INDUSTRY COMMENT - The right road – almost

Thursday, October 22, 2020

A qualified motor mechanic, auto electrician and diesel mechanic by trade, Russell was transport manager and national fleet manager for New Zealand Post until 1995. He then did a number of industry-related contract jobs, including working with the industry training organisation developing qualifications. He was employed by the NZTA in a variety of roles before working for EECA in its Heavy Vehicle Fuel Efficiency programme. Now semi-retired, he is still involved with the industry and doing some volunteer work.

The Land Transport (NZTA) Legislation Amendment Act has completed its passage through the legislative process.
It has four primary objectives:
1. Setting up a new regulatory structure,
2. Establishing the position of director of land transport,
3. Centralising regulatory authority, and
4. Strengthening the NZTA’s role in relation to key regulatory interventions, including speed management and enforcement.

The Act comes into effect in two parts, the establishment of the position of director of land transport and other supporting sections on 1 September 2020, and the rest of the Act on 1 April 2021. The background to this Act is the acknowledged breakdown in the NZTA’s regulatory functions over recent years. While it is satisfying to see actions are being taken to address the breakdown in these functions, in my opinion it does not go far enough. As the director of land transport will report to the chief executive of NZTA, the true independence of this position is questionable. The Act signals a return essentially to the situation that existed between 1993 and 2004, the period when the Land Transport Safety Authority (LTSA) existed as a separate Crown entity. Many will recall the mantra of the LTSA was ‘Safety at reasonable cost’. LTSA had a clearly defined purpose, road safety, with a director of land transport safety leading the organisation. A presentation delivered to the IRTENZ conference in 2004 described the functions of LTSA as: Operational policy including land transport rules, licensing, national and regional education, and compliance.

In 2004 LTSA merged with Transfund to form Land Transport New Zealand. Transfund was the Crown entity responsible for funding the roading network. It is worth recalling that for a period the road transport industry was represented on the board of Transfund. The presentation at the IRTENZ conference suggested the merger of the two organisations would provide “A new opportunity to make a difference”. The principle objective of LTNZ was “An affordable, integrated, safe, responsive and sustainable transport system”. An unexpected outcome of this merger was that the focus on several of the functions previously undertaken by LTSA, such as compliance, diminished. In 2008 LTNZ and Transit New Zealand were merged into one organisation, the NZ Transport Agency. The result of this merger was that New Zealand had a single organisation responsible for funding roads, building and maintaining them, and approving people to use them. It was an inevitable outcome of this merger that less visible aspects of the business, such as compliance, would suffer. Not long after the merger, questions were being asked if having a single organisation responsible for all aspects of roading and its use had the potential for conflict of interest.

While addressing some of the breakdowns in the NZTA’s regulatory function, the Act also sets out to address some of the issues that have emerged since LTSA, Transfund and Transit New Zealand were merged – but with one significant difference, the new director of land transport will be responsible to the chief executive of NZTA and thus the NZTA board. Whilst the Act does give the director theoretical decision-making independence, whether this will happen in practice only time will tell. But it is hard to fathom how the role will be able to function with complete autonomy without some level of direction from above. The Act allows the Crown to incur expenses or capital expenditure to fund the NZTA’s regulatory functions, along with funding for the Ministry of Transport’s associated monitoring functions of NZTA. This is intended to provide for road users in the land transport system to contribute to the costs incurred by NZTA as the regulator and where these costs provide a strong public benefit across the land transport system. In other words, road users could be required to pay some of the costs to support NZTA’s regulatory functions and the oversight of these functions by the Ministry of Transport. A new fee perhaps?

The Act will also allow NZTA to take over management of infringement offences obtained from vehicle surveillance equipment, such as speed cameras, from the police. NZTA will be able to contract others to do some of this work, including issuing of infringement notices. In my opinion the Act does not go far enough. New Zealand needs an organisation dedicated to road safety and its associated functions, such as compliance. In other words, an LTSA-style organisation. This should be separate from other organisations that have an interest in roads, the funders and the builders, and must be funded accordingly. Until we have such an organisation, we cannot expect meaningful and sustainable gains to be made.