Rail plan robs Peter to pay Paul

The Government’s new plan to fund rail from the money we pay for roads is robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Yesterday, with much fanfare, the Government released The New Zealand Rail Plan. The original plan was to release the document in August 2020, according to the Cabinet paper released with it, and:

“The Rail Plan does not provide a definitive list of investments for rail over the next decade, nor does it provide a funding commitment for all of the projects outlined. However, it does send a strong signal of the Government’s commitment to rail over the next decade, and the investments needed to achieve a resilient and reliable rail network,” the Cabinet paper said.

Essentially, it’s a plan to have a plan, to make rail a contender for a greater share of the freight task and bump trucks off the road. It totally misses the mark of what is happening in freight movement globally.

Freight is customer driven. The customer gets to choose the best way to have their goods delivered. The Government cannot direct the movement of freight just because it wants to.

There is a new population cohort – let’s say under 40 years of age – that has their life delivered to their door. They shop almost exclusively online. They want door-to-door delivery, as fast as possible. Rail cannot deliver that; trucks can.

Currently, 93 percent of the total tonnes of freight moved in New Zealand is moved by road. That is projected to grow, given increased customer demands.

The Ministry of Transport’s National Freight Demand Study 2017/18 shows demand for road freight increased by 16%, while demand for rail freight declined by 17%. This is because the advantages of road over rail are many.

But the Government will now take the money road users pay into the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) – in road user charges and petrol excise duty – to further subsidise its own KiwiRail, with some fantastical notion that rail can take a considerable amount of freight off roads.

We think the user-pays model means the money collected for roads should go to fixing dangerous roads and building some new ones – this will benefit the economy. Vast sums of that money shouldn’t be thrown into rail with no real plan, no real cost benefit analysis, and just an ideological fixation that rail must be best.

In its announcement yesterday, the Government said it would implement track user charges (like road user charges) to add a contribution from rail to the NLTF. There were no details on how much track user charges would generate, or how they would work.

We think if there are any track user charges, they will be a drop in the bucket to meet the rail programme spend.

We fully support spending money on passenger rail in Auckland and Wellington. If public transport is affordable and reliable, it allows commuters to move about without using their cars, which we hope reduces congestion on roads.

We don’t support pouring billions more dollars into rail freight when it may only shift about one percent of the freight task from road.

The Government likes to reference rail’s environmental benefits over road, but these are simply illusionary, as any level of success for rail transport is entirely dependent on truck transport. A truck has to deliver to and/or from the train to the end destination. 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.

There are some 93,000 kms of road in New Zealand, about 10 percent of which are state highways, and only about 4,000 kms of rail track. The split isn’t going to change significantly and freight customers will continue to make business-based choices.

We do not support heavy-handed State intervention to counter market choices and potentially put hard working New Zealander trucking operators out of business.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Team work makes the dream work

Collaboration is a bit of a buzz word, bandied around all too frequently. But I want to tell you a story about genuine collaboration between our industry and government.

Yesterday, we launched our Te ara ki tua Road to success industry traineeship in Auckland. We were fortunate to be joined by Social Development and Employment Minister Carmel Sepuloni and Transport and Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood, who both spoke about how great it was to see the various parts of government they are responsible for coming together to get a traineeship off the ground in an industry they support and see value in.

This traineeship is about providing a career path for people who want to work in road freight transport – as drivers primarily – but also in the other skilled roles the industry offers. Truck driving is a challenging and varied job, with lots of skills required. The contribution a good truck driver makes to a business and to the wider New Zealand economy and wellbeing is immense, as we saw during the Covid-19 lockdowns as trucks kept rolling while most of us were safe at home.

There is often a view that young people need to change to fit something. We are taking the opposite view. The industry must change to fit the desires of a modern workforce. That means qualifications, structure, on-the-job training, and license progression, as we are very short of Class 5 drivers. The challenge is that many businesses don’t have anything other than Class 5 vehicles, so it is harder to train, but not impossible if people work together. I wish to emphasise that it is very much about the industry taking the lead and finding solutions to its own challenges.

But we have needed help to do that. We have known for a long time there was a truck driver shortage and with increased demand for road freight and an ageing workforce, we need to focus on training the next generations to come and keeping them engaged and excited about the industry.

