The Green Party wants to ban the import of new fossil fuel cars, vans and utes by as early as 2030, while pouring billions into intercity rail and urban cycle “highways”, Marc Daalder reports

The Green Party has unveiled an ambitious policy package promising to tackle the country’s fastest growing and second largest source of emissions: transport.

Greens co-leader and Climate Change Minister James Shaw said he would advocate for a future government supported by the Greens to invest in rapid, intercity passenger rail across the country, put $1.5 billion into new cycleways in major cities and ban the import of new fossil fuel cars whenever the United Kingdom does so – likely in 2030.

As we recover from Covid-19, we have a once-in-a generation opportunity to rebuild our communities in a way that tackles the climate crisis and makes our communities healthier in the long-term,” Shaw said.

“Decades of under-investment in rail and public transport has led to an over-reliance on cars to get around. It’s worsening the climate crisis, and it has made getting around our cities, and between them, expensive and difficult.”

Electric vehicles

The UK has currently committed to banning new petrol and diesel cars by 2040, but the government there is consulting on moving that up to 2035 or 2030.

“We chose this date because we don’t want New Zealand to become a dumping ground for other countries’ dirty discards,” Shaw said.

James Shaw says there are too many cars on the roads. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

The current coalition Government in New Zealand mooted a ban on new fossil vehicles by 2035 but the proposal didn’t make it through Cabinet. The Ministry of Transport estimated the policy would reduce emissions by 27 million tonnes of greenhouse gases over the next 30 years, mostly by reducing the expected average emissions of the light vehicle fleet from 89 grams of CO2 per kilometre travelled in 2035 to 15 grams.

The ban would be supported by more widespread electric vehicle (EV) chargers. Shaw said the Greens want to amend the Building Code to require new medium and large buildings with parking to have EV chargers. That would encapsulate new apartment buildings, supermarkets, offices and carpark buildings.

Like the UK’s plan and the earlier Government proposal, the Greens are only calling for this ban to tackle light vehicles – that is, cars, vans and utes. Efforts to reduce the emissions of the heavy vehicle fleet, which is responsible for a quarter of the sector’s emissions, would be bolstered through a biofuel mandate requiring commercially-available diesel to be blended with 7 percent biofuel.

The Greens say the Ministry of Transport estimates the heavy fleet’s emissions would shrink by 6 percent in response to this move. They also want to expand the exemption from Road User Charges for electric heavy vehicles to heavy vehicles fuelled by green hydrogen, a technology rapidly coming online.

This could be supported through converting the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter – currently scheduled to close next year – into a clean energy plant producing hydrogen or biofuels. The Greens have promised to investigate the business case for this conversion.

In addition to these new policies, the Green Party has resurrected two transport policies axed by New Zealand First this year – the vehicle emissions standard and the feebate scheme. Labour has also committed to implementing the vehicle emissions standard, which would require the average emissions of vehicles imported into the country to steadily decrease in the coming years. As it stands, many of the vehicle models imported to New Zealand pollute more than the same models imported to countries with emissions standards, like the UK.

The feebate scheme, meanwhile, would see a fee placed on high-emitting vehicles to in turn subsidise electric and low-emissions vehicles. The Government announced this policy in July of last year, but after withering criticism from National, NZ First turned on it and stopped it from going ahead.

Public transport

While electric vehicles remain a major focus of the Greens’ transport platform, the party also says it wants to pivot away from car use.

“Building bigger motorways to squeeze more cars on has created congestion, contributed to climate change, and made it expensive and hard to get around our communities, and the country,” Shaw said.

“Our streets are dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists, to the point where parents don’t feel comfortable letting their children walk or bike to school. And there often just isn’t a bus or train to take us where we need to go, forcing people to use cars as their main source of transport.”

In response, the Greens have proposed a wide-ranging upgrade of the country’s public transport infrastructure, with a two-phase plan for the expansion of intercity rail and a national public transport card that would make fares free for people under 18 and over 65.

The first phase of the rail plan, to go from 2022 through 2027, would electrify and upgrade the main rail lines between Auckland and Hamilton (with an extension to Tauranga), Wellington and Palmerston North, Wellington and Masterton, Christchurch and Rangiora and Christchurch and Ashburton. These new trains would travel at 110 kilometres per hour, allowing Aucklanders to travel to Hamilton in under two hours. The Christchurch to Ashburton line would take just an hour and eighteen minutes.

New electric sleeper cars would also be added to the Auckland to Wellington rail line to allow a single overnight trip each day lasting just over nine hours.

The Green Party’s proposed rail upgrade.

The second phase would last from 2027 through 2035 and involve increasing the speed of several of the above lines to 160 kilometres per hour as well as smaller extensions to regional and rural centres. That would include an extension from the Auckland-Hamilton line to Rotorua, extensions of the Wellington-Palmerston North line to Whanganui, Marton, New Plymouth, Gisborne and Napier and extending the Christchurch-Ashburton line through Timaru to Dunedin.

The first phase of the plan would cost just under $2 billion and the second phase would clock in at $7.3 billion.

Local public transport in major cities would also be expanded, with plans to revamp Auckland’s bus routes and build the city’s long-awaited light rail network, priority bus lanes and two new tunnels in Wellington (one for walking and cycling under Mount Victoria and one for light rail from the eastern suburbs to the CBD via Newtown) and commuter rail and bus network upgrades for Christchurch.

The Greens have also pledged to massively subsidise public transport. They say their new national public transport card – the Go Anywhere card – would work for buses, trains and ferries anywhere in the country. People under 18 and over 65 could ride free while students and apprentices would receive a 50 percent discount. Even general users, however, would have the amount they could pay in a week capped. This could be based on the dollar amount paid or a set number of trips, after which the remainder of travel would be free until the end of the week.

The card could also be compatible with car share programmes and micromobility schemes like e-scooters or e-bikes. Money paid for these services would not count towards the weekly maximum.

The final plank of the Greens’ transport policy platform is a $1.5 billion contestable fund for cycleways in major cities. The fund would support “high quality separated paths for people biking, scooting, and walking, directly linking outer suburbs to the city centre”.

The “Cycle Super Highways” would have to be between two and five metres wide, fully separated from car traffic and ready to start within three years and finish two years after breaking ground. They would be fully funded by central government, with councils picking up the bill for building out a smaller, interconnected network of cycleways linking to the highways.

“Cycling is a major part of the transport solution – reducing emissions, and keeping us healthy,” Shaw said. “New Zealanders have shown that if we make cycleways safe and accessible, they will use them.”

Overall, the Greens expect their transport plan to require $13.6 billion in capital spend above what is already allocated and an additional $457 million in operating costs, plus up to $285 million in foregone revenue from the Road User Charge exemption for hydrogen-fuelled heavy vehicles. This will be paid for through reallocating money from existing “low priority urban motorway” projects like Auckland’s East West Link and downgrading the planned Ōtaki-Levin and Whangarei-Marsden Point four-lane highways to three-lane highways with an alternating bypass lane.

The reallocations would cover about $3.3 billion of the Greens’ spend while the remainder would be paid for through unallocated revenue from their plans to overhaul the tax system.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

Leave a comment