Designed by onlyyouqj / Freepik

Time to take a breath on port decisions

I fail to see why there is the perceived need to rush into moving Ports of Auckland, or the rush to pick a favourite to replace it.

So, I was pleased to see the Government release, this week, a sensible and measured report that stopped the push to develop Northport in its tracks. The promises around Northport were only ever based on New Zealand First’s desire to secure the Northland electorate seat at this year’s election.

RTF has spoken out against the move to Northport on many occasions because of the cost it would add to move freight further away from its end destination. That’s before you even get into logistics and environmental impacts.

As a country facing severe economic hardship in the wake of Covid-19, the Government cannot afford to spend money on poorly thought-out projects that don’t stack up on costs versus benefits.

The government-commissioned report prepared by Sapere Research Group – Analysis of the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy Working Group Options for moving freight from the Ports of Auckland – endorses the folly of a rushed move to Northport. The report says that assessment of regional economic development effects suggests that, on its own, a relocation of port activity is unlikely to substantially alter regional economies. It says most of the gains would be felt in regions outside where the rise in activity takes place.

The argument that moving to Northport would benefit the Northland economy is dead in the water.

The report also endorses our point that it is clear that distance to market is critical to the supply chain and that Northport is generally considered too far from main markets to function as a primary import port. It is worth noting that 80 percent of New Zealand’s freight is distributed to points south of the current Ports of Auckland.

What’s at play here? Influential Aucklanders don’t like the look of a working port in their downtown area and, at some point, Ports of Auckland will reach capacity – though Covid-19 might extend that timeframe.

Aside from the optics, the country needs to look at how it can best manage the flow of exports and imports that are the mainstay of our economy. We cannot become so isolationist in our response to Covid-19 we forget that. We are already seeing a worrying trend with global airlines responding to the New Zealand Government’s border policies.

It seems to be a peculiar New Zealand thing to respond to big issues by quickly coming up with options A or B and force a choice, when it need not be a binary choice.

The Sapere report suggests we have a good 30 years to tackle capacity issues for Ports of Auckland. They look at the current options on the table and conclude a new port in Manukau Harbour is the number one contender in a cost-benefit analysis. This has been met with some derision due to the nature of New Zealand’s west coast tidal flows and the suitability for shipping.

Again, this reflects more on New Zealand’s decision-making capability rather than the well-researched report.

Sapere acknowledges that long lead times for planning, consenting and constructing port capacity outside Ports of Auckland mean there is a shorter window of time for a decision about the long-term strategy to future proof port capacity. That window is approximately 10-15 years.

Surely, in that time, there can be a sensible assessment of what the problem we are trying to solve is and how best to solve it, rather than trying to retro-fit a solution to meet the needs of politicians, or other vested interests.

The problem is: How we can increase port capacity, anticipating growth, for exports and imports that flow through the upper North Island supply chain?

We’re supposed to be this innovative little country that punches above our weight. You’d think we could solve that problem over 15 years.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Shovel-ready – the misleading catchcry of 2020

On Monday this week, New Zealand’s capital city ground to a grid-locked halt for five hours because of a small slip on State Highway 2. This shows us a number of things to be concerned about.

The city predicted to be hit by a big earthquake any day now has no transport resilience; the management of the response to the slip leaves us wondering about the capability in New Zealand to build all this new infrastructure cash is being splashed at; and the needs of a handful of cyclists seemed to take precedence over the many motorists trying to get north of Wellington city on both SH1 and SH2 from 2.50pm, when the slip was first reported, until 8pm, when traffic cleared.

On RNZ the next day, in explanation of the magnitude of the five-hour snarl-up, the safety of cyclists – with their cycle lane on SH2 closed by the slip – was cited by NZTA as one reason for closing one traffic lane to cars and trucks. NZTA conceded that closing one lane on a highway in peak hour traffic causes major issues and is a vulnerability for Wellington. There was no mention of the existing cycleway that runs adjacent to this part of SH2. It is apparently a bit rough and is being upgraded, but surely it could be used in this kind of situation?

