A new report from the University of Otago is calling for New Zealand to almost half the percentage of trips taken by car between now and 2050 in order to improve our health and the environment. Titled Turning the Tide – from Cars to Active Transport, the report calls for the share of trips taken by car to drop from 83% to 45% with the difference made up by significant increases to walking, cycling and public transport. It says:
While cars bring convenience and can provide superb access, they also come with costs. For instance, there are the obvious costs of investing in and maintaining increasing amounts of road infrastructure. The tragic loss of life on our roads is moving ever closer to 400 fatalities a year. In addition, there are the less obvious costs, literally the “slowburn” costs – as we destroy our environment with 14 billion tonnes of carbon a year (e.g., close to 300 premature deaths each year due to poor air quality, and mountains of waste including tyres). The negative effects of motorised transport on our physical health is the least discussed but perhaps the most pervasive. Specifically, our automobility-focused land use pattern and transport network means that New Zealanders on average walk for transport less than 10 minutes per day.
Active transport provides an opportunity to maintain equitable access and, at the same time, reduce carbon emissions, and improve health outcomes. By active transport, we are primarily talking about walking, cycling, and wheeling which involves physical effort.
One of the things I find fascinating about transport is that it’s not something people tend to vote for parties on at elections but it’s something that can have a meaningful impact on most other areas of government policy.
In order to achieve this change, the report lists four key areas. Within each of these are a number of more specific actions. These are summarised below.
First, we need to make a commitment to change. National targets, clear accountability to deliver against those targets, and strong governance should be established. This cannot be a half-hearted commitment. Instead, it must be reflected in senior level governance, with the importance of active transport written in to the Government’s priority setting documents.
We recommend that our national targets should be:
- double the proportion of walking trips to 25% of all trips by 2050
- double the proportion of cycling trips each decade so that 15% of trips are by bicycle by 2050
- double the proportion of trips by public transport each decade so that 15% of all trips are by public transport by 2050
We recognise that these targets are ambitious as this would mean reducing the percentage of car trips from 84% in 2018 to 45% by 2050. While this would be a challenge to achieve, we are convinced that aiming for these targets should be a key component of our strategy to improve our national health and environmental wellbeing.
Second, a nationally coordinated and funded programme of education and promotion of active transport. The advent of social media together with growing social concern about the health and environmental effects of climate change provide the platforms for activity that can effectively compete with the multi-million dollar promotions of the car industry. The initial focus should be to work with schools and workplaces to build active transport into the nation’s daily commutes.
Third, there must be a commitment to design cities for people and not for cars. As a minimum, this means creating more areas in our towns and cities where there is a 30 km/h speed limit. Ideally, we should be creating more areas in our cities and towns where there are no cars during the day. This must be backed with a long-term funding to make this happen.
Fourth, we need to have a regulatory system that encourages the use of active transport. This ranges from changes to the planning regulations to regulations that will increase the safety of active transport.
I don’t disagree with any of those. Under each of the four sections are also a number of sub areas and the report, along with this shorter doc on the key policy recommendations, describes each of the points in more detail.
Reducing car use across NZ, like suggested above, can seem like a daunting task but it is certainly possible as we’re seeing in the City Centre where car use has dropped to below 50% at peak times – although this report suggests it happen over 31 years.
It will be interesting to see how the government officially respond to this, although we are unlikely to hear about it till the next Government Policy Statement.