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.

Upper North Island Bridge Strengthening

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.

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    1. You’d think! It would have cost a bit over $1m to keep the Stratford-Okahukura Line open and do some needed upgrades, versus the $4.6 million we’re now spending on these road bridges on the same route (New Plymouth-Hamilton). I’m sure $45 million would have gone a long way to improving freight performance on rail nationally.

      Of course, NZTA isn’t allowed to spend money on rail, because somehow spending money on inefficient vehicles on rubber tyres is an important investment, but spending less money on more efficient trains on steel wheels is some sort of Bolshevik tree-hugger money-pit.

  1. Yes – you will note that the HPMV routes virtually all parallel train tracks, including the route between Wilsonville Quarry to Portland Cement Works. Got to love the spin, when one obvious outcome may be a transfer of freight from rail to road due to the lower freight charges able to be offered to customers by the operators of these HPMVs……all on upgraded roads paid for by taxpayers and ratepayers. Santa has been good to the trucking industry.

  2. ‘High Productivity Motor Vehicle’ is a fine piece of disingenuous newspeak, I think. I bet whoever thought that up is feeling very smug and pleased with themselves.

  3. Thanks for cutting through all the road-lobby hogwash Matt. I do wonder if the govt’s unspoken longer-term agenda is simply to phase out the railways altogether.
    11 months to go, for an opportunity to ditch the architects of this. I am counting the sleeps.

    1. Dave, the HPMV project trials began in 2006, some two years prior to the current government coming to power. Both Labour and National support it.

      Interestingly, the NZTA have been trying to get councils to allow the heavier trucks on ALL roads, instead of the “specific route by permit” the government said would happen. Napier City Council have been resisting it.

      1. “Both Labour and National support it. . . .”

        Yes, but the Greens don’t, and I am hoping they will have a fair amount of influence over transport matters, in any pairing with Labour. Plus I suspect the current Labour make-up might be more willing to question such overtly roads-biased policies than the Clark govt was. Here’s hoping anyway.

  4. National will be the Govt after the next election – the whole world has seen the results of socialism and it is not pretty.

      1. Funny when they believe their own BS eh? Simple fact is voter fatigue means very few governments get more than two terms. On that basis alone a change is likely, regardless of either party’s policies.

        1. Indeed. Since the start of the current two-party system, 6 out of the 7 governments to win a second term have gone on to win a third, including both governments where the election for the third term was held under MMP.

          But history proves nothing, ultimately. Relevant:

    1. Phil, brace yourself to be wrong! Nothing is certain in politics.
      And regarding socialism, yes, it got out of hand in the 1970’s and 80’s due to being hijacked by greedy union-types who quickly became corrupt once they wer given a sniff of power. An all-too familiar human failing I’m afraid, and one which is well-demonstrated on the right-wing side of things also. In fact the reason for the inception of socialism was a backlash against the many excesses and inequalities of unbridled capitalism which preceded it. And so it comes round again. A lot of people are getting tired of the elite-pandering fare that is curently being dished up, so expect another backlash this time around. And Phil, remember that National only scraped in by a hair’s breadth and some diddly-dealing with minor parties last election. It wouldn’t take much to swing it the other way, in spite of apparenntly rosy opinion polls!

      1. In fact last election a single precentage point would have collapsed the coalition, why do you think banks hasn’t been sacked.

  5. Interesting this this whole HPMV thing.

    We are told way back when it was announced that it will reduce truck trips on the basis that higher loads = less trips, has anyone in NZTA bothered to check the facts on this to see this is happening. Or are the trucking industry still “getting up to speed” and haven’t actually replaced their old fleets with HPMVs yet – as we were told they were all going to do.

    We were also told that only specific “hi standard” routes would be approved and only where the state highway allowed it. and not local roads.
    Now we see Transit arguing (in the Stuff article linked above) that all councils must allow HPMVs on all regional roads more or less “as of right”.

    What is going on here NZTA?

