All talk and no action: why we’re falling behind the Australians

Taking a break from the earthquakes, a recent trip to Australia demonstrated how lacklustre the Wellington City Council has been at getting to grips with climate change in the transport sector. Instead of the burgeoning electric car charging infrastructure and cycle-share schemes that are a feature of Australia’s cities, Wellington looks like it’s in the emissions dark ages – after six years of a Green mayor and a left-leaning council. What’s gone wrong?

Now, Australia isn’t exactly a paragon of environmental responsibility – a quick look at their still-dirty electricity sector is enough to show where New Zealand already has an advantage, albeit largely because of hydro investment decisions we made decades ago. But their cities are beginning to take environmental issues very seriously indeed, with widespread photovoltaic solar, fast-growing electric car charging infrastructure, and well-utilised bike share schemes. Compare and contrast with Wellington, where the clean and green capital has conspicuously failed to follow suit.

Let’s use a concrete example. Seeing a steady stream of battery electric vehicles on Aussie streets, I took to wondering how they would fare for commuters in the capital. A quick scan of the Plugshare website showed that our charging infrastructure is exceptionally poor and ridiculously expensive, meaning that electric cars are not a viable option if you’re commuting any distance.

Let’s say that you live on the Kapiti Coast and need the car to get to and from work. The train may not be viable for a whole variety of reasons, but you’d still like to do the environmentally responsible thing and reduce your emissions. A Nissan Leaf looks like a great battery electric vehicle, but your daily running around is on the outer edge of its range. The obvious answer would be to charge it whilst in town, using the hours when the car is just sitting there to give it enough range for the run home.

And that’s where the problems begin. For a start, there are a paltry number of charging locations in Wellington – and the ones that do exist are either slow (the Z station on Customhouse Quay) or unbelievably expensive (the Z station on Vivian Street). There’s nowhere in Wellington that’s reasonably central and reasonably affordable that can supply a fast charge to your shiny new electric car.

The Chargenet site at the Z station in Vivian Street illustrates the problem. It’s a fast-charge location (good), it has the right connectors for the Nissan Leaf (also good), but the price is exorbitant. As well as paying the full-fat 25 cents per kilowatt hour for the electricity, you’ll be charged 25 cents per minute – $15/hr – to be connected. So pouring an hour’s charge into the Nissan will cost about $2.50 in power and $15 in fees – at which point all the financial benefits of an electric vehicle disappear. And if you happen to have a long meeting or other time commitment, the costs will continue to rise the longer the car sits there absorbing power.

For a great many scenarios, it will be cheaper to take the (polluting, planet-destroying) internal combustion engine car than the (non-polluting, environmentally friendly) electric car. There might as well be a sign on the motorway asking electric car drivers not to bother bringing their vehicles to town.

Now, for those people who can charge at home – and whose daily chores are within the range of the current generation of batteries – then fast-charging infrastructure in the CBD is a nice to have, not a need to have. This is clearly the case for most of the 2,000-odd people who have already registered batter electric cars in New Zealand, otherwise their innovative new cars would be perpetually trapped in the garage. But it’s hardly an incentive for those who are a bit further out of town to do their bit to decrease their impact on the planet.

So what should the city council’s role in this be? Perhaps the whole electric car infrastructure should be left to the private sector, and the market should be the final arbiter of whether or not the technology succeeds in the capital. And perhaps Wellington ratepayers should be content with the council spending money on reports about climate change, rather than on the infrastructure that could help decrease it.

Or perhaps not. Governments across the world – including in New Zealand – are stepping up to do their part in phasing out the internal combustion engine. In Germany, a resolution has been passed that no new cars powered by fossil fuels will be sold after 2030; in New Zealand, electric cars have been exempted from Road User Charges, effectively making them free riders on the roading network. These are excellent steps.

And they’re important ones. Bloomberg is predicting that 35% of all vehicles sold globally by 2040 will be battery electric, up from around 1% today. So change is coming. And as Bloomberg points out: “the electric vehicle revolution could turn out to be more dramatic than governments and oil companies have yet realized.”

