A fair go is all we ask

In The Last Mile, May 20216 MinutesBy The Accidental TruckerJune 10, 2021

Before Christmas, there was the usual flood of information and revelations from the government and other organisations that can have long-term effects but are often overlooked.

The news that the NZTA is $1.1 billion over budget on 17 roading projects around New Zealand should be no surprise, given the disclosure earlier in the year about Transmission Gully. Interestingly, this revelation came via the former Associate Minister of Transport, Julie-Anne Genter; the current transport minister did not deny it. According to Genter, the blame for this blowout does not rest with the previous government’s oversight of these projects or the NZTA but – partially, at least – with the past National government’s Roads of National Significance programme.

This raises an interesting question. When Genter was associate minister, what actions did she and her ministerial colleagues take to address these cost blowouts, which must have been apparent back then? I suggest that some of the cost blowouts can be attributed to consistent redesigning of roading projects to accommodate cycleways, shared pathways, and the like. It is common knowledge that landing a lucrative government construction project is good for business – you can be assured there will always be changes to what was proposed, with resultant price variations readily accepted.

We must look at the road-building budget blowout in the broader context of other issues at the NZTA, such as the almost complete failure of its regulatory function, and we must ask ourselves what is happening there?

I have said many times before – and still hold this view – that many of the issues we see and hear regarding NZTA have their origins in the 2004 amalgamation of the Land Transport Safety Authority (LTSA) with Transfund to become Land Transport New Zealand, followed in 2008 by the merging of that entity with Transit New Zealand to become the New Zealand Transport Agency. It is difficult to see how the NZTA can adequately fulfil its role as a competent regulator for all those who use New Zealand’s roads when it is part of a wider organisation wearing so many hats.

We need to go back to basics; we need a standalone and adequately funded road-user regulator, something similar to LTSA, that had as its mantra, ‘safety at reasonable cost’. We also need those in charge of these organisations to be held accountable when things go wrong.

In December, we also learnt that an organisation called MOVEMENT has lodged a judicial review application challenging the NZTA’s decision-making process to give effect to the priorities specified in the Government Policy Statement (GPS) on Land Transport. The claim is that the GPS requires the NZTA to prioritise less use of private cars and reduce transport-generated greenhouse-gas emissions, but the NZTA is not doing this and – for that – it must be held to account. The NZTA should also be held to account for our national roading network’s appalling state, but it won’t; the spin doctors will take care of that. MOVEMENT’s media statement can be read at movement.org.nz/judicial-review.

Also made public just before Christmas were the Ministry of Transport’s Briefing to the Incoming Minister: Your Guide to the Transport System 2020 and Briefing to the Incoming Minister: Your Guide to Opportunities and Challenges in the Transport System 2020. Both can be found on the Ministry of Transport’s website.

These documents are extremely high level and difficult to comprehend; they offer little information about how future policy could affect our industry. It’s interesting that there is little reference to the road-freight transport industry but rail, maritime and aviation are well-referenced. The Your Guide to the Transport System document discusses the desirable transport framework and how each part of the transport system interacts with the other parts to produce “a transport system that improves wellbeing and liveability”.

Our industry has been an integral part of improving the wellbeing and liveability of all New Zealanders for years. It does not and should not have to prove this repeatedly. Our industry is not a plague on society as some make out; it is an enabler, an enabler that sustains and supports life, an industry that is readily adaptable to changing situations. We are already doing our part to improve the wellbeing and liveability of all New Zealanders, so all we ask is a fair go and good roads to help us ply our craft safely and responsibly.

The Accidental Trucker