Every winter this road has a slip at least once, causing this kind of traffic mayhem. A lot of commuters reported this was the worst wait they’d ever had. While the slip appeared very small, there was apparently a lot of instability in the bank running alongside the highway. It was also difficult for crews to access the site and get the appropriate gear there due to the built-up traffic.

This highlights the dangerous lack of resilience in the roading network and the clear need for the Petone to Grenada highway, which has been put on ice by the Government. This is despite it being listed as a top priority in the Wellington Lifelines report – to safeguard New Zealand’s economy in the event of a magnitude 7.5 earthquake on the Wellington Faultline. Our economy certainly can’t take another hit right now.

On Monday, motorists trying to get to Petone and beyond in the Hutt Valley were advised to take SH1 and then go across SH58. That just caused SH1 to gridlock and added 40km-plus to people’s journey home. Another reason to get the Petone to Grenada highway out of the mothballs, and of course, to get Transmission Gully finished.

The situation with SH2 can only be described as chaos, with no clear strategy or plan of action for something that is a regular occurrence in winter and could cost lives in a major earthquake.

Added to the mess that Transmission Gully has become – with a finish date moving out all the time to now possibly 2023 – it is hard to have confidence in the big picture planning for New Zealand’s transport network, particularly for our major cities. When it comes to Auckland, I only need to say “light rail” and you get the picture.

The situation in Wellington is sadly reflective of many parts of New Zealand’s road network. Operators are constantly telling the Road Transport Forum how much harder it is to get their trucks from A to B, or the damage their gear suffers and the additional cost pressure that puts on them. The state of the road – be it poor maintenance or limited capacity – is usually to blame for these pressures.

With our current track record, there are some big question marks hanging over New Zealand’s ability to recover from the economic hit caused by Covid-19 by building infrastructure. We don’t have the expertise, and with our borders closed indefinitely as we try and eliminate Covid-19, where are we going to get the necessary help from?

Each day another announcement is made about money being spent somewhere on infrastructure. New Zealanders need to mark all these announcements and hold those making them to account to actually deliver; to have the capability to plan, design and manage these projects; and to have the people on the end of all those shovels to do the work.

Shovel-ready may well be the most misleading catchcry of 2020.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Infrastructure announcements will not save New Zealand’s economy

The penny is starting to drop that New Zealand is in a precarious economic position we may not recover from for decades. There’s a big difference between saying building infrastructure will contribute to New Zealand’s economic recovery from Covid-19, and the reality of the gap between announcement and creation of paying jobs.

I’ve been quite vocal about my concerns around Transmission Gully. If the Government can’t even complete the one big roading infrastructure project on the books, how can we have confidence they can get others running and completed?

Many share my concerns and this week, New Zealand’s largest construction company Fletcher Building announced it would be slashing about 1000 jobs in New Zealand as it moves to reduce staffing by 10 percent.

It has been reported that Fletcher Building had more than 400 operating sites closed during New Zealand’s level 4 lockdown. It said it recorded zero revenue in most of its New Zealand operations during the lockdown. In Australia however, where there has not been a total lockdown, revenue ran at about 90 percent of its prior expectations.

Our biggest construction company doesn’t have much confidence in the road ahead and the expected market downturn means it has to reduce its workforce, losing valuable skilled workers. They are not alone. We are seeing 1000 people a day join the unemployment queue. The cost to this country will only play out over time, but we can expect our young people won’t want to stick around and pay the bills being racked up now and we will be looking at another brain-drain.

The Government has tagged about $15 billion for infrastructure, but announcements do not jobs make. There’s a big gap between something being deemed “shovel ready” and well, the shovels actually going into the ground with workers attached to them.

Even the Amalgamated Workers Union national secretary Maurice Davis is calling for a faster start on infrastructure projects to offset job losses in the construction sector. He suggests the Government look at fast-tracking projects they deferred when they came to power.

In a last-ditch attempt to get some business nous into the economic recovery the Prime Minister’s Business Council has told her that Australia is “co-optimising” the economic consequences of the Covid-19 outbreak better than New Zealand. Chair Fraser Whineray sent a blunt letter holding up Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s high-powered National Covid-19 Coordination Commission as exemplary.

