Yesterday I was invited to speak on Sustainable Transport, as part of the “Friday forum” which is run by the Sustainability Society. My fellow speakers were David Warburton – CEO of Auckland Transport, and Julie-Anne Genter – transport consultant and (on currently polling) likely to be a Green Party MP after the upcoming election.
A PDF version of my presentation can be found here, while the presentations given by David and Julie should be available online in the not too distant future here. I won’t run through the entire presentation in this post, but rather just touch on some key points that I tried to make about sustainability and transport, and how we might seek to change things in order to make transport more sustainable: economically, socially and environmentally. This is working out how transport fits into the traditional “three overlapping circles” definition of sustainability – which I tried to have a quick go at:
There are obviously many ways we can make transport more sustainable in all three areas, but I chose what I think are three key factors we would want to focus on:
Reducing the adverse environmental impact of transport (construction impacts, impacts of faster traffic on urban quality, ongoing environmental effects like CO2 emissions and so forth).
Reducing what I’ve called “transport poverty” which I think of as situations where people have to pay so much to get around they struggle to pay other bills – or transport is so expensive they can’t effectively participate in society.
Ensuring we have cost-effective investment in transport that thinks long term.
A lot of focus generally goes on environmental matters when we discuss sustainability, but the two slides I think are perhaps most worth sharing relate to the social and economic aspects of sustainability. I don’t quite think we’ve really got our head around the social impact of different transport policy options in the past – you just need to travel around the poorer parts of Auckland and see all the cars to recognise how much income must go into transport out of people who are probably struggling to put food on the table each week. It’s not just petrol prices, but also the cost of owning that second car which is considered so essential. The map below shows an interesting overlay of both PT accessibility and social deprivation – quite nicely highlighting the parts of the city you would probably want to focus on if you were improving public transport for social reasons: I’m not quite sure how “PT access” was defined by ARTA (who put together this map) because I struggle to believe that Papatoetoe and a part of Mangere have vastly better public transport than Bayswater, but putting aside the details the map is overall quite interesting.
In terms of economic sustainability, a key factor I highlighted was the need for us to think long-term in our decision making processes about which projects should be funded. Many projects do have a very quick return, and that’s fine in some circumstances, but I think we need to be aware of whether the way we measure our projects’ benefits locks out long-term thinking. Here’s a graph I have referred to in earlier posts, comparing the cost-benefit analysis of the City Rail Link under the UK and New Zealand systems: Another “economic sustainability” matter that I referred to is ensuring that we focus on changing trends rather than simply proceeding with something because we’ve always thought that it’ll be needed at some stage. The particular project which falls into this category is another harbour crossing, which has historically seemed like something Auckland would always need to do, but when you look more recently has falling traffic volumes, an increased proportion of its users on public transport and may actually suffice for quite a long longer.
With “sustainable” being the crossover of taking social, economic and environmental matters into strong consideration, I wondered whether the key transport target for increasing sustainability is to reduce car dependency:There’s quite a lot more in the full presentation, particularly about Auckland’s transport history, where we sit now and where we may go in the future. Sustainability is a concept that I studied a lot at university and has probably become a highly overused word in helping to justify pretty much anything in recent years. But it is still a valid concept, the question of how we can ensure we don’t take out more than we put back in (to society, the environment and the economy). With transport having such a vast impact on sustainability, I think it is essential that we do develop a better understanding of this issue. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but it’s an issue which probably needs a lot more discussion.
Here he is giving a speech about how he believes in many respects the economies and environments of first world nations could be enhanced by Peak Oil. It is quite interesting as it is a very different take from the majority of doomsday rhetoric you hear about Peak Oil, I’m quite inclined to agree with most of what he says to a certain extent, he does seem to view the transition as a neutral or even positive event. If correct, it will mean a radical change to many parts of Auckland and Auckland will have to accommodate industries we thought gone forever such as large manufacturing and repair sectors.
