Road Transport Forum News

 
Government  transport policy not fit for new reality

Government transport policy not fit for new reality

Road Transport Forum News

 July 2020   
Budget 2020 saw Finance Minister Grant Robertson deliver a swathe of Government spending and borrowing – unlike anything we have seen in this country. 

Billions of dollars are being borrowed to maintain a workforce teetering on the edge of unemployment, support industries like tourism that have been decimated by COVID-19 and boost critical public services like health. 

Much of it is necessary….and yet the predictions from economists are that we will still be left with one of the deepest recessions in our history.

Nobody was surprised by the Budget and probably because of that (as well as the public acceptance of the Government’s lockdown decisions), it didn’t receive the public scrutiny that such borrowing deserves. 

New Zealand taxpayers will be saddled with this debt and face having to pay it back for generations to come. That alone should mean that Government decisions that dedicate billions of dollars to financial black holes like regional rail deserve the stiffest possible examination.
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Budget 2020 saw Finance Minister Grant Robertson deliver a swathe of Government spending and borrowing – unlike anything we have seen in this country. 
Billions of dollars are being borrowed to maintain a workforce teetering on the edge of unemployment, support industries like tourism that have been decimated by COVID-19 and boost critical public services like health. 
Much of it is necessary….and yet the predictions from economists are that we will still be left with one of the deepest recessions in our history.
Nobody was surprised by the Budget and probably because of that (as well as the public acceptance of the Government’s lockdown decisions), it didn’t receive the public scrutiny that such borrowing deserves. 
New Zealand taxpayers will be saddled with this debt and face having to pay it back for generations to come. That alone should mean that Government decisions that dedicate billions of dollars to financial black holes like regional rail deserve the stiffest possible examination.
In the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown the Road Transport Forum made our own examination to the draft 2021 Government Policy Statement on Transport. To be fair, this was a document written pre-COVID-19, however, we have no option but to consider it in the context of a far weaker economic environment and the simple fact is that it doesn’t stack up.
Again, vast portions of the National Land Transport Fund, collected from road users via excise taxes and road user charges, will be pillaged to prop up rail, cycling and walking. Within the GPS is a very obvious and disappointing pro-rail, anti-road bias that frames trucks as dangerous and environmentally unfriendly. 
The agenda when it comes to the movement of freight is no surprise. It is based around the much-publicised policy of the three governing parties that seek to artificially support inefficient and uneconomic rail freight. This would be bad enough during good times, but in the wake of COVID-19 it is borderline irresponsible. 
The commercial road transport industry is the good oil that lubricates our economy; an economy shorn of international tourism. 
For the foreseeable future we will lean heavily on our primary industry and getting products to international markets as efficiently as possible. This requires timely, adaptable and responsive domestic transport – and there is only one freight mode that can do that, and that is road freight. 
To have the 2021 GPS institute public policy that restricts the efficiency of road freight in order to boost other modes just doesn’t make sense and will only serve to slow down our economic recovery.
In some good news for operators I note that the GPS recommends no RUC or fuel excise duty increases for the next three years. I was, however, disappointed that the Government decided against deferring or cancelling the RUC increases set for July 1. 
I wrote to Transport Minister Phil Twyford just as the lockdown began, advocating for RUC relief as operators were facing a very uncertain future and a major drop in freight demand. 
Unfortunately, the request was declined, with the Minister reasoning that the funding was necessary to deliver the Government’s transport priorities, many of which, as I have discussed, are not in the broader interests of road freight. 
Finally, I just want to voice my concerns over the problems that have beset the Transmission Gully project north of Wellington. With the project due to be completed in November, a five-week delay in work due to the Level 4 lockdown has mysteriously morphed into major staffing issues, possible technical problems and a possible delay of more than a year in its opening. 
This is pretty awful news, not only for those who live, work and transport freight around the Wellington region, but also for the Government’s ability to manage future large-scale roading projects. 
If we are to build the infrastructure necessary to support future economic growth, road users and taxpayers need to have confidence that government, through the use of public-private partnerships or by other means, can deliver that on-time and to budget. 
Let’s hope a swift resolution can be found to Transmission Gully’s problems and it can begin to contribute to the economic activity of the Wellington region sooner rather than later.  

Navman
NZ Truck & Driver Magazine
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