Truckies need to be vaccinated ASAP

In Road Transport Forum, September 20216 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineOctober 9, 2021

In July, the government paused the trans-Tasman travel bubble for eight weeks because of the rise in Covid-19 cases in largely unvaccinated Australia.

Despite the government’s claims that the Covid-19 vaccine rollout is on track, the reality for many people is that their chance of getting vaccinated soon is pretty slim. Unless you live in Auckland, that is, where the government organised a mass vaccination event to vaccinate people in the lower risk group 4 before those in groups 1, 2 and 3.

A scenario where the Delta variant takes hold here isn’t something to be taken lightly. Several foreign-crewed vessels have been docking at ports around New Zealand with crew ill with Covid-19, and there are still plenty of infection risks through our Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) system.

RTF wants to see essential workers, including truck drivers, who have a heightened risk if there is a leak of the Delta variant of Covid-19 in New Zealand, prioritised for vaccination.

The government has announced mandatory vaccination for workers at ports and airports who are at the greatest risk of exposure to Covid-19. This is in addition to workers at MIQ facilities – trucks service all of these places as well as almost every other commercial enterprise in our communities. With the global disruption in the supply chain, truck drivers can spend considerable time at ports waiting to load or unload.

We’ve been pushing for months for truck drivers to be prioritised for vaccination. It seems that national coordination has gone out the window and it’s down to the luck of the draw as to where you live and who you hear from in your local area or on the bush telegraph. We should be doing much better – perhaps get a logistics company or two to run this, not policy wonks who never really need to deal with the real world.

The weather has also been causing the industry considerable concern, and the devastation generated by extreme weather events this winter has put even more pressure on poorly maintained roads and infrastructure.

The clean-up at the top of the South Island and parts of the West Coast will take months and many dollars. We are concerned there won’t be enough money in the kitty to fix all the damaged roads and bridges while roading money is being poured into rail and siphoned off to accommodate trendy cycling and walking projects.

I’m tired of pointing out to this government why road transport and good roads are crucial to our future economic success, and why they need to invest in the roading network adequately.

I’ve recently seen for myself the appalling condition of the state highway network in Northland. We know that substandard road building has taken its toll, but so has maintenance underfunding. Many want to attack the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, but I suspect they are as frustrated as we are. They’re responsible professionals and don’t want to let roading quality decline further.

While the government continues to claim that it has increased road maintenance funding, in real terms, we are still falling behind because costs have grown faster than the money has. Our roads will continue to decay until Waka Kotahi and local authorities are provided with the funding they need to maintain them adequately. Of course, we know that the more assets degrade, the more they cost to be brought up to standard. The longer we delay, the more expensive or unlikely proper road maintenance becomes.

A fundamental flaw in the current approach to transport infrastructure policy is a misplaced ideological position that rail freight is a competent competitor to road freight instead of being seen as a complementary service. This position is based on an irrational assumption that rail can flourish without road-transport support. In reality, it is the opposite. Only 6% of freight is really contestable by rail, and it is unlikely that will increase as freight becomes an even more time-critical proposition in the future.

Instead of trying to socially engineer our economic and social behaviour without clear evidence of any benefits, the government would be better to focus on the resilience of the transport network in a small, trading nation with a high-risk profile for natural disasters. That means doing the basics well, providing good-quality, well-maintained roads, and then getting out of the way.