Rules could cost 2000 jobs, independence
Critics of proposed changes to road rules say transport company operators should not be trusted to inspect their own vehicles for roadworthiness, but changes to the commercial vehicle licensing regime could put that power in their hands.
The Ministry of Transport's decision on possible changes to the private car Warrant of Fitness (WOF) and commercial vehicle Certificate of Fitness (COF) regimes is expected to be made public in the next couple of months.
The proposals have spawned public debate over whether extending the current six-monthly break between private car Wof checks to 12 months could increase the number of road accidents and deaths as a result.
The ministry estimated the reforms could cost up to 2000 jobs.
But Vehicle Testing New Zealand chief executive Mike Walsh said the greater danger could come from commercial licensing changes where independent vehicle inspectors could be replaced by in-house inspectors.
Truck and commercial vehicle owners and operators currently have their COF renewed by one of three independent inspection companies - VTNZ, Vehicle Inspection New Zealand or the Automobile Association - none of which provide vehicle repair services.
Walsh said the current system worked because inspectors did not feel commercial pressure to either toe the company line to get the vehicle back on the road or to find faults in order to inflate repair bills.
"Most commercial operators are very financially driven, trucking operators operate on thin margins and anything they can do to make life easier for themselves, they'll do that," Walsh said.
"You need only look at the way the road transport industry tries to avoid road-user charges, vehicle weight [checks], driving hours [quotas] - those sorts of things are always an issue in the industry from people trying to short cut those [regulations].
"By breaking down the independence you're just adding vehicle safety on to that list."
Walsh said the Road Transport Forum - the main lobby group for the industry sector in New Zealand - agreed that the inspection service should remain independent.
Spokespeople for the RTF and its three constituent industry organisations could not be reached for comment but Chris Carr, owner of Carr and Haslam Limited trucking company, said opinion across the industry was still split on the proposals.
Carr said he did not agree that transport operators could not be trusted to run their own inspection services, but said he favoured the independence of companies like VTNZ.
It meant competing companies could be sure their rivals were not gaming the system and keeping their trucks on the road for longer than they should.
Carr said the Ministry of Transport should take longer to decide how best to cater to the range of transport businesses, whether they are small rural companies with little resources to get to testing stations, or urban multi- nationals with in-house inspection capabilities.
VTNZ's livelihood is in danger under the proposed changes - it services 86 per cent of all heavy vehicle safety inspections each year but does not have a repair capability which would be likely to be a requirement under reformed market conditions.
The ministry's discussion paper acknowledges the risks to existing businesses, saying the inspection industry would "need to adjust to this decreased demand" by way of "rationalisation of sites, merger of businesses, staff lay-offs or offering other services to customers to offset lost revenues".
"It's easy to dismiss our comments as self-interest or even scaremongering," said Walsh. "But VTNZ is appointed by the NZ Transport Agency to provide a nationwide service that ensures trucks are safe."
Walsh said VTNZ would have to consider adding repair capabilities to its existing business, which encompasses 85 testing stations.
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