Petrol cars headed the way of the horse and cart – what’s next?

The New Zealand Transport Agency has begun thinking about how it may need to prepare for the arrival of autonomous ...

LEON NEAL/GETTY IMAGES
The New Zealand Transport Agency has begun thinking about how it may need to prepare for the arrival of autonomous vehicles such as this Volkswagen driverless concept car.

The transport revolutions of the past – railways, petrol cars and air travel – have shaped our cities and driven some of the most sudden and dramatic changes in society.

So it’s probably no wonder that transport is one of the first things we consider when we think about future technology.

In a few short years, people have gone from debating about whether electric cars will take off at all, to arguing about whether and when they will be self-driving.

Meanwhile, the leading edge of transport research and development has skipped ahead a mile.

Last month, Uber began laying the groundwork for a fleet of autonomous electronic helicopters or drones that would ferry commuters between the rooftops of skyscrapers, so they could bypass congested city streets.

The company aims to have a commercial service operating in Dallas and Dubai by 2023.

One vehicle that could perhaps do the job is being trialled in – who would have guessed it – New Zealand.

United States company Kitty Hawk, funded by Google co-founder Larry Page, has been testing a self-driving “flying car” called Cora, which can take off and land vertically, in Canterbury since October.

Spokeswoman Anna Kominik said it had settled on New Zealand for the trials after a global search for a jurisdiction that was “safe, had aviation experience and was a good place to do business”.

Kitty Hawk is headed by former Google X scientist Sebastian Thrun, who led the development of Google’s self-driving car and its Google Glass augmented-reality spectacles.

Its website explains Cora “rises like a helicopter and flies like a plane, eliminating the need for a runway and creating the possibility of taking off from places like rooftops”.

Kitty Hawk assumes Cora will be used for an Uber-like “ride-sharing” flying-electric-car service, rather than being a modern take on the exclusive corporate helicopter.

The Cora won’t be available for sale to individuals, it says, and is instead “about giving everyone a fast and easy way to get around that doesn’t come at the expense of the planet”.

However, Kitty Hawk is also trialling a one-person vertical take-off “personal aircraft” called the Flyer that is designed to fly up to 10 kilometres on a single electric charge.

The Flyer is designed to travel for up to 20 minutes at 20 miles per hour, though it's currently limited to flying over ...

The Flyer is designed to travel for up to 20 minutes at 20 miles per hour, though it’s currently limited to flying over water at an altitude of only 10 feet.
Coming back down to earth – but not with a bump – Telsa founder Elon Musk envisages a network of “hyperloops” that would smoothly whisk people between cities at up to 1200kmh, which is just under the speed of sound.

The incredibly high speeds touted by hyperloop researchers are conceivable because people would travel in pressurised “pods” that would glide on magnets, pushed by magnetic pulses through tubes that were kept at a near-vacuum to reduce air resistance.

One of the huge (some think insurmountable) engineering challenges is creating and maintaining something close to a vacuum in tubes that could stretch hundreds of miles.

Without the near vacuum, hyperloops just become a bit like a Maglev train in a tube.

Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson has signed a “preliminary agreement” to build a hyperloop that would transport people 160 kilometres between the Indian cities of Pune and Mumbai in 25 minutes, implying a less whizzy average speed of about 350kmh.

Its tubes would be depressurised to about 100Pa (pascals), equivalent to the very thin air pressure that exists 60km above the ground.

Branson, who has come off the bench to personally chair his Virgin Hyperloop 1 venture, told the BBC he believed it could transport people in Britain “far quicker, in far greater numbers, with far greater convenience than any other train network in the UK”.

If ever built in New Zealand, a hyperloop could cut the land-travel time between Auckland and Wellington to under an hour, and the commute time between Hamilton and Auckland to less than 10 minutes.

KiwiRail general manager of planning David Gordon says KiwiRail “has not formally looked at hyperloop technology for New Zealand and has not formed any view on it”.

Compared with drone taxis and hyperloops, self-driving cars might sound positively pedestrian.