    Oh, wait, back the truck up a bit guys, I just realised we’ve all made a horrible mistake.

    We all thought the acronym “NZTA” stood for The NZ Transport Agency, but instead it obviously stands for “NZ Trucking Advocates”.

    Its all much clearer now.

    1. I am amazed at the number of large truck and trailer units on North Shore streets with prominent H stickers. So much for designated routes, eh?

      1. You don’t have to remove the sticker when you’re NOT operating under the permit. You’d put the sticker on the first time you used one of the permits, and then presumably just leave it on the truck forever.

    2. HPMVs aren’t some special kind of trucks that you’d have to go out and buy… the program just allows trucks to exceed their weight limits (typically 44 tonnes for a truck and trailer unit) with a permit, and restricted to certain routes. It’s very similar to the system that allows trucks to exceed the weight and dimension limits for oversize loads, the only difference is that this program allows you to carry oversize loads that could have been broken up into multiple loads.

      It’s not an inherently bad idea for every circumstance, but if we’re spending lots of money upgrading roads (and spending more to maintain existing ones) because of the heavy loads, we need to evaluate whether that’s actually worth it economically. Which AFAIK no-one at NZTA or MoT appears to have done yet. It’s likely to be an especially bad idea if it cannibalises bulk goods from rail.

      1. You might think so, but NZTA said in the press release above:

        “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,”

        And I recall a comment (from Matt)? proably in the Skypath thread about the clipons saying that HPMVs have 1 more axle than a 44 tonne monster, to keep the road damage within (NZTA) acceptable limits..

        So they are principal (and in practice, supposed to be) different from regular truck, beyond a H sticker.

      2. So does that mean that exceeding the permissible load limit only requires an H sticker to be placed on a 44 tonne truck?

        In which case how would an outside observer know what weight any vehicle was carrying? An HPMV could drive on any road with maximum weight but claim it was only half loaded or only full of low density boxes. No-one could prove otherwise unless there was a weighbridge nearby

        Perhaps I have misunderstood the rules as you have stated them but it seems there is ample opportunity for cheating and not much chance of detecting it.

    1. By any stretch of the imagination NZ has never had a socialist government. Strong social welfArist policies pre 1950 maybe. But what people are failing to notice is a quite constant manipulation of legislation to position government as big brother. Look no further than LTMA legislation where despite the fact that local government is a significant funder of transportation and goes thru significant consultAtive procedures. Long term plans are NOW given no significance in the Act. (Has been removed). The nltp as a matter if precedence ‘gives effect’ to the government policy statement.

  6. The fact that superheavy trucks would take business off the railways was quite predictable.

    Another issue is that the amount of damage that trucks do to the pavement is a function, not just of the mass at the axle, but the strength of the underlying pavement. So, a given heavy weight at the axle will have a minor effect on a strengthened pavement, such as a motorway – but cause far more damage on a lightly-strengthened rural road. In other infrastructural assets, this sort of variation would be built into the pricing structure for the asset, but that isn’t possible with road pricing.

    While the extra RUC revenue should cover the costs of the additional investment on the state highways, assuming that the rates have been set properly, it is very unlikely that the additional revenues would meet the additional costs on the local roading network; because those roads are relatively lightly-built.

    1. Exactly. Those twin steer front axles create a lot of drag of the three across the seal when turning and the tandem rears are worse. 3 x rears will destroy local roads at intersections.

  7. I think this programme of work has proceeded due to:
    a) the roading lobby is a significant funder of our two main political parties and so it expects generous payback
    b) NZTA is funded by fuel taxes & road user charges, hence it is inherently motivated to support greater use of motor vehicles (rather than the modes that provide little/no revenue to NZTA, eg: rail, coastal shipping, PT, walking and cycling)
    c) many politicians/members of the public seem to genuinely believe that more/bigger roads are good for growth/the economy, and see other modes like rail as outdated.
    d) the dominant culture within NZTA is that of road building engineers (as opposed to acting as transport planners)

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