New data from the NZTA shows that Aucklanders are driving less and that’s before we see the impacts the regional fuel tax has had.
Every year the NZTA publish information on how many kilometres vehicles travel (VKT) and break that down by a number of ways including where that travel happened, such as which region and whether on local roads or state highways. This data has traditionally been updated in about September and I had been eagerly awaiting the 2017/18 result. But after months of waiting, I decided to OIA the numbers.
A few of the reasons I was so keen to see the results included:
- After years of flat or slightly declining VKT in Auckland, the 2016/17 year saw a noticeable jump. Was this increase in VKT an anomaly or part of a new upward trend?
- The Waterview tunnels also opened at the start of the period (Jul-17) and what impact might that have had on the numbers?
- The Ministry of Transports Quarterly VKT numbers, which are based on odometer readings but are only at a nationwide level, are showing a significant increase in VKT over the last few years with VKT having increased from 40.3 billion kms annually in 2013 to 49.1 billion kms in 2018. How much is Auckland contributing to this increase?
The NZTA numbers are slightly different to above as are derived from vehicle counts but have the same overall trend. Overall, just under half of all kilometres travelled happen on local roads compared to state highways – this percentage has been reducing and is likely related to the significant investments in state highways over the last decade or so.
This increase is a concern, especially given that vehicle emissions are a large contributor to climate change.
The recent increase has meant that on a per capita basis we’ve just hit a new record of 9,530 km per person. The previous high was set in 2005 and had declined slightly for more than a decade.
Looking more closely at Auckland, overall, Aucklanders are driving slightly fewer kilometres than they did in 2016/17, dropping from 13.3 billion to 13.1 billion. What is also changing is the ratio between local roads and state highways. Auckland has a much higher percentage of travel occurring on local roads than the rest of the country although like the rest of the country, this split has been coming down. This is due to increased numbers on state highways but decreases on local roads.
This version helps show the difference between local roads and state highways better.
The overall decrease in VKT becomes more important when combined with Auckland’s rapid population growth and means Auckland has reached a low of 7,764 km per person. That’s about 800km less than the peak in 2008. The reduction in Auckland’s per capita VKT has seen us move closer to Wellington, the lowest region in NZ with just over 7k km per person. The graph below compares VKT per person in NZ’s five biggest regions (by population). What really stands out is just how much more driving those in the Waikato are doing.
If you think congestion in Auckland is bad now, just think about how much worse it would be if we were all driving even more, say at the rate of those in Canterbury. At the same time, the VKT numbers are still high and there seems to be a lot of opportunity to bringing that down further.
These results were up until July last year but one thing I’m looking forward to seeing the impact of next year is the Regional Fuel Tax. Early indications are that it is likely to have a significant impact on VKT results. The graph below comes from Auckland Transport’s quarterly indicators report and shows fuel sales in Auckland with a noticeable drop after the RFT was introduced.
As part of the OIA to get the VKT information, I also asked why the NZTA hadn’t updated the data on their website, this was their response:
we have been in the process of replacing the existing online solution, but because of technical issues, we have been unable to update the data. Unfortunately, we are unable to provide a timeframe for when a new solution will be available. However, we are looking at alternative options for making the data public in the meantime.
I can understand that their flash based dashboard is no longer the right solution but along with that they also just uploaded the data behind it in a spreadsheet. It seems strange they couldn’t at least update that on the site.