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.

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 trumps rail to meet customer demands

The 2017-18 National Freight Demand Study was released, without fanfare, a couple of weeks ago. This is the first such study in five years and it’s a significant reminder of just how important road transport is to the New Zealand economy.

It’s important to get it straight up front, New Zealand’s freight network works best when there is a balance between rail and road. Each have their benefits, but as the stats show us, road freight is increasing its share because of the flexibility and reliability it offers in getting goods to market.

Most significantly from the report, the growth across the board in our freight task is large; up 18 percent in six years, from 236 million to 278.7 million tonnes per year. This demonstrates the growth New Zealand has enjoyed in our population and economy.

We are guessing that the absence of a trumpeted announcement on the release of the report is because changes to the proportional split across transport modes flies in the face of the rhetoric and indeed, the billions of dollars invested in rail by the Government. I’m talking about the increase in the amount of freight that road transport carries, versus that of rail.

In 2012, road transport was responsible for 215.6 million tonnes or 91 percent of freight movements and 70 percent of tonnes transported per kilometre. Despite a concerted anti-road campaign, and a Government elected in 2017 with an anti-road agenda, road freight’s proportion has increased in the recent study to nearly 93 percent of the freight task, and 75 percent when it comes to tonnes-per-kilometre.

Rail, on the other hand, has retreated from seven to six percent of freight movements. On a tonnes-per-kilometre basis, rail is down from 16 percent down to 12 percent of the freight task. The rationale given by the pro-rail authors of the report is that this drop is down to the Kaikoura earthquake, which knocked out rail in the upper South Island for a long time. But it also reflects a reduction in volume of rail-suitable commodities, such as coal.

Losing a rail line happens far more regularly than people might think. A section of rail line parallel to SH7, the main road linking Reefton and Greymouth, has been closed due to a slip. KiwiRail has been stopping the TranzAlpine at Arthur’s Pass and offering buses for people wanting to continue on to the West Coast. Freight deliveries of coal and milk have been transported by road, instead of rail. Media attention has focused on the corresponding road failure, rather than that of the rail. I guess because if rail fails, there are always other transport options.

The most significant reason for the swing towards road freight is improvement of truck payload efficiency – that means bigger trucks that carry more load, reducing the number of truck trips. Over the past six years, efficiency gains through the uptake of HPMV and 50 MAX have been realised in dairy, logs, livestock, aggregates, and petroleum distribution.

The growth in road freight makes the Government’s decisions to rob the National Land Transport Fund, using road user charges (RUCs) and fuel excise to artificially support rail projects, seem all the more short-sighted. This re-engineering of our transport system to satisfy ideology is not only costly, but flies in the face of economic reality. It is even more short-sighted to turn the tap off on new roads critical to the national freight task, such as the East-West Link, in order to put money into rail projects of dubious economic benefit.

Don’t get me wrong; we support asset renewal in rail as it’s badly overdue for this critical infrastructure. What we don’t support, is the Government continually selling that investment as a way to reduce “dangerous” truck movements on our roads. We also reject this investment in rail over new, safer roads. There should be investment in both road and rail infrastructure.

Roads are more flexible and immediate than rail will ever be. There are 93,000 kms of road in New Zealand and only 4,000 kms of rail track. That split isn’t changing and what’s more, the market is making its choice.

Fewer trucks on the road means fewer jobs, less economic activity and less money in the pockets of all New Zealanders. The National Freight Demand Study proves that people and businesses choose the transport mode that best suits their requirements. In the 21st century economy where timeliness and responsiveness is everything, more often than not, that is delivered via road.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

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

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