Sometimes, when you go to the government for help, it can be a demoralising experience. But not in the case of this traineeship. We were able to work across different parts of government and get everyone on the same page and enthusiastic about the opportunities this traineeship will offer.

And we were able to do it in a year – the year that the world stood still to combat Covid-19.

The Tertiary Education Commission and MITO have enabled us to offer industry specific micro-credentials for trainees to get formal qualifications. Training is a mix of practical and theoretical components. MITO have also waived fees for the micro-credentials – which are completed on line – until 31 December 2021.

The industry partnerships team at the Ministry of Social Development (MSD)  have been hugely influential in assisting the RTF through this process, along with their Kiwi Can Do team who get people work-ready. We will continue working with MSD to place registered job seekers and those affected by Covid-19 job losses in traineeships with road transport operators.

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency have shown a strong interest in the programme and support for our concept of training drivers to be better and safer on the road. That is a goal we share.

On the other side, we need industry to take up what we are offering them – motivated workers keen to get out there on the road and keep delivering for New Zealand.

Showing tremendous leadership, Chris Carr and the Carr & Haslam team are in step with us. They have taken on three trainees via MSD – all who went through the Kiwi Can Do programme.  Betty Heremaia Sola, Liana Manu and Shaun Tomai are able to work and earn money while they go about their training, and they are already valued by Carr & Haslam.

Carr & Haslam hosted the launch event yesterday with Ministers, government officials, industry and media all attending, and as the final speaker, Chris Carr threw down the gauntlet to other transport operators to follow his example.

You can find out more about the traineeship at www.roadtosuccess.nz and please don’t hesitate to contact us to register your interest.

In the photo above, from left to right: Chris Carr, Hon. Michael Wood, Betty Heremaia Sola, Hon. Carmel Sepuloni, Shaun Tomai, Liana Manu, Nick Leggett, Greg Pert.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Time to ditch emergency powers and get back to normal

This week, the Road Transport Forum (RTF) appeared before a Parliamentary Select Committee to talk about immigration.

The Government wants to extend for another two years its emergency immigration law – the Immigration (Covid-19 Response) Amendment Bill – put in place in May 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic for one year.

There are a number of reasons the RTF is uncomfortable with this, which we have outlined in our written submission and which we spoke to in person at Parliament.

We have been contacted by employers whose good, hard-working employees have been put into immigration limbo because of the emergency powers in this Bill.

Our industry is not a big employer of casual migrant workers. We are doing everything to employ New Zealanders, including developing our own industry driver traineeship – which we will formally launch in Auckland next week. But we do employ people from other countries who are settled in the community, are valued by their employers who want to keep them here, and before Covid-19 struck, were on their path to New Zealand residency.

Since this Bill was put in place, their immigration status has been uncertain. We believe they will be put under further stress and duress for too long if these emergency powers are extended a further two years. They have been told by Immigration New Zealand they will have to give up their jobs in our industry and get different jobs if they want to progress with residency applications.

That is really concerning, because their employers cannot get other people to do these jobs that require specific training and skills. Some of these people have been here several years and the stress and uncertainty are taking a toll.

Underlying our concerns about individuals impacted by these emergency powers is a deep concern about the message conveyed by extending this Bill.

Emergency powers are only ever intended to be temporary – for the eye of the crisis, as it were. They extend broad sweeping powers to the hands of just a few politicians and they are beyond scrutiny.

The RTF contends that three years – the original year this Bill was put in place for, plus the two year extension – cannot be considered “temporary”. It’s the length of a full Parliamentary term.

We believe the landscape is very different to 12 months ago and the time for emergency powers has passed. New Zealand needs to be very clear about its Covid-19 recovery strategy and vaccine rollout. We are still somewhat in the dark on both.

While emergency powers are in place, we believe there should be ongoing policy development to be ready for when the sunset clause comes up – in this Bill, May 2021. We hope that has been happening, but again, the problem with emergency powers is no transparency. As the Bill is tagged “temporary”, it is not subject to the same level of scrutiny as normal legislation. There is no regulatory impact statement, no consultation with external stakeholders, no consideration of unintended consequences, and no economic assessment.

