Transport for our children’s future

Part three of a six-part series, compiled by Talk Wellington, that outlines a sensible vision for transport. This is a space that needs filling even as Let’s Get Wellington Moving prepares to spend $4 billion on transport in the capital.

Last Saturday we were introduced to the series and heard Wellingtonians’ hunger for better transport choices. This Saturday: better transport will let Wellingtonians do our bit for the climate.


“Wellington needs a really significant step towards zero emissions – and meeting our Paris Agreement commitments. For the first time, the past is no indication of the future demands or trends. We need to be planning for future generations.” – Nicci Wood (41, Oriental Bay)

In February, nationwide research found a clear majority of Kiwis are “highly concerned” about climate change. The drumbeat of news about wildfires, floods, cyclones and weather extremes has got us wanting to do our bit to reduce our own, our city’s and our country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Many of us want to be able to look our children in the eye and tell them we did everything we possibly could to reduce the harm they will face from climate change. But what should we do? Where should we start if we want to make a real difference?

Wellington: transport is climate

It turns out that our transport system is a great place to make big reductions in emissions – especially in Wellington.

The figures show that road transport makes up about 35% of the city’s total greenhouse gas emissions.  And nearly all of that 35% is from petrol- and diesel-powered cars and trucks.

As we saw last week, there are many reasons behind Wellingtonians’ hunger for better transport options. Coincidentally, the options people want to take much more often – walking, cycling, scooting, using public transport – are all better for the planet than driving an oil-powered, carbon-dioxide-emitting car, especially when it’s carrying just one or two people.

Yet when it comes to transport, it seems so hard to do the right thing. Whether it’s getting to work, taking the kids to school or going shopping, many people find it so much easier to hop in the car.

But as we saw last week, that’s not because most people really prefer to drive: it’s the result of decades of investment that has favoured car travel while pushing other modes of transport to the margins. The key to changing that is to provide more transport choices, making it easier and cheaper for people to get about the city by foot and bike and bus and train, while retaining existing roads for trips that can be made only by car.

The council’s current target is to reduce the capital’s emissions by 80% (from 2014 levels) by 2050. Central government – and a new proposed target – want us to be carbon-neutral by the same date. But the science is already telling us that neither target goes far enough.

So let’s be more ambitious. What would it take to reduce Wellington’s greenhouse gas emissions from transport to zero – yes, zero – by 2040?

We need to change the proportions of trips taken by different transport types: more of the low- or zero-emission ones, and less of the polluting ones. One shift that would deliver zero emissions would look like this:

These numbers – proposed by Dr Roger Blakeley, in his capacity as an engineer – are in line with those being set by cities worldwide. Places like London and Vancouver are on track to achieve even more ambitious targets for walking and cycling, from which they will reap many social benefits – including a healthier population – as well as lower emissions.

For Wellington to achieve the relatively modest shift set out above, we need to invest in mass transit – light rail, for instance – as the core of a high-capacity, well-performing public transport system that also includes better bus services.

Then, we need to make it easier and more pleasant for people to make short trips on foot, and short and medium ones by bike – either directly to their destinations or to connect up with public transport.

What do we need to get rid of?

Vehicles that burn fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases. By 2040 – and preferably earlier – Wellington needs to stop burning fossil fuels for transport.

Electric vehicles produce no emissions when in use, provided the electricity for their batteries comes from renewable sources. In the central city, they should be used only when there’s genuinely no alternative, since they consume as much valuable street space as petrol ones. In the wider region, though, they will play a much bigger role.

What does this all mean for us?

Whether it’s the proposal above, or some other scheme, any future-proofed transport plan will provide good travel choices at an affordable price. That’s a transport system that will make it easy, not hard, for regular Wellingtonians to act on our high levels of concern about climate change.

That’s a transport system that works for the future, not one stuck in the failures of the past. That’s a transport system that will let us look our children in the eye and say, “Yes, I did everything I could to make the future safe for you.”


In the second part of this Saturday’s edition, we see how better options plus small incentives means we can make the most of our resources – like road space.


Read the first parts of our series (last Saturday): part one and part two

Talk Wellington compiled this series with various subject-matter experts (in economics, engineering, and planning of transport and landuse), and with help from great communicators. We do this because Wellington people deserve to be better informed, so people – and our politicians – can do better in the big and small decisions that shape our towns and cities.


Read about us here.


Image credits:

  • Banner: Jess Feast
  • Traffic on Taranaki St by Automotive News

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