Government policy-makers are being urged not to squander a limited opportunity to insulate New Zealanders against the worst ravages of high fuel prices.
Consultants to the Government's new Transport Agency are recommending a smorgasbord of measures - including a national road pricing scheme and tax incentives for public transport passengers - to ensure those who are already driving less for economic reasons can continue doing so for decades to come.
A report by several teams of transport, economic and legal experts led by Auckland consultancy McCormick Rankin Cagney predicts a decline in private car use until 2011 in response to fuel prices, which it expects to rise to a plateau around $2.80 a litre of petrol and $2.50c for diesel.
The Transport Agency has already noted reductions in traffic volumes at several Auckland motorway sites, including just south of the harbour bridge, where average daily numbers are more than 5 per cent lower than last winter. Even so, the consultants warn that unless central and local government organisations act fast to provide adequate alternative transport, people will eventually be forced back into old driving habits despite a likely continuation of historically high fuel prices.
The report expects annual distances travelled in light vehicles to remain below their 2007 level of just under 32 billion kilometres until around 2016, after which economic and population growth will prevail in the absence of strong action to support public transport, walking and cycling alternatives. But it says that the "no regrets" payoff will be an economy and society much better equipped to face future oil shocks.
Other measures include:
* Reallocating more road space to buses, cyclists and pedestrians.
* Removing minimum parking space requirements for buildings from district plans.
* Transferring fringe benefit tax liabilities from public transport passes for staff, to company parking spaces.
* Requiring workplaces to provide showers and lockers for staff who walk or cycle.
* Encouraging home deliveries of household goods.
Transport Agency spokesman Andy Knackstedt said the report's recommendations were in line with the Government's strategic priorities for halving New Zealand's per capital greenhouse gas emissions from transport by 2040. It would be made available for consideration by local authorities and others involved in land-use and transport planning.
But Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons urged the agency to take an active lead in putting the recommendations into practice. She said the Government was still spending far too much on new roads in defiance of the impact of high fuel prices.