Truckies won't rule out more protests

By Herald reporters

Protesting truckies say they will not rule out future strikes, despite meeting with the Ministry of Transport secretary this afternoon.

The Road Transport Forum chief executive Tony Friedlander said the ministry and industry are working together to scope out a review of the Road User Charges.

Protest organisers say about 2000 trucks took part in today's protest in Auckland alone while other main centres were also blocked-up by heavy trucks.

Mr Friedlander said a scoping report is being prepared to look at a timeframe and how much input the industry will have.

"It will be around how the charges are allocated to vehicle types and rate-payers. It will be around the way they are collected and set and the way the system works," Mr Friedlander said.

He said the meeting with the secretary was "positive".

"We certainly hope that when we've completed the work that sets this project off and gets it working, that it removes any need for further action," Mr Friedlander said.

But he said further protests cannot be ruled out.

Mr Friedlander said the transport minister Annette King is out of the country but arrives back on July 14 when it is hoped that a formal agreement can be reached.

He said truckies are not arguing for a decrease in road user charges but a fore-warning of when they are going up.

Mr Friedlander said there is a way for the ministry to get around the problem of truckies pre-buying road user charges by forcing them to cash in their existing paid-for kilometres and buying new ones at the new price.

"We don't want one operator having an advantage over another," Mr Friedlander said.


PM says no to RUC cuts

Prime Minister Helen Clark says it is unlikely road-user charges will be reduced following a nationwide protest by truck drivers today.

Traffic has returned to normal levels after truck drivers blockaded 13 cities and towns from Whangarei to Invercargill between 7 and 9am today.

Drivers were outraged at Transport Minister Annette King's announcement on Tuesday that road-user charges on diesel vehicles and other vehicles weighing more than 3.5 tonnes would increase.

They said the announcement of additional costs came on the heels of record fuel prices and as the country was entering a recession.

Helen Clark said today if the trucking industry had "fair points" to put on the table the Government would listen. However, asked if a backdown was possible, she indicated it was unlikely.

"That's certainly not my understanding. The money we collect from all the petrol and other levies and road user charges is totally committed to that very big land transport, road building and public transport programme, so that work has to go on."

The Prime Minister said it was important truckies paid their fair share.

"It seems to me other road users have been picking up the bulk of the cost of funding our transport system and there's got to be an element of fairness here."

Ms King has said a working party will be established to look at the way charges were set.

Public reaction

Public reaction to the blockades appears to have been firmly in favour of the truckies.

Approximately 90 per cent of some 500 emails sent to nzherald.co.nz's Your Views section backed the protest action.

Many were along the lines of this one from Chris in Birkenhead: "The Government has seriously underestimated public sentiment. Increasing RUCs was just the catalyst. I drove to work as usual this morning and it took a bit longer. What I saw on the way was massive positive public support for the truckies."

Reporters on the street also described overwhelming support for the drivers, with bystanders around New Zealand clapping, cheering and encouraging them to toot their horns.

In Hamilton, residents came out onto the streets in their nightwear, waving, clapping and asking truck drivers to toot their horns.

Road workers blasted out music for the drivers and some bakery workers have given them pies.

Logan Maniapoto, a sheet metal worker, told the Herald: "We're absolutely behind these truck drivers, I'm sure most New Zealanders are".

"From what's being proposed it's obvious we're all going to feel the pinch very soon - we need truck drivers."

In Auckland, sentiment seemed to be the same, with the majority of commuters appearing to enjoy the protest.

Mary-Jane Richards said walking to work was like being in a festival.

"I always walk to work but it's just made it a bit more interesting. I think good on them and I'm surprised they were able to get away with it. I think it's brilliant," Ms Richards said.

Less impressed was Your Views contributor Angela Barr of Auckland, who wrote: "I work in central Auckland and all I can hear is stupid horns going off all morning. Not only has it disrupted my getting to work, but now it is actually disrupting my work. Give it a rest guys you are only hurting the rest of us now! I'm over it!"

In Wellington, the convoy of trucks arrived at Parliament to find the gates closed.

A number of anti-truck posters bearing the words "Let me on, I want a free-ride too" had been pasted up around the complex in on trees and lamp posts.

Outside Parliament, Road Transport Forum chief executive Tony Friedlander said he did not know how Ms King would respond to the action but said he would be "very happy to talk with her".

One truck driver in the capital told nzherald.co.nz the protest was "bigger than Ben Hur".

Protesting truckies were loud their criticism of the increase in user charges.

Driver Mark McFetridge said the Government should have consulted on the road user charge increase.

"I cart supermarket freight. What do you think that is going to do to your food prices," he said.

Dave Swale, from Swale Earthmovers in Helensville, said diesel prices had doubled in less than three years. "The Government is flogging us to death."

Thousands participate

NZ Road Transport Forum Whangarei area manager Peter Murphy said around 100 trucks rolled through the city.

Organisers and police said 2000 trucks turned out to the protest in Auckland. The Herald counted hundreds but many more did not make it off the motorway and were turned around at Mt Wellington.

A convoy of vehicles rolled through Penrose on Great South Road, honking their horns, while three trucks blocked the motorway at Ellerslie.

Truckies drove laps from Auckland's Town hall, up Mayoral Drive, Greys Avenue, Pitt Street, Karangahape Road and back onto Queen Street.

For some time after they had been told to disperse by protest organisers, a number of drivers continued to sound their air horns as the drove around the CBD.

The traffic in the central city has now returned to normal.

Wellington police said the approximately 300 truck drivers who had converged on the CBD had cleared the city by 10.15am and general traffic had returned to normal.

In Hamilton, truckies have also dispersed. Police spokesman Andrew McAlley said police did not have an estimate of the number of trucks that poured into the city but there were "lots".

Organisers estimated some 300 trucks descended on the city and there were reports from Cambridge and Morrinsville of trucks bringing traffic to standstill, blocking lanes and driving at 5km/h.

In Christchurch, Acting Senior Sergeant Les McKay said they were initially told around 200 trucks would be taking part in the protest.

Today police and protest organisers estimated around 600 vehicles - ranging from utes to logging trucks - drove along the city's main highways.

Pete Goodwin, NZ Road Transport Forum North Canterbury area manager said 60 trucks in Ashburton, 150 in Timaru and 70 in Gore also took part.

Police said 100 trucks circled Dunedin clogging the city's north and southbound one-way streets, organisers put the number at 105.

In Tauranga a convoy of about 50 trucks, most of them big-rigs, arrived on Cameron Road.

In Rotorua traffic on the road from the airport to the central city slowed as the trucks arrived.

In the Taranaki, NZ Road Transport Forum region area manager Tom Cloke said 100 had taken part in the blockade.

In Nelson, area manager Grant Turner said around 150 trucks had shown up in support of the protest.

The Herald has so far received no reports of emergency responses by police, fire and ambulance being held up by the protests.

A fire alarm at the BNZ bank on Queen St was set off but shift manager Scott Osmond said fire trucks arrived inside the normal time.

Mr Osmond said the fire department had two extra trucks in Auckland just in case there were emergencies.

- Additional reporting NZPA

- NZ Herald

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