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War Economy

Wartime Transport Arrangements

Wartime Transport Arrangements

New Zealand's predominantly undulating landscape makes transport a comparatively costly sector of her economy at any time. Transport problems were aggravated in time of war by shortages of fuels. Petrol supplies became scarce in allied countries generally as the vulnerable tankers were attacked, and as some of the major supplying countries fell into enemy hands. Shortages of petrol tended to throw emphasis on rail transport, but here again there was a fuel problem as demand for coal exceeded supply, and the smooth flow of coal to users was hindered at times by transport difficulties and industrial unrest in the coal mines. Except for municipal tramways, and for some suburban railway lines, electricity had not yet moved far enough into transport systems to be able to take a major part of the load away from the coal and petrol users. In any case, electricity, too, was in short supply for much of the war period.

Transport operators of all types were needed both in New Zealand and overseas for military operations, and, as more and more men were recruited, all normal transport service in New Zealand tended to become seriously short of staff. Staffing difficulties on the waterfront were aggravated by recurring industrial disputes and by working arrangements which, partly from lack of supervision and partly from lack of co-operation on the part of the workers, failed to use the available labour effectively. Apart from the short sharp strike of railway staff in early 1945, which brought to an end the policy of rigid stabilisation of wages,1 there was comparatively little industrial unrest in other parts of the transport industry.

On the industry, faced with fuel shortages and depleted staffs, fell a considerable extra burden as a result of movements of military personnel and stores, including, after June 1942, work for the United States Forces.

There was every need for a supreme effort of co-ordination in an industry where duplication of services had always been a problem. Zoning of deliveries, elimination of less essential services, licensing and restriction of competing services, restriction of unnecessary passenger journeys through a permit system and even the restriction

1 See also Chapter 12.

page 422 of the movement of some types of goods, were all resorted to for varying periods and in varying intensity.

The necessity to ration petrol and later to restrict the supply of tyres to the private motorists threw a considerable extra passenger load on road passenger services, on the railways, and on the tramways and taxis. In its 1943 annual report the Transport Department wrote,1 ‘Long-distance civilian motor-vehicle traffic has largely disappeared from the roads.’

Petrol and tyre shortages were general and meant that road passenger services could not absorb all the extra load. Manpower difficulties were somewhat less severe in road transport because petrol and tyre restrictions had, by the time manpower became really scarce, led to considerable reductions in the less essential services.

Coastal shipping which, particularly in New Zealand, with its long shore line running parallel to the main road and railway routes, could have taken a share of the increased transport load, was restricted in its activities by shortage of vessels. Many had been requisitioned for naval use. For trade between the North and South Island, particularly with the West Coast, shipping shortages became severely restrictive for a time. In addition an extra load was put on coastal shipping and on internal transport systems generally by restrictions on the number of ports of call for overseas vessels in order to make maximum use of scarce shipping.

An inevitable result of petrol and tyre shortages, and of limitations on the availability of manpower generally, was to increase the relative importance of the Railways Department in the New Zealand transport scheme. To fuel its locomotives, the Railways Department relied predominantly on coal, which was mined in New Zealand; and it is regrettable that uncertainties in the coal supply forced the Department to restrict its services so severely during the war period. In spite of restrictions on less essential train services, the work load handled successfully by a depleted staff increased by about 50 per cent. With the possible exception of the short period of the January 1945 strike, the Railways Department's war record is a proud one.

For the most part the transport industry in New Zealand achieved remarkable heights during the war years. Co-ordinating committees, management, and staffs triumphed over very considerable difficulties.

1 Parliamentary Paper H–40, p. 1.