While the video is 45 minutes long, the speech is just over 30 minutes, with 15 minutes of questions (during which he talks about the growing importance of transit) and well worth a watch.
Earlier this week I did a post about how the US is moving forward in their thinking regarding the place of roads in the hierarchy of their cities and the greater realisation of the link between a car dominated city and lower liveability. In this post I want to cover off another subtle change in the US, the surge of construction of transit in the US. Many people think that under the Bush presidency that anything non-SUV was suppressed but given the three tiers of government in the US more progressive states, councils and politicians have still managed to plan and build some transit systems and now Obama and his stimulus money have come along, many more of these plans will become a reality, the following list of projects are under construction or have been designed, funded and have starting dates:
Now I have to say I actually find this very disturbing for the future of NZ’s economy, the US rail network already works much better than ours carrying 40% of freight and they are starting to get it about what they call “transit”, PT to us. We know Europe is the rail, and to a lesser extent PT, capital of the world and the Aussies (who already have a much more extensive rail and PT networks than us) are planning on spending $60 – $80 billion on just their rail network to 2025, we are very vulnerable.
Turn to Asia and Japan has extensive rail and China is building a nation wide HSR rail system and the world’s largest Metro in Beijing (to be closely followed by Shanghai), Hong Kong and Singapore have good systems.
So what does it add up to? Well a world that is moving away from car based solutions, who realise that we cannot hope (and pray) that alternatively fueled cars can solve all our problems. Exactly what NZ is doing.
This really worrying when we consider NZers drives imported cars using imported oil, we are a small oil market at the end of a long logistical train, so if peak oil hits and hits hard what kind of oil market do you think is going to be the first to go? Add in climate change which is following the worst predicted IPCC trends and carbon is going to get very expensive, when the world starts freaking out, how are we going to get around? How are we going to pay the carbon cost to move goods around to power our economy?
One of the best things about this blog becoming more and more widely read is that I am increasingly having people email me interesting links to transport research or transport-related events happening around Auckland. I also seem to have ended up on ARTA’s emailing list for all media releases these days (perhaps I am now an important stakeholder?) This is really great, as I am provided with so much more information than I could possibly ever discover myself, and by reading the various links that I am sent I find myself becoming more and more educated. So keep it coming!
Today, I got sent a link to a study on the relationship between highway widening and CO2 emissions. It is based on American data, but generally the conclusions found could be easily applied to Auckland. Overall, the study finds that widening highways and building more roads will lead to more CO2 emissions, rather than less – which is often the reason given by road-builders to promote their projects. Even in Auckland, if you look at the (dodgy) cost-benefit analysis of the Waterview Connection, $4.3 million of benefits have been allocated to “carbon dioxide”, which one must assume means that it is anticipated that building the motorway will reduce CO2 emissions. The study suggests that might be a misguided conclusion:
Road-building proponents often suggest that adding lanes to a highway will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By easing congestion, they argue, new lanes will reduce the amount of fuel that vehicles waste in stop-and-go traffic, leading to lower releases of climate-warming gases from cars and trucks.
Over the short term—perhaps 5 to 10 years after new lanes are opened to traffic—this argument may hold some slim merit. But considering the increased emissions from highway construction and additional vehicle travel, adding one mile of new highway lane will increase CO2 emissions by more than 100,000 tons over 50 years.
This is just another example of ‘induced demand’ being ignored by transport planners it seems. Yes, a less congested road will mean that vehicles driving along it emit less CO2 per vehicle per kilometre. The problem is that by building a ‘better road’ you are encouraging more vehicles to use it, and for each vehicle that uses it to drive further. Quite soon that ‘per vehicle per km’ saving is likely to get swamped by the induced demand, and in the end we find out that the roads we built at least partly on the assumption that they’d lead to lower CO2 emissions, have actually done the opposite. The image below shows how this happens over time:
One thing that seems to often be ignored in the calculation of CO2 emissions of a proposal are the resource that are used to build the thing in the first place. This study calculated that building one mile of roadway (at the width of a lane) would release between 1,400 and 2,300 tonnes of CO2, while its maintenance and renewal over time would lead to a further 3,100 – 5,200 tonnes of CO2 over the course of 50 years. Sightline (who did the study) conservatively estimated that constructing and maintaining a mile of roadway would emit around 3,500 tonnes of CO2 over the course of 50 years.