But Christchurch consultant Roger Dennis is one of a growing number of professional future-watchers who argue they are an advance we can definitely count on.

Dennis forecasts self-driving trucks and cars will first prove their safety in the confines of mines, university campuses, ports and hospitals before being gradually allowed onto public roads by regulators.

Tragedies such as the death in March of a pedestrian in Arizona, who was hit by an Uber vehicle travelling in autonomous mode, will prove only an unfortunate “blip”, he believes.

“Driverless trucks have been used in mines for a number of years and, when they remove the human driver, accidents go down and productivity goes up. Human-driven cars kill more people every year than autonomous cars ever will.”

Self-driving cars may not be given licence to roam all of New Zealand’s eclectic mix of public roads in one swoop. Regulators may instead open up the road network in phases, he says.

“A logical approach would be to say, ‘We think these roads are suitable for autonomous vehicles and there’s another set of roads where it won’t work’. Then, as artificial intelligence improves, you will see more and more roads become certified.”

The New Zealand Transport Agency is starting to prepare for the arrival of autonomous vehicles (AVs), says one of its managers, Martin McMullan.

Virgin is one of the companies pioneering hyperloop systems, which could let people travel on land at up to 1200 ...

Virgin is one of the companies pioneering hyperloop systems, which could let people travel on land at up to 1200 kilometres an hour.

Trans-Tasman body Austroads, on which the agency has a board seat, produced a report last year on changes that might be required to the road network.

It stressed the benefits of making intersection designs and machine-readable signs “consistent”, so they could be reliably interpreted by software.

“Feedback suggests that many AVs will be designed to operate on our road networks as they currently are”, but existing infrastructure was “problematic” for some manufacturers, the report concluded.

“Roadworks are a key aspect noted to be of particular concern to AV manufacturers and system suppliers. It is necessary to ensure that roadworks become well planned events.”

Colin Gavaghan, director of the New Zealand Law Foundation Centre for Law and Policy in Emerging Technologies at Otago University, says it’s only “human” for AV accidents to weigh heavily on our minds.

“I’d wager that one pedestrian death from a driverless car would stand out in people’s minds more than all of the 300-odd road deaths in New Zealand last year combined.”

People imagine they are safer when they are in control of a vehicle, and “no amount of actuarial data can budge that belief”, he says.

“That said, I’m not sure that we should be settling for ‘a bit better than the status quo’ if it’s reasonable to expect driverless cars to be much safer.

“I have a vision of a future where car deaths are as rare as air traffic deaths today, and we should be demanding that level of safety.”

Research firm Bloomberg argues the world is unlikely to run out of lithium before the electric vehicle (EV) revolution is complete, even if it remains an essential ingredient in batteries.

Although not super-abundant, lithium is not a “rare earth” metal, with discovered global recoverable reserves estimated at somewhere between 10 million and 40m tonnes and rising – potentially enough to power more than 10 billion electric cars, according to Bloomberg.

Neither would New Zealand be likely to run out of electricity, according to Electricity Authority chief executive Carl Hansen.

“Electrifying all light vehicles would increase electricity demand by approximately 15 per cent, but this will likely occur over several decades,” Hansen says.

“We’re confident that the industry can cope with building generation in a timely way to meet the demand increases.”

Electricity prices might not even need to go up. “Over this time period there’s a high chance that electricity prices will decline in real terms due to the declining costs of technology such as small-scale solar generation.”

The same is true for transmission costs, he says. “It is possible the average cost of delivering electricity to consumers could decline due to higher use of existing network assets, especially during off-peak hours.

“Electric vehicles offer a fantastic opportunity for New Zealand to reduce its transport-related carbon emissions.”

Tony Seba believes petrol cars will go the way of the "horse and cart" far faster than most planners expect.

MARK TANTRUM/STUFF
Tony Seba believes petrol cars will go the way of the “horse and cart” far faster than most planners expect.

There is less agreement on when EVs and AVs may take over.

Right now, the switch to conventional self-driven electric vehicles has only just begun.

