NZTA & NZIHT conference: The view of a major road user

These are highlights from a presentation by Ken Shirley from the Road Transport Forum, made to delegates at the NZTA & NZIHT conference last month, with its ‘customer’ focus. By Alan Titchall.

The Road Transport Forum is the voice of the New Zealand road freight industry which involves 22,600 people and has a gross turnover of about $6 billion.

So roads are very important to our industry and we couldn’t be a business without them.

The key advantage of trucks as a means of distribution really rests on one word ‘flexibility’ – geographic flexibility.

Our ‘warehouse capacity’ in New Zealand actually has eight or nine axles that rumble along the road.

It’s not constrained by railway timeframes and shipping schedules and can be responsive to unforeseen changes in volume, type, origin and destination.

Other transport modes don’t have that ability to adjust quickly and that’s where that flexibility comes in, and we are adaptable to specialist and unusual assignments. When you think about it, trucks are the only way to reach most factories, stores, restaurants or homes.

Only about three to seven percent of the road freight task is contestable by rail and this is what a lot of public commentary just doesn’t understand.

A main road funder

While we are a main road user, we’re also the payers of our roads. Government will have you believe that they’re the payers, but governments don’t have any money – the only money they have is what they take off you and me and businesses.

We have the $1.93 billion petrol excise duty, road charges of $1.43 billion a year, motor registration of $23 million, with the total at the moment about $358 billion.

We’re anticipating there is going to be a massive lift in petrol excise duty, over and above the regional fuel tax in Auckland and the road user charges, because the fund needs more money.

We accept as an industry that as the payers of the tax that the economic argument for mass public transport, whether it’s buses or trains, does provide relief to congestion in certain areas and there is benefit to road users in that.

Traditionally however, there has never been the capital works for public transport and that’s what’s has changed. The clear message we’ve got is that they intend to build the likes of light rail rather than fund roading capital works. That is actually a breach of what has been part of the fund, so that could be quite interesting.

We strongly support the Road Control Authority’s draft guidelines for equal funding of low volume roads.

Essentially, they are developing a form to allocate cost to ratepayers of different primary industries in accordance with their level of annual heavy traffic use and loading, which is appropriate and right in principle.

There’s a couple of local authorities going the other way and use a permit system which they charge for. That is wrong in principle and the Land Transport Act doesn’t provide for that.

Road pricing I think is a key issue for the future as there’s going to be huge challenges with funding infrastructure. The pay as you go system has got its limitations, and means the current crop of tax payers are paying for this year’s expenditure and most infrastructure, whereas you should be looking at spreading it over multi-generations because it has a multi-generation benefit.

That’s why I think we’re going to see more public-private partnerships and all manner of things as you’ve seen in Transmission Gully and elsewhere around the country. That can only be good.

Issues with roading authorities

Issues heavy transport has with road control authorities include the replacing of one-way bridges in rural New Zealand – we would like much greater activity there.

We also want better access to ports and better planning. Ports are just part of the logistics chain and so often we don’t have the planning and connectivity reports. I know many people in this room are conscious of it and many groups are working towards it but we have a history of disregard to facilities for loading and offloading, and parking for trucks.

Sylvia Park [a large shopping complex in Auckland] has the biggest supermarket complex in the country, yet the planners made no provision for truck ways, and no provision for truck parking and offloading. That’s just not good enough.

Also, the alternative HPV approach, we have issues there in terms of route alternatives because we get road closures quite frequently in this country and our people just haven’t got the option of going anywhere.

We have to have plans with the Road Control Authority to show where those alternative routes are and there has to be better management communications when there are incidents to make sure those alternatives can be exercised.

HPV permitting is also a pain in the butt for everyone – there’s got to be a better way. There should be one central point for permits. And I know NZTA is doing a lot of work towards that with improved regional collaboration to minimise multi-permitting.

Roading issues for members

Vegetation control is a big issue with our folk. The people who trim vegetation that block signs are all doing it from a car’s perspective. There’s numerous examples where the contractors just don’t trim the vegetation from the trucks’ perspective and they need to.

