Spend that cash

On Tuesday, the Government slapped itself on the back and congratulated itself on a massive $7.5 billion surplus – the biggest surplus since 2008 prior to the global financial crisis.

This is against a backdrop of the lowest business confidence since just after that global financial crisis; a massive dive in rural confidence tagged to farmers’ concerns about the Government’s policy direction; and a slowing economy in the provincial regions that previously, had been booming.

There is something wrong with this picture. The adage that perception is reality rings true. Most of New Zealand is feeling the pinch, but the Government continues to tell us everything is OK.

For some time, we have been calling for the Government to urgently spend some money on roads – making existing roads safe and building new, four-lane roads where they are most needed. It is our roading network that keeps our economy moving and growing and food on our tables. People and goods need to get from A to B in the most timely, safe, cost-effective and efficient manner. Even if you are giving a nod to the environment, that makes the most sense, as congestion and delays on the road only increase the emissions the Government is trying to reduce.

But with the ideology in play, circular reasoning is being applied around the negative impacts of cars and trucks, rather than their essential role in our high standard of living. This sees a reluctance by the Government to follow all the expert advice that says, “spend some money on infrastructure to boost the economy”.

Back in June, the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council warned that New Zealand is at an “infrastructure crisis point”. It said there is “no overarching vision or leadership in New Zealand for infrastructure development”.

You would think this would raise some concerns, given the Government’s heavy reliance on advisory groups at the expense of core government agencies such as Treasury, who are surely recommending spending some money to make some money.

Last week, we saw stark evidence of the impact of not spending on infrastructure. A key part of the State Highway network collapsed, literally (pictured above – photo from Mark Brimblecombe). Locals say Parapara Road, on State Highway 4 between Whanganui and Raetihi, has been problematic for the past 15 years.  A sizeable crack appeared last week and then the road broke entirely, with hundreds of cubic metres of soft earth slipping and sliding and cutting off vital transport links for an indefinite period.

Drone footage and photos of the slip illustrate how significant it is. The slip is still moving and it is not going to be fixed any time soon, if ever.

This leaves farmers, school children, ambulances, and freight companies facing major detours for an indefinite period of time. The recommended detour route will add at least one hour to every journey. About 1000 vehicles use the Parapara Rd daily, about 10 percent of which are heavy vehicles. Health care professionals are looking at helicoptering out critical patients, as a road journey will now be so long. This is a critical situation.

Steve McDougall from McCarthy’s Transport has been quoted as saying the company’s logging trucks will now have to connect with State Highway 1 at Bulls, or State Highway 3 via New Plymouth, to travel northwards. He says this will have a catastrophic effect on the business that will cost between $30,000 and $40,000 per day. It will reduce productivity – less trips will be possible each day. That cost will be passed on to the forest owners and the end user customer.

The cost of not investing in roads ultimately hurts all New Zealand families. Basics, such as food costs and access to health care cause the initial pain, but the cost across the supply chain of all goods just goes up and up.

We cannot have major roads collapsing. Look at how long it is taking to find a fix to the Manawatu Gorge. The Government needs to apply some basic economics to its thinking. How much cost are they prepared to add to every Kiwi household so they can say, “look how much money we’ve got in the bank”?

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

We should be celebrating our food producers, not criticising them

It is concerning to see how New Zealand’s primary food producers are being treated at the moment, when they are so essential to a healthy New Zealand economy. The food coming off farms feeds the rural economy, which feeds the provincial economies, and ultimately means we can have our easy living in the cities. That’s just the money side of things. They also produce food envied the world over.

Things are coming to a head over water access and quality and the rural sector is fighting back as fingers are unfairly pointed at them as having the biggest impact on New Zealand’s water quality.

Construction and cities are also significant polluters of waterways. While a sub-set of city dwellers trespass onto farms and shout at people in supermarkets to share their views on food production, they ignore their own back yard. Their diets that have them visiting the bathroom frequently and lifestyles that necessitate several daily showers are reflected on their local beaches, that are unswimmable for much of the summer. On the farm, water management is a serious issue and if there is no rain, there’s often no water for those things the city dwellers take for granted. Our farmers are custodians of the land and they’ve been taking measures to protect waterways for as long as they have been on the land – some of them four and five generations.

If rural and provincial economies are going to take big economic hits that may well drive food producers out of business, we will all suffer with them. So, it is hoped that pragmatism will prevail when it comes to addressing the environmental issues facing us today.

Much of the people the RTF represents are out in those rural and provincial areas, and one of the best parts of my job is getting out to visit those people who carry the New Zealand economy.

Last week, I visited Invercargill and got to look at the operations of Southern Milk Transport, with Brett Hamilton and his team. They are part of the vital supply chain from the farm to the kitchen, transporting raw milk for processing by Open Country Dairy, both in Southland and to Open Country’s processing plant in Whanganui, in the North Island.

The team at Southern Milk Transport visit scores of farms in Southland and Otago every day – so they are in touch with dairy farmers who are bearing the brunt of environmental hostility at the moment.

I think it is important that those criticising get out and see and hear what good work is going on to promote sustainable, good businesses. That includes the government officials setting policy.

I was particularly impressed by Southern Milk Transport’s inclusive culture and commitment to diversity. More than 20 percent of their tanker drivers are women. Brett says they wouldn’t be able to meet their business requirements if they didn’t employ women and give young drivers a chance. I’m pictured, above, with just some of the women drivers from Southern Milk Transport.

Across the group nationwide, it is estimated that the average driver age is about 10 years below the industry average, which is 54.

Southern Milk Transport has also invested in health and safety with high quality equipment, tailored to include safety features.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I would urge people who think they know all there is to know about the environmental practices in primary food production to actually speak to people out there doing this work every day – not shout at them; speak to them.

We all need the rural economy. It is the bedrock of our high standard of living. The concerns our primary food producers have at the moment are seriously impacting their health and welfare. It’s important everyone considers that, in the spirit of kindness.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Growing divide impacts mental health

There seems to be a divide growing in New Zealand and it is impacting the mental health and wellbeing of many.

The Government ideology and the judgement that comes with that, leaves large chunks of society on the outer and subject to often quite confrontational aggression – both in person and on line. There seems to be little scope for people to ask questions, or think a different way.

The trucking industry is feeling the heat. You have the Prime Minister saying she wants to take trucks off the road, allegedly for environmental reasons. When Saudi Arabia is the subject of a drone strike that impacts its oil production, Green’s leader James Shaw doesn’t spare a thought for the people of Saudi Arabia before getting on Twitter and saying: “Oil is unreliable, erratic and volatile. We should not be relying on it for fuel.”

The hysteria around “planet” is leaving “people” out of the future picture. The reality is that many of those throwing stones rely on use of fossil fuels for the comfort of their everyday lives. Our politicians who live outside Wellington, hop on planes at least two times a week. All the food, medicine, and necessities of life come to them via trucks. Those trucks currently rely on fossil fuels because no one has yet invented a viable alternative to be adopted at scale. When they do, and it can perform the task, meet environmental goals, and is priced appropriately, the road freight transport industry will get on board.

Living in the right here, right now, the Road Transport Forum will be taking a look at the impact these troubled times have on mental health and well being at our conference next week.

At Wairakei Resort on Tuesday 24 September, we hope keynote speaker and Australian trucking operator Craig Membrey will pull no punches. He has first-hand experience to draw on. His teenage son committed suicide and Craig is open on the topic of suicide, anxiety and depression and the effect it has had on him and his family’s lives. For many years, he has been an ambassador for Beyond Blue – a not-for-profit organisation in Australia that focuses on mental health – and he talks to people from all walks of life.

Other speakers addressing health and well being at the two-day conference – on 24 and 25 September – include Dr Tom Mulholland and Dr Lucia Kelleher. Dr Tom Mulholland is an expert on workplace stress and Dr Lucia Kelleher helps businesses develop people in safety critical roles to take personal responsibility for being safe consistently. She discovered Busy Brain Syndrome, which manifests as attention overload due to too much environmental stimulus, causing the brain’s attention bandwidth to halve.

We are concerned about the stressful environment for truck drivers and want to be proactive in developing a culture where people have the tools to deal with stress, anxiety and depression.