At the end of May, there were 5984 EVs registered in New Zealand, not including plug-in hybrids, according to the Transport Ministry.

That’s up from just 735 two years before and 2444 a year ago, but still a drop in the ocean among the total fleet of 3.6 million light vehicles.

Stanford University economist Tony Seba turned heads at an Apec conference in Wellington in November when he forecast no petrol vehicles would be built after 2025.

He believes that, by 2030, most journeys in the US will be taken “Uber-style” in fleets of self-driving cars that will pick people up and drop them off.

In the US “200m cars are going to be stranded – useless”, said Seba, who is known for his bold forecasts.

At the conservative end of the spectrum, the Transport Ministry forecasts EVs will still only make up 40 per cent of the fleet by 2040, even though it believes the typical lifetime cost of owning an EV will fall below that of a petrol car equivalent by about 2025.

The ministry is not making any forecasts about self-driving cars. But  McMullan says if AVs follow the pattern of other vehicle technologies they will take between 10 and 30 years to dominate vehicle sales, and then at least a further 20 years to squeeze out the existing fleet.

Dennis – noticing a Tesla electric car pass by his window as he speaks – says the “safe money” is on it being eight to 15 years before AVs become noticeable on the roads.

“The two big barriers will be that the last 20 per cent of the technology challenge will be difficult, and regulation and public policy.”

The obvious roadblock for drone transport and electrically powered flight in general comes in inventing the battery technology that could provide the necessary power-to-weight ratios.

British vacuum cleaning inventor James Dyson announced Dyson’s move into the electric-vehicle business last year and is among those betting big on new solid-state batteries that would have a solid electrolyte instead of the conventional liquid one.

Last month, carmakers Toyota, Nissan and Honda and battery manufacturers Panasonic and GS Yuasa received a US$14m grant from the Japanese government to team up on solid-state battery research.

These could at least double power-to-weight ratios at the same time as slashing recharge times by a factor of six, according to some researchers.

Dennis says there is “always interesting stuff in the labs”, but cautions battery technology has not been  a fast-moving field, at least up to now.

A “10-year timeframe” would be realistic for any breakthroughs, he believes.

“I think everybody finds it really difficult to think long term, and the classic example of this is the rebuilding of Christchurch, New Zealand’s largest infrastructure project costing more than $40b.

“There are at least four new car parking buildings in the CBD, yet if you look at Oslo in Norway, their CBD is going to be car-free by 2020. These are multi-storey buildings whose usage will probably start to tail off in 10 to 15 years – maybe sooner.”

KiwiRail welcomes Northland rail pledge

There is local support for rail improvements.
DANICA MACLEAN/FAIRFAX NZ

KiwiRail is welcoming the Government decision to investigate upgrading and expanding rail north of Auckland.

The initiative was announced by the Ministers of Transport and Regional Development as part of a package of Provincial Growth Fund improvements to help Northland’s economic and social growth.

They pledged $500,000 to examining the potential for rail improvements.

The coalition agreement between Labour and NZ First said the new Government would commission a feasibility study on the options for moving the Ports of Auckland, including giving Northport serious consideration.

Friday’s announcement did not mention the port specifically.

“We are looking forward to participating in the business case process. As the Government has indicated, KiwiRail has the ability to drive economic growth in the regions through our freight network, world-class tourism services and the passenger services we enable,” said KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy.

“Using rail also delivers a range of significant benefits including reducing carbon emissions and road congestion, making our roads safer, lowering spending on road maintenance and upgrades, and reducing fatalities.

“Every tonne of freight carried by rail is a 66 per cent emissions saving over heavy road freight.

“Northland’s rail lines are under-used and much of the rail infrastructure is old, reducing the speed at which trains can travel. The tunnels are not fit for purpose when it comes to container freight and considerable investment is needed to bring the rail line up to modern standards.

“If it proceeds, this work will allow for faster trains, larger modern sized containers and tourism services.”

KiwiRail currently runs one weekday return service to Auckland on the line predominantly carrying dairy and forestry.

