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New Zealanders value their mobility. We rely on transport to access a range of work, educational, social, and recreational activities. Transport also underpins New Zealand’s economic prosperity by enabling the movement of people and goods, and by connecting New Zealand to international markets.

New Zealand has a well-developed transport system. It comprises nearly 91,000 kilometres of roads and highways, 4,000 kilometres of railway tracks, 13 major commercial seaports, 7 international airports, and several smaller provincial airports.

Road transport – the central element of our transport system

New Zealand roads carry over 39 billion vehicle kilometres of traffic every year. Road transport is the central element of New Zealand’s transport system, reflecting our small pockets of population, comparatively large land area, and high rates of vehicle ownership. This chapter therefore focuses primarily on road transport.

New Zealand has no vehicle manufacturing industry, so all our vehicles are imported, which makes us a ‘technology taker’ with respect to our vehicle fleet. Being a ‘technology taker’ means our vehicle fleet is greatly influenced by technological developments and standards in other countries. In 2005, 230,000 cars were imported, of which 152,000 (66 per cent) were used cars previously registered overseas and 78,000 (34 per cent) were new cars (Land Transport New Zealand, 2007).

Rail, sea, and air transport

Although New Zealanders rely mainly on motor vehicles to move from place to place, rail is used for freight and some passenger transport between towns and cities and within larger cities. New Zealand has a national rail network of about 4,000 kilometres, with comparatively well-developed urban networks in Wellington and Auckland.

Shipping is essential for transporting New Zealand’s export goods to overseas markets. In the year ended 30 June 2006, 21.7 million tonnes of export cargo, valued at $27,814 million, left from New Zealand’s seaports. The amount of cargo transported by sea equates to 99.5 per cent of total export cargo by weight and 84.3 per cent of total export cargo by value (Statistics New Zealand, 2006c).

Maritime transport is also responsible for a small number of passenger arrivals and departures. However, most passengers travel to and from New Zealand by air, with more than 8.61 million passengers travelling to and from New Zealand by plane in 2005.

Impacts of transport on the environment and human health

Road, rail, shipping, and air transport all have an impact on the environment, including noise, wastes such as end-of-life vehicles and used oil and tyres (see chapter 6, ‘Waste’), and contaminated run-off from roads to freshwater and marine ecosystems (see chapter 10, ‘Freshwater’ and chapter 11, ‘Oceans’).

Transport accounts for 86 per cent of New Zealand’s total oil consumption, with road transport making up 89 per cent of that amount. As a result, 18 per cent of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions come from transport, mostly from road transport (see chapter 8, ‘Atmosphere’).

Motorised transport can also affect human health. The combustion of fossil fuels produces fine airborne emissions (called particulates), which can damage people’s health if they penetrate the lungs. The ill-health effects of transport pollution include irritated eyes, throat, and lungs. For people with respiratory conditions, such as asthma or bronchitis, breathing in particulates can make the conditions worse. (See chapter 7, ‘Air’ for further information on the impacts on health of vehicle emissions.)

Particulates from transport are primarily produced by diesel vehicles, especially older diesel vehicles that have not been well maintained.

Walking and cycling are among the most sustainable forms of transport. They also have benefits for our health and fitness, allowing us to build exercise into our daily routine.

Cycling is a sustainable mode of transport with benefits for health and fitness

Source: Ministry for the Environment.

Government action on transport

New Zealand Transport Strategy

The New Zealand Transport Strategy is the Government’s strategic framework for achieving the vision that ‘by 2010 New Zealand will have an affordable, integrated, safe, responsive, and sustainable transport system’ (Minister of Transport, 2002).

National Walking and Cycling Strategy

In February 2005, the Government launched a national strategy to encourage walking and cycling, Getting There – On Foot, By Cycle (Minister of Transport, 2005). Funding for walking and cycling initiatives was also boosted at this time by $1.15 million.

Mandatory Vehicle Fuel Economy Labelling

In 2007, a Mandatory Vehicle Fuel Economy Labelling Scheme was approved for both new and used vehicles. The labelling scheme will apply at the point of sale for later model vehicles for which fuel economy information is available.

The label will have a comparative ‘star-rating’ similar to the energy efficiency label seen on whiteware appliances, allowing buyers to compare fuel economy ratings across vehicles. The label will also show the annual fuel cost for a typical driver. The labelling scheme will help increase the level of information to consumers regarding fuel economy and encourage the purchase of more fuel efficient vehicles. (Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, 2007)

Biofuels Sales Obligation

The Government has announced a Biofuels Sales Obligation, which requires companies that sell petrol or diesel in New Zealand to also sell biofuels. The amount of biofuels they will have to sell will be a percentage of their total combined petrol and diesel sales each year, measured in petajoules and based on the volumetric energy content of each fuel. The amount has been set at a minimum of 0.53 per cent for year 1 (2008) and will increase each subsequent year. By 2012, at least 3.4 per cent of all fuel that oil companies sell in New Zealand will have to be biofuels.

Fuel $aver website

The Fuel $aver website ( was launched in 2006. The website provides up-to-date information about the fuel efficiency of vehicles sold in New Zealand. This information lets consumers assess different vehicles on the basis of fuel consumption.