Now obviously there are some benefits to CO2 emissions from reducing congestion – the benefits that we see picked up in the Waterview Connection study and the benefits picked up in many other international cost-benefit analyses I imagine. Putting aside induced demand for a moment, traffic which flows more freely will emit less CO2 per kilometre as the vehicles will not have to slow down, then speed up, then slow down, then speed up again. The more consistent running of the engine leads to better fuel efficiency per kilometre travelled for a vehicle, so therefore emissions are reduced. However, the study also indicated that once you start to consider induced demand, these benefits disappear fairly quickly. The study indicated that a mile of roadway would probably reduce CO2 emissions by around 7,000 tonnes over the course of 50 years (although once again that ignores induced demand for now).
Things become more interesting when we stop ignoring induced demand actually. Interestingly, the study examines two different types of induced demand – ‘on-highway’ and ‘off-highway’. Looking first at ‘on-highway’ induced demand, the study states the following:
It is well documented that highway expansion can result in an increase in the number of vehicle trips on a roadway, particularly in congested urban areas. Indeed, accommodating additional trips is typically the point of adding new lanes to a highway. Still, the speed at which additional traffic floods new lanes often comes as a surprise. One recent California study estimated that more than roughly 90 percent of new lane capacity in congested urban areas is filled within five years after a project is completed. Other studies have found similar “induced traffic” effects from adding lanes to congested roads.
Even assuming that vehicle fuel efficiency improves by 2.5% a year (which the study says is optimistic, considering that fuel efficiency in the USA has stagnated for decades due to their SUV craze), the new vehicle travel encouraged by the wider (or new) highway will result in 83,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions over the course of 50 years per mile of additional highway lane.
The final measure of induced demand is seen as ‘off-highway’ or ‘indirect new traffic’, and is very difficult to measure as it relates to the additional travel people are likely to make on parts of the road network other than the highway in question, because the construction of the highway has led to more dispersed land-use patterns. While Auckland’s MUL mitigates this situation to some extent for now, in the future who knows what’s going to happen – and it certainly seems like projects such as the Puhoi-Wellsford motorway are being specifically planned to allow Auckland to sprawl further to the north in the future. The potential effects of these changes to land-use patterns are detailed below:
Adding lanes—particularly on roads leading to low-density suburbs and undeveloped land on the urban fringe—tends to accelerate low-density sprawling development. Many studies have linked lower-density land use patterns with increased driving. In a sprawling suburb, virtually every trip must be taken by car, and everyday trips can require many miles of travel. In contrast, residents of more compact suburbs and urban neighborhoods typically drive less, and can walk or use transit for many trips, which reduces the carbon emissions from their daily transportation. Accordingly, low-density development is associated with increased vehicle fuel consumption.
Sightline estimates that if as little as one-tenth of new highway trips represent a net shift to lower-density land use patterns (i.e., new sprawling suburban development with modestly higher per-household driving than in compact suburbs), then greenhouse gas emissions from additional off-facility driving could rival or exceed the increases from driving on the facility itself.
All this induced demand means that the final figures are actually kind of scary, in terms of the significant effect they could have on the cost-benefit analysis of a project. Here’s a table showing the ‘final results’ of Sightline’s study:
To put this in a bit of context, let’s look at what effect this could have on the cost-benefit analysis of the Waterview Connection. I’ll take a total of 150,000 tonnes as a midpoint per mile, take the Waterview Connection as about 2.8 miles (4.5 km) long, and have it as a six lane highway. This would mean a “total lane miles” of 16.8. Multiply that out by 150,000 tonnes/mile and we can see that the Waterview Connection would result in an additional 2.52 million tonnes of CO2 being emitted over the next 50 years. At a cost of $100 a tonne (a reasonably likely medium-term level), that’s $252 million in costs that are just being ignored by the current analysis over 50 years. Hardly a $4.3 million benefit is it?