– Stuff

Trains back on Wairoa – Napier line

Trains will be moving again on the Napier to Wairoa line for the first time in six years next Wednesday.

“The project to re-open the line will pass a significant milestone when a work train travels up to Eskdale from Napier delivering ballast,” KiwiRail Chief Executive Peter Reidy says.

“Having work trains running is an important part of getting the line open to shift logs by rail and take trucks off the road.

“The line is expected to be ready for logging trains by the end of the year.

“This is also a good time to remind people of the need to take care around the rail line. Because it has not been in use by trains, people need to be aware that trains will now be on the line, and that they need to be looking out for them,” Mr Reidy says.

There will be a ceremony to mark the return of trains at KiwiRail’s operations depot in Ahuriri.

There are good vantage points for members of the public who are keen to see the train as it passes at Meeanee Quay and Domain Rd at around 11.30am.

The line is being re-opened by KiwiRail using $5 million of funding from the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund, and will be used to transport logs to Napier. The work is expected to take two years to fully complete.

“This is an important project for the region, for New Zealand and for KiwiRail. It lifts the regional economy. It makes the roads safer by taking logging trucks off roads that were not designed to cope with growing volumes. It helps the environment by cutting carbon emissions,” Mr Reidy says.

KiwiRail has estimated that using the Wairoa-Napier line to move the logs could take up to 5,714 trucks a year off the road, and cut carbon emissions by 1292 tonnes.

Auckland Council gives green light to 11.5c fuel tax to hit motorists on July 1

31 May 2018

Auckland Council’s controversial 11.5 cents a litre fuel tax has been approved by councillors at a budget meeting today.

Councillors voted 13-7 to approve the extra cost for motorists today.

Legislation allowing the tax is expected to be passed in Parliament to allow the tax to come into effect on July 1.

Auckland drivers face paying 25c a litre more in the next three years as the Government also proposes boosting fuel taxes in 3c to 4c annual hikes.

Motorists filling up with 91 unleaded this morning were able to get a best price of $2.03 a litre at the Gull Wiri self-service station in South Auckland, but more typically paid between $2.07 and $2.19 a litre, according to the Gaspy app.

A handful of service stations charged $2.20 or more a litre and the two Z stations near Auckland Airport posted the most expensive prices at $2.29 a litre.

Those wanting premium 95 unleaded had to dip a little deeper into their wallets, facing prices ranging from $2.14 to $2.41 a litre.

Mayor Phil Goff said the tax was critical to help pay for projects to improve transport after years and years of under investment.

“We cannot allow our city to gridlock and that is what we are heading toward,” he said.

Goff said the tax would raise $1.5 billion over 10 years but Government subsidies and development contributions would increase that to $4.3b.

To raise that money through rates would require a 13 per cent to 14 per cent rise.

The regional fuel tax was the fastest, cheapest and best way to raise spending to tackle traffic congestion, said the mayor.

Without the extra money, Goff said, the city would grind to a halt.

Manurewa-Papakura councillor Daniel Newman, the only councillor to advocate for higher rates as the way forward, said the tax would lead to a redistribution of wealth from some of the poorest people to those who have the greatest wealth and choice.

“I don’t think that is fair,” he said.

Councillor Chris Darby said the tax would lead to significant benefits across the city, as well as social and economic benefits.

“This regional fuel tax allows us to shift gears in Auckland in a way we have not seen before: out of planning and into delivery,” he said.

National MP Jami-Lee Ross said Aucklanders would not forgive Auckland Council and the Labour Government’s decisions to impose fuel taxes.

“They certainly won’t forget it every time it costs them more to fill up their cars.”

Ross said consultation had identified that 51 per cent of Aucklanders opposed the regional fuel tax.

“This new tax is not needed. If Auckland Council simply followed through on Mayor Goff’s promise to find between 3-6 per cent of savings in the council’s budget they could easily find the money that the fuel tax would raise,” he said.

