Recently I had the opportunity to be on the Future Transport panel at the Innovation Expo held in Christchurch. In preparing for the panel, we were asked to consider the future developments in transport. My first consideration was for the highly publicised fully autonomous vehicles driving around on the roads without an actual driver. Then there’s the idea of ‘flying cars’ which propose to have us moving around like the Jetsons! While these are exciting and promising views of the future, they are just that, the future – they are not ‘here’ now.
I have no doubt that any remaining technical issues will be addressed in time, but I cannot see that happening in the next 10 years; particularly when considering the legal, political, ethical and moral considerations that still need to be resolved. For example: What are the legal vehicle requirements that will no longer be required (does a vehicle need a steering wheel)? How will insurance work? Or the big one, a child runs onto the road and an autonomous vehicle must decide between hitting the child, hitting oncoming traffic, or crashing into the pedestrians on the footpath…who and how will that decision be made?
In reality, I think the immediate future of transport is going to be considerably more contentious, driven by environmental and financial concerns which will fundamentally change how we consider mobility.
Firstly, climate change and transport related emissions are changing the discussion. The transport sector currently makes up about 20 percent of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions and over 40 percent of our greenhouse gases from the energy sector. For NZ Inc to achieve the internationally agreed reduction targets, transport related emissions will have to be cut significantly, and quickly, noting approximately only 50% of vehicle generated particle emissions come out of the tail pipe; with brake and tyres wear making up the balance. Given the direct and scientifically understood impact of this on human health, we will also be seeing a greater discussion, and ultimately policy framework that looks to address these issues.
Secondly, the adoption of EVs will see the cessation of fuel excise duty which currently generates $3.7billion dollars a year. While the government may have a range of different ways to replace this funding, the most likely source is to move to a mileage-based system, similar to the road user charges for diesel vehicles. Previous suggestions of setting this at about 11c/km seem too low, particularly when considering arguments about infrastructure underfunding. I could see this rising to $0.20 - $0.30 per kilometre or higher, which would see the average commuter driving to work pay approximately $2.30 - $3.40 per day, and without considering any ‘environmental/ emission’ taxes or even congestion charging (in London its £11.50 (approximately NZ$22.00) to drive in between 7am and 6pm). Such a change could have a significant impact in our cities and their continuing sprawl. If commuters were now forced to pay $18 per day for the mileage driven, $5 day for congestion charging, $10 for parking, the economics of car ownership would change considerably.
Our addiction to the private car has continued to grow over the last 50 years, however climate change and the growing understanding of the true costs of this addiction mean that this pattern cannot continue. The future of transport is right in front of us, and it may not be as cheap as what you were thinking.
Blog written by Matthew Noon, Associate Transportation Planner and Business Delivery Manager, Digital Engineering