Longer and heavier B-doubles are now trucking goods into supermarkets up and down the east coast and into Canberra after the NSW government recently approved a new permit for "higher productivity" vehicles.
The four-metre longer bodies are able to carry between 17 to 22 per cent extra freight every trip which to major national haulage companies means greater efficiency, less emissions and increased productivity. Manoeuvrability is much the same because the new trucks have three steer axles.
Mark Parry, the managing director of the Albury-based Ron Finemores Transport which has up to 250 prime movers hauling goods up and down the Hume Highway every day, said the HP permit was not a direct result of the pandemic but it was "certainly a catalyst which helped it to happen".
Finemores are key fuel and grocery suppliers into Canberra from the Woolworths distribution centres, with a key one for the ACT being the 60,000 square metres centre in Wodonga, just south of the Victorian border.
The company has also just secured the contract to supply Canberra and region Aldi supermarkets from the distribution centre in Prestons, in Sydney's west.
"With every five or six loads, you basically save a load," Mr Parry said.
"We run a very modern fleet and of we're always searching for economies of scale and efficiencies in our operation to pass savings on to our customers."
Under the new permit the maximum weight for HP vehicles increases from 68.5 tonnes up to 79 tonnes.
Advanced telematics in the new trucks automatically maintains distance between vehicles and ensures compliance with speed limits, which can all be tracked remotely.
Ben Newton, the head of transport development at Woolworths, said shelves were being stocked quicker during COVID-19 due to the new permit.
"It's no secret food and grocery supply has been stretched in recent times," he said.
"Having the flexibility to run higher volume trucks up the Hume has been a big help in our efforts to keep stock on the shelves for our communities," Mr Newton said.
Interstate trucking companies Linfox, GTS Freight and Finemores are now all now beginning to run the bigger B-doubles on east coast routes under the new HP permits.
Mr Parry said the "border bubble" in Albury-Wodonga had eased a lot of the previous congestion at the Hume Highway's Victoria-NSW border, with all his trucks using essential vehicle permits and drivers getting tested every seven days.
Melbourne metropolitan area delivery was more problematic with another separate permit required, as is the same with crossing the South Australian border.
"It used to take our trucks up to 20 minutes to get through [the border crossing] which doesn't sound like much but when you're running very tight delivery logistics, it all matters," he said.
"But we're now down to about 10 minutes.
"It has been a logistical challenge to maintain schedules through this COVID period but as new issues come up we just sit down and figure out a solution and make it work."
Canberra company Seeing Machines, which has its Guardian safety observational telematics in most large interstate haulage companies operating on the east coast of Australia, said it has seen the number of heavy vehicle trips increase by 17 per cent in the past five months, compared with the same period last year.
Distance travelled by the trucks has gone up by 7 per cent.
It's been tough on the drivers, too, with fatigue events per hours driven increased by 11 per cent, and distraction events up by 8 per cent.