Heading down the uncertain Covid-19 road

Here we are again, staring down the Covid-19 virus while trying to keep businesses and the economy going.

We had hoped the “all of Government” team that responded to the lockdown and alert level changes last time would have learned from that. We believed there was a plan for the inevitable emergence of Covid-19 in the community.

Having dealt with this week’s change in alert levels around New Zealand, and in particular, the move to Alert Level 3 in Auckland, it doesn’t feel that way.

That’s not to say the Government isn’t working hard. It is just that they are once again retro-fitting the policy and planning to the announcement.

We have seen that on the enforced Auckland border checkpoints – designed to stop the spread of Covid-19 by keeping Aucklanders within their city boundaries, and stopping anyone who doesn’t need to enter those boundaries from getting in.

Good in theory, but despite the Health Minister signing an order that allowed for the free movement of freight, that was not the reality. Trucks got stuck for many hours at the border check points and there has been a lot of lobbying this week to try and ensure a lane for trucks to reduce those wait times. In fact, we believe trucks should have a dedicated lane and shouldn’t have to stop at all as they pass through or leave Auckland.

Long delays in traffic present a number of issues for the supply chain. These include potential damage to perishable goods, health and safety considerations for drivers who are restricted by the hours they can work, and missing deadlines to ports and airports for exports and imports. Some trucks also carry livestock and the health and safety of that stock must be considered.

It’s a balancing act to try and get what we want in the midst of all the other demands. The Police have been very helpful. But they have also pointed out that there are social media forums where truck drivers are offering to guide people in and out of Auckland by avoiding the checkpoints, or pick up passengers on back routes and take them across the border.

This behaviour is very damaging to the trucking industry and to the work we are trying to do to get better access for trucks through checkpoints.

If people don’t play by the rules, then the Police will have to consider stopping trucks.

I would urge all employers to speak to their drivers and to check social media and stop this commentary where they can. It helps no one. This is a deadly virus and we must do everything we can to keep it at controllable levels.

We want everyone to stay safe at this uncertain time and we are aware that time delays put enormous stress on drivers. If costs are incurred by businesses due to Government restrictions, these costs must be passed through the chain. What’s more, drivers cannot be put at risk working long hours because of the Government’s restrictions and rules.

Today we will find out what will happen with the status of Level 3 in Auckland and Level 2 throughout the rest of the country. Given the rapid increase in community transfer case numbers, it seems prudent to prepare for the worst.

If parts, or all of the country, are elevated to the next alert level we will be lobbying for all freight to move freely. This is essential to keep New Zealand functioning at some level.

We also need the road transport industry to do its bit. Follow the rules and if it costs more, pass that cost on. The Government needs to understand the economic consequences of their actions, or give us all access to the money tree.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Eight deaths a national disgrace

In the past 12 months, eight people have died on State Highway 5, or the Napier to Taupō road. That’s a stark statistic and frankly, a national disgrace. This is a national issue, as that road connects the central North Island with the east coast and importantly, Napier Port. And it’s deadly dangerous.

Last week, I took a look for myself and I was disturbed by what I saw. With Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst, Deputy Mayor Tania Kerr, and truck driver Antony Alexander, we drove some of the parts of the road where there have been fatal accidents. We stopped and observed how vehicles handled potholes and the uneven surface.

The Hasting District Council has been beating the drum locally to try and get Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) to do something about this incredibly dangerous road. Deputy Mayor Tania Kerr lives just off the road and had some horror stories to tell. Antony Alexander drives it 12 times a week and he believes the Government could take the cost of those eight lives and spend it on the Napier to Taupō road to help prevent crashes. According to the Social Cost of Road Crashes and Injuries report, a fatal crash costs $5,071,600. Eight times that could surely reseal the road completely.

