Increasing petrol prices have unsurprisingly remained a hot topic of conversation. Brian Fallow wrote an excellent piece on the subject last week.
So why not give drivers a break?
Because fuel prices are too low, not too high.
This week we also received the latest, sobering report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), spelling out the adverse impacts we can expect from even another half a degree of global warming beyond the 1C we have generated already.
In terms of the ferocity of storms, the severity of droughts and floods, wildfires and relentless sea level rise, we ain’t seen nothing yet.
And on our current trajectory we will zoom past 1.5C and the Paris Agreement’s goal of 2C to something like 3C.
The IPCC’s predictions are based on careful appraisal of more than 6000 pieces of peer-reviewed research. Quality control on its report was provided by more than 1000 expert reviewers. They are not making this stuff up.
In light of that, even if the Government were minded to cut taxes — and Finance Minister Grant Robertson was the very picture of fiscal caution on Tuesday — fuel taxes are the last ones they should choose.
Consumers of petrol and diesel, and other fossil fuels, need to get used to the idea that the price of these things will have to keep on rising to the point where we no longer consume any.
The only question is how long it takes for commerce and government between them to deliver the alternatives we need for that to be feasible, and how much planetary damage is inflicted in the meantime.
It seems people have already started looking at alternatives, with the Dominion Post reporting:
If you’re searching for an electric vehicle (EV), bike, or a scooter to outrun rising fuel prices, you’re not alone.
Trade Me has marked a staggering 252 per cent jump in users scouring the online auction site for electric vehicles compared to last year, while electric bike searches have also jumped 40 per cent over the past seven days.
It will be fascinating to see if and how this change flows through to vehicle sales, both in the quantum of them and in what people are buying. You can still see some of the impact in the types of cars we buy from the last time we saw petrol prices sustained at over $2 a litre – from about early-2011 to late-2014. The Ministry of Transport’s vehicle fleet stats includes information about engine sizes of vehicles going back to 2000. It shows that the average engine size on petrol cars has decreased since mid-2012, not by a lot but prior to that there had been a steady increase. There’s also some interesting differences and trends between new and used cars.
While still small, the number of electric vehicles and plug in hybrids being registered continues to grow and now makes up about 2% of new light vehicle registrations. The MoT say that in September the total EV fleet passed 10k, but that needs to be put in the context of a total vehicle fleet of over 4.15 million.
As I mentioned in the last post, in Auckland at least, the alternatives have improved considerably, even since that 2011-14 period. On the PT side we’ve seen the rollout of electric trains, the introduction of integrated fares and new, much more useful bus network. We’ve also seen significant improvements for cycling although there are still many gaps that may be off-putting for less confident riders. The biggest challenge is often just to get people to try doing something differently and rising fuel prices might just be the trigger point some people need to give something different a go.
While it’s not fuel price related, a good example of someone giving PT a go and finding it’s actually a lot better than expected is none other than the Herald’s John Roughan. For many years he’s written numerous disparaging opinion pieces about public transport, especially rail. There is still a little bit of that in his most recent piece, but for the most part it’s very positive.
They called my brain failure a transient attack that left no damage but should be treated as a stroke warning. So on medical advice I haven’t driven a car for a couple of weeks and consequently I’m now better acquainted with Auckland’s bus service.
It’s good. Quite startlingly good.
The newly redesigned North Shore routes, for which Auckland Transport took some flack on their first day, have worked a treat for me. The trip from front door to office desk hasn’t taken more than 45 minutes, often less, and that included 10-15 minutes of walking and waiting. The total time is not much more than it normally takes by car.
Of course it has been school holidays and the traffic was light. It could be a different story next week when the bus will be stuck in right-turning traffic that I can avoid with a rat-run in the car. But the real revelation to me has been the transfers to and from the Northern Busway.
The need to catch two buses on each trip is not the deterrent I’d always supposed. At the busway station I hardly had to break stride. As you walk onto the platform one bus is leaving and another is coming in.
We can’t afford too, nor want people to have to suffer medical events to get them to try PT. Auckland Transport need to start marketing the PT network much better than they’ve done it in the past. They need to be thinking about how they can get people to give PT a try. Their current, or most recent marketing campaign is so bland and non-descript I struggle to even remember what it’s called, let alone any details about it. They need to be bolder, such as this 2008 advertising campaign by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
They also need to think outside the box a bit, for example, now that all of the new bus network has rolled out, why not give every Aucklander a free day on trains and buses – not all on the same day though, the system wouldn’t cope. Basically “give it a go, it’s better than you might think”.
They’ve successfully managed to get most of their own staff out of cars, now they just need to replicate that across Auckland.
We walk (bike, bus, train and ferry) the talk! 86% of our staff travel to work by means other than a single occupancy vehicle. Of those working in the city centre, this percentage is even higher at 93%.
— Auckland Transport (@AklTransport) October 10, 2018