Scoping a smart transport future for NZ

A short chain of command and high level of government–private sector collaboration are helping the evolution of a sustainable transport future for New Zealand, according to Louise Baker, principal transportation consultant for Opus International Consultants.

Ms Baker was one of the speakers at a Smart Transport Forum held last week by NZ’s Sustainable Business Network. The event brought together representatives from Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, business and sustainability experts to discuss a range of current initiatives and build collaboration and momentum for future ones.

Former Washington DC and Chicago transport chief and shared transport start-up guru Gabe Klein was the keynote speaker.

Mr Klein told the gathering that NZ should not wait to see what happens overseas, and that progress could be accelerated by setting goals, and then simply getting on with them.

The big picture goal, Ms Baker said, was for NZ to have low emissions transport through a combination of electric vehicles, biodiesel vehicles, public transport, car sharing and smart active transport solutions including cycling and walking.

The SBN estimates that transport currently generates around 20 per cent of the nation’s carbon emissions. In a 2014 report, Business Opportunities for a Sustainable New Zealand, it identified a clear barrier created by transport in terms of moving to an all-renewable energy future.

“New Zealand currently holds one of the leading positions globally in renewable energy sources for electricity use. However in the efforts to move towards sourcing all our energy from renewable sources, one of our biggest challenges is transport,” the report said.

“Almost all the energy sourced to power our national fleet is non-renewable. The current situation has us exposed not only to the environmental risks associated with greenhouse gases and climate change, but also the security of our energy supply and dependency as a nation on the global energy markets.”

Ms Baker said there was the capacity to make a low carbon transport future happen leveraging the nation’s engineering, planning and project implementation expertise.

Opus, for example, is working on a range of projects including rail and infrastructure for cycle travel.

One current project is a cycleways network for Hawke’s Bay. A travel plan is being developed that includes encouraging tourists to cycle and also integrates with the hospital. Ms Baker said cycling would be beneficial for both staff and those visiting patients as a way of getting to the hospital.

“There is quite a lot of funding [from the government] for cycling,” she said.

Car sharing on the agenda

While the forum was oriented around transport in Auckland, it is part of a broader SBN campaign looking at transport across all of NZ.

“Some of the immediate solutions in the smart mobility space are car sharing, like Uber and Lyft,” Ms Baker said.

“Those models for sharing journeys are a neat solution and an immediate thing we can be doing.”

She said the high level of trust in the community also made sharing cars an easy option.

One of the big national challenges is how to service small communities and regional areas. Ms Baker said car sharing and leveraging open data to assist people in making travel decisions was part of the solution.

“Car sharing has so many positive externalities,” she said.

“It decreases costs for households, decreases carbon emissions, increases accessibility and addresses equity issues.”

Car sharing also is a key element in travel demand management, which she said Sacramento in California had found was one of the single most effective ways to reduce carbon emissions.

She said that through connecting people, the demand for solo commuting can be reduced.

Electric vehicles take advantage of NZ’s renewable cred

Electric vehicles are also rapidly gaining traction, and because of the high level of renewables in the NZ energy supply, each EV equates to an immediate reduction in national carbon emissions.

Charging points have already been put in place in Auckland, and a digital platform called PlugShare lets users know where there are charging points across both North and South Islands.

There needs to be more charging points, Ms Baker said, both across Auckland and also around the country.

She said there is a campaign around “drive electric” currently underway. One of the nation’s biggest fuel retailers, Gull, is also embracing the EV future, installing a network of fast charging points at its service stations from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island.

Auckland Transport is also looking at ways it can lower the emissions from the bus fleet. Ms Baker said one of the barriers was that EV buses are lighter, and the regulations require a certain weight and axle size for public transport buses.

An alternative solution is transitioning to biodiesel, as a bus company at Birkenhead has done. This is also something the fuel retailers have embraced, she said, with Gull and others including Z Energy selling biodiesel at the pumps.

“Aggressive” road building across the Tasman too

Ms Baker said there was still a degree of concern about “aggressive road building campaigns in our cities”, instead of greater investment in public transport, active transport and data sharing to enable social transport.

She said there was however a strong level of co-operation developing between the central government, Auckland council and Auckland transport, with a formal Accord around smart transport currently under development.

This, she noted, was aided by the fact NZ has a “short chain of command” in terms of decision making and policy.

There is also a high level of engagement from the private sector in the sustainable transport campaign, including the nation’s big consulting firms, a major construction firm and the business sector.

“This is new; this is not how we’ve been doing things before,” Ms Baker said.

“And this collaborative approach means we’ll get things done.”

NZ’s central government support for smart transport includes promoting the country as a test-bed for new types of vehicles, energy technologies and intelligent transport systems. The NZ Transport Agency is currently writing guidelines for offshore firms who want to test technologies in the country.

In July transport minister Simon Bridges held a number of meetings in the USA and Japan, including meeting with major vehicle manufacturers and businesses at the cutting-edge of transport and energy technologies in Silicon Valley, California.

“I believe New Zealand has strong potential as a test-bed for new transport technologies, something I am keen to promote to the USA,” he said in a pre-trip media statement.

In Japan he met with the Japanese Transport Minister as well as a range of companies at the forefront of clean energy generation and transport technologies with the aim of exploring opportunities for strategic partnerships with the government and Japanese industry.

“I will continue to promote New Zealand’s renewable energy advantage,” he said.

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