Time to show truck drivers some appreciation

This week we have seen once again, the contribution truck drivers make to New Zealand.

Through natural disasters, pandemics, Covid-19 level changes and lockdowns, and all weathers, truck drivers keep delivering the essentials New Zealanders need to live on a daily basis.

As with the Level 3 lockdown of Auckland in August last year, this week’s move to Level 3 in Auckland again presented many challenges for trucking operators and their drivers with lengthy delays at some road blocks. The photo above shows the south bound traffic, between Pokeno and Mercer on Monday evening.

So it seems particularly timely that next week is National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, from 22 to 28 February. The theme is: truck drivers deliver.

As we are close to entering year two of Covid-19 restrictions, including the New Zealand border remaining closed indefinitely, it is fair to say, on-time delivery is a moving feast. The supply chain is stretched so tight we all have our fingers crossed it won’t break completely.

While road blocks on Auckland’s borders present an inconvenience for people in cars, for truck drivers the impacts are significant. If they are stuck in traffic for two to three hours, as has happened this week, that can be detrimental, or even dangerous, to their cargo, for example, live animals or perishable goods. Animal welfare is a major concern and goods that spoil unnecessarily cost everyone. These delays can also push the driver over the legal hours they are allowed to work, which has safety implications. But they can’t just walk out of the line of traffic and abandon their load.

Police have told us trucking operators should be prepared to adjust on time delivery this week. With all due respect, even our industry’s master logistics planners are challenged when large numbers of Aucklanders ignore the parameters of the alert level and try and get in our out of the area when they are patently, not allowed. On Monday it was reported that the Police estimated 25 percent of those who queued at the Mercer border road block were “unnecessary travellers”. That one-in-four caused mayhem for the others around them.

After the lengthy delays at road blocks in Auckland’s Level 3 last year, the Road Transport Forum asked government officials if things could be learned from that, so that improvements could be made for the inevitable next lockdown.

Sadly, we didn’t see any evidence of that this week. There were times when it actually seemed worse. But truck drivers did what they always do, and just got on with the job as best they could. That is not to say there have not been costs associated with this lockdown and negative impacts on businesses, but that’s another story.

It is important that truck drivers get the credit they deserve and there are a number of events being organised around New Zealand next week to do that. We would like to thank NZ Truck & Drivermagazine for organising and promoting the week and you can find out more about it here.

If you are out and about next week, alert levels permitting, give a truck driver a wave of appreciation.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Caution needed on climate change policy for heavy transport

Many of us are taking time to digest the Climate Change Commission’s draft report that was released almost two weeks ago.

The report lays out our nation’s challenges clearly – we all agree with the absolute need to reduce our emissions over the next few decades. The commission should be congratulated for holding to its clarity and purpose.

For the heavy transport industry however, things aren’t that clear. Our industry cannot accept the development of policy on a wing and a prayer. We can’t proceed into a future where the technology that powers our vehicles is imagined, rather than real. Policy should be about the possible, not the probable and frankly, too much is unknown about the kinds of future energy that will power heavy vehicles.

I was pleased the commission acknowledged that the vast majority of the freight task will remain on the road. Road currently has 93 percent of the freight task in New Zealand because it meets the challenges of our particular market.

The path the commission has recommended includes a modal shift of freight from road to rail and coastal shipping. However, their assumptions are that around only four percent of freight tonne kilometres can switch by 2030. That is a far more realistic position than what we hear from many political commentators and anti-road lobbyists and is backed up by the obvious time the commission has spent understanding New Zealand’s freight system and the practical reasons why road transport is the dominant freight mode.

I was also impressed with the commission’s acknowledgement that in the push for the decarbonisation of transport, medium and heavy trucks will be slower to electrify than our light vehicle fleet. Commissioners obviously recognise that current battery technology does not provide the range to deal with long-haul road transport. Their recommendation is that of the heavy vehicles imported in 2030, 15 percent of medium trucks and eight percent of heavy trucks would be electric. By 2035, this would increase to a much more ambitious 84 percent and 69 percent respectively.

The commission accepts that they can’t predict what the eventual solution for powering heavy transport will be. That won’t stop some others though, and we must guard against people who think they can lock in a solution for us so far in advance.

Richard Prebble, in an excellent column in the NZ Herald this week, noted that it was impossible to plan 35 years out in such a fast-changing world. He asked us to imagine going back to the 1980s in a pre-internet world, then asking us to think ahead to 2021 to conceive our economy of today. Impossible.