Joel Cayford is on the Auckland Regional Council, and keeps a most excellent blog where he comments on planning, transport and other matters quite regularly, and in good detail too. A post that he made a week or so ago included a table that really caught my eye:
London’s population in 2006 was just over six times Auckland’s population, and yet their transport emissions were below twice of ours. On a per-capita basis, your average Aucklander emitted (from transport) over three times as much CO2 as your average Londoner. Furthermore, transport emissions made up nearly half our our ‘carbon footprint’, while in London they are less than a quarter.
You don’t have to be a genius to work out that it’s our car dependency that has created this difference. In London people have a wide variety of transport options – and even if their Underground rail system is powered by coal power plants, the inherent efficiency of public transport clearly shines through. Obviously, London also has significantly different land-use patterns to Auckland – with higher densities and more mixed-use developments meaning that people don’t have to travel so far in their cars to undertake their daily activities. Over time Auckland is slowly shifting towards these kinds of land-use patterns, although the evolution is happening at a snail’s pace and even then our transport system isn’t really keeping up.
In the future, with an emissions trading scheme in place both here and internationally, there is going to be a direct cost to Auckland from this situation. If the price on emitting a tonne of CO2 in the future reaches something like $100 – that cost would be about $500 million a year – just from transport.
Just another reason to be worried about our car-dependency.
It seems timely to talk a bit about carbon dioxide emissions, as the government is currently undertaking consultation on what New Zealand’s 2020 target should be in terms of reducing our CO2 emissions when compared to 1990 levels. There has been a big push for a dramatic 40% reduction target, as that is what is considered necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change, although it is likely the government is going to end up on something a bit more modest. While having a more modest target would be a disappointment, I think in some ways a more critical question is “how are we going to achieve any reduction?”
Since 1990 New Zealand’s gross CO2 emissions (that is, everything we pump out) have increased quite significantly. However, due to a lot of tree planting in the 1990s our net emissions (gross emissions minus the amount of CO2 trees can suck out of the atmosphere) is about level. However, to actually decrease our net emissions by anything substantial in the longer-term, it will be necessary to reduce our gross emissions. And this is where things get tricky. New Zealand’s CO2 emissions largely come from three sources: agriculture, power generation and transport. It is notoriously difficult to reduce CO2 emissions from agriculture without reducing food production – certainly something we wouldn’t want in a world with a growing population. Steps will have to be taken to find ways to reduce agricultural emissions, but they are a while away yet. Regarding power generation, while we can certainly do more to reduce these emissions by investing in renewable energy generation and taking pressure off our backup coal and gas stations, we actually do pretty well when comparing with other countries internationally. This means that our ability to significantly reduce emissions from power generation are somewhat limited (as already 70% or so of our electricity is renewably generated).
Which leaves transport. Over the past 18 years emissions from transport have gone horribly in the wrong direction. According to the Ministry of Economic Development:
“Emissions from national transport continue to account for the largest share of total energy emissions. National transport emissions have grown by 64% since 1990 at an average growth rate of 2.8% per annum, although this has slowed in recent years. Emissions from road transport account for the largest share of national transport emissions at 90%. This represents 38% of the total energy carbon dioxide equivalent emissions for New Zealand.”
So transport is a significant problem. But short of completely overhauling our entire transport system, what can we actually do about this? Well, trends in the last year provide some interesting insights into that:
Road transport emissions, however, dropped in 2008 for the first time since the energy greenhouse gas emissions series began. This is likely to be due to high petrol and diesel prices in 2008 and the beginning of the global recession.
