29 Apr 2019

Our reliance on cars is hurting us and our environment, report says

10:04 pm on 29 April 2019

The way New Zealanders travel is hurting us and our environment, a report urging the reduction of car use says.

Afternoon rush hour traffic out of central Auckland.

A new report calls for local and central government to encourage walking and cycling rather than driving. Photo: 123rf.com

Released on Monday, Turning the Tide - from Cars to Active Transport calls for local and central government to set targets for travel on foot, bike and public transport in order to reduce reliance on cars.

The report highlights environmental damage - emissions from road transport make up 17.9 percent of New Zealand's gross greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Ministry for the Environment.

But it also said: "The negative effects of motorised transport on our physical health is the least discussed but perhaps the most pervasive. Specifically, our automobility-focused land use pattern and transport network means that New Zealanders on average walk for transport less than 10 minutes per day."

The Ministry of Transport's 2018 Household Travel Survey shows 83 percent of travel time is spent in cars.

"More than half of people's time spent travelling is as a driver in a private car/van (58 percent). A quarter (25 percent) is as a car/van passenger, followed by walking (10 percent). Public transport is just 4.2 percent of total time spent travelling, cycling 1.5 percent and motorcycling 0.2 percent of total travel time," the MOT said.

Lead author, Associate Professor Sandra Mandic from the University of Otago said: "A lot of transport policy [has] a lot of discussion of the environment and the effect on the environment but really, the effects on health are considerable."

She said transport was an easy way for people to integrate exercise into their lives.

"This is one way in which people can be active without having to plan for it."

The report effectively said active transport would kill two birds with one stone.

Getting more people to cycle, walk and use wheelchairs would reduce carbon emissions and improve health.

The report's authors made three main recommendations:

  • Double the proportion of walking trips to 25 percent of all trips by 2050
  • Double the proportion of cycling trips each decade so that 15 percent of trips are by bicycle by 2050
  • Double the proportion of trips by public transport each decade so that 15 percent of all trips are by public transport by 2050

They also called for promotion and education to persuade people to walk or cycle.

Prof Mandic said: "The recommendations are ... basically showing that no single intervention will achieve the changes that we need. We set out four priority areas in which we need action."

Fellow lead author, consultant Andrew Jackson, said all four recommendations needed to be in place achieve change.

"It's a starting place. You can't just have targets … but having targets means the level of ambition matches those targets."

"There's different things in this. There are four areas we are recommending they need to take action on. The government is taking some action on all of them [but] the thing I'm not convinced about is the scale of change that will be commensurate with what's needed...

"The real question comes down to the politicians of 'you know it's good but are you going to bite the bullet rather than just nibble it?'."

The biggest roadblock was getting people to accept they had to change, Mr Jackson said.

"The biggest challenge is getting society to tell government 'We're up for this' ... Plastic bags were a wonderful example. If you could get a shift like that, we would see the change."

The study didn't look at the potential cost of achieving its recommendations.

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