2 Jul 2015

Forget owning a car, says transport chief

8:24 pm on 2 July 2015

The country's top transport official and owner of almost half a dozen cars says it will not make any sense to own one in 30 years' time.

Ministry of Transport CEO and Secretary of Transport Martin Matthews.

Ministry of Transport CEO and Secretary of Transport Martin Matthews Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

As he opened a summit on so-called intelligent transport systems in Auckland, Ministry of Transport CEO Martin Matthews also said rail may not be the best way to carry big freight in future.

New Zealand had 2,488,008 licensed cars and vans on its roads at the last count three months ago.

However Mr Matthews, who is also Secretary of Transport, said in three decades there will be little point in people owning such vehicles.

"I have to say as a self-confessed petrol head and the owner of five vehicles, the concept of not owning a vehicle is pretty hard for me to swallow.

"But for my grandchildren, I'm sure it won't be so difficult for them to imagine," he said.

Mr Matthews told the transport summit he foresees major changes in how people travel, envisioning a future "more tailored to individual needs" and with "more choice".

"You'll no longer need to look to see when a bus, train or taxi will be available because there probably won't be any bus stops or bus timetables, in fact there'll be no parking as well.

"You'll probably no longer need to worry about cleaning out the garage to get the car in because you probably won't own a car.

"It simply won't make any sense anymore for you to own your own vehicle," Mr Matthews told the internationally-attended summit.

Driverless cars on the way

Intelligent transport systems already feature in people's lives in the likes of real-time bus information signs and on-ramp signals.

The summit launched a new international collaboration effort to look at transport safety and sustainability.

A key task is to help form common international standards.

The vice president of Intelligent Transport Systems in New Zealand, Stephen Hewett, said technologies would keep developing toward a driverless society.

"You're seeing that now around the world where there's a car parked on the side of the road - it's not owned by you but you can actually rent it and deliver it back to the same spot.

"So you'll see more and more of that... and that will drive itself," he said.

Container ship, Napier.

Photo: 123RF

More work on freight needed

Mr Matthews said the freight industry will only continue to grow and transport systems will need to change to respond to demand.

Mr Matthews said large cargo ships will pose significant challenges for New Zealand because it will be costly to get freight to ports that can accommodate them.

He said there needed to be a drive toward significant improvements in the productivity and efficiency of freight supply chains, and he believed freight vehicles would be self-driving.

"These modern road trains will be more flexible, more responsive to market and consumer demands than any of our current train systems can ever be... The rail network outside of Auckland and Wellington, which is shared with commuter services, already effectively provides a separated freight corridor."

Mr Matthews said these corridors could be transformed into high-speed freight networks.

"Rail may not be the technology of choice in the future for New Zealand... I imagine the space the corridors currently occupy being allocated for a different way of use.

"Imagine platoon trucks not guided by rails, but by a system that allows them to operate safely on narrow concrete pads through these dedicated freight corridors."

Rail may not be the technology of choice in the future for New Zealand

A consultant attending the summit from the United Kingdom, Bob Williams, was supportive of Mr Matthews' views.

"I think his presentation was very perceptive, very forward-looking and I wish my own transport ministry was as forward-looking as he is.

Dr Williams said technology for trucks to closely follow each other already exists, but there were some problems with how this was received.

"Platooning of trucks has been tested, successfully tested quite a few times - it works - technology is not a real problem.

"The problem is acceptability and the problem is liability - acceptability because car drivers don't want to be associated with large trains of trucks where the person doesn't appear be in control."

Intelligent Transport Systems and the Transport Ministry said they were already making preparations for driverless cars on New Zealand roads.