Decision making without a strong evidence base, for a long period of time, is a concern. As is a handful of people in power being able to make decisions without scrutiny, or question.

We weren’t the only submitters this week calling for more openness and transparency – the very things emergency powers exclude.

We also weren’t the only ones saying a two year extension to this Bill is too long. We believe six months should be enough to knock into shape the policy development we presume has been underway since May 2020, to inform permanent changes that will fix existing immigration laws.

Given that temporary can extend to three years, we want to know what guarantees there will be in place to ensure this Bill is not extended again.

We want to see a move back to normality, rather than fostering fear and exclusion for years to come.

We are uncomfortable with a Government that wants to pull up the drawbridge, fill the moat, and shut out the world while governing under emergency powers until the end of their term.

– 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

Slow driving not the safety solution

Truck drivers see it all out on the road every day. They see things they can prevent with quick action, or help with if they get there on time, but they also arrive first at accident scenes that leaving scarring memories.

Driving in New Zealand is a dangerous pastime, as last weekend’s Easter road toll once again illustrated. Eight fatal crashes over the four days. The worst tally for that particular holiday period in a decade.

The government can call for zero road deaths all they want, but from what we see every day, they aren’t going about the solutions the best way possible.

They are fixated on speed and the roading “system”. But people use the roads – on foot, on bikes and scooters, and in cars and trucks of all varieties. While our truck drivers have plenty to say about the roading system, it’s people’s behaviour on the roads and lack of skills to get themselves out of trouble that cause the nightmares.

If we were to fixate on the “system”, roads in many parts of the country are so poor, the only systems-based solution is to have traffic practically crawling. We have now got so many different road speeds in one journey you can be asked to travel at 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 and 100kph. Anyone driving in Wellington and Auckland will attest to the new 30kph speed limit barely registering with drivers. You could walk faster; but that of course, is what they want.

This week, on RNZ Morning Report the New Zealand Automobile Association called for road maintenance to be a government priority, in light of the appalling Easter road toll. New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom said in an article on Stuff that Taranaki’s roads are reaching a crisis point. In the NZ Herald, AA Northland District Council chairwoman Tracey Rissetto showed a journalist how Northland’s roads are crumbling – the photos with this article say it all.

I guess if the Government were going to really focus on the “system”, they’ve got plenty of work to do. We all pay for those roads and we expect them to be in good condition and safe. That is a very different prospect to reducing speed limits all over the land in the hope that if people are going really slowly on those appalling roads when they crash, they won’t die.

At a time when our supply chain is almost broken and our economy needs goods to be flowing freely, slowing everyone down on the road slows the economy down. Journeys cost more. Productivity takes a hit. Costs get passed on down the line to householders. Households spend less money. And round and round it goes in ever smaller circles.

We are well aware you can’t fix stupid. People will get into cars and do stupid things, or walk on highways drunk, or step out under fast moving vehicles, or any manner of foolhardy actions. They will also drive when they are drunk, or on drugs, or both, and when they are tired and distracted and on their phone. The “system” isn’t going to stop that.

What we, and others including New Zealand professional racing car driver Greg Murphy, believe is that you can certainly help stupid. It is well recognised that it is a lot easier to get a driver licence in New Zealand than many other countries. It’s just a piece of paper really.

With that licence needs to come some skills training. New Zealand roads are challenging and you can easily get into trouble driving. But what if you were also taught how to get out of that trouble, like the racing car drivers do? Wouldn’t that make for safer driving?

We believe it would. The road toll statistics aren’t improving. So, let’s take a holistic view of both the system and the people who use it, instead of taking step-by-step to alienate the users in cars and trucks.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

It’s time for realism in the climate change response

The Road Transport Forum wants to inject some realism into the climate change debate with our response to the He Pou a Rangi, Climate Change Commission (CCC) 2021 draft advice for consultation.

We are in agreement with the broad mandate of the CCC, and our industry is committed to the decarbonisation journey that New Zealand must embark on to meet our climate change obligations under the Paris Agreement. 

