An opinion piece in the Herald by David Aitken, Chief Executive of the National Road Carriers caught my attention yesterday.

He starts by talking about how Auckland is growing rapidly, that addressing congestion needs to be a priority and then the role that trucks play in the economy. Most relevant is this about the impact to truck productivity.

Trucks moving about the city are less productive than they were five or 10 years ago. Sometimes by up to 50 per cent if a truck can only complete two round trips a day instead of three.

That results in higher transport costs being added to the final cost of any item you or anybody else might buy.

Getting trucks moving more freely means keeping costs under control for everybody, whether you are buying toothpaste or timber; cauliflower or concrete.

The comment about fewer round trips being made corresponds with other comments I’ve heard from the trucking industry about their declining productivity. So on to his his solutions

Priority Lanes

This starts with a weird contradiction.

Freeing up existing roads means getting more single occupant cars off the roads. Auckland Transport needs to make greater efforts to encourage the use of public transport with better park-and-ride facilities for both bus and rail users and allow more priority vehicles into bus lanes or create lanes to be shared by trucks and buses. The Northern Busway alongside the northern motorway, is the most under-utilised piece of road in Auckland, even during rush hour.

His comments about needing to get more people on public transport are certainly welcome. However, if the goal is to get more single occupant vehicles off the roads allowing trucks to use bus lanes is one of the most bizarre way of going about it.

Auckland has experienced extraordinary growth in public transport use in recent years with the Northern Busway one of the most outstanding examples. An abundantly clear driver of that growth has been the increasing quality of our PT system. The busway, bus lanes, double deckers, improved frequencies, and many other improvements have all contributed to improving the PT experience, thereby making PT a more viable option for a lot more people. Allowing large trucks belching out fumes to blast down bus lanes, in close proximity to waiting passengers would only serve to dissuade existing and potential passengers from using services.

Not only would this put people off directly from using buses, it would also have the doubly negative impact of making buses less reliable and efficient from other vehicles getting in their way. Busways and bus lanes may look empty but that’s because they’re working at moving buses efficiently. Even a handful of trucks or cars in a bus lane can be enough to result in buses being slowed down, missing traffic lights and becoming a general nuisance. Thousands of passengers slowed down, even by a little bit, quickly adds up. Not to mention that many of our bus lanes, especially in the city centre are already at or rapidly approaching capacity for buses, hence why light rail is now needed.

While far from ideal let’s not also forget that bus lanes in many parts of the city are the closest thing that exists for bike lanes too. Trucks and bikes don’t have a great history of mixing well

Before dismissing his idea completely though, it’s worth remembering that the ultimate goal of our transport system is to most efficiently move people and freight. Busways and lanes work by giving priority to high capacity people moving machines. Outside of a few motorway onramps we don’t have anything similar for other users who don’t have an option but to use our roads. Let’s say that hypothetically we did just what the truckies want. Here are a few questions

  • Where do we draw the line? Is it just the big trucks (3,500t+) that should get access to priority lanes? They’re certainly not the only commercial vehicles making deliveries and who would benefit from greater priority. In many areas, small trucks and even courier vans are essential the flow of commerce. In fact, it’s quite possible that document or package delayed by a courier may have a greater impact on the nation’s economy that a truck full of toilet paper or gravel. Given it’s the economy we’re supposedly doing this for, shouldn’t we consider that?
  • We also mustn’t forget that trucks aren’t just for deliveries. They and other light vehicles are used by tradespeople who also often get caught in Auckland’s congestion and with similar impacts of making them less productive. We’ve got a housing crisis right now and making tradespeople more productive on our roads might free some resource up to build a few more houses. Should they get priority too?
  • And what about those that support other parts of economy, sales people, home carers and others, not to mention CEOs of large companies whizzing between important meetings, or even politicians.

Basically, where does it end. I suspect it’s possible to make a case for almost any industry to have justification for needing access to those bus lanes but we have to draw the line somewhere.

