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Current pressures and trends

This section discusses the national environmental indicator for transport, vehicle kilometres travelled. The section also includes information about vehicle ownership, average engine size, how we travel to work, and international passenger arrivals to and departures from New Zealand.

Vehicle kilometres travelled by vehicle type

On average, New Zealanders drive much further today than in the past. Between 1980 and 2000, total annual vehicle kilometres travelled in New Zealand more than doubled, from 18.52 billion kilometres to 37.33 billion kilometres (see Figure 4.1). In part, this increase reflects the growth in the total number of vehicles on our roads. Kilometres travelled by cars, light commercial vehicles, heavy commercial vehicles, and buses all increased over this period, but kilometres travelled by motorbikes decreased.

As a result of changes in data collection methods in 2001, it is not possible to compare trends in total vehicle kilometres travelled before 2001 with those travelled after 2001. (Figure 4.1 represents this with a broken line.)

Data from 2006 shows that we travelled over 39.2 billion vehicle kilometres in that year. Between 2001 and 2006, the proportional ranking of each vehicle class has remained largely unchanged, with the car still being the largest contributor to kilometres travelled.

Between 2001 and 2005, total vehicle kilometres travelled increased for all vehicle types. In 2006, total vehicle kilometres travelled for all vehicle types decreased slightly from the previous year.

Figure 4.1: Trends in vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) by vehicle type, 1980–2006

 See figure at its full size (including text description).

Vehicle kilometres travelled by vehicle age

On average, the vehicles on our roads are getting older. The age of vehicles has an effect on their fuel efficiency, and on how polluting they are.

In particular, the age of a vehicle indicates its overall efficiency and whether it is likely to have technology to control its exhaust emissions. Older vehicles are more likely to use fuel inefficiently (which increases greenhouse gas emissions), and to emit PM10 particulates and harmful gases that contribute to poor air quality. (See chapter 7, ‘Air’ for further information on the impact of vehicle emissions on air quality.)

The majority of vehicles on New Zealand roads are over 10 years old. This is partly because of the high number of used imports and our ageing fleet. In 2006, more than 61 per cent of New Zealand’s vehicle fleet was over 10 years old. This figure represents a 4 percentage point increase from 2001 when 57 per cent of New Zealand’s vehicle fleet was over 10 years old.

In 2006, the average age of New Zealand’s light vehicles (all private and commercial vehicles under 3.5 tonnes, excluding motorbikes) was 12.4 years. This is an increase from 2000 when the average age was 11.9 years (Ministry of Transport, 2007).

Figure 4.2 provides a snapshot of average vehicle kilometres travelled per vehicle in each age class in 2006, excluding vehicles that do not have to be licensed. The average vehicle kilometres travelled per vehicle decreased as the age of the vehicle increased; that is, we drive our newer vehicles further than we drive our older ones.

Vehicles in the age class 0–4 years, which make up 17 per cent of the fleet (just over 530,000 vehicles), contributed the highest average vehicle kilometres travelled (17,271 kilometres) per vehicle. This is partly because of the rapid turnover of vehicles in business and rental fleets. Vehicles in the age class 20 or more years contributed the lowest average kilometres (6,515 kilometres) of all vehicle classes.

Figure 4.2: Average vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) per vehicle and total number of vehicles in each age class, 2006

 See figure at its full size (including text description).

Vehicle kilometres travelled by fuel type

The vast majority (81 per cent) of vehicles on New Zealand roads are fuelled by petrol; the remaining 19 per cent are fuelled by diesel. As a result, petrol vehicles in New Zealand travel further in terms of total distance than diesel vehicles. In this discussion we exclude the small number of vehicles powered by alternatives such as biofuels and electricity.

In 2006, petrol vehicles in New Zealand travelled just over 29.34 billion kilometres, while diesel vehicles travelled about 9.86 million kilometres (see Figure 4.3). However, on average, each diesel vehicle travels further in a year than each petrol vehicle (15,300 kilometres per vehicle compared with 10,500 kilometres per vehicle).

