Truck drivers need to be prioritised for vaccine

Despite what you hear at the Government’s daily public relations press conferences, getting the Covid-19 vaccine in New Zealand is a bit like throwing the little ball into the roulette wheel at the casino – it’s a game of chance.

My luck came in on the weekend when I got a call to say the local vaccination centre had 1,000 doses of the vaccine and only 500 people had turned up; so, 500 vaccines were going spare.

I packed the parents in the car and got down there as fast as I could. I was lucky enough to be offered the jab while I was there and I gladly took it, while feeling slightly guilty that so many people I know in Wellington in the high-risk categories are still waiting for their call up. If I’d had more time to think about it, I would have put the call out far and wide, but it all happened so quickly. 

Unfortunately, as we watch what is happening in the other largely unvaccinated country across the Tasman, we’d like to see better odds for the likes of truck drivers who are at risk if there is a leak of the Delta variant of Covid-19 here.

I say that as I look out at the “covid ship” in Wellington harbour – the Viking Bay fishing vessel that berthed here with most of its crew infected and ashore at a Wellington hotel. Other boats are now docking at other ports around New Zealand with crews ill with Covid-19.

Most people will be familiar with the removal crew in Australia who took their Covid-19 from New South Wales to Victoria and South Australia. They have created serious problems for the two additional states they worked in.

We are in the same spot as Australia. While the rest of the world has high vaccination rates, we don’t, and that leaves us vulnerable.

It is unclear how our vaccination roll out is actually working – different to what is being said about how it is working. Much of Auckland seems to be able to get the vaccine, while the rest of the country waits. And the Government are planning a mass Covid-19 vaccination event in south Auckland at the end of July where people in the lower risk group 4 will be vaccinated before those in the higher risk groups 1, 2 and 3.

Earlier this week, the Government announced mandatory vaccination for workers at ports and airports who are the greatest risk of exposure to Covid-19. This is in addition to workers at Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facilities.

Trucks service all of these places. This is why we wrote to Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins in January this year asking for truck drivers to be given priority for vaccination. He replied in March directing us to Government websites for information. No priority given.

With the global disruption in the supply chain, truck drivers can spend considerable time on ports waiting to load or unload. And how do you think food and other goods are delivered to the MIQ facilities, or goods off planes and to their final destination?

With this week’s announcement there are changes to the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Amendment Order 2021. Reading Schedule 2 Groups of affected persons I would suggest truck drivers would fit into some of the groups outlined, although they are not specifically listed.

We’ve been asking from the start about when truck drivers could be prioritised for vaccination. It seems that national co-ordination has gone out the window and it’s down to who you hear from in your local area on the bush telegraph. Fine for many of us, but it’s not addressing high needs groups in a systematic way. We should be doing so much better; perhaps get a logistics company or two to run this, not policy wonks who have only ever dealt in the theoretical. 

And while it is now mandatory for some workers to get the vaccine, where do they go to get it?

I’m not the first, nor will I be the last person representing groups of people impacted by Covid-19 professionally to ask the Government to show us the plan moving forward and to be open and transparent about the vaccine rollout and who they are prioritising.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Covid system flaws need to be fixed without a blame game

Each day seems to bring more confusion about New Zealand’s roll out of the Covid-19 vaccine, and the safety of our border given the lack of tracking of testing and vaccination for border workers.

We can be forgiven for thinking it’s all being made up on the fly.

As the biggest vaccination programme ever undertaken in New Zealand, no one expects it to be perfect. That means the government must be able to accept constructive criticism and be open and transparent on questions and answers to ensure confidence in the programme and indeed, in the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.

What we have seen, is the Prime Minister turn on individuals who have managed to slip through what appears to be a pretty loose system. This week it was a security guard she accused of lying about their Covid-19 testing. Prior to that it was the KFC worker who was very upset after she was accused of not following official advice and self-isolating, rather than working.

These are individuals who don’t earn a lot of money being publicly shamed by the Prime Minister. But they are the canaries in the coal mine if you like; the people who showed legitimate flaws in the government’s system. The best response is to fix the problem, not shoot the messenger.

