Saturday, April 10, 2010

5000 mammoth rigs add to road-clogged mayhem

Over Easter weekend 12 people perished in road smashes, and dozens more were hospitalised.
But during the same week the government announced that up to 5000 over-sized super-rigs will be permitted on our roads, with loads up to 53 tonnes each.
There are already too many vehicles clogging up our roads. Trucks are involved in 16% of all deaths on NZ roads, even though they comprise only 4% of the vehicle fleet. Another 5000 mammoth trucks will make our roads even more deadly.
More fuel guzzling trucks will also churn up our roads and waste precious fuel as we reach peak oil and peak asphalt .. and undermine rail freight services.

Peter De Waal comments:

The NZ Herald Editorial on Wednesday Apr 7, 2010: "Danger from heavier loads simple physics" about the proposal to increase the weight limits of trucks used on selected our roads does not raise any serious opposition to the plan.

The decision to use 53 tonne as opposed to 44 tonne trucks on New Zealand's 60-year-old fragile roading system is one based on faith, not economics.

New Zealand's roads were well-built, but poorly engineered. The lack of adequate shoulder areas and the sharp radius of turns throughout the system point to shortcuts in planning and budgets. Such fine details of road construction are lost on most commuters, as they drive small vehicles weighing only 1000-2000 Kg. Trying to punt a heavy truck around such bends, where you are totally committed to the line you choose at the start of the apex, is a different matter entirely.

Trucks are around 8 times less energy efficient than rail transportation. The price of oil is predicted to rise sharply after 2012, so any "efficiency gains" from the use of heavier trucks is likely to be wiped out.

A recent article by Kurt Cobb about future oil supplies, shows world oil production - currently around 86 million barrels-per-day (BPD) - will fall to 80 million BPD by 2016; 67 million BPD by 2020; and to 60 million BPD by 2023.

These numbers are based on research by Glenn Sweetman of the US Government's Energy Information Administration, an authoritative source. In the same period worldwide demand is slated to increase to 90 million BPD by 2016; 95 million BPD by 2020; and to 98 million BPD by 2023.

The highly efficient stock market will respond to this shortage by bidding up prices, to levels far higher than seen in 2007 when oil briefly reached US$147 a barrel. This will effectively shut-down world trade. So much for the National parties' optimistic predictions of ever increasing trucking volumes.

The problem of road wear will be greatly increased buy the use of heavier long-distance trucks. It will fall to ratepayers and families renting housing to foot the bill for strengthening bridges and frequently rebuilding broken-up highways. The materials required for this repair work are also rapidly increasing in price, such as the diesel fuel to power heavy excavators etc., but most importantly asphalt, for which a world-wide shortage has begun. See: The NZ government also believes that such excess weight vehicles can be restricted to a few specially-strengthened roads. The recent grounding of a coal bulk carrier in the Great Barrier reefs shows, with all it's potential for environmental disaster, that if money can be saved by taking a short-cut, it will be.

Given the oil and asphalt crises about to burst on New Zealand, it would be prudent to prioritise rail shipping, and limit the distances and weights trucks can carry.

The trucks themselves have a relatively short life span of around 10 years. Railway rolling stock lasts for decades. The New Zealand public are effectively paying for an entirely new transport infrastructure every decade. No wonder New Zealand is so far behind other OECD countries. The economic dividend of this waste is paid to trucking bosses and their political supporters, but the real political dividend is the individualism and atomisation of the workforce that small, highly competitive trucking companies create. No capitalist government, be it National or Labour, wants to see the resurgence of rail, and the rail unions.

I recently listened to an interview of Colin Campbell about his life-long career as an oil geologist and Peak Oil where he made the point that "China had it's economic boom at 5 seconds to midnight." The same blind subjectivism seems to rule New Zealand's bosses, who think their overdeveloped sense of personal entitlement and some vague idea of "New Zealand exceptionalism" will make up for a global energy shortage. "Yeah, right."

Such short-sighted planning, based only on the needs of the next quarter's profit report, are about to undo the current crop of leaders. But you won't read that in the New Zealand Herald...


  1. Would you mind if I posted this post in full on the Auckland Transport Blog..?


    Jeremy Harris

  2. Hi Jeremy,

    - go for it! And thanks for your blog & the open discussions around mobility issues facing us in Auckland.


  3. It is Josh Arbury's blog, I'm just an author on the blog...

    Check back in a couple of days and it should be up I'll make sure I give a full hat tip...

  4. Hey, the post is now up on Josh's blog...