Trans­port op­er­a­tors “se­ri­ously ag­grieved”

New Zealand Truck & Driver - - Front Page -

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A “KICK IN THE GUTS” – THAT’S THE TRUCK­ING in­dus­try’s re­ward for keep­ing the coun­try mov­ing dur­ing the COVID-19 lock­down.

That’s how Na­tional Road Car­ri­ers As­so­ci­a­tion CEO David Aitken saw the Gov­ern­ment’s re­fusal to drop its 5.3% July 1 road user charges in­crease.

Aitken was throw­ing NRC’s weight be­hind lob­by­ing by Road Trans­port Fo­rum chief ex­ec­u­tive Nick Leggett to drop the planned RUC in­crease, be­cause it will neg­a­tively ef­fect the post COVID-19 eco­nomic re­cov­ery – for trans­port op­er­a­tors and all NZers.

Leggett made the RTF’s case: “Road freight trans­port has played a crit­i­cal role in keep­ing NZ mov­ing through the var­i­ous stages of lock­down. Truck­ing will be equally im­por­tant through the eco­nomic re­cov­ery, as NZ will be heav­ily re­liant on ex­port goods mak­ing their way to mar­kets around the world.

“Like all busi­nesses, truck­ing com­pa­nies want to get back to full op­er­a­tions as soon as pos­si­ble, re­cover their losses as quickly as they can, and keep good peo­ple em­ployed.

“The chal­lenge ahead for truck­ing op­er­a­tors that al­ready work with tight mar­gins will be the abil­ity to ab­sorb, or pass on, in­creas­ing costs when all busi­nesses are tight­en­ing their belts.”

Thus the Fo­rum was back ask­ing the Gov­ern­ment to drop the RUC in­crease. It was a call that had al­ready been re­fused in April, but as Leggett pointed out, “the busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment is now even worse.

“I am aware that truck­ing com­pa­nies with cus­tomer agree­ments that al­low them to ne­go­ti­ate in­creases on Gov­ern­ment-im­posed charges are find­ing, in spite of con­trac­tual obli­ga­tions, those cus­tomers are say­ing no to adding the RUC in­crease into costs.

“If truck­ing com­pa­nies can­not pass on this cost, they will have to ab­sorb it. For some that will be im­pos­si­ble in this en­vi­ron­ment.”

And that, said David Aitken, is “un­ac­cept­able. Through­out the lock­down the road freight in­dus­try kept the coun­try mov­ing, de­liv­er­ing es­sen­tial sup­plies in­clud­ing medicine and food.”

Aitken said op­er­a­tors were “se­ri­ously ag­grieved” by the planned RUC in­crease: “Trans­port runs on low mar­gins at the best of times and most of those op­er­at­ing dur­ing lock­down ran at zero or neg­a­tive mar­gins, due to lim­ited goods and vol­umes that could be moved.

“The in­dus­try also put their own health and safety on the line to de­liver these goods. Trans­port op­er­a­tors worked through all pan­demic alert lev­els, of­ten at a cost to them, their fam­i­lies and their com­pa­nies.”

He said RUC in­creases will re­sult in some trans­port com­pa­nies fail­ing – and con­sumers pay­ing more for goods and ser­vices, “as some costs will have to be passed on.”

Aitken said that “in­stead of recog­ni­tion of the in­dus­try’s ef­forts (dur­ing the COVID-19 lock­down), this Gov­ern­ment wants to pun­ish it – when freight com­pa­nies are strug­gling.”

Adding to the neg­a­tive im­pact on the truck­ing in­dus­try, Aitken said, the Gov­ern­ment was “in­creas­ing the RUC to pay for rail, cy­cle­ways and pub­lic trans­port….which are not ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing es­sen­tial sup­plies to stores.”

Aitken and Leggett both pointed out that the road trans­port in­dus­try had wit­nessed the Gov­ern­ment “re­ward­ing” many other sec­tors – in­clud­ing the arts and mu­sic, rac­ing and tourism – with big COVID-19 pay­outs….a “lolly scramble,” as Leggett termed it.

On the other hand, said Aitken, the Gov­ern­ment’s RUC stance would see road trans­port – an es­sen­tial ser­vice – “be­ing pun­ished for its ef­forts.”

Said Aitken: Trans­port sees it­self as an easy tar­get for Gov­ern­ments to pass taxes onto – it is “seen as a cash cow…..and it’s had enough.”

The in­dus­try is will­ing to con­tinue pay­ing RUC at the cur­rent level, he said – but that money needs to go into the road net­work, which is cur­rently badly main­tained, and into build­ing new in­fras­truc­ture to al­low the ef­fi­cient flow of freight: “The COVID-19 pan­demic has shown how es­sen­tial road freight is – as did the Christchur­ch and Kaik­oura earth­quakes.”

But, Leggett said, the “Gov­ern­ment’s spend­ing on works that re­late to road wear and tear caused by heavy ve­hi­cles is less than the growth in rev­enue gen­er­ated from those ve­hi­cles. They are tak­ing more, but spend­ing less!”

T&D

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