We’ve said that to get to where we need to however, that instead of setting arbitrary timelines and showing early favouritism towards electric vehicles as the number one solution, we need to pause and look at how this would all work and who would be most affected in the pocket.

You can’t paint a picture of a future that doesn’t exist yet that isn’t just fantasy.

There is currently:

  • no proven fossil-fuel alternative fuel source to power heavy trucks in a New Zealand context, available in a reliable and affordable form;
  • no infrastructure in place to support any alternative fossil-fuel source to power heavy trucks; and
  • no commercially available heavy trucks using alternatives to fossil-fuels, at scale, to replace the current heavy truck fleet used to keep the New Zealand economy moving.

We believe that any policy settings should be framed around there being viable, safe, affordable, widely available alternatives to what is being phased out.

We want to be cautious about “greenwashing”; that is, promoting alternatives to fossil fuels based on ideology, rather than a real pros and cons assessment of whether or not we are replacing like-for-like and what the impacts will be on people, not just the environment.

There has been widespread research on, and media coverage of, the exploitation of population groups (especially children) involved in producing the raw materials for the batteries to run electric vehicles (EVs).

Similar situations arose with introduction of biofuels where equatorial populations were disenfranchised off their land so the biofuel advocates could take it grow the raw biofuel feed stock products.

One of the few places capable of extracting the valuable minerals from end-of-life EV batteries is in Belgium at a facility that relies on nuclear power.

And we don’t want to see those who can least afford it being the ones wearing the cost of rapid change in New Zealand.

The climate change debate seems to be slanted in favour of the middle class, educated people, living in built up cities, who can bike or walk to work. These are people whose direct livelihoods are less reliant on a strong economy. It’s people in rural and provincial areas and city suburbs who will be constrained in their ability to move around, get to work, and earn a living.

For the trucking industry, a rush to EVs could mean reduced payloads and consequently, higher costs for moving freight. Less freight would be able to be loaded on the truck because a lot of the allowable weight to carry would be in the battery.

The idea should be to get more freight on the trucks so there is less truck traffic on the road; not require more trucks because they can’t carry the freight because of the weight of the battery. That just isn’t efficient for freight movement, and it forces greater capital costs on transport operators that will ultimately be borne by the consumer, not to mention greater congestion from more trucks on the road.

Road freight transport plays a significant role in the New Zealand economy, with pretty much everything in your life spending time on the back of a truck at some point. If you make that movement of freight hard, you’ve got a massive economic problem affecting people’s businesses, jobs and ability to earn a living.

We aren’t the only ones calling for a more thorough look at unintended consequences of the CCC’s advice. This week major power companies cautioned that a rush to renewable energy will drive up prices and increase overall carbon emissions.

It was also reported that natural gas provider First Gas’s proposals to start blending hydrogen into its supply and then fully switch gases by 2050 comes with a multi-billion dollar price tag and requires an unprecedented increase in renewable electricity generation and a thirst for water.

And Toyota New Zealand’s chief executive Neeraj Lala said in an opinion piece in the NZ Herald:

“In its quest for zero carbon emissions, the Climate Change Commission’s proposed ban on petrol and diesel cars by 2035 ignores the reality that EVs will be in short supply for years to come and EVs do not offer the versatility that Kiwi drivers have come to rely on. 

“EVs are not the versatile ferry-the-kids, tow-the-boat, carry-the-tools SUV or ute that Kiwi drivers love and use every day. Unfortunately, EVs can’t do everything yet. They are essentially small passenger cars, as were hybrids 25 years ago.”

We believe action can be taken now to reduce transport emissions while keeping a broad perspective about what energy source, or sources, would be best placed to run the transport fleet, including heavy trucks, in New Zealand.

We don’t want to see a rush into something that could do more damage than good along the way.

The RTF’s response to the Climate Change Commission is available here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Animal welfare front of mind for trucking industry

Live animals trapped in a truck for six hours in Auckland’s summer heat is not acceptable in anyone’s view. Sadly, this is what happened in the most recent Covid-19 Level 3 lockdown when the road border crossing could only be described as a shemozzle.

This highlighted a number of things for the Road Transport Forum (RTF), and the livestock transport companies we represent.