“Instead, Auckland Council has been given the ‘tax and spend’ keys by Transport Minister Phil Twyford and hard-working New Zealanders will be paying the cost.”

How councillors voted
For
Mayor Phil Goff
Deputy Mayor Bill Cashmore
Ross Clow
Josephine Bartley
Cathy Casey
Linda Cooper
Chris Darby
Alf Filipaina
Chris Fletcher
Richard Hills
Penny Hulse
Wayne Walker
John Watson

Against
Efeso Collins
Mike Lee
Daniel Newman
Greg Sayers
Desley Simson
Sharon Stewart
John Walker

READ MORE:
• Barry Soper: The hypocrisy of the Govt’s petrol tax position
• Aucklanders to have say on regional petrol tax before knowing how it will be spent
• Ken Shirley: Fuel tax poorly thought out solution to transport costs

The Auckland fuel tax always looked doomed, just not quite this quickly

New Zealand had a regional fuel tax during the early 1990s, but it was abandoned as the impact spread across the country.

SIMON MAUDE/STUFF
New Zealand had a regional fuel tax during the early 1990s, but it was abandoned as the impact spread across the country.
OPINION: When the Government signalled plans to introduce a special fuel tax in Auckland, transport officials warned Transport Minister Phil Twyford that such a measure had been tried before and failed. At least twice.

For all the good intention – that motorists benefiting from major transport projects pay their share – there is little that can be done to prevent the impact of the tax increase spreading across the country.

Proving exactly who is paying what when it comes to excise tax on petrol is hard, because the giant tax bill is paid in bulk.

But there are signs that rather than spilling over when the tax comes into force, that the sharp price increase in recent weeks could be price spreading in anticipation of the price increase.

Prices are rising strongly in areas where competition is limited in comparison to Auckland, where the increase has been much more muted.

When Twyford introduced legislation to enable the new tax, which is supposed to add 11.5 cents a litre to the price of petrol in Auckland but nowhere else, the average petrol station in Auckland was charging about 4c a litre less than in Christchurch.

By last week, as prices hit the highest of all time in areas subject to the “national” fuel price, the average difference between Auckland and Christchurch, was more like 16c.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford was warned that regional fuel taxes had been tried and failed before and is now refusing ...

MONIQUE FORD/STUFF
Transport Minister Phil Twyford was warned that regional fuel taxes had been tried and failed before and is now refusing to discuss signs that the impact may already be being felt by motorists elsewhere.
 According to information from Gaspy, a mobile app which monitors prices based on observations of thousands of drivers, the growth in the gap between Auckland and Wellington has also surged since late March.

In rough terms, the degree of price increases in many areas has grown by the scale of the impending Auckland regional fuel tax.

So come July 1, if prices in Auckland do actually increase by 11.5c, can it really be said that Aucklanders are the ones paying the regional fuel tax?

Or, as the Ministry of Transport warned could happen (and has happened before), has the impact of the Auckland regional fuel tax actually been spread across the country?

It appears the fuel companies are doing something akin to front running the increase. A sharp price increase is coming to a highly competitive area and prices in areas where there is less competition than Auckland are quickly drifting higher ahead of the move.

Z Energy, which has consistently fronted up to comment when its rivals have refused, denies prices are rising in anticipation of the fuel tax.

A spokeswoman said the price gap between the cheapest and most expensive stations tended to grow sharply during times of rising crude prices, and then narrow when oil prices stabilised.

Gaspy, which crowd sources petrol prices from around the country, has noticed a conspicuous widening in the gap between Auckland prices and other parts of the country, especially Christchurch. Z Energy says the price gap is typical of periods when crude prices rise strongly.

Perhaps this is the case, but if so it would simply highlight how different areas are much less competitive than others.

The Z Energy spokeswoman also declined to give assurances that the gap would narrow as crude oil prices stabilised. Come July 1, the company would add the Auckland regional fuel tax to stations across New Zealand’s largest city, but then it would be a case of market forces at play.

