Last week I reported on the Ministry of Transport’s ‘green paper’ which outlines some potential policies and pathways to a net zero emissions from transport by 2050.
Of the four potential pathways it suggests, only one, Pathway 4, meets the targets set out by the Climate Change Commission. To achieve those targets it relies heavily on reducing car travel either through trips being avoided entirely from increases in things like working from home, or from mode shift to public transport or active modes. This is because they note that “avoiding activities that produce emissions is, on balance, a more effective strategy than minimising the emissions from those activities“.
This pathway also requires more travel avoidance and mode shift than suggested by the Climate Change Commission in their draft recommendations because they have assumed a lot slower uptake of electric vehicles. To me this makes sense as we’re still years away from car manufacturers producing electric vehicles at any significant scale and it’s likely that even if every car they produced from today onwards was electric, with more and more countries putting deadlines on stopping the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles, there likely just won’t be enough electric vehicles produced to supply the demand. As a result of this the Ministry’s pathway suggests we’ll need to reduce the number of kilometres light vehicles collectively travel by about 39% by 2035 and by 57% by 2050.
The very notion that we should try to reduce how much driving we do is certain to upset some segments of the community, take National’s response to the paper as an example.
Labour is far too focused on pushing people out of cars and isn’t taking into account that private vehicles will always be used by Kiwis, National’s Transport spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
Proposals floated to make the transport sector net carbon zero by 2050 include reducing the number of private vehicles on the road by 57 per cent.
“National agrees with Labour on the goal of zero emissions in our transport sector in the future, but we don’t support Kiwis being railroaded into a lifestyle that isn’t practical,” Mr Woodhouse says.
“We should be encouraging public transport use in our cities, particularly to get to and from work, and that means making sure it works for those using it.
“But cars will always play a role in the lives of New Zealanders, from dropping kids off at school to getting around the country. Labour doesn’t seem to realise that.
“Labour seem intent on pitting investment in public transport and investment in roads against each other. The reality is, New Zealand desperately needs more investment in both.
“If the goal is to reduce the number of petrol cars on the road in favour of EVs, why would we then want to halve the number of those cars on the road?
The suggestion that the current state of things is somehow natural and ideal or we can’t change things is absurd. The transport system we have today is the direct result of change.
Prior to the 1950’s our cities were built around proximity to the centre and around trams. But then in the 50’s, as cars became more common conscious decisions were made to prioritise them at the expense of other modes. Tram networks all over the country were ripped out as offerings to the motoring gods. In Auckland at least, in 1950 the tram network alone was carrying over 80 million trips. This works out at about the same number of trips per day as there were cars in all of New Zealand at the time. Interestingly Stats NZ Yearbooks from the time show that fare revenue was actually covering the cost of operations and typically covering capital costs too yet it was still ripped out. Meanwhile millions were being invested in roads with fuel taxes covering only about one third of costs.
Then of course there’s the more physical changes, such as those to enable the Central Motorway Junction.
We’ve changed our transport system before, there’s no reason we can’t do it again.
Of course we would hardly be the first to change some streets back from focusing on cars. Many of you would have seen the images from the likes of Amsterdam and Copenhagen with streets that used to be full of cars now full of people and bikes. Here’s another example I saw yesterday from Dublin.
Evolution of a Street
Grafton St., Dublin, pedestrianised on 1st December 1982 pic.twitter.com/5wltI3iU6m
— Robert Burns (@robertburns73) May 23, 2021
I think part of the problem is that the vast majority of people now agree that we need better public transport, walking and cycling options – politicians certainly love cutting ribbons on these projects. In fact a recent survey by the Infrastructure Commission with over 23,000 responses shows huge support for better public transport and stronger opposition to building more roads than building new ones. Also a majority agree we need to reduce the amount we travel.
The discussion, like Woodhouse expresses above, has been about needing to make alternatives better AND roads better. But if we want to have a chance of meeting our climate change responsibilities we need to have leaders starting to openly discuss reducing travel.
In many ways there are a huge number of similarities to the discussion we need to have with driving and the one we’ve been having about for many decades about smoking. With smoking we’ve seen bans on advertising and smoking in certain areas, such as inside. There has also been significant public education campaigns. As a result, the percentage of people smoking has reduced significantly.
While people like Woodhouse can’t conceive of our transport system being different, it also pays to remember what was said back around 2003 when banning smoking in bars was being discussed – I recall all sorts of silly claims from the time. The ones below are from the first article I could find.
Last night, patrons of Auckland City bars were furious. Beech’s Bar and Cafe patron Michael Vujnovich said: “Part of the comfort zone is having a Coke and smoking your lungs out … people running a bar should have a choice if they want to be smoke-free.
“They should ban smoking all together or just accept it.”
Mad Dogs and Englishmen patron Fiona Scorgie said the bill was “bloody ludicrous”.
“It’s not fair as it’s one of the few places where it’s OK to smoke – it’s going a bit over the top.
“If you’re a drinker, a smoke goes hand-in-hand so I guess I’ll just have to take my business elsewhere.”
Hospitality Association CEO Bruce Robertson said the organisation’s minimum air quality proposal was a far more sensible way to meet health regulations, “but the Government haven’t been listening”.
How many people out there think we should go back to allowing smoking in bars?
If we change our transport system for the better, we’ll likely look back on this period in a few decades and be amazed it was ever even a discussion not to do it.
Will the government have the courage to tell people to stop/reduce driving?