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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

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

Know what you are voting for

It seems every time you tune into social media you get hit with the New Zealand Drug Foundation’s ‘Vote Yes’ campaign to legalise recreational cannabis.

The Drug Foundation wants people to vote yes in the upcoming election referendum. A yes vote will allow the Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill to progress through normal processes into law.

It’s not the Road Transport Forum’s place to tell people how to vote in a referendum. But because there will be an impact on road safety, and the road is the workplace of those in freight transport, it is our place to ask people to be well informed when they go to vote.

The first step is to be clear that this is a vote for recreational, not medicinal cannabis use. Medicinal cannabis is legal in New Zealand via prescription from a doctor. If people tell you they need it for pain relief, or stress, or any other ill, tell them to go to the doctor and get a prescription.

Also, be aware there will be a whole lot more expensive bureaucracy put in place to manage recreational cannabis. That means even more public servants. The bill references a Cannabis Advisory Committee, Cannabis Appeals Authority, and Cannabis Regulatory Authority for starters. How much will all that cost and will it be funded by the tax payer?

In a country that has worked hard to stop people smoking, it will bring smoking back.

But most importantly from our perspective, the RTF believes the Bill, as drafted, gives no consideration to the principle of safety – on the road and in the workplace. We all share the roads – that’s pedestrians, cyclists, car and truck drivers – and everyone wants their loved ones to come home from work each day.

Already the number of people being killed by drug impaired drivers on New Zealand roads is higher than those killed by drivers above the legal alcohol limit. There have been years and years of media campaigns to stop people drinking and driving, but still they do it. So, what is planned to educate people on taking drugs and driving?

Higher risk on the roads automatically means higher insurance premiums across the board – insurance is risk priced and you pay on probability. When households and businesses are already managing tight finances, they shouldn’t be surprised by expenses that should be made clear up front.

In the lead up to the election, there will be a lot of media coverage of this issue. This week I was pleased to see responsible media giving the side of the story that highlighted impacts of drug use and road safety.

Stuff ran a piece from the Timaru Herald which gave some community views on the referendum, including that of former police officer Mark Offen.

He said: One of the common effects of cannabis was slow reactions which impaired evasive action and could be lethal on the road.

“Behind the wheel of a car it can become a lethal weapon.”

He said a more efficient testing kit on the roadside was needed as currently an alleged offender had to be taken back to the station to be tested.

It’s worth a read here.

I also saw in the North Canterbury News the story of a Rangiora man seriously injured in a road crash caused by an alcohol and cannabis impaired driver. You can read Trevor White’s story here.

Trevor lived to tell his story, but many don’t. We don’t want New Zealand’s truck drivers, who are just going about their work delivering all New Zealanders the goods they need, to be the casualty of poorly thought out laws.

– 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

Looking to a green freight future

One of the positive outcomes of the Covid-19 lockdown in New Zealand was it initiated a greater understanding by Government of both the necessity and the many inter-connected parts of moving freight.

Road freight transport presents a conundrum for this Government. They don’t like fossil-fuelled trucks on roads, but they need them. We have an economy based on exports and imports and 93% of the total tonnes of freight moved in New Zealand goes by road. This has possibly never been more important to the economy than it is now.

To the uninitiated, trucks don’t fit with the climate change narrative. But the Government can’t tax and regulate trucks off the road until there is some viable alternative to fuelling them and the infrastructure to support that.

The Ministry of Transport (MoT) has put its toe in the water to explore transitioning road freight to alternative green fuels in its recently released 2020 Green Freight Working Paper. The Road Transport Forum engaged with MoT as they gathered information for this project and it was an extremely worthwhile experience. It is always good to plan for the future and we can’t put our head in the sand and pretend we can run on diesel forever.

It’s not just the Government calling for greener solutions across all aspects of our lives. Many road freight transport operators will be finding customers wanting to deep dive into how they are running and measuring sustainable business practices.

We are all aware of the current limitations, but we also need to look at the opportunities. Another thing Covid-19 has taught us is you simply don’t know what’s ahead and global shocks have a way of changing things.

The MoT working paper looks at the three existing options as alternative fuels – electricity, green hydrogen and biofuels – but acknowledges a lot more work needs to be done for any of these to be viable at scale. It also notes that there is no one-size-fits-all solution and other options could emerge.

Alternative green fuels are a growing area of interest and investment globally but the passenger vehicle market has developed more than truck manufacturing. So, choices that can be made in New Zealand will be constrained by what is available. There also has to be the appropriate infrastructure to support any alternative fuel options. Freight companies are unlikely to invest in vehicles that cannot be easily recharged/refuelled throughout the country.