We lose enough lives on the roads in New Zealand to crashes, we don’t want to add to that in any way.

Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Where to find help and support for mental health:
Need to Talk? – Call or text 1737
Lifeline – 0800 543 354
Youthline – 0800 376 633, text 234, email talk@youthline.co.nz  or online chat
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Diversity the key to future proofing our workforce

I hear a lot about a shortage of drivers in the road freight industry and the Road Transport Forum is looking to nail down where those shortages are, and what future projections are, so we can work on a sustainable workforce.

We also want to ensure our industry’s workforce is ready for whatever the future might bring.

While there is a lot of talk of driverless trucks, we need to focus on the needs for the next five years, as well as the next 20. New Zealand’s roading network is such that it may be some time before a truck can self-guide from Kerikeri to Bluff; but that’s not to say it won’t happen.

Roads have been used to trade goods since the beginning of civilisation, so it is likely there will be some form of road freight transport for some time yet.

Some immediate steps that can be taken to build a better workforce include thinking outside the square and looking at the diverse willing workers available and giving them a chance. Another way to attract workers, and I have seen evidence of this in the industry, is to offer good wages so people can establish a “career” and feel secure.

At our conference on 24 and 25 September, at Wairakei Resort, near Taupo, we have some speakers who might challenge freight operators in their workforce thinking. That’s not to say we don’t have a diverse workforce, but we possibly don’t promote that aspect of the industry well and there’s always room to grow and change.

It is interesting that despite perceptions, many women work in road transport in New Zealand. I enjoyed meeting some from Otago and Southland last Friday night in Cromwell – pictured above. These women are company directors, dispatchers, shareholders, drivers and CEOs.

They see the value of being part of a workforce that underpins the economy. New Zealand is a trading nation and all day, every day, goods are making their way to markets, firstly by truck.

Then there are the essentials of life we need in New Zealand – food, medicines, and all those packages we order on line – they all get delivered by a truck, some direct to your door.

Some of the operators I’ve spoken to are keen to employ women drivers; they think they are careful and secure employees. They’ve had one woman come through the door, and others have followed and they’ve been happy about that.

So, let’s make sure we have the facilities and the culture that make it easy for women, young people, and people from the range of cultures that make up New Zealand, to be part of our industry.

– 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

 

Rhetoric rather than action on fuel costs

Last week, we saw the Prime Minister accusing petrol companies of fleecing New Zealanders. She came out all guns blazing, but then said those of us being fleeced will just have to wait for a solution.

The report she was so incensed about was after all, just a draft. She will have to wait for the final report from the Commerce Commission into the retail fuel sector, due in December this year, before deciding what to actually do. Cynics might say slashing petrol prices as part of an election campaign could be the action taken. The Government is certainly taking enough in tax at the pump to make a price cut.

The strident prose from the Prime Minister fell a bit flat when she had no action plan to back it up. She broke about every rule of politics, management, communications, and making an announcement, by having nothing to really announce after blowing up a situation into a “really big thing”.

She’s left a void of five or six months where people will continue to be “fleeced at the pump”. If the situation was so dire, she’s the Prime Minister, she could have announced some immediate actions. Instead she promised the Government would “make a difference at the pump”, but couldn’t say when that might be, or what that might be.

So, for most people, life goes on trying to make ends meet and worrying about the increasing cost of living in an economy that no one has much confidence in.

This is all part of the confusing messaging we continue to get from this Government when it comes to roads, cars, trucks and the use of fossil fuels. One minute they are saying there is no money for roads; they are ending all support for fossil fuel industries in New Zealand, including exploration; and telling us fossil-fuelled vehicles are ruining the planet. The next minute they are the defenders of users of fossil-fuelled vehicles, ignoring the fact that the biggest fuel cost is the taxes they have imposed to further incentivise people to move away from such vehicles.

They have once again shown they are anti-business and do not understand basic economics, it is no wonder business confidence is so low.

