THE LAST MILE - It did not take long

Monday, September 28, 2020

In the May edition I suggested that one of the better things that had come out of the Covid crisis was that the ideologs, those who see our industry as a two-horned monster, had been less vocal, but I suggested they could be using the time for planning their next round of attacks on us. Well, it did not take long for some of them to emerge. Early on we had the Associate Minister of Transport, Julie Anne Genter, proposing fast rail from the regions to the cities. Clearly her advisors did not tell her that one of the more serious constraints on our rail system is the New Zealand terrain, requiring numerous bridges, tunnels and tight curves and, importantly, the gauge, 1.067m in New Zealand compared with the standard gauge of 1.435m overseas. There are reasons why the builders of our railways opted for a narrower gauge; the terrain is one of them. If Julie Anne’s advisors did tell her, maybe it was simply a matter of ignoring the advice;

it wouldn’t be the first time a minister has gone against the advice of officials to push a personal agenda, and anyway, why let facts get in the way of a good story? Then we saw the pop-up of ‘temporary’ cycleways in some cities, apparently to allow cyclists to keep their social distance from each other as well as provide for a predicted increase in cyclists because of the lower capacity of public transport. It does not take much imagination to work out that the councils that moved so quickly to put these into place have most likely already planned their next move, perhaps something like this: “the pop-up cycleways have been a great success, so in order to provide ongoing safety to the many cyclists who use them and to encourage more people to use bicycles in our city, we have decided to make them permanent. Providing a safe environment for cyclists and pedestrians is a high priority as we transition to a more sustainable transport system.”

Let us just ignore the increased traffic congestion and resultant emissions these temporary, now permanent, cycleways will cause, and the additional difficulties trucks will have doing deliveries; these truths do not figure in the equations, they ruin the spin. One council putting in these temporary cycleways acknowledged that it will take up the space of 130- plus paying car parks; this at a time when all councils are screaming about their lower projected income. In the Letters to the Editor in The Dominion Post (Friday 22 May 2020) under the heading ‘Electric rail’ the writer – signing himself as Aro Valley NZ Agent, Light Rail Transit Assn – writes: “A completely electrified main trunk would have the capability of handling all passenger and freight transport between Auckland and Wellington with zero emissions.” Really? Having the capability to do something is one thing, but the ability to do it and willingness of others to use it are completely different. The writer seems to have conveniently overlooked the need for more rolling stock and engines and many more passing bays or greater double-tracking. Full electrification of the Main Trunk Line was first proposed in 1950 and I personally think it is a crime that when the centre section of line was electrified in 1984 this was not completed, but there must have been reasons for this, some of which are still likely to be around today. Maybe cost and overall return on investment were among these.

The remainder of 2020 and well into 2021 is going to be extremely hard for most of us, hardships that only our more senior people have experienced before, but, just as they did in the 1930s and 1940s, we will get through one way or another; this is the underlying spirit of New Zealand. Perhaps the difference between then and now though is that back then the vast majority of New Zealanders were united behind a single cause. Unfortunately today this is not the case. There are too many lobby groups and individuals only too happy to push their own agendas and even more happy to undermine the veins that make our country work – the roads, and those who keep the country moving, our drivers. It’s times like this when leadership is required. The leadership of our industry must unite behind a single voice, a voice that is not afraid to stand up and openly challenge those who seek to destabilise the very reason we exist, to provide the services that our customers want.