RTF calls for roadside drug testing

Driving under the influence of drugs is a deliberate act and should be treated accordingly in law.

Statistics show that drivers impaired by drugs are causing harm and death on our roads; more deaths than drunk drivers. We need to get those drugged drivers off the road as soon as possible and hold them accountable for their willful disregard of the lives of others.

The Road Transport Forum has lodged its submission on the Land Transport (Drug Driving) Amendment Bill, fully supporting the establishment of a new random roadside oral fluid testing regime to sit alongside the current compulsory impairment test (CIT) approach to drug driving. We agree that addressing drug driving is essential to reduce road trauma and make our roads safer.

While the time it has taken for a testing regime to come about is frustrating, the legislation introduced in 2020 should be in place this year. It will finally give police the power to conduct random roadside saliva-based testing of drivers they suspect are impaired by the influence of drugs. This is capacity police in many other jurisdictions already have.

For commercial drivers, including truck drivers, New Zealand’s public roads are their workplaces. They share these roads with members of the public who may not have the driving hours, skills, or drug-testing regimes that professional drivers have.

Drug impaired drivers on public roads present significant risk to commercial drivers, as well as all others on the road. While businesses can mitigate their own health and safety risks, they cannot mitigate the randomness of drugged drivers on public roads.

Commercial truck drivers are drug tested pre-employment, randomly during their employment, and post any kind of incident during their work time.

The RTF believes other drivers should also have this scrutiny to ensure better road safety in New Zealand and meet the goals of the Government’s Road to Zero strategy and action plan.

In this current climate there is a tendency to be overly concerned about the rights of drugged drivers. We contend that those rights must not be at the expense of the rights of those they maim and kill. So, while we support a harm minimisation approach to drug driving, this should not be at the expense of taking the offences seriously.

Harm minimisation will require adequate funds to cover drug education and rehabilitation programmes and we have yet to see evidence of this in New Zealand. In fact, drug rehabilitation is woefully under-funded.

Our submission comments on a couple of the processes outlined in the Bill which we think are confusing. These include:

  • If there are to be two consecutive oral fluid tests, as outlined, the reasons need to be explicit. We can’t see any reason for this and we believe there should be one test, consistent with the drink driving testing regime.
  • The process around which tool for police to use is confusing. We believe the police officer should have all the tools at their disposal to test for drugs and not be restricted to a process that excludes CIT or oral testing if one is done before the other. These leaves too many loopholes.

We also believe to provide adequate statistical analysis around the true harm caused by drug use on New Zealand roads, that drivers involved in crashes should always be tested for drugs, whether or not they are injured, and if they are deceased as part of the autopsy process. This is an area of data gathering that is currently not robust because if the presence of alcohol is obvious, the drivers are not then necessarily tested for drugs.

Overall, we believe the Government should just get on and make this Bill law.

You can read our submission here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

 

Focus on driver behaviour to address appalling road toll

Eleven people were killed on the roads between Christmas Eve 2020 and 5 January 2021. Even on a scale of all the other things that have happened in just this second week of 2021, we should not overlook this as being deadly serious. Four people were killed in the same period the previous year. What’s going wrong?

Motorsport legend Greg Murphy told RNZ this week that it is too easy to get a driving licence in New Zealand and it’s time for an overhaul, where drivers get better training to make them more aware and prepared for what can really happen on the roads. I couldn’t agree more.

He also said being told the same stuff every year by Government advertising was wearing thin and we need action, not more words. Again, I couldn’t agree more.

Of the 11 people who died this holiday period, five were not wearing seatbelts. Most modern cars make extremely annoying noises if you try and drive without a seatbelt, and how many advertisements have we seen about “making it click”?

But what happens in Wellington is strategies and policies are developed, over very long timeframes, with consultation – that may or may not be considered – and out pops the likes of the Road to Zero strategy and action plan. As the name suggests, the strategy adopts a vision where no-one is killed or seriously injured in road crashes, and where no death or serious injury while travelling on our roads is acceptable.

The road network is the trucking industry’s primary place of work and as such, the sector is committed to improving road safety. But we believe there are some serious flaws with Road to Zero, not the least an impossible target that will just turn the public off.