The above graph from the Market study into the retail fuel sector Draft report (page 24) shows taxes at about $0.97 per litre on 91 Octane. The importer costs, about $0.83 per litre, are the costs of importing fuel to New Zealand. Importer margins, about $0.34 per litre, represent the gross margin available to fuel importers to cover domestic transportation, distribution and retailing costs in New Zealand, as well as profit margins. So that $0.34 per litre is not profit.

When you put the $0.97 per litre tax, which goes into the Government coffers, against the $0.34 per litre that is not profit, but the gross margin available to fuel importers, who is doing the fleecing becomes a bit blurred.

The tax take is made up of fuel excise, ACC levies, Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) levy, and the Auckland regional fuel tax; mostly fuel excise and Auckland regional fuel tax which is supposed to be spent on roads. Our industry is concerned that tax take isn’t being put back into roads, which are deteriorating badly.

As trucks will be reliant on fossil fuels for some time, until someone comes up with a viable mass-market alternative, we are also concerned this Government runs the risk of running the oil companies out of town by failing to understand they are commercial businesses that need to make profits, not benevolent societies.

If this Government really wants to make a difference at the pump, they may want to consider their high tax take on fuel and their role in creating a competitive wholesale market before they criticise the fuel companies.

And they need to be clear on their messaging and make announcements that are actually about doing something, not just more talk and blaming the previous Government for everything.

–  Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

The story behind the headline statistics

There’s an old adage: There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

As this Government continues to push a negative narrative around trucks and roads, favouring its investment in rail, public transport and cycle ways, we are seeing a lot of statistics being thrown around.

The Road to Zero consultation on road safety, released this week, is a bit of a case study.

In Focus Area 3, Work-related road safety, firstly, it says: While trucks are not involved in significantly more crashes/km than other types of vehicles, these crashes are far more likely to be fatal, accounting for over 20 percent of road deaths. This is a highlighted statistic.

There are no details such as, who was at fault? What caused the crash? If a car crosses the centre line and crashes into a truck, sheer physics tells you the car will come off second best. But this does not mean the truck driver was at fault. Also, that leaves another 80 percent of road deaths caused by something else.

The discussion document goes on to say: We need to improve our understanding of the size of the challenge. To properly address the problem of work-related road safety, we need to clearly understand it. While we can piece together data from a range of sources to get an understanding of the total level of harm, we do not currently have the full picture of the key risks at play and harms that are occurring. Improving this data will help us to better target our efforts on work-related road safety, giving us a better understanding of the causes of work-related crashes, the types of vehicles involved, and the industries and sectors that have the highest levels of harm. There are also opportunities to work with the private sector to better share and coordinate work-related road safety information.

We agree with this. Let’s look at all the data before throwing stones. Let’s get the full picture behind the headline statistics.

Unfortunately, we live in an era where the headline wins and no one cares about the rest of the story.

Another case in point happened last week (12 July), with Justice Minister Andrew Little quoted as saying professional drivers who kill on New Zealand roads should be held to a higher legal standard of accountability than other road users. This is despite there being three existing laws that already allow this. The Road Transport Forum (RTF) has asked Minister Little to provide evidence to back his opinion.

While the Government stresses its focus on road safety, it rejects investment in quality roads. It’s not just truck drivers pointing out the poor design of some roads, and the dangerous deterioration of others.

The Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council says New Zealand is at an “infrastructure crisis point” and advocates for the 12 roading projects presently on hold or under review to proceed, possibly with private investment. But the Transport Minister Phil Twyford says that would be “really bad policy”. He says none of those roads would have enough traffic on them to pay for them. By that count, the Auckland Harbour Bridge, which had a 0.8 benefit/cost ratio, would never have been built.

This Government’s approach to road safety can be confusing and conflicting. It seems to be captured by the “climate emergency” agenda and a desire to get any fossil-fuelled vehicles off the roads. That’s all very well if you live in the centre of a big city and have choice. But it takes choice away from those of us who live in the suburbs, provinces and rural New Zealand and those who drive the economy by getting the exports we rely on to survive, to market.

The full suite of transport modes that don’t rely on fossil-fuels simply do not exist. And it remains to be quantified just what it will cost to run everything on electricity, and if there is even the capacity in New Zealand.

The Road to Zero name is in itself, confusing. Zero implies none, yet the strategy aims to cut road deaths by 40 percent in the next decade. This is a laudable goal and the RTF will be making a submission.

Discussion doesn’t mean we don’t fully support a road safety plan that reduces deaths and harm. It means we want to hold this Government to account on its road safety promises.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Where the rubber hits the road

One of the best parts of my job is getting out and about to speak to the people running freight companies and finding out what’s going on where the rubber hits the road. Yesterday, with the National Road Carriers chief executive David Aitken, I was able to spend time talking to five Auckland-based companies about opportunities and issues, and there were many recurring themes that line up with what the Road Transport Forum is advocating for on the industry’s behalf.

We saw a tremendous commitment to health and safety and looking after staff. Technology that detects driver fatigue is definitely life-saving and even those who weren’t so keen on it in the first place, have experienced its benefits first-hand. This technology alerts drivers who may close their eyes due to fatigue by shaking their seat, an alarm noise, and an alert to their company so someone can check they are OK. Even the best of drivers can experience fatigue, so it makes sense to invest in solutions like this.

One of the companies we visited, Mainstream, is bringing some creative thinking to health and safety and instead of the traditional high-visibility vests, they have designed their own high-vis shirts. They are made from recycled plastic, so get the environmental tick, and model a rugby league shirt because Mainstream also sponsors the Kiwis and Kiwi Ferns rugby league teams. The photo is me and Mainstream managing director Greg Haliday with one of the shirts.

Yesterday, we saw good companies, employing plenty of people and looking after their employees, and running businesses that keep New Zealand moving. If you look around you, pretty much everything that makes your everyday life tick over came to you via a truck.

So, it is disappointing to hear about some of the issues that are rooted in the anti-road ideology of the current Government. Resoundingly we heard:

  • Infrastructure – the state of some roads is unsafe due to lack of spending on upkeep, poor design and the wrong surface for the environment, and change of use (what were country roads in Auckland now major thoroughfares due to urban sprawl) – this is coming from people who have been using these roads day-after-day, year-after-year
  • Road user charges (RUC) and fuel taxes are increasing, but less is being spent on roads that need to be upgraded/improved/built and in fact, vital major roading projects have been de-funded
  • Money that should be used on roads is being siphoned off for political gain on cycle ways and rail – while rail is part of the transport network, those that use it say it is slow, expensive, unreliable, and up to 50 percent of the time, late
  • Getting the right staff – who pass pre-employment drug testing – requires better immigration pathways so drivers from countries such as the Philippines can be guaranteed a long-term career and a settled lifestyle
  • The emphasis on road safety needs to be broader than speed – professional drivers see distraction as the biggest threat to them eg. car drivers on mobile phones, and they see little policing of that and the other big threats, alcohol and drug abuse
  • Legalising recreational marijuana use and the impact that will have on safety sensitive businesses such as road transport, given the lack of any regulatory regime for road safety behind that.

The romantic notions this Government has around rail is a real concern. Rail can never match the efficiency and speed of road freight. It can’t deliver door-to-door. It’s not suitable for essential goods that must be transported within tight time frames, such as medicines and fresh food. Yet the Government plans to pour billions and billions of dollars into a rail infrastructure that is well past its use-by date. This is at the expense of roads, that all New Zealanders use to get where they need to go and receive all the goods they need to live. It makes no sense at all.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Illegal and unsafe behaviour must be stopped

The road transport industry has been hit by some publicity recently that could be seen to put industry employment practices into a dim light and I want to address that.

There is video footage in the public domain that appears to show practices the Road Transport Forum (RTF) considers completely unacceptable in the trucking industry. We believe the behaviour on the video is not indicative of wider industry practices. The video footage relates to a matter before the Courts and I will not comment on that.

I will say, that we strongly support endeavours to weed out illegal behaviour that compromises the safety of workers and the New Zealand public, including the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) increasing its regulatory and compliance audits on the industry.

All road transport employees are employed under New Zealand law and their contracts and work conditions must reflect that. As such, employees are entitled to regular breaks, which they must be allowed to take. Employers cannot ask their employees to break the law. As part of good employment practices, employers should ensure employees are aware of what they can do if they feel unsafe in the workplace.

