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Road Lobby Give False Picture Of Road User Charges While Government Impulsively Axes Rail Ferries

TRAC believes that motorists need to know the truth about road funding as transport costs in New Zealand may not be what they seem!

Don Kalasih, the interim chief executive of Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand, which is the new pretentious name for the trucking lobby group the Road Transport Forum, is calling for, yet bigger trucks claiming they will be more productive and “better for the environment”

He is also taking issue with Waka Kotahi’s briefing to the minister that trucks are ruining our roads, more dangerous for other road users and emit more carbon (than trains). However, these comments printed in NZ Auto Car Magazine are about as inaccurate as his further assertion that heavy vehicles pay 65% of all road user charges. TRAC has the figures (attached) for the 2022-23 period which are the latest figures available which indicate that all vehicles under 3.5 tonnes paid $1.892billion and vehicles over 3.5 tonnes paid just $785million. That means heavy vehicles paid just about 28% of road maintenance costs leaving motorists to pay the remaining 72%!

Niall Robertson the national coordinator for TRAC says, “There is a lot of anti-rail spin currently and much of it, it seems, is based on incorrect data or barefaced lies from those with a vested interest in seeing rail fail”.

Robertson goes on to say, “…one has to question the impulsive decision by the government to axe the iReX rail ferry project without letting KiwiRail look at alternatives”. Robertson asks, “…what was the rush?”

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TRAC believes that the original plan for two high productivity vessels with lives of 30 years and new terminals to replace end of life terminals and last 100 years was a reasonable deal with relatively cheap costs for the ferries and the terminals at $1.5billion. The budget blowout is related to new legislation from just last October to earthquake proof the Kaiwharawhara site for an extra $1.4billion!

Robertson says, “KiwiRail should be given time to assess other options at Kings Wharf and Seaview before any contracts are broken and further, if there is no option but to build the Kaiwharawhara terminal, then that should be funded as an essential part of the rail and New Zealand transport network for New Zealand”.

Chair of TRAC Guy Wellwood said, “People don’t really know what is at stake here. If these ferries are not built, then KiwiRail will have to withdraw from the ferry business as they will be just serving the road transport industry. After that, they will probably be forced to close the Picton to Christchurch line and review the viability of all lines in the North Island south of Hamilton. It is as simple as that!”

Robertson adds that this will leave New Zealand with a high emissions and very polluting transport system. Road tyres themselves are 40% of the pollution from road vehicles and the particulates add to poor air quality which causes 400 deaths in New Zealand. Much of these particulates are micro and nano plastics which we all breathe in and which are now going into our bloodstream with significant health risks for us going forward. Microplastics from road vehicles are the second largest contributor to ocean plastics pollution.

TRAC acknowledges the value of road transport in delivering items door to door and meeting “just in time” requirements of urgent freight. Road transport will always be required for 70% of the freight task, but we need rail for the lower 30% of freight as rail is best with large contracts and bulk loads like export containers, logs, coal bulk milk and bulk cement. On some routes though like Auckland to Christchurch, rail can be quite competitive with road transport.

Robertson says, “KiwiRail needs to hand the responsibility for the below wheel rail infrastructure over to the government to administer the same way as roads, and motorists need to realise that trains are their friends but heavy vehicles are not so much”. Robertson adds, “In a time of great pollution and climate change, road transport needs to be used when it has to be, but we need to optimize the use of rail and get it back to moving 30% of all freight from its current 13% and to even look at putting regional passenger trains back on the lines too to reduce car congestion and pollution”.

We need to understand that in New Zealand we have choices about how we live. We can choose to be clean and green and be safer too, or we can sacrifice the environment, New Zealand’s good name and road safety by allowing vested interests to be greedy and try and do work that is best left to rail for a variety of reasons, and despite current spin, rail is the cheapest form of transport too. It is just the long term funding and investment that governments do not like. For roads the government just taxes motorists for any road expenses.

We can make the right choices as a nation.

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