There is a strong emphasis on road trimmings to create safer roads and slowing down traffic to, on some city streets, 30 kph. We believe there is not enough focus on driver behaviour and distractions, which are the main causes of accidents.

Changing driver behaviour is a long-term game and relies on an in-depth look at what’s going wrong on the roads, licencing, and ongoing driver education.

It would be good to start with really robust crash data including the factors that caused the crash and attribution of liability. Statistics for crashes need to be set out in real terms, that take into account population growth, and light and heavy vehicle number growth, otherwise a proportionate understanding of accident rates will be unable to be reached. Cross comparisons are fraught with risk. They are imprecise as different jurisdictions have different contextual characteristics for example, Australia’s straight road compared to New Zealand’s with a bend or bridge every couple of kilometres. We need to focus on our situation, not try and mold the statistics to match another country.

The Government has become obsessed with speed, or should I say the lack of it. Rather than improving road surfaces, it prefers to slow traffic down to sometimes ridiculous speeds, like 30kph. They will not drive cars off the roads this way – New Zealanders love their cars and outside major cities, need them to get around. They may drive perverse behaviour borne from frustration though. Try driving 30 kph around Auckland without someone seriously tailgating you.

Greg Murphy is right, it’s time to turn attention to the drivers.

Professional truck drivers are held to a higher account than other drivers in that their compliance and enforcement history can result in job loss and prohibition from driving heavy vehicles. There are three pieces of legislation covering their work. There have been massive improvements in performance and safety systems in modern trucks.

Yet truck drivers are out on the road every day with people who aren’t held to account until it is too late. They face the ultimate accountability when they look up from their phone and see a truck bearing down on them because they are on the wrong side of the road. No matter how slow you make the traffic go, if a car hits a truck, the car comes off worse.

Dealing with driver behaviour and giving drivers the tools to drive themselves out of any trouble they might get into, must be top of the list if we want to get serious about reducing the road toll.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Focus on driver behaviour to address appalling road toll

Eleven people were killed on the roads between Christmas Eve 2020 and 5 January 2021. Even on a scale of all the other things that have happened in just this second week of 2021, we should not overlook this as being deadly serious. Four people were killed in the same period the previous year. What’s going wrong?

Motorsport legend Greg Murphy told RNZ this week that it is too easy to get a driving licence in New Zealand and it’s time for an overhaul, where drivers get better training to make them more aware and prepared for what can really happen on the roads. I couldn’t agree more.

He also said being told the same stuff every year by Government advertising was wearing thin and we need action, not more words. Again, I couldn’t agree more.

Of the 11 people who died this holiday period, five were not wearing seatbelts. Most modern cars make extremely annoying noises if you try and drive without a seatbelt, and how many advertisements have we seen about “making it click”?

But what happens in Wellington is strategies and policies are developed, over very long timeframes, with consultation – that may or may not be considered – and out pops the likes of the Road to Zero strategy and action plan. As the name suggests, the strategy adopts a vision where no-one is killed or seriously injured in road crashes, and where no death or serious injury while travelling on our roads is acceptable.

The road network is the trucking industry’s primary place of work and as such, the sector is committed to improving road safety. But we believe there are some serious flaws with Road to Zero, not the least an impossible target that will just turn the public off.

There is a strong emphasis on road trimmings to create safer roads and slowing down traffic to, on some city streets, 30 kph. We believe there is not enough focus on driver behaviour and distractions, which are the main causes of accidents.

Changing driver behaviour is a long-term game and relies on an in-depth look at what’s going wrong on the roads, licencing, and ongoing driver education.

It would be good to start with really robust crash data including the factors that caused the crash and attribution of liability. Statistics for crashes need to be set out in real terms, that take into account population growth, and light and heavy vehicle number growth, otherwise a proportionate understanding of accident rates will be unable to be reached. Cross comparisons are fraught with risk. They are imprecise as different jurisdictions have different contextual characteristics for example, Australia’s straight road compared to New Zealand’s with a bend or bridge every couple of kilometres. We need to focus on our situation, not try and mold the statistics to match another country.

The Government has become obsessed with speed, or should I say the lack of it. Rather than improving road surfaces, it prefers to slow traffic down to sometimes ridiculous speeds, like 30kph. They will not drive cars off the roads this way – New Zealanders love their cars and outside major cities, need them to get around. They may drive perverse behaviour borne from frustration though. Try driving 30 kph around Auckland without someone seriously tailgating you.

