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Decarbonise Transport

We and some of our friends are holding an event in a few weeks on Monday 10th August.

The challenge is clear: Auckland must dramatically decarbonise its transport system in just 9 years.

So how quickly can we get there?

Come and learn how New Zealand’s climate change commitments will give legal power to our advocacy and action!

Dr Paul Winton of The 1Point5 Project will share his analysis of how best to reduce transport emissions, and Jenny Cooper QC of Lawyers for Climate Action will outline why our transport agencies are legally obliged to act now.

Lucy Lawless will then lead a lively panel on how climate commitments and legal obligations coalesce with strong advocacy – to create a potent context for transforming Auckland’s transport priorities, fast.

Note: This is a free event, but space is limited – so RSVP ASAP to reserve your spot!

RMA Reform

There really is a lot of change on the way to our planning systems. Following on from the Government’s National Policy Statement on Urban Development last week, this week they released a review of the Resource Management Act.

Among its recommendations is the replacement of the existing RMA by two separate pieces of legislation; a Natural and Built Environments Act and a Strategic Planning Act.

Minister for the Environment, David Parker said a review of the resource management system was long overdue.

“The RMA has doubled in size from its original length. It has become too costly, takes too long, and has not adequately protected the environment,” he said.

“There are significant pressures on both the natural and built environments that need to be addressed urgently. Urban areas are struggling to keep pace with population growth and the need for affordable housing. Water quality is deteriorating, biodiversity is diminishing and there is an urgent need to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to climate change.


The review panel said the proposed new Natural and Built Environments Act (NBEA), taking a substantially different approach from the RMA, would focus on enhancing the quality of the environment, housing and achieving positive outcomes to support the wellbeing of present and future generations.

The proposed Strategic Planning Act would embed integrated spatial planning across all regions of New Zealand. It would set long term strategic goals and help integrate legislative functions across the resource management system including the proposed NBEA, the Local Government Act, the Land Transport Management Act and the Climate Change Response Act. This will allow a broad range of matters to be reconciled to ensure better future planning, including for infrastructure and housing.

It recommends greater use of national direction by the Environment Minister and a more streamlined process for council plan-making and a more efficient resource consent process.

It also proposes a new separate law to address issues related to climate change adaptation and the managed retreat from areas threatened with inundation.

The Panel’s view was that any future resource management system should give effect to the principles of Te Tiriti and provide a clearer role for Māori in decision-making.

This sounds positive and if enacted as suggested, it seems one of the potentially significant outcomes would be that many of the planning functions currently undertaken by Auckland Transport would shift to the Council.

I imagine that changing the RMA is going to be a significant undertaking, and if the recommendations are enacted, probably quite a lot of work in the future for councils around the country. But with National also promising a similar sounding change in their election policy, it seems likely as something that will happen.

It’s another road

Speaking of National, they made another transport announcement this week, another road. This time a $200 million ring road to the North of Palmerston North.

Like a few of their announcements this election, this doesn’t sound like an unreasonable idea as getting trucks out of the middle of Palmerston North would surely be a positive step, though $200 million sounds a lot – have they spec’d it for a motorway? The issue really becomes when all the various elements of their policy come together and how realistic it is to fund that. They can’t just magic up money.

It’s also worth noting that this is also the area where Kiwirail are looking to build a massive new freight hub.

Long Distance Trains to return

Following calls from 18 councils along the route, Kiwirail have announced they will bring back two of their long distance tourist trains, Northern Explorer between Auckland and Wellington in Summer and the Coastal Pacific between Picton and Christchurch in Spring. It seems one of the reasons Kiwirail hadn’t restarted them is they continue to view them only as tourist services and not something that could be used for other trips.

“A record winter school holidays on Interislander and a highly successful winter promotion of the TranzAlpine gives us the confidence that the public will support these tourism trains which will be back in time for the summer holidays,” KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller said.

I think Kiwirail need to think more innovatively about how they can get more passengers to use the network rather than it seems treating them like something in the way of freight.

Notably yesterday Transdev suggested they could look to run an overnight service

An overnight sleeper train between Auckland and Wellington could return without the support of KiwiRail.

Transdev, which operates Auckland’s commuter trains, has put its hand up as a potential provider of a sleeper service if KiwiRail isn’t willing to add a passenger option between the two main centres.

“There might be room in the market for a different offering, which could be more focused on passenger travel. My gut feeling is it could do quite well,” Transdev chief executive Greg Pollock said.

The only passenger train to run between the cities since 2012 is the Northern Explorer, which is marketed as a premium tourist offering, focused more on scenic views than travel.

And finally while we’re on the topic of long distance trains, the new Auckland to Hamilton service now has a new start date of November 2 following being delayed by COVID disruption. This might not be the only service in the region long term though

Waikato regional councillor and chair of the rail governance committee Hugh Vercoe told Stuff they are also looking into a rail service that connects Hamilton city with Huntly, Ngāruawāhia, Te Awamutu and Morrinsville.

This combined with growth enabled by the new NPS could form a nice little regional network for the Waikato.

Home building unabated

There are obviously concerns about the future of the economy as a result of COVID, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at the latest home consenting data. During June the Auckland Council consented over 1,400 building consents, the second most for any month over the last year and up 25% on the same month last year. It also means that over the council’s fiscal year they issued 14,780 consents, more than any other fiscal year since records began in 1990.

As you can see above, there’s also be a stark change in the mix of dwellings with a huge increase in townhouses and other more urban housing typologies. For June specifically, townhouses were the biggest category.

Speed limit changes

In at least a decent part of the opposition to the speed limit changes that came in a month ago, primarily in the city centre, in Rodney and in Pukekohe, was concerns about making journeys take a lot longer. A month in and AT have released the results of a survey of the impacts.

More than half of the survey respondents who were aware of the changes felt their travel time had increased. Data shows that within the city centre, the speed limit change has had little to no impact on average journey times.

Where increased average journey times have occurred, these have been less than 1 minute.

As expected, the catastrophising was just that for the sake of it.

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  1. “Auckland must dramatically decarbonise its transport system in just 9 years.”

    Good luck with that one. Not a chance in hell of it actually happening.

    1. Ye of little faith. 🙂

      When people can see with their own eyes that we will be better off in a low carbon transport system, the resistance to change falls away. We have excellent examples from overseas of what good leadership can achieve. Those places that were already transforming their networks have taken the opportunity of the disruption of Covid to ramp up the people-friendly changes that are what’s needed to reduce emissions. Those that weren’t are learning quickly.

      True, the government has made it way harder with their boondoggle roading projects and the SFGP, so we’ll have to undo a whole lot of decision-making quite quickly. But the implications of the ZCA, of various treaties we’ve signed, of associations our cities have willingly joined, will come together at some point.

      AT will need an overhaul, and actually, some big parts of Council will too, but if we put our efforts where they are most needed to bring this change forward, the actual changes on the ground won’t take too long.

      Low traffic neighbourhoods are cheap and quick. Road reallocation on the arterials takes consistent leadership more than expensive construction. Active and public transport improvements requires funding to shift from roading, allowing our excellent network experts to actually make decisions that aren’t overturned, and a couple years’ wait while orders for buses and trains are filled.

      Saying it can’t happen is the only reason it can’t happen.

      1. Na he’s right. Haven’t got a shit show.
        Especially if we go back to piling more people in at record levels.

        1. “Especially if we go back to piling more people in at record levels”
          I’m expecting international movements of all kinds to take a decade-long decline.

        2. Piling more people in isn’t ideal if we keep trying to accommodate them the way we did in the past. But more people – if accommodated well – can be an enormous opportunity to increase proximity, improve natural places, decrease trip distances, make our streets liveable.

          We’re capable of this. We have so many templates from overseas to use and only stubbornness prevents us.

        3. Whose piling more people in at record levels? The only people piling back into Auckland at the moment are returning New Zealander’s, we have little control over that flow of people.

    2. I have been following this blog since the start. Every single thing the writers have proposed or championed has faced lots of comments like av human’s above ‘not a chance in hell of xx happening’, CRL, SkyPath, Busways, Cycleways, Electric buses…. yada yada. Note this is not any argument against the value of changing just a disbelief in its possibility.

      All this is, is an inability to imagine change. I guess the main thing I’ve leant here is how poor the average human (sorry) is at this. Yet that’s actually all there is, change; that’s the only unchanging thing!

      So I’ve learnt to back the team here, they seem to be uncommonly good at picking the way things are heading. Change is coming to this space, decarbonisation may be hard but not as hard as the alternative, so I think it’s actually inevitable.

      I’m excited, difficult things often bring great outcomes. Change in this area is going to bring us a lot of new freedoms.

    3. Portland has failed,and that’s seen as one of the world’s most progressive cities in terms of urban planning.
      What cities do is important, what what central government / federal government does is much more important….

    4. Actually Auckland could massively reduce its GHG emissions by de carbonizing the diesel fleet.
      This is simply done by using a biofuel replacement and is how Europe and California hit their targets.

      1. Are you talking about their response to the revelations of Dieselgate?

        Pity we didn’t learn a little from that, eh? Instead we’ve developed a fashion for SUV’s.

  2. I studied the Resource Management Bill in 1990 in Tim McBride’s final year law paper at Auckland. The proponents of the RMA promised environmentalists that decisions would be based on ecological principles through the concept of sustainable management. At the same time they promised developers everything would be assessed on its actual effects. Both groups were delighted that everything they had every wanted was being delivered. In reality the RMA turned out to be worse than the previous Acts it replaced. It is full of vague ideas, short on actual standards and almost killed off planning entirely. The government could simply bring back the Town & Country Planning Act and the Water & Soil Conservation Act and it would be a step forward. (They just had to fix standing and notification problems.)

        1. Anything to make National’s uncosted pork barrel politics of roads look legitimate, I guess.

      1. This PN bypass is not new. It has been planned and announced long before national added their 2c worth.
        It is mostly an upgrade of an existing back Rd. Kairanga-bunnythorpe Rd, then joining to the State Highway near Longburn.
        So trucks and cars can Bypass PN to get to manawatu Gorge, and access the rail hub the will build near Bunnythorpe.

  3. Chris Bishop is desperately throwing lollies out left, right and centre to get into government. If his proposals for the splash-out in spending for Auckland’s infrastructure are any indication: He hasn’t really done too much research into it.

    One thing I can be sure of: It’s not going to happen. Even if National are in the next government.

      1. Thankfully there is close to zero chance of Nats being anywhere near power on Sept 20, as their entirely unfundable transport plan is some kind of Frankenstein child of Joyce and Lee.

        With all of Lee’s bits of nostalgia rail anyway at the bottom of the list for next decade, when there would absolutely be no money left. Debt servicing would by then have even shoved maintenance of existing assets off the balance sheet. This is a criminally negligent plan.

        Both bad and deceiving, like its source.

      2. Yes but they got COVID19 right and that is one hell of a thing to get right. If Bill English had been PM he would have put the interests of businesses ahead of the people and we would all be burying our old people now. So whinge all you like, nobody cares.

  4. “As expected, the catastrophising was just that for the sake of it.”

    As was the AT reasoning or lowering the limits – to save lives. If there is no reduction in actual speeds there will be no reduction in road deaths

    1. Travels speeds have decreased, travel times haven’t. People are just spending less time stationary at intersections.

    2. If I recall correctly, when they proposed the lower speeds they talked about the average speeds, which is different to ‘actual speeds’. People are now still averaging 19kph in the city within (in theory) a range of 0-30kph. Before, people were (in theory) travelling at speeds between 0-50kph at any given time.

  5. Is it just me, or are decarbonisation initiatives hampered by the vagueness of the goal? Presumably we’re not yet proposing full, gross terms decarbonisation of transport, requiring full electrification of the fleet. Are we aiming for a 10% – 20% reduction in emissions over time, via fuel efficiency standards? Or is the target 50% plus, requiring significant investment in modal shift?

    Surely each of these requires a different policy conversation, so it makes sense to state your objectives before discussing tactics. Alternatively it would be interesting to see some kind of long-term ‘Roadmap’, as is published for the energy sector, based on international best practice.

    1. Its not a simple binary “one or the other” proposition as you frame it.

      Its actually an “all of the above (and more) are required” situation.

      Dr Paul Winton [mentioned in the first part of the post], has prompted the folks at MR Cagney (for whom some of the regular contributors and posters here work), to help create a website/tool where you can play all the options against each other to try and move the carbon needle.
      The link is here:

      Have a go yourself. The reality is pretty clear to most after a couple of minutes of how it has to be.

      1. Yes, the first two levers are very effective.

        The first is reduction of trips taken. These are “person trips”. As anyone who ferries children, teens, elderly, less mobile people or picks people up from lonely stations at night – many of our “person trips” are only necessary because we don’t have a system that’s safe for active travel or personal safety. So that lever can be used to good effect by improving our city.