Instead of putting trucks in bus lanes, perhaps we should consider special lanes on some roads just for trucks. We could take lanes off some of the motorways and other very wide roads to make them truck only lanes.

Of course, the ultimate solution to this isn’t compromising bus lanes but to actually reduce single occupant vehicles. How about we just get on quickly with implementing a road pricing scheme which will help better manage our transport network. Perhaps as an interim, a regional fuel tax might help to shift some demand.


Aitken also had a second suggestion for improvements, better clearways.

Creating extra lanes of traffic on existing roads is not difficult. All the major arterial roads should have no parking 24/7. Get rid of the parked cars – just one parked vehicle can make a lane unusable and create a bottleneck – and you create another lane for traffic to flow along.

Clearways should also ban parking 24/7.

I’m certainly not opposed to the idea of better clearways on arterial roads but one aspect of the suggestion puzzled me. That is, how delivery trucks would be impacted by that. At present, it’s not uncommon to see trucks filling up on-street spaces in town centres to make deliveries. Where will those drivers park their trucks so they can unload, or will it be not too different to now with footpaths sacrificed?

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  1. Neilson St is an obvious location for permanent heavy vehicle lanes… could save around $1.85b.. Which then could be invested in completeing the Rapid Transit Network in order to help reduce all those single occupant vehicle cluttering up AKL’s road and street networks, and prepare the city for a road pricing scheme to further incentivise that reduction.

    1. Road pricing and I am guessing you mean road tolls and congestion tolls are fantastic for those who can afford it, just like GST rises. But remember there are plenty out there just, and I mean just keeping their heads above water and others who are not.

      When we operate a low wage/low productivity economy there is just so much that can be extracted out of the serfs before the whole model implodes. I would argue with the costs in housing and accommodation along with food coupled with no will to do anything about it, we are almost there!

      1. I agree that any congestion charging needs to be done carefully to minimise the impacts on those who can least afford it but this does not mean it can’t be done.

        Congestion charging replacing the existing fuel excise would likely mean travel out of peak would be cheaper, so any shift workers would pay less than they do now. Also it wouldn’t require too many tweaks to the new bus networks, along with better bus lanes to make a large majority of workplaces accessible during peak hour when the congestion charge is at its highest.

        Congestion charging isn’t being implemented tomorrow, so all these changes can be made.

      2. Right now the poorest people are effectively forced to fund low value transport projects through rates on housing and on some RoNS general taxation. At least with a congestion tax they should be able to choose alternatives, which you can’t do on a necessity like housing.

    2. Plus given that Neilson Street is a low priority for bus lanes, that makes a lot of sense. Now why didn’t NZTA think of that? Imagine the BCA, with the problem solved for a few million. Treasury should be delighted.

      1. Ins’t it AT that didn’t think of that? I imagine they ‘didn’t think of that’ because it might have solved the problem and then they wouldn’t get $1.8 billion to play with.
        The fact that Neilson street isn’t 2 lanes each direction 24×7 is just plain stupid. Can anyone think of a reason? Is it just to provide parking? Bloody expensive parking!

  2. I think the opinion piece writer completely overlooks the obvious fact that buses can and do frequently stop in bus lanes to, act as a bus i.e. pick up and set down passengers.

    So any plan allowing trucks unfettered access to what seems to be “clear of traffic lane” without SOVs in it, to avoid the need to handle those pesky on road parked cars, will come to a screeching halt at the first bus stop.

    Hmm, I think we need better thinking than this idea from the trucking lobby.

    As for the bus way, it moves more people than several of the motorway lanes beside it. Without the northern bus way, the northern motorway would have grid locked a long long time ago.

    But, if you want dedicated bus lanes for trucks (aka freight lanes), Onehunga has some nice wide roads chock full of parked cars so its roads ideal for this, and could in fact, if applied judiciously save the country $ Billions as a nice side line outcome, and more to the point, they deliver a practical working solution to trucks getting stuck in traffic years earlier than any East West Link will.