Greg Murphy is right, it’s time to turn attention to the drivers.

Professional truck drivers are held to a higher account than other drivers in that their compliance and enforcement history can result in job loss and prohibition from driving heavy vehicles. There are three pieces of legislation covering their work. There have been massive improvements in performance and safety systems in modern trucks.

Yet truck drivers are out on the road every day with people who aren’t held to account until it is too late. They face the ultimate accountability when they look up from their phone and see a truck bearing down on them because they are on the wrong side of the road. No matter how slow you make the traffic go, if a car hits a truck, the car comes off worse.

Dealing with driver behaviour and giving drivers the tools to drive themselves out of any trouble they might get into, must be top of the list if we want to get serious about reducing the road toll.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Telling our story

I have spent much of the past week talking to media about the impacts of Northport’s decision to berth the Constantinos P and offload 1340 containers bound for Auckland and further south.

Every story has two sides and my role is to ensure our industry is heard. There are two parts to this particular action – the complications of the berth itself and moving containers, and the impact on the road traffic between Auckland and Northport with more trucks on the road than normal at the busiest time of the year.

I’m not going to relitigate the port’s decision to berth the ship. The media clearly fixated on this being an action to save Christmas for retailers and shoppers. Suffice to say we don’t want a repeat without a lot more planning and communication, as well as consideration of the impact on moving logs, the port’s mainstay.

Trucking is an incredibly adaptable and flexible industry, as New Zealanders have seen in all emergency and disaster situations. Drivers turn up and move goods where they need to go. But the supply chain is under enormous pressure and the worst is yet to come.

While New Zealanders are known for their creative solutions, those also need to be well thought out, manageable, and not create new and additional problems.

The supply chain issues are putting tremendous strain on a number of businesses throughout New Zealand and with that comes crippling stress. While this kind of pressure can be sustainable for short bursts, when it is over a longer term there can be serious consequences for both human and economic health and wellbeing.

While much of New Zealand will be taking a break over the next few weeks, for many others this is the busiest and most stressful time of year. The days of New Zealand shutting down for Christmas are long gone, for business anyway.

Police, like truck drivers, will be out on the road in force. They, quite rightly, saw that the movement of containers from Northport to Auckland and further south had the potential to impact road safety. There were going to be a lot more trucks on the road, some of those roads not suitable for that volume of heavy traffic, at one of the busiest times of the year as people prepare for Christmas and go on holiday.

There has been a lot of publicity about the fact that the truck checks found some operators coming up short.

I can’t defend the indefensible. The road is our truck drivers’ workplace. They need to be safe at work and their employers, family and community want them to go home at the end of every shift alive and well.

I can point out that 11 of 534 trucks inspected were taken off the road. The majority of the trucks were road worthy and faults found were minor and fixable. Bald tyres, inadequate braking and drivers over their hours however, don’t help the trucking industry with its “social licence” to operate. That is, the support of those outside our industry for what we do.

The anti-trucking lobby constantly push to “take dangerous trucks off the road”. I reply to that by saying trucks on the road are not dangerous and if they are, the Police and Waka Kotahi will take the operator’s to task, as we have seen in Northland.

To give the public confidence in the trucking industry, everyone needs to be mindful of how they see us and how we are portrayed in the media.

I know our industry has a busy road ahead while much of New Zealand have their feet up at the beach, lake or river, with a cold beer in their hands.

Keep up the good work, stay safe out there, and be assured we are doing everything we can to look at the supply chain issues that will carry well into 2021.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

 

Truck drivers keeping your Christmas merry

As you plan for a well-deserved merry Christmas with lots of food, drink and gifts, spare a thought for the truck drivers who are under pressure to get you all those goods so you can enjoy your holidays.

Truck drivers have had a particularly challenging year. Like everyone, worldwide, Covid-19 has thrown them many curved balls. But truck drivers can be relied on in disasters, pandemics, floods, and all manner of bad weather, to get through and get the goods people need for their everyday life. Pretty much everything comes on the back of a truck at some stage; 93 percent of New Zealand’s freight in fact.