Firstly, we cannot understand how one year on from Covid-19 becoming a global pandemic, the government still can’t organise an efficient lockdown road border. It should be playbook by now.

As a consequence of all the people going into Auckland at the start of the Level 3 lockdown being stopped and questioned, traffic built up south of the Bombay Hills for many hours. No one can understand why people were being stopped going into Auckland when they had a. been told to go home and b. would be unlikely to want to go into a Level 3 lockdown if they could stay outside that zone.

Any situation where animals are trapped on a truck creates problems for the driver. They are covered by a number of laws, rules and regulations; more so than many other truck drivers who carry freight that is not alive and/or perishable. This is as it should be and New Zealanders care passionately about animal welfare.

The Auckland border delays caused considerable stress for drivers and animals and the RTF believes this should not be allowed to happen again, ever.

Stress for drivers comes not only from seeing animals suffer, but also in trying to be compliant with all the rules and regulations that cover the transporting of animals.

The things drivers need to consider are:

  • The animals’ health and welfare – they should not be hurt in any way during transport and should have adequate air, food and water, and rest (if needed)
  • Disposal of effluent from the animals going to the toilet on the truck – there are tanks on the trucks and places to take care of emptying those tanks, but not if you are stuck in traffic for six hours
  • Driver health and safety – drivers are only allowed to work a certain number of hours to ensure road safety standards are maintained, but if they bust those hours when they are sitting in a truck in traffic they can’t just walk away and leave the animals. In the Auckland border situation, there was no way to get relief drivers to sub-out those stuck in trucks.

Of course, the truck must be in a road worthy condition and meet the legal requirements for carrying stock.

The truck driver is just one part of the chain of responsibility for ensuring animal welfare. The animal’s welfare journey starts on the farm, and if they are sold, then through the sales chain which may include going to sale yards to be sold.

Truck drivers are to some degree, the meat in the sandwich. They are not farmers, livestock sales people, or vets, yet they are held to very high standards regarding the condition of the animals they transport. When they are asked to do a job, they go and pick up the animals and take them to where they are meant to go.

There are a lot of checks for the truck drivers to ensure the animals they are taking on the truck are in good condition when they start the journey. But there are also a lot of situations where they rely on the farmer, or whoever is transporting the stock, to ensure that eg. if loading happens when it is dark, or the animal has a condition that is not visible and would only be picked up by a farmer/vet.

This is one area of the supply chain the RTF is turning its resources to as we want to ensure all parts take responsibility and it is not transport operators alone who wear the costs if it fails. Unfortunately, it is usually the truck driver or operator who is fined, but so often it can be for actions that were beyond their control.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

A realistic look at decarbonising road freight

The ongoing discussions and debate around the world’s climate “emergency” will not abate. As a result, you will continue to hear from me on this topic through this blog and I won’t apologise for that. Road Transport Forum will release its response to the Climate Change Commission’s Draft Advice for Consultation once it is submitted. Unsurprisingly, we have a lot to say; when do we not?

New Zealand’s transport industry must confront the need to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades. How fast we can do that, will be almost entirely dependent on the research and development that goes into alternative fuel sources that can be used to power heavy transport in the New Zealand market. It’s going to require significant incentives from Government, willing industry customers, and reliable technology that will allow us to shift our transport movements to low or no emission options.

Before we consider New Zealand’s position and response to climate change, we have looked to see what international transport industries are telling us. Bigger markets have more money for research and development.

A very useful Deloitte study – Decarbonizing road freight: Getting into gear –  commissioned by Shell in Europe, looks at the challenges faced by heavy transport. Globally, the sector accounts for about 9% of Co2 emissions – here in New Zealand, we estimate it is around 6%. Demand for goods delivered by road transport is likely to steeply increase (by over 50% by 2050) over the coming decades but to be able to meet the targets set out in the Paris Agreement, absolute emissions from road freight will need to decline almost 60% by that date.

The Deloitte report shows that insufficient regulatory incentives, a lack of infrastructure, and the lack of a willingness from customers to incentivise lower-emission road freight, are significant impediments to progress. Sound familiar?

