This week, I watched yet another television news item about lowering speed limits on state highways as Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency works its way around New Zealand reducing speed limits in the name of safety.

This time, it was the whole of Northland reducing from 100 kph to 80 kph. The piece on One News spoke to members of the business community in Northland and not one of them agreed with the idea of lowering speed limits.

We have seen the same with business and community leaders in Hawke’s Bay who are fighting to prevent state highway 5 between Napier and Taupō being reduced to 80kph throughout.

Northland is another community not being listened to by the bureaucrats in Wellington who know best.

We get the same resistance when we try to have a holistic discussion about road safety with government officials. Out comes the passive aggressive comments about us caring about productivity over people’s lives. The two aren’t actually mutually exclusive. A productive economy has more money available to improve people’s lives. And road safety isn’t just about speed.

Transport has been politicised in New Zealand in recent years. We have been told roads, cars and trucks are bad. We don’t agree with that – good roads are essential to a well-functioning economy, particularly for an export driven country such as New Zealand.

It feels like I say it every day, but better roads are safer roads. We would like to see some of the money that should go to roads actually go into repairs, maintenance and even, new builds.

For that reason, this week we published the report Road and rail – delivering for New Zealand.

The Government has committed $5 billion to spend on rail (New Zealand Rail Plan 2021).

We are concerned that money is being siphoned out of the funds meant to maintain, repair and build roads, which road users pay for. The roads need urgent attention.

Given Government’s funding and rail’s performance over the past 150 years, we disagree with the recent budget allocations being described as investment. At best, these are misguided subsidies, and in reality, it is poor use of public funds to prop up a system that bar a few exceptions, is not commercially viable.

We believe it is important to put some evidence on the table to bring balance and more informed views to the Government’s rhetoric on the merits of rail freight over road freight.

With this report, we are presenting evidence from the research of economists with expertise in transport, namely Dave Heatley and David Greig, among others, including international research.

The reality is that 93 percent of New Zealand’s goods are moved on trucks by road because that is faster, more efficient and more reliable than rail, delivering door-to-door.

We estimate about 12 percent of freight movement is contestable by rail.

We are not anti-rail.

The road freight transport industry is one of the largest consumers of rail as it is particularly good for moving the likes of coal, chemicals and other bulk goods over a long distance with little, if any, pressure on urgency of delivery.

But road has an overwhelming advantage where minimal handling is important (e.g. livestock), time is critical (e.g. concrete), or endpoints are dispersed.

And it should not be forgotten that the majority of rail freight journeys have to be completed by truck journeys at one, or both ends. The reality is that rail needs road, the reverse however, is not true.

We want to bring evidence, balance and informed views to decision-making about rail investment where it is clearly detrimental to vital investment in roads.

The movement of freight underpins driving our economy therefore, rather than pick winners or have a myopic mode focus, we support Government investment in infrastructure where quality business cases stack up.

The report looks at the economics of road and rail freight and the aspects of the networks each operates on, environmental impacts, Government influences and policy settings, freight movement trends in New Zealand and overseas, external influences and a look back at where the networks have come from. You can read it here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand

Please note: The content of this Advisory has been issued to inform members of Transporting New Zealand. It is for road freight transport industry circulation, not for media publication. It can be forwarded in its entirety to members of Transporting New Zealand. It cannot be reproduced, or printed in parts, under any logo other than Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand’s logo, without written permission from Transporting New Zealand.