Twenty per cent fewer journeys by car. Electric or hybrid cars accounting for one-third of NZ's passenger vehicle fleet. Bans on old-school gas-guzzlers.
These are among the Government's ambitious aims in the landmark Emissions Reduction Plan it unveiled yesterday.
Also in the works: a greener public transport fleet, probable congestion charges in big cities and more cycling infrastructure - and all this by 2035.
It's a big ask, but it's one that Aotearoa can no longer dodge, say Herald senior writers Simon Wilson and Bernard Orsman, who have been covering transport, infrastructure and climate issues for years.
In a live Q&A with Premium subscribers this morning, Wilson and Orsman tackled a range of transport-related issues - from the "cash for clunkers" scheme to the state of public transport and the power network that'll be needed to actually charge all those new EVs.
Here's a wrap of today's discussion.
Nick C: When will this govt wake up to the fact everyone's sick to death of being told what to do? Granted electric cars and new technology is the solution, but being forced to adopt expensive technology early on is more than our fair share of the globe's carbon emissions? Productivity is being sacrificed along with practicality ... seriously inconveniencing a large base of the population struggling to feel good about paying more than their fair share of taxes. These stresses on good disenfranchised tax paying citizens is all too consuming.
Bernard O: Early adopters of new technology often pay a premium. Remember the cost of big screen TVs when they first hit the shelves. Like it or not, the Government is aiming to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and that will mean change.
Simon W: Is the govt telling us what to do? It's trying to provide more options, but it's not telling you not to drive. And how are you going to feel in 10 years time, if we do nothing now, and the govt of the day really does start telling everyone what to do, because we'll be confronting catastrophic global warming? We're not being asked to do more than required for "our fair share of the globe's carbon emissions". On the contrary, we are not yet pulling our weight. As for productivity, I'm sorry, but a stronger and more prosperous economy cannot be built on fossil fuels and the sooner we grasp that, the better off we will be.
Mark Y: Do you see this as virtue signalling by Labour considering NZ produces only 0.17% of global emissions, of which only 20% is generated via petrol and diesel powered vehicles?
Simon W: Think of it this way: The population of Los Angeles is about the same size as NZ's. Should they not bother to reduce their emissions either? The fact is, we all live in small population units that combine into bigger ones: house, street, suburb, city, country, region... Everyone has a role to play. And those of us consuming more than our fair share have an especially important role. If everyone in the world consumed as many resources as we do in NZ, we'd need several more worlds.
Bernard O: All countries, including NZ, have to do their bit to reduce emissions. Transport emissions are part of the problem, and growing, and need to be addressed.
Amy B: What does the statement "high emissions vehicles will be banned" mean for those of us who have an existing suv and are not in the low income group who will get subsidies to change? It will be difficult for us to sell it in this environment. Will we be banned from using our own car which we use to drive our children around in?
Simon W: That ban isn't going to strike overnight. But seriously? People have been frantically buying large petrol and diesel SUVs and double cab utes and you're saying they shouldn't face problems with that at some point in the future? Has the messaging about the future of transport not been clear enough?
David B: How will the electricity distribution network cope with a rapid uptake of EVs especially if they all get plugged in at 6pm to recharge overnight?
Simon W: By distributing the load to quieter times. This is in hand. Also, by more generation of wind and solar, and also by more storage capacity. Both those things are also planned, but making disappointingly slow progress. You're right that EVs pose a big new challenge to the power supply.
Colin R: I live in Northland so got a new hybrid rather than a plug in because electricity is so expensive. Speaking to some in industry re future of electricity supply they are vague about security of generation, especially (!) hydro generation in long term (eg. shifting rainfall patters, no snow to melt in summer). With gas and coal generation seemingly out, how is the increased demand for electricity especially at peak times being planned for? Second question is many in Northland are poor and I simply cannot see the subsidy re ev cars helping at all because they cannot afford the balance of funds needed and probably charging them is out of reach as well, plus no public transport options but they are seemingly in line to get their petrol cars targeted for penalties in the long term, so how are the realities for people like these being considered?
Bernard O: I'm with you. I'm not sure targeting low and middle income earners with a 'scrap and replace' scheme is going to make a material difference for poor people in places like Northland. I've got more confidence in technology making EVs more affordable.
Simon W: Equity is a very big challenge for the transport planners. This is a common problem: all solutions to all problems that involve change are easier to manage for those with the resources to do it. But that only means equity should have a much higher priority. The "cash for clunkers" scheme just announced will be a useful part of that. But we need far more PT, that's for sure. As for the supply issue, there isn't going to be a sudden enormous boost in electricity demand: it will ramp up, and power generators will/should ramp up with them. I believe this is top of mind for the power companies right now: how to get off coal and still secure supply.
Kathryn M: The changes include 1,000,000 EVs by 2035. With only 40,000 here at the moment and a delay in production and supply, is 70,000-80,000 new EVs in NZ per year realistic?