The Prime Minister has also said the frontline border workers who aren’t vaccinated by the end of this month will no longer be working on the border. We are not sure what that means. Will they be fired? Or will they be redeployed? Given that the vaccine is not compulsory, what rights do these workers have? And what rights do employers have?

The pressure on frontline workers and particularly, those on the border, prompted me to write to the Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, in January this year.

Our industry is keen to understand when its frontline workers – mainly truck drivers – might be in line for a vaccination and whether they will have priority over the general population, given their importance in keeping the supply chain running. Many truck drivers interact with the border – at ports and airports – in the course of their daily work. We believe as such, they should be among the first groups to be vaccinated.

We are concerned truck drivers might be inadvertently exposed if there are requirements for all workers near the border to be vaccinated and they aren’t in the right line for the vaccine.

We aren’t trying to jump the queue, merely pointing out the situation truck drivers are in every day and asking for due consideration of that.

We also asked for legal clarification around employers being able to require their staff to be vaccinated, particularly those going into areas where vaccination is effectively, mandatory.

It was somewhat disappointing to receive a pro forma letter in response, which arrived in March. It directed us to government websites about the vaccines and the Public Service Commissioner’s guidance for public sector agencies and staff regarding the vaccination, as it is not mandatory.

Increasingly, the government relies on websites to engage with stakeholders when a conversation would be better. Covid-19 is a big deal and there is information we need to be able to interrogate. We are seeing ever diminishing opportunities to do that.

For those interested, Business New Zealand has published a guide for employers about Covid-19 vaccinations in the workplace, which you can find here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Where’s the plan?

Auckland’s second Level 3 lockdown this year, which began on Sunday (28 February) at 6am, has dealt another blow to the economy and our industry. The cost of having Auckland at Level 3 and the rest of the country at Level 2 is estimated to be $240 million per week.

Each time the  Government yo-yos in and out of levels without some kind of articulated long-term plan for dealing with Covid-19, businesses and their workers get more fatigued. Each lockdown, some businesses don’t survive.

I am worried about what I am hearing from our industry regarding everyone’s health, safety and wellbeing. We need to look out for each other and recognise the extra mile that transport operators are going for their customers – and in many cases to accommodate their fatigued or stressed staff. Do you have the support in place to cope? If you don’t, please reach out to one of your associations for assistance.

Sunday was a nightmare for trucks trying to get into Auckland. As I have repeatedly said, the border to Auckland has been closed enough now that you would think there was a concrete plan in place to make traffic run smoothly. When people were told to “go home” why was it necessary to stop everyone going into Auckland? Not many people would be going there if they didn’t have to. Shouldn’t the focus have been on people trying to get out of Auckland?

Truck drivers were queued for up to six hours. Some had livestock, which raises animal welfare concerns; some had perishable goods and it was a very hot day, which means someone loses some revenue somewhere; and some had already been on the road for hours, which raises serious health and safety concerns. Not being able to deliver on time causes many drivers a lot of anxiety.

The messaging from government was that they had to be patient. We have been patient. But we have also asked that we see measurable improvement each time there is a lockdown because surely, someone is recording “how to do this better next time” and surely, there’s a better action plan. For this Level 3, the waits at the border roadblocks were worse than the previous time a couple of weeks earlier.

Other countries are moving ahead with Covid-19 recovery plans and New Zealand should be past these rapid level changes. There are plenty of examples of managing Covid-19 in 2021 without locking down a major city and the economy. New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian contains flare-ups in Sydney without a city-wide lockdown or closing businesses. Her nuanced approach focuses on lockdowns on the most affected suburbs and limits on gatherings, without banning them altogether.

This week in New Zealand, business leaders called on the government to share its planning on a clear path out of Covid-19, given we are going to have to live with it for some years and as a trading nation, we simply cannot remain locked off from the rest of the world. At the moment we can no longer even fly into Australia from New Zealand. The Australians don’t have confidence in New Zealand’s response to this latest outbreak.

There are also calls for the New Zealand Government to be like their contemporaries in Australia, and articulate the plan for the roll out of the Covid-19 vaccine. The RTF has asked when truck drivers will be vaccinated, given the risks their jobs involve and their essential role in keeping the economy moving.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield is a wonderful human being and there is no doubt, his advice throughout the New Zealand’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been outstanding.

However, if we are ever to make it from what seems to be a series of knee-jerk responses, to the planned ongoing “life with Covid-19” recovery, leadership now needs to come from politicians. They are who the people of New Zealand elected to lead the country, not a health department public servant.

We have seen good leadership from Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. Can we change his portfolio to Covid-19 Recovery Minister and get on with it like Israel, Taiwan, Australia, and even the United States – population over 330 million – where they now say they will have enough vaccinations for the entire adult population by May.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Prepare for alert level changes

Those who were hoping 2021 might be a better year on the Covid-19 front were sadly, wishful thinking.

We now have cases of Covid-19 found in the community in Northland and Auckland and realistically, businesses need to be prepared for some form of alert level change that will mean further restrictions.

This is not good news when the supply chain is being pulled so tight it is about to burst.

The Prime Minister has said the border will remain closed in 2021 and the Government has said when (and if) New Zealand gets the Covid-19 vaccine, it will take six months to vaccinate 5 million people – quite a lag behind the rest of the world.

With our community cases being the more contagious South African strain of Covid-19, Australia turned the tables on us and stopped quarantine-free travel on Monday – currently until Sunday, but given the new community cases this is likely to be longer.

This not only disrupts the few passengers using those flights – which have all been cancelled – it adds further strain to the supply chain with the cargo for those flights also left high and dry. If planes don’t go out, then there is no return flight bringing goods into New Zealand. How long Air New Zealand can sustain running at a massive loss and being propped up by the Government is anyone’s guess, but another year or two might be a big ask.

In disaster there is always opportunity, so if some other airline wants to pick up a busy freight route and cause some disruption, now’s the time.

New Zealand remains highly reactive, with again, no real evidence of long-term disaster response plans. The Government seems largely unconcerned about the looming disaster that supply chain failure will bring.

The Government has also been caught not being open with the public about the cases in the community. They were forced into revealing the Auckland community cases after Hone Harawira alerted the media. That is unacceptable.

The only way to get on top of community transmission is immediate action. That means telling people who have been to the same places as infected people the minute they know. Withholding information threatens the goodwill of their compliant “team of 5 million”.

On the business front, it’s a matter of being prepared. The RTF’s Covid-19 webpage remains active and we will keep up to date information here. When the Government releases information it is available on its Covid-19 webpage here.

If Auckland and/or Northland are put into lockdown, we will continue to work with the Government and other parts of the supply chain to free up freight routes.

Truck drivers are out and about throughout the country so are at higher risk when there are cases in the community.

It may be time to remind your staff of the best hygiene practices to combat the spread of Covid-19, most importantly, staying home if they are sick. They also need to keep track of where they’ve been (use the NZ COVID Tracer app and turn on Bluetooth); wash their hands regularly; cough or sneeze into their elbow; practice physical distancing; and clean surfaces that get touched frequently. They may have to return to wearing face masks, so make sure you have supplies.

The reality of Covid-19 is we are all at the mercy of the Government’s response and we will deal with it as it pans out. The RTF will continue to negotiate an environment where trucks can go about the important task of carrying the economy and keeping up the flow of essentials, such as food and medicines.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Border rethink required to meet skilled worker demand

Armed with the knowledge that managing Covid-19 in New Zealand is now a long-haul project, it is time for the Government to re-think its approach to the border.

As possibly the last place on earth to get any kind of mass population vaccination coverage – we don’t even have a plan for that yet – we cannot have the level of border closure we’ve got indefinitely.

Flexibility and clever thinking need to replace rigidity and rules that don’t always make sense. Appropriate levels of risk profiling need to be applied.

I do not want to start a barrage from concerned citizens saying we must keep our country closed off from the rest of the world for as long as it takes. We hear quite enough from them every day in the media.

I do want to start a conversation about the very real economic pain that is coming in 2021 as a result of a border closed for one, two, three years, or more.

We can both protect the New Zealand population and allow more people into the country, if we consider we are protecting the population from death and from overwhelming the public health system, not from the odd case of Covid-19 in the community. New Zealand is very good at contact tracing and shutting down any small outbreaks that might occur.

If you believed everything you read, you’d think we were being over-run by the sick from overseas. In fact, between March 2020 and December 2020 the number of people leaving New Zealand was 122,902 greater than the number of people coming into New Zealand (New Zealand Customs Services passenger statistics). We are losing population, not gaining.

We should also note the people coming into New Zealand are mostly New Zealanders, who by law, have every right to do so.

I know there are many people who will love that statistic because they think we can subsistence live in New Zealand. However, we are a trading nation and we need a regular flow of people and goods to maintain our standard of living. We also need people with different skill levels to power the productive elements of our economy. The truth is that the people departing from our shores are probably the very ones who will pick and box the fruit, oversee the COF of a truck, or be a retail worker. 

The flows of goods and people are being seriously impacted by the New Zealand Government’s stance. We have compounding supply chain issues that New Zealanders will be starting to see as they notice shortages, or no supply at all, of goods across the board.

We need to be focused on improving our ability to export and import, not slowing it down further and naively believing we can be self-sufficient. We need more people with skills than are currently available in New Zealand. Those people need to come from overseas.

Plenty of shade has been thrown at Ports of Auckland, as one of the main ports for goods coming into and out of New Zealand, regarding delays to the flow of freight. But to reach maximum capacity, Ports of Auckland need more skilled workers, particularly crane operators. Those skilled workers need to come from overseas.

This is not a situation that can be fixed by redeploying currently unemployed New Zealanders.

This is work that can take up to 18 months to acquire the training and skills to be competent in.

Importing a small number of experienced crane operators to work at Ports of Auckland would have an immediate impact on the supply chain by relieving the current extreme shortage of workers and the resulting congestion.

New Zealand needs to adopt a pragmatic approach to immigration if we are to trade our way out of the economic pain caused by Covid-19 around the world. We need our best “number 8 wire” innovative thinkers on the job to address our supply chain issues given our low population, distant location, and relatively small contribution to global markets.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum


New Zealand urgently needs to focus on supply chain

The global effects of Covid-19 are putting real pressure on the New Zealand supply chain, economist Cameron Bagrie told the road freight transport industry this week.

Covid-19 meant no industry conference this year, so the Road Transport Forum invited Cameron to give us one of his popular industry updates via Zoom.

There was good news and bad news, and Cameron is pretty good at looking at how you can turn the bad news into good news. But there is no escaping there is pain ahead as we watch parts of Europe and the UK shut down again for a second autumn/winter wave of Covid.

What Cameron told us is what we are hearing across the board, and we are trying to get Government to listen. If for example, there is a Covid-19 vaccine and New Zealand is able to secure some, the supply chain is not in place to get it here and distribute it.

While exports are still working for New Zealand, imports are going down and sourcing goods is becoming a problem.

Cameron says people are talking about demand when they should be talking about supply – Covid is not supply friendly and “the Reserve Bank can’t fix supply chains”.

New Zealand is a small market to service and so is never going to be at the top of the queue. And while we can do a lot for ourselves, we are reliant on all manner of goods coming into the country to let us do that. When securing essential items becomes impossible, what’s the plan?

Some urgent thinking needs to go into managing this growing and critical risk and looking at how New Zealand can boost capability locally and fast.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t apply to goods only. Migration numbers have gone from booming to collapse which creates another point of vulnerability for New Zealand. There have been years of underinvestment in key skills and capability because we could always import them from overseas, Cameron says. But to get the economy moving in areas such as infrastructure, or to manufacture locally what we can no longer source from off shore, we are woefully short of expertise.

In the spirit of never letting a good disaster go to waste, Covid-19 presents opportunities for some.

“Think small to stand tall,” Cameron says. While the macro-economy is beyond the control of individual businesses, focus with a ruthless obsession on all the little business levers. Get up every day and make a small improvement and over a couple of months, the dial will start to move in the right direction.

While human instinct may be to hunker down in bad economic times, the people being rewarded in the Covid world are those taking risks and there is a growing wedge between firms that are adaptive and those that are not.

Covid-19 is a bit of a lightning rod for rapid changes that were already occurring. People working from home, for example, was starting to happen but became the only option during lockdown. The changes that have come with that means distribution moving from city centres to suburban areas as people start to buy in the suburbs where they are working, rather than the central business district where their company may have been located.

There is also pressure in an economic downturn to cut prices but if items are in short supply, or can’t be sourced, no sensible business is going to do that. The reverse is more likely.

Cameron wants to see both the Government and businesses take more risks and embrace technology and change. He would prefer the Government out there spending on critical infrastructure and the Reserve Bank doing a lot less. He is critical of the Reserve Bank driving down interest rates and says all this will do is widen the gaps between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in our society by making housing affordability worse.

He had some strong advice for the RTF too and that was to keep making some noise on the government front as there is not enough representation for small and medium sized businesses.

“You are going to be getting into a bit of a dog fight, but it will be needed,” he said.

As we wait for the new Government to be formed, we are certainly gearing up to represent our essential part of the supply chain that is going to keep New Zealand moving in any kind of Covid-19 response and recovery.

We recorded Cameron Bagrie’s presentation and as this is just a snapshot, it is well worth viewing here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Hold politicians’ feet to the flame on promises

It’s election season and the promises are rolling in. Whoever the public of New Zealand vote in to lead us for the next three years, they must demand delivery on those promises.

We are facing the most difficult three years ahead in many of our lifetimes – except those who have lived through wars. Covid-19 continues to baffle experts on how to live with it, or vaccinate against it. Meanwhile, countries such as New Zealand become increasingly isolated with closed borders, unemployment levels will leave scars for years to come, those who are hanging onto employment are stressed to the max, and money without interest is becoming increasingly worthless.

These are tough times and they have exposed a number of cracks. Our biggest city Auckland, responsible for the lion’s share of our GDP (nearly 40 percent) has been battered in the past two months. First there was the debacle of cutting it off from the rest of New Zealand at Level 3 and then late last week, a weather event took out much of the capacity of the Auckland harbour bridge. A permanent fix is likely to be months away.

Given New Zealand’s high-risk profile due to its susceptibility to numerous natural disasters, as well as biosecurity incursions, weather events, and now a pandemic (which has always been planned for), it has been extraordinary to watch the scrambling round by Government to respond appropriately.

This week, Treasury asked us for our views about the Covid-19 experience so far and they seemed surprised when we listed the government departments that were missing in action from our perspective. Yet the Government and the public of New Zealand expect there to be food in the supermarkets and things for them to buy as if the supply chain works by magic, regardless of the disaster.

The only agencies that seem to have a grasp of the exports-imports nature of New Zealand’s ability to survive economically – and therefore, an understanding of the supply chain – are the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Rule number one of preparedness for disaster is having a good network of stakeholders in advance. Yet as key stakeholders on the supply chain front, we have had to bash down doors to get the government to understand how goods get from A to B and why it’s important. Oxygen for that hospital treating Covid-19 patients anyone? This Government seems to have an aversion to advice from the business community.

When people sit for hours in traffic – as they did at the Auckland road borders in Level 3 and they have trying to get from the North half of Auckland to the other half this week – you lose productivity. Costs go up, as freight is delayed. Time is money. Not everyone can ‘work from home’, certainly not those in the supply chain.

The vulnerability of Auckland has made some things crystal clear. You can’t have your major city put under the pressure it has been in the past couple of months. That’s before we even get onto the lack of water for the summer months ahead.

There needs to be investment in infrastructure that is holistic and coordinated to give the best economic outcomes for the country as a whole.

Auckland needs to be a big focus of that investment – the rest of the country will benefit from that.

There needs to be an alternative harbour crossing and moving the country’s main port for its largest city more than one hundred kilometres away to Whangarei is a ridiculous folly that needs to be axed now. Imagine how that would have played out with a broken harbour bridge.

It’s time for whoever is in Government to get real about the state of our economy and the link between infrastructure and our recovery from Covid-19. We want to see evidence that the promised ‘shovel ready’ projects have a shovel, in the ground, with someone on the end of it, starting now. There also needs to be evidence of how many jobs were created and what was the return on investment for the economy.

We cannot waste money on the pet projects of politicians. There needs to be a solid plan. You could be forgiven for thinking right now that money grows on trees, but it doesn’t. It’s borrowed and one way or another, it has to be paid back.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

* Find out what the five main parties are offering the road freight transport industry on our dedicated General Election 2020 page here.

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

Show me the money tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

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