As the end of the year rapidly approaches it seems the government are rushing to get out all of the things they’ve been working on before heading off for a summer break. As such, last week had a lot of transport-related news. This included both the Government’s announcement of substantial extra infrastructure investment over the next few years, and the final release of studies and next steps for moving Auckland’s Port.
But they weren’t the only things and the release of a couple of really important plans on mode shift has slipped under the radar a bit. These are:
- ‘Keeping Cities Moving‘, a national-level mode shift plan that seems to largely focus on changing the role of NZTA away from being just road builders and towards becoming a true multi-modal transport agency.
- ‘Better Travel Choices‘, a mode shift plan for Auckland that has been prepared jointly by the different organisations involved in ATAP
This post will focus on the national plan “Keeping Cities Moving”, while tomorrow I’ll dig into the Auckland document.
One really good thing the NZTA plan does up front is to explain in some detail why mode shift to public transport, walking and cycling is so essential to the success of our urban areas. This is really helpful as I think too often arguments around mode shift get tied up in ideological debates, whereas actually with a bit more explanation it quickly becomes clear why mode shift is so necessary in helping to achieve the kind of outcomes that people across different political perspectives are generally interested in.
Over the past 70 years New Zealanders have become increasingly reliant on private vehicles to meet their travel needs. While private vehicles are well suited to many transport tasks due to their flexibility and speed, such a high level of reliance in cities where space is constrained, and the population is growing, is not sustainable.
Current reliance on private vehicles also means that owning and regularly using a car has become a pre-requisite to fully participating in society. This is contributing to a number of problems like congestion, poor quality urban environments, pollution and carbon emissions, poor public health and high travel costs.
Growth in our population and economy means we need to work now to develop a modern transport system that addresses these issues and supports our cities to be thriving places with great quality of life.
Increasing the share of travel by public transport, walking and cycling in New Zealand’s cities (what is known as ‘mode shift’) has a critical role to play in improving the wellbeing of New Zealanders by shaping a more accessible, safe and sustainable transport system. It’s not possible to accommodate more and more private vehicles within limited street space. They are a relatively inefficient means of moving people. And adding road capacity without providing alternative travel options tends to encourage more vehicle travel, often negating any initial congestion relief over time.
The ‘space efficiency’ of public transport and active modes means that we can help people move around more easily without reducing their quality of life.
Providing alternative transport options that are convenient, reliable and cost-effective will support people to make changes to the way they travel. Private vehicles won’t disappear anytime soon but providing a better-balanced transport system with options that reduce the need to drive or own a car is increasingly important to ensure population and economic growth doesn’t translate into more congestion, more emissions and ultimately less successful and liveable cities.
While there is a high overall level of car dependency in our cities, public transport, walking and cycling* already play an important role in meeting some of the country’s most critical transport tasks – especially at peak times. In recent years there has been significant growth in the use of these shared and active modes in some of New Zealand’s big cities, but there remains a need to do much more.
It’s good how the plan clearly explains the necessity of mode shift in achieving successful cities in the 21st century – and that car dependency really undermines so many of the big outcomes we are aiming for. This diagram showing the amount of space taken up by different modes is especially compelling:
Significant change is required because New Zealand’s cities are incredibly dependent on private vehicles for meeting their travel needs – as shown in the graph below:
The Plan itself is built around targeting the causes of car dependency through a three-pronged approach:
- Shaping urban form – Encouraging good quality, compact, mixed-use urban development will result in densities that can support rapid/frequent transit (and vice versa); shorter trips between home and work/education/leisure; and safe, healthy and attractive urban environments to encourage more walking and cycling.
- Making shared and active modes more attractive – Improving the quality, quantity and performance of public transport facilities and services, and walking and cycling facilities, will enable more people to use them. This can involve both optimising the existing system (for example, through reallocating road space), investment in new infrastructure and services, and providing better connections between modes.
- Influencing travel demand and transport choices – Changing behaviour may also require a mix of incentives and disincentives (or ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors) to either discourage use of private vehicles (by making them less attractive relative to other options) or making people more aware of their options and incentivising them to try something new. This may include parking policies, road pricing, travel planning and education.
A variety of different actions are then detailed. They are helpfully summarised in the diagram below:
It seems like these actions are a mixture of NZTA getting its own act together to ensure its systems and processes no longer undermine mode shift, alongside them working much more closely with local government to help make PT, walking and cycling safer and better. There are also some useful little hooks in the details of the plan, such as how it supports Auckland Council’s excellent ‘Access for Everyone’ plan for Auckland’s city centre. Hopefully that will stop Auckland Transport from sabotaging progress!
A Stuff article by Todd Niall last week focused more on Auckland’s mode shift plan (which I’ll discuss more tomorrow) but one thing that stood out to me in the article was the emphasis that Transport Minister Phil Twyford placed on the mode shift work:
The Minister of Transport Phil Twyford described the plan as part of a “re-write of the transport agency (NZTA’s) job description”.
”Just co-funding a list of projects or building some state highways is not going to cut it for Auckland in the 21st century,” Twyford told Stuff.