Will Australia dare follow Paris and support bikes and electric trucks instead of fossil SUVs?

The government has released its Transport and Infrastructure Net Zero Consultation Roadmap but $100 million over 4 years for 'active transport' won't go far.

The federal government says it is looking to “active transport” such as bicycles and electric trucks as it considers new means to offset the growth of petrol and diesel SUV sales that threaten to undermine progress in electric cars. But far how will it go?

The government’s Transport and Infrastructure Net Zero Consultation Roadmap released this week highlights potential decarbonisation pathways for the transport sector.

“If we do not act, transport emissions are on track to be the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia by 2030, with almost 60% of these emissions coming from the light vehicle sector,” transport minister Catherine King and climate and energy minister Chris Bowen write in the introduction.

“A failure to act would also be a missed opportunity to increase the productivity and resilience of our transport sector, the infrastructure which it underpins and the job creation which will come from the sector’s Net Zero transition.”

Decarbonising the movement of people

In addition to accelerating electric vehicle uptake through measures such as the New Vehicle Efficiency Standard, the roadmap also identifies the promotion of active and public transport as possible significant contributors to transport decarbonisation.

“Active and public transport can support decarbonisation efforts while easing congestion and household transport costs, increasing physical activity levels and reducing harmful pollution, heat and noise,” the roadmap says.

“Achieving higher rates of active and public travel requires investment in electrified public transport and improvements in the safety, connectivity, and convenience of walking and cycling infrastructure.

“This will require all levels of government, especially state and local governments, to continue to work together on the planning, design and delivery of this infrastructure investment.”

The roadmap notes the government’s recent announcement of its $100 million Active Transport Fund for the construction and upgrade of bicycle and walking paths to encourage people out of cars.

While a positive step in this largely neglected area, spread across Australia’s major cities $100 million won’t go very far. If Australia really wants to get serious about promoting active transport and decongesting our cities, governments should really be spending billions not millions on infrastructure that makes people feel safe enough to ditch their cars.

And how amazing would that be? Can you imagine cruising around stunning Sydney on an electric bike without the fear of two-tonne SUV’s crossing over the painted-lines-pretending-to-be-bike-lanes we have now?

This has been the case in Paris where there’s been a Cycling Revolution over the past 5 years thanks to the city’s pro-biking mayor Anne Hidalgo, who has pushed through many anti-car measures over her two terms in local government.

Paris has significantly reduced the number of car parking places, restricted access to SUVs, and closed some major roads to motorists.

A recent survey shows the measures have resulted in a boom in biking culture in the french capital. 18.9% of morning peak hour trips in the city now made by bike compared to just 6.6% by car. In February Parisians voted to triple parking fees for SUVs to curb pollution in the city.

Credit must be given to Sydney Mayor Clover Moore who has been a fierce advocate for increasing commuter biking in Sydney.

In addition to rolling out separated bike lanes through Sydney’s CBD, Sydney City Council has set aside $69 million for bicycle related works over the next four years, much more than its likely share of the federal government’s $100 million Active Transport Fund.

If state and federal governments really get serious about funding safe biking infrastructure we could see a rapid shift like that which is happening in Paris.

Electric buses and ferries reduce emissions and the need for private cars

In addition to an increased focus on commuter biking and walking, the transport sector roadmap also identifies the electrification of public transport as an area where government should invest.

“Electric buses and ferries need to be prevalent across the country, powered by renewable electricity, alongside existing electric trains and trams. The Australian Government could accelerate the electrification of the public transport fleet by investing in the delivery of charging infrastructure in strategic locations,” says the roadmap.

“The transition to electrified public transport could drive local manufacturing, create new jobs and stimulate economic growth. Improved public transport connectivity will reduce the need for private car travel, reducing emissions”.

Like the idea of riding an electric bike safely through some of Sydney’s beachside suburbs, the thought of gliding across Sydney Harbour on an electric ferry without the noise and smell of diesel exhaust fumes is surely a vote winning proposal for many Sydneysiders.

Decarbonising the movement of goods, trucks make up a quarter of transport emissions

The roadmap also notes that in 2023, emissions from heavy vehicles such as trucks accounted for 23% of all transport emissions and that heavy vehicle share of emissions is growing.

The roadmap says government is working with the states and territories to remove regulatory barriers (width and mass limits) to support Euro VI standards and the introduction of electric trucks which have higher prime mover weights due to additional batteries.

Government notes that much more will be needed to support electric truck charging infrastructure, especially in regional Australia and that the high upfront cost of switching to zero emission trucks remains a challenge.

“Improving the availability of charging infrastructure and appropriate financing mechanisms to address up-front costs will be important.” says the roadmap.

“There are opportunities to support the uptake of low and zero emission trucks through trials, subsidies or loans. There is also potential for local heavy vehicle manufacturing using Australian made batteries.’

Growing SUV sales may wipe out gains from vehicle efficiency standards

But it’s not all rosy reading. The roadmap also points out that Australia’s obsession with large vehicles could wipe out all the gains from the New Vehicle Efficiency Standard (NVES).

“Sales of bigger and heavier cars such as SUVs are the fastest growing vehicle segment. These trends have the potential to offset any reduction in emissions we may see from fuel efficiency improvements and the increased adoption of electric vehicles (EVs).” says the roadmap.

While pretending to get serious about electric vehicles, car companies have actually increased advertising spend on polluting diesel SUVs in Australia while cutting ad spend on EVs.

A report titled Rammed The advertising that’s killing our climate goals published last week by Comms Declare found that advertising of gas-guzzling SUVs jumped 29% from 2022 to 2023, up $28 million to $125 million, undermining the NVES.

The growth in spending on advertising highly polluting vehicles is leading many climate campaigners including Comms Declare to call for a complete ban on fossil car advertising.

So long as companies can continue to use paid advertising to manipulate people into buying high emission vehicles, the government is fighting climate change with one hand tied behind its back.

Read how 19 year old Ambrose Hayes is on a mission to revolutionise urban transportation and combat climate change, one electric bike ride at a time.

The government is taking public submissions on its Transport and Infrastructure Net Zero Consultation Roadmap until the 26th of July 2024.

Daniel Bleakley
May 31, 2024
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