Regions say ‘no’ to Govt plan for big trucks

The debate continues over the matter of allowing heavier trucks on New Zealand’s roads, with several regional transport committees stating their opposition to the move. ¬† The Herald reports:

Regional transport committees for most of the upper North Island – including Auckland – oppose allowing heavier trucks on main roads despite Government and industry predictions of productivity gains and fuel savings.

Proposed rule changes to allow bigger trucks, subject to a new permitting system, were hotly debated by Auckland’s regional transport committee before members voted on Wednesday 10-5 to reject them.

That followed similar opposition from committees in Northland and Waikato, and a submission from their Bay of Plenty counterpart outlining strong reservations, although without rejecting them outright.

Local Government NZ has also raised concern about the costs for ratepayers of fixing local roads, as diesel road user charges cover only half the bill through the national land transport fund.

It has warned the Government it is unlikely many permits would be issued by its members as road controlling authorities.

But some local councils, including Auckland City, have supported the new system subject to conditions.

The Ministry of Transport has received 285 submissions on the changes and expects to make a report to the minister, Steven Joyce, next month.

Under the proposed changes, road controlling authorities would be responsible for issuing permits for standard-sized vehicles to operate on specified routes with loads between the current maximum of 44 tonnes and a proposed new limit of 53 tonnes.

The Transport Agency would be responsible for permits for vehicles up to two metres longer than the current maximum length of 22m, with loads “above or below” 53 tonnes.

The Auckland debate was spiced up by Road Transport Forum chairman Simon Tapper, a regional committee member, who said the changes would give environmental as well as economic gains by reducing truck movements.

He claimed “a lot of emotional clap-trap” was clouding the debate.

The new rules would enable his company, Tapper Transport, to cut about 10,000 round trips from the 50,000 made annually between its Onehunga hub and the Auckland waterfront.

“That means 280,000km a year would be taken out of the equation – the emission cuts, carbon dioxide savings, would be huge.”

Responding to concerns of other committee members about safety, he said heavier trucks would be required to be able to stop in the same distance as existing rigs, and the extra weight would enhance braking capabilities “because you’ve got more friction on the ground”.

He said it would take only a course in “statistics 101” to appreciate that fewer truck movements would eclipse any extra risk from heavier loads subjected to tight safety requirements.

Campaign for Better Transport co-ordinator Cameron Pitches questioned the trip savings predicted by Mr Tapper, and said there was nothing in the proposed permit system stipulating controls over emissions or noxious leachates into waterways.

Committee chairwoman Christine Rose did not consider it credible that roads would be safer, and said Mr Tapper should ride a bicycle along a rural freight route to “know what it feels like to fear for your life”.

Mr Tapper acknowledged that road freight consignments would continue to grow, but said providing for larger trucks would enable it to happen at a slower rate.

A submission approved by the committee calculated that an increase in the per axle weight of quad-axle vehicles, from 5.5 tonnes to 6 tonnes, might not seem much but could cause 41 per cent more road damage.

It said larger trucks would undermine the competitiveness of more energy-efficient rail and coastal shipping freight services.

Northland transport committee chairman John Bain said his region opposed the changes because it relied on State Highway 1 and it would only take a big slip caused by larger trucks at sites such as the Brynderwyn Hills to cut it off.

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