NZ’s pothole punch-up based on wrong figures, transport agency says

Accusations fly ahead of the general election in October (Iconathon/CC0 1.0/Public domain)
As election year gets underway in New Zealand, the incumbent Labour government has come under fire for presiding over a supposedly record-breaking number of public complaints about potholes, but the country’s transport agency says the figures quoted are false.

The issue was championed by minority opposition party, Act, on 30 December, when its transport spokesman Simon Court claimed that “by October 2022 there had been 555 complaints to NZTA [the transport agency] about damage to vehicles because of the state of New Zealand’s roads”.

“There’s now an open question about whether New Zealand’s roads have more orange cones or more potholes,” Court wrote.

With 10 seats in New Zealand’s House of Representatives following the 2020 general election – up from just one seat won in 2017 – Act may be in a position to form a coalition government after the election scheduled for 14 October this year.

Act’s complaint was taken up by road freight group, Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand, on 16 January when its chief executive Nick Leggett used the figure of 555 complaints to say that “Kiwi road users have endured record levels of potholes and road quality issues”.

Pothole numbers are down, actually

But four days later, Waka Kotahi/New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) issued a statement saying the figure was wrong.

“Our records show that for 2022 complaints about potholes and road surfaces were very similar to what they were in 2021,” said NZTA’s acting general manager of transport services, Deborah Hume.

“We had 348 complaints in 2021 and 351 last year. The 555 figure being quoted actually relates to compensation claims made for damage across a wide number of categories. This includes chip damage to vehicles, private property damage, pothole-related damage, and various other claims.

“We accept the number of these complaints have increased. However, it is wrong to describe all of them as pothole complaints.”

A table included in NZTA’s statement showed that complaints about “pavement and surfacing or potholes” in 2022 were well below figures for the four years 2017-20.

However, total compensation claims for all of 2022 stood at 796, a big increase on the previous five years.

Hume said high rainfall and extreme weather events have taken a toll on state highways.

NTZA said it is working on completing 2,450km of road surface renewals, some 10% of the entire state highway network.

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