Emissions reduction: Being open to change

Before taking up the role of transportation intern at Abley this summer, I had previously been exposed to Aotearoa’s first emissions reduction plan (June 2022), through my University coursework.

During the course, we focused on the Ministry of Transport’s (MoT) future plans surrounding embodied (indirect) carbon emissions within Christchurch’s transportation network sector. However, the operational (direct) carbon emissions of our roading network, have become more of interest to me recently.

carbon emissions

One of the key targets in reaching the overall emissions reductions that are sought, is to reduce the total vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) of the light fleet by 20% by 2035 (compared to 2019 levels). The plan indicates that it will require the collaboration and cooperation of the government and local councils, to find ways of reaching this goal, that will be specific to each region. This goal will not be evenly distributed throughout Aotearoa. For example in Auckland, there is more urgency to accelerate mode shift due to intensifying land use throughout new public transport nodes (Auckland Transport Emissions Reduction Pathway (TERP)). One fundamental avenue to reach this goal is “mode shift”. This means swapping out high-emissions trips for trips using low and no-emissions modes of transport.  

The urgent need for people in Aotearoa to change how they travel to meet the emissions reduction plan goals has led me to thinking about and actually making changes to how I personally travel. The summer weather, passion for cycling at Abley, and the fact that 90% of my home to work commute runs through Hagley park, has made this mode shift to cycling a very easy transition. Since introducing it as part of my daily routine, cycling has also replaced supermarket trips that I would usually do by car. For me, it has been the initiation of this commuting habit that has unlocked the motivation to consider cycling in other areas of my daily life. Albeit I acknowledge that not all people are surrounded by these positive external influences, and also wonder how well this habit will stick when winter comes along, and University days become long.  

Following these thoughts, I spoke to my Abley colleagues Christina Lucas and Georgia van Vuuren, who have recently been working on a mode-shift commuter tool trial. The initial results found that while participants noted that they had been thinking about changing their mode of travel, they hadn’t found the motivation to change. Closely following the start-to-finish attitudes of the trial participants, it was identified that it is a combination of cost, convenience, and the environment that motivate people to swap to more sustainable modes of transport.  

commute biking

As I think ahead to my future career in transportation, I wonder what will have been implemented by 2035, to support the cost, convenience, and environmental motivational facets of transportation planning to lower VKT. Could it be that more Road User Charges (RUC’s) be directed at not only diesel-powered vehicles, but also for any vehicle on NZ roads? Potentially a financial incentive to choose sustainable alternate modes of transport, would decrease the amount of traffic on NZ roads, leading to safer spaces for our sustainable modes.

To improve safety and convenience, will we see more cycle lanes pop up, replacing multi-lane urban roads? And I wonder if there will be more separated cycleways, making these routes more attractive for mode-shift-curious road users. Green spaces could add more vibrancy to urban areas and replace impermeable asphalt surfaces city streets currently have. With the evident intensifying risks of climate change seen from recent flooding, increasing green spaces (vegetation discretisation points) on our roads, could mitigate these flooding effects on our infrastructure and people. 

In terms of road-user confidence, perhaps a user-friendly app such as the “Safety Footprint” tool which I have been assisting our road safety team with, will be adopted and promoted by road controlling authorities? This tool is intended to be much like Google Maps on road user’s phones. A tool like this could provide road users with the confidence to give mode shift a proper go. 

Also of interest is the land-use planning possibilities in the transport space. I’m curious to see how the goals of the emissions reduction plan will be applied at regional levels, now that the national goals have been set. I am particularly interested to see how Christchurch’s transportation network will transform over the next 10 years. I know I’ll personally be much more open to sustainable modes of transport as I consider my travel needs, now and in the future.

Taylor Binnie

Taylor Binnie joined Abley as a Summer Intern, in the Safe System team. 

Read more from Taylor:

My first two weeks as a Summer Intern at Abley

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