An industry under immense pressure

In NTA, April 20226 MinutesBy David BoyceMay 2, 2022

Our industry faces huge challenges – the ongoing pandemic, the tragic situation in Ukraine, staggering fuel-cost increases, parts and equipment supply issues, declining workers’ mental health and increased fatigue, sustainability, new technologies, driver shortages, ferry disruptions, and ever-increasing government regulation. To say life is difficult is the understatement of the year.

The Covid-19 journey of the past two years has been challenging for everyone, but especially for the trucking industry, which has stepped up to keep the country supplied with the essentials that keep society functioning and the economy going. Covid-19 continues to create havoc, with many unable to work as they are isolating or waiting for a negative test result. This puts immense pressure on businesses as they try to adjust workloads to keep operational. Hopefully, the experts are correct, and we will have peaked soon.

The crisis in Ukraine is undoubtedly a concern not only for Ukrainians and wider Europe. It will also impact the New Zealand economy. We have seen the impact on diesel fuel costs, which have doubled in the past year. The supply of urea for diesel exhaust fluid has become challenging as Russia and China provide most of the world’s supply. Our suppliers tell us that New Zealand should be OK, but any restrictions on this supply would impact our industry hard. Ukrainian and Russian factories assemble motor vehicles and supply parts for many European, Korean, and Chinese manufacturers. Russia is the world’s leading exporter of natural gas, supplying much of Europe, which may need to look for alternative energy supplies. If this crisis continues for long, the impact on the world economy and New Zealand by default will be enormous.

New Zealand is heading into a period of uncertainty, with substantial government debt, rising interest rates, inflation rates that have not been seen for a generation, rocketing costs of products and services, and supply issues. This has the potential to impact severely on our industry, with increased costs and an already tight labour market putting upward pressure on labour rates. Now the borders are reopening, we need the government to look at the immigration settings for truck drivers, as our neighbours in Australia are trying to entice more Kiwi drivers across the ditch.

The cumulative effect of the past two years is also having an impact on mental health and fatigue. Many are struggling to cope. Truck crashes and serious health and safety incidents seem to be increasing again, which is a concern for everyone.

The Ministry of Transport has released a discussion document, Driving Change: Reviewing the Road User Charges System. The paper poses 89 questions about the future structure and purpose of the road-user charges system.

Questions asked include:
• Should greenhouse gas emissions charging be included in RUC rates?
• Should other fuel types be considered in RUC rates?
• Should eRUC be compulsory for all heavy vehicles?
• Should integrated telematics be mandatory?
• Should infringements be reviewed?
• Should enforcement authorities have access to this data, including enforcement of logbook requirements?

The NTA will certainly make submissions to the RUC discussion document on behalf of members. If you would like to add your feedback, do not hesitate to get in touch or consider putting in your own submission.

Recently, Waka Kotahi launched a new campaign supporting the Road to Zero strategy. We certainly support any efforts to bring down New Zealand’s road toll, which still stubbornly sits around 300- plus deaths per annum. Our death rate per 100,000 is one of the highest in the world, and significantly higher than our neighbours in Australia.

One of the key focuses of the Road to Zero strategy is road-user choices. We think it is time to put more effort into influencing these. In 2019, New Zealand had 352 road deaths. Some 137 deaths were related to alcohol and drug use, 90 deaths were from not wearing a seat belt, and fatigue and distraction accounted for another 40. Combined, that means more than 75% of road deaths were a result of road-user choices.

The government is currently reviewing the graduated driver licencing system. We think it is time to emphasise advanced skills-based training, including learning to drive to the conditions, a better understanding of the road rules with regular mandated updates, and an empathy and understanding of other and vulnerable road users.