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Topic 7: Transport

Because New Zealand’s population is small in comparison with that of other countries and spread over a relatively large area, people rely heavily on transportation, primarily private. The transport system (including road, rail, shipping, air corridors, and the vehicles that travel them) facilitates economic production and social participation, but also exerts pressure on the environment by contributing to greenhouse gas emissions (see indicators 3.2 and 6.6) and local air pollution (see indicator 3.6).

Mobility is important for people to meet their needs. Vehicle use increases mobility, though cars are generally less energy efficient than full buses or trains. Moreover, increased numbers of private vehicles, especially in urban areas, leads to traffic congestion, causing increased air pollution and economic loss through extended travel times. Private vehicles also have higher accident rates than mass transit vehicles. Cycling and walking, although not always practical, produce no air pollution, reduce the use of non-renewable resources, and are also beneficial for health.

Road transport uses a large quantity of energy, mostly oil products (see topic 6), making it the most important driver of global oil demand. Road transport in particular, therefore, contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, the depletion of natural resources, and contamination of freshwater and marine ecosystems from road run-off.

Main results

Vehicle-kilometres travelled by road have increased since 2001 for all vehicle types. This has been accompanied by an increase in freight tonne-kilometres by road and a decrease in the proportion of people walking or cycling to work. However, the use of public transport has recorded some increase over the same period.

Table 7.1
Transport indicators – key results

Transport indicators - key results.

What the indicators tell us

Vehicle-kilometres travelled by road, by vehicle type (indicator 7.1)

Road transport supports economic activity by providing New Zealand’s primary means of transporting raw materials, products, and people, and by connecting producers with their markets. It also adds convenience to our daily lives and facilitates social interaction. Use of motorised transport does however have environmental impact.

In general, road transport is less energy-efficient and produces more emissions per tonne-kilometre than rail and sea transport, but is often the only viable option available.

Between 2001 and 2007, vehicle-kilometres travelled by road increased 12.0 percent. All years except 2006 showed an increase (see figure 7a). While all vehicle types recorded increases, kilometres travelled by trucks (heavy commercial vehicles) increased 21.9 percent, which was well above that for other vehicle types.

Vehicle-kilometres travelled by road, by selected vehicle types.

Road freight transport intensity of the economy (indicator 7.2)

This indicator measures the ratio of road freight tonne-kilometres to GDP. A decrease in intensity (that is, the ratio) can reflect greater efficiency in resource use.

The economic intensity of road freight transport increased between 2000 and 2004, but decreased in 2005 and was still below 2004 levels in 2007. Over the period as a whole, GDP increased 26.3 percent, whereas road freight tonne-kilometres increased 34.1 percent (see figure 7b). This suggests that economic growth in New Zealand over this period has not been accompanied increased efficiency in the use of freight transport.

For the year ended June 2007, 70 percent of freight tonne-kilometres transported was by road. Rail and coastal shipping carried approximately equal shares of the remainder, about 15 percent each. Within New Zealand, air transport accounted for only 0.4 percent.

Road freight transport intensity of the economy, 2000–07.

Total public transport boardings per person (indicator 7.3)

This indicator measures use of public transport. If occupancy rates are sufficient, public transport is generally a more energy-efficient means of transport than light passenger vehicles. However, public transport is not always available or flexible enough, in terms of both routes and timetables, to meet the needs of all the travelling public.

Between 2001 and 2008, the use of public transport per person increased by 25.3 percent, from 21.7 boardings per person to 27.2 (see figure 7c).

Public transport boardings per person, 2001–08.

Number of international flights per week (indicator 7.4)

Air transport is essential to the New Zealand economy as it is the primary mode of transport for tourists, immigrants, and international business visitors. Air transport is also important for maintaining international connections and for transporting high-value freight. However, air transport consumes non-renewable fuel resources and releases CO2, nitrogen oxide, and water vapour into the atmosphere, where they can contribute climate change.

This indicator measures change in the amount of air traffic to and from New Zealand over time.

Between 2000 and 2007, the number of international flights increased by 35.2 percent, although there was some fluctuation over the time period (see figure 7d).

International flights per week, 2000–07.

Proportion of population in employment walking or cycling to work (indicator 7.5)

This indicator looks at changing trends in the way New Zealanders travel to work by walking or cycling.

Between 1986 and 2006, the proportion of people in employment who cycled to work decreased from 5.3 percent to 2.0 percent. At the same time, the proportion who walked to work also declined, from 9.5 percent to 5.6 percent, though it has been relatively stable for the 10 years to 2006 (see figure 7e).

Walking or cycling to work is not always practical, nevertheless there are health benefits associated with these modes of travel (see indicator 13.2) and the impact on the environment is minimal.

Between 1986 and 2006 the proportion of the population in employment travelling to work by motor vehicle increased from 63.7 percent to 66.8 percent. Over the same time period, the number of employed people rose from 948,705 to 1,254,762.

Proportion of employed population travelling to work by motor vehicle, bicycle, or foot, by census year.

About the indicators

Transport data overview

While there is a great amount of data available on the transport topic, there is currently a gap in knowledge on both the use of energy by the transport sector and the uptake of new energy-efficient or low-emission transport technologies and fuels, such as electric cars and biofuels.

Data for total energy use by transport is not currently available because the methodology used to estimate on-road diesel use is under review. Therefore, data for energy use per vehicle-kilometre is also not available.

Energy-efficient transport technologies can help meet needs while minimising resource use, waste generation, and health risks. The Ministry of Transport (2008b) publishes information on CO2 emissions of new light vehicles entering the fleet. In addition, it would be useful to have information on new transport technologies and fuels for inclusion as a transport indicator in the future.

Data for the indicators 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, and 7.4 is from the Ministry of Transport (2008a).

Vehicle-kilometres travelled by road, by vehicle type (indicator 7.1)

Vehicle-kilometres travelled are the total kilometres travelled for each type of vehicle. Vehicle types are classified as:

  • bus
  • heavy commercial – vehicles over 3500kg
  • light commercial – vehicles up to 3500kg
  • light passenger – cars, and vans up to 3500kg
  • motorcycle.

In figure 7a, data for buses and motorcycles has not been shown due to the relatively low vehicle-kilometres travelled compared to the other vehicle types. The data for these vehicle types is, however, included in the ‘total’ category.

Road freight transport intensity of the economy (indicator 7.2)

The indicator compares freight tonne-kilometres with real GDP. A tonne-kilometre represents the movement of one tonne over a distance of one kilometre. Real GDP is a volume series, expressed in 1995/96 dollars, therefore removing the effect of price changes.

There are, however, some limitations to this indicator. As it only covers road transport, it does not capture shifts to other modes of freight transport such as rail or sea. Nor does it make allowance for more efficient loading of vehicles.

Total public transport boardings per person (indicator 7.3)

The indicator uses total boardings on public transport for June years. The measure per person is based on the estimated mean population of New Zealand (de facto up to 1991 and usually resident from 1992).

Number of international flights per week (indicator 7.4)

The indicator shows how many flights arrive and depart per week. It does not show how full flights are with people, baggage, or freight. As fuel use is dependent on these factors, plus others including aircraft type and flight conditions such as headwinds, it is acknowledged that this indicator is an indirect measure of mobility and fuel use.

Proportion of population in employment walking or cycling to work (indicator 7.5)

The number of people walking or cycling to work is sourced from the five-yearly New Zealand Censuses of Population and Dwellings between 1986 and 2006. The total population in employment includes those who worked at home and those who did not specify their means of transport.

Table 7.2
Transport indicators – defining principles

Transport indicators - defining principles.

See part C for the complete list of defining principles for all indicators.

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