The RTF has also tried to take the unsafe state of the road surface up with NZTA, because truck drivers are constantly telling us how uncomfortable the road makes them. NZTA’s response was so unsatisfactory, we wrote to the Transport Minister – a detailed letter that was very specific about our concerns. Unfortunately, that letter is dancing its way around politicians and officials like a hot potato.

To not put too finer point on it, the surface is rubbish, both in summer and in winter. It lacks traction, making it like an ice rink for cars and trucks. This is down to the engineering and design of the road surface. It has been so patched up it looks like a patchwork quilt, and this makes the surface even more dangerous as vehicles bounce around and drivers lose control.

The type of seal used is subject to the temperature variations the area experiences and this has been drawn to the local NZTA representatives’ attention on many occasions. Using the inappropriate bitumen mix leaves the road sensitive to temperature variations, which is a primary contributor to flushing and the chip seal not sticking to the base.

When a truck comes into the path of an accident situation, by taking evasive action the lack of adequate run-off areas on the road, poor shoulder designs, and steep shoulder gradients often mean the truck cannot avoid spinning out of control.

We don’t believe our concerns can fall on deaf ears any longer. People are dying.

This Government has spoken at length about how much it cares about road safety and reducing the road toll. This is not a road where wire rope barriers and median separations are going to improve safety.

We are calling for NZTA, as a priority, to concentrate on resealing State Highway 5 – and where required, redesigning dangerous parts of the road. We believe they must provide a quality road surface that can tolerate the temperature variability in this region, as well as rehabilitating the road shoulders and shoulder gradients, and attending to the vegetation impacting the safety of this important section of the state highway network.

Hearing from road transport operators and drivers across the country, we know this isn’t an isolated incident. The RTF is collecting information on other dangerous routes so we can highlight the risks posed and the costs borne by our industry. We hope officials and politicians will be listening before there are more deaths and injuries.

A RNZ journalist came with us last week and you can listen to that piece here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

RTF commends roadside drug testing law

Last year, 103 people died in crashes on New Zealand roads where the driver was later found to have drugs in their system. Unfortunately, this is an upward trend and is surpassing those killed with excess alcohol in their system.

In comparison, there have 22 deaths in New Zealand from Covid-19. No untimely deaths from accident or disease are good. And I’m not saying Covid-19 doesn’t deserve a lot of attention. But it is time to start turning some of the of politicians’ time, tax payers’ money, and national angst that the pandemic has garnered to other issues of importance that are seriously affecting – and taking – the lives of New Zealanders.

The Road Transport Forum (RTF) was very happy to see a new law introduced to Parliament yesterday (Thursday 30 July) to give Police the power to conduct random roadside drug testing of drivers. We have been lobbying for some time for the introduction of adequate roadside drug testing, as drivers on drugs present an increasing risk to our professional drivers.

We commend Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter and Minister of Police Stuart Nash for the introduction of the Land Transport (Drug Driving) Amendment Bill. Once passed, it will allow Police to test if drivers are under the influence of drugs on the road side, just as they do now for alcohol.

Those of us in the safety sensitive industries are very concerned about this Government’s plans to legalise recreational cannabis, so it is imperative some steps are in place to ensure employers can meet workplace health and safety laws. This is one step in that direction.

Truck drivers are in the unique position of sharing their workplace – New Zealand roads – with the public. While the road transport industry follows workplace health and safety laws to ensure drivers are not drug impaired with extensive testing regimes including pre-employment, random and post incident/accident drug testing, there is no guarantee that those they are on the road with won’t be impaired by drugs, as there is no adequate testing regime for them.

Overseas, there is roadside drug testing but until now, there has been a reluctance in New Zealand to introduce oral fluid tests to quickly check drivers for drugs such as THC (cannabis), methamphetamine, opiates, cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy), and benzodiazepines, which are the high risk drugs and medications used by drivers in New Zealand.

This Bill won’t be passed before the election, but the RTF hopes it will be high on the list of legislation to progress once the next Government is formed. We have a ridiculously high road toll in New Zealand and drug use is a big contributor. We need to do something about it.

