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

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

Mapping the road out of Level 4 lockdown

How interesting that three of the most vilified groups in New Zealand pre-Covid-19 – farmers, truck drivers and immigrants – are now the ones holding the country’s economy together.

This week, I met with Transport Minister Phil Twyford and his officials from the Ministry of Transport and I spoke before Parliament’s Epidemic Response Committee. The messaging was the same – please recognise the vital work trucking operators and truck drivers are doing; please let the freight chain work as it should without the arbitrary terms of essential and non-essential freight; and how do we get our businesses out of this in one piece – what does life beyond the Level 4 lockdown look like?

I’d like to recognise the truck drivers who are transporting essential goods by road during this Level 4 lockdown. They are doing jobs they love, but they are more isolated than usual, from their whanau and colleagues. Our economy and well-being are tethered to trucking. My view is that these workers and transport operators have not perhaps had the recognition and thanks they deserve.

Our industry has yet again stepped up to meet need –  these are the people who are keeping supermarket shelves stocked, and medicine and equipment going into hospitals and pharmacies. They respond to need in just minutes and they get goods where they need to go.

I have been speaking to many trucking operators since the lockdown began and a lot of them are operating at a loss, because of the arbitrary labelling of freight as essential and non-essential.

Obviously, the longer this goes on, the more businesses will fail and the more people will be unemployed.

It’s imperative that transition options be developed before the lockdown ends so that businesses are able to prepare and can position themselves to be as productive as possible on day one. We have urged the Government to share the scenarios they are working on to move the country out of the Level 4 lockdown. We have offered to work with them to ensure our vital industry can do its bit to rebuild the economy, and retain jobs, as fast as possible. We are two weeks into a four week lockdown and we need serious strategy and planning now, to emerge successfully on 24 April.

We need that information as early as possible to allow for the least painful transition – to keep people employed, and to keep the economy moving on the back of a truck.

Interestingly, we are not alone. Internationally, those representing road freight during this global pandemic are finding the same issues and asking for the same solutions.

IRU (the world’s road transport organisation based in Geneva) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation have issued a joint statement calling for support from governments and international bodies to ensure international supply and mobility chains remain connected during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The statement sets out the road transport industry’s key demands and calls for immediate action to recognise the important contributions to society made by road transport workers and companies, and industry’s vital role in responding to, and overcoming, the current coronavirus crisis. There is definite cross-over with what we are asking for and what they are asking for. You can read the statement here.

I will finish with the words of IRU Secretary General, Umberto de Pretto: “The Covid-19 pandemic has turned the spotlight on road transport – showing once more the indispensable role road transport companies and their workers play in the movement of essential goods. Support for the continuity and resilience of supply and mobility chains, and the designation of road transport as a key service must be prioritised by governments and international bodies to aid the response and recovery from this crisis.”

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Free up freight to keep the economy moving

Week one of the Government’s lockdown has been a grim one for business. Air New Zealand is a shadow of its former koru, Bauer media shut its doors, and the forestry industry is in dire straits.

Most businesses are feeling the pain, with no end in sight. Even while the Government focuses on the health aspects of the global pandemic that is Covid-19, part of its enormous resources needs to be looking at economic recovery.

In a democracy, you can’t lock up a population and keep them terrified with mind-blowing numbers of fatalities for too long, without some serious questions being asked. Words like “unprecedented”, “we’re all in this together” and “the new normal” are carefully crafted to maintain control. But in the lounge rooms around New Zealand people are losing their livelihoods and there won’t be enough money to maintain that for too long.

The solution that has been mooted of a Depression-era road building gang under yet another government department’s control cannot be the only way out of this.

While we desperately need better roads, there have to be viable businesses using them and people who have jobs to go to. And this project is being headed by Transport Minister Phil Twyford who previously said, “there has been an over-investment in roads and motorways for decades in this country”.

Everyone is scrutinising the behaviour of our leaders, so when the Health Minister flouts the lockdown rules and the Transport Minister has a 360 degree change of heart, it feels like the recovery strategy might be a bit shaky.

Talk of an “institute” to train workers for the road building smacks of creating an even more bloated public service – there are already training programmes for this and what about the Reform of Vocational Education? The only people assured of jobs through this are public servants.

Trucking essential goods is an essential industry, but trucking companies are doing this at a loss because they cannot operate their businesses efficiently.

Supply chain links vital to getting essential supplies where they need to go must be allowed to work if trucking companies are to survive long enough to meet the demands of the Covid-19 response.

The Government needs to listen to business people and understand how business works. It is the private sector that will re-build the economy, not the public sector. The public sector spending on infrastructure won’t dig us out of a hole. New Zealand needs to generate wealth as the Government will need someone to tax. They have to keep people in business and that’s not just big business either. Small and medium businesses are the backbone of our country. The government can’t afford to forget that.

The decision to classify freight into two arbitrary groups – essential and non-essential – shows a lack of understanding of what is an integrated global system.

You take one link out, and the whole chain starts grinding to a halt.

As an importing and exporting nation, goods have to be able to come in and go out.

But at the moment, goods deemed “non-essential”, such as logs and processed wood products, are not allowed to go out. That means other countries that don’t have these restrictions are taking our market-share and we may never get it back. The longer this goes on the more people in the New Zealand provinces where forestry is a key employer will be out of work and the more businesses will fold.

The imperative to plant one billion trees is out the window and down the road.

We can’t export without importing. We must be able to move goods. Workers are already working in the “new normal” conditions of social distancing and strict hygiene, so this is doable under Alert Level 4.

We know that it is vital that items deemed essential move quickly through the supply chain, and priority should be given to them. However, for the supply chain to actually function now, and during our nation’s economic recovery, the classification to control its movement should be scrapped.
– 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

Worker freedom and flexibility being eroded by law changes

The Government’s move to “one size fits all” with its employment and immigration law changes will restrict the freedom and flexibility truck drivers currently enjoy.

With an election year coming, the unions are flexing their muscles. Fresh from making new employees be employed under terms consistent with the collective agreement for their first 30 days, as per changes to the Employment Relations Amendment Act 2018, they are chasing Fair Pay Agreements, and Multiple Employer Collective Agreements (MECAs). There is no interest in the wider road freight transport sector for MECA agreements.

The Government continues to ignore businesses that are happily going about their business without the restrictive hands of the unions. The RTF has recently submitted on the Designing a Fair Pay Agreements System Discussion Paper and the Addressing Temporary Migrant Worker Exploitation: Consultation Document. It’s almost a fulltime job trying to keep up with all the changes this Government wants to make to restrict business.

We do not support the Fair Pay Agreements (FPAs) because they will distort the market and create a number of undesirable outcomes. Unionising the workforce will not alleviate a worker shortage, or improve conditions. Quite the opposite will occur; it will make the road freight industry less attractive to people who want flexibility, including women who are enjoying working in trucking because the can start work early and get home in time to manage the day and after-school activities for their children.

This is at a time when we are focused on increasing diversity in our industry and encouraging employers to provide the flexibility to encourage that.

We believe the proposals in this particular discussion document risk returning the road freight transport industry to pre-1991 bargaining conditions, which we do not support. We want to move forwards, not back 30 years.

The employment landscape has changed since the heyday of the unions back somewhere in history. FPAs will be expensive and slow for employers and consequently, employees, particularly for the small to medium sized companies that make up the bulk of the road freight transport industry.

We believe a voluntary approach is more balanced with today’s business environment. Government support for industries, such as ours, rather than the demonising we are seeing with statements such as “getting dangerous trucks off the road”, would be more useful in solving both the road freight industry’s worker shortages and getting people who are out of work into rewarding careers.

The anti-immigration stance of this Government is making it so difficult for employers to employ the seasonal visitor workforce, those workers are no longer even coming here.

Recent changes to immigration policy also conspire against improving conditions in the workplace. Making it almost impossible to hire migrant truck drivers to pick up some of the workload will only increase the workload for New Zealand drivers. There is enough work to go around, with the road freight task increasing. There seems to be no logic in play.

