Gosche Speech Taxi Federation Annual Conference
Hon Mark Gosche Minister of Transport, Minister of Housing, Minister of Pacific Island Affairs, Minister of Civil Aviation
Speech to New Zealand Taxi Federation Annual Conference
Kia ora koutou, talofa lava and greetings to you all.
May I say particular greetings to the Taxi Federation national executive. Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today
The Taxi Federation plays a key role in the transport sector.
In my view an active and ongoing dialogue between government, local authorities and groups such as yours is vital to getting the development of New Zealand's transport infrastructure right. That is why I value opportunities such as today.
Overview of Land Transport
I would like to begin by summarising this government's thinking on roading. There are three main points I would like to make.
The first point is that there is now a broad consensus that New Zealand is facing major problems in the land transport area and these need to be urgently addressed.
The previous government spent nearly five years in debate on roading reform but at the end of the day failed to deliver any meaningful improvement.
This government does not see itself as having the luxury of such a leisurely time-scale.
We have to start applying practical solutions to fix New Zealand's land transport problems.
A second key point is that any changes in land transport should be incremental and progressive rather than based on some sort of "big bang" approach. In devising solutions this government favours a pragmatic approach that draws on proven practice in New Zealand and elsewhere.
The third key point is that this government wants to build a sustainable transport system.
To achieve a sustainable transport system, we must carefully balance the interests of safety, customer needs, investment, the environment and social equity.
The government has begun that task.
Road infrastructure problems
You will all be very aware that our roads demonstrate daily that they are becoming inadequate for the task they are asked to do.
The underlying cause of this situation is not a mystery. During the last decade road traffic in New Zealand grew by 4% a year. At this rate traffic volumes will double in the next 18 years.
There are some very vivid examples of how serious the problems are. The most visible sign of inadequacy is the traffic congestion in our major cities. One study estimates that Auckland's congestion alone costs New Zealanders, not just Aucklanders, some $800 million plus per year.
Nor are road infrastructure problems limited to metropolitan areas. Taxi federation members will be well aware that some regional networks are having difficulty keeping pace with the financial and operational demands of a growing and changing economy and society.
For example, dairying in Southland, forestry in Marlborough and tourism in Coromandel or Northland put pressures on our roads that local communities struggle to meet.
Two Stage Approach
Changing transport policy is not a rapid business.
Many of the decisions that led to the system that we have today - and its problems - were made as much as fifty or more years ago. Once major transport infrastructure investments are made, they can have an impact that lasts for decades or even centuries.
We cannot simply turn the clock back ? we have to fashion a new transport approach taking into account what has been done and what exists today.
The government has therefore had to adopt a two stage approach to the development of transport policy.
· First we have taken a number of short term measures to begin the process of change in key areas such as road safety, the environment and passenger transport.
· Secondly, we have begun a programme of consultation with communities and stakeholders to identify and implement a long term approach to addressing the problems I identified earlier.
I will now deal with these initiatives in more detail.
Transport safety is a high priority goal for this government.
Our most immediate task is to continue to improve our road safety record. Over the last decade, the road toll has been substantially reduced, but we are still well below the best results achieved by similar countries.
The government has announced a series of decisions that will enable us to make substantial immediate improvements in road safety, while we develop a more strategic approach.
These decisions included funding 225 extra police officers to work exclusively on road safety on the State Highways, the most highly used part of the road system.
In addition we have almost doubled the amount of money going to community driver education initiatives, with particular emphasis on initiatives coming from the Maori and Pacific Island communities.
Safety strategy to 2010
The government is now considering a comprehensive proposal for a long-term road safety strategy for the next ten years to 2010, which will be released in the next few weeks. This is a crucially important issue affecting every one of us and it deserves your close attention.
The first key question in that strategy will be: How far can we push the road toll down over the next ten years?
If we adopt world best practice as our goal, then we are looking at a reduction in our road toll from just over 500 deaths per year to 280 per year. That is no mean target when we also expect substantial growth in traffic over the same period.