The voice of business is not so well heard here in New Zealand. You can see that in suggestions for a four-day working week and an extra public holiday. These are further costs already crippled businesses simply won’t be able to bear. They’ve only just got back to work in many instances and now the Government wants them to pay for more days off. This also shows the Government’s complete lack of understanding of the fact that many businesses operate seven days and/or are coordinating with parts of their businesses in other time zones. The five-day, 9am-5pm work week is no longer reality for many.

You can see the disregard for business in the policy – written by people with no business experience – and in Wellington where we now wander in a ghost town. Public servants are staying home instead of coming into the city to work and contributing to the retail and hospitality businesses that have conveniently been there for them for years.

If the Government really cared about jobs, jobs, jobs, they would get their own workers back into Wellington’s offices spending their considerable salaries.

The trouble we are in will not be cured with kindness. It won’t be fixed by well-meaning workshops. The meaningless daily press conferences and the hiding behind Covid-19 needs to stop. As Mr Whineray put it in his letter:

“To avoid the endemic problem with the public sector’s misallocation of New Zealanders’ resources held by the Government in non-core activity and low productivity within the public sector we need a very strong business in involvement alongside central Government.”

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Best minds required for economic recovery

New Zealand’s Covid-19 experience has shown how out of touch some members of our Government are with the businesses that drive the economy. This is pretty worrying when we look at the road ahead to some kind of economic recovery once the virus has done its worst globally.

This week alone, the Government referred to the five day extension of the Alert Level 4 lockdown as “two business days”; Labour MP Deborah Russell pontificated on the short-comings of small business owners who can’t keep their closed businesses operating in a global pandemic; and Employment Minister Willie Jackson said nobody would be impacted by the lockdown being extended a week.

Even more tone deaf, the Greens came out with a proposal to spend $9 billion over 10 years putting fast trains throughout New Zealand. Hundreds of people are becoming unemployed by the day, businesses are going under, our borders are closed, and this is their best solution?

Like much of New Zealand, the road freight transport industry has a good share of small and medium sized businesses. They have a lot invested in plant and property – their trucks and yards – and every day off the road costs money. The smaller the business, and the longer the days off the road, the more the damage is done.

All businesses will be to some degree reliant on the Government to stimulate the economy both during the various stages of the Covid-19 global pandemic, and once it is over and a vaccine is found.

Given the amount of debt the country will be in, and the hardship facing its people, you want the very best minds on the job and you want their decisions to be based in evidence, not ideology.

Let’s unpick this fast rail idea. The Greens say: “Building rail creates more jobs than building motorways”. We would like to see the evidence base behind that statement before the country throws away $9 billion on what is essentially a pipe-dream.

Rail will never replace roads. We need roads – the Covid-19 crisis has shown us that. All those essential goods and essential workers have gotten to where they need to go via roads. In any crisis, help comes first via roads. Investment in infrastructure to boost the economy must include investment in roads, as well as rail.

If there is $9 billion left over for a vanity project, it surely still has to measure up in a costs versus benefits equation.

As the executive director of the New Zealand Initiative, Dr Oliver Hartwich, told Parliament’s Epidemic Response Select Committee on Thursday, “What distinguishes a good project from a bad one is that a good project’s benefits are greater than its costs”.

Of course there is no mention of this in the Green Party’s statement about fast electric trains for passengers and freight, including on routes such as Christchurch-Ashburton-Timaru.

On that route alone, much of the freight is food – dairy, meat, fruit and vegetables. Food needs to travel by road and one journey will always beat the three putting it on a train would take – truck to train, train to station, truck to end destination. Trains don’t go to supermarkets, or dairies, or other food stores.

As for passengers on that route – let’s take a look at where fast trains already operate, such as Europe. In the France-Germany-the Netherlands-Belgium grouping, you’ve got a combined population of about 178 million people. New Zealand has just 4.7 million people and the Timaru-Ashburton-Christchurch grouping has about 460,000 people. The fast trains in that European cluster are fantastic, but they are also expensive. It is often cheaper to fly the route. So with the huge population base, fast trains still have to cover their costs with high ticket prices for passengers.

Expensive for passengers and not suitable for freight, how exactly is this plan going to help us during one of our worst economic slumps?

We hope the Government’s Infrastructure Industry Reference Group will recommend investing in critical roads at this time. The RTF has written to that group advocating for three road projects that relate directly to efficient movement of freight in the three major economic regions of New Zealand.

These roads are:

  • The Petone-Grenada Link in Wellington
  • The East-West Link between Onehunga and Mt Wellington in Auckland
  • Selwyn to Timaru highway, four lanes

We believe this would better serve our economic rebuild than a very expensive fast rail – which we don’t believe has been properly costed – in a country that doesn’t have the population base to use it.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Minister bags her own Government’s infrastructure announcement

On 2 February, Julie Anne Genter provided judgement to the world on “the good, bad and the ugly” of the recent Government infrastructure announcement, via an article in The Spinoff.

A casual observer would not recognise that the author was in fact, Associate Minister of Transport, with actual responsibility for the package. It is just plain weird for her to be passing judgement on its key elements and stating that the New Zealand Upgrade “falls short” on what is required to “reduce climate pollution, ensuring people have enough to thrive, and protecting nature”.

That however, is the nature of the current coalition Government. Once upon a time, Cabinet responsibility meant that collectively made decisions were appropriately backed by all Ministers, and their Associates. Now, not so much.

In a case of having her cake and eating it too, Julie Anne Genter agrees with a Green pressure group that it was disappointing that incredibly expensive motorway projects made up the lion’s share of the New Zealand Upgrade and that it is “nowhere near what we need.”

She then goes on to attack “transport” saying every sector must pull its weight in cleaning up our act and that we have been one of the worst in recent years. Of course, the usual arguments are then prevailed upon about transporting more freight by sea and rail. She mentions the need to electrify the vehicle fleet (no other options though) and of course doesn’t mention any incentives for business that are well within her power to fight for now.

Our industry needs to be on guard when we reflect on the new roads promised in the New Zealand Upgrade. Firstly, there are two or three elections between now and the start of some projects. It’s concerning that Julie Anne Genter goes on to say that she will be reviewing the scope of projects like Mill Road and the Tauranga Northern Link to make sure they include continuous bus lanes and off-road cycleways. To me, this sounds as though the traditional four lane road that we thought we had been promised could well be compromised – becoming two lanes for cars and trucks (one in each direction) and two lanes for buses and bikes – and be subject to a “green wash”.

The other really serious concern for our industry – and any Kiwi keen on moving around and having a productive economy – is that if this incarnation of Government alters post-election on 19 September to a Labour-Green coalition; how safe are any of the announcements we value from the New Zealand Upgrade package? If the Greens are a stronger voice in the next Government, the demands of their extreme elements will only grow. Businesses should be worried.

In the “green wash” we have to also watch the fantasy this Government has created around rail. This week we submitted on a Bill before Parliament proposing to give yet more money to subsidise rail, and to take it from the fund paid for by road users to maintain and build roads. I’ve labelled this highway robbery. We can only see roads further run down and unsafe as the largesse to KiwiRail continues unchecked.

Rail’s environmental benefits over road are simply illusionary. Any level of success for rail transport is entirely dependent on truck transport. Measuring environmental performance solely on the basis of the relative performance of the truck versus train, instead of the reality of point-to-point sender to receiver, is a very narrow perspective, typically favoured by academics without any interest in economics.

And despite the socialist desire to control markets, customers actually decide how they want to send their goods. The vast majority favour road. Rail freight’s strength is in long-distance transportation (over 500km) of high volumes of relatively low value products, such as coal. It’s interesting to see the Green movement promoting that.

The reality is, this Government spurns business and makes decisions based on ideology alone.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Devil will be in the detail in road spending lolly scramble

This Government is very good at making big announcements, but delivery has proved to be its Achilles heel. 10,000 KiwiBuild homes promised, but not able to be delivered. Auckland’s light rail has a “stretch” timeline; now apparently 2030. Child poverty is going up, not down, with school principals saying child poverty is the worst they’ve seen as the school year started this week.

So, when the Government announced on Wednesday a big spend of $5.3 billion on roads, our excitement was tempered by a look for the detail. The devil is in the detail.

Through this term of Government, we have heard a lot of negativity about roads, including the Transport Minister Phil Twyford saying: “There has been an over-investment in roads and motorways for decades in this country”.

A change of heart came a day after the date for the 2020 general election was announced by the Prime Minister, and a big handful of the lollies in the road spending scramble landed in the pivotal political city of Auckland, and Northland, where New Zealand First is hoping to secure its five percent threshold.

But let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth, it is good to now have an “infrastructure Government” and a whole bunch of roads in the pipeline.

We are only sorry a couple of years have been wasted in getting on with building the vital arterial roads in New Zealand, and this is reflected in some of the timelines. The Melling interchange won’t be completed until 2026. For one of the roads we have lobbied hard for, four lanes for the Ōtaki to north of Levin stretch of State Highway 1, construction won’t start until 2025 and finishes in 2029. That’s another three terms of Government.

The Chair of the Horowhenua business and residents group Build the Road has publicly thanked the RTF for our support in pushing for this vital stretch of highway and advice with their campaign. Still, they must be disappointed about the nine year wait.

And while there are some great hits in the announcement, there are some equally important misses. At the 2018 road transport industry conference, Transport Minister Phil Twyford intimated that the East-West (Penrose-Onehunga) link in Auckland was going to happen. But it wasn’t mentioned in Wednesday’s announcement. More than 7,000 freight vehicles drive through Onehunga each day and congestion in the area needs to be eased if we want to get serious about boosting the economy.

Then there’s the South Island; not many lollies went there. Yet we are seeing speed limits reduced to accommodate the poor state of roads, at the expense of businesses using those roads. State Highway 6 from Blenheim to Nelson is an example, where road freight transporters are telling us reduced speeds over a long stretch of road will cost them considerable time and money, ultimately adding to the cost of everything.

It’s not rocket science to understand that with the base of our economy in tourism and exports we need roads that are fit for purpose throughout New Zealand. That is, at least four lanes, and engineered properly for the conditions, speed limit and in consideration of both the commercial and public use of these roads. This is another area where we have concerns. Some of the four-laning is not necessarily what we envisage – two lanes in each direction allowing free flow of traffic. We will all need to look very carefully at each road as it comes up for construction.

We are also worried about the lack of engineering expertise at the New Zealand Transport Agency, and the availability of workers required to construct massive infrastructure.

In promoting the infrastructure announcement, the Prime Minister keeps talking about getting “freight off the road and onto rail” and this is the mantra of New Zealand First as it tries to resurrect rail routes that were left fallow because they simply didn’t stack up against road freight. As one witty commentator noted, “Winston Peters invoking Julius Vogel for his rail announcement. Vogel was PM in the 1870s.” That about sums up rail.

Freight movement is driven by the market. The National Freight Demand Survey commissioned by the Ministry of Transport last year (October 2019), showed freight delivered in New Zealand is 93 percent by road (up 16 percent since 2012) and 5.6 percent by rail (down 17 percent since 2012).

It is important to note that:

  • With 93,000km of road and only 4,000km of rail, rail will never be able to meet the essential demands of delivering goods to New Zealanders
  • Only three to seven percent of the road freight task is contestable by rail – moving heavy coal being one of the main tasks that better suits rail
  • Rail offers no fuel consumption benefits for freight carried less than 400kms
  • 80 percent of freight is delivered within a region, and that is not contestable by rail
  • Road users pay for roads, but rail is heavily subsidised by the Government
  • Road delivers door-to-door, throughout New Zealand, rail doesn’t
  • Road is more resilient than rail when it comes to natural disasters
  • In Auckland and Wellington, rail has a commuter function (though you might want to speak to some of the commuters about that)
  • Not everyone lives in Auckland and Wellington and outside of those cities, good luck finding public transport
  • Trucks enable every movement of freight by rail

It would be good to finally hear this Government acknowledge that roads remain the lifeblood of the New Zealand economy – pretty much everything you need, every day, comes to you on a truck.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Country’s fastest roads are saving lives

My holiday reading included a Stuff article stating that two of the country’s fastest roads are actually saving lives.

“No one has died on either the Cambridge section of the Waikato Expressway, or the SH2 Tauranga Eastern Link Toll road, since they opened just over two years ago, figures released to Stuff show,” the article said.

These roads are rated at 110kmh. The increased speed limit of 110kmh was implemented on 11 December, 2017, on both sections of road.

In the article Police credited good road engineering for the safety of the roads.

We have also seen on the newish Kapiti Expressway north of Wellington. With a speed limit of 100km/h, there have been no fatal crashes between March 2017 and February 2019, and less serious and minor injury crashes than the previous route over the same period, which has speed limits of 60-80km/h. In 2015-2016 the previous route had a lower speed limit and one fatal crash and more serious and minor injury crashes than the expressway. This demonstrates better design and engineering of roads leads to fewer accidents, injuries and deaths.

This is in line with experiences in other jurisdictions – if the road is well engineered, safety is improved. The most notable example is the Autobahnen (highways) in Germany, where much of the roads have no speed limit. The number of crashes, and injury and death rates from those crashes, is lower on the Autobahnen than on either urban or rural roads in Germany.

The German government adopts the principle that motorists can decide for themselves what is the appropriate speed for the conditions and their skill set; they can calculate their own risk.

Sweden has the lowest road toll in the EU. Sweden has more than 2000km of motorway and a further 6000km of expressway. The speed limits on its motorway network are up to 120km/h.

In fact, moves to lower speed limits in Europe centre more on environmental arguments – less CO2 emissions at lower speeds – than on a road safety focus, and they are often politically motivated.

If we look at the French Government – its 2018 decision to cut the speed limit on country roads by 10km/h, to 80km/h, was a major factor in the rise of the gilet jaunes (yellow vests) protest movement. Many people in rural France saw the move as an example of President Emmanuel Macron’s urban elitism – a failure to understand the needs of people outside cities, who are totally reliant on their cars.

While there is no doubt that excessive speed causes road crashes to have consequences on the serious end of the scale, the New Zealand Government’s laser-like focus on speed alone, is concerning. The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) believes 87 percent of New Zealand roads have speed limits too high for the conditions. They cannot seriously think it is viable to reduce speed limits on 87 percent of our roads, and keep our economy as an export nation moving and growing.

Most other developed countries have faster speed limits because they have better roads. The equation is not difficult to grasp – well engineered roads are safer. We believe that rather than slowing us down on the road, and subsequently slowing down our economy, the Government needs to be strategic and transparent in its decision-making. We need a long-term plan around what New Zealand requires from its transport network and investment has to be evidence-based.

The other holiday reading has of course, been the tragedy that is unfolding daily in Australia as bushfires grow and merge and more people, animals, homes, towns, and regions are impacted.

I want to do a shout out to the truckers of Australia who have been pulling out all stops to get water and essential supplies to those people, animals and areas who need it most.

This is a clear example of how vital roads and trucks are in times of natural disaster as the most reliable lifelines.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Road users should fund roads, not rail

This week, the Government laid down the track to siphon money out of the state purse for building and fixing roads and into the bottomless money pit that is rail.

With the first reading in Parliament of the Land Transport (Rail) Legislation Bill, the Government is on its way to extending the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) to subsidise rail. That means, the fuel tax and road user charges that people who use roads pay to help fund those roads, will now be “competitive” dollars, available to rail. It doesn’t matter if you don’t use rail, you’ll still be paying for it when you use the road. And given the fund is already not enough to pay for roads, you can expect to pay more for everything to add the dollars needed to prop up the Government’s pet project, rail.

While the legislation introduces track charges for rail service providers that will place revenue into the NLTF, there is little detail on this and it is unlikely this money will come close to funding the likely draw-downs for rail. And rail projects going through the NLTF will not have to go through the rigour roading projects do – they can just be signed off direct by the Minister of Transport.

Let’s be clear, KiwiRail is a State-Owned Enterprise that is supposed to make its own way by making a profit. We think the NLTF should be ring-fenced for roads and other funding sources should be found for rail.

It is also clear there is a place for rail.

Rail is important in cities, where it is electric and it can provide public transport to ease road congestion and reduce emissions. As a user of commuter rail, I know it’s effective at removing vehicles off roads and therefore, relieving congestion. To continue to do that, public transport must be convenient, affordable and reliable.

Outside the cities, New Zealanders rely on roads because there is no public transport and the distances travelled are too great for most people to walk or cycle. They use roads, and they pay for them. The Government’s carless nirvana is a wee way off yet.

Rail’s place in the regions needs to be considered with economics and facts, and without all the romanticism and emotion that seems to be associated with it when it comes to the freight tasks.

In its rather breathless press release backing the Government’s Bill, the Rail and Maritime Transport Union said:

“As the smoke from Australian bush fires stains New Zealand glaciers the colour of old blood, we are all forced to consider the burning urgency of confronting and defeating climate change.

“The only way to do that is through dramatic reduction in carbon emissions, and the only way to do that is by replacing dirty and inefficient modes of transport with cleaner and greener technology. Rail is the future we’ve been waiting for, and we don’t have any time to delay.”

Let’s not pretend this is a win for the environment. Outside the city boundaries rail is powered by diesel, the same as the trucks that are in fact, the preferred freight movement option. Trucks win every day because they deliver door-to-door, on time. Road carries 93 percent of New Zealand’s freight task. Rail carries six percent.

To have any comparative environmental benefits, a rail journey needs to be long, like about 400km at least. And one of the things that rail is good for is heavy loads, like bringing coal out of the mines to end-users; not a task favoured by the environmentalists.

We are sick of the rhetoric, double-standards, and of the Government demonising trucks. We are keen to look at better ways of funding both road and rail, but if it is to truly be a level playing field, rail needs to pay their way. Large parts of the rail network are very old and will need billions of dollars in new investment and we think that should come from Government borrowing, rather than the NLTF. That’s of course, assuming the case for pouring those billions of tax payer dollars into rail stacks up economically.

Merry Christmas, and if you are still waiting for a package for under the tree, it will come to you via road.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

 

Port move makes no sense

Anyone who has been to Rotterdam in the Netherlands will know it is a port city that embraces both its rich history, and its future as Europe’s largest sea port. Real estate with a view of the port is prized. Government has always considered the enormous economic might of the port in making decisions about Rotterdam’s development.

It would be good to see the New Zealand Government holding such pride in, and support for, the port in our largest city of Auckland, which is a critical part of the country’s infrastructure. Instead, Ports of Auckland has become a political football.

In December, the Cabinet of the New Zealand Government will consider relocating to Northport, in Northland, the movement of goods currently carried out by Ports of Auckland. The economic advice behind that proposal has been called into question by two reviews from economic analysts, released by Ports of Auckland this week.

Castalia’s report says it will cost about $6.7 billion to move the freight activities of the port in Auckland to Northland. That is almost four times higher than EY’s predicted net cost of $1.8 billion that has been used to sell the idea of the move.

As representatives of freight movers, the RTF strongly urges the Government to take a good look at all the facts and figures before making a decision. If the aim is to boost Northland’s economy, does that really stack up against the impacts for Auckland and the rest of New Zealand?

It’s clear that making Northport the main port for Auckland will require massive investment in road and rail, and frankly, it makes little sense from either an economics or a logistics position. Why would you move goods destined for delivery in Auckland and further south away from the closest port, when the road and rail infrastructure required to then get those goods from that far away port back to Auckland and beyond does not even exist?

You can’t just one day close a major port and open another one that same day. There would need to be overlapping operations for years, with costs galore that would have to be passed on down the line to the end consumer. New Zealand’s location at the bottom of the earth already makes it expensive to import and export goods; we can’t really afford to add to that.

Rather bizarrely, those advocating to relocate the port operations are only talking about freight. They want to keep the economic benefits of having cruise ships and their many well-heeled passengers spending their cash in Auckland. The port has to remain in some capacity, which defies logic.

It smacks of a desire to kick out the blue-collar industries because inner-city businesses and residents don’t like the look of them. Reverse sensitivity seems to be a peculiarity of New Zealanders. People move to the inner city and then don’t like the noise, or bars, or trucks, or cars, or people. International city dwellers at least understand where more than a million people gather – and let’s remember Auckland is a very small city in global terms – there is noise and a changing landscape.

Castalia says the freight that currently flows out of Ports of Auckland would have to travel an extra distance to and from Northport of about 200km by rail and 150km by road. The additional freight task (approximately 400,000 twenty-foot container equivalent unit round trips between Auckland and Northport) will require additional transport infrastructure. On the possibly inaccurate assumption that 70 percent of the additional freight task was handled by rail, there would be more than 500 additional truck journeys per day travelling between Auckland and Northport for container traffic only, with more if the car import business uses the road network. This is just not feasible with the current road network between Auckland and Northport.

The freight task is increasing and the upper North Island is expected to account for most of New Zealand’s population and economic growth over the next 30 years. Ports of Auckland has a 30-year plan, which gives it the capacity to handle the expected freight increases.

On one hand you have an established business with a plan to match growth and on the other you have a pipe dream. The Government cannot sink billions of dollars into this without much better analysis than it currently has before it. New Zealand has to remember its place in the world and not price itself off the market on an act of sheer folly.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Wellingtonians mere pawns in Government games

I know that most of the country isn’t really that interested in what happens in the capital, but please indulge me for this one blog.

As somebody who lives and is passionate about the Wellington region, it makes me irate to see Wellingtonians and their transport issues become pawns in this Government’s ideological games.

It was disappointing this week that Chief Ombudsman, Peter Boshier, did not force Julie-Anne Genter to release the infamous letter she sent to Phil Twyford on the Let’s Get Wellington Moving Project. Nevertheless, Minister Genter was compelled to disclose its contents and they were as bad as we all feared – she threatened the loss of Green Party support unless cycling lanes and a light rail were made priorities ahead of a second Mt Victoria tunnel. The result was a Let’s Get Wellington Moving plan that would do little to alleviate traffic congestion and delayed even turning a sod on the second Mt Victoria tunnel until 2029. Code for, it’s not actually going to be built as part of this plan.

Now, anyone who has spent anytime in Wellington knows that Mt Victoria and the Basin Reserve along with the inadequate 3-lane Terrace Tunnel are our biggest transport issues. They create bottlenecks that at busy times result in large parts of the city being locked up in congestion. Over the last 10-15 years these congestion issues have become so bad that the city really does have a transport crisis on its hands. A number of studies have confirmed that for a city of its size Wellington is one of the most congested in the world. What’s worse, is that needed roading improvements north in the form of Transmission Gully and the Kapiti Expressway mean that more traffic will be coming into the Wellington CBD.

It has become so difficult to get across town at times that traffic is now having a measurable detrimental effect on the lives of Wellingtonians. Most people I know just refuse to go into the city on a Saturday morning, for example.

The reality is that you can add as many cycleways as you like but with the geography and weather that Wellington has, cycling will only ever take a tiny proportion of traffic off the road and will never be the primary form of transport for most Wellingtonians.

I am often accused of being anti-public transport for voicing the concerns I have regarding our road (as a a regular user of our trains to get to work, it’s simply not true). However, the last time I looked; buses also travelled on roads. Unfortunately, in Wellington the bus system is so fragile that it is actually contributing to the city’s congestion problems. The Let’s Get Wellington Moving project could have chosen to run with a project called Bus Priority, which would have meant more buses in dedicated lanes up and running within 18 months. Instead, they’ve lumbered the region and city with an unfunded, futuristic scheme that will sadly never got off the ground and make a real difference in moving freight and people around.

A fully-functioning public transport system, including a reliable bus network, that supplements private and commercial transport, requires transport corridors made up of multi-lane roads, the tunnels and flyovers to get around natural bottlenecks.

Focusing on those things rather than the folly of a pie-in-the-sky light rail project is what a responsible Government that respects the needs of Wellingtonians would do. Unfortunately, the anti-road brigade who are now occupying some parts of Government (but not all), are so fundamentally blinkered that there is little hope of genuine progress.

Finally, let me wish new Wellington Mayor Andy Foster the best of luck in his new role. It cannot be underestimated just what a difficult job he has to get agreement with our Government and sort through this mess.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum