Car-mad reputation unfounded - report

By Mathew Dearnaley

Pippa Coom, deputy chairwoman of the Waitemata Local Board, uses a bike as her main mode of transport. Photo / Dean Purcell
Pippa Coom, deputy chairwoman of the Waitemata Local Board, uses a bike as her main mode of transport. Photo / Dean Purcell

Aucklanders stuck in traffic on their way back to work today may be surprised to learn their city has one of New Zealand's lowest vehicle ownership rates.

A Herald analysis of Transport Agency figures also shows that although almost 30,500 vehicles were added to the city's fleet in the two years to last winter - pushing it to 1.084 million - that was less than half of a 4.9 per cent population growth rate.

With an estimated population of 1,507,600 in June last year, Auckland had 72 registered vehicles for every 100 residents. That compared with a national average of 79.6.

Despite having a reputation of being wedded to their cars, Aucklanders owned fewer vehicles per head than residents of 59 other cities and districts, including everywhere in the South Island.

Only seven others, including Waikato District with 65 vehicles for every 100 residents and Wellington with 63, had lower rates.

The lowest was the Chatham Islands, with just 272 vehicles shared among 612 people on 199km of roads, for a flawless safety record of not even a minor reported crash last year.

Gore in the deep south can claim the national motorhead title, with 128 vehicles for every 100 people.

Gore is one of 11 South Island districts where there are more registered vehicles than people.

Auckland Council transport committee chairman Mike Lee yesterday said the findings did not surprise him. "I have always questioned the urban myth that Aucklanders have some sort of spiritual bond to their car and therefore that public transport is not worth worrying about," he said.

"People should be free to buy whatever cars they want, but if we have a world-class public transport system, people will use it and leave their cars at home."

Mr Lee's committee, meanwhile, is due tomorrow to consider a staff report warning of a need for a 49 per cent reduction in transport emissions by 2040 to meet the Auckland Plan's target for curbing greenhouse gases.

Despite Auckland's relatively modest vehicle ownership rate, the Transport Authority figures show it has the country's busiest roads, clocking up an average of 1.54 million vehicle kilometres last year over each kilometre of its network.

But the council report shows some recent improvements, including about 7 per cent fewer petrol sales than in 2007 and an almost 17 per cent fall for diesel since 2008.

No children to cart, so no need for car

Pippa Coom acknowledges she and her partner are not a typical Auckland household, owning half a car between them.

She uses a bicycle built for comfort rather than speed to get to most of her appointments as deputy chairwoman of the Waitemata Local Board, while her partner Paul Shortland shares a vehicle in a family business with his brother, who lives at a separate address from their Grey Lynn home.

Mr Shortland, who is deputy chairman of Cycle Action Auckland, also pays a subscription to use the City Hop car-sharing scheme when needed.

But although the couple don't have children to ferry about the Super City, Ms Coom has lent a spare bike to friends with two small boys who have decided to get rid of one of their two cars. "If I had children, maybe I'd look at it differently, but I think families have just got used to having two cars," she said yesterday. She has not owned a car for about five years, although she occasionally borrows her mother's for longer trips.

"I can get $100 of groceries on the bike and if I had to run a car it would cost me about $8000 a year, making it very difficult to live on my [local board] honorarium."

She said electric bikes, such as one which her mother rides, are the way of the future for Auckland.

Wheel count
Vehicle ownership (estimated at June 2012)
*NZ population 4,432,910
*Registered fleet 3,529,184

Vehicles per 100 Kiwis
*National average 79.6
*North Island average 75.7
*South Island average 92.4
*Auckland 71.9

Highest district ownership rate:
*Gore 128

Lowest rates:
*Chatham Island 45
*Wellington 63

- NZ Herald

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