        The second is reduction in trip length. With the huge number of housing units intended for Auckland even in the next decade (and this is to accommodate not just population growth, but overcrowding) we can change our urban form, by putting that housing along transport corridors. Done well, this will create proximity to amenities and friends not just for the new housing but for the existing residents and workplaces. So this lever can also be used to reduce emissions considerably.

        With these lower average trip distances and a safer network, the modeshift levers then become important. I think they may have maxed out too early on some of those.

        In case we’re a bit slow at making these changes, some electrification will also be needed, which I think the market will provide for.

  6. On the subject of the Northern Explorer. It would be nice if they did a deal with Air NZ or something to allow you to travel by train between Auckland/Hamilton and Wellington/Palmie and vice versa one direction and get a cheap flight back. It would be great to go down on a Friday and be back by Sunday. Hell I’d even see about having a happy hour with drink and snack specials for the last hour of the trip to get you ready for your Friday night.

    1. And this item from the International Rail Journal has DB doing something similar with Lufthansa in Germany ;-

      So why can’t it happen here as the travel time and getting to the airport and all the mucking around in thee terminal at either end is almost equal to the time it takes to travel on the train . And in Japan the airlines found they couldn’t compete on short haul routes after the bullet train started .

      1. It’s what used to happen in the UK in the 80s if you were flying via BA.

        Fine in Germany, Japan and the UK where you have a mature fast rail system.

        Not the slow, tiki touring system of NZ.

  7. “ Where increased average journey times have occurred, these have been less than 1 minute.”

    It’s unclear in the context of their press release if this is for all the speed change locations or just the city centre?

    1. I checked the link to the table of data, seems people are speeding in the rural ones on average generally speaking after the lower speed limit. Interesting as the avg speeds are pretty similar for all the before, afters and any time period, even for the inter-peak & night times. Coatesville-Riverhead H/way & Taupaki Rd avg 67/66 in the 60 areas which related to what I saw on social media also.

      I’m interested in the time difference once (and if) there is more speed compliance there.

      In the city the average speed actually increased 6km/hr and a tad for Beach Rd, Fanshawe, Hobson Streets respectively. Nelson stayed the same & Symonds dropped 1km/hr to 31 (being 1 km/hr over the limit).

      Unless there are other factors at play or faulty data it seems to prove to me that smoother driving (as a general steam of vehicles) will result in a higher average throughput of vehicles (lower travel time). I think NZTA or people on the blog were trying to say this regarding the Waterview tunnel surrounding areas variable speeds (especially if you consider less accidents on a motorway system) when some of the public were pushing for more 100 km/hr sections.

      1. Seems reasonable Grant. I know that my speeds alone the length of Kahikatea flat rd before the change we’re somewhere between 90-95 k/h at a guess. Average now is about 90 I’d say. So maybe a touch lower but not much.
        Not including 50k zones and idiots doing 60 of course.

  8. Decarbonise Transport. How can we do it?

    Electric cars:
    • con: too expensive at any scale
    • con: still requires explaining to kids that our streets are like Chernobyl
    • con: still about half of the emissions compared to gasoline powered cars

    Electric bicycles and other small electric things
    • pro: relatively affordable
    • pro: roughly as convenient and fast as driving a car for many trips
    • pro: very few negative external effects (like noise and imposed danger)
    • con: severe cultural taboo

    Public transport
    • con: expensive
    • con: tends to be extremely cumbersome due to our lack of strong town centres

    Buying even older cars:
    • con: Carbonises transport even further
    • pro: popular among less well-off people (the census shows almost 100% car mode share in South Auckland)
    • pro: requires almost no up-front capital, even compared to an e-bike
    • con: randomly eats large chunks of money later.

    Buying utes instead of cars
    • con: Carbonises transport even further
    • con: even more dangerous to other people
    • pro: popular among more well-off people
    • con: higher running cost (however the initial capital cost is the same — a new Hilux costs the same as a new Corolla)

    Actually living in a town centre:
    • pro: very convenient, many things can be done on foot.
    • con: no apartments or houses in most town centres.

    I have to say I’m not overly optimistic

    1. You forgot the pro for the last one is that the government has forced councils to permit homes in town centres.

        1. Unitary plan is spotty. It allows terraced housing in some rapid transit locations, but not in others. E.g., much of the walking catchments of Mt Eden and Kingsland stations are zoned Residential – Single House Zone.

