Ready to get cracking to fix transport problems

There may have been no immediate action from the government following the election – New Zealand’s MMP electoral system means it takes a little while for the exact make-up of the new government to be announced – but, in the meantime, Transporting New Zealand has been flat out working on issues that affect our members.

We’re very much looking forward to working with the new government to get cracking on fixing the transport problems our members have been telling us that impact them the most.

In the months before the election, we developed the Election Platform 2023, showing our position on key transport areas. We also had one-on-one meetings with ACT’s Simon Court and National’s Simeon Brown, and we held a panel discussion at our annual conference with representatives from all the major parties. Therefore, we are familiar with the plans and views of the respective parties.

We made it clear earlier that, in principle, we backed the transport-related parts of the National Party’s 100-Day Action Plan, released before the election. Similarly, during our discussions with Simon Court, we were pleased to hear that ACT was thinking of more innovative ways to fund roading.

National says its Transport for the Future programme “will cut congestion, provide more low emission transport options in support of our climate change goals, and create a more productive and resilient transport network that drives economic growth to boost incomes and unlock land for thousands of houses”.

Transport for the Future includes building more Roads of National Significance, better public transport and rebuilding regions and improving resilience.

We all know that highway infrastructure has been suffering from chronic under-investment, and every day, we hear from road transport operators concerned about the poor state of New Zealand’s roads.

We support the creation of a National Infrastructure Agency and the need to build a resilient road network. We also support a return to building more Roads of National Significance in the long term.

Transporting New Zealand is also behind taking a pragmatic, evidence-based approach to setting speed limits around the country. Instead, we have seen a one-size-fits-all approach, leading to nonsensical speed limits on safe, open roads. Pre-election, National was adamant it would repeal the Land Transport Rule, Setting of Speed Limits 2022. This rule underpins many of the changes that are getting underway now and is creating a massive amount of work and expense for local authorities, not to mention the heavy demand it imposes on road users like us and the AA during the consultation phases. Stopping this change will be a significant relief and a good win for our sector.

As has happened for years, the road transport industry and the marketplace have adjusted pay, leading to fairer working conditions. So, I don’t believe we were on the radar for direct intervention under the Fair Pay Agreements Act. However, we were also supportive of National’s plans to repeal this legislation.

In addition, National is pledging to remove the clean car discount and fees for higher emitting vehicles and bring in road user charges for EVs after next March. Simeon Brown says National plans to fund all roads through per-kilometer charges eventually.

The discount will inevitably disappear at some stage, and funding for roads and other infrastructure must come from somewhere – and I think it would be wise to explore alternative funding sources.

At the same time, the environment and climate change are major factors that will continue to impact the country, so the new government will need to take those into account. One positive factor is new technology and the benefits it is already bringing to the transport industry and the wider community.

That all sounds good in theory – let’s hope the new government can follow through with real action. I assure you we will hold them accountable for their promises.

The announcement that the annual inflation rate for the September quarter fell to 5.6% is welcome news for consumers and businesses. However, increasing fuel costs due to international upheavals could put more upward pressure on costs for businesses and families.

Unfortunately, significant cost pressures are still affecting the transport sector, with costs increasing by 7.1% in the September quarter alone. We will see significant pressure on freight costs, which our members have no choice but to pass on to their customers. Fuel is the second-highest cost element for our members after wages.

The incoming government must help keep a lid on sector costs, including freezing road user charges and fuel excise duty.

I close on a sad note, acknowledging the passing of Rachel Lehen from Fit for Duty. Rachel was an expert in sleep and fatigue and had been involved with many heavy transport safety initiatives. I worked with her on projects in my current role and before joining here.

Rachel was the project lead in a trial we are undertaking with livestock drivers, using leading-edge technology that includes a cognitive performance assessment of the driver. This was leading work, and Rachel and I were to present a paper at an international conference on this trial. I will make the presentation alone, but it won’t be as good without her.

Rachel’s levels of drive, passion, leadership and commitment to making change and improving road safety and the wellbeing of drivers were extraordinary. On top of that, she was a really neat, genuine person. Rachel has left a real legacy, and may she rest in peace.