David Shearer on the Holiday Highway

A great op-ed by Mt Albert Labour MP David Shearer in the NZ Herald today – talking about the Puhoi-Wellsford “holiday highway”. Here’s a couple of particularly good extracts:

… I just can’t agree with Transport Minister Mr Joyce’s recent announcement to start preparatory work on a new Puhoi to Wellsford motorway.

Nor can I agree that this road is needed above all other priorities where the Government could – and should – be spending money.

Dubbed the Holiday Highway, the project is a colossal waste of $1.69 billion (possibly rising to $2.04 billion) of taxpayer money.

With that sort of money we could transform New Zealand’s economy with research and development, provide real backing to our most innovative companies, increase skills, run a train to Auckland airport, build an underground rail link into Auckland’s CBD – you name it.

Instead, Mr Joyce is proposing to build a new motorway to run alongside State Highway 1.

Here is what $1.69 billion buys you: motorists will save seven minutes’ travel time to Warkworth and eight minutes on to Wellsford...

Shearer goes on to talk about the economics of the road just simply not stacking up particularly well:

Does a new motorway make economic sense? It’s very marginal.

According to the cost-benefit calculation used by the NZ Transport Agency we get less value back in dollars than what we spend on the motorway.

If the “wider economic benefit” to the region is factored in, one dollar spent will bring $1.10 in return.

That makes it financially viable, but barely. And any economist will tell you that estimating the wider economic benefit is notoriously difficult.

That’s why I oppose this road. The economic case simply doesn’t stack up.

There is also a broader question whether building more motorways is a good idea. Last year the OECD released a report called “Infrastructure Investment” that studied New Zealand’s transport system in comparison with other countries.

It concluded that there is no measurable economic benefit from new motorway construction in New Zealand whereas investment into other types of roading and rail infrastructure does generate growth.

In other words, there are much better ways to spend infrastructure money. This Government should take a look at it.

Ah yes, that would be this study, that I commented on in a recent post. The relationship between transport investment and economic growth is outlined in the graph below: The maths are fairly complicated I think, but in a nutshell this study shows that for New Zealand, investment in non-motorway roads and railways is seen to have an economic benefit, whereas investment in motorway standard roads is shown to not.

As David’s opinion piece goes on to say, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do anything to upgrade the Puhoi-Wellsford stretch of State Highway 1, but rather that we need to be a bit more sensible about it. Would a bypass of Warkworth and $150 million of safety upgrades solve 90% of the problem for 10% of the cost? If the answer is even maybe, then surely that’s what we should be doing?

Sylvia Park Plan Change

In the last week or so Proposed Plan Change 235 to the Auckland City District Plan has been notified. This is a private plan change, made by the owner of the Sylvia Park mall, and is designed to allow significant further intensification of the site upon which the Sylvia Park mall is located.

From a transport perspective, this is quite an interesting plan change. Sylvia Park is reasonably well served by public transport – particularly in the form of the train station that is located right next to the mall. There’s also a bus station (apparently – I have never noticed it myself), which rather stupidly seems to be located on the other side of the mall from the train station – so much for connectivity there. I’m not sure which buses run through there – other than I think either the 008 or 009 cross-town bus. These buses usually run at pretty pathetic frequencies.

The plan change itself is relatively compact – a 17 page document – although the supporting information is extremely extensive.  Interestingly, the supporting information includes both an integrated transport assessment and a “Parking Report”. But stepping back from the details of this for the moment, one of the reasons why I find this plan change rather curious is that it would seem as though a concerted effort is being made here to turn Sylvia Park from a basic mall into something of a town centre. In fact, the most recent version of Auckland City Council’s Future Planning Framework – the strategic planning work that will supposedly help inform the next District Plan – shows Sylvia Park (and not Glen Innes or Otahuhu as previously proposed) being a “Principal Centre” for development – along the same lines as Newmarket and Onehunga. Now I must say that just comes across to me as rather bizarre – as with Sylvia Park we are really only talking about one site, that rather sits in isolation surrounded by industrial areas to the east and low-density residential to the north and west. This is shown in the map below:

Yellow is the site itself, green is generally residential at the moment and red is industrial.

