BUS AND COACH ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE

  • Maurice Williamson
Transport

It's great to be with you at your annual conference. And a real pleasure to talk to you.

It's been a full and challenging year for the transport sector. There have been some major new developments with the introduction of the new Land Transport Act and Driver Licensing Rule, which provide us with a real opportunity to stop more senseless deaths on the road.

We have also been talking with many people and groups around New Zealand about our ideas on future road management policy.

I am privileged to have been part of these initiatives because the truth is that transport and roading in particular, is of enormous importance to every single individual in this country. It is now, it has been in the past, and it is certainly going to be in the new millennium.

We all have a part in managing our roads and we must learn to manage them well if we want to remain competitive within the international trading community.

We must work together to make sure New Zealand continues to be served by the best possible roading system.

The widespread consultation that the Government has carried out has shown that road users and providers recognise the problems facing the current system.

For years we have seen steady growth in traffic volumes. Currently, the traffic on our roads is increasing by about 4 percent each year and that is putting our roads under pressure.

Provincial areas face pressure caused by increased activity in forestry, dairying and tourism and the increased road use that this has brought. Population growth in places like Auckland, the Bay of Plenty and parts of Waikato has meant road use in those areas is growing more quickly than in other parts of the country.

These things mean many of our roads are less safe now than they could be because they were not designed to carry either the volume of traffic or the amount of heavy vehicles they do.

We have increasing congestion problems in many, particularly urban, areas. These problems are increasing maintenance costs and the demand for new roads. We are struggling to meet these increased financial demands.

Many people think that there is a simple answer to this - spend more money. Wrong. The answer is not simple; spending more money adds costs to the total economy, and to our exports. We have estimated that if we continue to stimulate demand for roads through having a system where charges do not reflect actual use then our road bill will rise by 40 percent by 2010 with no improvements in service over our present system.

I know that you will agree with me when I say that what we need is a system that is smarter at informing road users of the costs they are creating, and smarter at deciding where new investments should go.

To get the roads we want and need our system has to change.

That's why we have been talking to people up and down the country about our discussion document Better Roads Better Transport. To make sure we get the best possible changes.

One of the biggest themes running through our policy is to do with choice. It is ridiculous that in some areas of New Zealand roading costs account for up to 60 percent of rates - regardless of how much a person uses roads.

In the past, fuel tax, subsidies and just building more roads were the only tools available to influence driver behaviour. Road pricing, where drivers pay for their actual road use, based on time of day, vehicle type and location has always been seen as a better way of influencing driver behaviour, but until now there has been no practical way of implementing road pricing.

Overseas roading authorities are now adopting innovative technological solutions to try and manage their congestion problems, including what is known as congestion pricing.

Singapore for instance recently introduced an electronic road-pricing scheme on all key roads heading into the central business district. Charges vary by the time of day but are primarily aimed at reducing peak hour travel.

The overall impact of this scheme is currently being assessed but already the scheme is resulting in less congestion into the central business district at peak times. People are driving at different times, or using public transport.

Congestion pricing can help us get smarter about where and when we invest in more roads.

With the help of technology there are ways we can deal with problems like traffic congestion in a manner not previously possible.

Our proposals for managing our roads better outlines a series of measures that would enable things like congestion pricing to be introduced, over time, in those areas where they may assist in relieving congestion.

Drivers faced with the true costs of travel are much more likely to consider alternative ways of getting around. They can choose to travel at different times, use public transport, or they can continue to travel on busy roads at peak hours- but if they do they will pay more.

But the road pricing system must be seen to be fair. Congestion pricing doesn't mean charging excessively and making huge profits. If a toll on a new facility recovered more than its full cost, other charges will have to go down.

That doesn't mean that the road companies that the Government is proposing should not be driven by a motive that recognises the cost of capital used in roads.

We want a system that will see efficient pricing and investment decisions leading to the optimal use of roading and other transport assets. There are many challenges ahead of us in the new millennium. I am absolutely convinced that we, with all our experience, the new technology which is available to us and, the ingenuity and determination our people have always shown, can meet these challenges.

Developing the best roading and transport system we can is not a rush job. It's a job that requires patience, foresight, careful planning and cooperation. We can tackle it, as New Zealanders always have, making sure we get it absolutely right, and we can do it working together in partnership.

So far the government has received over 1000 public submissions on its discussion document Better Transport Better Roads. We are carefully considering these submissions including the points made by your association. The Government wants to reflect on them very carefully and engage in a dialogue with key groups before it finalises its approach. In the meantime I want to thank you for the support you have shown us over many of the ideas we have suggested in Better Roads Better Transport. I can assure you we will continue to listen and consult.

Your organisation has a key interest in the future of roading management not merely because you are major users of the roads, but because those of you who handle urban passenger transport will be facing substantial changes in your markets as a result.

It is not a law of nature that passenger transport loses money. It is at least in part a consequence of 50 years of mispricing our roading system. If we price roads better we will stimulate an active and cost-effective passenger transport system in our cities.

While the Government is still considering its options in this area -and the issues are complex - I believe that we will need to ensure that passenger transport systems can develop to meet changing and developing needs in our cities.

And now I want to talk to you a little about the other project I have been involved with. The introduction of the new Land Transport Act and Driver Licensing Rule.

Over recent years huge work has gone into educating drivers about road safety and improving our vehicles. This has greatly helped us bring down the road toll. However we still don't rate well internationally.

I am confident that the new Land Transport Act will improve that record.

The Act is there to help us;

? Improve the standards of drivers coming onto our roads;

? Encourage good driving behaviour; and

? Improve the mechanisms available to police, the courts and LTSA to remove unsafe drivers from our roads.

I understand that not all aspects of the Act have been universally supported and that many groups have had concerns, particularly with the new Driver Licensing Rule.

I know your association has had some concerns about the legislation, the Rule and fees.

Nobody likes paying fees, however there are some valid reasons why the fee structure had to change. In the past there was a high level of cross subsidisation. The basic driver licensing fee was paying for many of the other special licenses.

Cross subsidisation is simply not efficient. And over the last few years a lot of work has gone into finding out where the true costs of the licensing system lie.

So now the fees that you pay more accurately reflect the true cost of all license requirements. Notwithstanding that the Government recognises your concerns.

The Government has listened. We are sensitive to the impact on the community of compliance costs with the new regime especially on those bus drivers who may only work a few hours a month. We recognise that in many instances these drivers are providing an essential community service. It would be unfair to penalise those people and those communities.

We have also considered the up front costs the new system imposed on taxi drivers and other endorsement holders.

As a result we are making some changes. I announced these changes two weeks ago.

Essentially we will now;

? Allow bus and taxi drivers and other endorsement holders to renew annually rather than once every five years if they choose to do so;

? Change the current annual police vetting for bus drivers to one vetting every five years; and

? Change the charging for multiple endorsements so that holders pay only one endorsement fee.

For those of you who are bus drivers you will not have been required to pay the fee until next year.

We have listened to your concerns, we have tried to be flexible and provide some assurances for rural communities and employers.

I will reiterate. The legislation is all about road safety. We are confident we can strike a balance between commercial interests and public safety.

These are our responses to the concerns you have raised. This week we will have the draft Rule available for consultation.

We are proposing that the changes to the rules and fees affecting bus drivers come into effect from 4 October. Changes to the fees for those drivers holding multiple endorsements would also come into effect at the same time.

I said earlier that the Government is sensitive to the impact on the community of the compliance costs with the new regime.

Now that we know where the costs lie we can continue to look at further reducing compliance costs for drivers through technology. Initially we will look at improving information flows between the Courts and the Land Transport Safety Authority

The driver licensing scheme is a huge project. It is inevitable that with a project of this size there would be operational changes along the way if it were demonstrated there was a clear need for them. I accept that. After all, the important thing is that we should get things right.

On that note I'd like to congratulate you all on what you have done over the past year. I wish your association well as we race towards the new millennium and all the challenges and opportunities that it brings.