But so far, the Wellington City Council has been all talk and no action. Instead of electric car infrastructure, there’s been an endless debate about a light rail system that will cost hundreds and hundreds of millions – which seems no closer to fruition than it did a decade ago – and a single divisive cycleway in Island Bay. Given how cheap charging points are, it’s a pity that so much money has been wasted on consultants and reports rather than on building infrastructure that would make a tangible difference for the people who are putting their money where their mouth is, and buying into a zero-emissions transport future.

There’s nothing like time away in a different city to give you a different perspective on your own. It’s just a pity that Wellington didn’t come out favourably in the comparison.



  1. KB, 2. December 2016, 12:54

    Great and timely article, especially the bit about wasted resources expended in a fruitless light rail scheme that will go nowhere.

    Every on-street carpark in the CBD should have a charging point – that should be step one. these charging points should also filter out to the older suburban streets that lack off street parking.

  2. andy foster, 2. December 2016, 16:21

    Hi PGCM: Discussions are well advanced with several technology providers. You will see these start to be rolled out in the first half of next year. You will also – maybe ? – be aware that there are three chargers at Zealandia and I think it’s two at the Sustainability Trust as well – so they are coming – and so are the EVs themselves.
    Also to reiterate – in terms of sustainable mode, share Wellington City is ahead of any other part of the region – or the country – by miles – and I’m pretty confident we are ahead of anywhere in Australia too, and that lead is growing – not shrinking.

  3. PCGM, 2. December 2016, 18:46

    Andy Foster: According to the Plugshare website, there are three EV chargers at Zealandia, although their utility has to be questioned – do you honestly think a regular commuter into Wellington is going to drive to Karori to plug in their electric car? And then what … catch the shuttle to and from the CBD? I suggest that the chargers have more to do with burnishing the sanctuary’s environmental credentials than with any actual utility.

    As far as the Sustainability Trust is concerned, the same website shows they have a single charger, which is currently out of action. And as far as I can tell, the WCC had no hand in installing it. So your examples seem to fall some way short of the council actually addressing the growing desire for emissions-free motoring.

    You’re right that Wellington has good use of sustainable modes – but that’s due to our electric trains, trolley buses, and the walking and cycling in the CBD. All of that was also true six years ago, before the ostensibly Green cycling mayor took office – so it seems a bit rich to claim credit for the sustainable way Wellingtonians move around the city when they’ve been doing it that way for decades.

    But it’s good to hear that the council is (finally) taking action on the EV infrastructure they’ve been dragging their heels on. Perhaps that might offset some of the increases in emissions that will result when your colleagues at the Regional Council decommission the (zero emissions) trolley bus fleet and replace it with polluting diesels.

  4. paul white, 3. December 2016, 2:42

    Good call on catching out the Zealandia joke that our local politicians claim is proof of progressive policy. It’s window dressing on a shopfront on a back street that few use and all have to pay for to keep open. I’ve moved to Montreal recently where Teslas run as taxis and the local Costco has a bank of charging stations. Presumably the cab companies have their own back up chargers to cover any shortfalls. Most certainly the city hasn’t paid for chargers to benefit Costco shoppers. Portland Oregon, where my family hail from, has electric cars galore and has had them for years. The dozen or so Fred Meyer hyper-supermarkets dotted around the city have had large banks of chargers available to customers for at least five years. Costcos and others as well. It’s common sense, provide the hook ups and customers will prefer to come to your store. It’s why you see so many Fiat 500 and GM electrics running around on motorways and city streets there. And I’ve noticed any parking garage I’ve parked in any West Coast city I’ve visited always has half a level with charging facilities.

    The WCC has been actively anti-car — anti any type of car — for the last five years following the simple minded, Green Party-like narrow view of the world. NZ and especially Wellington always seemed focused on ‘progressive’ solutions that are 10 years old, missing where things are really headed. When I move back to NZ in 2 years at least I can be reassured that things will still be the same.

  5. Concerned Wellingtonian, 3. December 2016, 9:48

    The trouble is that long-serving councillors have very little of the wide experience of people like Paul White who are experts in knowing what they are talking about. There should be a better way to get rid of long-servers.

  6. CPH, 3. December 2016, 11:54

    Paul White is right – the real reason Wellington doesn’t have car chargers is because the Green Party doesn’t want people to have cars, whether they are electric or not. This might be fine for people living in the central city but the rest of us need cars to live and work.

  7. Henry Filth, 4. December 2016, 2:14

    The history of transport is one of increased individuality, on an arc from the stagecoach, through the train, to the bicycle, the motorcycle, to the car, then on to the Segway and the hover board. People will not readily abandon their personal transport.

    To leave Wellington without access to the infrastructure necessary for electric personal transport is to perpetuate the city as a filthy oil-fueled anachronism. With a small coterie of lycra-clad sociopaths providing the light relief.

  8. Michael Gibson, 4. December 2016, 6:40

    CPH, a close relative lives very happily in central Wellington with his electric car. He charges it at home every night & it is ideal for his daily commute of some seventy kilometres.
    I should be interested in what the Greens think about this.

  9. Victor Davie, 4. December 2016, 9:54

    I saw the recent public display of electric cars at the Waitangi Park Sunday market. The Tesla model has an incredible 300km+ range on a single charge. But they are very expensive. The Nissan Leaf has a range of some 150km. There was a nice blue one and the owner used it for his daily Horokiwi to Central City commute. No more fossil fuel, exhaust repairs, deadly exhaust emissions, oil or filters, spark plugs, engine tuning, cam belt replacement, fan belt replacement, use and pollution of precious water etc. And a warrant of fitness test only requires tyres, brakes and steering to be checked. So simple.

  10. KB, 4. December 2016, 17:12

    Electric vehicles are the future of vehicle transport. Autonomous vehicles are the future of public transport. This isn’t a debate or argument, every auto manufacturer on earth has already announced that as its future, anyone who thinks different simply hasn’t done their homework.

  11. Henry Filth, 4. December 2016, 20:00

    So where are the charging points so we can drive into the future, KB?

  12. Andrew, 4. December 2016, 22:16

    And there I was hoping teleporting was the future… Johnny cabs it is then?

  13. KB, 5. December 2016, 10:28

    @henry: every home in the country has dozens of charging points – as long as you have a long enough extension cord to reach your car from a standard power plug. But the point of this article is that Wellington city is woefully behind in providing any charging infrastructure, and I agree with other commenters that it probably has a lot to do with the council’s antipathy to cars in general, electric or otherwise.

  14. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 6. December 2016, 22:01

    As Cllr Andy Foster has stated above, discussions are well advanced with several technology providers. You will see these start to be rolled out in the first half of next year. But electric cars still take up road space, even if they aren’t responsible for the local emissions of petrol and diesel vehicles. They still require somewhere to park. Is anyone suggesting that in addition to the current exemption from vehicle registration/RUCs, there should be free or subsidised all-day parking for EVs?

    As for cycling – there is considerable central government funding available over the next 3-4 years for some high quality cycle commuting routes, which should see a big proportional increase in cycling numbers and a consequent decrease in vehicle-related emissions, traffic congestion and car-parking demand. The growing availability of electric-assist bikes widens cycling to work to a broader sector of the population.

    Cllr Chris Calvi-Freeman, Portfolio leader, transport strategy & operations, WCC

  15. KB, 7. December 2016, 7:39

    @Chris Calvi-Freeman: thanks for the response.

    At present electric cars require the exact same amount of parking space as any other car, no one is doubting that and suggesting they get free parking. However autonomous vehicles are rolling out very quickly, and once they are officially cleared for use on New Zealand roads then all of a sudden electric autonomous vehicles require very little in the way of CBD parking, as they can drop the owner at the desired location and retreat out of the CBD to avoid parking fees (which might mean inner city suburban streets become swamped with cars), or even returning all the way home until needed again for the afternoon commute trip. An even more likely scenario is cars dropping their owners in town for some shopping and/or a lunch and the car just circling the CBD roads until it’s summoned by its owner for pickup (can you imagine what this will mean for traffic flows?) Autonomous cars are going to create a huge change in parking and traffic behaviour; the sooner the council realises the potential ramifications coming very soon, the better.

