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Plans to Allow Heavier Vehicles On Roads Announced

The Cabinet has agreed to further work on developing a controlled permit system to allow heavier vehicles on specified New Zealand routes, Transport Minister Annette King announced today.

"Freight is predicted to double by 2020. It is crucial that we explore options now to reduce the adverse impacts of that growth. We need to act now if we are to meet the challenges set out in the New Zealand Energy Efficiency and Conservation strategy and the proposed emissions trading scheme," Ms King said.

"I recognise there are concerns around heavier vehicles and these will be worked through. Under a permit system access to roads and bridges would take into account the impact on infrastructure.

"The developing role of rail and coastal shipping will also be considered. These modes are relatively energy efficient and will contribute to a reduction in emissions. They are also likely to play a critical role in logistics for import and export cargoes.

"Public safety issues are also critical. If properly managed heavier vehicles can enable the freight task to be undertaken by a reduced fleet with superior steering and breaking systems.

"Industry has been asking for improved heavy vehicle productivity for some time and I encourage interested parties to work with the Ministry of Transport in crafting a sensible permit system for heavier vehicles. I expect trials to begin next year," Ms King said.

Questions and Answers on the heavy vehicles productivity project

What is the current weight limit for vehicles on New Zealand roads?
The current gross weight limit depends on the number and layout of the axles. The heaviest permitted weight without a special permit is 44 tonnes.

Why is further work on a controlled permit system that will allow increased size and weight of heavy haulage loads being done?
The projected doubling of the freight task (total tonnage multiplied by total distance) by about 2020 means freight needs to be moved as efficiently as possible.

A particular problem at the moment is transporting overweight export shipping containers to a port or railhead.

An increase in the mass and dimension limits for heavy vehicles would help vehicle productivity by consolidating loads and reducing the number of vehicle movements required to distribute that freight.

What would a controlled permit system achieve?
Improved heavy vehicle productivity under the right conditions could enable a given amount of freight to be carried on fewer trucks. This would help to reduce road congestion, operating costs and vehicle emissions.

A controlled permit system enables the impacts of heavier vehicles to be properly managed by taking into account roading costs, safety and environmental impacts, and any adverse impacts on other freight modes.

Why not provide open access for road transport operators?
Some industry stakeholders want an across-the-board increase to 50 tonnes from the present 44 tonne limit. This is likely to benefit some stakeholders but will impose significant costs on others, in particular local road controlling authorities. It would also probably increase the volume of freight transported by road.

Rail or coastal shipping could also be adversely affected by an open access system. In the worst case, the viability of some rail lines could be threatened.

Will a new permit system improve safety?
Safety and environmental impacts will be carefully considered in designing the permit system. Heavier trucks will tend to be safer because fewer trucks would be needed for a given task, and because the permit system offers an opportunity for enhanced safety systems.

It will be important to ensure that any safety features associated with a permit system take into account Land Transport New Zealand's operational and compliance strategies for heavy vehicle operators. Compliance costs will also be considered.

How do you know the controlled permit system will work?
The proposed work programme has been designed to assess the effectiveness of a controlled permit system. The Ministry of Transport will work closely with stakeholders, including industry and local authorities. This will ensure that the permit system that emerges will accommodate those parts of the freight industry that will bring the greatest benefits for New Zealand.

Pilot programmes (ie trials) may be used to check that the system works as expected and possible candidates for trials will be considered during the work programme.

Under the trials, operators could be permitted to carry heavier loads under certain conditions. The results of the trials would be collected and analysed to assess productivity and environmental impacts. Compliance costs would also be considered.

Heavier loads will mean extra road maintenance costs; who will pay for that?
The detail will be developed as the work proceeds, but in principle the costs will be paid by those who benefit from using heavier trucks. The work will consider building the cost of extra road maintenance into the permit system.

The government has just announced the Emissions Trading Scheme which calls for a reduction in transport greenhouse gases. Will the heavy loads increase emissions?
Fifty tonne trucks will use more fuel than 44 tonne trucks but the difference is slight. It will usually be outweighed by the greater load on each truck, bringing a useful overall saving in emissions.

What about moving more freight by rail?
The new permit system will take the National Rail Strategy to 2015 into account. A benefit of allowing heavier trucks on the roads will be that they can carry overweight export containers to rail or ports.

Will the work be done by the Ministry of Transport alone?
The Ministry of Transport will lead the project and will engage with Land Transport NZ, Transit New Zealand, Ministry of Economic Development, the Ministry for the Environment, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and Treasury in shaping the final controlled permit system.

Road controlling authorities will also have a significant interest in the programme, particularly in the area of road and bridge maintenance costs, so they will also be closely consulted. Representatives of the freight sector and major transport users will also be involved throughout the work programme.

How long will the work take?
The Ministry of Transport's work is expected to take two years. Work will also be required on drafting an amendment to the Vehicle Dimensions and Mass Rule. This requires statutory public notification and consultation. If it is possible to complete the work sooner, the Ministry of Transport will do so.

Will this increase trailer length?
It is possible that some operators may want to use bigger and possibly longer trucks. Developments in heavy truck design technology can allow longer trucks to negotiate bends without needing significantly greater road width. How this applies in the context of New Zealand's roading system will need to be carefully considered.

How much more damage to the roads is done per tonne of extra weight?
Heavy trucks are charged by the 'fourth power' of axle weight, so a 50 tonne truck will typically be charged about two thirds more than a 44 tonne truck. How much damage the heavier truck does depends on many factors. The government believes that the 'fourth power' gives the most accurate results overall.

Are heavier vehicles less safe than smaller ones?
Heavier vehicles should be at least as safe as existing trucks. Their brakes will enable them to stop just as quickly and new safety requirements may be put in place. In general, heavier trucks will also tend to be safer overall because fewer trucks will be needed to transport the same amount of goods.

What kind of loads will these trucks be carrying?
At present there are no plans to restrict the types of load that heavier trucks may carry. Obviously there will be a particular focus on safety for any proposals that involve hazardous substances.

Will these trucks still be able to go on the ferry?
Heavier trucks will be able to use ferries. However, ferry operators may raise questions related to deck strength or vessel stability.

Will they fit through bridges and tunnels?
Heavier trucks will be no higher or wider than existing trucks. Bigger trucks will be limited by the existing specifications for bridges and tunnels. Most bridges and tunnels already have height and/or weight restrictions.

What about going over bridges?
Most bridges on State highways, and many bridges on local roads, are already adequate for 50 tonne trucks. Other bridges could be strengthened, replaced or closed to heavier trucks.

What will happen to the present system of overweight permits?
Initially there will be no change to the existing system, which is intended for one-off overweight trips. The new system will be used for a slightly different purpose, to permit trips by nominated trucks operating a particular load and route.

Where did this idea originate?
The idea was originally raised by the trucking industry. In addition, Land Transport NZ and Transit in particular have advocated for a review of heavy vehicle limits for some time.


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