The trucking industry love to act all virtuous when it comes to discussions about transport funding. Often, like in this press release claiming
Road users pay for the infrastructure they use and its maintenance through their petrol taxes, Road User Charges and registration fees.
Of course we all know this is complete BS. On local roads ratepayers pay for at least half of all roading costs and particularly when it comes to road maintenance, if we were to consider the things based on how much damage different types of road users inflict then there is also a huge cross subsidisation from private vehicles to the trucking industry.
But it isn’t just road maintenance costs that are having to be subsidised by other road users, increased capital costs are also a reality. An example of this came yesterday in the form of a press release from the NZTA talking about them spending $45 million to strengthen bridges just so they can handle the new super heavy trucks that were allowed a few years ago.
Northland bridges ready for freight’s new era
The first of a number of bridges in the upper North Island identified by the NZ Transport Agency for improvement as part of a nationwide $45 million investment programme to accommodate heavier loads have been upgraded on State Highway 1 near Whangarei.
The Otaika Stream Bridge No. 85 and the Kauri railway overbridge have been improved so that heavier loads can be carried by High Productivity Motor Vehicles (HPMVs) from the Wilsonville quarry, north of Whangarei, to the Portland Cement works, south of the city.
The Transport Agency’s Freight Director, Harry Wilson, says the improvements are part of a national programme to deliver a strategic nationwide network of HPMV routes on some of the country’s busiest freight corridors.
“Because HPMVs carry more freight per trip, they reduce the number of trips needed to improve productivity and cope with increasing freight volumes.
“In the case of the Otaika Stream Bridge and the Kauri railway overbridge, 56 trucks currently cross the bridges to and from the quarry each day, six days a week. Allowing HPMVs over these bridges is expected to save 14 trips per day.
“This is great news as it maximises load capacity on a key Northland route, which will lead to direct efficiency gains for industry as well as economic benefits for the local community,” Mr Wilson says
The reduction in travel offers significant commercial advantages – including lower vehicle operating costs, driver hours and fuel – as well as safety benefits from the reduced crash risk that fewer truck trips provide.
“With the potential for productivity gains, industry will invest in newer, safer truck combinations to operate on New Zealand’s state highways and roads. These newer trucks tend to be quieter and cleaner than the vehicles they replace, while the fuel savings mean reduced carbon emissions for each tonne of freight moved,” Mr Wilson says.
The Transport Agency is improving freight efficiency by increasing network access for HPMVs, which are able to carry greater loads than conventional trucks. This will allow more freight to be moved in fewer trips, and unlock the benefits from industry investment in these newer, more efficient trucks.
The 2012-15 National Land Transport Programme (NLTP) signalled a $45million investment to create a connected national HPMV network on key freight routes around the country.
And here is a map showing the upper North Island bridges that need to be upgraded. The rest of the country can be found here.
Of course this is just the State Highways yet I’m almost certain that the extra road user charges won’t be covering these capital costs or the extra maintenance costs incurred by heavier trucks. There will be even more costs to upgrade local roads and bridges to be able the handle these extra heavy trucks once they leave the state highways and that is something ratepayers are definitely being pinged for as per this statement from a ministry of transport official back in 2010 when the new trucks were first allowed.
The ministry says local authorities will receive 50 per cent of the cost of extra wear and tear as Government subsidies, leaving ratepayers “who benefit from the regional stimulus and economic and community benefits” to meet the rest.
All of this isn’t to say that there may not be benefits to using larger and heavier trucks as hypothetically fewer trucks being needed to move the same amount of material is a good thing however it would be interesting to know if that has been happening in reality. The one thing we do know for certain is that it is impossible for the trucking industry to claim that they aren’t be subsidised in some form or another.