Transport operators “seriously aggrieved”
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!”