Petrol vehicles contributed the majority of the kilometres travelled in New Zealand between 2001 and 2006. The share of kilometres travelled by diesel vehicles increased slightly from 22 per cent to 25 per cent of total vehicle kilometres travelled during the same period (probably because the number of diesel vehicles in the fleet increased 39 per cent over that period). The percentage share of diesel vehicles in the fleet, relative to petrol vehicles, also increased from 15 per cent to 18 per cent between 2001 and 2006.

The increase in diesel vehicle kilometres travelled has negative implications for our health. Diesel vehicles have a greater impact on air quality than petrol vehicles, because they produce about 73 per cent of all particulate emissions from transport (Auckland Regional Council, 2006). In addition, they produce more sulphur dioxide emissions than petrol vehicles (see chapter 7, ‘Air’).

Figure 4.3: Vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) by fuel type, 2001–2006

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Vehicle ownership in New Zealand

Since the 1950s, New Zealanders have become increasingly reliant on road transport. Vehicle ownership records in New Zealand show that the number of vehicles per person more than tripled from the 1950s to 2005 (the most recent year for which we have data).

In 2005, New Zealanders owned an average of 0.7 vehicles each, or 70 vehicles per 100 people. As a result, we have the fifth highest rate of vehicle ownership of member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, 2007).

The number of vehicles per person in New Zealand has increased steadily over time since the 1950s, although growth has remained relatively static for brief periods (for example, during the 1990s). (See Figure 4.4.)

Figure 4.4: Vehicle ownership per person in New Zealand, 1950–2005

 See figure at its full size (including text description).

In 1996, the Census of Populations and Dwellings found that 45 per cent of New Zealand households had access to two or more vehicles (Statistics New Zealand, 1996). A decade on, the proportion of New Zealand households with access to two or more vehicles had risen to 54 per cent (Statistics New Zealand, 2006b).

Vehicle and engine size

The number of vehicles in New Zealand is increasing and, at the same time, engine sizes are increasing. In 2006, the average engine size of a vehicle in New Zealand was more than 2.2 litres. This has increased from just over 2 litres in 2000. (See Figure 4.5.)

The size of the engines in the vehicles we drive determines the amount of fuel the vehicles consume – smaller engines generally consume less fuel. Increased overall fuel consumption has an impact on exhaust emissions – an increase in fuel consumption usually results in an increase in greenhouse gas and particulate emissions.

The size of the vehicles we drive usually also determines the engine size – the larger the vehicle, the heavier it is, and the larger the engine required to power it. Recent years have seen a trend in consumers buying larger and heavier vehicles. The popularity of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) is one example of this trend. Registrations of SUVs increased from 26 per cent of the relevant vehicle class in January 2003 to 81 per cent in June 2006 (Land Transport New Zealand, no date).

Figure 4.5: Average engine size of the light vehicle fleet, 2000–2006

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Travelling to work

The way New Zealanders travel to work illustrates our dependence on motorised vehicles and the extent to which we use other means of transport.

Figure 4.6 presents data on how New Zealanders aged 15 years and over engaged in full-time employment travelled to work on census day (7 March) in 2006. On this day, 76 per cent of people travelled to work, as a driver or passenger, by motor vehicle (car, truck, van, motorcycle, or power cycle); 5 per cent travelled by public transport (bus or train); and 9 per cent walked, jogged, or cycled. Of those surveyed, 10 per cent worked from home and did not travel to work.

Figure 4.6: Means of travel to work on census day, 7 March 2006

See figure at its full size (including text description).

More about public transport in New Zealand

Public transport generally provides a lower-cost and more environmentally friendly transport choice than using a private car. It also provides mobility for those who cannot or do not want to drive a car.

Public transport offers benefits to the environment in the form of less air pollution, lower fuel consumption, and less traffic congestion compared with private transport.

Public transport systems in New Zealand tend to be better developed in the main centres (Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin) than in smaller centres. Public transport systems rely on being well used to remain a cost-effective alternative to private vehicles, so they need a large population base. Reliability, convenience, safety, cost, and frequency of public transport services determine how likely people are to use the services.

Public transport use is generally low in New Zealand compared with other modes of transport, but the number of people using public transport is growing. Between 1999 and 2006, the number of people who boarded bus, rail, and ferry services increased 68 per cent in Christchurch, 43 per cent in Auckland, and 23 per cent in Wellington. The number of people who used bus, rail, and ferry services increased across the country by 45 per cent. This increase in public transport replaced an estimated 49 million car trips (Ministry of Economic Development, 2006b).

Investment in public transport has also increased. In the 2006/2007 financial year, the Government committed $301 million to fund public transport and buy back the nation’s rail tracks. The 2006/2007 financial year National Land Transport Programme allocated $136 million to passenger transport community services and almost $160 million to passenger transport infrastructure.

Government funding for passenger transport services increased 16 per cent between the 2005/2006 financial year and the 2006/2007 financial year. In addition, the Government committed $600 million over four years to upgrade the Auckland rail network.

Public transport offers benefits to the environment in the form of less air pollution, lower fuel consumption, and less traffic congestion compared with private transport.

Source: Ministry for the Environment.

International arrivals and departures

New Zealand’s location in the Pacific Ocean means we rely on air and sea transport for imports and exports. Tourism, which contributes to our foreign exchange earnings, also relies heavily on air transport, with a small proportion of tourists arriving by sea.

However, until international jet services were introduced in the 1960s, most people travelled by sea, with two-thirds of all passengers travelling to or from New Zealand by sea in 1950 (Statistics New Zealand, 2006d).

Since the 1960s, the number of international passenger arrivals to and departures from New Zealand by all modes of transport has continued to increase. In 2005, 8.69 million passengers travelled to or departed from New Zealand by sea or air, with the vast majority (8.61 million or 99 per cent) travelling by air. This is an 83 per cent increase from 1995. (See Figure 4.7.)

The rise in international arrivals and departures can be attributed to international travel becoming more affordable and more accessible. In 2005, more than 60,000 flights arrived at and departed from New Zealand’s seven international airports.

Figure 4.7: Total international passenger arrivals to and departures from New Zealand, 1955–2005

 See figure at its full size (including text description).

Local action on sustainable transport

Walking school buses

Walking school buses have been established in communities throughout New Zealand to give children a safe and sustainable way to travel to school and back. Groups of families form a roster to take turns walking the families’ children to school. A walking school bus usually comprises several families, with one parent ‘driving’ up to eight children, either from the ‘driver’s’ house or by ‘picking up’ children on the way to school (Land Transport New Zealand, 2006).

Cycle Safe Christchurch

Cycle Safe Christchurch is a cycle safety education programme targeting year 6 pupils in Christchurch primary schools.

Land Transport New Zealand and the Christchurch City Council fund the programme.

The programme aims to enable children to cycle more safely to and from school by increasing their competency and confidence levels, and to encourage parents to let their children cycle (Christchurch City Council, no date).

‘Park and ride’ bus stations

Poor accessibility to public transport can inhibit people’s use of public transport. To help overcome this, two ‘park and ride’ bus stations have been created in Auckland. People who commute by bus from North Shore City to Auckland City can drive to the ‘park and ride’ bus stations at Constellation and Albany, park their cars, and board an express bus to Auckland City. Parking is free, so people have an incentive to leave their car at the bus stop and take the bus, instead of driving across the Auckland Harbour Bridge and adding to traffic congestion (North Shore City Council, no date).

Walking school buses are a safe and sustainable way to travel to and from school.

Source: Courtesy of Land Transport New Zealand.