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Transport sector collaboration creates 'significant savings and efficiency'

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Collaboration in the transport sector is making value for money sustainable - the goal for funders and the community. A series of national projects led by the Road Efficiency Group (REG) designed to address the high variability in service and costs in the national transport network supports savings through better asset management and procurement practice.

REG is a partnership of Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ), Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and 68 road controlling authorities including the Department of Conservation and city and district councils.

Former LGNZ chief executive Malcolm Alexander, who stepped down from the role in September 2020, believes REG projects have saved the country millions of dollars.

"This is not marginal stuff. This is millions of dollars going into better investment into roads, but also freeing up capital to do other stuff."

Alexander also served on the REG board and said its projects meant councils had more money to spend on other services like three waters or libraries.

"It’s not just a pay-off for roads, it's an infrastructure and community pay off. I'm making that dollar go further because I'm using that capital a smarter way."

REG standardised the performance of New Zealand roads by creating the One Network Road Classification (ONRC) in 2013. The ONRC system divided New Zealand’s roads into six categories based on how busy they are and whether they connect to important destinations. The classifications are based on traffic volumes, the higher the volume the more significant to the country. Using the ONRC, road networks across the country can be compared, and investment directed where it is needed most. As a result, New Zealanders can get the right level of road infrastructure where it is needed, determined by a robust, impartial, nationally consistent tool designed to standardise road performances across the national road network and promote economic growth.

Before the ONRC system was developed, road controlling authorities invested in their networks where they thought best.

In 2015, REG asked Hamilton software specialist Company-X to build the ONRC Performance Measures Reporting Tool (ONRC PMRT). Central and local government import roading data into the online tool and can easily see their performance against safety, amenity, cost efficiency and other measures. Waka Kotahi and 68 road controlling authorities including the Department of Conservation and city and district councils can see their data and how their transport network performs against their peer group, region or the nation.

Asset managers across New Zealand use the online tool to develop business cases for Regional Land Transport Plans.

The ONRC PMRT project created the world leading national roading database. As a result of seeing a variance in the data, REG established a framework to measure, monitor and report data quality across road controlling authorities nationally. REG then developed a work programme to help with data quality improvements. A suite of 63 metrics is interrogating the data for each road controlling authority. Each metric looks at data quality in terms of accuracy, completeness, and timeliness.

Waka Kotahi Director of Regional Relationships Jim Harland is chair of the REG Board. Harland described the success of the REG projects as based on the trust built between Waka Kotahi and local government, and the resulting collaboration.

"In doing this work, we are clear on performance around different components in the network and we are clear on the value for money on the investment that goes in," Harland said.

"We've also got an understanding of how competent the sector is to develop capability in their teams. Which means that they're equipped to use the tools that we're talking about."

Manager Partnership Programmes at Waka Kotahi Andrew McKillop leads the multiple projects within the REG Programme. "The whole philosophy is about enabling people to come and join the programme and make a difference," McKillop said. "With that, there's also providing growth and leadership opportunity for members of the sector through the REG programme.

"In REG it doesn't really matter who you are. Our big focus is actually setting up that environment so that people can work with their peers, come up with innovative ideas, and implement those ideas."

Former REG Evidence and Outcomes Group chair Dawn Inglis said the collaborative roading sector projects had enabled evidence-based decision making across the whole roading network.

"So many people in our sector are thinking innovatively outside of what they have always done and are willing to share their knowledge and experience," Inglis said.

"There’s a real commitment to work together and to help if people need it. I think the other thing to me is leadership - within the REG programme, we've had some amazing leaders."

McKillop reflected on multiple team members who have helped to ensure the ONRC PMRT remains fit-for-purpose. "Our people get involved because there’s such a great opportunity for national cooperation and coordination to make the whole system more efficient. "We very fortunate to have really passionate people who want to put in their own time to make things happen."

New Zealand transport sector innovation leads the world

A world-leading innovation has emerged from a roading sector project standardising the performance of New Zealand roads.

Believed to be a world first, a national roading database has been created for the One Network Road Classification Performance Measures Reporting Tool (ONRC PMRT).

The online tool, into which all New Zealand’s road controlling authorities have imported data, was built for the Road Efficiency Group (REG) by Hamilton software specialist Company-X.

REG is a collaboration between Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ), Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and 68 road controlling authorities including the Department of Conservation and city and district councils.

REG enables road controlling authorities across New Zealand to monitor and measure roads with the same tools and standards.

Infrastructure asset management specialist Dr Theuns Henning of the University of Auckland said the ONRC PMRT and subsequent creation of a national roading database was a world first.

"New Zealand is in a much better position and has a much clearer appreciation of where we stand with regards to their network performance from a national perspective," Henning said.

"Now people can see how they perform and how their costs are doing compared to their peers, which is a significant step forward and from the central funding perspective. So, it's much clearer and more transparent."

Waka Kotahi Director of Regional Relationships Jim Harland described the ONRC PMRT as an essential system, streamlining previous issues with accessing consistent data. The beauty of the PMRT is its consistency. "We have used PMRT quite religiously over the last three or four years. Our assurance and audit teams use the tool a lot for our audit work, and the benefit is that it provides consistent reporting data for all, because everyone puts their data into the tool."

Waipa District Council service delivery group manager and former REG Evidence and Outcomes Group chair Dawn Inglis said the PMRT was a great step forward.

The ability for road controlling authorities to compare their networks to their peers, the region and the nation was fantastic, Inglis said.

"We are getting better understanding of our safety outcomes in our networks," Inglis said. "That classification enables us to understand our networks on a much richer basis when we've got the data broken down to that level of granularity. It was an ‘aha’ moment for me and a lot of the people in the sector."

