Road Transport Forum News

 
The greening of the freight task

The greening of the freight task

Road Transport Forum News

 September 2020    RTF News

Over the past few months, the debate regarding the environmental performance of the transport sector has taken a back seat to the immediate challenge we have, as we try to pick up the pieces of an economy reeling in the wake of COVID-19.

However, the environmental issue remains and is something that both the Government and our industry have a significant stake in. 

Road freight presents a major problem for policymakers tasked with reducing our emissions profile. New Zealand’s economic success is based on exports and imports, with 93% of domestic freight tonnage moved by road. 

There are those who just say “put it all on the train” – but, as we know, this is just not possible. The reason why freight goes by road is because most of it is time sensitive and trucks are far more flexible and responsive than any rail system ever could be. 

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Over the past few months, the debate regarding the environmental performance of the transport sector has taken a back seat to the immediate challenge we have, as we try to pick up the pieces of an economy reeling in the wake of COVID-19.

However, the environmental issue remains and is something that both the Government and our industry have a significant stake in. 

Road freight presents a major problem for policymakers tasked with reducing our emissions profile. New Zealand’s economic success is based on exports and imports, with 93% of domestic freight tonnage moved by road. 

There are those who just say “put it all on the train” – but, as we know, this is just not possible. The reason why freight goes by road is because most of it is time sensitive and trucks are far more flexible and responsive than any rail system ever could be. 

Even this Government understands that it can’t just tax and regulate trucks off the road until there is some viable alternative. 

Speaking of viable alternatives, the Ministry of Transport recently released the 2020 Green Freight Working Paper, which RTF contributed to, and which looks at the three current alternative fuels options – electricity, green hydrogen and biofuels. 

Unfortunately, none of these alternatives is currently a practical option for road freight, and that’s not because our industry is resistant to change. Many trucking operators have customers who are taking a real interest in their emissions profiles and business practices. Many are, of course, finding that transport is an emissions-intensive part of their business. 

The problem is that for NZ trucking companies there are no easy solutions. We are too small a market to support our own technological development in heavy vehicles, which means we are entirely dependent on the development undertaken by international truck manufacturers. 

Policymakers can be assured that if and when new fuel technologies become available and are suitable for the NZ freight task, road transport operators will adopt them extremely quickly. 

There is, however, a long way to go until we get to that point. New technologies are not widely and dependably available – nor are they currently reliable in terms of range, performance and servicing, and they certainly aren’t cost competitive.

Future government policies for de-carbonising the road freight industry must also consider the renewable electricity sector’s ability to supply the electricity required, as well as the investment impact of purchasing new equipment and the availability of technicians and resources to service that.

What is required by the incoming government is the same kind of financial incentivising as has been done to assist the light vehicle fleet’s transition to electricity.

Finally, I just want to touch on the issue of road safety again.

I was recently lucky enough to co-host a trans-Tasman webinar with Kelly McLuckie from Success Formula, on the findings from (transport insurance specialist) NTI’s 2020 National Truck Accident Research Centre Accident Investigation Report in Australia.

The key takeaway for me was just how important it is, if we want to improve road safety, to develop accident data similar to what the Australians have got.

The NTI research shows that while there has been an increase in the number of truck driver deaths on Australian roads, in 80% of all serious crashes involving cars and trucks, the car driver was at fault. 

This is important information that not only disproves the political rhetoric that trucks are dangerous, but also helps improve the development of road safety policy. 

The Australian report also found that the number of truck driver deaths caused by distraction more than doubled in the past two years.

Insurance companies tend to have the best data because they are always measuring risk, so it would be great if NZ insurers could help with the development and public use of information as NTI has done in Australia. Insurance data is also extremely reliable, so it would be a big step forward for both government and industry to have the opportunity to embrace such information and use it to improve safety.

This, along with far more collaboration with our industry and professional drivers generally, would be a great area for the next government to focus on.  

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