A spokeswoman for BP said the recent changes in its national pricing “are a function of the rising crude/falling [New Zealand dollar] environment we are currently operating in, together with competitive factors playing a part, rather than a response to the proposed introduction of the regional fuel tax.”

If the regional fuel tax were legislated, BP “will apply the Auckland regional fuel tax from 1 July within the identified boundaries” the company said.

Larry Green, co-founder of Gaspy, said the price gap between Auckland and other areas was growing at such speed it was “impossibly unlikely” that it was not related to the impending price increase.

“The more they [the petrol companies] spread it over time, the less it looks like an anomaly”.

This has all happened before, suggesting Governments never learn.

During the early 1990s, New Zealand had a regional fuel tax, but it was abandoned as the impact spread across New Zealand.

The Government passed legislation for another regional tax in 2008, but never introduced it because of fears of price spreading.

We know this because it is contained in a very clear warning to Twyford about what could happen to his increase.

“If price spreading was to occur the larger companies have the ability to spread the cost of the tax to all fuel sales made across their network. For example, fuel companies could charge approximately three cent tax nationally across their network to cover a 10 cents per litre regional fuel tax required in for each litre of fuel sold in Auckland.”

To give Phil Twyford credit, it is not as if he is prone to simply accepting what government officials tell him.

When he didn’t like what Treasury said about how much of an impact KiwiBuild would have on the housing market, Twyford accused “kids at Treasury” of being “disconnected from reality”.

Whether or not he accepts that the regional fuel tax will have integrity is hard to know.

Apart from a vague promise to increase monitoring of prices to assess whether price-spreading occurs, Twyford is refusing to comment, saying there is nothing he can add.

But given how stark the warnings were, the regional fuel tax simply looks dishonest. The Government should admit it will not work, replace the regional tax with a smaller nationwide one and drop the charade.

 – Stuff

SH1 to Kaikōura to close overnight later this month

Road workers will close State Highway 1, between Christchurch and Kaikōura, later this month to start removing the shipping containers which have been protecting vehicles from rockfalls.

The seawall along a section of State Highway 1 north of Kaikōura.

The seawall along a section of State Highway 1 north of Kaikōura. Photo: RNZ / Logan Church

Shipping containers protect the traffic at three sites.

An operations manager for the highway reconstruction, Tresca Forrester, said crews had been working on widening the Paratitahi tunnels, and the containers needed to be removed to complete this work.

A section of the highway, between Peketa and Leader Road intersection, will close at 10pm on Monday 28 May and reopen on Tuesday at 6.30am.

Further overnight closures are planned for late June to remove the final containers and several hundred concrete blocks that have also been used for rockfall protection.

Don’t lose track of rail freight limitations – David Aitken

Rail freight has its place but . . .

Rail freight has its place but . . .

OPINION: The Government has been talking about getting freight off the country’s roads and on to alternative sea freight and particularly rail freight.

Rail freight has its place and already its biggest customer is the road freight transport industry.

But it also has its limitations.

If Europe is any example, nothing much will change, despite the Government and KiwiRail’s best efforts. Trucks will always be required to deliver a large portion of the country’s freight demand.

While bulk freight can be transported by rail or sea, market demand in the freight industry will dictate how customers want their goods moved.

Since 2000 the European Union has provided policies and incentives to shift freight off the road to rail, coastal shipping and Europe’s extensive canal system.

They haven’t worked.

Road still carries about 75 percent of all Europe’s freight.

The total tonnage carried by rail and other modes has gone up but so has road freight, so the proportion each carries has remained about the same.

The market has continued to decide which form of freight to use, rather than incentives and tax breaks.

Improvements to rail infrastructure in Europe have only resulted in small increases in rail freight carried, so rail has been reluctant to make large capital expenditure, because the returns aren’t there.

The same is likely to apply to New Zealand.

Road freight will always be preferred for any perishable goods because it can carry out the task faster – apart from much more expensive air freight.

Road freight has greater service quality – quicker door to door delivery times and greater safety with less chance of damaged goods, which usually occurs when the freight is changed from one mode to another.