REG Evidence and Outcomes group member and Queenstown Lakes District Council transport asset manager Alison Tomlinson said the reporting tool and its dataset had changed the thinking around asset management.

"The delivery of the ONRC PMRT has given asset managers a tangible tool, enabling them to challenge and ask questions about their networks," Tomlinson said.

"It's about understanding how we as a council look compared to our peers."

The transparency the tool provides enables road controlling authorities to learn from each other and improve their roading network and ultimately the experience for road users.

"The REG programme and the tools developed has been really good at helping us connect with our peers," Tomlinson added.

"It's been quite empowering for the local authorities. So really, really powerful stuff."

In his role as REG Programme Manager Andrew McKillop worked closely with Hamilton software specialist Company-X in the development of the tool. Investment advisor teams soon got involved because they could see the opportunity to make the national roading network more efficient.

"Having the essential information on hand to exchange and learn from other people - that is where the value is."

Chair of REG Jim Harland said the PMRT was a significant piece of work that had brought clarity to the national roading sector.

"There's that old adage about what gets measured gets done," Harland said.

"In doing this work, we are clear on performance around different components in the network, we are clear on the value for money on the investment that goes in, and we have also got an understanding of how competent the sector is to develop the skills of their people."

Former Local Government New Zealand chief executive and REG board member Malcolm Alexander said the tool came out of a transport sector-wide desire to improve operations and maintenance across the national network.

The tool, Alexander said, helped Waka Kotahi and city and district councils understand the nature of seal on their roads, the quality of materials used, where there was a bumpy ride, and other metrics. "There's a whole swag of metrics," Alexander said.

"We’ve got six complete years of data in the tool and that's brilliant. The mere fact that we would even do this was seen to be extraordinarily impossible. Yet here we are."

Alexander said the REG projects had empowered the sector to be inventive and find new ways of doing things.

A large team of people had input into the development of the ONRC PMRT, refining requirements and testing it to ensure it met the needs of users.

"People are putting a lot of their own time into this project, and I've seen that around the leadership group."

Data quality project promotes better decisions

The creation of a world leading national roading database sparked a data quality project leading to better-informed decision making in the New Zealand transport sector.

The data quality project led by the Road Efficiency Group (REG) is supporting the transport sector in improving the quality of transport-related data for effective evidence-based decision making, helping lift investor confidence.

REG is a collaboration between Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ), Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and 68 road controlling authorities including the Department of Conservation and city and district councils.

REG enables road controlling authorities across New Zealand to monitor and measure roads with the same tools and standards.

REG’s creation of the One Network Road Classification (ONRC PMRT) system and the import of all roading data into the Performance Measures Reporting Tool made road controlling authorities aware of data quality issues.

"When you pull a lot of data together for the first time you discover the quality is variable," said software specialist Company-X co-founder and director Jeremy Hughes.

Company-X built the One Network Road Classification Performance Measures Reporting Tool for REG.

Poor data quality leads to a distorted view of reality, Hughes said.

"There can be a lot of inconsistency within organisations. Different regions, offices and staff can lead to variations in data quality. As can changes in staff and business processes. You don’t know that your data is inconsistent until you pull it all into one place.

"The evidence was quite anecdotal so we built a set of 63 metrics which quantified the data quality across the important data and built easy to use dashboards so that people could see where they needed to put their effort and investigate further."

Infrastructure asset management specialist Dr Theuns Henning of the University of Auckland said the data quality project was driving change. "If you start reporting numbers, it changes behaviour. It's human nature. The moment you start reporting on what people do, they start reacting to it," Henning said.

"If you set targets to that performance, you get there quicker. You get that instantaneous response, and the data quality has significantly, drastically improved over a two-year period, which was just incredible to watch."

Waka Kotahi director and REG chair Jim Harland said improving data quality enabled members of the land transport sector to benchmark against their peers and ask: "How come you're getting a better result than us?" "By providing data quality reports every year, people can see where they're improving, where they're doing well compared to their peers and so on," Harland said.

"Waka Kotahi, as a major investor in the land transport system, was very interested in the quality of the data."

Former Local Government New Zealand chief executive and REG board member Malcolm Alexander said data quality was fundamental for good investment decisions. "The quality of official data is a problem, and how you construct a decent asset management plan and investment profile behind that if you don't know where your weak points are, in terms of your need for investment? That goes to one, the data, and then the quality of it. Because if it's not high quality, you're fooling yourself. You're guessing, essentially. It might be an educated guess within some data, but essentially, it's a guess because you're not sure of the data quality, and you, therefore, could be making bad investments," Alexander said.

"Quality was the natural evolution after getting the data - it is a natural evolution and it's a never-ending story. How do I get better quality? It helps support the culture of quality and better investment decisions," Alexander added.

"Bad data quality just means it makes it harder to understand where you're at, and therefore, hard to direct the capital into the places it should go. Rather than be wasted in places where it doesn't need it, and you fall into that trap not because it's silly or anything, bad quality of your data doesn't give you that power to make more informed choices, and that's all it is. It is getting the power to make more informed choices."

Manager Partnership Programmes at Waka Kotahi Andrew McKillop said the transport sector wanted to improve the quality of the data in its reporting system.

"We had to improve the quality of data coming in, so we got better reporting.

"For me, good quality data is priceless. How can you make a good decision if you don't have good data? If you don't have good data, you can't do good analysis. You can't make good decisions and therefore you don't have good results, good outcomes."

Publishing data quality reports promoted transparency in the transport sector and continuous improvement.

"We're not into revolution, we're into evolution. We started on this journey 30 years ago, and we are still making improvements. We are in a unique position in New Zealand. We set the standards for the roading sector and continue to evolve."

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