Once incentives are there for transport operators, and the technology is also in place, asset replacement to that technology will have to occur. This is going to take time – probably well over a decade once we get to a point where there is confidence to make the shift. Decisions will have to be made now about when to replace current vehicles and whether to extend truck lifespans to avoid risk of resale loss.

The advice from international firms is that operators should experiment, pilot alternative energy vehicles, and not wait for the perfect solution. It’s positive to see transport operators beginning to dip their toes into the water of fossil-fuel alternatives in New Zealand, but it is early days and they still need to have a reliable fleet moving their customers’ products.

Industry is clearly beginning to take up transition technologies such as bio-fuel, “to reduce the tailpipe emission profile of today’s trucks”. This is a pragmatic choice for operators who recognise that these are better than nothing and that it is all many of them have to practically reduce emissions. It’s likely that with the recent New Zealand Government mandate on biofuels, our own operators who own the right kinds of vehicles, will likely be responding in a similar way.

There is a strong belief by the international transport workforce that the decarbonisation agenda is an important one for their firms to be part of. 70% of respondents to a survey for the Deloitte report believed that decarbonisation should be in their firms top three focus areas.

The report notes that reducing emissions is a global effort and we have to learn from others. Never is that truer than in a small market at the bottom of the planet, such as New Zealand. That isn’t a defeatist statement; merely realistic. RTF will attempt to inject realism into these discussions as they relate to the transport operators we represent.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum  

We want to see Transmission Gully built properly

Transmission Gully and I go back a long way. I have been quite vocal about my concerns with the project over recent times.

When I was Mayor of Porirua, a city which has a lot of skin in the game, I negotiated an agreement to secure vital link roads between the city and the gully and watched the project kick off. Now, as the chief executive of the Road Transport Forum, I see the importance of the route from our industry’s perspective. Transmission Gully will aid the movement of freight by road and is long overdue. Truck drivers will find it easier to access the inter-island ferries and distribution hubs in the area, travel times should reduce and there will be less risk of the Wellington region being cut off in storms and other emergencies.

When I visited the road in December 2020, I was impressed and excited that an end is in sight – the road is to be finished by September this year.

So it was disappointing to get a call last week and be told that plans for a merging lane extension where Transmission Gully meets State Highway 1 at Linden have been shelved by Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency (NZTA). We all know that the pinch points on highways are where old roads meet new. The problem at Linden was identified before the project even commenced, and to be fair to NZTA, they have inherited the issue because the Regional Land Transport Committee at the time refused to take the appropriate action, which would have been a whole new lane for several kilometres on the existing highway.

At a cost of $1.25 billion, about 50 percent higher than its original $850 million budget, it seems ridiculous to not add vital pieces now, especially when you know you are going to have a problem. So much money is being spent, surely getting it right is the priority at this stage. What is the point of spending all that money if the road doesn’t ease the congestion that has been crippling this vital route into Wellington? If it is a question of not doing the works because it will delay opening the road, well there have been so many delays thus far, wouldn’t it be better to just finally, do it right?

The ultimate disappointment will be if Transmission Gully makes no difference to the congestion this growing region has been experiencing for years. Or if it just shifts the bottlenecks. 

Without this merging lane extension at Linden, it is expected traffic will be pushed back at both ends causing backlogs in Kāpiti and Tawa.

As I said in media last week, the shelved extension was already the “band-aid option” for traffic problems. Now, they’re not even going with the band-aid, they’re just letting it bleed.

Apparently, NZTA couldn’t find anyone to do the work at the time they wanted – during night hours. This seems to be one of the big issues of our closed border and increasingly restrictive immigration settings. 

This latest setback also shows there is a fundamental problem about the way infrastructure is done in this country. It is not future-proofed, rather there is a “suck it and see” method, doing just enough rather than factoring in future need and capacity.   

NZTA apparently wants to play “wait and see” with this merging lane extension. Wait and see if it causes any problems and maybe, if it does, the work could still go ahead in the future. I back AA, who have said that the budget set aside for this work needs to be ringfenced so it can be called upon urgently if (when) it is needed.

That begs the questions: Will Transmission Gully be completed by September 2021, or will Transmission Gully-light be what’s in place, with vital add-ons to come if there is the money and the people to complete them?

– 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