Associate Transport Minister Simon Bridges wasted no time in clearing his desk of transport matters. Within a week of being promoted into new portfolios in the Cabinet overhaul, he was announcing changes to the warrant-of-fitness system that will require cars registered after 2000 to be inspected just once a year (but those registered before January 1, 2000 will remain on six-monthly inspections).
OPINION: This obviously will save motorists time and money and Mr Bridges brayed of the flow-on benefit for the wider economy. Yes, but not a huge benefit.
The minister cited Ministry of Transport research showing motorists and businesses will be $159 million a year better off. This modest sum includes savings in inspection and compliance costs, justice and enforcement costs and time spent by motorists getting their WoF. Beehive spin doctors made it seem more impressive by including a longer-term ministry calculation: The savings stretch to "at least $1.8 billion over 30 years". How can we put that in perspective? Perhaps by recalling that petrol excise duty and road user charges were raised on 1 August last year. Further increases were announced just before Christmas, giving the Government $1.1 billion of additional revenue through to 2016/17.
The changes to the warrant-of-fitness regime were not a sudden expression of Mr Bridges' beneficence before he moves into his new jobs. Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee acquainted us in August last year with news that the six-month checks were being examined, along with a raft of other ideas around vehicle licensing reform, to save millions in unnecessary costs and times for households, businesses and the Government.
The Automobile Association welcomed the review, although a spokesman said any changes must be justified by evidence. This reflected a valid concern safety must not be jeopardised.
The Motor Trade Association, on the other hand, raised self-serving concerns. It warned of thousands of jobs being lost if major changes were made to the WoF rules. But employment should not be the purpose of regulation. If it was, we could reduce the dole queues by requiring WoF checks every three months - or, even better, once a month. Plainly, that's absurd.