The second key question will be how do we achieve our chosen road safety goal?
There is a wide range of possible options ranging from substantial increases in enforcement standards and activity through enhanced and improved education programmes to a massive programme of road rebuilding and improved ways of managing road infrastructure.
Each option has its costs, both social and financial, and the government will be seeking wide community input into these issues before we set a long-term direction early next year.
I hope that your federation will give the 2010 discussion document careful consideration. I would value your input on this issue.
Improving the environment
The government is also determined to carefully manage the environmental effects of our transport systems.
Before the end of this year, the government expects to have out for consultation a discussion paper on new emission standards for all vehicles arriving in New Zealand for the first time. We need to make sure that all imported vehicles ? whether new or used ? meet the best international practice for air emissions.
I also believe that we need to review those sections of the Resource Management Act that deal with land transport. I can see no valid reason why roads and railways should be exempt from the air emissions requirements of that Act.
We are also working on new rules to govern smoky road vehicles. While the intent of the current law is a good one, its administration is unreasonably complex, and plans for a simpler approach to dealing with smoky vehicles are well advanced.
In addition the government has decided to accede to the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change in the second half of 2002.
This means that we will be making a commitment that by 2008 we will have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions to no more than they were in 1990.
This is no small task.
Currently the transport sector generates about 15% of New Zealand's total greenhouse gas emissions. The bulk of those emissions are CO2 generated by the burning of fossil fuel on our roads.
This means that we are going to have to make a serious effort to improve road vehicle fuel efficiency.
Making progress on climate change is a high priority for the Government, and I plan to work closely with transport sector groups and local government. If we work together in a pragmatic way, I believe that we can meet our environmental goals while also making more efficient use of our transport system.
Before I leave environmental matters, I would like to address the issue of gas fuels as I understand this is a subject that your organisation has an interest in.
In our pre-election manifesto we said we would 'investigate methods of increasing the number of vehicles fuelled by LPG and CNG'.
My officials are currently investigating initiatives that the government might take to increase gas fuel use in New Zealand. Once they report back to me I will speak to my colleagues about possible action in this area.
Improving passenger transport
Transport is not just about mobility. It is also about accessibility.
New Zealand is second only to the United States in terms of cars per person. Yet we often forget that many New Zealanders still have levels of accessibility to social and economic opportunity that rely on a public transport system that has been slowly running down for the last fifty years.
The government is working with local government to review the future of other elements of passenger transport funding. This includes the future management and funding of the Total Mobility scheme. Just over $7 million is made available annually to the elderly and disabled as taxi vouchers under the Total Mobility scheme.
In conducting this review, I am particularly concerned that we focus on the actual needs of people in society.
While our mass transit systems clearly need development, I am also concerned that we have tended to overlook the importance of those services that provide door to door service.
Taxis and shuttles provide a crucial level of service to many in our urban and rural communities who do not have access to cars, in a way that buses, trains and ferries will never be able to do.
The government has been looking at ways that public transport funding arrangements can reflect taxis and shuttles role.
The patronage funding system announced at the time of the Budget, which links grants to Regional Councils to the number of people using public transport, was a first step in this programme. However it only addressed funding of traditional forms of scheduled services.
One of the issues being looked at in the longer term programme is whether schemes like Total Mobility should be available to a wider range of the transport disadvantaged. One of the challenges in this approach would be to make it work across all types of public transport services, including buses, trains, taxis and shuttles.
This approach may enable the emergence, over time, of a more flexible and responsive public transport system, geared to meeting the needs of those who presently find it most difficult to make use of our land transport system.
This could also extend the benefits of public transport funding beyond commuters in our big cities to those living in more isolated areas where traditional scheduled services are unlikely to be viable.
There are, however, significant issues that will need to be addressed before the government could commit itself to such a path. For example, the funding available for operating our land transport is limited. Assisting the transport disadvantaged would have to be assessed alongside other social, environmental and safety outcomes.