Even when rail or sea is used, trucks are often needed to get goods to the rail hub or sea port to start the journey and then pick them up to make the final delivery.

Highly competitive costs within the road freight sector make it more appealing to customers than the alternatives.

Road freight has flexible route choices. Rail and sea do not with only a few fixed routes.

Road freight will nearly always be used for the “last miles” as customers want door to door delivery.

Rail is only generally better when the type of goods (very large or non-urgent) can be shipped by train instead of road.

This occurs when a customer places all their business with a road freight operator who then decides the best way to ship it to meet deadlines or budget.

Improving New Zealand’s rail services and infrastructure will be taxpayer funded and subsidised. Improvements in road freight transport – newer fleet with cleaner emissions, less noise – are paid for by the trucking companies and their customers.

Rail will only ever handle a small proportion of the country’s total freight as 90 percent of road freight is done within metropolitan/urban areas where rail and sea are not an option.

With the increased investment in the rail sector, KiwiRail remain a commercial operating arm of the government, this is likely to require rail price increases to cover the investment costs, closing the gap between road and rail pricing, making the later less attractive to freight customers.

National Road Carriers is the leading nationwide organisation representing companies involved in the road transport industry. It has 1700 members, who collectively operate 15,000 trucks throughout New Zealand.

David Aitken is the chief executive of the  National Road Carriers Association

 – Stuff

NZ Transport Agency has spent millions on a highway upgrade that’s stalled

State Highway 1 between Cambridge and Piarere had been earmarked for improvements under National, but Labour's focus on ...

TOM LEE/STUFF
State Highway 1 between Cambridge and Piarere had been earmarked for improvements under National, but Labour’s focus on rail means that might be on hold.

Over $4 million spent on planning improvements for a dangerous stretch of State Highway 1 may be wasted money.

Under the National Government, approval was given for a four-lane extension for the State Highway 1 Piarere turnoff – a black spot for crashes between Cambridge and Tirau.

However, when Labour unveiled its 10-year plan for land transport, it included a huge investment in road safety and rapid rail at the expense of state highway upgrades.

Under the Official Information Act, Stuff asked how much the New Zealand Transport Agency had spent on the stretch of road between Piarere and Cambridge.

NZTA stated that one property was purchased prior to October 25, 2017, for $1.6 million plus GST.

While it’s undecided what will happen to the stretch of road, it’s unlikely the land will be on-sold at this stage.

As of March 18, there had been no physical work undertaken in the area. Up until then, work had included the completion of the initial business case, drafting of the detailed business case, consultation with the community and stakeholders and preliminary design activities to support the detailed business case.

Total money spent on the business case as of March was $2.6m, which was spent on delivery on the initial business case and the detailed business case phases of the project.

Routine maintenance spending wasn’t included.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford is satisfied the investigation and preliminary work into SH 1 between Cambridge and Piarere is within the usual range of expenditure associated.

“I’m advised no final decisions have been made around this stretch of highway and that the New Zealand Transport Agency is re-evaluating the project to better align with the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport 2018.

“The NZTA board makes all operational decisions around the prioritisation and timing of roading projects at arm’s length from the Government.

“Regardless of decisions made around this project, investigation and preliminary work done here is invaluable and will be used for years to come as there are a wide range of transport projects that could be considered in the future,” Twyford said.

National Party Hamilton East MP David Bennett said it’s early stages in the project and to get it started in 2020, those kinds of [monetary] investments are needed. But if improvements are cancelled, it would be a waste of money, he said.

“But if they carry on with it, then that would be fine. But all the indications we are getting at the moment is that it is not a priority for the Government.”

Hundreds more trucks off road due to faults

Six hundred more trucks have been forced off the road in the safety alert over cracked and inadequate towing connections.

No caption.

Photo: RNZ / Supplied

The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) has revoked the certification of 616 draw beam and draw bars on big truck-trailers.

This follows the 802 tow bars revoked last week.

Road Transport Forum chief executive Ken Shirley said it was having “a huge impact and a shock” on the industry.