Livestock, effluent dumps… This is a really old chestnut, but it’s a real problem.

We signed up to a deal with the livestock community 12 years ago where we would put holding tanks on the trucks and farmers would stand their stock for a few hours so they weren’t full of black stuff and it wasn’t dropped off the truck. Local government said it would build effluent pump sites.

Well – as an industry we put in our truck tanks but there’s a woefully inadequate provision of effluent dumpsites and, of course, who wants an effluent dumpsite in their backyard? Often they are built in the wrong place because it’s a compromised decision.

Unfortunately farmers have been very slow in ‘standing’ their stock, so some cattle are taken straight off the grass and onto the truck. One animal drops 10 litres of effluent every hour, and if it’s on the truck for four you very quickly fill the effluent tank. And there’s only one place it can go if there’s no dumpsite.

Rest areas

Truck rest areas are totally inadequate. Again, I don’t think there’s enough consideration for truck rest areas. Rest areas are prescribed, you have to stop.

Trucks often need to check loads but some of these areas can’t handle three 50 max units in a row. We need at least 60 metres plus and many of them don’t meet that.

Our people also hate rumble strips on the edge because a lot of our travelling is on the left out of necessity and they really, really don’t like them or see the need for them.

There’s the recent situation on the Kapiti Expressway where the road had only been open for about six months and they took them out. I did the calculations – this was about $270,000 worth of expenditure.

I also understand that the policy is you don’t put them in urban areas because of the noise factor. Well, the Kapiti Expressway strips went right through Paraparaumu, so something went wrong. As a roading funder we don’t like to see that kind of wastage.


A big issue for us are roundabouts. We have far too many roll-overs in this country. We have the highest roll-overs per kilometres travelled in the OECD. That is a disgrace and, yes, speed is a very big factor, but I can say there are numerous roundabouts around the country that are not fit for purpose and I’m talking about brand new ones, just designed, just built.

We have the classic East Taupo roundabouts on the Taupo bypass that have been open five or six years. We were consulted on these and we told them it wouldn’t work, they were too small. No one listened. They built them and suddenly realised they don’t work and it cost $9 million to replace them. It’s just not good enough.

We feel there is not enough input in the design stage for people who understand heavy vehicle dynamics. It’s a highly specialised skill and knowledge. There’s very few people in the country with it and if you don’t put that input in you miss it at your peril. It’s always the trailer that goes first – tips the vehicle over and it can happen at very, very low speeds so there are very key design factors in that.

Road surfaces and widths

These are generally poor nationwide, rough and pot-holed, shiny surfaces, excessive remedial works often after the job’s been completed and a big part of the freight task is predictability and steady roll.

We’re not interested in a new speed limit of 110, when we were on the committee to discuss that speed review and they said probably put the heavies up to 100, we said no leave it at 90, we don’t want to go faster than 90, it’s the optimal in terms of fuel consumption and wear and tear on the vehicle. What we’d like to do is be able to stay at good speed more steadily, fewer traffic lights, fewer holes, fewer roadworks which can be very, very disruptive to the freight task.

Carriageway widths… we feel that they are quite inadequate. We don’t have adequate shoulder periods. I think most people from overseas look at the shoulders in our roads and they’re aghast at how small they are.

The shoulder widths that we would like to see are sort of 1.5 to two metres. Once the truck goes off the shoulder and gets into the rough it can be very hard to bring it back on. Often the roll-over actually occurs this way, because the trailer will not come back onto the carriage way.

Australian relationships

At question time Ken was asked if the Road Transport Forum has an association with trucking groups in Australia and are they having similar user issues over there?

The Australians do, but not to the same extent. Other than comparisons with Tasmania, we have quite a different topography to most of Australia.

We overuse AusRoads as a standard. Another is performance based standards – the PBS. We just picked up the PBS for Australia and our whole Vehicle Dimensions and Mass (VDAM) rule is based on this PBS.

We suddenly realised the Australian one is not really appropriate and now New Zealand is developing its own PBS.

This article first appeared in Contractor December 2017.

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