There are also existing commitments to more traditional forms of public transport that would need to be assessed. And then of course there are various technical challenges in establishing a secure and integrated ticketing system of the type that would be required.
The government intends to consult a range of interested parties, including the Taxi Federation, on these matters, with a view to making decisions before the end of the year.
Deregulation of Taxi Fleet
Related to these issues of passenger transport is the size of the taxi fleet.
Since the taxi industry was deregulated in 1989, the size of the industry has more than doubled. Generally speaking, this has led to a number of benefits for consumers, and substantial opportunities for the industry. Many firms have sprung up, employing many drivers, catering for a variety of consumer needs.
While I believe that there are a number of issues relating to the standards that we set for entry into the taxi industry, I believe that the net effect of the reform has been to improve the service to consumers. I have some concerns about the quality of the service in parts of the industry and your organisation has brought these concerns to my attention. They have also been subject to recent media comment. We are working towards a meeting of the Taxi industry with the Ministry of Transport so that these concerns can be aired.
Membership of the Taxi Federation
I am well aware that your organisation believes that all taxi companies should be Federation members and operate to minimum prescribed standards.
I certainly agree that quality standards are important. As you all know there is a set of standards listed in the Transport Services Licensing Act 1989. For instance, vehicles must be clean and in good repair and condition, and drivers need to behave in an orderly, clean and civil manner. Drivers must also have an adequate knowledge of their current operating area and be able to communicate in English. They must take their passengers by the most advantageous route from the passenger's point of view. And taxi organisations must keep registers of licence holders, their drivers and their members' vehicles as well as maintaining a register of complaints.
Whilst I support these standards there is a case for looking at them with your members.
I am keen to support the New Zealand Taxi Federation. Your organisation represents large parts of the industry and helps contribute to the development of this dynamic industry. I think it is important that there are organisations able to assist drivers and that companies act collectively to further their interests.
However, I would not support making Federation membership compulsory, as there are other organisations or groupings that some drivers or companies might prefer to have represent them. New Zealand is not a society in which we force people to join organisations. If the Taxi Federation provides high quality services to its members - as I know that it does - then it will continue to be able to speak for the sector from a position of confidence and strength.
Driver Licence Review
You may be aware that the government is reviewing the costs and management of the driver licence system. This fulfils a pre-election pledge.
That review is expected to be completed by November.
There are already some signs of safety gains from the new driver licensing regime. Police report a 38% reduction in offences detected for driving while disqualified compared to same period in the previous year. This reduction is important because disqualified drivers figure disproportionately in crash statistics. In fact they cause one in ten fatal road crashes.
It is now a year since the new regime came into effect, so this review is timely. I know it hasn't always been smooth sailing and I'd like to thank people for their forbearance with the blips in the delivery systems. The review is now moving as quickly as possible to see if there are some adjustments we should make for the future.
The sorts of issues that we will need to be looked at are have we got the level of compliance right? Or are we making drivers jump through too many hoops to get and keep their licence? And are the costs of getting a licence as low as they could be?
The review is looking at those parts of the system that are causing the government serious concern. These relate especially to older drivers and professional drivers. For both these groups a driver licence is more than what it is for the rest of us. For professional drivers it represents their livelihood - a very tangible thing. You don't need me to tell you that.
For older drivers it represents something less tangible but no less real. Their licence is their mobility, their ability to participate fully and equally in society.
Operator Licensing Review
While I am on the subject of reviews, I know your organisation has concerns about the pace of the operator licensing review.
I consider that the problems with the driving hours and logbooks regulations are a more immediate concern than those matters to be dealt with in the operator licensing review.
Consultation with those in the industry, including your Federation, supported this view. I therefore decided that the driving hours and logbooks review should take priority over the operator licensing review.
Driving Hours and Logbooks Review
The driving hours and logbooks review has a number of important issues which you have a keen interest in. I have been asked whether I agree with the current policy relating to government controlled driving hours and the use of driver logbooks. As I mentioned earlier this is an area that the industry has raised as requiring immediate attention. Therefore the review will investigate the current regulations to determine what is working and what needs to be changed.