We will be holding Julie Anne Genter to these words from yesterday’s press release:

“Road safety is a priority for this Government. No loss of life on our roads is acceptable and we’re committed to taking action to stop unnecessary trauma.”

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Data allows better decision making

One important thing the Covid-19 experience has taught us so far is the value of data. A lot of figures get thrown around daily but the important ones are the percentages – what percentage of the population has it; what percentage recover from it; what percentage die from it; and what is the R-value – the effective reproduction rate, or the number of people a positive case infects? The rest is just white noise and numbers used to push a particular agenda.

At the Road Transport Forum (RTF), we believe good policy and law is developed from the best data – as granular as you can get it, and thoroughly analysed. That’s not just numbers, but what the numbers mean, what patterns of behaviour are behind the numbers, and what behaviour can be influenced and changed.

Unfortunately, in the road safety space in New Zealand, we don’t believe decision making is data or fact driven. The data isn’t granular enough for a start. When we go to look at truck accident rates, we find categorisation includes other vehicle clusters, such as camper vans, so we don’t get an accurate picture.

The current Government obsesses over reducing speed, but we believe that’s a once over lightly approach and in fact, road design and engineering, and driver behaviour are the biggest contributors to road accidents.

We need an accurate picture so we can see where we need to improve safety and change culture.

This week, Success Formula and the RTF hosted a trans-Tasman webinar to present the findings of the Australian NTI’s 2020 National Truck Accident Research Centre Accident Investigation Report. This is an excellent report and it is inspiring to see how road freight transport in Australia has been able to improve its safety performance over time against comparable economies with the use of incredibly detailed data.

My co-hosts from NTI, Adam Gibson, Transport & Logistics Engineer and author of the report, and Chris Hogarty, Chief Sustainability Officer, believe there is scope for New Zealand to do better when it comes to truck road safety. New Zealand has a three-times higher long-term trend of truck occupant deaths/year than Australia.

From this engagement with our friends across the Tasman, we can see that insurers have the best data, because they are always measuring risk. We would love to see similar data available in New Zealand and I’d like to call on New Zealand insurance companies to help with that. New Zealand Government data just doesn’t measure up.

In the Australian report, the data is incredibly detailed, down to the day of the week and time of day accidents involving trucks occur.  For example, in Australia, one in five (21.1%) of truck driver deaths occurred between midnight and 6am. This time period accounts for only 13.5% of truck movements which equates to a 55% higher risk of a truck driver dying between midnight and 6am than the daily average. This kind of data allows operators to think about parking up trucks between 10pm and 4am, unless they really need to be on the road for a delivery within that timeframe.

It also shows us that in 80 percent of all serious crashes involving cars and trucks, the car driver was at fault.

The biggest challenge ahead they see is driver distraction, often from mobile devices. The research found that the number of truck driver deaths caused by distraction more than doubled in the past two years and that 82 percent of the crashes involving truck drivers aged 25 years and under were caused by distraction.

The data may not always show us what we want to see, but it gives us a chance to better influence the causes of road accidents and deaths.

In New Zealand, reducing speed on open roads will not change road safety outcomes. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to a poorly analysed problem.

The RTF would like to have accurate data to shape the way we build skills and competency in drivers to make them safer on the road, and to enable the Government to better understand road safety.

Trucks transport 93% of the total tonnes of freight moved in New Zealand and that is only going to increase as the country embarks on stimulating economic growth post Covid-19, with more exports and big infrastructure projects. Trucks are important to this country’s future prosperity, so it is worth some time and effort to improve safety outcomes for both truck drivers, and all those they share the road with.

The Australian report is available here. The webinar presentation recording is available here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Debate on drugs essential

Debate on legalising recreational cannabis is hotting up, as the general election on 19 September nears. It will be put to a referendum vote.

The New Zealand Drug Foundation’s Vote Yes campaign has a lot of money, high-profile people, and adept social media skills behind it.

