Guide to smart transport

3 March 2015

This week we talk to Matt Ayers, who has been managing our Smart Transport work stream, to get the low down on transport trends, smart transport in the workplace and why you should switch your fleet to electric vehicles.

What is smart transport ?

Smart transport is transport that moves away from being based on non-renewable sources of energy, like fossil fuels, towards transport that uses sustainable fuels or technology, or transport that doesn’t require non-renewable energy sources like biking and walking.

Why do we need smart transport?

There are both environmental and economic reasons as to why non-renewable fuel sources are becoming less and less viable as options for businesses to run themselves on. 

Everyone talks about the environmental consequences of oil and particularly its extraction.  We are already extracting more than the earth can handle – so it is a very, very pressing issue in terms of demand on oil. The secondary concern is security of supply… as supply gets harder to get markets become more volatile –and wars start happening.

What are the big international trends we are seeing in the smart transport area?

Overseas we are seeing several key trends, including:

Fuel sources:
Will the new fuel source be biofuel, hydrogen or electricity? And the answer might be all of them – and some we haven’t even thought of yet. It comes down to the particular country and their own resource base. Norway has a comprehensive charging network for electric vehicles around the country and it’s working really, really well. Twenty per cent of vehicles bought now in Norway are electric vehicles.

What is a big unknown is what is happening in Japan around hydrogen. There are a few issues around hydrogen and batteries, and there’s debate and development taking place to address them.  What we are seeing in New Zealand, because of our advantages around renewable electricity, is that our country is geared more towards electricity.

Better utilisation of the vehicles we have on the road:
That’s vehicle sharing, and within that there are a whole bunch of different models including our own Cityhop. You can carpool… or there are other options to connect strangers going from point A to point B. For example, companies like Bla Bla Car in Europe, which connects people who need to travel with drivers who have empty seats where they’ll share costs. But then there are the new ride-sharing models like Uber and Lyft. These new disruptive systems are way more efficient and effective than traditional taxis, addressing the  problems taxi companies have had all around the world. It’s a completely different way of thinking about vehicle ownership and vehicle use using technology platforms. To find out more about car sharing options check out the Future of Car Sharing website.

What are the trends in New Zealand?

There are a couple of key trends we’re witnessing here:

Balancing our ‘transport portfolio’:
The way that the country is laid out does have some transport challenges, but they are by no means insurmountable. We’ve just seen the New Zealand Transport Authority (NZTA) cycling budget go from $10 million to $100 million and the establishment of a cycling unit within Auckland Transport. We are seeing a move to balancing out the transport means from roads and cars to public transport and active modes. We have developers around the country working out how they can create self contained developments using solar energy (where no grid is required) with plug-in electric vehicles, water collection and waste water systems… a lot of innovation is underway.

Rise in electric vehicles:
We’re going to see a big increase in electric vehicles. The charging issue has been a bit of a red herring in the electric vehicle conversation. For example, from talking to petrol companies, putting in fast charging units in the station is not the issue – it’s the demand.  The infrastructure for electric vehicles is going to look quite different. It will probably just be at home, you only need a house at night and a garage. And, recently we’ve seen electric vehicles coming into a price point where they are affordable and that was the kind of key driver we needed. Pretty much all the major car manufacturers are now going electric vehicles.

How can businesses facilitate smart transport in the work place? 

There are several ways you can get smarter about your workplace transport:

1) If your business is involved with cycling infrastructure, find projects in which you can collaborate across industries to make the project more effective. Why not get involved in a project on making New Zealand a cycling nation – what about our role in cycling infrastructure? it will open you up to business opportunities, project opportunities and different ways of doing things.

2) Convert your fleet. The time is right to seriously explore electric vehicles and biofuels, particularly if you have diesel vehicles. For example, Gull has been producing biofuels to the pump for the last seven years. There are huge efficiences to be gained from fuel type usage – and Fulton Hogan has learnt a lot about biodiesel from its trials. For any company that is tracking their emissions, the move toward biofuels and electricity is a game-changer in terms of what companies can achieve.  You don’t need to be the first mover, because there are companies that have already done it and can show you the way, like Fulton Hogan and Mighty River Power.  Particularly with electric vehicles, the barriers are all surmountable. You can charge them at home. There’s a bunch of different charging infrastructures which are easy to install and use at work. You don’t even need to convert all your fleet and the price has dropped significantly. If you have a fleet management company,  talk to them about integrating electric vehicles into your fleet

3) Ride-share. If you have an office in the city, a huge amount of your trips can probably be replaced by cheaper forms of getting around which means you reduce your fleet, reduce your costs and increase productivity in terms of people’s time.

4) Explore developments around active transport like walking and cycling for your staff. Join programmes like Bike Wise month or Auckland Transport’s Commute programme, contact your local council or set your own challenge where the staff have to cycle or walk to work one day a month. Those types of things get people to experiment with what the experience is like, and often once they’ve done it, then they’ve got through most of the barriers and a lot of people don’t go back. You need to consider how you could actually support that as an organisation and put in place showers or places where people can park their bikes.

5) Look out for the creation of ‘smart working hubs’ – they suit anyone who is living on the outer regions of towns or cities. You are more likely to find something like this in our largest cities. We’re working up a plan for this now – so keep in touch if you want to know more.

Any last words?

Transport is an interesting issue covering topics like the sharing economy through to the energy use and renewable energy, plus there’s a whole range of ideas converging around these issues about how you move people around a city. It’s an exciting area to be watching and very, very dynamic.

The Sustainable Business Network has unveiled three new projects in the smart transport space:

Biofuels: We are working with Gull NZ and Fulton Hogan to look at where the biofuel demand is and how to mainstream biofuel use in New Zealand. Tourism Holdings Ltd has joined our project on biodiesel and NZ Motor Caravan Association is investigating its own role in biodiesel.

Electric vehicles: Along with Mighty River Power and LeasePlan, we are investigating how we can achieve widespread implentation of electric vehicles in New Zealand.

Cycling infrastructure: The challenge with cycling infrastructure is that the solution, for example a separated cycle lane, is often pre-defined before the project has started. This means that companies implementing the project don’t consider the wider cycling ecosystem including infrastructure and facilities for cyclists. We are going to create a practical resource for companies so they can take in the bigger picture of cycling and implement better, more useful, projects. Who wants to help us with this?


Rachel Brown is taking over SBN’s Smart Transport work, reflecting her passion in this space and her belief that massive changes can happen at speed and scale when we work on this together. Contact Rachel on if you want to find out how to get involved.