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BusinessMay 10, 2018

Ten numbers which show how addicted to our cars we still are

bex (7)

How could it be Commute Week without an ode to New Zealand’s favourite mode of transport?

Public transport is definitely on the rise but for many Kiwis the car is king for a couple of vital reasons: it runs to your schedule and you don’t have to share it with anyone else. Oh, and it exists (unlike public transport in some places).

Here are ten numbers that show we’re still hopelessly in love with our cars – but it’s a love of practicality in many cases, and cost. Will coming changes like the regional fuel tax finally drive people away from the vehicle?


You’ve just gotta look at the graph below. The big bar thing covered in little cars is huge – that’s us in our cars. In total, not far off a million New Zealanders drove to work in a private car, truck or van according to 2013 Census data. The next highest option, a company car, truck or van (do we see a pattern here?) saw 217,404 of us clocking up the miles. If you’re looking for an outlier, Mackenzie District’s work-at-homers weren’t far behind those commuting in a car, with 516 smart people opting out of the office compared with 690 traditional car/truck or van travellers in the beautiful region.

Cars, cars, cars. (Photo: Screengrab)


Sorry, but Auckland you get a special mention (rest of New Zealand avert your eyes). Census data from 2013 found around one-third of all employed people in New Zealand (596,313 people) gave a workplace address in the Auckland region. Also in Auckland, 50% of employed people worked in an area comprising of just 2.7% of the total land area in the city. So where is it chockers with workers and commuters? Waitematā local board had the highest number of people who gave a workplace address there, with over 100,000 people who live in the Auckland region (about 22% of Auckland employees) supplying a workplace address in Waitematā.

Overall, car transport was the dominant mode of commuting in Auckland, with 82.7% travelling via road in 2013. But we’ve just had a new Census, and Auckland’s Super City council has made significant changes to public transport since the last one, so car commuting into the CBD should show a significant decrease. 


Even Spinoff readers are not perfect when it comes to ditching the car! We surveyed about 800 people earlier this year and included a question about travel to work. Of those 800 or so, about 38% said they drove to work in their own car while 28% cruised on the bus. About 15% of you took a combo deal and hit up the train with a side of walking, and 7% got on the bike. Nice.


Everyone loves to estimate how much money we burn sitting in our cars. I’ve never done it, personally. I used to go against the traffic to Porirua, and then against the traffic to Henderson. Now I get the train, but there certainly is an economic drain due to congestion. A 2012 report from the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) estimated each kilometre from Auckland City centre added $738 to the cost of each commute per year.

A more recent report from NZIER report found if Auckland traffic could move on average between 50.5 kmh to 56.8 kmh during week days it would benefit the Auckland economy by nearly $3.5 million per day (at the moment the average speed in the morning peak is 41 kmh).

Or there was another recent report from the Automobile Association that estimated we spend 80 hours stuck in our cars every year. You get the drift.

The regions of New Zealand, they are driving. (Photo: Screengrab)


The number of regions, towns or cities in New Zealand that had a mode of commute other than car/van or truck, as the primary way to get to work in the 2013 Census.

3.8 million

We must love cars, we’ve covered the waterfront in our biggest city with them! Our National Vehicle Fleet Status (I love this serious name) shows Kiwis have north of 3.8 million registered passenger vehicles of the more than 5.1m registered vehicle types including vans, trucks, agricultural vehicles and trailers.


Who doesn’t love a record? The Ministry of Transport’s quarterly fleet report (for the quarter ended December 2017) says recent registrations of new light vehicles are “at record high levels and used light vehicle registrations have surpassed the 2005 peak”. There were 337,300 new and used import light vehicle registrations in the year to December 2017, up from 307,800 in the year to December 2016.

10.5c (per litre plus GST)

This is the current number being offered to Aucklanders to allegedly fix the city’s transport horror, the “regional fuel tax”, if you will.

BUT. What do we know about local government and government generally? They bloody love taxes! So we can expect the regional fuel tax to roll out wherever local body elected politicians can scrape up a case for it. Could Wellingtonians who spent the last week feeling superior about Aucklanders finally paying the same petrol prices as them have their own regional fuel tax to look forward to? Potential second degree burn.

Combined with fuel excise (tacked onto every litre of petrol you buy) at 66c per litre, the tax is starting to really mount up to use a car (with petrol). The bulk of it – 59c a litre – goes to the National Land Transport Fund (building roads and the like), and a further 6c goes towards us crashing and funding the Accident Compensation Corporation. And of course there is good old GST at 15%.

Traffic in Auckland. We love it! (Photo: Getty Images)


If you think the coming-soon-to-more-regions fuel tax is a great tax because it nabs all motorists, you’d be wrong, economist Sam Warburton says. Not all vehicles burn fuel at the same rate and guess what? Older, cheaper cars probably burn more fuel. So this means, Warburton says, drivers of cars that are among the 10% least efficient end up paying double the tax per kilometre of drivers of vehicles among the 10% most fuel efficient. Who owns cheaper less fuel efficient cars? Poor people, Warburton says. That’s why he favours a congestion charge for driving into congested areas like downtown, rather than a blanket (and regressive) fuel tax.

Warburton says existing fuel taxes are already regressive and will be impoverishing some people, and the proposed national (between 9-12c) and regional increases will only impoverish more people. The average household pays $950 in fuel excise duty per annum ($580 per vehicle ), low fuel efficiency vehicle households will pay between $1,385 and $1,490 tax per annum with the new regional tax and national increase, he says. “Households with vehicles among the 10% highest fuel efficiency only pay between $645 and $660 per annum.”

In Auckland, the average household will pay about $350 more in nation-wide and regional fuel taxes per annum than it does today (to about $1,400), Warburton has calculated.

14 years

Do we like them a bit older, or just a bit cheaper? Ministry of Transport data shows our average light vehicle age is 14 years. It’s been a stable statistic, and a little worrying – the average age of the used imported light vehicles (cars and SUVs) entering the fleet is increasing. Maybe this is partially why emissions from our fleet haven’t dropped “noticeably” since 2013.

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