Of course having such a big site located in such a strategically excellent spot brings a lot of advantages that I consider worth taking up. Single-ownership of the Sylvia Park site allows an integrated approach to development within that site that generally is unlikely to be as easy elsewhere. Issues like parking and traffic access can be approached from an integrated perspective, leading to some pretty big advantages.

However, in my opinion a single site does NOT make a town centre – let alone a regional sub-centre or “principal centre” as it seems Auckland City wants to call it. Therefore, if we want Sylvia Park to truly become a growth node for Auckland – and as I have said above I would possibly support such a notion because of its good transport links (as long as we do something to improve bus/train connectivity and also do something to improve bus services) – then we must look beyond the boundaries of this single site.

And that is where things start to get a bit problematic. The mall isn’t a natural town centre, although linkages could be made with the small area at the intersection of Waipuna Road and Mt Wellington Highway to help create a broader town centre. To the east of Sylvia Park there’s the railway line which creates a significant barrier – but even beyond that we have industrial space that is hardly suitable for the kind of development one would expect in a town centre – apartments, offices, retail, community services and so forth. The same is true if we head south of Sylvia Park, or perhaps even more so as the motorway forms another giant barrier. To the west I would agree there is plenty of potential to allow intensification, and that same is probably true of the existing residential area to the north. One would think that something would have to happen to make Mt Wellington Highway a more pedestrian friendly environment though – as at the moment I wouldn’t dare to even think about crossing it on foot.

Another matter which rather confuses me is the question of “what’s wrong with Panmure?” Panmure is located about 2km north of Sylvia Park and also has a train station, is much better served by buses (most buses heading out to the Howick/Pakuranga/Botany area pass through Panmure), has an extensive existing retail area, has a number of areas suitable for intensification, has existing community facilities and so forth. The same could be said for Glen Innes, just another few kilometres to the north, although perhaps its bus services and connections to the rest of the city aren’t as good as Panmure’s. It seems strange and bizarre to try to artificially manufacture a thriving regional centre from pretty much nothing at Sylvia Park instead of focusing on strengthening and growing two other existing centres that are relatively nearby.

Now that is not to say that I oppose the Plan Change in question here. Sylvia Park would certainly benefit from additional office developments and apartments being constructed – if for no other reason than to use up much of the space currently occupied by ugly surface level parking for the mall. One would hope that some of the “development contributions” from allowing further intensification of Sylvia Park to go ahead could be put into turning Mt Wellington Highway into a more pedestrian friendly “boulevard” (this was proposed a while back, but seems to have disappeared). Higher buildings constructed right up to this new boulevard would have enclose the space and create a far superior urban environment to the mess that’s there now.

There are also a number of positive signs in the documentation that accompanies the application. It seems like effort is going into justifying why council should reduce the number of carparks it requires from the development, rather than the “Westfield approach” which seems to push for huge carparks everywhere. The urban design report also recognises the need for any development to work in with what happens around this particular site.

However, from a wider strategic point of view, I don’t think that Sylvia Park is the right spot to create a new “town centre”, unless we look at creating something of a whole corridor that links in with Panmure to the north. A high intensity development node – sure, but it should not be in the same league as Onehunga and Newmarket as a “principal centre”. Surely Panmure would be far more appropriate, given its strategic location for bus routes, its extensive existing retail centre and the fact that it’s a proper community – rather than just one site.

Funding for Wharves Slashed

A rather worrying article in today’s Herald that funding for the upgrade to Bayswater Wharf, and the construction of a wharf suitable for ferry services at Beach Haven, have been delayed. Here’s part of the article:

Extra Government investment in roads is being blamed for the disappearance of funding for two new Auckland ferry terminals.

The deferral of terminals for Bayswater and Beach Haven until the Government’s next three-year funding cycle – for 2012-15 – has been confirmed by the Auckland Regional Transport Authority.

That has prompted a claim by North Shore City’s representative on the Auckland Regional Transport Committee, Chris Darby, that ferry transport is being affected by the Government’s extra allocation of money to new roads.

