New Zealand’s land transport programme has a current expenditure target for the next ten years of $38.7bn including $10bn to change the shape of the road network and improve its quality and capacity. Yet such investment plans are in the face of a country, like several others, that has experienced a decade-long interruption to a long-run trend of growth in car travel.
The NZ Ministry of Transport in 2014 undertook a major piece of strategic work to address the following focal question. How could or should our transport system evolve in order to support mobility in the future? The work involved a number of elements but centred upon a scenario planning exercise. This involved a wide cross-section of expertise and stakeholders in the identification of key drivers of change and critical uncertainties for the future for a time horizon of 2042. Two key unknowns were explored: (i) what will society want to do in future? (uncertainty about whether people will be more inclined to connect physically or virtually); and what will society be able to afford to do? (uncertainty about the affordability of energy relative to other costs of living). Four plausible and divergent scenarios were developed for future transport and society in New Zealand. Alongside the narratives for these different worlds, a simple structural model was developed to estimate quantification of levels of car travel in 2042 for the different scenarios. This revealed that from 2014 to 2042, total car travel could range from a growth of 35% to a decline of 53%.
The subsequent examination of the focal question above led to a series of insights and recommended responses for policymakers and other decision makers to consider. Three important principles emerged from the work:
(1) It is access not mobility per se that is key to a thriving New Zealand. There are uncertainties over what make-up of access will be desirable and affordable in future.
(2) There is a need to ensure a resilient provision of access options that provides for adaptability of behaviour over time. This means a combined and coordinated effort to evolve and improve roading and proximity and digital communications.
(3) The transport system’s nature and scale partly determine the demand placed upon it. Therefore when evolving the transport system one should have in mind providing for demand believed to be appropriate (and feasible) rather than providing for the demand that it may be tempting to predict.
Lyons, G., Davidson, C., Forster, T., Sage, I., McSaveney, J., MacDonald, E., …Kole, A. (2014). Future demand: How could or should our transport system evolve in order to support mobility in the future?