Your Federation has commented that the penalties against taxi drivers, namely one month disqualification off the road for a logbook offence, are draconian. I will be carefully considering this issue as part of the driving hours and logbooks review.
Let me come back to the operator licensing review. One issue that will be considered as part of this review is courtesy vehicles. The courtesy vehicle issue does need to be addressed, but can not be dealt with ahead of this review because it is not a simple matter of licensing. We need to consider the pros and cons of the various activities being undertaken, and the services being provided, and determine the best way of managing them. But they need to be investigated as part of the overall intent and purpose of the primary legislation. For this reason, they have to be examined as part of the operator licensing review and not before.
You will appreciate that the operator licensing review is a substantial project. It may require legislative change. And because of the tightness of the legislative programme amendments to the Transport Services Licensing Act will not be possible this year. I can't give you a precise estimate of the timing but I certainly don't expect that I could get any amendments into the House before 2001 ? and even that could be pushing it.
I know the keenness of your interest in this topic, and I don't want to disappoint you, but neither do I want to give you any unrealistic estimates about the time that the task that lies ahead will take.
I announced in July that we were going to begin a round of consultation on these three broad areas so that the government could make decisions to move forward on these issues by the end of this year.
We wanted this consultation to be pragmatic and productive, and to agree a framework on directions, without getting bogged down in a mass of detail.
The last government spent five years debating the issues but could not reach a practical solution to our road problems.
We have now started an extensive development programme in consultation with local government, community groups and stakeholders that will cover three fundamental issues:
· We need to put in place systems to manage the external impacts of the road system, including improving safety and environmental management and our public transport system. In doing this, we need to make it clear to decision makers that road corridors are for a wide variety of users, including pedestrians and cyclists. They, just as much as motorists, have a right to use road corridors in safety.
· Secondly, we need to examine the way in which we charge for roads. New technology now enables us to consider a wider range of options within the present Road User Charges system. We also need to consider whether the present funding system can be made simpler, while retaining its basic principle of cost effectiveness.
· Last, we also need to consider whether our present management structures can be improved in a pragmatic and gradual way, without generating any more of the upheavals that have characterised reforms in the past.
I am pleased to report that our discussions with a wide range of groups are going very well. We are making good progress towards developing an innovative package of measures that will begin to tackle the very real problems that we face in the land transport sector.
The government is planning to begin to make decisions on a wide range of land transport issues before the end of this year. Those changes that need legislation will then be addressed in a Bill that we hope to introduce into Parliament early next year. The shape of those changes will become clearer as this year goes on.
Bringing it all together
If the transport sector in its wider sense is to support a positive future for New Zealand, then we have to work towards an integrated and sustainable transport system.
Uniting all the elements in that system into a comprehensive package that sets a clear path for the whole transport sector is a complex and challenging exercise, but one to which this government is committed.
The government intends to develop, with stakeholders, a New Zealand Transport Strategy to bring together the key issues I have discussed today into a comprehensive package that will give certainty for future investment and development.
This Strategy will have to set long term directions in terms of safety, environmental performance and accessibility. It will emphasise that the core issues of investment and innovation will depend on a commercially focussed transport and distribution sector that will thrive by providing high quality service to all its users.
It will be a guide for all who use the transport system, invest in it, or ensure that transport is a vital part of our communities.
There is a lot to do. That is evident from the range of issues that I have covered in this speech. This government wants to continue to work with key interest groups such as yourselves to make progress in transport. That means that we have to keep talking to each other. Dialogue with groups such as the Taxi Federation must be on-going.
As my speech has indicated I firmly believe that change is necessary in a number of key areas in the transport sector. I also believe that any change must be progressive rather than an upheaval, and that evolutionary change can only work if people talk to each other to find pragmatic solutions.
I look forward to working with you to make that change happen.