Resilience of trucking must be matched by Resilience Infrastructure?

In the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle, I participated in a combined industry group set up by MBIE to monitor the impact on businesses and the supply chain in affected regions. I conveyed to government officials just how critical trucking companies are in circumstances like this.

The resilience and responsiveness of road transport is simply unmatched by any other transport mode in the wake of natural disasters. As soon as roads were deemed fit for use, trucks were moving supplies into communities that needed them. It was also incredible to hear of local operators who, despite being badly impacted themselves, were back on the road within days.

As the recovery phase switches to rebuilding, trucking will again be required to step up and deliver. For this reason, Transporting New Zealand was one of the first to request a wage subsidy and business support package for affected businesses. It was imperative that small businesses, including trucking companies, were supported to remain viable while they dealt with the initial impacts of the cyclone and got back on their feet.

The resilience of the trucking industry is well known. However, the same cannot be said for our roading infrastructure, which could best be described as ‘in crisis’ even before Cyclone Gabrielle. It was therefore encouraging to hear Prime Minister Chris Hipkins’ comments in his opening statement to Parliament back in February:

“We have to accept that billions of dollars of additional investment is going to be required, not just to fix up what has been damaged but to build more resilience so that we can better cope with these types of events in the future. We cannot fund new roads, though, by cutting the funding for road maintenance.”

Transporting New Zealand has long advocated for this approach and is glad the government is finally on-board. Roads are vital to our communities, and it is critical that funding is provided to improve what we have and invest in new, more resilient routes.

According to climate experts, severe weather events will happen more frequently. This makes it imperative that we invest now so that New Zealand can begin to adapt as soon as possible. We will have to ‘up-spec’, and in certain circumstances, relocate not just our roads but a lot of our other transport, communications and underground infrastructure as well.

We must be willing to modify how and where we do things, which I acknowledge will be scary for many. However, with great change comes great opportunity, and I do not doubt that with the necessary support, road transport will be one of the sectors that grabs the opportunity with both hands.

Transitional solutions to combat climate change

If there were a silver lining to come out of Cyclone Gabrielle’s terrible impacts, it is that climate change adaptation considerations, long the poor cousin of mitigation, have gained far greater traction. New Zealand must juggle these two imperatives to meet the physical challenges and international climate-change obligations.

The road transport industry cannot passively sit back either. We must do what we can to reduce our emissions now and support the development of longer-term emission-free technologies and adaptive infrastructure.

Transport makes up about 20% of New Zealand’s emissions, and heavy vehicle emissions make up about a quarter of that. We know that green- freight technology will accelerate quickly. But fully carbon-free freight transport is still likely to be decades away. This makes using transitional technologies and practices critical if we are to reduce our carbon footprint.

The Green Compact, recently released by Transporting New Zealand, emphasises these practical, immediate methods to lower emissions – the ‘low hanging fruit’, if you like. It adopts the five pillars already established and tested by the International Road Transport Union – alternative fuels, efficient logistics, collective mobility, vehicle technologies and driver training. Additionally, we have added a sixth pillar that specifically reflects New Zealand’s unique challenges – designing infrastructure to lessen emissions.

It is this sixth pillar that combines mitigation and adaptation. Better roading design and quality will make our transport system more resilient to extreme weather and safer for road users. It will also lower emissions by helping transport be more efficient. Better road surfaces and fewer obstructions to traffic have a tangible impact on fuel efficiency and emissions, particularly for heavy vehicles.

The road-freight sector must demonstrate its commitment to reducing emissions. By supporting existing transitional initiatives, we can all play our part in helping New Zealand face our climate-change future.