  16. PCGM, 7. December 2016, 8:12

    Chris Calvi-Freeman – I wasn’t advocating for “free or subsidised all-day parking for EVs”. Rather, I was pointing out that while fossil-fueled cars can park in the city for $4/hr on the street, EVs need to pay $15/hr whilst parked on a commercial charger – and this appears to make Wellington unique as the one capital city on the planet that penalises rather than encourages EVs.

    Which seems a bit odd, given that the council’s Climate Change Action Plan 2013 has committed to concrete emissions reduction goals: “By 2020, the city aims for a 30 percent reduction from 2001 levels and the Council a 40 percent reduction from 2003 levels. By 2050, both the city and Council aim for an 80 percent reduction relative to the respective base year.” How did you think this would be achieved if the council isn’t prepared to take even the smallest steps to encourage pollution-free transport?

    It does seem that commenters are correct – the council is actively anti-car, and that all the hand-waving about climate change is merely greenwashing.

  17. Keith Flinders, 7. December 2016, 9:28

    If the uptake of autonomous vehicles sees more people wanting to use them rather than buses, trains, light rail, then that creates peak period congestion issues. If 20,000 autonomous vehicles users call for their cars to pick them up in the CBD between 17:00 and 17:30 they will clog not only city streets, but the feeder routes from the parking locations. Add to that the residents in the suburbs who may get upset at their streets being turned into all day parking lots. A repeat of the Miramar/Airport parking situation will not be ideal, as I expect Chris CF will agree.

    It is estimated that once the Transmission Gully route is operational we could see another 10,000 cars a day heading into Wellington and perhaps parking in Karori, Wilton, Wadestown, Ngaio, as CBD spaces are already at a premium.

    Public transport is the future for Wellington.

  18. CPH, 7. December 2016, 13:10

    Keith Flinders – The projections about autonomous vehicles are that they will be much more efficient than buses. From Wikipedia:

    Currently, maximum controlled-access highway throughput or capacity according to the U.S. Highway Capacity Manual is about 2,200 passenger vehicles per hour per lane, with about 5% of the available road space taken up by cars. According to researchers at Columbia University, autonomous cars could increase capacity by 273% (~8,200 cars per hour per lane). Their study also estimated that with 100% connected vehicles using vehicle-to-vehicle communication, capacity could reach 12,000 passenger vehicles per hour (up 445% from 2,200 pc/hr per lane) traveling safely at 120 km/h (75 mph) with a following gap of about 6 m (20 ft) of each other. Currently, at highway speeds drivers keep between 40 to 50 m (130 to 160 ft) away from the car in front. These increases in highway capacity could have a significant impact in traffic congestion, particularly in urban areas, and even effectively end highway congestion in some places.

    Plus autonomous cars will be able to go places where there is no bus service or it’s very irregular, which is plenty of suburbs in Wellington.

  19. Andrew, 7. December 2016, 15:46

    Awesome. So an autonomous vehicle ‘snake’ with no breaks in it will be winding its way through the heart of our suburbs. How do I or my kids cross the road? Or is the flock/hive mind aware of pedestrians waiting and a gap will be created?

  20. KB, 7. December 2016, 20:45

    Andrew and Keith, your dire sounding realisations about what AVs might get up to in the suburbs are likely correct. However the presumption that these annoyances will somehow cause everyone to switch from the luxury, safety and ecofreindliness of private automated electric travel to using inconvenient shared public transport is unlikely to eventuate. Once everyone realises the futility of trying to plan for a future transport network that doesn’t include widespread use of autonomous cars, the sooner we can start planning how to avoid the less pleasant consequences of them

  21. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 7. December 2016, 22:33

    An interesting debate. I think we’ll wait and see just how quickly autonomous vehicles begin to take over our streets before worrying too much about what to do about them. I think it might take just a little longer than some are suggesting. And of course the predicted benefits of much higher vehicle carrying capacity per road lane won’t be realised until all non-autonomous vehicles are excluded from those lanes. This includes cycles as well of course. Personally, I hope autonomous vehicle technology will see a whole raft of small buses available to work at low cost in ferrying people between railway stations (etc) and their homes.

    PCGM: I’m sure we’ll be able to roll out EV charging points (if the demand warrants it) alongside pay & display machines and establish a charge which is reasonable. Setting this up may require an initial ratepayer subsidy. Oops, scratch that, I forgot – the council is “anti-car”.

