TRANSPORT – A big day in Smart Transport

26 July 2016

Last Thursday the Smart Transport Forum demonstrated how innovation is converging on New Zealand’s transport system. But we need much faster progress.

Put all the movers and shakers on transport in New Zealand in a room and it’s hard to escape a whiff of tribalism. You could almost imagine the whole thing as a Top Gear style point-to-point race. Who will get to the cleaner future first? The biofuellers, the electric car drivers, the folks on the buses and trains, or the super agile electric bikers and cyclists?

The rapid transition we are in the middle of requires a clever mix of all these modes of transport. It’s about travel options that don’t tie us to a single mode of movement. We may commute by ferry, but take a fold up electric scooter for the last leg. We can have an all-electric car for errands and a hybrid for weekends away. And all through our week we need to be keeping fit with walking, running and cycling. And it has to work seamlessly and conveniently.

This also requires savvy infrastructure design and some clever legal and administrative changes. 

Renewable transport expert Professor Ralph Sims explained at the Forum: “Climate change observations are progressing faster than predicted. Passenger and freight travel kilometres are going up. Current pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are inadequate to hold the world’s warming at two degrees.”

Change is already happening. Colette Campbell is innovation manager for insurers IAG. She told the Forum how artificial intelligence and other advancements will change the face of motoring. 

“Cars will become a computer with a battery on wheels. You won’t need to park it, you won’t need to own it, and you will only pay for the kilometres you use. Your young children will perhaps not even have a driver’s license, or a car. They will be safer, potentially saving a million deaths a year worldwide.”

This will free us from the enormous burden of the four wheeled stranded assets. They are currently taking up space all around us in the nation’s car parks. It will dispense with an aging inefficient fleet of fossil fuel cars. But currently technology is outpacing regulation and law, stifling some elements of this progress.

Uber is a great example. The Forum heard from operations lead Richard Menzies. Uber took five years to reach its first billion journeys worldwide. It then took only six months more to reach two billion. But it has had to battle considerable legal and regulatory hurdles along the way.

Uber Pool is the latest offering. This connects up rides into a single journey so riders can share the cost. This takes more cars off the roads.

cityhop founder Victoria Carter said we are going to hear a lot more about ‘Peak Cars’. We are near the point where the tidal wave of motors breaks and recedes. Part of that will be down to car-sharing businesses like hers, where each shared car takes up to 15 off the road.

A lot of these changes are driven by big data processing, provided by companies like Wellington-based Qrious. This enables vehicle usage monitoring and opportunities to match it more cleverly with supply. Meanwhile, consultants like Opus are working on a new generation of ‘human-centred’ infrastructure. This will better align urban design and transport links to the new modes of moving.

These changes are happening fast. Electric vehicles (EVs) are predicted to cost the same to buy as their fossil fuel forebears by 2025.

Major companies in New Zealand are already working on preparing the ground. Air New Zealand is on a mission to supercharge New Zealand’s success. This includes an undertaking to convert its entire ground fleet to EVs by the end of next year. 

The company has used GPS tracking to prove where vehicle use is within the range of the new EVs. They have enlisted the help of LeasePlan to provide many of the vehicles.

There is also an important role for the next generation of biofuels. Z Energy has built the only biofuel plant in the world constructed without government mandate and support. It is running on tallow, animal fat from the meat industry. Gull has more than nine years’ experience of selling biofuels. Its biofuel comes from non-food by-products of the dairy industry.

Karl Mischewski from Gull told the Forum. “If we are still pumping dinosaur juice into our cars in 10 years’ time we will only have ourselves to blame for rampant climate change.”  

Companies like Fulton Hogan are already taking that challenge seriously. As it uses more than 26 million litres of fuel a year, its switch to 20% biofuels is having a big impact.

So how do we speed up the rate of change among ordinary New Zealanders?

Brad Norris from Synergy Health is experienced in motivating people. He stressed the importance of reaching out to people on the issues they care about.

Jack Jiang from AECOM pointed out that people’s choice of travel mode takes about two seconds. “It has to be convenient and obvious. Because that’s all the time we have for behaviour change to work.”

By working together we can create a seamless, convenient and sustainable transport system for New Zealand. It will be something we can all be proud of.