      1. Maybe they should force THEMSELVES to build them, where the market will only do it in a patchy manner…
        Ah that’s right, Labour are just a slightly red variant of neo-liberalism – lower regulation and the market will provide!

    2. No cycling network?

      I suppose you’re right. In Auckland at least it doesn’t seem something AT is capable of.

  9. Sydney light rail crash. Collision between a tram and a truck in George Street stopped the service for three and half hours, serious damage to the tram but no injuries. How often would incidents like this occur on the proposed Dominion Rd light rail? Knowing Auckland drivers, I would say, every second day. Grade separated Light metro would eliminate this issue.

    1. Yeah definitely take 1 Incident in Sydney then make up some make believe stats plucked from the top of your head based on nothing. Haven’t seen this one before!

    2. I’m as much a fan of ruining neighbourhoods with imposing infrastructure as the next guy, but light metro is too expensive when they’re already ruined fine enough with all the cars.

      1. Light metro improves neighbourhoods. This has been shown around the world. I don’t want to mention house prices because it’s an obvious sore point in NZ but I’m feeling in a oneroof mood. Light metro stations increase property values nearby.

  10. Decarbonising makes local air quality much better, but will do nothing to avoid climate change. That’s up to the big countries.

    In regards long distance passenger trains, KiwiRail is right to prioritise freight. If you were in charge of the business and had to choose between a locomotive and driver earning $11,000 per hour on a freight or $3,000 per hour on a passenger train, which would you allocate them to?

    Julie Anne Genter wants to pay KiwiRail a big subsidy so that the passenger trains earn closer to the $11,000 (which KiwiRail will credit to the freight business), but why should taxpayers subsidise the freight operation just to get more passenger trains? She’s on the wrong track with that one.

    What is needed is for the government to start up a dedicated passenger rail business that has its own locomotives and drivers, fully independent of KiwiRail and it’s freight operation.

    1. Geoff – that’s what Transdev want to do – unlike KiwiRail they are an organisation that is used to passengers and actually keen on them. We don’t need the Gov to start up a new Rail business – but we do need Gov to act proactively and say Yes to Transdev.

    2. The only new passenger trains that could possibly be locomotive hauled would be an Auckland Wellington sleeper. But I doubt its viable.
      Any new service such as the Hamilton regional system outlined above should have modern hybrid diesel battery multiple units.
      The days of putting clapped out 50 year old diesel locomotives onto any new passenger trains should be well and truly over. This would get round the Kiwirail problem.

      1. Or more realistically modern DMUs for a fraction of the price of a contraption trying to be all things at once. That can come later when the technology is the standard. NZ needs to walk before running.

        1. My mistake we don’t want any contraptions. So we could get some horses to tow them would that make you happy.

  11. Transdev will want a Govt entity to own the rolling stock. They will enter into a fixed contract to run the service where they get paid no matter what the patronage is with the Govt entity picking up the difference. Much like how Public Transport is arranged. It probably not a bad idea but it would unfair to Intercity as they are operating a fully commercial operation. However maybe they could be involved somehow as they have the ticketing systems while Transdev doesn’t at least not in New Zealand.

    1. No different to the UK or Europe.

      Megabus/National Express (& their subsidiary Eurolines) make their money by either being cheaper then the train or offering routes that rail cannot compete with them on eg Dublin to London or LHR to Portsmouth.

      That is how InterCity should work as well and did many years ago when it was still owned by the railways as a feeder service.

  12. It’s a pity the buses and passenger trains were split up when New Zealand Rail was wound up. It used to work reasonably well back in the 1970’s.Still we can’t go back I suppose but a bit of synergy between the modes for long distant travel would be welcome.Maybe you could come up with a better idea.

  13. Where increased average journey times have occurred, these have been less than 1 minute.
    Ha! – i totally support the slowdown – but its clear the 610 drivers surveyed didnt come from my part of town. Much fuming out this way. Miss-Daisy now doing 60kph in 80kph zones. Lots of “road trains” and lots of overtaking.

    1. Loads of overtaking on Meola Rd in Pt Chevalier at the moment too. And speeding on little local residential roads.

      I think AT’s statistics will have to be read in the context of a city-wide change in driving culture since the lockdown. It seems to have polarised people into being more considerate, or far more arrogant. And it seems to be getting worse.

      People driving out of their driveways see the pedestrians coming and keep going, assuming they’ll stop, too, and then only concentrate on the road.

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