We accept there is opportunity in New Zealand for worker exploitation – that is for all workers, not specifically migrants. We believe the best approach to this is to ensure first, education about rights under the law. The second step is to ensure the investigative resource is available and suitably trained to carry out effective investigations across the whole supply chain.

In our industry, drivers want choices about how and when they work. Trucking varies tremendously between different companies, regions, freight types and vehicles used. National, or even regional awards, are not going to be flexible enough to allow for that variation, or to meet driver needs. With driver shortages, good drivers have flexibility and are well paid.

The next line of attack from the Government is going to be on independent contractors, that is, people who want to work for themselves. The impacts of that go right to the heart of our industry – many owner-drivers work on contract to larger companies. This issue is currently being debated by the trucking industry in California, where the industry is saying it will dramatically affect upwards of 70,000 drivers who will possibly elect to either leave the state, or the occupation entirely. Submissions close on 14 February 2020 on the Better protections for contractors: Discussion document for public feedback, which is another one for our pile.

You are left wondering when the Government will start listening to the experts in business who drive the economy.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Water policy will hurt us all

A strong New Zealand economy relies on a healthy primary sector. If the farmers and growers who produce our food and related primary products are doing well, that positively impacts the whole economy. That includes those in the road freight business of moving those goods around New Zealand and to ports and airports for export, as well as all the goods down the track made from all those primary products.

Conversely, if farmers are feeling pain, that ripples far beyond the farm gate and will hurt us all – prices go up and jobs get scarce.

This Government’s ideologically driven environmental policies are costing and hurting farmers and growers who are not solely responsible for all New Zealand’s environmental ills. So last week, the Road Transport Forum joined about 17,500 others and submitted on the Action for healthy waterways – A discussion document on national direction for our essential freshwater.

Unlike the Government, we have been listening to farmers and growers, who are the customers of transport operators. And transport operators are concerned that if business dries up in rural and provincial communities, we are all going to be in trouble. This is why business and farmer confidence is so low – no business owner likes uncertainty and New Zealand’s competitors in export markets are clapping their hands as they watch our businesses get priced off the global market with expensive rules that don’t apply anywhere else.

This is not to say we are against changes to improve our environment. And while we are not experts in water, we very generally support the Government’s intent to improve water quality on the grounds of benefits to all New Zealanders.

However, we have an issue with the process this water reform is taking, the rapid timeframe, and the lack of robust economic analysis that has been applied to a policy direction that will have long-standing and detrimental impacts on our whole economy. It is on that basis we have submitted.

We contend that the Government has not considered how its proposals will affect whole communities and we believe that the trade-offs that will be needed will have to be well understood by all New Zealanders before proposed changes in land use practices are implemented.

We believe the Government has taken a very narrow focus and has not applied its own economic measure of the Treasury’s Living Standards Framework, to fully explore the four capitals – natural, social, human, and financial and physical – collectively to this policy.

There’s a lot of environmental science, and a lot of talk of returning New Zealand waterways to a state that existed when there were hardly any people here, but not a lot of consideration of how the way of life for all New Zealanders will change when our food producers take such a massive hit – to the point they are saying they will no longer be able to produce food and they won’t be able to sell their land, losing all their equity.

In the documentation supporting this policy is it concerning to see this objective in the Draft National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management:

The objective of this National Policy Statement is to ensure that resources are managed in a way that prioritises:

first, the health and wellbeing of waterbodies and freshwater ecosystems; and

second, the essential health needs of people; and

third, the ability of people and communities to provide for their social, economic, and cultural wellbeing, now and in the future.

This can only be interpreted as suggesting that the essential health needs of people are secondary to the health and wellbeing of waterbodies and freshwater ecosystems, and that the wellbeing of communities is a distant third.

If this is the Government’s view, in order of priority, we suggest it is likely that the economic activity that keeps New Zealand operating will be seriously compromised, with untenable flow-on impacts in terms of employment, productivity, and community health and wellbeing across the rural, provincial and urban communities. This is pure “planet over people” ideology.

