New Minister of Transport, new opportunities

If you follow politics, either at home or internationally, the last few weeks have proven somewhat of a bonanza.

The New Zealand election result – and to a lesser degree the US one – will have a far-reaching impact on our road transport industry. The brewing international impact of COVID-19 could materialise via economic shocks, which will undoubtedly surprise us in 2021. As such, it will be vital that a strong supply chain is understood and supported by government to ensure the security of freight to reach its destination.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced her new cabinet at the start of the week. The RTF is very relieved to see that the Green Party will have no role in transport. In fact, former Associate Minister Julie-Anne Genter will not have any ministerial responsibility in the new government.

Phil Twyford is no longer the Minister of Transport and the portfolio has been passed to Michael Wood, a first-time minister and MP for Mt Roskill in Auckland. Minister Wood has given an early indication that he has a pragmatic view about roading projects (such as being open minded on the construction of a new Mount Victoria tunnel in Wellington, which was previously opposed by the Green Party).

If we look at the state of the nation from the Government’s perspective, they have to build infrastructure fast, and that will have to include roads.

On behalf of the industry, we have been in contact with the new minister this week. In our briefing paper we have outlined the contribution of the road transport industry to the New Zealand economy. We have pointed out that trucks are a key part of meeting the freight task, even if you are keen on trains, as the government has indicated it is. The convenience of door to door delivery, the resilience offered by road transport and the time sensitivity around the need to deliver many goods continues to put road transport in pole position.

We want the Government to work more closely with our industry in recognition of the contribution operators make keeping our economy moving. We would like the Government to prioritise development of a freight strategy for New Zealand. Such a strategy would recognise the importance of the supply chain and how to keep it secure by setting high level principles to guide transport investment. We must build “freight literacy” among the public and decision-makers. Developing a strategy could be a start to achieving this. 

We also want to see more transparency about where the National Land Transport Fund is spent.

Industry operators (heavy vehicles) contribute almost a $1 billion per annum through Road User Charges. It is obvious this fund has been “dipped into” by the Government for things other than road building and maintenance. We can only speculate about how much money has gone into light rail, KiwiRail and of course those cycle lanes. Meanwhile, our highways and roads have become more dilapidated, which has led to increased costs for operators via repairs and maintenance.

We have requested partnership with the Government on our driver shortage challenges. The RTF surveyed a statistically significant proportion of our industry this year (over 600 operators) about their experiences of a shortage of drivers. The survey found that 37% of operators had at least one truck parked up due to not having enough drivers. The industry is taking the initiative by starting our traineeship Te ara ki tua Road to success, but we do need support from Government to assist us with important components such as a more fit-for-purpose licensing system to ensure we maximise success.

– Nick Leggett, CE, Road Transport Forum

 

An election like no other

Like the year 2020 generally, it felt like New Zealanders just wanted the election to be over and done with. That probably goes for the politicians too!

A weariness had set in over recent weeks, possibly because most people felt the overall result was ‘baked in’ and a forgone conclusion. Most of us knew there would be a Labour government in some form. The questions remained though, would they need the Greens and would Winston sneak over the line?

Full credit to Jacinda Ardern and her team, they won big. Kiwis recognised the hard work of the Government during the COVID crisis and they opted for stability. It is true that we will need stability as, in the view of the RTF, the worst of the crisis is ahead of us with the economic challenges we will face over the next few years.

Whether the PM chooses to enter into some kind of arrangement with the Greens or the Maori Party is open for discussion for a little while longer, although it has clearly been signalled that this will not be a coalition government.

It probably isn’t any secret that the RTF won’t be disappointed to see the Green Party out of transport. Their lack of understanding around the movement of freight, let alone a blatant antagonism towards roading, is palpable. That will be part of the PM’s balancing act.  

Of course, we are keen to work with whoever is selected transport minister; be it the incumbent Phil Twyford, who we enjoy engaging with, or somebody new. The opportunity for a transport sector accord, as suggested by Twyford and promoted by RTF, would be a really constructive way of partnering with the government around the challenges we face, including with workforce, skills, regulations and health and safety.  

Labour does need to do more than it did in its first term to meet business halfway. We are concerned with their proposed agenda when it comes to employment legislation; doing away with the owner driver or contractor driver model and forcing rules that will make it harder for our industry to keep delivering for New Zealand’s economic wellbeing.

We will keep up the fight for better roads. We know industry can have an impact here, given that our recent calls for an increase in the roading maintenance budget resulted in the Government increasing the amount spent by $100 million per annum for the next five years.

Finally, like all of the private sector, the road transport industry requires infrastructure investment to be delivered, not just announced. We will be eager champions of the roll-out of projects, both roading and others, as they will improve the ability of trucking operators to go about their work on safer roads, and will also provide work for industry members supporting the construction sector.

I consider that this election brings the road transport industry a lot of opportunities. We have a chance to put our renewed case, to both the Government and the public – as neither group understands as well as they could – what we do every day to keep New Zealand moving. We also have the opportunity to work alongside officials and politicians to propose opportunities for improved regulatory rules, safety outcomes and to build our workforce capability and supply through the Te ara ki tua Road to Success traineeship programme.

RTF will brief the incoming Minister of Transport on the key industry issues and I’ll report on the content of that briefing in the coming weeks. It will help set our agenda over the coming parliamentary term.     

  • Nick Leggett, CE, Road Transport Forum