While obviously we don’t want to encourage recessions as ways in which to reduce transport-sector CO2 emissions, the telling aspect is that to reduce our emissions we need to get cars off the road, and that pricing (in the form of higher fuel prices) is a way in which to achieve this. Now obviously it would be enormously unfair to simply price people off the road without providing them with alternatives – which is why it is so essential for public transport to be heavily invested in over the next few years in particular. We will end up with some sort of emissions trading scheme to provide incentives to reduce our emissions and encourage planting forestry. This scheme will add to the price of petrol, potentially quite significantly in the longer term. Therefore, we need to provide people with effective alternatives to driving so that we can reduce our transport sector emissions without having enormous social inequity outcomes of people simply not being able to afford to undertake their daily activities.
Of course this goes against absolutely everything Steven Joyce has said about transport since he became the Minister. I wonder if he ever does talk to Nick Smith, the Minister for Climate Change Issues?
One particularly interesting aspect of the transport sector emissions is the significant contribution that diesel makes – even though the number of petrol cars on the road is hugely greater than the number of trucks. This is evident in the picture below:
Just one more reason to focus on shifting freight to rail, which is far more efficient, rather than allowing even bigger trucks on our roads.
It was an interesting day in parliament yesterday, with the Green Party dominating the member’s day to such an extent that the only bills that were actually debated were from the Green Party. One of those bills was the Climate Change (Transport Funding) Bill, put forward by Jeanette Fitzsimons. This bill was originally drafted in 2005, and I imagine it was designed to put some pressure on the then Labour government to “put its money where its mouth is” – or more specifically, to match up its transport funding priorities with the grand plans it was spouting about New Zealand becoming a world leader in terms of climate change response. To read Jeanette Fitzsimons’ superb speech promoting the bill, click here.
The purpose of the bill is outlined below:
The purposes of this bill are to alter the funding priorities of the National Land Transport Fund over time so that, after five years, funds are allocated mainly to travel demand management and infrastructure and services supporting transport modes other than the private motor vehicle.
Effectively, to get our transport funding in line with most of the rest of the world’s and support a shift to funding transport modes other than the private car. The most important section of the Bill is shown below:
The proportion of the national land transport fund to be spent on activities within the activity classes specified in subsection (6) shall be not less than—“(a) 20% in the first year after this Act comes into force; and
“(b) 35% in the second year after this Act comes into force; and
“(c) 50% in the third year after this Act comes into force; and
“(d) 60% in the fourth year after this Act comes into force; and
“(e) 67% after the fifth year after this Act comes into force.”
Now of course this is exactly the opposite direction to where the government has taken transportation funding over the past few months. By taking money away from basically everything except building state highways, the government has embarked upon a process of almost flabbergasting stupidity and taken our transport funding priorities right back to the 1960s.
Regarding my opinion of the actual bill, of course at a fundamental level I love it. It is exactly what New Zealand needs in order to wean ourselves off our addiction to oil and to do something about CO2 emissions from transport – which are among the fastest growing of any sector. However, I must say that even to me this bill seems quite extreme. Such a significant change to the way transport projects are funded, over such a short time period could lead to projects being half completed or important “stage two” projects not having enough funding. Furthermore, there are legitimate concerns that funding would not be available for road maintenance. If I were to suggest a couple of changes, it would be for the bill to have excluded road maintenance and public transport operational costs (subsidies) from the changes, as you simply cannot abandon the maintenance or operational costs ofinfrastructure you have already built. So therefore the changes outlined above would have only applied to new infrastructure. Furthermore, I would have suggested that the timeframe be extended a bit, so that the change happened over a 10 year period instead of a five year period.
With those two changes this Bill could have been a fantastic step towards a more sustainable transport future. Unfortunately, it was voted down without even going to a Select Committee where these changes could have been made. A very frustrating, if expected, outcome.