind when she introduced the proposed measure. A report has quoted the Minister as saying: “This intention is in response to the increase in the number of road carnage that involves goods vehicles on the South African roads.” This is a different problem with different causes and solutions. The latest national road traffic report published by the Road Traffic Management Corporation shows that 60.14% of all fatal crashes in 2010 occurred over weekends. It also shows that 60.68% of the daily crashes happened generally during the hours of darkness; between 18:00 in the evening and 06:00 in the morning. Unfortunately the data do not report the types of vehicles involved in fatal crashes. Assuming the Minister is correct when suggesting that crashes involving trucks contribute a disproportionately higher percentage to the total number of fatal crashes than other types of vehicles, the statistics clearly indicate that truck bans during weekday rush hour traffic periods are not the appropriate solution to this particular problem.

However, considering the fact that human factors contributed 84.91% to the incidence of fatal crashes during the same period it is more likely that the working conditions of truck drivers (including remuneration schemes and lack of safe and secure resting facilities) could cause speeding and fatigue resulting in road accidents. Perhaps a more appropriate response from the Minister would be to announce a date for the implementation of existing regulation limiting the driving time of truck drivers.