    What say you to that, David Aitken?

  3. I quite like this idea. Freeing up valuable freight movements from the impacts of congestion makes sense for the same reasons as freeing up valuable bus movements does. I would’ve thought the small additional delays to bus users would be outweighed by the big benefits to trucks. It would also give Council/NZTA far more license to convert more of the city’s traffic lanes into bus/truck lanes, which might make things better for bus users in the long-run.

    It would be tricky avoiding unintended consequences though, I can imagine rich people swapping their Audi’s for small trucks so they can zoom around the city congestion-free.

    1. The issue is that buses will increase in frequency (until replaced by light rail), which means that any impediment (like a truck) becomes a larger time-sink as the bus frequency increases.

      Additionally, trucks are noisy and belch out toxic fumes that are known carcinogens. Add to that the issue that the PM2.5 count would be well above WHO guidelines (25ugm/m3 over 24hrs). This study showed that even a few trucks pushed the PM2.5 count over 8 hours to well above that:

  4. How terribly ironic that bastion of individual responsibility, the trucking lobby, a favourite pet of National and vice versa, now see Nanny State providing her taxpayer dollars for their members and donors. How socialist to assume the many can share transport for the collective good to allow his memberships 55 tonne trucks to traverse the roading network at their leisure.

    I am damned sure spending taxpayer money on seriously improving PT has been an anathema to this lot since way back when and it sure as shit has been to this government as well.

    I’m sorry Mr Trucking Lobbyist, but roads roads roads coupled with free flowing immigration and no other alternative is now paying in spades with gridlock. Tough shit your organisations weren’t interested in progressive cooperative governments who see alternatives to cars as a priority, so don’t expect the rest of us to care less either now you have the clueless government you paid for.

    By the way limiting the size of trucks to certain weights on priority lanes would never work as there is no enforcement for most road rules as it is.

  5. Mr Aitken seems to have been suffering from verbal diarrhea and too low a caffeine to blood ratio.

    It’s astounding that he “forgot” about the impediment of buses stopping for passengers (IE: doing their job), or delivery vehicles needing to stop and you know, deliver!

    I see that The Herald doesn’t seem to have comments any more (at least, not on any article I’ve read recently). I’d be interested to see what people would have to say.

    If he is concerned about the reducing efficiency of trucks, perhaps they should look at changing how they do business. It’s not uncommon overseas for companies to use live and historical forecasting to determine when to send trucks, or on what routes. Also, I’m sure that a lot more deliveries could be done outside of business hours. I know that some food and milk deliveries happen around 4:00 in the morning – Same goes for industrial rubbish collection.

    It’s not as if the required technology is new. A Mexican concrete company (the third largest in the world at the time) used GPS and forecasting tech back in 1995 to get around Mexico City – A much more challenging environment than Auckland.

    “Since its implementation in 1995, the system — which Cemex calls its “dynamic synchronization of operations” — has increased its trucks’ productivity by 35%” Link:

    It’s not just trucking firms (I’m not going to use their preferred term of “logistics” unless they actually start making data-informed scheduling decisions) that can benefit from tech, nor does the tech need to be expensive. For example, for retailers/wholesalers/importers and manufacturers there are good ERP and CRM suites available for free or low cost, though neither of those systems are able to schedule trucks.

      1. From memory that’s a AT vehicle and is directly related to the bus lanes (moving security or staff between the bus stations or something, as this has been raised before).

  6. There should be a tolled lane for trucks on the motorways to use instead. I do agree that we should eliminate parking on arterials, but also get rid of the flush medians so we can widen some footpaths too.

    1. I don’t agree with removing parking unless it is for bus lanes (mostly empty) or other modes or it is industrial (Neilson street)
      A four lane road is not very nice place. And it won’t fix our congestion problems. I couldn’t think of anything worse than Mt Eden Road or Dominion Road etc being 4 lanes of cars.

      1. Yes trying to cross Manukau Rd recently with kids made me decide it’s a part of town (like further north in Newmarket) that doesn’t need my custom.

