Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Skip to main content Skip to page navigation
Simon Kingham is the Ministry's Chief Science Adviser and has provided a list of questions and answers below to current topics in the transport system. 


Congestion and Emissions

What is induced demand?

Latent demand is travel that cannot be realised because of constraints. For example congestion, even a small amount, deters some people from travelling. If these constraints are removed induced demand is released e.g. adding a lane of road space to reduce congestion will encourage additional people to drive who previously didn’t.            

For more information - link)

Why can’t we just build more roads to solve congestion?

Building new highways generally encourages more car travel. This is a result of a concept called induced demand, where a constraint, for example some congestion or a reduced speed limit, deters some people from travelling. If these constraints are removed induced demand is released e.g. adding a lane of road space to reduce congestion will encourage additional people to drive who previously didn’t.      

For more information -

Where will the traffic go if we remove a lane of road?

When road space is removed, for example closing a lane, we actually find some people stop driving. This is because a small increase in journey time through congestion, encourages some people to stop travelling on that road at that time and traffic reduces without other neighbouring roads becoming overly congested.   

Which is worse - idling in traffic or taking a longer route?

There are multiple reason why emissions vary. These include the speed, acceleration, idling, breaking etc, and also of course the length of route. And it is not as simple as saying that smooth driving reduces emissions research shows even on roads with no impediments drivers brake and accelerate unnecessarily, increasing congestion and emissions.             


Can new highways actually help to reduce emissions if vehicles travel more smoothly on them?

Building new highways is unlikely to lead to reduced emissions through smoother traffic flow, as any benefits from smoother traffic flow are likely to be far smaller than growth in emissions from increased traffic. This is because new highways have been shown to encourage more car travel (induced demand).        


Investing in cycleways

Do cycleways kill businesses?

Overall, the research suggests that businesses don't do any worse when cycle lanes replace car lanes of parking. In fact, if anything they seem to do better. This is because of a multiple reasons. This includes the fact that that many people who park outside business don't necessarily go in them, and that one car parking space can fit multiple bikes, and possibly more customers. Research has also shown that people who travel to businesses seem to spend more; one argument being that their travel has cost less and saved them money. Businesses can suffer while any building work takes place in close proximity to them, but this is not the same.             

For more information - link)

Why do we keep building cycleways when so few people cycle?

Research shows us that the people choose to cycle if they feel safe; and the key to feeling safe is being separated from traffic. Evidence from around the world shows that the number of people cycling is related to the quality and quantity of infrastructure provided, and that the more quality infrastructure you provide, the more people cycle. People sometimes refer to this as "Build it and they will come', and it has been shown to apply to all transport infrastructure. In New Zealand we have heavily in invested in road building so many people drive, partly as they have no other options. Where we invest in good public transport, more people travel by train and bus (probably best seen in parts of Wellington and Auckland). Where we provide good cycle infrastructure, we see more people travelling by bicycle (starting to best be seen in Christchurch).             

For more information -

Why are cycle ways so expensive?

The key to encouraging more people to cycle is they need to feel safe. In many cases this can be quiet, low traffic speed streets, which are very cheap to create. In other areas it is physical separation from traffic, which can be more expensive. The expensive sections tend to attract the headlines, and some cycle projects have come with pretty hefty price tags, the most obvious example being the Auckland Harbour crossing. However, generally cycleways are cheap, especially when compared with other transport infrastructure projects e.g. roads and rail. In addition, some of the more expensive cycleways actually include the costs of other infrastructure. For example, the Wellington-Petone shared pathway, not only includes pedestrian paths, but also includes work on the seawall to protect the road and rail corridors; this makes it a lot more expensive.             

For more information -

Why aren't cyclists registered or licensed?

The arguments for some form of bicycle registration are: that cyclists should be accountable to the laws and some form of registration (perhaps including number plates) would allow this; that registration could raise funds to pay for bicycle infrastructure; and that the process would include some form of cycling test which would make cyclists safer riders. The arguments against are that it would be: bureaucratic and expensive to manage (and the costs of doing so would far outweigh any revenue raised); complicated and confusing deciding who and what to include (children, tricycles, unicycles, people who never ride on the road etc); a barrier to people on low income who use a bike because they cannot afford a car; and, financially wrong as cyclists already pay for cycle infrastructure. It should be noted that I am not aware of any country in the world who operates such a system (Japan does for anti-theft reasons).             

For more information -

How are cyclists paying for the new cycle lanes?

Transport funding in New Zealand comes from a number of sources. These include regular central government funds (e.g. fuel excise duty (petrol), road user charges (diesel), vehicle registration and licensing and other crown revenues) and regular local government funds from rates. There are also occasional investments such as the NZ Upgrade Program and the Provincial Growth Fund. Many of these are paid by anyone who pays any type of tax, which includes many people who cycle. The proportion of this money that is spent on cycleways rarely exceeds 2% of the total. In addition, the benefits (mainly in health and environmental benefits) from investing in cycle infrastructure far outweigh the money invested in them.        

For more information - link)

Isn't it too wet to cycle in New Zealand?

Weather, including rain, is not one of the biggest barriers to people choosing to cycle (the biggest barrier is that people do not feel safe). Rates of commuter cycling in Christchurch are only 10% down in winter compared to other times of year. In addition, levels of rainfall in New Zealand are no more than countries where cycling rates are substantially higher such as the Netherlands and Denmark; and research has shown that in New Zealand's main cities if someone cycled to work every day, they would only get wet half a dozen times.  

For more information - link)