The authority’s confirmation of the terminal deferrals came after Mr Darby complained of inaccurate information in an authority report to the transport committee.

The report said funding for a long-awaited $6.6 million ferry terminal for Bayswater had been approved and construction of a $2.8 million facility for Beach Haven had started.

This would seem to be yet another sad result of last year’s government policy statement, which shifted millions upon millions of dollars away from public transport and into building the seven roads of National significance.

Ferris are a pretty under-utilised method of transport for many parts of the city – particularly in Beach Haven I reckon, and therefore it’s a huge loss to see that ferry services between Beach Haven and the CBD will now not be able to be introduced for another few years. Beach Haven is linked to the CBD via Onewa Road, which is probably one of the most congested arterial routes in the whole of Auckland. Giving people there an alternative to Onewa Road is surely a good idea.


Further info on Western Line changes

A couple of days ago I wrote a blog post on the changes being proposed to the Western Line’s timetable. I was critical of two aspects of these changes:

  1. I criticised the three minute lay-over at Newmarket on the grounds that it just adds to the length (time-wise) of Western Line trips, which have already been inconvenienced in terms of time compared to how things were when the Newmarket West temporary station was in operation.
  2. I criticised the PM express train skipping Newmarket, on the grounds that it would be confusing (the AM express train will stop there) and inconvenient for people living further out west who work in Newmarket (they will have to catch the all stopping train).

ARTA kindly responded to my post by providing me with a bit of further information on why the changes are being made. I think it’s worthy to share that, so that the issue can be properly examined:

The change to the afternoon limited stop service has been made on the basis that there is another train there 2 minutes afterwards, and therefore a viable alternative is available for customers. Whilst this will result in an extension to journey times for those travelling to the more westerly stations of 5 minutes overall (excluding the 2 minute later departure time from Newmarket), there is an alternative for customers.

The all stop service also has lower loadings than the current limited stop service. Figures show that over 200 passengers currently board the 5.30pm service on departure from Britomart, which when complimented by an additional 80 passengers or so at Newmarket, means that currently there are nearly 300 passengers on the service on departure from Newmarket.

In comparison, the all-stop service has approximately 150 PAX boarding at Britomart and a further 30 getting on at Newmarket, meaning that there are less than 200 passengers onboard on departure from Newmarket.

The stop at Grafton was included in the schedules of the limited stop service to provide an alternative for the 20 or so passengers who currently catch the 5.44pm departure from Boston Road (thus again easing the distribution of passengers between the two services).

The changes effective from Sunday 11 April, will help to assist in smoothing out loadings between the two services, and will potentially make the new 5.31pm service more attractive (due to increased seating availability) for customers from Britomart heading further west.

The removal of one train from the mix at Newmarket during this busy period around 5.40pm will add robustness to schedules, and improve operation through the area. Stability of timetable performance is important, and is one of the key things which these changes are seeking to achieve.

For clarity, the change to the limited stop service is only on the evening time, the morning service is not changed because we realise that in doing so would’ve resulted in a 20 minute gap in services to Newmarket on the Western Line during the busiest part of the morning peak.

Finally, we have also adjusted the most westerly stopping patterns of the limited stop service and the 5.33pm all stop service ex-Britomart. The limited stop service will now terminate at Swanson, with the 5.33pm service continuing through to Waitakere (instead of Swanson). This continues to provide a direct Newmarket to Waitakere service for customers at this time of day, albeit with an extended journey time of 5 minutes overall (excluding the 2 minute later departure time from Newmarket).

Careful thought and consideration was taken to ensure that these changes cause the minimal amount of inconvenience for customers, as we worked together with Veolia to add robustness to schedules.

As I said in my original post, it would seem as though the main driver for the change to the PM express train is so that a huge crunch on Newmarket station at around 5.40pm can be avoided. And it certainly will be a good thing to see the system not grind to a halt as the poor signalling staff have to thread a pile of trains through a junction that, contrary to what KiwiRail claim, already seems to have insufficient capacity to handle the number of trains through it that are required (goodness knows how shocking things will be in a few years time when we have many more trains running on the system). It will also be advantageous for people catching the PM express train from Britomart, as they’ll be able to avoid the Newmarket mess – and one will imagine their trips times might decrease reasonably significantly as a result of this.

