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Calling for sensible traffic management

Operations like traffic management and aviation security need to be accountable for what they do, especially when they are operating under a public regulatory framework, and with public funding. By Peter Dunne, political observer.

There was a hole in a quiet road near me recently. It was about three metres long. A repair crew came to fix it.

That crew consisted of six people: a digger operator, someone directing the digger’s movements, two stop-go sign holders and their two supervisors. And at least 150 ubiquitous orange cones. The road was down to a single lane for most of its length.

This scene was not unusual. It is familiar to most of us and is being replicated frequently in cities and towns across the country. It is a further example of how the system of “traffic management” we now have has become well and truly over the top.

Traffic management requirements are imposing substantial costs on taxpayers and ratepayers throughout the country, for questionable public benefit. Already, the oppressive nature and high costs of traffic management requirements have killed off many local community events like Christmas parades or other local street events.

No-one argues against safety in the workplace – in this instance for roadworkers, motorists, and the public. Everyone has the right to a safe work environment. But, the traffic management requirements now in place have become too onerous. It is doubtful they have made any significant addition to road safety levels beyond what was already in place. Moreover, traffic management service providers seem to be a law unto themselves, accountable to nobody for their impositions and the inconvenience they cause.

Regulations Minister David Seymour says there is far too much red tape in New Zealand. He says it is stifling productivity and imposing far too many unnecessary costs. According to Seymour, regulation is now out of control. His mission is to ensure regulations are imposed only when they are necessary, and at reasonable cost.

Unnecessary regulations should go. Restoring a sensible approach to traffic management, cutting back on the stream of orange cones choking our highways and byways, and the army of stop-go people and the hangers-on that go with them would be a good place for Seymour to start. A saner and more streamlined approach to traffic management would save beleaguered taxpayers and ratepayers millions of dollars that could be put to more productive purposes elsewhere. And it would undoubtedly reduce the levels of road rage road workers are now reporting more and more frequently.

While he is at it, Seymour might also look to another regulatory intervention that is frustrating more and more of us – domestic aviation security at major airports. Again, no-one argues there should be no security, but the extent of it and the way it is administered is getting out of hand. There was even the recent case of a senior pilot beginning a full strip at an airport in protest at what he saw as the increasing level of security being imposed on flight crew.

And, like traffic management, aviation security also seems to be very much a law itself, with no external accountability. There are increasing instances of flights being delayed because of the time it is taking people to get through security. I even had the case recently of my bag being pulled aside for no other reason than the officer was a medals collector who was curious to see what the medal was in my bag!

Yet, when decisions made by aviation security officials are raised with government officials or even ministers as being too intrusive or excessive, the response is always the same – these are operational matters which are the sole responsibility of aviation security. Like traffic management, they seem to be able to do what they like, when and how they like, to whom they like, and all for little clear public benefit.

In both traffic management and aviation security, the broader picture has been lost sight of. The context of necessary actions occurring in a way to assist, not inconvenience, the public has been long forgotten – rather, the provision of the services has become the end in itself. This is not the fault of  those on the front line, but of those who decide the scope of their responsibilities.

The cost to the public purse has escalated significantly, with little to no evidence being produced to show it is justified.

Nevertheless, there is no question that some form of road traffic management and aviation security systems are required, but they need to be appropriate, transparent, and accountable. It is not good enough for the people running these systems to rely on the “we’re just doing our job” line as their stock response. They need to be accountable for what they do, especially when they are operating under a public regulatory framework, and with public funding.

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