    2. Interesting. If there is a tolled lane for trucks on motorways, at the end of the year the proportional cost that has not been met by tolls can be shared by the trucking businesses who did not utilise the toll lane enough during the period.

      Just kidding.

      Trucks are such a 20th century idea. Clean and efficient distribution of goods and materials will be a huge challenge for the 21st century. Ultimately, I predict a combination of rail and (relatively) local delivery, all logistically almost 100% enabled by technology/automation, with hub-spoke planning. The infrastructure will have significant cost so business will seek to run it on a PPP basis or at the very least collectively-owned with costs paid/adjusted over time on a use basis, similar to what we see with fibre.

  7. Several of Mr Aitkin’s comments demonstrate that ultimately all industry lobby groups may argue for their own self interest at the expense of the community. Your “where do you draw the line” question is the key one. Heavy trucks are rarely more than 3% to 4% of total traffic. But if you open it up to all delivery vans and commercial vehicles say hello to around 20%+ of total road traffic. See how many of the “delivery” spaces in Queen Street are occupied by tradesmen using them for free parking.

    Another option he left out is the very real prospect that drones may replace delivery vans for light parcels within the next decade. Or you could simply force all the deliveries into congested areas to occur outside peak hours. Or you could ban really large trucks going into CBD areas. NZ laws permitting vehicles up to semi-trailer size general access to most roads are actually very generous by world standards. Many European cities ban really large trucks from their centres entirely. Anything that won’t fit on an 8 tonne ruck has to go by special permit. Having to design city streets for too large trucks leads to a push for wider lanes, which leads to higher speeds, and all the undesirable impacts on amenity and pedestrian safety.

    1. Some great common sense ideas here. Especially banning large trucks from cities. For much of the day, the Port motorway connection in Auckland is mostly trucks coming to and from Ports of Auckland. Total congestion…and hard on infrastructure.

      Last week I saw a large truck-trailer unit go straight over a roundabout in an urban area. It took up the entire roundabout including the “island” in the middle and flattened the signs on it. No worries. It just went on its merry way.

      Let’s get trucks off our roads except for short-distance delivery and even then, they can be automated electric units.

      1. ” the Port motorway connection in Auckland is mostly trucks coming to and from Ports of Auckland.”

        This is actually quite false. The port motorway connection is about 15% trucks. While that is about double a typical state highway, it still means that 85% of the traffic is regular cars.

        This is the key flaw with the idea that clear ways will be amazing for trucks… they’ll just be a second lane also full of cars.

        1. Without actual figures (source of yours is? just asking…!) I would challenge this as at certain times of the day the non-truck traffic must be extremely high but for a lot of the time inbetween it is heavy with trucks. Also, one car is NOT equal to one truck, which often will have a trailer unit in addition.

    2. All good points, Scott, except that I think we need to move to ban the drones now. Extending our congestion into three dimensions is not a solution.

    1. Ha ha. One lane for both, so one vehicle to do both. Love it. And today you can get on and off only where they intend to offload some window frames. 🙂

      1. 🙂
        What about a mixed use truck?
        For example a standard truck & trailer unit – The front half carries cargo/freight and the rear half of the trailer carries passengers.

        Or the more bendy snake-like B-Trains where the truck and it’s box frame body holds cargo and it pulls a passenger trailer in tow.

        Or Australian road trains – Now there’s a fun way to get around town!

        1. 🙂 I used to travel Akl to Dunedin as a teenager often to visit my sister. By huge refrigerated truck! (Courtesy of a family contact.) Great way to travel.

          Actually, the one sensible idea in this train (ha!) of thought might be that if there was a bit more room on public transport for a small amount of freight, that could get some tradies’ utes and vans off the roads. I do quite a lot of moving equipment around with my bike trailer but being able to take a handtruck of stuff by PT would be great. Obviously with an added fare.

        2. Tradies would never use PT to be fair, and I wouldn’t expect them to as time is money for them. They need to get directly to their destination to do their job as quickly as possible.

          Since most buses and trains have fixed routes in back and forth directions, it might be an idea to allocate some space on certain PT routes for say mailbags, or couriers to send small items across town along certain routes.
          Eg. pickup/dropoff point at Britomart, boxes or bags shuttled across town to Panmure/New Lynn transport hubs.


        3. Never? Ah, we don’t know what the future will bring (only what we are and are not planning for.) Certainly the “one less ute” tradies on cargo bikes movement is alive and kicking. I think some tradies using PT is only as far away as a quicker-than-driving PT system.

          Quite like your mailbag idea. However, before we do that, I’d can all the courier companies and resurrect the post, with three deliveries per day. I know that’s too radical, one of my little eccentricities. Everyone else knows that competition is best, while I see multiple companies delivering one parcel to my street multiple times a day and think it’s inefficient… Silly ol’ me.

        4. Self employed tradies who carry all their tools and equipment around won’t ever take PT, can’t ever see a plumber or drainlayer for example lugging around pipes, fittings etc. on a bus or train, not to mention if they’re up to their shoulders in sh*t. If you expect some tradies to leave their equipment on site you’re dreaming Sailor Boy. They lose their tools they lose their ability to make a livelihood, not to mention insurance headaches.

          Labourers on the other hand with a duffle bag of their own tools which they need to carry around – Yes they would most certainly use PT

  8. The infrastructure spend is a rort. It is a massive subsidy of business by taxpayers.

    The call to allow trucks to use lanes intended for public transport is just a reflection of the truth: that the road haulage sector considers the roading network to be theirs. It’s how they behave i.e. “I don’t give a toss about you, this is my job” clogging up any and every road, so it is no surprise that they wish to push as far as they can to get maximum taxpayer subsidy.

    The solution is to have expensive granular tolls based on time, weight and volume. The bigger/heavier the vehicle, the more they pay per km. If it’s too expensive, then get going finding a cheaper solution.

    Currently the trucks on NZ roads are gorging on a combination of low fuel prices, low road use charges, and massive taxpayer subsidy of roads.

  9. Once again the old shibboleth that bus lanes are somehow inefficient because they appear empty most of the time. Decisions on whether to install bus lanes (or T2 or T3) are based in large measure on the productivity of the configuration – that is, the number of people (not vehicles) using that lane multiplied by the speed of those vehicles. The idea that a road’s productivity can be increased by evening out the numbers of vehicles in each lane (such as by adding trucks to a bus lane) is attractive to the uninitiated but fundamentally false.

    What proponents of such an idea forget is that buses stop. Regularly, and in their bus lanes. You only have to look at any motorway at peak hours to see what happens when one lane grinds to a halt: a significant number of vehicles (and it only actually takes one) will seek to move into the adjacent lane to gain a few metres’ advantage over the rest of the melee. The outcome is that the general traffic lane slows significantly or grinds to a halt as a result of this merge behaviour. Net outcome: both lanes move more slowly than before, and productivity of the road as a whole is lowered.

    Of course, it’s possible (?) that truckies will just wait behind buses every time they stop and not seek to change lanes. Yeah right . . .

    1. It would be really helpful if long distance buses could have some sort of priority on motorways – recently I travelled by InterCity from Auckland to Hamilton on an off peak time – it took one hour and fifty minutes depot to depot – so we waited an extra 20 minutes there to get back on timetable! But at peak times you get caught up with all the traffic jams.

  10. Errr…rail? Doesn’t the reopened limited use Kaikoura earthquake affected rail line take 2000 trucks a month off roads with only two night trains? A proper three or four track system in Auckland could only have infinitely more impact, and freight trains even at present are not that disruptive to the passenger services. It has long been accepted that the only solutions to road freight are rail and marine alternatives, suggesting a bus lane is beyond ludocrity. And yes rail cannot go everywhere but if most public transport users can figure it out, surely the freight industry can also.

    1. Rail is not really suited to urban freight as there are many small loads going to many different places. It’s good for moving cargo from ports to inland distribution centres but there is a lot of other freight out there.

      1. Ah where’s your vision, Jezza? Imagine a world where we actually don’t aim for unsustainable growth, and we’re not beholden to having to buy things we don’t need just to keep The Economy ticking along. Imagine freight reduced to just what’s necessary for a rich and cultural, not consumption-oriented life. That freight could easily be distributed by rail and vans and cargo bikes.

  11. Why should, for example, a private capitalist truck driver driving for personal profit, receive beneficial road treatment over and above (say) a publicly employed individual working for social benefit?

        1. Plethora is the collective pronoun for Plunket Nurses so you’d be looking at a Pantechnican propelling a plethora of Plunket Nurses.

        2. A plethora is also an excess of bodily fluid, apparently, and not necessarily blood. So I think you’re confusing Plunket nurses with La Leche League leaders.

  12. I thought that bus lanes and dedicated bus ways are for buses only to get more people using public transport so to get cars off the road allowing quicker travel times for trucks, local delivery vehicles and emergency services.

    It seems odd that the Road Transport Forum and the trucking industry wants to use bus lanes and bus ways when their National Party buddies have been building roads from them in Auckland at great expense to the tax payer.

    Auckland is such a basket case with all of the issues around population growth, lack of housing, transport and infrastructure issues, etc yet most of the Auckland electorates voted Blue and yellow. I guess that those blue and yellow voters wants the tax payer to pay for Auckland’s truck ways whilst the rest of the country’s roads and state highways suffer from basic or marginal maintenance.

  13. Jarrett Walker calls this the: “Empty transit lane problem ” when a well functioning transit lane appears empty
    Pg 106 human transit

  14. I wonder what would happen if tomorrow:
    1 we took parking off the streets that are bus routes.
    2 we put charges on parking that escalated the longer the vehicle is parked and the charges set so that at least 15% of parking spaces were unoccupied.
    No need to wait for legislation, It should free up another lane on many of the bus routes.

  15. The solution he is looking for is pricing the roads. It would likely only take a small charge to dissuade a lot of SOV to shift their driving to off peak or to stay at peak with car-pooling/PT/cycling. Then there will be lots of road space for those who actually need and value less congestion – commercial users like trucks/couriers/tradies etc. Makes so much sense. Just need to figure out the technical side and roll it out!

  16. My daily experience is b-train and truck-traller drivers travelling at a little over 100km/hr on the right-hand lane of the southern motorway.
    Generally they seem to find the sub-100km/hr speeds of intercity bus drivers too slow.

  17. People tend to forget how their goods get to the supermarket and other shops, trains sure don’t go up Queen Street. Maybe it’s time to look at a congestion tax like they have in London and other places around the world. You want to take your car into the city and it costs you, that money would go towards improving the infrastructure. Another thing I can’t understand is the number of cars that only have the driver in them, if people shared transport or travelled by train, surely the peak periods would not be so congested.

    1. “Another thing I can’t understand is the number of cars that only have the driver in them”. Yes, unfortunately my understanding is that this happens because many people really do “access their city only via their car”. To go somewhere without their own car gives them an uncomfortable feeling they might be left stranded. In certain circles, if I mention that I’ve arrived by bus, the group will “rally” to make sure I get a lift home, despite my protests. It’s now at the stage that I have to lie or be very, very rude (“Even I prefer the bus to you having to emit more carbon” didn’t stop them last time.)

      This is the car-dependency that comes with suburbs that are made unpleasant to walk in by car-centred design, and PT that – although improving – is random in its reach.

  18. The problem of where do delivery vehicles park when making deliveries could be easily solved by time-shifting. Limit deliveries (and pick-ups) to after dark. Given the importance of night life, perhaps limit it to, say, midnight to 5 am. Something like this worked in ancient Rome; there is no reason why it would not work in modern Auckland.

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