Regarding the process, we are not confident all 17,500-odd submissions will be read and considered. There is now no opportunity to have any further input. A small group selected by the Government will summarise the submissions and then it is straight to Cabinet for decision making.

We would like to see more breadth in the process that gives consideration to the social, human and financial impacts beyond the farm gate, region-by-region, with an over-arching analysis of economic impact to New Zealand as a whole.

A report released yesterday (Thursday 7 November) further illustrates our concerns about an ideological approach. Environment Commissioner Simon Upton said in his report, ‘huge’ gaps in data and knowledge leave an unclear picture of the state of our environment and whether it’s getting better or worse. He said this could be costing us in the form of poorly designed policies or irreversible damage.

“Further, the costs are not just environmental – they have real consequences for the economy, society and our wellbeing,” Upton says.

“We can’t make economically efficient or socially fair environmental rules if we can’t measure authoritatively what’s happening to the physical resource base on which our wellbeing ultimately depends.”

You can find our submission here.

– 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

Road builders in la-la land

I am once again, disappointed – and dismayed – to find Wellington policy makers driving ahead with significant changes to critical infrastructure without fully understanding user needs.

This week, I found out that at this late stage of the Manawatū Tararua Highway build – the Manawatū Gorge replacement – the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) is proposing what was going to be a full four-lane piece of highway (two lanes each way) will reduce to two lanes at a pivotal point, for three kilometres.

This is at the steepest point and will slow down trucks using the road, create congestion, and impact safety.

Not only that, despite engagement with, and outright pleas from our industry, a Stock Effluent Dump Site (SED) has not been included within the scope of works – NZTA previously advised it was included – no land has been purchased for this, and it is off the table.

To rub salt in that wound, the NZTA has asked truck drivers to use an existing SED near Woodville, knowing it is not safe.

This defies logic and all the road safety rhetoric. Ridiculous statements from a safety review of the more recent design work which say that going to one lane for a short section “reduces the perception that the new road is a motorway” and is “more in keeping with a rural look and feel for the road, to better fit in with the character of the landscape” reflect that ideology, not fit-for-purpose design, is behind these changes.

Let’s be clear, this is a highway and first and foremost, it should be built properly, for purpose. It is a key east-west connection for the Lower North Island to get New Zealand’s food and primary products to market. First build the road. Then if someone wants to spend millions of dollars making it look pretty, go for it. But don’t make that part of the road building costs. For most of us, a drive through the New Zealand countryside is pretty enough.

A single lane each side at the road’s steepest point is an unnecessary design approach given the carriage way appears to be wide enough, as shown in this flyover. Most light vehicle users will be frustrated to be caught behind a truck when they find their passing opportunity evaporate in front of their eyes. This could well cause safety issues.

On the matter of stock effluent, it has been made clear to the NZTA that the existing Woodville SED is unsafe – as the photo above shows – because:

  • The turning space in and out of the facility has a concrete curb that the units have to drive over causing judder bar effects (these have been asked to be removed previously)
  • The fence separating the temporary exit is not consistent causing a narrowing toward the exit point (this has been advised previously)
  • The culvert on exit needs lengthening 2 -3 metres, as it does not allow 5-axle trailers the correct cut required to exit safely (this has been advised previously).

With no safe stock effluent dumping sites accessible before taking on the hill, effluent spillage all over the new road is likely. This may incur infringement notices, which will be heavily defended by our industry due to the deliberate oversight of this issue by NZTA.

I sometimes wonder if I’m in an alternate reality where the cost of living is of no relevance, food is unnecessary, and we are all walking and cycling in happy unison. But in the real world, I’ll keep asking for us to get this right first time – if the project is not funded correctly, it will slow down our economy and cause frustration to all drivers on that road.

The RTF is concerned that the current course of action will only see a mammoth cost in the years ahead when the under specification will have to be corrected. Our view is that NZTA needs to ask the Government to increase the construction budget to get this road built right – it is after all, the only new road build currently on the books.

Kiwis expect to see first-class infrastructure and high quality roading, given the increases in petrol tax and Road User Charges that they have had to endure.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum