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The BulletinJanuary 19, 2024

A windy road ahead for sustainable transport

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New train services, more priority bus lanes and simpler ticketing solutions are all set to arrive in 2024. For drivers of lower-emission cars the outlook is mixed, writes Catherine McGregor in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

City Rail Link inches closer

For Auckland public transport users, the start of the year has brought mixed fortunes. On the bad news front is the announcement that fares are to rise an average of 6.2% from February. More positively, the Eastern Line is back in service after a nine-month suspension and Waitematā Station (Britomart) will reopen on Monday, with work on the platforms that will connect the station with the City Rail Link network almost complete. The CRL itself is set to open in 2025, though Matt Lowrie at Greater Auckland says most station fitouts should be complete by the end of the year. Also set for completion in 2024 is the electrification of the Pukekohe to Papakura rail line (though Lowrie “wouldn’t be surprised if [it] slips to 2025”).

CRL workers install platform edge ‘warning tactiles’ on the platforms at Waitematā station on Thursday. (Photos: CRL Facebook)

With light rail dead and buried, it’s buses’ time to shine

Staying with Auckland, in 2024 AT is hoping to see bus patronage return to pre-Covid levels of more than 100 million boardings a year. To encourage Aucklanders back onto buses, AT is pushing for bus priority measures, “such as giving late-running buses priority at certain intersections and accelerating the roll-out of bus lanes,” reports BusinessDesk’s Oliver Lewis (paywalled). In Wellington, with light rail off the table, the regional council will be “going big on buses”, The Post’s Erin Gourley reports. Expect to see new bus priority lanes running along “similar routes to what was proposed for light rail”, and the build-out of a separate public transport spine along the waterfront quays to take the pressure off the Golden Mile route. Meanwhile Cantabrians will be able to use their bank cards or digital wallets to touch on and off buses from mid-2024. They’re the lucky pilot users of the National Ticketing Solution, a single payment method that should be available on all public transport across New Zealand by 2026.

Government confirms review of ‘clean car importer standard’

This week saw the announcement of road user charges for electric vehicles from April 1, coming on the heels of the end of the clean car discount, or EV rebate, on December 31. Now, Richard Edwards of Auto Talk reports, transport minister Simeon Brown has ordered a review of emissions standards for petrol vehicles. While Brown had promised a review of the clean car standard (CCS) – he now calls it the ‘clean car importer standard’ – the speed with which the review is happening is being welcomed by the import car industry, which has long argued New Zealand’s standards are too stringent. According to Greig Epps of industry association VIA, purchasers of Japanese imports will pay more from 2026 unless the CCS is loosened. “Even hybrids will be penalised; only EVs and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) will not. Each year after that, vehicles will continue to get more expensive as penalties on available vehicles continue to rise.”

Hybrid cars stage a surprise comeback

While it’s too early to tell how the removal of incentives for EV and PHEV drivers will affect the market here, experience overseas suggests the EV revolution may be stuttering. EV sales are slowing in the US while non-PHEV hybrids like the pioneering Toyota Prius are seeing a major reversal of fortune after a decade of falling demand. “Stubbornly high” EV prices and worries about the availability of public chargers are prompting car buyers to give hybrids another look, according to the New York Times (syndicated in the paywalled NZ Herald). Renters and urbanites who can’t charge a battery-powered car at home are especially keen on the hybrid option. Toyota is now talking about making all new cars hybrid by default, but one emissions expert says hybrid technology is not a silver bullet. “Hybrids buy some time, but EVs are where we need to go” to achieve climate goals, he says.

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