Thursday, April 25, 2024

Stinging tractor-users not the answer

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Federated Farmers says that enforcing regulations should be led with education not penalties.
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An apparent jump in the number of farmers and contractors being fined for not displaying a transport service licence shows there’s confusion about who needs one, Federated Farmers says.

Instead of police cracking down through fines, educating those breaching the rules would be a better approach until there’s greater awareness, transport and roading spokesperson Mark Hooper said.

“There needs to be much better clarity about who needs one of these licences, but we also think the regulations are out of date and need to be reviewed fairly urgently,” Hooper said.   

“In the meantime, rather than approaching it as a direct offence, police might be better using it as an opportunity to educate farmers and contractors.” 

NZTA rules state that any individual or company must hold a transport service licence (TSL) if carrying goods on any road, regardless of whether it’s for hire or reward, where the vehicle’s gross laden weight is 6000kg or more. 

That means if a farmer or contractor is towing a trailer carrying maize silage, hay, fencing materials or other goods, where the overall weight is six tonnes or more, they must display a TSL or risk being fined. 

Applicants must also hold a certificate of knowledge of law and practice for a goods service.

Hooper said Federated Farmers is aware of a recent uptick in farmers and contractors being pinged. 

“I know the police are simply following the letter of the law – and they don’t make the rules – but I’m not sure why this has suddenly become a focus for them. A few months ago, it was axle weights, and now it’s transport service licences.”  

He said he’s hearing that many farmers and contractors aren’t even aware they need a TSL, while others know what a TSL is but don’t know if they need one.  

“The rules on the NZTA website aren’t very clear; in fact, they’re quite confusing. Some people can apply for a waiver, but it isn’t easy finding out the eligibility criteria.  

“The other problem is these rules were set some time ago, when perhaps a six-tonne threshold was appropriate. But now, tractors are bigger and there wouldn’t be many farmers on the road towing a trailer that isn’t over that limit.”

At the same time, modern braking technology is superior to when the rules were set, meaning the safety risks are now far lower, Hooper said.   

“For that reason, we think the thresholds need to be lifted so the average farmer towing some hay down the road a few times a year doesn’t need a TSL.

“We’ll be asking for a review of the regulations, and for a process to be put in place that sees the regulations reviewed at regular intervals to keep pace with changes in technology.”

The penalties for operating an unlicensed service include a fine of up to $10,000 (increases to a maximum of $25,000 for subsequent convictions), and vehicles can be impounded for up to 90 days.

A Rangitikei-based ag contracting couple, who asked not to be named, say they were recently fined for not displaying a TSL on their tractor and trailer combination.  

“A police officer saw one of our staff members carting round hay bales and when our driver was on the way back, the officer pulled him over and issued an infringement notice for $2000. He didn’t even have anything on the trailer by then. 

“We do have a TSL for our vehicles, but we just hadn’t put a label in that tractor on that day.” 

The contractors say they rang four other contractors and learned that none of them displayed TSL labels on their tractors, and none knew they had to.

The rules are confusing and illogical, they said. 

“Ok, as a contractor we’re probably liable to have these tickets in the window, but where does the line get drawn in the sand? 

“There are probably more farmers on the roads with these trailers than contractors, and they’re doing the same thing, carting hay for themselves or somebody else.”

The couple say even an empty tractor and trailer is usually over six tonnes these days, “so according to the wording on the NZTA website, you’ll need a TSL whether loaded or empty.” 

They say ag contractors are worried the fining will escalate in the weeks ahead.  

“With the maize harvest ready to hit, when there’s dozens and dozens of tractors on the road carting maize silage, we’re concerned we’ll be an easy source of revenue collection.

“Maybe they should have had an article in the rural publications or let us all know somehow that they were going to clamp down, and why, and then people could have gone out there any got themselves organised.”  

Hooper says he’s asking officials to provide urgent clarification on the rules, and he’s also asked for this matter to be discussed at the next Ag Transport Forum meeting, which includes Feds, Rural Contractors, NZTA and others. 

Federated Farmers, New Zealand’s leading independent rural advocacy organisation, has established a news and insights partnership with AgriHQ, the country’s leading rural publisher, to give the farmers of New Zealand a more informed, united and stronger voice. Feds news and commentary appears each week in its own section of the Farmers Weekly print edition and online.

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