Smoothing out passenger numbers has some benefits I suppose, although at the same time perhaps the 5.33pm train could have just terminated at New Lynn and used a smaller ADL train (I imagine the all-stopping train is pretty dead past New Lynn as everyone would have been on the express).

However, in the end it seems that what we really need to do is to completely overhaul the Western Line timetable so that the 5.40pm Newmarket crunch can be avoided without having to inconvenience the 80ish passengers that currently use the express from Newmarket. I guess it remains to be seen whether this change will be temporary – until the timetables are overhauled in July when the Onehunga Line will (supposedly) become operational – or whether it’s more permanent. If it is permanent then I really think we need to build that missing rail link at Newmarket that KiwiRail claimed was “unnecessary”, or do something to improve the capacity of the Newmarket junction. Otherwise we’ve just spent about $30 million on building a junction that can’t even do the job.

The Public Transport Leadership Forum

Amidst spending zillions of dollars on motorways over the next few years, NZTA’s National Land Transport Programme also established the “Public Transport Leadership Forum”. This is what’s said about that forum in the NLTP:

Meanwhile, an NZTA programme will take a longer-term view of public transport investment while seeking to make decision-making processes more robust. We will convene a public transport sector leadership forum, with one of its first tasks being to develop an action plan to improve the effectiveness of public transport in New Zealand.

It may not seem like particularly much, but I think that there are likely to be some very useful results coming from simply getting together a pile of people who know what they’re talking about when it comes to public transport, and thrashing out some ways to improve public transport nationwide.  The forum held its first meeting in September last year, and is holding another meeting in a couple of days time.

A progress report on what was achieved at that first meeting, and a series of next steps to take makes for quite interesting reading actually – and suggest that this might actually achieve something, rather than simply being a talkfest designed to distract us from NZTA’s potentially disastrous farebox recovery policy that is being developed.

The forum considered a number of aspects of public transport, including its wider context. Their findings on this matter are summarised below: That seems to cover pretty much everything. I’m particularly glad that parking policies, peak oil and the ability of public transport to help achieve growth strategies has been mentioned. These three issues are often overlooked.

A number of reports were put together by various transport experts – including Russel Turnbull from Parsons Brinkerhoff, Dr Peter Stoveken from Stoveken Consulting, and Ian Wallis from Ian Wallis Associates (I must say it’s nice to learn that we actually have public transport experts in Auckland). Various long-term strategies and plans were discussed, but perhaps what I found most interesting were the identified “low hanging fruit” – or relatively easy to implement improvements in the next five years that could make a big difference:

Improving real-time travel information, creating a full integrated ticketing system and looking to create incentives so that employers provide staff with free public transport (instead of free parking) look to me as three steps forward in particular that could make a very positive difference.

There’s quite a bit of other information I have, which can be read from the links below:

  1. NZTA Powerpoint Presentation – Improving Public Transport Effectiveness
  2. Planner/Funder Breakout Group Notes
  3. Operators Breakout Group Notes
  4. Users Breakout Group Notes

Of course who knows whether all of this will actually achieve anything, but it’s certainly good to know that some serious thinking is going on to improve public transport. Hopefully all parties involved in the forum have read Paul Mees’s excellent book: Transport for Suburbia. It will answer most of their questions I would imagine.

Massive support for Hamilton-Auckland commuter rail

A petition supporting the introduction of a Hamilton-Auckland commuter rail service, signed by 11,500 people, was presented by the Campaign for Better Transport today. Here’s the full press release:

11,500 Say Yes to Waikato Trains

This morning the sustainable transport group the Campaign For Better Transport presented the largest railway petition New Zealand has seen for decades in a bid to have commuter rail services between Hamilton and Auckland. It was also the largest petition on a local Hamilton and Waikato issue in a decade.

11,500 people signed the petition which is calling on the Government and its agencies, such as NZ Transport Agency and Environment Waikato, to establish the much sought after rail services.

