Fleet cars shouldn't sit in the garage in a climate emergency

Kirsten Corsen

Whether petrol cars or EVs, publicly-listed companies and government agencies should report their fleet use over the working day.

Opinion: I spoke to a friend this week who had her livestock swept away, her house flooded and her car float away too. Luckily she and her family are safe, but she has lost her home and all of her possessions.

As someone typing in a warm, watertight home, I can’t comprehend the emotional and financial stress she’s going through right now.

When the Christchurch earthquakes happened, we could put it down to random bad tectonic luck.

However, are we ready to admit that these recent extreme weather events are because of climate change and there is actually something we could do about it?

Even with the significant media campaigns and efforts by police, 377 Kiwis died on our roads in 2022.

However, the 2,247 deaths caused by transport air pollution last year rarely made it into the spotlight. Despite the increased prevalence in childhood asthma, the additional $10.5 billion social costs and hospitalisations that our vehicle emissions also cause; these fatalities are swept under the death statistics carpet. It is not that palatable accepting that the trucks, buses and cars that we all drive are killing us.

These trucks, buses and cars, and other transport modes like planes, are also contributing 47 percent of our total transport CO2 emissions for Aotearoa. Unfortunately, our transport emissions have been rising.

Kiwis also spend $7b-$8b on fossil fuels each year so there is also a financial opportunity as EV’s energy costs are equivalent to about $0.30/litre of petrol. This would put more money in the back pocket of everyday Kiwis.

The sad reality is the transport choices we make are having an economic, social and environmental impact on our lives.

With the recent extreme weather events, many of us are asking what can we do and what is the Government doing?

This year marked the start of the Government’s Clean Car Standard where car importers will either pay or get credits on the emissions profile of the vehicles they are importing. The maximum fee for high emission new cars is $5175 and $2875 for used imports.

This legislation compliments the Clean Car Discount which came into effect on 1 April 2022 which offers a $8625 payment for new and up to $3,450 for used EV/hybrid purchases. This legislation has been spectacularly successful in encouraging the uptake of electric vehicles, surpassing the Government’s expectations. Most months, 20 percent of new vehicles sales are now low emission and electric. Approximately 55 percent of luxury cars sales are now low emission and electric too.

Are these policies and the increase in EVs going to solve the problem though?

As David Williams reported these high clean car strategies ignore the stark reality that while electrifying our cars is part of the equation in transport, there is much more to do and it needs to be done swiftly.

Our business community is responsible for 70 percent of new car sales. We have seen the beginnings of electrification of large business fleets, which is positive. However, the reality is we need significant rationalisation of our fleets at the same time as a mode shift.

Businesses that are buying or leasing cars for them to sit in their car parks idle are not helping their bottom line or the environment. It doesn’t matter if it’s petrol or EV, it’s a depreciating asset with a carbon footprint.

What would happen if publicly listed and government agencies had to report their fleet use over a 10-hour working day and over 24 hours? Somehow we need to put the spotlight on fleet numbers and usage.

Why aren’t local and central government mandating or incentivising EV-charging infrastructure wiring in a percentage of new commercial and residential builds?

We are seeing bold companies, such as Genesis, remove all company cars and car parks from salary packages, offer discounts on public transport and opening up company EVs to take home after hours. Unfortunately, the majority of the business community are sedately embarking on this sort of change.

The Government fleet has steadily grown to more than 16,000 vehicles and many businesses still have a culture of including cars and car parks in salary packages for their executives. Kiwis see it as a measure of success as to what car we drive into the office car park. Many CEOs I speak with don’t have the support of their senior leadership team to make significant changes to company car policies.

As Dr Paul Winton from the 1point5 Project confirms: “We are just moving too slowly with not enough awareness from the business community that they need to be doing much more.” His analysis shows that to pull our weight in New Zealand towards a 1.5C world we need to largely decarbonise road transport by 2030. Sadly, any petrol and diesel cars that businesses are buying today will spend two decades on our roads, which makes this goal even further away.

There are some easy wins for Kiwis, though, as a third of our car trips are 2km or less which equates to 1.5 billion+ trips on our roads. Walking, scooters and bikes are surely a potential option for many of us? Not only would that help the environment, but also reduce the billions of dollars’ worth of lost productivity from congestion. In Auckland alone it is estimated to cost over $1.5b in lost productivity each year.

The National government implemented the RUC exemption on EVs which the Labour government has made a commitment to continue until 31 March 2024. But what other policies do we need coming from our politicians?

For starters, an extension to the RUC exemption is required to give confidence to our heavy transport sector.

Where is the FBT exemption on bikes, scooters, e-mopeds and public transport so businesses can provide incentives for their staff to mode shift?

Why aren’t local and central government mandating or incentivising EV-charging infrastructure wiring in a percentage of new commercial and residential builds? Many property developers aren’t even provisioning wiring or switch board capacity creating a much greater financial cost post-build, compared with if it was done at the time.

The Ministry of Social Development is funding over $30m each year to repair old high emission vehicles with low safety ratings. What sort of support could we provide to encourage low emission mobility options so we can all afford to decarbonise?

Our local governments are also going to have to question their acceptance of large urban sprawl without any consideration of public transport or cycle ways. They are exacerbating car dependence.

So the reality for us all is if we also want to improve health outcomes and slow climate change, we are going to have to change how we move around. How many extreme weather events is it going to take for us to look in the mirror and make some changes?

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