Simon W: Good question. A couple of years ago the answer might have been that manufactures will ramp up production quickly - and that is happening. But supply chain issues are undermining all of that. This is one of the reasons why EVs are part of the solution but we'd be crazy to think it's all good because we have electric cars now. We also need big changes to how, when, where and why we travel.
Bernard O: I'm a great believer in technology driving change. Go back to 2010 when the first smartphones appeared and look at the change over the next few years. I'm confident it will be the same with EVs.
Kathryn M: I have no issue with the concept of less car dependency. I lived overseas for seven years without a car, public transport was easy and cheap and available and reliable. Same when I lived in Wellington. But not in Auckland: public transport is not up to standard, so I use my car. AT planner says to be at work by 7am, I have to leave at 10.30pm, so I drive. Overseas I would be able to [take] the bus to be at the gym by work at 5.45am. And the Hop card, it's not real time. And they stopped using cash over Covid (even though it is now proven that we won't catch Covid that way), and no Paywave. So, my question is, for a govt that wants to reduce reliance on cars, where is the improved public transport system? ... There is a congestion charge, but no money or plan [to improve] public transport. How is buying new EVs for poor people going to reduce their reliance on cars?
Simon W: You're right, Kathryn, PT needs to improve. But it's easy to overlook that it has been improving. The new main bus routes carry more people than before, the Northern Busway has been extended to Albany, new rapid busways are coming for the east and west, and the trains are more frequent. But they're building off a low base, and in the case of the trains, having to cope with the consequences of choosing a cheap option for the upgraded lines, that have needed extensive repair. But yes, this all needs to be supercharged.
Bernard O: Auckland public transport system has made huge progress since the early 2000s but still has a long way to go. The City Rail Link and Eastern Busway will improve things and last week's opening of the Northern Busway extension to Albany is another welcome improvement.
Ian U: The reality is there will be more cars in the future, electric and something else. Why not plan for that now to keep Auckland in particular flowing. Public transport won't be the answer with anything like the current set up.
Bernard O: As Auckland grows its car fleet will grow - and the roads will become more congested. The challenge is to wean people off cars, particularly at peak times. PT plays a crucial role. For example, the Northern Busway carries more people into the city centre in the morning peak than people who drive.
Alexander M: On a per capita basis how does NZ compare with the OECD countries for
1. Private car ownership.
2. CO2 emissions.
3. Methane emissions.
4. Rubbish disposed of in public 'tips'.
It is my personal opinion, from living in 3 countries, 47 years in the merchant navy and being an amateur statistician, that we, in NZ, are in the bottom half of the most polluting people in the OECD!
Simon W: 1. We own more cars per capita than almost every country in the world. The US is top and we're close.
2. Our CO2 emissions from transport, construction etc are as high as most developed countries, which is to say, far too high. We have the advantage of renewable energy from rivers, so our electricity generation emissions are lower than most.
3. Biogenic emissions (mainly methane) account for half of all our GHG emissions. This is among the worst in the world. Our cows are like Australia's coal: the single biggest emissions problem we face.
4. Sorry, don't have the data to hand.
We're not among the lowest polluters. On the contrary.
Joanne M: All well and good, but did the government say how it was going to subsidise the low and middle income earners to purchase these evs and hybrids? Most of us are driving old cars because our incomes won't allow us to purchase these cars and when inflation is eating into what spare money we have, we're only thinking about surviving not worried about our next car.
Simon W: There is a 'cash for clunkers' scheme. And in time, with improved PT and walking and cycling infra, and (I really hope) with subsidies for e-bikes, we'll stop being a society where people on limited incomes feel the only way to get around is in a cheap, dirty car. In my street, I watch a lot of people driving off to work in the morning, and perhaps some of them need to, but we live 5 mins' walk from a train station, several good bus routes and a safe cycleway. It's a climate crisis. It's going to get a lot worse. What's being proposed now is mild compared to what we'll have to do in 20 years, if we do too little now.
David M: What is this obsession with cars Simon Wilson talks about? Look around at the ancient used imports so many people drive. It's not about cars, it's being able to get from a to b where suitable alternatives don't exist or are difficult to access. Also most trips are not just a to b - a c and a d usually required and carrying family items on a bus is hardly practical never mind on a bike. We live in an awkward shaped underpopulated country so our roading system is 3rd rate. Since the 1920s we have had one of the highest ratio of cars to people worldwide and there are good reasons for this well known outside downtown coffee shops in central Auckland.
Bernard O: Auckland has one of the highest rate of car ownership per capita in the OECD with something like 1.25m cars. What's more, Aucklanders can access around three times as many job opportunities within 30 minutes by cars as they can by public transport in 45 minutes. These are worrying figures and highlight the practical challenges you talk about.
Simon W: It's not true we've always been car dependent. Auckland used to have as many PT trips in the mid-1950s as it does now. But then the tram lines were ripped up, the bridge opened, the suburbs sprawled and motorways connected them. It seemed the right thing to do at the time, but it wasn't.
