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A truck driver’s view of the snowy Otira Highway (SH73) on the West Coast

South Island a hotbed of road transport innovations – By Iain MacIntyre

Innovative technological solutions being successfully developed in South Island transport corridors in complement with a wider information campaign are resulting in travel being made both safer and more efficient for roading contractors, the road transport industry, and other drivers.

One such initiative is the real-time road conditions texting service operated by Fulton Hogan in its role as West Coast state highways maintenance contractor for the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA).

NZTA system manager Pete Connors says the 24/7 service was originally introduced to advise trucking contractors of the state of Arthur’s Pass and Lewis Pass. “For example, if chains were required due to snow or ice, if there was a ‘no towing vehicles’ requirement in place due to ice and snow, or if there were any delays from planned road maintenance, crashes or vehicle recovery,” he tells NZCN.

“We tend to report on major delays only, including road closures and delays greater than 20 minutes. The aim is to save those drivers having to ring continuously to get updates. A text message is more likely to be received in isolated areas with limited mobile reception and it reduces the need for 3G or internet coverage to check the conditions of the state highway.”

Users of the text messaging system describe it as a great service, particularly for alpine passes during winter months

A great service

Having been acknowledged with an NZTA Providing Traveller Information – Innovation and Customer Care Award, the service now has about 1000 users West Coast-wide and 300 users on the Alternate Route (Picton to Christchurch along state highways 63, 6, 65 and 7, via Lewis Pass, which was established after the Kaikoura earthquake severed SH1 on the coast).

“The Alternate Route group includes emergency services, accommodation and other services in this particular geographic area, as well as transport companies. We always get an increase in customers after the first snowfall every year when drivers are reminded why it is helpful to know ahead of time what issues they may face and how they can prepare,” says Mr Connors.

Westland Milk Products milk collection support officer Doug Cochrane, whose firm is a regular West Coast user of the text messaging system, describes it as a “great service”, particularly for alpine passes during winter months.

“It allows our milk collection team to receive up-to-date information relating to any unsafe or unusable road conditions at any time, and allows the milk collection schedulers to make sound decisions when planning routes for the milk tankers,” says Mr Cochrane.

“Receiving this information on a 24/7 basis is very valuable to our team who operate rosters and shifts. We are able to make the most efficient routing decisions for the tanker fleet from the information provided.”

Equally, Mr Connors also acknowledges the value of the reciprocity provided by such road transport operators as Westland Milk Products. “The truck drivers value this service and in return provide the contracting teams with useful roading updates, information and any concerns they have which need to be attended to. These hundreds of extra pairs of eyes and ears on the road cannot be underestimated in terms of highway safety.”

TruckR app

Another promising new driver information innovation is the TruckR app, which has been developed as part of a wider Alternate Route Truck Crashes/Rollover Prevention Plan formed by the South Island’s multi-stakeholder truck crashes/rollover prevention team.

NZTA Canterbury/West Coast journey manager Lee Wright says the app highlights rest stopping areas suitable for 20 m trucks, one-lane bridges, trailer swap areas, passing lanes, areas along the route with limited cellular coverage, petrol stations, public toilets and food outlets. By connecting to the NZTA’s traffic road event information system (TREIS), the app can also provide information on crashes, road closures and road works.

“After the Kaikoura earthquake, the South Island’s truck crashes/rollover prevention team got together to brainstorm ways of reducing single heavy vehicle rollover crashes on the Alternate Route,” says Ms Wright.

“Our aim is to reduce death and serious injury crashes and minimise closures and delays for all travellers. TruckR is one of many actions from that plan and it is exciting to see the app being trialled by the freight industry. We are keen to get as much feedback as possible.”

Proven to function without phone coverage – and therefore able to maintain operation throughout the Alternate Route – the app is to undergo further testing elsewhere in liaison with the Road Transport Association New Zealand, before potentially being rolled out nationwide.

Ms Wright confirms there have already been “a lot of downloads” via Google Play and Apple App Store by Alternate Route drivers.

Road Transport Forum (RTF) New Zealand chief executive Ken Shirley says his organisation is “extremely supportive” of initiatives such as the TruckR app. “The more information that operators have access to in regards to route information can only help with the freight task,” he says. “We are keen to see the TruckR app applied to the whole network, which would obviously improve its uptake amongst operators.”

Wider information campaign

Ms Wright says such initiatives complement a concerted NZTA drive to ensure stakeholders are being informed about both the actions and work undertaken on the roading network following the Kaikoura earthquake, as well as the consequent impacts on their journeys.

A prime example of this is the ‘Plan your journey’ page on the NZTA’s website, she says. It advises the real-time status of SH1 north and south of Kaikoura, and provides capabilities for drivers to graphically map out potential journeys as well as a host of other information resources.

Continues Mr Shirley: “RTF and its member associations have long advocated for the provision of better information on road closures, road works etc to operators, and we have had further success in this area with NZTA, having recently set up a roading projects register on their website to inform the road transport and heavy haulage industries of projects that may affect the freight task.”

Prevention plan

Returning to the subject of the Alternate Route Truck Crashes/Rollover Prevention Plan, Ms Wright says this initiative has aimed to “recognise the issues and respond to them in a way that will provide long-term benefits to the industry and local communities”.

To achieve the shared goal of progressively reducing the incidence and severity of single heavy vehicle rollover crashes on the Alternate Route – and thereby reducing death and serious injuries as well as closures and delays – targeted actions have included:

• Working with heavy vehicle companies and drivers to acknowledge the extra stress and pressure they are under, as well as working together on joint education and awareness projects
• Encouraging and raising awareness within heavy vehicle companies and heavy vehicle drivers of truck rollover prevention workshops, and targeting owner-drivers to attend
• Encouraging heavy vehicle companies to take responsibility for their staff to correct errant behaviour
• Undertaking regulatory operations
• Educating and working with communities and schools along the route and in Kaikoura about sharing the road with heavy vehicles
• Undertaking and delivering the Healthy Truck Driver programme
• Continuing with two-way conversations around road and roadside and maintenance improvements along the route
• Sharing good-news stories and ensuring the road transport and freight industries are informed of closures, planned works, travel times etc via responsive NZTA channels.

Iain MacIntyre is an award-winning journalist who specialises in transport and infrastructure issues within New Zealand i.macintyre@xtra.co.nz

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