The lead up to Christmas and the summer holiday season add stress – not only are there more deliveries to make, there are people on the road who really shouldn’t be. Stressed, distracted, drunk, and/or drug impaired drivers seem to come out in droves at this time of year. The road is a truck driver’s work place and they share it with the general public who may not have the driving skills or desire to make that road a safe place.

The Road Transport Forum didn’t have a conference this year, or the opportunity to present the awards we normally do to those in the road freight transport industry who have excelled in some way. We hope to give awards at our 2021 conference in September – if Covid-19 allows.

We are right behind other initiatives to recognise the role truck drivers play not only in our economy, but also in keeping other people on the roads safe and sometimes, being heroes. We see and hear of many instances where drivers have gone out of their way to help someone else, or save lives. They are often first on the scene of an accident, which can be harrowing.

As it is for workers in many other industries, there is uneducated and unfair shade thrown at truck drivers. But without them, where would you be?

The Road Transport Forum is backing an initiative early next year – New Zealand Truck Driver Appreciation Week (22-28 February). This will be an opportunity to share stories about the good work truck drivers do and what it is like for them on the road. Remember during the New Zealand Government’s Covid-19 lockdown, while many citizens were enjoying life at home, truck drivers were out on the road without any public toilets open or places to get food, delivering to supermarkets, medical supplies, and other essential goods.

I was privileged to head to Invercargill earlier this month to attend the New Zealand Road Transport Hall of Fame event, which recognises outstanding contributions to the industry. Dates had been moved, to accommodate Covid-19 restrictions, but the event went ahead eventually and the first woman was inducted – Anita Dynes. A crucial part of the well-known family business, Anita is an iconic industry figure with interests in dairy, forestry and wine, in addition to road transport. The role of women in road freight transport is often overlooked, so even though it took until 2020, at least now that recognition is starting to come.

While the Mayor of Invercargill is experiencing some issues, there is no denying what a fantastic job he has done for his city. It might seem a long way away, but it’s worth the visit and the RTF will be holding our 2021 conference there on Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 September – and immediately following next year’s Hall of Fame.

Other Hall of Fame inductees were Graham Sheldrake, who as a tireless industry champion has assisted RTF with the launch of our industry traineeship Road to success; NZ Truck & Driver magazine (among other titles) publisher Trevor Woolston; RTF Board member and logging industry stalwart Warwick Wilshier; tyre industry legend Jim Black; and posthumously, Sir Jack Newman, who was instrumental in growing one of New Zealand’s largest road transport businesses, Newman Bros Ltd.

It’s good to reflect on the history of our industry as we plan for the many challenges ahead with a disrupted supply chain because of the pandemic; increasing scrutiny, rules and regulations; slow and poorly maintained roads; rapid changes in technology; and climate change and all its implications.

For a long time yet, New Zealand will rely on truck drivers to keep the economy moving and the home fires burning.

On a final note, I’d like to acknowledge that this is Mark Ngatuere’s last day at the RTF. He will be sorely missed by myself and our team here in Wellington, and I know by the wider industry. We wish him well in his travels and look forward to hopefully working with him again at some point.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

When no, means no

There are shades of outgoing US President Donald Trump’s behaviour in those behind the Vote Yes lobby to legalise recreational cannabis in New Zealand. Neither seem to be able to accept the outcome of democratic elections.

Sure, the cannabis referendum result was close, but the No vote won the majority of 50.7%. Most parties, including Labour which is now the majority party in Government, said prior to the election that they would consider the result of the referendum to be binding.

Some of the Yes lobby will try and relitigate the referendum result. They’ve already started the allegations of too much money on the other lobbying side, and misinformation. They might want to look in the mirror on some of that; just saying it doesn’t make it true.

We just know from our engagement – which didn’t cost anything and was not to tell people how to vote, but to suggest they be aware the legislation was not complete, medicinal cannabis was already legal, and there were unexplored, unintended consequences – how well-armed the Yes Vote lobby was with social media warriors. Much of the information they pushed was completely incorrect. And let’s just say, they weren’t kind.

The referendum result is a success for the RTF as we worked hard to ensure people were aware of some of those unintended consequences of legalising recreational cannabis, including the impact on road safety and the implications for workplaces. These were the concerns of those we represent.

We know New Zealand has a problem with cannabis use, but legalising it was not going to help those who have to manage workplace health and safety within pretty strict laws, or those drivers for whom the road is their workplace.