The Say Nope to Dope campaign is backed by a number of conservative and faith-based groups, which doesn’t perhaps make it representative of the wider population who may be considering a no vote.

At the Road Transport Forum, we are asking that people get informed before they vote in what appears to be a binding referendum.

We are not telling people how to vote. We are encouraging people to ask questions and be clear what they are voting for with the Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill.

There are unintended consequences that have shown up in other countries where recreational cannabis has been legalised, including increased road accidents and deaths. We don’t think this has been made clear.

As the road is the workplace of the people we represent, road safety is of critical importance. Truck drivers share the road with all other users and no matter how much professional drivers control their own behaviour, they can’t control the behaviour of others on the road. That makes them vulnerable.

We have started a social media campaign, designed to ask questions so that people can be aware of some of the unintended consequences of this Bill. For example, as currently drafted, the Bill gives no consideration to workplace health and safety. Also, where risk increases, costs such as insurance, and liabilities, such as Board liabilities, increase. Insurance is risk-priced – risk goes up, premiums go up.

Social media engagement can be brutal and it is worth remembering some people are incentivised to lobby for one side or the other.

The environment in New Zealand now is if you don’t agree with someone, or you dare to ask a question, often innocently because you want more information, you are cut to shreds. Free speech is in real danger, as is independent thought.

We can draw on information from other countries that have legalised recreational cannabis and we should learn from others experiences. In US publication FleetOwner we saw an article Do marijuana legalization efforts give a false sense of safety? It talks about the lack of awareness about the impacts of cannabis on driving and draws on the experiences of Darrin Grondel, vice president of traffic safety and government relations for the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, in relation to the impact of marijuana usage on commercial vehicle drivers. Here’s an extract:

Grondel explained the legalization of marijuana has made much stronger strains of the substance more readily available, and has expanded the consumption possibilities.

“It is actually much more dangerous because of the concentration levels that we’re seeing in marijuana,” Grondel said. “We’ve seen marijuana go from 3 to 6% THC concentration, to almost 30% in flower and then to 93 to 94% concentration in some of the oils.”

“Those concentrations have a deep impact on the level of impairment,” he added.

Fleets and safety managers should be aware of the variety of methods with which someone could ingest marijuana. The traditional pulmonary method is done through smoking, vaporizing, dabbing and even inhalers.

Due to the commercialization of marijuana, many products can now be ingested through oral or digestive products, often referred to as edibles or drinkables.

We have research that backs what we are saying, particularly from the parts of the US, and Canada, where recreational cannabis use is legal. But in an emotional debate such as this, every person seems to draw on their own research. Bombarding people with research is unlikely to sway them. We prefer to rely on rational thought processes for those who still have some questions – we want them to be able to ask those questions and look for the answers themselves.

It is worth noting Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency has available a research report you can read here. To put to bed the comments of many of those who didn’t seem to think drug driving was a problem, in 2017 and 2018 road deaths involving drugs (not just cannabis, but sometimes a combination including cannabis) were higher than road deaths where the driver was above the alcohol limit. An easy summary is available here.

– 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

Death and taxes

We’ve all learned a lot from the Covid-19 experience so far. No matter how resilient a business thought they were, months of no work, or severely reduced business, hits the bottom line and for those who can stay operating, costs have to be cut. We can see that in the number of people being laid off work every day.

Road freight transport has played a critical role in keeping New Zealand moving through the various stages of lockdown. Trucking will be equally important through the economic recovery as New Zealand will be heavily reliant on export goods making their way to markets around the world.

Trucking operators have adapted through the various restrictions imposed by Government and have done their best to keep some kind of business going and people employed.

Economic recovery is a long way off. While the trucking industry continues to respond quickly and well to the challenges presented by Covid-19, everyone has taken hits during New Zealand’s lockdown, and the hits keep coming.

Like all businesses, trucking companies want to get back to full operations as soon as possible, recover their losses as quickly as they can, and keep good people employed.