The petition entitled “Waikato Trains NOW!” was presented to Hamilton List MP Sue Moroney by Jon Reeves, the Campaign Manager in front of an audience of over 60 members of the public. One company was so passionate about the benefits of commuter rail for her business and the region she asked all her staff to come to the presentation.

The petition was run by a huge team of Hamilton supporters of commuter rail, so it has now become a huge local issue. Jon Reeves said “the presentation of this well received petition is just the start of our Waikato Trains NOW! campaign. If we do not see any positive results from both Environment Waikato and the Government soon we have other plans to help then realise what the people and businesses of Hamilton and the Waikato want. We certainly have strong public support for the trains and it is time both the regional council and the Government jump on board.

The petition was presented to Hamilton List MP Sue Moroney, who has actively supported the idea of commuter trains between Hamilton and Auckland and would like to see them start this year. We hope that other MPs such as David Bennett and Tim MacIndoe will support the idea and support their constituents.” said Reeves.

Hamilton City Councillor Dave MacPhearson and the Mayor of Hamilton, Bob Simcock, both spoke of their support for the obvious benefits to the city and the region.

The Waikato Trains NOW! campaign is calling for three return services from Hamilton to Downtown Auckland (Britomart Station) via Newmarket. The trains would connect with direct Auckland Airport shuttle buses at Papatoetoe station and would also be the transfer point for visitors of Middlemore Hospital. The services would use Silver Fern railcars which KiwiRail currently has available. They would be refurbished with WiFi for business commuters.

The trains would also help boost Waikato businesses and could be used to showcase local wineries, cheese and chocolate products to commuters and tourists a like. Catering would be Hamilton sourced as well as the need for local staff to man and drive the trains. This is an additional bonus of having Hamilton commuter trains. And as a final touch the CBT want the abandoned Hamilton Central underground station to be reopened to enable business commuters and tourists to travel from downtown Hamilton to downtown Auckland direct and relaxed, without traffic congestion, road accidents or parking problems.

“I would like to thank residents of Hamilton, Ngaruawahia, Huntly and Te Kauwhata for jumping on board and supporting this petition. I would also like to thank all our Waikato team for talking to thousands of people and letting them know who supports commuter rail and who does not”.

This is a great idea for so many reasons, and I can see a service between Auckland and Hamilton being popular for a number of different types of trips. For a start, there are those who live in Hamilton (or nearby towns) and work in Auckland – apparently quite a number of people do that amazingly long trip each day. Then there are those whose work takes them between cities: for business meetings or whatever other reasons – I think this would be a pretty significant number of people, hopefully catered for by a 9am service leaving Auckland heading to Hamilton, which returns from Hamilton to Auckland at around 3.00 – enabling people to conduct their meetings between 11am and 3pm.

The big advantage of being able to make this trip by train is that the time spent in the train can be productive. I see high quality carriages with tables so that people can work away on their laptops, or do a bit of paperwork before meetings. Hopefully the train would have inbuilt WiFi, although over time that might not be so essential as more people have mobile broadband.

And then of course it will be useful for tourists. Considering that a commercially viable train operates between Palmerston North and Wellington – both smaller cities than Hamilton and Auckland respectively – surely one would think in the longer run this would work financially. With 11.500 people signing a petition in support of such a service, one would hope that it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a reality.

Tweaking the Western Line

From Sunday April 11th there are going to be some minor changes to the timetable for the Western Line. These are explained in ARTA’s media release (which I had emailed to me but doesn’t seem to have shown up on either the MAXX website or the ARTA website):

Train timetable tweaked

The Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) announced today the timetable for Western Line train services will change from Sunday 11 April.

ARTA’s General Manager, Customer Services, Mark Lambert says, “Changes to the Western Line timetable are in response to a number of factors. These include the opening of ARTA’s new station at Grafton in April, completion of double tracking between Newmarket and Boston Road stations and a general tightening up of service times. Along with further improvements in service delivery in June on completion of the final section of double tracking between Avondale and New Lynn, these improvements will assist in giving greater resilience to service performance on the western line.

Mr Lambert says, “To assist with our passenger’s journey planning, we have now included an ‘arrival’ and ‘departure’ time in the timetable for Western Line services running through Newmarket. We have included this in response to customer feedback in relation to transfer times to other services at Newmarket. Customers should note most departure and arrival times at Britomart will remain unchanged.

