Southern hospitality: NZTA/NZIHT annual conference

This article first appeared in Contractor magazine’s December issue.

The NZTA/NZIHT annual conference is a gathering of roading industry specialists. The 17th event was held in Dunedin at the end of October. ALAN TITCHALL was there.

IF YOU’RE INTO roading engineering the NZ Transport and NZIHT conference is where, once a year, roading specialists on both sides of the highway, get together to discuss the pointy end of our network.

There isn’t the time to detail some of the excellent papers presented in Dunedin this year, suffice to say we will be publishing them in Contractor magazine throughout 2017.

Last year, at Waitangi, the conference was more a ‘show and tell’ on the part of the Transport Agency and a focus on the (then new) Network Outcomes Contract (NOC) or maintenance procurement and contract model. Up in Northland, for two days, delegates were on the receiving end of a barrage of Willy-Wonker-esque acronyms and ‘touchy-feely’ terms and titles, such as ‘journey’ (project) and ‘journey manager’. Groups of these managers, we were told, are called ‘knowledgeable communities’.

Thank you to the organisers who spared us more of the same in Dunedin.

In fact, the Dunedin conference this year was refreshingly frank and proved a very honest valuable exchange between the NZTA, councils and industry. Well done, from someone who has attended eight conferences this year.

Not to say the 2016 event didn’t have some odd presentations. The two that stand out were, thankfully, right at the beginning.

Dunedin mayor David Cull kept a straight face when he told us his council, when it comes to city roads, focused on the ‘value’ of the project rather than the cost.

The night before, dining with old university friends who reside in Dunedin, I had my ears chewed over the dreadful state of the local roads. I promised if the mayor mentioned ‘roading’ I was going to interject with ‘What about Three Mile Hill – it’s a disgrace!’ I didn’t of course. I didn’t want to be kicked out of the conference in the first 10 minutes.

I also had to bite my lip during the opening address by Ian Duncan from the NZTA.

I am sure Ian’s heart is in the right place, but his vision of a ‘transport revolution’ where he talked up automobile technology with a Jetson-esque vision from 1965. Technology predictions have a habit of keeping a step ahead of actuality.

It would have been a fine speech had we been resident in some smart-thinking city such as Stockholm where transport is a paragon of civil service – but in New Zealand?

Dear oh dear, we have one of the oldest vehicle fleets in the Western world. If your vehicle was registered before May 2010 it doesn’t even need a catalytic converter to pass a vehicle warrant – so much for emissions concern. The cheapest electric vehicle costs over three times the equivalent of an extremely efficient combustion engine car.

Leasing and renting, Ian said, will be the way of the future. Leasing and renting is already the way of the present. We work in an industry where fleet leasing is the norm.

The Transport Agency, in the future, will focus on people and transport networks rather than transport systems, he said. I would have thought a transport system is about ‘people’ and that’s the problem – Kiwis want cheap mobility and would rather self-drive than share.

The answer to most of our ‘transport problem’ is, surely, to restrict the age of the fleet?

There were many excellent presentations over the two-day conference including one by Caroline Boot from Plan A right at the start of the event.

Called ‘Five ways to attract the best to your contracts’, she used a panel of contract experts to discuss ‘contracts’ from their point of view. We will publish this presentation in the first issue of Contractor 2017, and follow it up with many other excellent papers on roading networks.

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