By Andrew McKillop, programme manager, Road Efficiency Group
THE ROAD EFFICIENCY Group (REG) has been working with Road Controlling Authorities (RCAs) since its establishment in 2013.
It was set up in response to the government Road Maintenance Task Force (RMTF) and is a collaborative project between Local Government NZ and NZ Transport Agency. The RMTF was made up of representation from across the whole sector including contractors, consultants and local government. That model had been retained through REG.
“The partnership between Local Government and the Transport Agency has really energised sector collaboration to build capability and develop best practice systems that are customer focused,” says Malcolm Alexander, chief executive, Local Government NZ.
Jim Harland, the chair of REG (and NZTA’s director of Regional Relationships, Southern) says he is confident that the partnership between RCAs (local government) and the Transport Agency has allowed the sector to take a giant leap forward by realising the RMTF’s recommendations.
REG has worked with the sector to create and embed a new national investment and customer focused activity management framework for roads based on the One Network Road Classification (ONRC) and a business case approach, he says. And the change is supporting the sector to improve customer focused investment, support collaboration, share good practice and implement new business delivery models including understanding the best contract form.
The national consistency developed through the ONRC will mean that comparisons can be made on the performance of roads based on their classification irrespective of who owns them (eg, local authorities, NZTA, DoC).
REG is leading change across the sector and encouraging excellence in network management. Jim Harland says REG has delivered a number of innovative tools and systems that are increasing RCAs’ ability to better understand the performance of their transport network, appreciate what best practice looks like and in the longer term guide more effective decision making based on robust evidence.
REG’s success has been based on its focus of facilitating collaborative learning opportunities that support the sector in supporting their own development, enabling the co-design of resources and the implementation of the ONRC.
The ONRC is the critical foundation which differentiates the transport network using a classification system that allows customer levels of service to be front and centre in investment decision making. The ONRC will help transport decision makers move away from managing roads based on technical asset classification and adopt an approach based on managing and providing for customer outcomes. This new approach will allow us to have richer discussions with our communities and representatives and ensure we are investing in the right things at the right time for current and future users. It is an exciting time for RCAs to be working in.
Now that the Activity Management Plans have been updated for the 2018/21 National Land Transport Programme (NLTP) the sector will need to work even more closely with its contractors and consultants to embed the ONRC into service delivery and procurement practices.
“We want to make sure that the investment focus provided in the new Activity Management Plans provides better outcomes for our road users,” says Jim, who adds that up until now the focus of REG has been very much around supporting council staff to develop their Activity Management Plans utilising business case principles and imbed the ONRC for the next National Land Transport Programme (NLTP).
The expectation is that the new Activity Management Plans need to be based on both technical and customer performance measures and that the ONRC is utilised as the basis of differential investment across a transport network.
In his closing address to the Annual NZTA/NZIHT roading conference last November, Jim stressed the need to change the way we do business as there is high variability in levels of service and costs across the national road network.
The new customer-focused system will help RCAs to ask the searching questions around network performance, understand how they compare to peers, and ultimately improve their ability to explain to their communities the rationale and costs of the investment required. “This will lead to increased confidence in investment decision making and with that comes improved performance in maintenance, and more consistent levels of service across the country,” he says.
Over the past 12 months REG has produced a number of tools that fill the gap across the sector. These include reporting on the quality of each council’s transport data used for decision making, and also allowing each council to compare the performance of its network by classification with ‘like’ councils, regionally and nationally.
In producing the performance measurement tools, REG has identified a wide variance in the quality of data across the various transport networks. Good decision making is based on good data, therefore the sector as a whole needs to work together to improve data quality. What this means for the supply chain is a willingness to come to the table to share the benefits of innovation, and expertise in doing the right thing.
A national approach to roading
“The focus on service delivery and procurement is the next natural step for REG to engage with industry and the sector. Maintenance and construction crews are carrying out works on the transport network every day. This work is the crucial delivery end of all the planning done by RCAs, and what our customers see and experience every day.
“Investment in maintaining the transport network can be one of the biggest expenditures for many councils. It is important that as a sector we can demonstrate effective delivery, an appreciation of the customer’s needs and demonstrate value for money.
“As the long-term planning process progresses councils will be having conversations about why they need to invest in transport, what the right level of investment is, and what are the right roads and time to deliver on what the customers need now and in the future.
“If you clearly understand why you are doing the work identified, have agreed levels of customer service linked to hard data, and are focused on customer outcomes then you’re starting to have good conversations around setting investment priorities,” says Jim.
Looking forward, the REG journey is not finished.
Thinking about the diversity across the sector and how different principals operate, the big question REG is currently working on is understanding what are the current skill gaps in the sector noting that the needs of the rural, provincial and urban councils are quite different. Working with a mix of representatives from across the sector over the next six months REG will complete and publish its sector skills assessment.
REG has found that the more it understands the sector and successfully implements new tools, the greater the opportunity to promote best practice and support the development of the sector.
The journey will continue to support improved investment decision making to enable more effective service delivery and ultimately provide better outcomes for customers using the transport system.
Projects REG has planned for 2018 include further development of the sector’s capability, incorporation of the ONRC into service delivery, expanding the value and use of the ONRC, performance measures, and reporting.
REG is also looking to encourage more young people to get involved in the transport sector, increasing the understanding of the value of our transport assets, and taking a fresh approach to how transport maintenance contracts are planned for, tendered and let.
• For more information on the Road Efficiency Group visit nzta.govt.nz.
This article was first published in Contractor‘s March issue.