Good progress on the Auckland Climate Plan: the Auckland Forecasting Centre and Auckland Transport are exploring how to change our transport system to achieve the necessary drop in emissions by 2030.
We had a first glimpse of their thinking at last week’s Business and Climate Change conference in Auckland.
David Parker, Minister for the Environment, was present. He voiced a common misconception:
as a country we’ve reached the conclusion that decarbonisation of our light vehicle fleet is going to be the biggest opportunity to reduce emissions in the energy sector in the next few years.
Decarbonisation of transport, yes. The vehicle fleet itself? It is important, but it is not the biggest opportunity.
Last month, Smart Growth America released a report called Driving Down Emissions, a well-evidenced report that explains how to decarbonise transport:
Cleaner and electric vehicles are essential to reducing emissions, but only addressing vehicles is insufficient and foolish…
Despite an aggressive effort to promote electric vehicle adoption, and higher fuel efficiency standards, multiple states have determined that they will not be able to reach ambitious climate targets through vehicle electrification alone. Modeling consistently shows that rapid emissions reductions depend on taking fewer, shorter car trips and shifting trips from cars to transit, walking, and biking…
By reducing driving, we also improve outcomes for safety, public health, access and – as shown here – the environment:
Shane Ellison, CEO of Auckland Transport, is clear about the scale of the challenge. He listed the gains made over the last ten years, and added:
In spite of all that, we’ve had an 11% increase in ghg emissions from the transport network in Auckland… Doing what we’ve always done ain’t going to touch the sides in terms of delivering…
It means we have to do something completely different…
The conversation has taken a leap forward. It is wonderful that Ellison is going to lead the enormous change that needs to happen.
But doing “something completely different” requires looking beyond the policies, advisors and mindsets we’re following currently. Many created our problems in the first place. Ellison continued:
The Auckland Forecasting Centre, which was set up as “the one source of truth” for government agencies – which includes Waka Kotahi, Auckland Council, Auckland Transport – put a whole lot of options into the model and said, ‘What are the things that are going to make a difference?’
As I understand it, when giving input to the Auckland Development Strategy a few years ago, the Auckland Forecasting Centre never modelled a genuinely compact Auckland, involving no further development on farmland. Presumably they weren’t directed to do so.
But that needs to change now. As the US study says:
while we have no idea how to completely electrify our fleet of vehicles or how long that transition will take, we can absolutely lower emissions in a short time-frame by meeting the demand for more housing in smart locations
Was Ellison indicating he feels constrained when he referred to “the one source of truth”. The subject is too important for the Auckland Forecasting Centre not to publish the assumptions and model details on their website, so we can all critique it.
This matters, because changing our urban form is an important lever, and from Ellison’s next comment, it appears the “model” still isn’t set up to acknowledge this:
The evidence is telling us that … take the Auckland Development Strategy. A lot of the consents that are happening – about 89% of them – are in brownfields areas. Which is a huge change in Auckland’s actual development, and is why… spatial planning and the like with transport isn’t actually a huge, huge lever to pull over the next ten years.
Was our development actually happening in the right places, this would be right. But it’s not.
Perhaps Ellison was meaning 89% are within the rural urban boundary? For clarification, much of this development is greenfields.
As you can see in this map by Timmy of last year’s consents, there are many more than 11% of the consents for Auckland in the greenfields areas of Flat Bush, Pukekohe, Albany, Huapai, Kumeu, Whenuapai, Beachlands and Hobsonville, for example. Most of these locations do not have good public or active transport connections to the rest of the city. These new households will have high average transport emissions from driving:
Spatial planning therefore remains a powerful lever for reducing our emissions. The US report said:
The built environment can, in fact, change rapidly. Many communities and states have demonstrated that comprehensive reforms can both reduce the need for driving, and improve overall quality-of-life. They have responded to public demands and market forces pushing for denser development and walkability. The emissions reductions that accompany these transformations are a welcomed co-benefit of this shift.
With Auckland’s expected population growth, we have a bigger opportunity than most cities to harness this. Creating “clustered developments” within our existing urban area gives the benefit of proximity to both the new and the existing residents, slashing their need to drive:
But here is Auckland Transport’s thinking on the subject at the moment:
Those big bubbles are important, but they are not the biggest policy levers.
And tiny bubbles have been used to represent the following levers, which actually represent large emissions reductions possibilities:
- a more compact city,
- improved walking and cycling facilities
- PT service improvements
The solutions presented here simply support the political economy of car dependence. They stem from the same bias that created our sprawl and our safety crisis. This breaks my heart. We have the key agency’s CEO, Shane Ellison, stepping up as champion of decarbonisation. He deserves better information than this.
Indicating the biggest bubbles, he said:
the big things up there that you will see can make the difference are big policy levers. They are around accelerating the transition to EV’s… if you look to have around half the fleet transitioned by 2040 you can get a 14% reduction by 2030 in terms of ghg emissions.
EV’s are important, but let’s look at the cost. Assuming $50,000 per vehicle, replacing all of the 1.5 million cars Auckland is projected to have by 2030 would cost $75 billion. Whether we attempt to replace all or half or some of these cars – and by 2030 or 2040 – it’s still a lot of money.
We won’t avoid all of this cost, but the bulk of it can be avoided with good planning.
By reducing the need to drive or own cars, the number of new vehicles we must buy is made as small as possible. (Noting that infrequently used cars are not worth replacing with EV’s, as the embedded carbon makes the swap a poor choice.)
E-bikes give far better emissions reductions per dollar. The research shows e-bikes replaced around 24% of trips previously taken by car. They also replaced 33% of trips previously taken by transit, which frees up space on public transport for other users, meaning the investment in public transport goes further, too. Why didn’t e-bikes have their own bubble?
So while subsidies for EV’s are definitely a piece of the puzzle – for volunteer health shuttle drivers, disability mobility services, rural people with low incomes, etc – our biggest opportunities lie in taking a different approach. As the US report said:
solutions that revolve around everyone in America buying a new car fail to account for the millions who don’t drive or cannot afford an expensive, brand new electric vehicle. Put another way, if today you can’t safely cross your streets, if you can’t easily reach what you need quickly and easily, if you depend on transit service that’s spotty or inconvenient, if you can’t afford to buy a vehicle, if you are already paying more than 50 percent of your income on housing plus transportation, then merely swapping your gas cars for electric vehicles won’t improve your life.
Road pricing is a big issue. It’s not politically popular, but we’re going to have to go there.
We’re going to start having those conversations… And more than just the Congestion Pricing Model that’s been worked on by government agencies. The sort of numbers you’re talking about there are around 67, 68 cents / km in terms of trips for private vehicles. FED and RUC are going to have to go up to actually accommodate the actual cost of carbon.
Clearly, if more externalities of driving are charged to the people driving, there’s an incentive to shift to a less polluting way of travelling. Road pricing, FED and RUC are an important piece of the puzzle.
But to ensure these pricing levers don’t just work to create equity problems too, the other levers for significant emissions reductions – safety, cycling, public transport, modeshift and land use changes – become even more important. Ellison downplayed their contribution:
Some of the things that people think are going to make the big difference are all important for a lot of reasons but are not going to shift the dial a long, long way.
Unwittingly, by being informed by a poorly-evidenced model, Ellison is taking a big political risk of derailing the whole decarbonisation process. Why pit equity and safety advocates against climate advocates when the best solution is a win for all? We don’t have time for the delay to action that this stance will provoke.
The US report says:
Fairness demands that we find a way to transition to a lower-carbon transportation network without leaning on a solution that just leaves more people behind. This report shows how—combined with electrification—we can reach our targets while building a more just and equitable society.
Auckland Transport is demanding huge policy levers from Government. Good. Auckland Transport also need to get some basic things right.
For example, evidence shows low traffic neighbourhoods reduce car ownership by 20%, and traffic by 15%. Implemented across the entire city the reductions would be even greater, due to the network effect. That’s something AT could roll out in just a few years. Where is the bubble for this?
As another example, where is the bubble for road reallocation? Auckland Transport need to stop advocating for building roads. They need to think about roading as an asset which will cost us dearly to maintain, or will become stranded. As Rod Carr, Chair of the Climate Commission, said at the conference:
Assets will be stranded. Not all losses will be compensated.
We know from the International Transport Forum that a city’s modeshare and transport emissions are a product of planning, and:
there are no cases where all the available policy instruments have been implemented in a consistent way.
Auckland can be that city that does it all.
When I started writing about decarbonising transport 20 months ago, we didn’t have political support for the kind of reduction in transport emissions needed. Let’s celebrate that things have moved so quickly. It’s great that Ellison is stepping up to the challenge. But we also need to help Auckland Transport find the quick exit from their current doomed pathway of trying to accommodate extra vehicle movements.
They need better advice from the Auckland Forecasting Centre, and support from Auckland Council and Government to:
- take sprawl out of our plans: ATAP and RLTP;
- put traffic reduction at the core of all planning; and
- put their own house in order, by concentrating on the needs of the most vulnerable road users, and on modeshift, safety and access.
With new thinking, huge road and budget reallocation, and a halt to sprawl, there is nothing limiting Auckland from achieving a world class mix of modes by 2030.