Friday, August 26, 2005

$1.50 a litre for petrol

And at the same time, oil has hit a record price of $68 a barrel, and the trend of a new record price every time there are fears of supply problems doesn't show any sign of slowing over the next year or so. Meanwhile, our two major parties' transport policies remain firmly fixed on roads...

Obviously transport policy needs to take a longer focus than just next year - but that's the problem; it is being driven by immediate crises in Auckland (caused in turn by the systematic lack of investment by National during the 90's), rather than the longer view. And in the longer view, this is a warning for the future. Yes, oil and petrol prices will probably drop in a couple of years as new refining capacity is built. But in the long-term, they're going to rise, as peak oil hits. Shouldn't we be planning for it now, by ensuring we have decent public transport networks built in time, rather than risking waking up one day and finding out that people can't afford to get to work?


I/S, roads per se aren't actually a problem. There are multiple technologies waiting on the doorstep that let you run vehicles without a ready supply of fossilised forests (ethanol production from woody waste and biodiesel to name but two).

Not that NZ sholdn't be investing more in public transport, but most of the existing infrastructure for that relies on internal combustion engines too... My perspective from living in Sydney for a couple of years is that public transport has to be very very good before it can really replace private vehicles (Sydney's isn't good enough, nor is Wellington's).


Posted by Anonymous : 8/26/2005 02:10:00 PM

chris- while bio fuels are a good idea, their projected production in this country can only meet a fraction of the current demand.

Global Guy

Posted by Anonymous : 8/26/2005 02:20:00 PM

Yes, we need very very good public transport, so the existing fossil fuel dependent infrastructure is insignifiant compared to the investment required. Increasing road capacity instead of working on a top class bio-fuel powered public transport network is insane. Public transport would need much less biofuel than private cars for everyone.

Posted by Commie Mutant Traitor : 8/26/2005 02:32:00 PM

Guy, expect to see big changes in what's predicted as feasible for biofuels in the near future, especially ethanol.

CMT, I doubt that very very good public transport would come out economically or environmentally ahead as a complete replacement for private cars anywhere in NZ. The population density just isn't high enough, and empty busses still pollute.

I'm not, by the way, trying to defend the proposition that we don't urgently need more of a focus on public transport pretty much everywhere. I just think it's important to remember that it isn't the be-all and end-all -- think of access to less populated areas, not to mention transport of goods and such.

A real thrust to make bicycle transport safe and feasible in cities would be a truly wonderful thing too.

Chris (clongson [at]

Posted by Anonymous : 8/26/2005 03:30:00 PM

Chris: roads aren't the problem; it's the obsession with them to the exclusion of all other alternatives that is. And while there are alternative fuels available, major party transport policy tends to ignore those as well. Which is simply stupid, given the synergies with greenhouse policy.l

As for public transport not being good enough to replace private vehicles, it's a nasty catch-22; no funding equals crap transport equals poor usage equals poor funding "because there's no demand". But given the worries about long-term petrol prices, we're going to have to break through that and fund it - not as the be-all-and-end-all, but so that it is a serious and usable alternative in our major cities.

Global Guy: the outlook for biofuels here is actually quite promising. Initially we'd be looking at a 5% mix to reduce petrol consumption and greenhouse emissions, and that's easily achievable with local resources (they're looking at a tallow plant for Northland for biodiesel, and we can make ethanol from either plant mass or whey, both of which we have plenty off). In the long-term, we apparantly have the land area for complete substitution in domestic vehicles - though as I understand it that would require some engine tweaking.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 8/26/2005 04:32:00 PM

Bikes, horses, walking, trains and public transport.

Candles, a return to local shops and produce, reduction of appliances, delivered milk, walking to school, chickens and fruit trees in the back yard.

It won't be too bad, just like old times.

Posted by Muerk : 8/27/2005 09:41:00 AM

the poor will suffer.
Transport will just become a higher proportion of total household spending rather like having a flat tax on every person.

Posted by Genius : 8/27/2005 10:09:00 AM

Muerk: while I think the decline of oil will drive a tendancy towards localisation, it won't be that bad. Transport will simply be more expensive - it won't stop. This will mean that people will need to live closer to where they work (or to public transport), and yes, a return to local retail and services - but it won't mean an end to Life As We Know It. And it certainly won't mean candles - oil will be more expensive, but that doesn't affect our electricity generation infrastructure one bit (we have one oil-fired station, at Whirinaki - which is used only as a dry-year reserve).

We have the technological options; we just need to start using them.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 8/27/2005 11:42:00 AM

We can change our population density. Ten million people in NZ would still be only a sixth the density of people in the UK, for instance.

With four million people in Auckland and proper planning, you would have ability to operate viable, efficient, public transport.

This of course runs counter to the accepted idea that increased population is bad for the ecosystem.

Posted by Rich : 8/27/2005 05:20:00 PM

not sure your argument makes any sense - yo uare going to increace the demans on services adn fuel resources and the environment in general by 2.5 times and declare victory by fractionally mitigating the losses.

In fact most of hte gains I think you are predicting result from the reduction in living spaces due to having high density population. for example if auckland had a population density of hong kong then most people could take a pretty short bike ride to work - if is is sprawled out like auckland many will require an hour long drive.

the removal of minimum living standards appears to be the actual solution hidden in there.

Posted by Genius : 8/27/2005 06:19:00 PM

You seem to equate high population density with low living standards - I don't see why this is the case at all. If Auckland grew to four million on it's current footprint it would still be less dense than London, but would sustain viable public transport.

Also, the extra 6 million people, if not living here, would be living somewhere else, probably somewhere that has a more stressed ecosystem - so globally, the world does better if more people live in NZ.

Posted by Rich : 8/27/2005 06:41:00 PM