There’s information about employment on the government’s Employment New Zealand website (www.employment.govt.nz) and at Employment Agreement Builder to assist employers in meeting the law and getting it right. The RTF does not accept workers being employed without contracts as that is against the law.

I also want to be very clear that as an industry body, we advocate on behalf of road transport businesses to allow for workers from overseas to come to New Zealand to work for them. We want to support employing New Zealanders first, but there is simply too big a gap between the jobs that need to be filled and the New Zealanders available.

Any migrant workers are covered by New Zealand employment law. They have the same rights as citizen workers and should not be exploited.

It’s important that the trucking industry – and all industries – understand that it’s likely that sourcing migrant labour will become harder as the Government focuses attention on training and employing Kiwis as a first priority. Rules around this will likely become more evident over the next few months. As I have said above, investing in training all staff, paying them fairly, and allowing them their rest and break periods, should be non-negotiable for all trucking operators.

As an industry body we work with government regulators to ensure the road transport industry is constantly improving health and safety. We believe that technology that is available now, and will be developed in the future, will contribute to this. For example, electronic logbooks can ensure an appropriate record of hours worked and breaks taken, as per employment law, particularly if aligned with GPS information.

At RTF we are working hard to attract workers to the road transport industry and to show career pathways that are rewarding. That can quickly be derailed by bad publicity, even if that publicity is only reflective of one or two industry players. Perception is reality.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

 

Slow road speeds, slow economy

As a country reliant on export dollars to maintain our great way of life, transporting goods on trucks, via roads, is the lifeblood that keeps the New Zealand economy moving.

Our roads are like the arteries in a human body. Arteries pump blood around your body to keep you alive, and most people are conscious of keeping those vital arteries healthy. If we want to keep our economy healthy and alive, roads must be treated as essential to that.

Road quality must be improved and maintained to a level that ensures goods can be moved in the most cost-effective way. That means, safely and without delay. This is getting increasingly important as the world wants more of our primary products, and the Government pushes for a much higher investment in forestry.

Regional roading infrastructure is critical to transporting our primary products from the farm or orchard gate to processing and markets, and the logs out of the forest to the port. While these movements can be a combination of road and rail, road will always be integral and its investment dollars should not be moved wholesale to rail.

Yet the Government is deferring significant road building and improvement and focusing on things like slowing speeds to allegedly make roads safer. Earlier this month Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter said speed limits on “the most dangerous roads” could drop to 80km per hour, as part of its road safety plans. This has some worrying implications for productivity and meeting market demands for goods.

Setting speed limits needs to be about more than safety. Mobility and the environment need to be balancing priorities in any decision making. And the environment is something we would expect this Government to focus on.

Slowing down heavy vehicles may in fact, increase their impact on the environment, with a rise in emissions at decreasing speeds. Without getting technical, this is to do with fuel and engine performance at various speeds, with that being different for trucks than for cars.

We want policy that solves problems. To do that, all factors need to be considered. At the moment it feels like the road safety focus is on the trimmings of median and side barriers, rumble strips and shoulder widening. A $1.4 billion spend over three years sounds like a lot for that. This policy was announced six months ago and despite the fact we are almost 20 percent through the period, we know precious little about the critical roads where it is to be spent. It sounds like another announcement without any detail or policy behind it.

If it is at the expense of quality road surfaces, and road building projects that could reduce travel times and congestion, as well as making roads safe, then we question that.

And if slowing down the traffic is because there isn’t money to spend on making the road surface safe and to avoid road building projects that could reduce travel times and congestion, then we question that as well. Under the Land Transport Rule: Setting of Speed Limits 2017, the Road Transport Forum, among others, is to be consulted on proposed speed limits and I look forward to that consultation.

Ms Genter refers to the “most dangerous roads” being the target for speed reductions. We need to know what determines “most dangerous”. If it is roads without median barriers, then that’s most of the South Island. If it’s hundreds or thousands of kilometres, then that will severely impact the productivity of New Zealand and our ability to export goods at prices markets will pay.

Each additional cost to transporting goods costs every New Zealander.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum