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Climate Commission Hope Versus NLTP Reality

Written By: - Date published: 7:00 am, April 19th, 2021 - 19 comments
Categories: climate change, Environment, science, transport - Tags:

At the end of May the government will announce its policy responses to the Climate Change Commission recommendations. But the very hardest climate challenge we have is in transport, and it’s here that the National Land Transport Plan is pretty much like the wind being resisted by the Climate Commission air conditioning unit. Time to face our reality not our words.

The Big Giant transport Government Policy Statement kicks in on July 1st, and it’s going to get some reality fast.

The most civic-minded New Zealanders have now completed their submissions to Regional Land Transport Plans. Those plans are the great motorway onramps of transport funding prioritisation. You can see how the raw (RLTP) regional beef is turned into NLTP mince here.

Here’s the disconnect: there is a massive realisation growing that while climate change gases in New Zealand are 47% generated by car and truck combustion engines, there’s near-zero sign that we are getting out of our cars any time soon as a percentage of trips taken.

This Massey University report on what we are really doing is a typical example.

And here’s a summary of 25 years of our transport mode choice reality.

The gap between the ideology that climate activists and media activist commentariat spout, and the actual actions people make every day with the EFTPOS cards in their wallets, is getting more stark by the year.

This makes it incredibly difficult to make any useful submission to the democratic processes we are given.

On the evidence of our long and sustained behaviour, we are going to have to follow, not lead. Here’s how. There are four areas in the world that show the extent of what we are going to have to do to keep up, let alone lead:

1 Regulation

CO2 regulations in all major regions except us, Australia and the U.S. are becoming more rigorous, thereby accelerating the shift from Internal Combustion Engines (ICEs) to electric vehicles (EVs). Europe is leading the way with an emission limit of 95 g/km by 2020 and further reduction of 37.5 percent by 2030, resulting in a limit of 59 g/km. To meet the CO2 target in Europe and avoid penalties, vehicle manufacturers will have to sell 2.2 million EVs (assuming 50 percent PHEVs and 50 percent BEVs) in 2021. In 2018 EV sales in Europe amounted to 0.2 million. In comparison, China’s regulation targets are set at 117 g/km and 93 g/km, and North America’s current targets are set at over 50 mpg following passenger-vehicle Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards (equivalent to 99 g/km) for 2025. Possibly the closest we will get to that is in Auckland where our bus fleet is going to change out of diesel faster than anticipated. Two years ago in Wellington they did precisely the reverse and stripped the electric fleet out.

Further emission regulations (e.g., nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulates), access regulations (e.g., local diesel bans, license plate regulations), and potential ICE bans will influence adoption on a regional and city level. Globally, several countries have announced targeted end dates for ICEs (e.g., Norway by 2025; Israel, India, and Denmark by 2030; Canada, the UK, and China by 2040). So far there’s no ICE ban on our own horizon

2. Infrastructure

A cumulative investment of approximately US$50 billion will be needed in charging infrastructure by 2030, not including necessary grid upgrades. (The number of public and private charging stations needed by 2030 would be 15 million in Europe, 14 million in China, and 13 million in North America). Public grid upgrade will be a key enabler for driving EV adoption rates in China and Europe, while about 50 to 70 percent of the charging in North America will likely take place at home. This is confirmed by the fact that range and the ability to charge a vehicle remain the strongest concerns in Europe and the US, and the second strongest in China. We’re struggling to deal with any honesty about Tiwai Point let alone any grid upgrade that anticipates an electrification transformation, or indeed upgrading our home garage to the right charging points.

The currently strong investment momentum in China and Europe (supported by public subsidies) and awareness are cause for optimism that insufficient EV infrastructure may only be a bottleneck for a few markets like us and Australia. In addition to the charging station buildout, grid operators will have to respond to locally increasing peak loads (e.g., in residential areas with many early adopters) by upgrading transformers or incentivizing consumers to shift charging load (smart charging). New Zealand has a handful popping up, but none of the major fuel chains have them other than one or two per city.

3. Technology

Innovation in battery technology and production have made EVs competitive with conventional combustion engine vehicles. Batteries constitute a major cost item in EVs, and their cost has decreased significantly thanks to technology advancement, production process optimization, and economies of scale. Since 2010, the cost in USD/kWh has dropped by approximately 85 percent, thereby opening the market for EVs further. If I’m lucky I’m going to be able to afford a second-hand Toyota with a solid state battery that can soon get me to Wellington on a single charge, when I’m 60.

With regulatory forces, technology improvements, and infrastructure rollout all in favor of EVs, the question remains, how likely are consumers to adopt? Pretty well but from a very low base is the answer if you are in Germany, Scandinavia, Norway, and China. Not here. We’ve seen some of the big taxi fleets change to hybrids, but the rental car fleets are not yet moving despite chucking out most of their stock last year. Outside of China, the EU, and the US, combustion engine traffic will dominate for many many years to come and that includes us.

For the above commentary, the IEA has the relevant citations on uptake here.

And yet ……..

We know, with ashen left-melancholy, what an alternative society’s transport would look like, because during last year’s lockdown some good people did the data in the Big Backyard Bike Count.

It found that over 250 locations across Auckland, neighbourhood travel mode share was on average 19% people biking and scooting, 42% people on feet, and 39% using private vehicles. It was vivid proof that New Zealanders will happily slam their car doors and walk away, the minute they can.

Yet here we are in 2021 and the crisis is rather that so little has changed. One of our deepest national lows has not been turned into a catalyst for an improved society. It has taken Auckland Transport 10 years to generate a cycleway of 2 kilometres from New Lynn to Avondale, and the whole region is sprawling like wildfire. Wellington transport has yet to reach its Greater aspirations, Tauranga transport planning is one of the least coherent in the country, and Christchurch has been rebuilt with little attention to challenging the dominance of the car. The comparison between the heroic riders of the Hamilton-Papakura train (which started as a trial last week) and the beautiful, sculptural, glistening new 110km/h motorway network from Auckland’s CBD to Cambridge in 1.5 hours off peak could not be more stark.

But if you do still have the will to engage and try your best, GreaterAuckland gave some useful pointers on how to submit effectively and against climate change.

I believe it’s time to do away with New Zealand rhetoric in our transport planning documents about climate transformation, and be more straightforward and clear about how little has changed, how hard change really is, how deep the New Zealand reliance is on the internal combustion engine, and how long it will be to alter this course.

Without a truthful 2021 reconciliation of our transport direction to our climate change aspirations, our real-time behaviour shows we are actually meekly waiting for the global transport mode tide to gently rise around us rather than acting ourselves. We need to stop lying to ourselves, and government should stop it as well.

19 comments on “Climate Commission Hope Versus NLTP Reality ”

  1. "…..New Zealanders will happily slam their car doors and walk away, the minute they can."
    I agree.


    "….there’s near-zero sign that we are getting out of our cars any time soon as a percentage of trips taken."

    In the face of low uptake, the newly innaugerated Huia express train from Auckland to Papakura is dying on its feet, and looks likely to become an expensive white elephant.

    All around the world there is only one sure fire proven way to get the public out of their ICE vehicles en-mass.

    In municipalities and cities that have trialed it, the one strategy that has proved to be a runaway success, is the introduction of single payer fare free public transport.

    A great resource on how this can be done in Aotearoa, (and should be), is Fare Free NZ


    We need to make a start.

    To keep it going and keep cars off the badly congested Southern corridor to Auckland, the Huia rail connection is the first obvious piece of failing public infrastructure that needs to trial waiving all fares for commuters.

    • lprent 1.1

      To keep it going and keep cars off the badly congested Southern corridor to Auckland, the Huia rail connection is the first obvious piece of failing public infrastructure that needs to trial waiving all fares for commuters.

      I had a look at the Te Huia. The adult fare price is $12.20 with a Bee card between Franklin and Papakura. Apparently takes about 98 minutes. Obviously heavily subsidised. Costs less than a taxi fare from home in Grey Lynn to Mt Eden when my bike is off the road.

      The first link that came up when I was looking for the fare was this.

      'Standing room only': Te Huia 'jam-packed' on first Saturday service, would-be passengers left behind

      The price doesn't look to me to be a problem. The basic problem is that that it is designed as a commuter train that runs in one direction. Two morning trains from Hamilton early in the morning, and two evening trains early in the evening. Takes at least 4 hours out of your day unless you live in Franklin and work in Papakura.

      Currently I don't know of any people who live in Hamilton and commute to South Auckland every morning. There are may be a few in Huntly. It is something that isn't feasible when driving a car.

      The people at Pokeno – the suburb with no facilities, useless roads and not even a supermarket, charmingly dumped by the old Franklin district and now in Waikato on the borders of Auckland leave really early at about 0530 to get to central Auckland before 0800 by car. They then leave either about 1530 or thye leave at 1830. Too much time out of the day.

      It will take time for commuter traffic to rise. The number of services to increase. And the number of stops in places like Pokeno for a true commuter system to arise. People have their existing houses and jobs, and they aren't going to shift in a week.

      That is why the project has been funded for 5 years. It is like the bike tracks. You have to build them first before people like me will start cycling to safely years later. Even public transport needs to have reasonable times to travel if you're use them.

      These days I won't take jobs where I can't cycle or get reasonable public transport to. In other words no jobs in no Albany – an hour each way by public transport if you're lucky and that is is you have stops right next to home and work. Nothing would convince me to do a daily commute to South Auckland. Out west is feasible – they is the bike track along the North Eastern.

      But I would consider going to Hamilton for longer trips by train. Working for a week in Hamilton out of a motel or hotel is preferable to doing the same thing in Singapore. I can carry my bike on a train, whereas it is barely feasible on the Intercity buses. You'd need a bike in Hamilton – the bus routes are even worse than when I was at university there 40 years ago.

      Otherwise I could use a car. Or simply not go – the latter is my current default.

      The key problem isn't price – it is having a viable transport route at all. Currently with our periodic bouts of the disease of National transport policies, we only have roads and cars. That needs to change.

      • Ad 1.1.1

        GreaterAuckland provides some suggestions on how the Hamilton-Papakura service could be improved here:


        Given that diesel trains are no longer allowed into Britomart, Puhinui is about as far as this train could go. Also Britomart is tight as the upcoming service increase from CRL is going to use up pretty much every slot it has. Usefully Puhinui station has been recently upgraded, and there's now a electric bus servicing the link from there to the airport – if one were dedicated to catching a flight without a car. I sure hope that this hasn't been set up to fail once the novelty value wears off.

      • Jenny How to get there 1.1.2

        "The people at Pokeno – the suburb with no facilities, useless roads and not even a supermarket."

        Pokeno has a supermarket.

        Countdown Pokeno – Google Maps

        But the point is made.
        What Pokeno really needs is a train station. (and a commuter train to stop there).

        I do not know the number of commuters that leave this burgeoning satellite 'burb every morning, but witnessing the rush hour traffic jam morning and night between Bombay and Manukau it must be quite a few.

        Would a Huia train stop be enough to get Pokeno commuters out of their cars?

        Probably not.

        The reason being the Huia commuter rail service stops not far past Pokeno at Papakura. Bringing the Huia commuter train as far as Puhinui as suggested by Ad might be a bit more of an incentive. But what is really needed is a totally electrified commuter rail service all the way into the inner city. If Britomart is getting too congested, (as also noted by Ad). Maybe the closed train station on Beach Road could be re-repurposed.

        What's the alternative?

        Spending many more $billions adding even more lanes to the Southern motorway?

        As for fare free. I can understand that for people of means this is not an issue, but for people of lesser means squeezed out of the Auckland housing market, a single payer commuter train service from Kirikiriroa to their factory jobs in South (and even West), Auckland might be very attractive indeed.

        • lprent

          Yep they now have a Countdown, it opened 9th Feb 2021.

          Pōkeno had a population of 2,517 at the 2018 New Zealand census, an increase of 1,917 people (319.5%) since the 2013 census, and an increase of 1,947 people (341.6%) since the 2006 census.

          Estimate at June 2020 was estimated at 3320.

          "Pokeno's resilience pays off as population set to triple in coming decades" – article in stuff in 2018

          "According to the Waikato District Council, Pokeno had a population of around 2000 people in 2013. That number is set to increase to 7000 within the next 10 years."

          As for fare free. I can understand that for people of means this is not an issue, but for people of lesser means squeezed out of the Auckland housing market, a single payer commuter train service from Kirikiriroa to their factory jobs in South (and even West), Auckland might be very attractive indeed.

          The main problem is that this is 98 minutes from Kirikiriroa (aka Hamilton) to Papakura for 100+ kms. That doesn't make it particularly attractive as a commuter line.

          For someone using it to work, then it is just another cost to be factored in. The minimum wage is $20 per hour. $24.40 return seems like a bargain for at least 200km. About $125 for a working week.

          But someone requiring really low costs, then they should probably look at Huntly. Much lower house cost or rent, and a lower fare.

  2. satty 2

    Another issue when looking into the EV charging infrastructure is the percentage of cars not parked in a garage at home, which is the case in many suburbs in bigger NZ cities. The reason is either there’s no garage with the home, the garage is old and too small for the large cars NZers buy nowadays or they are simply used for “collecting lots of shit” never to be used again.

    In my street with lots of on-street parking and very few places with garages the Wellington council replaced / resurfaced all the footpaths recently. They didn’t install a single recharge station nor any cables for future use. Can’t see how anyone in the neighbourhood would ever consider an EV.

    • RedBaronCV 2.1

      Some of the non plug in hybrids (Toyota has some under $30K) plus some provision for street level or outside garage secure plug in points (run off solar?) or "coin operated" for longer charging times based on ordinary electricity output not fast charging as those are much more expensive infrastructure to set up look like the way forward where there is no off street parking. I'm busy converting the neighbours and it doesn't take much talking. All the councils need to do is set some infrastructure rules around the provision of them.

      • lprent 2.1.1

        There are other issues around EV charging.

        For instance I'm in a 1998 apartment block in Auckland CBD outskirts, We have a dual garage with two car parks per each of our 60 apartments. Probably about 80 cars at any one time.

        It would seem like a prime candidate to put a multiple EV charge points in – right?

        But there aren't any power plugs in the garage. The carparks are owned by each apartment under strata law. There isn't room for additional carparks in the communal carpark areas. We do have some communal power for common lights and garage doors. But apartment power is paid by apartment apartment tenants or owner-occupiers.

        That means we'd have to get at a bare minimum a majority vote of all apartments to even consider installing EV power as it would effectively require communal funds to run the power out across the communal power trays. There are sure to be people without a car let alone a EV who wouldn't be interested in paying for it. Landlords won't see the point unless it gets them a better return on their investment.

        And there aren't (as far as I am aware) a single EV or PHEV in the building yet. I am pretty sure that I have the only e-bike. I carry the battery for that upstairs to charge that, or I charge it at work.

        There are a lot of issues ahead for widespread adoption of EVs. Charging points is one of them.

        Another is cost and the increased tendency for many people to not commute. We brought a replacement car last year. Our 1993 Toyota Corona with close to 300k found a pole while backing and failed a WoF. The 1998 Toyota Caldina with 250k had a abrupt oil leak and a seized engine (turned out the oil sensor was a bit buggered).

        We looked at EVs, PHEV, and hybrids. But for our average annual driving of less than 10k, the cost-benefit simply didn't make sense – all electric vehicles are too expensive apart from e-bikes. The car is there to transport shopping and to do longer trips to see family. We either work from home or use a ebike or scooter to commute.

        Brought a 2005 Caldina with 120k for $4k from a relative. Spent some money on the paint job. Takes us 6-7 weeks on average to empty the tank. Costs more in 3rd party insurance, maintenance. WoF, and registration than it does in petrol. It will last us a while.

  3. Foreign Waka 3

    The infrastructure in NZ does not allow for public transport in an efficient manner. The routes are known where the traffic flows but any bus, train stops some 3km from your home if they even come "near". Try this with bags of groceries in a hauling southerly. Quite often, just when it is bucketing down and one might start on an early shift, the news come through that the trains are cancelled but no one knows whether buses are going. No wonder no one is interested in this unreliable patchwork of what they call public transport.

    The problem as I see it is the sprawl of houses and the per capita route cost. Not to mention the roads that are in poor state and so narrow that the current buses have difficulties manoeuvring. A least in my neighborhood.

    Many major cities as well as countries are served by a network that was – low and behold such surprise! – thought through and most of the time one does not need a car at all. I have relatives living in a major city, travelling the world and never owed a car. Absolutely no need if a city is being designed for people an how they are going to move.

    The poor planning is visible by allowing push bikes on motorways and major traffic routes (!).

    There needs to be a regional transport plan put together with some serious thought how any form of train and bus route will connect coherently. No interference from the city councils, we have seen what they do with the waste water pipes, not to mention to have diesel buses introduced – good lord have mercy – we don't need a repeat.

  4. roy cartland 4

    Newsroom has a good case for reopening the Overnight Rail line WLG-AKL, with some good graphs of the inefficiency of short-haul flights:

    The distance, 682 km, is ideal for a sleeper service, as suggested by the New York Times in an article on the rebound of Europe’s night trains (paywalled).

    Fifty-seven percent of New Zealand’s population lives along the route. (42% in Auckland and Wellington, 15% in between.) It also spans five universities, home to many thousands of frequent flyers: for example, Massey University’s 3000-plus staff flew an average of 18,000 km each in 2019…


    • Ad 4.1

      This is exactly what I am talking about.

      The media focus on the least useful or timely customer proposal and ignore the far more likely one: completing the existing State Highways to Tauranga and Whangarei would eliminate the need for flights to Tauranga, Hamilton, Whangarei and Taupo (other than in occasional non-Auckland flights). Rail wouldn't.

      Instead they focus on a 9-hour train service which has been long since discredited in the minds of the consumer, and put that in the same conversation as a European train network. We are never going to have a comparable rail system to Europe, or China, or Taiwan, or Britain.

      The media who talk about rail prefer to talk about something other than the mode that has a 50-year headstart on rail and will do so for the foreseeable future. We need to reconcile our ideology with the reality of what is there.

      • lprent 4.1.1

        I don't think that many people do fly to Tauranga, Hamilton, Whangarei and Taupo now. I know that I don't.

        I tried doing a couple of flights to Rotorua a few years ago. There was a major disincentive in that there it took under three hours to get to Rotorua by car, and about the same by plane once you added the time to get to and from the airports, costs of bus or taxi or parking. Not to mention that I missed a non-refundable flight.

        Flying to local destinations is just a pain from Auckland. But the problem is that it is pointless doing the roads as well. All that every improvement since the 1970s has done has been to move the congestion further along the state highways. Make the roads easier and they just fill up with what appears to be pointless travel.

        If you look at SH2 from Auckland for instance, my bet is that most of the increase of trips along there are simply people going to and from holiday homes on the coast. Why would I want to pay for that?

        The NZTA should just install a tolls along many of the state highways and make them user pays based on actual usage. I’m pretty sure that will relieve congestion and make the roads better for those who need to use them. NZ population isn’t exactly large enough to require the congestion we currently see.

        • greywarshark

          Tolls I think that is the idea. Christchurch has gone towards working on travellers a bit with a special lane for those with two or more in car. Some innovations are needed to get us off the roads.

        • Ad

          Since I'm working in Palmerston North on a wind farm at the moment, I hang a bit at the regional terminal and those flights still seem reasonably popular during the week. I'm sure there's be hell to pay as per Shane Jones last term giving AirNZ grief if there were unjustified regional flight cancellations.

          I'm hoping to see some strong moves in the Climate Commission responses that would make it worth companies accruing and internally costing the carbon they expend by RUC. Still plenty the government could do across its own Departments in this area as well.

          • lprent

            Talking Palmerston North is like comparing pears with oranges…

            I was talking about the nearly half of the North Island population who live in Auckland, and who flood the roads to Tauranga, Hamilton, Whangarei, and even Taupo.

            Rational Aucklanders would kill to have the kind of rail transport that the Wellington Region does. I could get a regularly scheduled train from Wellington almost all of the way to Otaki on Xmas eve. The only reason I couldn’t bet one to Otaki itself was because that was a commuter service that didn’t suit my flights from Auckland.

            Flying Palmerston North to Tauranga, Hamilton, Whangarei is reasonable from Palmerston North. You're looking at 5+ hour drives. That kind of time makes it worthwhile to go by plane. It is like me flying to Wellington from Auckland (~7 hours by car vs 2.5 hours (counting drive and park)).

            Palmerston North to Taupo? Maybe – from memory it is about 3 hours (google maps says 3h 11m). You don't have the drive and park issues that you do in Auckland. So probably 1.5-2 hours.

            But basically the problem up this end is that Auckland is about 1.6 million population out of a North Island population 3.7 million in the North Island.

            Almost all of the driving on state highways up here is short haul – within a 3 hour drive of Auckland. Not to mention that Hamilton, Tauranga, Whangarei and even Rotorua are considerable population towns in their own right – and the primary destination of most of the upper north island traffic.

            Rather than putting more roads in to simply be filled up by trucks and cars, we'd be better off doing the basic straightening and safety issues, and concentrating on putting in double track electric trains. Leave the roads to people and trucks going to the low density population areas.

            It'd be way way cheaper than putting in more motorways, and much more economic as well.

  5. RedBaronCV 5

    While cycling is valuable I do think we have to be careful not to overcook or indulge in pious hopes about a means of transport that cannot be useful to all. As it stands it looks like fair weather transport for a group that is largely male with discretionary time on their hands.

    Christchurch is cycling's most terrain friendly city and I saw somewhere that it is looking at spending $341m of tax and ratepayer money on cycleways for about 13,000 cyclists. Even if this went to 30,000 cyclists 10% of the population of the city it is still very expensive on a per head basis. And $341 million would buy a lot of housing and health care.

  6. RedBaronCV 6

    I think the most valuable thing we could do is to keep the population stable not keep increasing it. As far as actual transport goes free or largely free public transport in densely populated areas plus facilitating hybrid and electric car purchases. For individuals and companies there are real running cost gains for these vehicles particularly if they can avoid fast charging . Putting in an expensive fast charge network is likely to be overtaken by events as newer batteries appear that have much greater range.

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