None of the policy work around the unintended consequences had been done before putting the Cannabis Legislation and Control Bill to the vote. That left too many unanswered questions. People like a bit of certainty around big decision making and it just wasn’t there with this Bill.

More deaths on our roads are caused by drug-drivers than purely drunk drivers. We think the first step to doing something about that is to give the Police powers and tools to roadside test drivers for drugs in their system.

We hope that one of the first pieces of legislation the new Government turns its attention to is the Land Transport (Drug Driving) Amendment Bill, which was introduced in July this year.

This new law will allow Police to test if drivers are under the influence of drugs, just as they do for alcohol. We will certainly support this Bill as it goes through the proper processes to become law, which were delayed by the election.

While our industry has strict protocols around drug and alcohol testing, we cannot account for the other road users that share the road with professional drivers. We rely on the Police to do that; we need them to have the right tools to keep the road safe.

For the record, the total number of votes received in the cannabis referendum was 2,908,071 – 1,406,973 Yes and 1,474,635 No. There were 26,463 votes where the voter has not clearly indicated the option for which they wished to vote.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Truck driver hero celebrated

It’s fair to say that 2020 has not been a great year for many people, with Covid-19 bringing fear, anxiety and lockdowns around the world.

So, it’s good to know there are some local heroes out there focused on good works and keeping us safe.

And after this annus horribilis, it was good to have something to celebrate last week when I presented the award for the Castrol Truck Driver Hero to Deane Rodgers at an event in Cromwell in the South Island (pictured above).

Each year, this award goes to a truck driver who has gone above and beyond during the course of their normal work day to help people and keep them safe, often at their own risk.

Summerland Express Freight driver Deane Rodgers is a deserving recipient of the award and it was great to spend the evening with him, his partner Karen, and the Summerland team who came to the event to support him.

Deane’s quick thinking prevented a potentially large fire, but put him at great risk at the same time.

Travelling through South Canterbury earlier this year, with a load of infant formula destined for Christchurch, Deane looked in his mirrors and saw his trailer on fire.

He looked around him at the tinder-dry fields of wheat crops and grass, noted the strong wind blowing, and thought it was too dangerous to pull over to the side of the road and risk a bigger fire.

He knew the Makikihi Country Hotel was about five kilometres ahead and it had space to park a flaming truck so he took the calculated risk and bravely drove there; risking his own life. He rung the fire brigade to meet him, ignored all the other road users trying to warn him, and made it to safety for all. Farmers in the area have thanked him for preventing what could have been a catastrophic fire.

Deane put others before himself and used his 33 years of experience driving trucks to pull off an incredibly risky manoeuvre. As a professional driver, he knew what was possible. It was a great pleasure to thank Deane in person for what he did.

We’re a bit biased at the Road Transport Forum in that we see the good work truck drivers do every day in keeping the supply chain well-oiled so New Zealanders get all the food and goods they need. We know they help out on the road wherever they can. And we’ve done some research that shows many New Zealanders agree with us that truck drivers are skilled, safety conscious, professional and considerate.

That’s good for us to hear, because there is strong anti-truck sentiment from the current Government that doesn’t seem to be evidence-based. We hope the next Government sees the value truck drivers bring to the all-important supply chain.

– Nick Leggett, CE, Road Transport Forum

Where’s the $1.4 billion for safer roads?

The new standing joke in the Road Transport Forum’s (RTF) office is that we will receive an email from Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) saying, “Dear Nick, we have reduced the speed limit across all State Highways in New Zealand to 80km.”

Of course, they wouldn’t be this direct because it would create massive outrage. Instead, it is happening by stealth, empowered by the politics of the Road to Zero policy which has been directed by Transport Associate Minister Julie Anne Genter.

The idea that you can lower speed limits and install rumble strips and median barriers as the way to improve safety, in lieu of safe new roads, was always fanciful. However, there has been an effective delivery of lower speed limits in an incremental way across the nation. We have pushed back, along with National Road Carriers, NZ Trucking and Road Transport Association NZ. Slowing road transport down will slow the economy down, and we can least afford that at this point in our Covid-19 battered economy.

So, on the install side, how is NZTA going? In December 2018 a $1.4 billion Safe Network Programme for New Zealand’s highest risk roads was announced by Ministers Phil Twyford and Julie Anne Genter.