The working paper is a signal, if you like, to Government that there is a lot more work to do before finding viable green freight solutions. It takes a first look at the fuels, vehicles and infrastructure challenges and opportunities. We are pleased to see it notes there are sustainability concerns with batteries for electric vehicles, in particular their production and disposal. We feel in the rush to endorse electric vehicles, this has been somewhat overlooked.

Backing one horse will not be the way to go. Transitioning road freight in New Zealand to alternative green fuels has to happen, but it isn’t going to be overnight. That means there is time to thoroughly analyse the options.

The working paper says: “The Government should consider options that provide the freight industry with flexibility to transition to the alternative green fuels that are best suited to their organisations.”

We think that is sound advice.

If the Government really wants to go big on green freight, the opportunity is there to back ourselves as a smart, clean, green country and come up with the solutions ourselves.

We are known for our problem-solving and innovation, so let’s lead the way here if we can.

I recommend reading the MoT’s 2020 Green Freight Working Paper which you can find here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Show me the money tree

As I look this week at another bunch of speed limit cuts around the country, I have to say, show me the money tree.

Anyone who thinks we should be slowing down the economy in the middle of a global pandemic that is putting companies out of business and workers out of jobs like never before, clearly has access to a money tree in the garden.

Driven by the ideological imperative of taking cars and trucks off the road to make way for cyclists and pedestrians, seldom does this decision-making consider economic impacts.

Commercial road users, who pay for their road use, feel the pain of reduced speeds on their bottom line. Time costs money. Slowing down freight on New Zealand roads costs everyone. And that’s in peace time. Now we face COVID-19 time when to survive, New Zealand is going to have to be able to move exports and imports as quickly and cost effectively as possible. That will be by road – 93% of the total tonnes of freight moved in New Zealand goes by road.

The Government continues to lower speed limits around the country in a piecemeal fashion, with no consideration of the big picture for those who move freight from one end of New Zealand to the other. Modelling showing a minute lost here and a minute lost there does not match the reality of extra hours on the road when you are criss-crossing regions with wildly varying speed limits.

We appreciate that in some cases, lowering speed limits might well have an impact in reducing the road toll. But time and time again, in our submissions and meetings with those who have already decided to lower the speed limits before they go out for consultation, we hit a brick wall when we talk about driver behaviour being the cause of death and injury on the roads. That’s drugs, alcohol, distraction and ability. A lot of government research focuses not on the cause of the accident, but why there was an impact severe enough to result in death. If you look at it that way, the law of physics suggests any speed of a moving vehicle will be a problem.

The sole focus on speed limits will do more harm than good.

I discovered this week we are not a lone voice. Northland Age editor Peter Jackson penned a well-written piece about speed limit reductions in Northland. He said:

“If the Government really wants to make back roads safer it will have to seal them, widen them, and get rid of more corners than anyone can begin to count.

“That’s not going to happen, but reducing speed limits is not a reasonable alternative. Rather it is yet another exercise in wasting money for no benefit. Worse, it could have the opposite effect to that intended.”

Quite rightly, Mr Jackson points out that rates will be diverted to: “be wasted on a forest of speed limit signs that most will ignore”.

He goes on to suggest: “What Parliament needs is a special Common Sense Unit, whose role will be to weed out the dumb ideas before they start costing money on projects that won’t work.”

You can read the editorial Are speed limits the answer? here. We concur with Mr Jackson.

– 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

What Budget 2020 holds for trucking

What a difference a year and a global pandemic makes.

The 2019 Budget delivered a $7 billion surplus, the 2020 Budget, a $28 billion deficit.

Quite rightly, the 2020 Budget focuses on jobs as we look at about 1,000 people a day joining the unemployment queue. Many of these are people who have never been unemployed, and have not previously experienced poverty.

Some commentators have remarked that it borrows big, splashes the cash and hopes for the best, rather than delivering a strategy to get New Zealand out of one of the deepest economic holes it has ever been in. You only need to look at the $32 million the Budget allocates to food banks to realise what’s ahead.

Our net debt will be 53 percent of GDP – that’s some borrowing.

Two aspects of the job creation interest us – the industry will be very pleased to read about significantly more support to trades training and a greater infrastructure spend.

We are also pleased to see an extension of the wage subsidy. Although, the threshold for the further eight weeks of wage subsidy is a 50 percent year-on-year reduction in the business’s income, as opposed to the original 30 percent reduction. For businesses in that situation, you have to wonder about their viability going forward.

