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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

Freight dismissed in Wellington’s road plans

Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) is a misnomer for road freight transport and the purpose of the capital city’s airport and sea port connections to the rest of the world are seemingly irrelevant in its plans.

The anti-road, anti-fossil fuel ideologues have taken over and the project could be seen as getting Wellington moving for cyclists and pedestrians alone.

One mode of transport shouldn’t be pitted against another and there should be room for all. Decisions must be weighted by preferred use, volume, and economic loss or gain. But we have to question some of the thinking behind plans afoot.

New Zealand’s only way out of the Covid-19 economic devastation, dealing us daily blows, is to keep the flow of exports and imports moving as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. That means the best possible access to air and sea ports.

This week alone, we have heard that consumer confidence has hit its lowest point since 2009; Covid-19 has seen 15,998 job losses so far – with many more predicted; and New Zealand’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has decreased by 1.6 percent in the first quarter of 2020, the largest quarterly fall in 29 years. Things are seriously grim for those in business, let’s not gloss over that, and no cohesive plan to fix things has been presented to us.

But in Wellington, the city of the still employed public servant and the Monday-Thursday MPs, it seems all roads must be slowed, stopped and narrowed to ensure cyclists and pedestrians have priority access.

While we fully appreciate the city’s decision to focus on moving more people with fewer vehicles, there are a lot of things that need to happen before roads are closed to traffic, speeds are reduced to a crawl, and vehicle lanes are given to cyclists.

Not only would there need to be a reliable and efficient public transport system, but there would also need to be consideration given to the freight that moves through Wellington, along what is in fact, State Highway 1 and therefore, fully funded by Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency (NZTA).

We are quite alarmed by some of the suggestions that are being thrown around by LGWM, including a pedestrian crossing on Cobham Drive and reducing vehicle lanes on the quays that access CentrePort Wellington, including the inter-Island ferry terminal.

Getting to Wellington airport has long been a source of frustration for Wellingtonians – it’s a slow journey for a relatively short distance. What we need is four vehicle lanes all the way around the city and to the planes. A second Mt Victoria tunnel would help, but that is now just a pipe dream. To hear that Cobham Drive’s 70kph speed would be reduced to accommodate a pedestrian crossing – when there are other points pedestrians and cyclists can cross and a low volume needing to cross – we believe this seriously undermines an efficient route to the airport, which we hope to see returned to the busy and thriving hub a capital city deserves.

In the time of Covid-19, Wellington’s “Golden Mile” (Courtenay Place, Manners St, Willis St and Lambton Quay) feels more like Pyrite (fool’s gold) as the retail and hospitality sectors struggle to survive or go out of business completely. Closing it off to all but public transport, cyclists and pedestrians makes sense in the long-term. But freight will still have to move around Wellington and to the businesses on those streets.

So, it is concerning to hear the idea being mooted that the quays that would take that traffic, as well as the existing busy traffic flow, be reduced to just one lane in each direction to make way for cycle lanes. Increasing the traffic, but reducing the lanes, doesn’t seem to make any sense given this is a freight route and will be the only way to get to some parts of the city.

We agree with LGWM’s imperative to create a better, safer environment for people walking and on bikes. But the pendulum can’t swing so far that cars and trucks are no longer welcome on the road and the economy of Wellington and the rest of New Zealand is crippled further.

– 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

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

Let’s get practical about climate change

While politicians and celebrities gnash their teeth and shout to anyone who will listen that we are in the middle of a climate change “crisis” or “emergency”, a lot of others are looking at practical and workable solutions to stop the mercury rising.

None more so than those at the local government level, where they actually mop up after a real crisis or emergency, including those caused by dramatic weather patterns or natural disasters which generally impact at a local, rather than national, level.

So, it was interesting this week to present at and be part of a panel discussion at the Road Controlling Authorities Forum in Wellington, looking at the impacts of climate change in relation to transport.

Without question the freight and logistics sector will face increasing pressure from both government and our customers to reduce emissions. But we possibly aren’t as bad as people think.

The energy sector accounts for about 40 percent of New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas emissions, with transport fuels about 17 percent of that total. About five to seven percent of emissions come from the heavy transport industry.

Road freight transport intersects with those controlling roads on the climate change front in areas such as delays due to extreme weather and storm events; infrastructure condition deteriorating faster with extreme heat or excessive rain; and bad roads causing delays and increasing safety risks such as, more road works, driver fatigue, and additional time-costs for end consumers.

In a real crisis or emergency, local and central government will be more reliant on roads than other parts of the transport network. With increased coastal inundation, or a natural disaster like an earthquake, many rail lines are quickly out of commission. Roads also suffer, as quite a lot of our main highways are vulnerable to such events, but there are usually alternate routes and events are localised, so other parts of New Zealand can supply an affected area, by road.

New Zealand is leading the way in looking at mitigating climate change and we support the principles of the Zero Carbon Bill, currently being considered by the Environment Select Committee.

But we  think that addressing climate change is more than focusing on net zero emissions by 2050. It is also looking at making our infrastructure network resilient and planning for events along the way.

On the emissions front, road freight is a sector that quickly adopts technology efficiencies. Noxious emissions from trucks have been slashed by 98 percent in the past 20 years, through use of technology. European emission standards are applied to much of the heavy vehicle fleet to reduce levels of harmful exhaust emissions, currently Euro Standard 6, which requires an additive to be used in fuelling heavy diesel trucks.

While there are electric options for car drivers, any real alternative fuel vehicle at the heavy truck level is still some way off. In the rush to remove reliance on fossil fuels, we need alternative energy sources in place. And we need to look at the whole picture, for example, the batteries that power green vehicles have been linked to human rights abuses in the mining of lithium and cobalt.

Our industry is keen to find solutions in New Zealand – we are known for our problem-solving and innovation, so let’s lead the way here if we can.

TIL Logistics has partnered with New Plymouth-based Hiringa Energy to develop hydrogen fuel cell technology for its transport vehicle fleet and they hope to begin their first hydrogen vehicle trials in 2020.

It will be interesting to see the results of the trials both here with Hiringa and overseas, where similar research and development is underway, as to whether hydrogen fuel cells and the complex infrastructure that comes along with that technology can displace the battery-based electric motor as the clean alternative for heavy transport.

I recently visited Tranzurban, in Wellington, and using their own ingenuity they have built the first full electric double-decker buses in the world, made up from components they have sourced and put together in a unique way.

There’s still a long way to go, but our industry is poised to take a bigger role in the movement to combat climate change in a global sense. At the same time, individual companies are looking at their sustainability obligations to meet their customers’ expectations and be good global citizens. And when the real crisis, catastrophe, or disaster happens, we’ll be there delivering the goods.

Please note: Being uncomfortable with changing the meaning of the words crisis and emergency does not make me a climate change denier.

– Nick Leggett – CEO, Road Transport Forum