The Safe Network Programme was going to make 870 kilometres of high volume, high-risk State Highways safer by 2021 with improvements like median and side barriers, rumble strips, and shoulder widening.

The programme was going target an estimated $600 to $700 million of state highway safety improvements and $700 to $800 million of local road safety improvements. Once complete, the improvements were expected to prevent 160 deaths and serious injuries every year.

Two years later, do you think we are able to find out what money has been spent and where? Have we seen a corresponding reduction in deaths as a result of what has been spent to date?

This was a big-ticket announcement and it was heralded as being the major part of the Government’s roading agenda. We have not been able to find evidence the money has been spent and nor can we find a project report, or overview.

However, we have been able to find evidence on the state of our roads. Many industry members give industry associations regular feedback. We see the physical signs of poor-quality roads all over the country. We see the huge 55% growth in maintenance and repair costs for intercity fleets between 2015-2019 – as per the Waikato University operator comparison report. And then we also stumble across NZTA’s own self-assessment.

Their recently published National Pavement Condition Report showed that between 2008-09 and 2018-19, the volume of resurfacing work completed was 33 percent below NZTA’s own targets for the maintenance of a safe network. Over the same period, the volume of foundation replacement work was a whopping 50 percent below NZTA targets.

Since 2015, the proportion of the road network not meeting the minimum standard for skid resistance has more than doubled to over 500 lane kilometres, the average seal life remaining has reduced by 50 percent, and four out of five measures of roughness and rutting have got worse by an average of 14 percent.

Even for those that don’t fully understand the science behind road engineering, and I count myself in that category, these are extremely concerning figures.

It looks as though NZTA can’t deliver on a $1.4 billion new safety programme, that should be two-thirds completed by now. Worse, for our industry, they can’t deliver on basic road maintenance. That costs all motorists in terms of wear and tear – and safety.

When we write to brief the incoming Minister of Transport about industry issues in a month’s time, NZTA performance on roads will be a key issue that we raise. Be assured, we will continue to raise it until road transport operators start to see the positive impact of the additional funds that have apparently been directed into road maintenance in the last couple of years.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Rail not the great hope for safer roads

It was interesting to see the Government’s response to our recent request to spend some of the “shovel ready” Covid-19 cash on urgent road repairs for unsafe roads was to promote rail for moving freight.

Together with the Automobile Association, Association of Consultants and Engineers, Civil Contractors NZ, Employers and Manufacturers Association, and Infrastructure NZ, the RTF has written to Ministers and spoken with their representatives about the dire state of New Zealand roads. This has generated plenty of media and public debate this week, with the six organisations representing a broad range of interests, including private car users.

Speaking to RNZ, Transport Minister Phil Twyford said: “Our record investments in rail will help take pressure off our roads by moving more freight to rail. It’s going to take more than a few years to undo a decade of neglect.”

In the same RNZ piece he said the government agreed there had been underinvestment for a decade prior to 2017 so had increased highway maintenance spending on average by 36 percent. If re-elected, I would up that another 17 percent.

Yet early in the first-term of this Labour-led coalition government he said: “there has been an over-investment in roads and motorways for decades in this country”.

We hope the increased spending promise means he’s had a change of heart from his earlier views. The six organisations that have asked for urgent road repairs have all been hearing from our members what damages and costs they are incurring because of sub-standard and unsafe road surfaces.

The pro-rail brigade actually believes that in a long, skinny country with 93,000 kms of road and 4,000 kms of rail tracks, that rail can make a dent in the effectiveness, convenience and efficiency of road freight. This is despite all evidence to the contrary. Even in European countries with vast and efficient railways, freight movers pick road over rail.

In New Zealand, the National Freight Demand Study, commissioned by the Ministry of Transport and released in October 2019, showed that freight delivered by road was 93% of the freight task, up 16% since 2012, while rail was 5.6% of the freight task, down 17% since 2012.

It is also interesting to note, again from Ministry of Transport data, the tonnage of dairy being transported on the rail network has dropped from about 3.9 million tonnes in 2013 to 2.3 million tonnes at the beginning of this year.

Ultimately, the market will decide which is the best mode for transporting their goods. Road offers door-to-door delivery, even in the remote parts of the country; is more resilient in weather events, natural disasters, and Covid-19; and is reliable for time-sensitive perishable goods.