The challenge ahead for trucking operators that already work with tight margins will be the ability to absorb, or pass on, increasing costs when all businesses are tightening their belts.

This is why the RTF is asking the Government to again consider the increase to Road User Charges (RUC) of 5.3% on 1 July 2020. Back in April the Government said no to our first request to stop this increase, but the business environment is now even worse.

I am aware that trucking companies with customer agreements that allow them to negotiate increases on Government imposed charges are finding, in spite of contractual obligations, those customers are saying no to adding the RUC increase into costs.

If trucking companies cannot pass on this cost, they will have to absorb it. For some that will impossible in this environment.

New Zealanders are struggling to make ends meet, and businesses are trying to get back on their feet in the worst economic conditions most of us have seen in our lifetimes. No one can sustain increased costs. Yet if this tax goes ahead, trucking companies that want to survive will have to pass the cost on and the cost of living for all New Zealanders will increase.

Pretty much everything travels on the back of a truck, so it is a cost on the final price of all goods.

Benjamin Franklin said, in 1789, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. While the RTF appreciates the value of tax to keep our road network operating, in this Government’s own words, these are “unprecedented” times. Surely that means, in 2020, rules can be changed to accommodate what is looking like a very grim landscape.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Let’s revert to our Kiwi “can-do” reputation

What can we do to salvage the New Zealand economy from the scythe of Covid-19?

At the moment, all we hear from Government is what we can’t do. We are told this very firmly, every day, at 1pm. If we try and do anything we can’t do, we are told there will be consequences – our curtain twitching neighbours will dob us in and the Police, or some other relevant enforcer, will come and stop us from doing anything.

This is disappointing. New Zealand is supposed to be a nation of creative thinkers, innovators, solutions-focused inventors and engineers, and people who will just get on and do it. We were that “can do” nation at the bottom of the world that punched above our weight. Now we are being overwhelmed with a culture of fear and a barrage of “can’t”. Apparently, the world outside our home is not safe, so we should just not do anything at all. Above all, we should not question what is going on.

We are staring down the barrel of our worst unemployment rate in many generations. The economy is on its knees. Businesses that were the fabric of our society – small and locally owned – are bleeding and dying. A whole generation are having their education interrupted to the point that for some, there will be no recovery. If ever there was a time to dig deep and find that “number 8 wire can fix it” mentality, that time is now.

That means the Government moving the country to a level where businesses can effectively operate and businesses stepping out from the shadow of Government. The Government should focus on those who most need help – the young, unemployed, and unwell (a giant task ahead) – as well as boosting the economy with the things within their control at all times, not just Covid-19 times, such as big-ticket infrastructure.

Government should let businesses and the markets do what they do best, that is, respond to supply and demand, export and import, move things to where they need to be and get on with rebuilding the economy. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Government intervention comes at a price – over-regulation and control ruin motivation, innovation and creativity.

Unfortunately, we are seeing the ugly head of anti-globalism rising in New Zealand and some parts of Government wanting to control businesses, markets and prices – to push for a domestic market at the expense of where the country makes its money, exports. This is what President Donald Trump is doing in spades in the United States – protectionism and anti-globalism that threaten the very rules-based fabric of the modern trading world. We need to remember we don’t have the scale of the US. New Zealand is made up of islands in the middle of nowhere, with hardly any people, and the only way we can survive is to trade – to be better, faster, more agile and more clever than other nations.

Other parts of Government want to free the way for exports as fast as they can. They want to encourage new thinking, products and markets, while doing what they can to preserve the existing. They understand the only way out of this mess is exports. They are working hard to preserve trade rules and agreements and forge new ones. They are our “can-do” people. They want to open doors and clear the way, not wait till you are close to the door then slam it in your face.

Our road freight transport industry is very much in the “can-do” camp. Truck drivers, dispatchers and road freight operators have been quietly working throughout New Zealand since the lockdown, and more since the move to Level 3. Like many businesses that have been operating through the Government interventions to manage Covid-19, they have mostly been running at a loss. Some businesses could not operate through the lockdown, and they need a hand up.

But a hand up is different to a long period of handouts. We all pay, one way or another, for heavy State intervention. Increased taxes are the obvious first measure, but there is also the long-term damage to that “go getter” psyche we were once so proud of.

For business to survive and thrive we need to get out of Level 3. We need a clear view of the Government’s plans for how businesses will operate under Level 2 and Level 1 and we need that now. We are more than six weeks in and we know there is a massive team of public servants and highly-paid contractors working across the New Zealand Government on Covid-19 – they must have a clear plan of the way forward by now. And we believe we have the right to ask questions about that.

– 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

Evidence base means better buy-in for change

It’s good when government officials listen to industry. It means better policy and greater buy-in, if people feel they have some control over their own destiny.

It’s also good when policy, law, rules and regulations are shaped by robust evidence – it makes for credibility.

So, the Road Transport Forum (RTF) is working with Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) as it looks at developing a replacement for the Operator Rating System (ORS) that has been used by Transport Service Licence (TSL) holders to understand how the regulator views their performance around compliance. ORS formally commenced in 2004 and many questions raised about its fairness have been raised over the years **.

RTF has been involved in workshops with NZTA to talk about how the system could work best for all.

We believe carrot works better than stick when it comes to applying road safety regulations to the road freight transport industry.

Trucking companies want to see their drivers return to base safely after every journey, without incident, and with no negative impacts on the safety of other road users. We want a safety system for commercial heavy vehicle operators that is based on most people doing the right thing, but has the capacity to work with those who fall below an acceptable safety standard.

New Zealand is highly regulated and road freight transport is bound by various laws (Acts of Parliament), regulation and rules. Businesses work best when regulation allows for innovation and productivity and doesn’t hinder individual freedom. The regulatory environment in New Zealand is expensive and that means costs for the end consumers that may not compare favourably with overseas competitors.

We want to see a transparent, risk-based regulatory approach, backed by evidence. The evidence shows us for example, only seven percent of accidents are as a result of faulty machinery, while 93 percent have other causes, including driver behaviour. We wouldn’t want to see an over-emphasis on compliance around machinery and gear when we know focusing more on human behaviour and driver distraction would yield us much greater improvements in reducing accidents and incidents on our roads.

The big opportunity in reviewing the ORS is to examine the data held by NZTA, to ensure the emphasis is on the right place. The industry must have confidence in the data and its interpretation and therefore, any subsequent actions taken by the regulator.

Another opportunity arising from this process could be a co-operative compliance model where an industry master code of practice is developed in line with an ORS replacement. This could be practice and process advice to guide operators in meeting standards and achieving best practice to improve safety outcomes. Independent assessment would be a vital component of such a structure, as would regulatory oversight, and any incentive offerings for operators going beyond compliance and being able to demonstrate an improvement in safety outcomes – both individually and industry-wide.

The road freight companies who are committed to safety for their staff and service for their customers could use best practice as a selling point for their business, as more customers seek assurance around the ethics of their business partners. We believe however a new system looks, regulator recognition of better practices through incentives should be key.

An ORS replacement is about the development of a shared lens between the road freight industry and the regulator. The aim of that lens is to improve safety and ensure that regulation is fair, reasonable and effective for all parties.

Where an operator doesn’t meet the standards, and subsequently compromises safety not only of their own staff, but of other road users, we support the regulator taking the appropriate action.

The goal is to end up with fewer accidents and incidents based on good operator performance, safer roads for everyone, and a regulatory environment that allows businesses to do what they do best.

We are committed to engaging in that process.

–  Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

** It’s important for operators to note, while the ORS has been suspended, NZTA continues to collect data on all TSL holders and is using its own internal assessment tools to judge compliance and take appropriate actions.