And it's also not true our car dependency and the problems that flow from it have been relatively consistent in more recent times. Covid aside, we've been buying cars at a faster rate: you can see the evidence parked on berms all over the city, and on the roads. And deaths and serious injuries are up. We've allowed this to happen and it will take time to correct, but it doesn't follow we can't or shouldn't make that correction.
Fundamentally, David, you're arguing that we're stuck with cars in the numbers we have now. That can't be true, for climate reasons. It won't be true, because unless we arrest it, it will all keep getting worse. We have to change, so we need to work out how.
Terry R: I need a heavier car to tow a caravan. There aren't any EVs that will do this for me. Will I be penalised for this?
Clark M: Ford F-150 EV can tow now just fine. Cybertruck likewise though that's not in production until next year. Even Teslas can tow. Obviously you need to have a powerful enough vehicle to pull (& brake) the load in question. EVs are relatively new but rapidly approaching; just because you can't buy your ideal vehicle today doesn't mean that it isn't in the tubes. But initial outlay costs though you win in the long run with the low running costs (energy & maintenance). But we do tend to be a population of second hand buyers on the whole, which will delay things.
Simon W: Clark is right, but there's another issue here. Are you suggesting we put a hold on reducing transport emissions because people need to buy heavy petrol/diesel SUVs to tow their caravans and boats?
Carolyn A: The recent experiment in halving public transport costs [is] instructive. Cost clearly matters, so how about providing fully subsidised public transport? ... If the expensive, disruptive light rail was scrapped and the bus etc public transport system expanded, it would cost I expect a whole lot less. Based on my experience of using the Northern Busway and the airport bus from the airport to Albany, the bus network can work.
Simon W: You may know that I partly agree with you. PT should be free or cheap, with widespread frequent services, and it MUST have priority lanes so the journeys are not too slow, or the whole exercise is pointless. And we should do these things right now, as the top transport priority. Because reducing emissions right now should be the priority.
But I don't think we should stop the rapid transit projects, because we will need them: over time we can't just fill the roads with buses. And light rail shouldn't be tunnelled: it's a colossal waste of money doing it that way.
Bernard O: Buses remain the most popular form of PT and provide flexibility to move around the city easily and efficiently. At the same time, there is a drive to build a mass rapid transit network that is limited at present to the trains and the Northern Busway. The City Rail Link and Eastern Busway will add to this once they are built in 3-5 years. The Government also has plans for light rail from the CBD to the airport, which is unlikely to be built before 2030. One of the problems with scrapping light rail or other rapid transit projects in favour of buses is 'bus congestion' on arterial routes and in the central city.
Roger H: If for family reasons you have to live in Birkenhead but work has just shifted to East Tamaki and you work normal business hours, how do the experts suggest is the best way to get to and from work - 5 days a week? Also complicating matters is the mid range salary and family circumstances prevents me from buying an electric car so that option is not "doable!" All suggestions happily accepted (except moving house - that is NOT an option!). Thank you.
Simon W: I know, Auckland is spread out and provides us with more challenges than many cities. There are several answers to your question, although not all will apply directly to you.
First, I would hope the easy option for you will be a ferry to downtown and the train (or a bus if the train line doesn't go close enough) to Tamaki. That should be a functionally efficient thing to do, and will give you more time in your day than driving.
Second, many companies could look at minibuses or the like for their own staff.
More generally, over time, the city should evolve so more people live closer to where they work. That requires good choices in employment, transport and housing. Gonna take a while.
And there's this: we need to develop transport networks that work well for most people. There will always be outliers - people for whom the networks don't work. But the system shouldn't be designed for the outliers. You make it work for the vast majority, and deal with the others in a range of ways.
Bernard O: I sympathise if your job has shifted to East Tamaki and you live in Birkenhead. All I can suggest is check out the public transport options versus driving. I imagine neither option looks pleasant. Good luck.
Paul M: It sounds like the government is signalling a need to live and play in the same area you work in. How are people supposed to do this if they can't afford the houses closer to their place of work? We don't build our cities around workplaces; work and home have been developed in distinctly different suburbs for a reason.
Bernard O: New research from Auckland Council has found 41 per cent of the 86,094 housing consents between 2016 and 2021 were within 2km of nine areas outside the CBD, and these nine areas account for 57 per cent of the city's jobs.
Simon W: In other words, while being spread out is a problem for many, the market is busy correcting itself already. This will continue, probably at pace.
Brent C: Want to slash emissions across the country overnight ? Have the government suggest to, or provide incentives to, business so that the tens of thousands of people who could work from home do so & there will no longer be a problem. Simple.
Simon W: WFH will play a role, to be sure. Even more valuable: councils should actively discourage companies from providing car parks for staff. The only reason an enormous number of people drive to work is that they have somewhere free to park their car.