The hand that feeds us

In Dave McCoid, April 2023, Magazine Editorial8 MinutesBy Dave McCoidMarch 10, 2023

It’s a quote I’ve trotted out before and one I’m sure most of you reading this editorial will need no convincing of. It was from Volvo Group Global president and CEO Martin Lundstedt, speaking at the 2018 Volvo Group Australia annual media event in Brisbane. He said, “When you have a transport system that is functioning, that is one of the key drivers for bringing prosperity to a society.” At the same event, he spoke about electromobility, connectivity, autonomy and sustainability, but the underlying component was a “transport system that is functioning, bringing prosperity”. Prosperity may improve the transport system you have, but it’s not a chicken-and-egg situation.

Based on that, how are we tracking?

I could disappear down the rabbit hole of the acute problem and cite all the roads currently closed or under threat of closure. But we know all of them; we see the images every day. And that’s good. If you have an image of a stuffed bridge or road, get it onto the Waka Kotahi channels and to as many outlets as possible. Why? Because sadly, in 2023, social media is the squeak in the political wheel that garners a reaction and response. As dire a prophecy as that may well engender, it is where we’ve descended to.

The discussion I want to raise today is the chronic situation our current transport infrastructure shortcomings are the result of.

Why did Lundstedt say what he did? It wasn’t actually pointed directly at trucks, after all? The reason is that the transport modalities are the lifeblood economies function on. It’s a medical and economic fundamental – blocked arteries lead to death.

Transport has served us so well in the past that it’s become largely invisible, and a level of affluence and ignorance has been allowed to blossom – an incredibly lethal mix.

It removes the need to understand how your privileged life arrives in your lap, from the cot all the way to the highest echelons of education and government. If in doubt, just look at any new commercial subdivision and assess how much thought is given to the transit of 23m B-trains and truck and trailers? It’s not an act of malice on the designer’s part; it’s an act of ignorance.

Still in doubt? The current state of the roads, the network’s resilience and, more recently, the vessels that bridge the roading gap between the two islands.

There’s no understanding or education worth a toss on transport modalities, what they do, and how they function. It’s therefore easy for those concerned about things like the environment to lead, and be led, down non-sensical paths that do their own arguments a disservice.

Take the truck vs train argument. Evidently, the answer is to move freight off and make a pariah of the truck – a 137-year-old technology that combines speed and flexibility. The favoured option is a 220-year-old technology that’s slow and incredibly restricted. Coerced by the ignorant – that’s what the most intolerant society that has ever lived demands…for its own long-term good apparently. The folly in that garbage has been best evidenced post the latest round of climatic mayhem, when wants quickly turned into needs. I never heard one person asking when trains would get through to the various crisis spots. Why? Because in 2023 trains are good for moving bulk, low value commodity and nothing else.

Back to the medical analogy. In medicine, if an artery is blocked, you replace it or put a stent in it. That’s how vital organs survive. Not so in 2023 New Zealand economics. In the best traditions of hacking off the hand that feeds you, politicians must be seen to move money away from any infrastructure that supports a modality not in vogue. The result, of course, is economic lifelines becoming entirely inadequate and non-resilient, in other words, where we currently find ourselves.

Looking ahead. Covid-19 was an interesting global litmus test of where we sit as a society preparing for a new tomorrow.

It was an entirely different situation when we transitioned from horse to motor carriage, the last combined transport and information revolution. Fast, reliable, land-based transport brought the new prosperity it promised. It was an act of social creation, not one of maintenance or reinvention of an existing state. As we enter the next transport revolution, society has clearly signalled a complete intolerance for taking a pause on any form of lifestyle in the interest of its long-term greater good. The planes are full and flying again, the malls are bursting, and a huge percentage of the trillions in relief monies handed out worldwide over the past three years went into increasing personal wealth and debt-driven capital gain. In other words, the enlightened generation is as hungry for the material things of life as any that has preceded it.

The privileged have sent a clear message that they want the transport modality underpinning their affluent lives swapped out with its cleaner, faster, quieter replacement, with no disruption to their lives or sacrifice on their part. In other words, seamlessly.

Make no mistake. The future of land-based transport for the carriage of goods and services is some form of truck. The ‘93% of goods moved by truck’ figure is not going any direction other than up. The politicians know that, and it sickens me when they deceive and appease the ignorant masses to retain their parliamentary office.

When the new clean trucks arrive on mass, they’ll be heavier and probably less robust – initially, at least. That’s no slight on the machines at all; we’re at the frontier of alternative propulsion, after all. That being the case, we need the best infrastructure we can possibly muster for them to run on. We must set the scene that will allow them, and us, the best chance for success.

The current state of the roading infrastructure demonstrates that many in governmental leadership positions do not grasp this in any way. The lesson on cutting off the hand that feeds us might be expensive.

All the best

Dave McCoid
Editorial Director