“Most Western Line stations en route will have their times amended by a minute or two, and customers are advised to familiarise themselves with their local station’s new departure times before these changes come into effect.

Mr Lambert said, “Customers should take the time to familiarise themselves with the new timetable which is now available. For more information, or to view the train timetable, visit maxx.co.nz or call maxx on (09) 366 6400.

Looking at the new timetable, which will be operative once Grafton Station opens (just a couple of weeks away now), the main changes seem to relate to Newmarket. The first main change is that all trains now have “arrive at Newmarket” and “depart from Newmarket” times. There’s a 3 minute gap in there, which means that unless a train is already running late, it will always wait at least 3 minutes at Newmarket before continuing on its journey. To me, that seems like an utter cop-out that has been done instead of improving how quick trains get through Newmarket – through means such as having train pilots between Newmarket and Britomart, so the drivers didn’t have to change ends (which was supposedly going to happen, according Veolia and ARTA managers I have talked to).

The second major change is that the evening express train will no longer stop at Newmarket. Once again this seems like a crazily stupid decision to make. I have caught the evening express train a couple of times and TONNES of people get onto it at Newmarket.We’ve just spent tens of millions on this new station and we’re already bypassing it with one of the most popular Western Line services, stupidity. Furthermore, to just add to the confusion the AM peak express train does still stop at Newmarket, so we can expect a lot of annoyance and confusion when the PM peak passes through Newmarket without stopping to pick up the people expecting it.

Now I know that there’s a huge problem around 5.40pm at Newmarket, with about five trains converging on Newmarket at the same time. But surely the best way to fix that is to retime the trains, rather than mess with the PM express service. This seems like yet another decision made on the rail system that will put people off catching the train, and is based more about making life easier for those operating the system rather than those using the system.

Come on ARTA, haven’t you done enough already this year to put people off using the Western Line? Must you make things even worse?

MAXX website still needs to improve

About a month and a half ago ARTA launched a tweaked “MAXX website”, which is the front-door for people wanting to catch public transport in Auckland. It’s where you can find out timetables, updates about what’s happening in the system and also use the journey planner to work out the best way to get where you want to go, and the next bus/train/ferry that’ll take you there. At the time there was a fair amount of criticism levelled at the new site – largely on the basis that it seemed to make things worse, not better.

Many of those issues appear to have been sorted out, but from my efforts this evening of trying to work out when the next bus from my place into town is coming, it still seems like some improvement is necessary. Searching for that ride, here’s the “Option 1” result that I got: So it wants me to catch a bus in the complete wrong direction (one stage) and then catch another bus (two stages) to get into town. Option 2 is to walk it – hardly the best marketing for your public transport system. Option 3 is sensible and probably what I will be doing (if I finish this post quickly enough). I don’t even want to look at what Option 4 is, but somehow it seems to involve three (yes, not one, not two, but three) Link Bus trips.

I would try to illustrate how daft most of these suggestions are on a map, but when I click on the “map” option, this is what I get: Um yes, well that’s helpful. NOT.

Better know your Public Transport provider: DART

What DART? I hear you say. Surely he means Project DART? But no, I am referring to Auckland’s least know public transport provider; Dial A Ride Transport. You may have seen one of these around town:

Dial A Ride Transport was established in 1982 to provide on demand, door to door disability transport services.

They currently operate a fleet of 18 vehicles of various sizes which can cater to various disabilities, carrying passengers in safety and comfort. Vehicles can carry between 5 and 14 people and the drivers are trained in using the specialised equipment.

The system does not operate on a “route” basis but as the name suggests customers call up and book transport at a certain time. The service is in hot demand and it can be hard to make a same day booking. Services are available Monday to Friday from 0730 to 1700.

The service is subsidised by ARTA and I am personally proud to live in a city that believes this is an excellent way to spend rates but seen as how the fixed cost of these assets is high, how about some weekend and evening services ARTA?

