AUTOMOBILE ASSOCIATION 1996 ANNUAL CONFERENCE

  • Maurice Williamson
Transport

At Christmas each year in New Zealand, and in many other countries, a media game is played out.

It's called the silly season which means there's little news to fill the pages of news papers or the television screens.

And so they latch onto any morsels of news and worry them to death.

Occasionally a pod of whales comes to their rescue and throws itself up on a beach.

There's a media feeding frenzy as the whales take a week to die.

Then the silly season returns and the journalists sit around their newsrooms waiting again for something to happen.

In this vacuum, they turn their attention to that other Christmas ritual - counting the holiday road toll.

It seems sometimes that we have become so complacent about the deaths and maimings on our roads that each Christmas and Easter, it has almost been reduced to being treated like a cricket score.

Again over this latest Christmas period there was a great deal of publicity about the poor road safety record of New Zealand drivers.

This time the debate was particularly intense.

I view this as healthy.

For the first time, I don't believe it was just the media keeping score.

I believe that for the first time in a long while, perhaps ever, New Zealanders looked at themselves and their driving habits and didn't like the reflection.

I would even suggest it may have marked the beginning of the culture change we need, to reduce our road toll to a more acceptable level.

As a Government, I think we can take some of the credit for this.

In last year's budget we announced a five year supplementary road safety package to provide additional funding for the period 1994/5 to 1998/9.

It's no accident itself that this package has similar elements to the very successful programme in the Australian State of Victoria.

It includes a high level advertising campaign, increased and more focused enforcement and 19,000 additional speed camera hours.

Since the new road safety programme came into effect in October the road toll, measured on a twelve month basis, has dropped significantly.

For the 12 months to the end of November, the road toll was 577.

By January the road toll for the preceding twelve months was down to 561.

By February that figure was down to 548.

It is too early to tell if this downward trend will continue, but I believe the figures are significant.

We have achieved a steady reduction in road deaths and injuries over the last five years at the same time that traffic has increased.

Road deaths totalled 729 in the 1990 calendar year, they were down to 580 in 1995.

This is a positive result when we note that average traffic growth for the period 1990-1994 was 4%.

In Auckland this growth was 10%.

And so it is encouraging and significant that public debate on the problem is vigorous.

It is generating thought and discussion of its own accord and not being driven by media score-keeping.

This driving record is a problem you and I share and a risk we take - each time we venture out on a road.

This is not something you can consider in an academic way.

It kills and maims our neighbours, family, and friends.

Factors contributing to the road toll

Many factors combine to determine a country's road toll.

The economy plays a part.

So does the price of fuel and cars.

The sophistication of the road network plays a part

And so does the comfort and safety of cars.

Beyond that, we have the effectiveness of enforcement and the safety culture.

But overshadowing all those factors, outweighing them by far, is the level of risk accepted by drivers.

This is part of what we call the human factors.

And the reason I mentioned a moment ago that I see vigorous debate on the road toll as healthy, is that 95% of fatal crashes are attributable to human factors.

Us; New Zealanders; we are the problem and we have to solve it.

Speed and alcohol remain the biggest contributing factors to fatal crashes in New Zealand.

Alcohol is a contributing factor in 38% of fatal crashes.

Excessive speed is also a 38% contributing factor in road crashes.

That is why the Government is aiming at speed and alcohol in its publicity and enforcement campaign.

Once, a driver convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol might have been considered by many people as just unlucky.

These days, the culture has changed to the extent where it is now, rightly, a matter of extreme shame.

But the driver who tots along at 150 kilometres an hour and boasts of completing a journey in an almost impossible time is still regarded by many as a bit of a dag, an adventurous soul who is lucky enough to own a fast car and who knows how to boot it.

The foolhardiness of these drivers contributes to 38% of accidents.

What do they tell their victims, who may include their loved ones?

Sorry about your new life in a wheelchair but I almost broke my record driving from Dunedin to Invercargill!

We need to change our culture and attitude towards these drivers in the same way as we have swung against the drunks who kill themselves, and some of us, on the roads,.

Road safety - co-ordinated strategic Government approach

The Government's approach to road safety reflects international best practice.

A reformed and simplified Government transport sector enables organisations such as the Land Transport Safety Authority, the New Zealand Police, Transit New Zealand, the Ministry of Transport, and local authorities to work together with community groups and of course, organisations such as your own, for road safety.

The effort is huge and there's a need for coordination at the highest level.

That's why the chief executives of the government agencies involved in road safety work closely together to coordinate their efforts.

This coordination includes a National Road Safety Plan, safety targets for the year 2001, established safety funding processes, and an annual review of safety directions and priorities.

Safety directions and priorities - Driver licensing review

This year the Land Transport Safety Authority is carrying out the New Zealand's first comprehensive review of the driver licensing system.

The first two discussion papers to be released look at driver testing and education, and the graduated licensing system

The next papers to be released in April will examine a whole raft of issues.

These include driver license classification, older drivers, the revoking or limiting of medical fitness certificates, driver licence service delivery, overseas driver licences and the licence format.

Beyond that, the LTSA will be looking at database maintenance and development, information sharing and access as well as audit and monitoring.

The public will have until June to make submission on these discussion papers.

Organisations such as yours will, of course, be involved in this process.

From the submissions received, the Land Transport Safety Authority will develop a preferred set of options.

These will form the basis for drafting a set of Rules, which will be subject to further public consultation later in the year.

Safety Directions and Priorities - Motor Vehicle Registration

One reason given for our poor safety record has been the age of New Zealand's car fleet

It's considered elderly by OECD standards.

In order to assess the facts of the case, the LTSA is currently working through a comprehensive upgrade of motor vehicle registration.

Improvements to the system include new change of ownership procedures, new License Labels to replace the old registration stickers and new Agents to register, license and change vehicle ownership.

Once completed, we will have a much more accurate picture of the age and number of our car fleet.

There are now over 450 LTSA Agents throughout New Zealand.

We are pleased to have AA on board as an agent along with Post Shops, AMI, Vehicle Identification New Zealand and Vehicle Testing New Zealand testing stations.

Other Land Transport initiatives

Land transport covers many areas, and although safety is important, it's not the only area into which we've put a lot of thought and some far-reaching action.

Dedicated Fund

As from 1 July 1996, surpluses will no longer be able to build up in the Land Transport Fund.

All money collected for roading will be available to be spent as soon as possible.

All income received, excluding the cost of the Safety (Administration) Programme, will be available to be applied by a new body, Transfund New Zealand.

Establishment of Transfund New Zealand

Transfund New Zealand will take responsibility for the road funding functions currently being carried out by Transit.

Transit New Zealand will remain responsible for managing the State Highway system.

We have recently named the board for Transfund with Michael Gross as the Chair.

I'm sure the calibre of the people we've appointed will ensure the new regime begins in the way we hoped it would when the plan was conceived.

Funding Alternatives to Roading

The amendments made last year to the Transit New Zealand Act will allow Transfund to consider funding alternatives to roading.

For example, Transfund will be able to assess whether more funding for passenger transport in congested urban areas has greater economic benefits than building additional roads.

This is a positive step, ensuring that money will be spent on the best economic alternative.

Land Transport Pricing Study

You will all be aware of the Land Transport Pricing Study which is being carried out by the Ministry of Transport.

The Study is one of the most important that has ever been carried out in land transport.

It is particularly significant now as the Government has agreed to include land transport as a new strategic priority.

Maintaining the quality of our infrastructure is the key to ensuring that our economy functions properly.

The Government has therefore agreed that pricing policies will be put in place to ensure an efficient level of investment in land transport.

In the long term, the Land Transport Pricing Study has a significant role to play in ensuring that the right level of investment takes place.

So, where are we now with the Study?

The Cost of Roading Infrastructure

The Ministry has published two discussion papers so far. The first, National Roading Account: The Cost of Roading Infrastructure was published in July last year.

That paper put forward a set of commercial accounts for New Zealand's public roading system.

That is, the paper attempted to :

value the public roading network;
estimate the return an investor might expect from that network; and
calculate the maintenance and depreciation required to keep the system going.
We found out many things from the study that we hadn't known.

We discovered that New Zealand's public road network is estimated to be worth approximately $26 billion;

We found that maintenance and depreciation are estimated at $750 million per year; and that a mid range return on capital calculated at 6.4 % on the State Highway portion of the network amounts to $470 million.

Armed with fact, we can now consider the issues raised.

For example, is a commercial approach right for roading?

Should there be a return on the funds invested in roads?

If there should be, what should that return be and should it apply to all roads?

No doubt these issues are the ones which will receive much attention in public

submissions.

Roading as an Economic Good

The second discussion paper is entitled Roading as an Economic Good.

It effectively provides the technical underpinning for the whole Land Transport Pricing Study.

It is not for the faint hearted!

This second paper attempts to define the economic characteristics of roads rather than looking at them from the traditional engineering approach.

The paper also looks at how roads might be priced more efficiently.

One of the paper's main findings is that there is limited scope for the introduction of sophisticated road pricing systems at present.

That's because of the high cost of direct charging through, for example, electronic tolls in a country with a low traffic density such as New Zealand.

We have Japan's geography without the population.

And even there, with their many millions of motorists to contribute, a relatively short car or bus journey of a couple of hundred kilometres can attract tolls of 2 or 3 hundred dollars.

However, even with our thinly-spread population, technological developments may make direct charging cheaper and more feasible.

Two of the important issues raised by the paper, Roading as an Economic Good, are:

What is the most efficient means of charging for roads? and
What is the most appropriate role for the private sector?
Consultation

The discussion papers published as part of the Land Transport Pricing Study are just that - discussion papers.

They contain no policy options or recommendations and nor should they.

Roading plays such a crucial role in keeping this nation running that we mustn't leap in and make rash decisions on its future.

The Government wants full consultation and a comprehensive public submission process on the whole Study before any decisions are made.

To make sure this happens, the Government agreed last December to have one, extended submission date for all of the papers in this stage of the Study.

The date for submissions to be with the Ministry of Transport is now 30 June 1996.

At that time, a further consultation phase will take place.

A discussion paper outlining the key issues and policy options will be published for submission before any decisions are made by the Government.

Environmental Externalities

The third and latest paper in this study, Environmental Externalities, was published just yesterday.

Its aim is to assess the costs of the environmental impacts of road transport.

It covers four main areas of environmental impacts - noise, water and air pollution, and greenhouse gases.

These are obviously not the only environmental impacts of road transport but given the extent and complexity of the subject, some priorities had to be set.

Of all the areas looked at so far, the information available on the environmental impacts of road transport is the most limited and uncertain.

So the cost estimates in this paper are preliminary and should be viewed as such.

The paper suggest the costs of the environmental impacts of road transport each year are:

Noise

The estimated cost of noise pollution ranges from $230 million a year to $2,650 million, with a best estimate of $290 million.
Air Pollution

Estimated costs of air pollution are $700 million a year.
Water Pollution

Estimated costs of water pollution range from $35 million a year to $170 million a year with a best estimate of $100 million.
Greenhouse gases

Estimated costs of the impact of greenhouse gases range from $90 million to $1,800 million, with a best estimate of $350 million per year.
You can see quite clearly the preliminary nature of these figures by the wide ranges attached to them.

Overall the discussion paper concludes that further research and monitoring is required to understand the nature and costs of the environmental impacts of road transport.

This is particularly so in the area of air pollution.

It is not possible at this stage to reach firm conclusions about the level of environmental effects that should be faced by transport users.

Nor is it possible yet to determine whether pricing is an appropriate way to ensure that those costs are internalised.

Conclusion

I have given you an update on where we are with the Land Transport Pricing Study and a brief outline of what is in each paper and the issues which each raises.

A further paper, on Safety Externalities will be published shortly.

This Study is very important in helping to ensure that we have the right level of investment in our roading system.

Please make your views known.