  22. Andrew, 7. December 2016, 22:51

    KB, I doubt the annoyances will drive me to public transport. I’m thinking more of transport within a suburb. Travelling by foot is still super efficient, especially around school pick up times. AV probably wont change the 3pm jam caused by people too lazy to walk. Extremely unecofriendly in other ways.

  23. Keith Flinders, 8. December 2016, 10:12

    CPH: Who am I to dispute the findings of Columbia University as applied to quite a different set of road circumstances to those in Wellington. One only has to look at the morning peak hour traffic on the suburban motorway Nauranga to the city, and Nauranga north to the Hutt. At such times traffic is almost bumper to bumper, albeit that an AV could be smart enough to be even closer to the one ahead, and operate within narrower lanes thus allowing more lanes at minimal cost. But then where do trucks and non AVs get to travel. Calculating the footprint of an average car and comparing it to available road surface is the starting point for deciding total capacity with AVs in mind. Next is efficiently getting the vehicles off the motorway at the city end choke points. Once on city streets the capacity argument is paramount too.

    Some mornings it appears, from my distant observation point, that the Hutt motorway traffic is travelling at less than 10 kph when actually moving, and averaging less. In the future, we who elect to live in built up areas are not going to enjoy, to the same extent, the convenience the private motor vehicle has given us in the past.

  24. PCGM, 8. December 2016, 11:26

    Chris Calvi-Freeman – Cyclists are already excluded from parts of SH1/SH2 where the benefits of autonomous vehicle convoys can be expected to have the greatest benefit, so it sounds like you’re clutching at a bit of a straw man.

    But on the subject of EVs, based on the national figures it appears that NZers have already bought more than 2,000 of them. On a per-population basis, there are therefore likely to be somewhere between 100 and 150 electric cars in the Wellington region – and as they’re still quite expensive, they probably represent at least a $30,000 investment each. So Wellingtonians have already invested at least $3m – $4.5m in a low-emissions future, where the council seems to have not invested a single cent. The question about when the council will finally get on the bandwagon therefore stands, along with the observation that Wellington very much looks like it’s dragging its heels compared to other capitals around the world.

    After all, if the council is prepared to spend money on the Island Bay cycleway on the basis that demand will (eventually, hopefully) materialise, why is it not prepared to do so with another form of emissions-free transport?

  25. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 8. December 2016, 23:13

    PCGM – I’m new to WCC and to my portfolio. I’m taking advice where appropriate from Cllr Andy Foster and others about what has been planned, considered or implemented in recent years – please see his and my postings above.

    The Wellingtonians who’ve bought EVs have presumably done so after researching available charging options (most likely their own garages); many more may do this in future but I agree that to get still more EVs replacing petrol powered cars we’ll need to put in a network of charging points. Rolling these out in London a few years ago, the local councils were actually admonished for putting in more charging points than there were EVs, so you have to try and stay in step as EVs become more popular.

    Of course councils’ support for cycling takes place with the expectation that bikes achieve more than just emissions reduction – there are health, mobility/equity/accessibility and congestion/parking reduction benefits involved as well that are not applicable to EVs.

  26. andy foster, 21. January 2017, 9:24

    Progress as promised above – below is part of a release received this week from Mevo who we have been working very closely with over the last 18 months or so. They have been doing a very thorough establishment job. We have agreed to provide up to 100 spaces throughout the city for EV charging/car share.

    Warmest regards

    Subject: Mevo Awarded Match Funding by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority to grow to 50 vehicles throughout Wellington
    ● Mevo, New Zealand’s first electric hybrid car-share, has been conditionally approved funding for up to $500,000 from the Low Emission Vehicles Fund managed by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority.
    ● They intend to use this funding to swiftly expand their vehicle network within Wellington.
    ● The announcement is a huge vote of support for the Wellington based startup, who launched on the 12th of December.
    Mevo is excited to have been conditionally approved funding for up to $500,000 as part the Low Emission Vehicles Fund managed by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA). Mevo will use this to grow to 50 electric hybrid vehicles with dedicated charging stations and provide a further 16 publically available electric charging stations around Wellington CBD through 2017.


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