A fun truckie gathering, and an unfunny ferry grounding – Transporting New Zealand

In News7 MinutesBy Dom KalasihJune 27, 2024

The highlight of the last week for me was our Transport Seminar held at Twizel.

Over the last decade or so I’ve done some voluntary work which sees me make an annual road trip stopping in Christchurch, Timaru, Cromwell and Invercargill. I can honestly say it’s a highlight of my year because I love the diverse scenery, particularly the majestic mountains and lakes.

Last week’s trip was also a good time to see the state of the road network and while we needed to dodge a few potholes, I didn’t think the road surface was too bad over the nearly 600kms we covered.

However, despite Transport Minister Simeon Brown assuring me at a meeting last Thursday that traffic management would improve and there should be a reduction in road cones, this didn’t seem to be the case at the works sites we did see, so I’ll be monitoring that with interest over the coming months.

A massive shout out to all the sponsors, partners, members, prize recipients and presenters that attended our Seminar in Twizel. The fact the event was oversubscribed and we needed to close registrations weeks prior is a testament to the passion, interest and commitment to the sector and I’m very proud to be part of that. The outcomes we were after included increasing awareness on industry-related issues, celebrating success, networking and having fun. From what I could see, all these were delivered in spades.

I’ve always said the most valuable feedback about the success of an event comes from the attendees, not the organisers, so we were stoked to hear all the positive feedback including: “I thought this event was the best one I have attended – and there have been a few of them.”

Ferry issues

The grounding of the Aratere last Friday has led to considerable and varied debate including but not limited to, the impact on the economy of delays to freight, vessel selection, terminal location, privatisation and even claims that the trucking industry wants to close rail down.

Transporting New Zealand’s primary focus has been on dealing with the immediate issue of the unexpected constraint on supply of Cook Strait crossings. We have asked all operators intending to cross the Strait over the short term, regardless of which service provider they’re using, to consider and/or have discussions with customers on whether the freight movements could be deferred. We have also asked operators with bookings on any of the vessels to ensure they are fully utilised.

Over the weekend we had discussions with KiwiRail and Bluebridge and I can assure you they are collaborating and doing their utmost to ensure the movement of freight is prioritised and all available services are optimised.

Interislander is also doing all it can to return to providing more capacity even earlier than it had intended. Therefore we’re asking operators and their customers to be patient and tolerant as there will be delays and some inconvenience.

You may also have seen claims that the “trucking industry” is calling for government to get out of ferry services and even to close down rail.

Among Transporting New Zealand’s members and partners are the two suppliers of Cook Strait ferry freight services, as well as many transport providers that offer multi-modal solutions, including road-rail solutions. Our members are supportive of, and some of the largest users of rail.

Transporting New Zealand does not have a mandate from the parties it represents to propose or support government pulling out of or closing down either the rail or ferry services.

In fact, we are concerned that if government was to exit ferry services and or rail, particularly in the short term, that could present a considerable risk to freight movements between the islands, and our economy. We have never advocated or sought this from government and Transport Minister Simeon Brown has been told this very clearly.

I don’t want to downplay the risk of delays to inter-island freight movements. But I do want to say that on a positive note, from what I’ve seen, this has been another case where we’ve faced significant disruption and adversity, but all the affected communities have again done a great job of banding together and doing all they can to make the best of the situation.

One of the reporters I spoke to this week painted a picture of doom and gloom, failing infrastructure, and described us as a third world country. I don’t doubt there’s room for improvement but given that only days earlier I was part of a great transport event and travelled through the majestic scenery of the Canterbury region, I consider myself lucky to live in this country.

Matariki was traditionally a time to acknowledge the dead and to release their spirits to become stars. It was also a time to reflect, to be thankful to the gods for the harvest, to feast and to share the bounty of the harvest with family and friends. I respect people will do whatever best suits them on Friday, but I do hope many can get time for a break and rest from all that’s going on around them.

Have a happy and safe Matariki.

– By Dom Kalasih, interim chief executive, Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand