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ROAD TRANSPORT FORUM - Auckland speed limits a result of lazy policy

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Auckland motorists and transport operators will be in utter confusion when new reduced speed limits come in across 700km of the region’s roads. Nobody can argue against genuinely safer roads and the RTF supports road safety measures where all consequences are well considered. A city-wide reduction in speed limits such as this, though, is not well-considered policy. It’s cheap, lazy, dog-whistle-style policymaking that Auckland Transport knows will fit well with the anti-road agenda coming out of Wellington. Unfortunately, it seems as though AT is using reduced speed limits and the associated shrill drumbeat from the anticar lobby to cover its significant lack of investment in roading infrastructure. As we know, all AT’s money is going into expensive rail projects such as the City Rail Loop and the basket-case that is the light rail project, instead of improving the region’s roads. The fact is that the vast majority of Auckland road users, while being frustrated by the doctrinaire new rules, will not be willing to raise their head above the parapet for fear of being characterised as cold-hearted and uncaring. We have basically been backed into a corner.

The AA’s Barney Irvine, one of the few motoring commentators alongside the RTF to criticise the plan, makes the very valid point that, “the big-bang, blanket reductions that AT is proposing are too much, too fast. If people don’t see a speed limit as credible, they are unlikely to stick to it; and where compliance is low, you don’t get the safety benefits – all you get are higher numbers of infringements. That all adds up to a really poor road safety outcome.” The economic impact of these reduced speeds will be significant. Policymakers may think it only adds a few minutes per journey here and there, but that adds up extremely quickly in our industry and will force trucking operators to completely rearrange schedules and push drivers to work longer hours. All those changes result in a loss of productivity and a drag on the economy. The costs, of course, won’t be borne by transport operators, they will be passed on down through the supply chain to consumers. What happens in Auckland affects the whole of New Zealand – so we will all suffer.

Addressing unfair commercial practices
In much better news, the government recently announced a commitment to introduce legislation that will address the lingering issue of unfair commercial practices. RTF was first in the door to see Ministers Faafoi and Nash on this problem in early 2018. At that stage unfair commercial practices and unilateral deferred payment were barely on the government’s radar, although the issue did gain considerable traction in the media and across the Tasman. That fact was that a number of transport operators and other independent contractors who relied on servicing large primary sector companies had been suffering from 60- to 90-day payment terms for some time and were under stress because of it.

Smaller transport operators and small- to medium-sized businesses in general do not hold large reserves of cash, meaning they rely on money coming in regularly to pay for overheads like vehicle maintenance or just to pay the monthly wages! In many parts of New Zealand, particularly in rural areas, the reality is that there is often only one game in town for a transport operator and there is little choice but to agree with the contract terms presented, which put those operators in a very difficult position.

The simplest solution (and the solution we took to the government back in early 2018) was to simply extend existing provisions within the Fair Trading Act, which protect consumers from unfair contract terms with businesses, to also apply to business-to-business contracts. The government’s recent announcement included a specific commitment to do this for businessto- business contracts with a value below $250,000. While the cases of unilateral deferred payment have dropped, probably due to a few instances of public shaming, introducing this change will protect small businesses from this insidious practice in the future so we must make sure we get it over the line. Unfortunately, the way government works and the various interests that it must juggle means you very rarely get everything you ask for and unfortunately this time it seems the union movement has muddied the waters by convincing the government to try to legislate to prohibit ‘unconscionable conduct’ also.

RTF doesn’t believe this will be effective as it is extremely hard to prove in court and is probably not even usable for small- to mediumsized businesses that don’t have the legal resources to pursue it. Nevertheless, the government’s intention is to introduce the Fair Trading Amendment Bill early next year and you can be sure that RTF will again be knocking on doors around Wellington to make sure we get it passed before the 2020 election.