Moving Faster: on the road to decarbonised transport

In this second ‘moving faster’ blog, thinkstep-anz Technical Director Jeff Vickers argues for quick changes in New Zealand’s transport. Carpooling, public transport and electric vehicles – hop in.

Imagine if we could slash New Zealand’s carbon emissions from transport overnight. And what if the solution already existed, didn’t require new infrastructure, and allowed you to make new friends? Public transport and carpooling – sharing rides with those going to the same or nearby destinations – is a simple way to reduce our emissions (see Creating a positive drive – Decarbonisation of New Zealand’s transport sector by 2050).

Alongside changes in our transport behaviour, technology will change over time. Consumers and the transport industry are expected to switch to vehicles powered by electricity, biofuels and/or hydrogen fuel cells. These two sets of changes (technology and behaviour) are multipliers rather than being at odds, meaning that when pursued together, they increase the rate and scale of change. Together they can reduce our transport emissions by up to 90%.

Driving rapid climate action

Our previous blog talked about renewable energy powering a low-carbon future. These suggestions will have significant positive changes but could take decades to achieve. The clean electric future can power our electric cars and produce low-emission hydrogen, but we can make an immediate and profound change with public transport (PT) and carpooling.

Driving behaviour change: carpooling, public transport and transit lanes

The government can show they’re serious about climate change by getting serious about carpooling and PT. Public transport fares could be slashed or made free. In urban areas, all existing multi-lane roads could be converted to T3 lanes during peak hours. T3 vehicles – those carrying three or more people – would have their own lane to glide past their backed-up single-occupier counterparts.

This new set-up would require changes in driver behaviour, which would be reinforced through strict enforcement. This carrot and stick approach – an easy ride, or penalty for being in the wrong lane – will help get us on track. Central and local government have the power to make these changes very quickly.

Driving connections and communities

How can people navigate this change? As part of an information campaign, the government could partner with apps or community networks. Apps like Waze and Thumbs Up connect people needing to get around. Carpool ‘hubs’ could be arranged. You’ll get to know your neighbours or colleagues and understand what’s happening in the neighbourhood. And you’ll either be helping someone get where they’re going, or enjoy not having to drive. All of this supports the UN Sustainable Development Goals and improves social and community wellbeing.

Every time someone takes PT, bikes, walks or carpools, it’s one less car on the road.

Driving down congestion and using existing roads – better

As our roads have been car-focused for decades, the great news is that the infrastructure to allow these mode shifts already exists. On a large scale, carpooling and PT works through transit channels. Many people are going the same way, from suburbs to an industrial or business district, from a community to a school. The roads already exist – we’d just be changing the nature of their use.

Though this infrastructure already exists, there is often a push for new roads to be built. This is generally in response to traffic congestion. By removing cars (through combining trips), it’s likely that our existing roads will be up to the job, avoiding the need for hugely expensive and disruptive road construction. Fewer cars making use of our existing roads would be a more pleasant experience for all users.

How employers can get on board

As an employer, could you be part of this solution? Many of your employees probably drive to and from the same work site. Pushing for carpooling can give you some real wins. Companies like Wellington start-up Hitch can help make these connections happen. It’s an easy way to lower your Scope 3 emissions as your employees’ commuting carbon footprints will be combined into fewer trips. It’s also a good way to build community. Staff who live in similar areas can get to know one another socially, which may also lead to ‘water cooler moments’ with ideas being approached in different ways.

While government can make carpooling and PT attractive, business can offer perks to make it irresistible. Some companies give money to staff who bike, walk, take PT or carpool. Large companies could give the best parking spots to those who carpool. They could also get some competition going – the team with the most carpool or PT trips each month gets a pizza.

Reducing carbon emissions and traffic congestion? Amazing. That plus a fun and easy place to work? Now there are some good sustainability moves!

A journey to fewer cars?

Making these changes can have an immediate effect on our carbon emissions. If we stick with a culture of carpooling and PT use as electric vehicles become the norm, it’s a double win. While EVs are great in terms of emissions, if they’re each just occupied by a single person, we’ll still have traffic congestion and the perceived need to build new roads, carparking and associated infrastructure.

The New Zealand Emissions Reduction Plan has a pilot programme to give lower income families rebates to trade their old petrol car for a low- or zero-emissions vehicle. This is a good incentive. Imagine, though, a future where people could swap their electric car for a bike, a reliable carpooling network, or short-term electric vehicle rentals. This would free up roads further for those who truly need them.

Changing gear

Is New Zealand ready to change gear? Carpooling and public transport can immediately reduce our carbon emissions, free up the roads, and enhance communities – all without building new roads. It would be a major shift in how New Zealanders travel, but this kind of change is becoming less of an option – and more of a requirement – as the climate changes. Let’s get it on the road.


Next – building on change and decarbonising the building sector

Previous – massively increasing renewable energy

June 2022