He also made an excellent point that we must guard against central planning our emissions reduction; where the Government will have a say in how and where we live, and in all facets of our lives.

There are people who wish to use the real and justified concern around climate change to exert political and economic control. Capitalism has always adapted and it will continue to do so to get the best results via a market and allowing people to choose. That, alongside appropriate Government regulation is the best way forward.  

So, beware of the so-called “futurists” in this discussion. They are sometimes political ideologues dressed up to look funky, but with an underlying agenda of control. “A world order as we dictate it,” is their goal. We can all be futurists by considering our lives and businesses and how we adapt to change and new technology in our daily lives to improve the condition of our planet, much like human beings have done for our time on this earth.  

Our focus must be high level; a focus on reducing our emissions as a country and as a world – net zero by 2050. That is the end goal here. Not more social engineering by walking and cycleways, or a massive reductive in private car ownership.

The means to the end we seek have not totally revealed themselves for the heavy transport industry. We must assist road transport businesses to be more sustainable and efficient in their business practices and preparing for the technology – whether it be hydrogen, electric, or some as yet unknown energy source.

I will blog again on our submission to the commission’s report. This is an ongoing discussion that will require operator and wider industry input indefinitely, so it’s important everyone starts considering their businesses part in the decarbonisation path. 

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum


Driving lower greenhouse gas emissions

Before going on its extended summer break, the New Zealand Government declared a climate emergency; another crisis to add to the “to do list” for the year of delivery, when they return for 2021 from their long hiatus.

As the Covid-19 crisis drags on and New Zealand seems to move further down the line for any kind of vaccination action that will put us back into the world, it’s easy for all the focus to be on that and lack of performance in other areas to be hidden.

This Government has talked a big game on the climate change front, but on paper, its “accomplishments”, or lack thereof, put them in danger of being seen internationally as just blowing hot air. An article published this week by Stuff, noted: “New Zealand is one of the few countries in the OECD to have increased gross emissions since 1990, doing so at a rate higher than all nations except Turkey, Iceland, and Australia”.

When it comes to the climate change issue, the road freight transport industry has a lot of fingers pointed at it. But the hands connected to those fingers are ill-informed.

We are open to, and actively following, technology advances that will enable freight to be moved in volume, via the road, using affordable fossil fuel alternatives.

We are not interested in green-washing and run a watching brief on the progress on electricity, green hydrogen and biofuels to power heavy vehicles. To date, there have been issues in regards to electricity and green hydrogen and we want to be sure diesel isn’t being replaced, just for the sake of it, by another energy source that causes harm to planet or people. The issues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with cobalt mining for lithium ion batteries have been well documented.

With the appointment of a new Transport Minister after the 2020 General Election, we sent his office briefing notes regarding road freight and the environment.

New Zealand does not manufacture heavy trucks and therefore, we are reliant on the global manufacturers to produce trucks that use alternative fuels that are affordable, can run in the New Zealand terrain, and would be supported by a re-fuelling infrastructure here.

This is actually a good thing, because most countries where trucks are manufactured are demanding high environmental standards. The international trucking industry has committed to reducing fuel consumption and thus CO2 emissions through technological innovation and energy-efficient driving.

We believe the Government should give serious consideration in this term to incentivising the purchase of lower emission or alternative energy trucks, as they have done with electric cars. This will assist in signalling to the market that change is expected and supported.

It will also allow for innovation. We won’t know what’s best until we try. There needs to be open minds and avoidance of rigid over-regulation to get change that meets the brief (zero net emissions by 2050). Technology development moves fast and solutions may be just around the corner.

In road freight transport we are sick of the illusional argument that a higher proportion of the freight task should be undertaken by coastal shipping and rail because of lower carbon footprints.

This is tired thinking, lacking in imagination, inspiration, or a fact-base.

Rail and coastal shipping cannot contest the current road freight task, that is, 93 percent of the goods moved around New Zealand. Road is faster, more efficient, more resilient, and door-to-door. There is a place for both, but investment should be in the future which is some form of road, not rail.

If we are to effectively transition to new fuels, significant capital investment will be required. The last thing we can afford to do is reduce productivity and add time and cost to transport via rail and ship, in the belief that will take us there. 

We have shown our commitment to the Government’s approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from road freight in New Zealand. We have put some suggestions on the table, and we look forward to the delivery beginning.

– Nick Leggett, CE, Road Transport Forum