We're all familiar with the bleating from the big cities in NZ about traffic congestion (or 'chaos' as the media present it) and disturbingly large numbers have been put about for the amount of time and potential wasted, plus the environmental damage of building, operating and disposing of cars.
The covid-19 lockdown was our great opportunity to get out of the car-commuting habit and start up other forms of commuting that would save ourselves money, reduce our time wasted, and improve our air quality and other environmental measures. However, it looks like we've blown it. We're getting back into our cars, getting stuck in traffic jams again, and demanding that our local and national governments spend a brazillion dollars to add new capacity - dollars that come not from the government, but from ratepayers and taxpayers.
It's clear that individuals won't easily make the decision to use alternatives to cars, therefore the incentives need to be stronger, and the costs of using cars steadily increased on a number of fronts.
On the incentive side, the immediate alternatives are two wheels, whether petrol, electric or pedal powered, seated or standing. The technology is available now, all an individual needs to do is make the decision and go down to the shop. The infrastructure broadly exists to support two wheels, but can (or should) be dramatically enhanced to make riding safe and convenient. We need to turn our road design philosophy right around - to design infrastructure for two wheels, with cars as the afterthought. It's been done in Holland and Denmark very successfully, and we can do it here, with enough political will. We also need to mandate cycle and cyclist-friendly facilities at workplaces.
On the disincentive side, as a start we need to start ramping up the cost of buying and operating a car to build in the full cost of it's direct and indirect externalities - such as mine rehabilitation, CO2 emissions, social impacts of crashes, and so on, to make a clear link between the cause of the externality and the cost to society. Reducing parking spaces in cities, and of course, congestion charging, are other options to put the sinking lid on car use in cities. Another safety initiative that seems to work in more enlightened countries is that in a car/cycle prang the car driver is assumed to be at fault unless they can prove otherwise, which changes the sense of privilege or entitlement of the driver to an attitude of care and awareness that is needed for road safety.
New Zealand doesn't have the population density or scale for public transport to be both pervasive and frequent without being subsidised by local or national government, which means it has limited potential to improve commuters lives for a reasonable cost. Public transport is open to continuous improvement, but unlikely to offer the big changes we need to make now.
Cars will still have their place in this vision of the future. The Kiwi road trip is still core to who we are, we still need to tow the boat to the beach, alternatives are simply not feasible for some people (e.g. handicapped), and there still is the need for commercial and contractor vehicles to move around the cities and country. But cars need to be replaced as the vehicle of choice for commuting. Two wheels are here, now. Let's use them extensively and change our lives and our society for the better.