The Emperor’s New Car

Clive Matthew-Wilson, famous for putting together the “Dog and Lemon Guide” to cars has done a detailed study  called “The Emperor’s New Car” on the sustainability and environmental friendliness of electric cars. The results are pretty shocking:

Despite their ‘green’ image, electric cars are often less efficient and more polluting than the petrol cars they replace, according to a major report…

Matthew-Wilson, who edits the car buyers’ Dog & Lemon Guide, says:

“The car industry is selling a false image of efficient, environmentally-friendly electric cars powered by ‘green’ energy. In reality, electric cars often aren’t very efficient and aren’t very green.”

The report was highly critical of the iconic Tesla electric sports car, which has become the international symbol of chic, environmentally-responsible motoring.

“The Tesla is actually not very efficient at all. Most of Tesla’s publicity focuses on the efficiency of its electric motor. What they don’t tell you is that its batteries are heavy, inefficient and that Teslas are frequently powered by electricity from highly polluting power stations.”

“Despite what most people believe, a high percentage of the world’s electricity is produced using dirty fuels like coal. This isn’t going to change anytime soon; in fact, the widespread introduction of electric cars will probably increase the world’s reliance on coal in order to keep up with the increased demand for electricity.”

“Claims that electric cars are ‘emissions-free’ are simply a lie; they merely transfer the pollution from the road to the power station. Not only will electric cars not reduce emissions, they may actually increase emissions, because burning coal to make electricity to power an electric car creates more pollution than if you simply powered the same vehicle using petrol.”

“Renewable energy sources may be growing fast, but they’re still a tiny percentage of the world’s electricity supply and they’ll stay that way for the foreseeable future, because renewable energy sources tend to be far more expensive than fossil fuels.”

The report compared the Tesla electric sports car to a petrol-powered Lotus Elise sports car. Because the Tesla is essentially an electric version of the Lotus Elise, it was possible to directly compare the electric and petrol versions of the same vehicle.

“In four of the five countries we surveyed, the Tesla electric car was less efficient and more polluting than its petrol sibling. Only in New Zealand – where the majority of electricity is produced by hydroelectric generation – was the Tesla ‘greener’ than the Elise. However, a New Zealand scientist recently predicted that if the New Zealand car fleet was replaced with electric cars, the country would probably need to build coal power stations to meet the increased demand.”

It certainly is true that New Zealand probably has more potential to gain environmental benefits from electric cars than most overseas countries, but as is hinted at above, in the past 10 years or so we have actually struggled to increase the amount of power generated through hydro and other renewable sources. In fact, the percentage of energy in New Zealand generated by renewables has dropped from around 90% back in the 1980s to less than 70% today I think. Putting a further load on the power grid, from electric cars, would most probably make it very difficult to meet that demand through renewable generation.

In a previous article on the matter, the Dog and Lemon Guide had this to say about electric cars:

It’s incredibly seductive to imagine that you can continue living the dream by switching from one fuel to another and then carrying on business as usual. The fantasy behind electric cars says that it’s going to be possible to continue the Western lifestyle of the twentieth century by changing the form of energy used to power it. That’s a bit like a fat person trying to lose weight by switch- ing from hamburgers to french fries. The basic problem is never addressed.

The argument should never be over electric cars versus petrol cars; it should be over the use of personal cars versus mass transport. Cars are the best form of transport for empty roads and the worst form for busy roads. The entire electric car movement is based around a 1950s American Dream of endless suburbs linked by endless motorways; in the Californian version, the vehicles are powered by electricity, but little else has changed. That’s an unsustainable way of running the planet. Period.

Now I’m not opposed to electric cars. Indeed, in the New Zealand situation if we are able to increase the amount of power we generate from hydro, wind, tides, geothermal and other non-polluting sources, then electric cars could be a very useful way to avoid the worst effects of peak oil, and a useful part of the solution to reduce our transport-sector CO2 emissions. My problem is that we seem to be putting all our eggs in this basket.

Spending $11 billion on motorways over the next decade when oil production is likely to peak within the next few years (if not already) is utter insanity unless you put all your eggs in the electric cars basket. I don’t think that’s a sensible approach, especially now that electric cars seem to be not quite the panacea previously thought.