Changing behaviours – Transportation Group conference 2021

The 2021 Transportation Group annual conference was held in Auckland from 9-12 May.

Abley have welcomed several recent graduates this year and have a strong interest in “Decarbonising Transport”, which was the theme for this year’s conference. Shendi Mani did a great job of being the conference convenor, and we had Jeanette Ward, Becky Tuke, Benjamin Walch and Jo Draper presenting on various research they have undertaken recently.

As a recent graduate, this was the first conference I (Jae Morse) have attended.  I found it informative as someone just entering the industry and was keen to share my key takeaways. I am really enjoying the culture here at Abley, particularly the themed team dress ups for conference dinners, which I understand is an annual tradition!

This conference highlighted the need to act now, and act accordingly. The Honourable Michael Wood (Minister of Transport) talked about the New Zealand government’s plan to reduce overall CO2 emissions in New Zealand. This plan has a particular focus on transport, as it is the easiest method of reducing emissions. Key themes covered were:

Changing our transport behaviours

Throughout the conference, several themes were heavily discussed. The first of these is the need for a mode shift from personal cars. It is evident that New Zealand is too reliant on personal cars as a means of transport, be it for work, shopping, recreation, and many other uses. Not only are we heavily reliant on the personal car, but the new car market is now dominated by the double cab ute, one of the least environmentally-friendly means of personal transport. In 2020, 5 of the top 10 highest selling new vehicles in New Zealand were utes.

Daisy Narayan (Director of Urbanism for Sustrans – a UK walking and cycling charity) proposes that the most efficient way to encourage a mode shift is by transforming our towns, cities, and neighbourhoods. Making these areas more walking/cycling/ scooter friendly, encourages a higher uptake of these modes. This should not be a case of reacting to a shift in travel patterns, but acting pre-emptively, which will encourage more users to emission reducing modes. This pre-emptive action involves making pedestrian-friendly streets, constructing cycleways, incentivising public transport etc. This in turn will lower the number of personal vehicle trips taken, for both commuting and local trips.

New gadgets

The next most common theme was the need to electrify our fleet in New Zealand. It is very hopeful to assume that if we provide infrastructure for alternative modes it will result in no personal car trips being taken. Throughout the conference, there was discussion on the need for electric vehicles in New Zealand. Michael Wood outlined that the New Zealand vehicle fleet has significantly higher emissions than that of Europe (158 g CO2/km against 112g CO2/km for cars). This electrification already includes many areas of the New Zealand transport network (cars, buses, trucks, etc.). Going forward, we need to find a method to encourage more uptake of electric vehicles, be it more charging stations, subsidies, emissions taxes, or other strategies.

Elizabeth Yeaman (managing director of Retyna, a specialist EV consultancy) discussed the future of EV travel in New Zealand and dispelled many of the myths associated with them. In an entire life cycle analysis of EV’s, they performed better than ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) vehicles in terms of emissions. This disproves the common misconception that the process of construction and disposal of the electric vehicle (in particular the battery) offsets the emission reductions gained by using electricity. The batteries used in EV’s can be recycled into commercial and residential batteries, for renewable energy sources. In the coming years, more EV’s are entering New Zealand for many different purposes. There are plans to trial electric planes and ferries in the coming years. This is an exciting time, and hopefully more of New Zealand will see that EV’s are a significant factor in reducing our carbon emissions and are necessary if we want to meet our targets by 2050.

The time to act is now

Overall, achieving New Zealand’s goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 requires a multi-faceted approach. Simply changing the fleet or encouraging alternative modes is not enough. These two systems need to be implemented in tandem to significantly reduce our transport-based carbon emissions. We do not have long to wait to achieve our climate goals – we must act now. The transport planning and engineering industry are key to this and having these discussions improves the capability of the sector to innovate and problem solve. Climate change is a large hurdle, and the solution is not going to be found overnight. In achieving these goals, we must act equitably. It is not considered progress if we forget about the most vulnerable people in our society. In achieving our climate goals, we must change the way we think, and incorporate a wider societal view in the transport system.

TG conference dress up