Only 3-7 percent of the road freight task is contestable by rail. Conversely, most rail freight is contestable by road, except maybe coal transport across the Southern Alps – trains are good for that because of the weight of the coal.

Roads are the lifeblood of the economy. All road users pay for them and we all benefit from them.

Over $2 billion in taxes (petrol tax and road user charges) is collected each year for the National Land Transport Fund to fund roads. But this is now being used to fund modes of transport that make no contribution. This cross-subsidisation is at the expense of roads and hits consumers in the back pocket.

The truth is that we don’t need rail, or public transport, over roads. We need a good balance of all three. RTF supports public transport and rail, particularly rail for public transport.

What we have an issue with is the defunding of roads for pet projects in rail that cannot provide a viable return on investment, or the efficiency, effectiveness, reliability and cost benefits of road freight.

The Government is slowing down the economy by not spending on roads. Slowing down movement of goods, particularly essentials such as food and medicines, impacts on the cost of living for all New Zealanders. Every delay in delivery costs someone.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

The road out of this mess

How do we get out of this mess? Billions of dollars have been spent by the New Zealand Government on Covid-19. That cannot go on for the years it might take to either have a viable vaccine, or to learn to live with this and other epidemics.

We’ve heard a lot from the Government about investing in infrastructure to boost the economy and getting started on “shovel ready” projects to counter rapidly increasing unemployment and financial pain. Big announcements need to be backed by delivery.

The visual that comes with the term “shovel ready” is people behind shovels building something. The reality seems to be a bit of a stretch from that – projects have to go through all the consenting processes and there have to be skilled people behind those shovels. With a closed border, getting workers is an issue.

Together with five like-minded organisations with an interest in the state of New Zealand’s roads, we wrote to Government Ministers and suggested they could add road maintenance projects to the “shovel ready” list. The advantages of these projects are that they can start immediately; provide value for money; enable job creation; and offer scalability, geographic coverage, and year-round work.

All the organisations have been hearing from our members that the poor conditions on New Zealand roads are becoming a greater cost. It’s not only a cost to businesses, but also to road safety. People die on unsafe roads.

The road maintenance programme over the past decade can be characterised by under-investment and declining levels of service on both the state highway network and local roads. The decrease in spending has meant that the volume of resurfacing and foundation replacement work has been significantly below the targets Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency sets for network sustainability. Foundation replacements were 50 percent below target for the period.

A study conducted by Waikato University this year for the RTF, showed transport operators have had a 55 percent increase in their repairs and maintenance costs between 2015 and 2020. This is largely due to poor road conditions causing damage to trucks. Interestingly, trucking operators have had a five percent increase in road user charges (RUCs) in eight of the past 10 years. Essentially, they keep paying more, but getting less value from roads.

At a meeting this week, Ministers’ representatives told our group – which includes Civil Contractors New Zealand, EMA, Infrastructure New Zealand, AA, and the Association of Consulting and Engineering – that there had been a 36 percent increase in road maintenance over two years. But that is not what road users are seeing. We are talking about road surface conditions, not the barriers and other trimmings that have been put in place in the name of safety.

Based on road maintenance cost and outputs data for recent years, we estimate that an additional $300 million per annum will be required for the next three years to return the network to an appropriate standard.

Our plea to have the ready shovels applied to road maintenance fell on deaf ears. This is despite there being an unprecedented length of the road network currently operating in a sub-standard condition.

We have also been told to wait for the release of the draft Government Policy Statement (GPS) on Land Transport. The RTF submitted on this and said: The 2021 GPS policy was written for a more settled economic climate and we wonder how much of it will continue to be valid within the foreseeable future.

Covid-19 has changed the shape of things and Government Ministers and their policy-makers need to be re-thinking how and where money is spent to deliver infrastructure projects, based on sound economic principles, that will enable economic recovery.

This might require agility governments are not known for. But there is too much at stake here to get this wrong. Roads have played a critical role in the response to Covid-19, getting essential goods moved around the country. Roads will continue to be the base of economic growth for years to come, getting exports to ports and airports to earn money for New Zealand, and moving New Zealanders to and from work. Road spending needs to be commensurate with the task.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum