Friday, 10th December, 2021

Public consultation on the Government’s most recent set of ideas to reduce CO2 emissions wrapped up last month, and one of the main targets for transport is a 20% reduction in the amount of driving New Zealanders do by 2035.

The magnitude of that change can’t be under-estimated. It would require the trajectory the transport system’s been on for more than half a century to be reversed in less than 15 years. 

To put it in perspective, government projections show a 20% increase in vehicle travel in the same period.  The target therefore amounts to a reduction of more than 30%, relative to where vehicle travel would be in 2035 (as a result of population growth) under a BAU scenario.

But the really alarming thing is how the Government plans to achieve the target.

The main tool would be a new charge for every kilometre you drive, which would replace existing fuel tax and RUC. 

Government documents don’t mention how much the charge would be, but it’s clear that it’d have to be very high – in a completely different league to what we currently pay in fuel tax (or the $7 daily cap suggested for congestion pricing in Auckland) – to achieve the desired change in behaviour.

You don’t have to be an economist to work out that the impact on households, businesses and wider economy would be crippling.

This would represent far too high a price to pay for emissions reduction objectives, and there’s no way the public would be willing to accept it.

Put simply, it would fail.

Meanwhile, to further encourage behaviour change, the Government is looking at ever-more investment in public transport, walking and cycling.

This will give people more transport choice and take pressure off certain parts of the road network – both of which are good things – but it’ll do little to reduce the overall dominance of private vehicle use (private vehicles account for about 95% of the travel in Auckland, and no material change in the proportions is forecast).

Plans for a big step up in the re-allocation of road space for bus and bike lanes will inevitably mean more congestion.  That’s bad news for productivity and liveability, and it’s also bad news for emissions. Emissions are close to 60% higher for vehicles travelling at 30km/h than at 70km/h.

De-carbonisation of the vehicle fleet – through development of bio-fuels and the switch to electric vehicles – is where the opportunity to reduce emissions is greatest.  This is where the focus needs to go, not on trying to use socially and economically harmful new charges to discourage car use.