As the RTF hopes to embark on a road freight transport specific training scheme later this year – Pathway to success – we hope the Budget allocation to trades training ($1.6 billion for a Trades and Apprenticeships Training Package to help workplaces retain their trainees) will have some capacity for our industry. We have after all, demonstrated ourselves as a critical industry to our country’s economy, particularly in the minds of the public.

Infrastructure is a tried and true lever to create jobs, both as an economic stimulant and to enhance capacity for greater productivity over the long term. So it is not surprising to see a further $3 billion to fund infrastructure projects. This comes from the $50 billion the Government has set aside in this Budget to recover from COVID-19.

This infrastructure spend is in addition to the previously announced $12 billion New Zealand Upgrade Programme. The Government’s Infrastructure Industry Reference Group is giving advice to Ministers on which projects should progress. As always, we advocate for spending on roads to ensure freight can move efficiently and more safely around New Zealand to the ports and airports that take it to our export markets. Exports will be a massive contributor to our economic recovery.

We are disappointed to see New Zealand First grab more money for rail projects that don’t stack up, to the tune of $4.6 billion. Within the past week we have seen two rail lines ruled out by KiwiRail as uneconomic. The Gisborne to Wairoa freight line didn’t stack up. And $250,000 was spent to find the obvious – that a passenger line from Hokitika to Westport on the South Island’s West Coast came at an unrealistic price of $92 million. That would leave passengers paying $400 for the return trip on a train. Now, more than ever, the economic benefits of infrastructure projects must stack up so they aid our nation’s recovery.

We support spend on rail to ease city congestion and improve public transport. We’d like to see Auckland’s City Rail Link project completed, and the budget not to blow out completely, as a first best step. We think it is sensible the Government has shelved Auckland’s light rail project. As the West Coast project showed, there has to be a realistic cost-benefit ratio to any future rail investment.

We support this Budget’s goal to create jobs at a time many New Zealanders are facing unemployment. We support training and re-training as one path to employment and we believe road freight transport can make a strong contribution to this.

We support infrastructure spend but we want to be sure it is more than big announcements. We want confidence that there is the capability and capacity in New Zealand to pull off these big projects in a timely fashion and within budget.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Don’t let important issues get buried under Covid-19

With media around the world focused, it seems, solely on the subject of the global pandemic Covid-19, it is easy to forget that life goes on and there is a general election in New Zealand on 19 September 2020.

On Friday last week, 1 May, Justice Minister Andrew Little released the complete and final version of the Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill. This replaces the previous draft – which RTF had criticised as woefully incomplete – and will not be further updated before it is voted on by the public in a referendum at the 2020 general election.

The wording of the cannabis referendum question has also been confirmed as a straight Yes/No question:

Do you support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill?

Yes, I support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill

No, I do not support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill

I worry, that at a time when people are both consumed by the health crisis that is Covid-19 and are largely being fed news specific to that only, this important referendum vote will not be exposed to the sunlight necessary for informed choice. Covid-19 is not the only health risk we should be focused on.

There are many aspects of this legislation that concern those of us in safety sensitive industries. And our objection to this legislation is based on the principle of safety – on the road and in the workplace.

There is no consideration for workplace and road safety in a country where the number of people being killed on the roads by drug impaired drivers is higher than those killed by drivers above the legal alcohol limit.

We have some of the strictest workplace health and safety laws in the world where responsibility ends with business owners and boards. You can bet this legislation will mean massive increases in insurance premiums.

We have a drug problem in New Zealand. Road freight transport companies know that and have drug testing regimes to ensure safety within their companies. But if this legislation passes, there will be no guarantees for those professional drivers going out onto the road where there are other road users who are legally high.

We care about road safety and cannot see how this Bill will in any way contribute to safer roads.

We want political parties to be clear on how road and workplace safety, particularly in safety sensitive industries, will be managed on the back of this potentially binding referendum (if the current Government is re-elected).

We want to know exactly what is planned by all parties for this draft legislation and the referendum result.

We want the public to understand this referendum is about recreational, not medicinal marijuana.

This is a huge social shift for safety sensitive issues such as road freight transport. We don’t want these implications buried under the Covid-19 blather.

This is another very important reason for New Zealand to come out from under the carefully crafted daily messaging around Covid-19 and get back to some kind of normal life where people can focus on other things that matter.

We would contend that the health impacts of this legislation are also worth consideration, expert opinion, credible data and open debate.

The full Bill and information about the referendum is available here.

– 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