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A truck and trailer leaves Dunedin heading North. PHOTO: GERARD O'BRIEN
A truck and trailer leaves Dunedin heading North. PHOTO: GERARD O'BRIEN
There is "real worry" in the transport industry as a lack of truck drivers and reduced interisland ferry sailings are putting pressure getting freight to the South Island.

There had long been a truck driver shortage, but Covid-19, and in particular the Omicron outbreak, exacerbated that, Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand chief executive Nick Leggett said.

To make matters worse, there were fewer crossings by interisland ferries which was reducing the amount of freight that could travel between the North and South Islands.

One of the Interislander ferries, Kaiarahi, was taken off the Wellington to Picton route last year after requiring sudden major repairs to its gearbox.

While the vessel was away in Australia, the ferry’s owner, KiwiRail, had leased Valentine, a ferry from England.

But it was too slow - taking 4.5 hours, instead of the usual 3.5 hours - and was only capable of one return sailing a day, Mr Leggett said.

As more drivers had to isolate because they were either a household contact or had Covid-19 themselves, the industry was encouraging people who had heavy traffic licenses to drive trucking in their spare time, Mr Leggett said.

KiwiRail executive general manager, operations Paul Ashton said about 1%-2% of its workforce was absent because of Covid-19, which included those self-isolating. Most were in Auckland.

It had worked hard to minimise the effects on freight services and had so far managed to limit the cancellation to a few across town shunts in Christchurch and Auckland.

Main line services had been able to manage the situation by consolidating some services.

There was no Covid-19 associated delays to Interislander ferries, but it was a "dynamic situation" and Mr Ashton admitted its operations might suddenly be affected if cases in the crew occurred.

Jon Adams, chief executive of Toll Global Express, which has four depots in the lower South Island, said like other businesses it was being hit by delays, but was mitigating the impact wherever it could.

It had told customers to prepare for delays of up to one to two days, Mr Adams said.

New Zealand Post chief operating officer Brendon Main said it was operating "very close" to normal with only minimal disruption.

It was delivering "nine out of 10" packages on time, with some delayed by one or two days.

NZ Post had prepared for the outbreak by increasing its capacity to deliver by taking on more staff.

It had also put in place plans to limit the impact of people being away from work, through careful case management and contact tracing, Mr Main said.

He expected the situation to get tougher as Omicron spread, but said "valuable" lessons had been learnt over the past two years.

Its competitor, New Zealand Couriers told its customers yesterday they would only be able to send 50% of their average non-critical daily volumes to and from Auckland.

Its website said that critical courier items were exempt from those restrictions.



Too many drivers needed to move x amount of freight on road. Advantage rail.