“They virtually have to take these vehicles off the road immediately,” he said.

The west coast of the South Island was hardest hit, as it had no heavy vehicle certifiers to check the vehicles.

There are only two heavy vehicle engineers for Nelson, Marlborough and the West Coast. They have already faced months of backlogs.

NZTA said it could get all the trucks checked within a fortnight by bringing in more engineers, Mr Shirley said.

All the revoked towing connections were certified, and some designed, by Peter Wastney Engineering near Nelson. About 1500 were being looked at after the agency began investigating last August after a trailer broke free of a truck near Murchison.

The incident resulted in Peter Wastney’s suspension as a heavy vehicle certifier.

Mr Shirley said the industry was disappointed the NZTA’s auditing and accreditation processes did not pick up the problems with Mr Wastney’s certifications earlier.

“The sheer number of vehicles affected shows a significant lack of regulatory oversight,” he said.

“We want an assurance there are no more Wastney-type situations out there.”

An industry player told RNZ that Mr Wastney “has consistently had poor reviews undertaken by the NZTA reviewer”.

Mr Wastney did not respond to RNZ’s calls.

RNZ is seeking comment from NZTA.

In a statement, it said it would cover re-certifications – a turnaround from last week when it claimed drivers would have to cover the cost.

“The real cost to an operator is the impact on the business,” Mr Shirley said.

Dennis Cadogan operates a transport company on the West Coast was and was caught out by last month’s and the most recent revocations. His trucks remain off the road.

The whole thing was a “bloody nuisance”, he said.

Govt are repackaging National transport projects – MP

The National Party says the government has simply adopted its vision for transport in Auckland.

An Auckland Transport train passes by Mt Eden prison
An Auckland Transport train passes by Mt Eden prison Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The government launched its rejigged $28 billion Auckland Transport Alignment Project that will fund roads, rail, bus lanes and cycleways across the city over the next 10 years and is aimed at easing Auckland’s infamous congestion.

At the launch, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff made it clear the city must deal with its traffic problem.

“We have congestion, we are facing gridlock, it is costing us huge frustration and it is costing the country, not just Auckland, the country one to two billion dollars a year,” Mr Goff said.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford said the Auckland fuel tax and public private partnerships will help fund the projects and deliver a congestion-free rapid transit network.

“All over the world cities are retrofitting car-dependent urban areas with modern rapid transit systems.

“In Australia alone, there are light rail systems currently being built in the Gold Coast, in Canberra, in Newcastle, in Sydney and in Melbourne.

“Dozens and dozens of cities around the world are doing this because they recognise that cities of any scale cannot be either liveable or economically prosperous without modern rapid transit systems.”

National’s transport spokesperson Jami-Lee Ross said many of the projects are awfully familiar.

“I think the best part of it is that they’ve recognised that many of the projects the National Party were putting in place were well worth doing – they’ve agreed to do what effectively Simon Bridges announced in August last year,” Mr Ross said.

“So Phil Twyford’s adopting many of the projects that we were progressing – the key difference is, we wouldn’t have taxed the country more to subsidise those trams down Dominion Road.”

Mr Ross said some motorists will be hit hard by the new funding mechanisms.

“The worst part about this is that we’re seeing from Labour they’re happy to put up more taxes on the whole country – when it comes to the Penlink area, they want Rodney people to pay a regional fuel tax, increased national fuel taxes and they want to put the toll on top for Penlink.

“So, those people are being whacked three times for that particular road … but that’s the Labour Party for you.”

Act’s David Seymour said the government could have been more ambitious.

He said there needs to be extensive public private partnerships and electronic road pricing to complete the motorway network.

“We’re talking a second Harbour Crossing, we’re talking an underground tunnel to complete the Eastern Motorway without disturbing existing suburbs.

“Those are the kinds of radical developments that are required, so good on the government for what they’ve done but it’s simply not proportional to the crisis, it’s like setting a capuchin monkey on a gorilla,” Mr Seymour told RNZ.