As electric vehicles become one of the hot policy topics ahead of the New Zealand election, NZ energy gentailer Mercury has joined forces with car share enterprise Cityhop to extend a trial of EVs.

A second EV is being added to Cityhop’s Downtown carpark in the Auckland CBD, which is also where Mercury installed the CBD’s first charge point in 2015.

The new car-share vehicle is a Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV).

The other EV in the Cityhop fleet is a Nissan Leaf that has been based in Newmarket since the trial kicked off in May this year.

Since the Leaf was put into service, it has been used by 35 different drivers, and travelled over 2200 kilometres, Cityhop business development manager Ben Carter says.

“We’ve had consistent feedback about how easy to drive the car is, and how the Newmarket location suits them.”

He said the extension of the trial into the CBD puts the new EV near to the bulk of the enterprises’ business and personal members.

“The trial has shown us that the EV is used by Cityhop members for personal use outside of business hours, along with its use as part of the Mercury fleet. The sharing model has been perfect for these two groups of users.”

Auckland mayor Phil Goff, who drives an EV himself, is positive about the future of shared EVs in the city.

“Car sharing and electric vehicles are part of the solution for decongesting Auckland and reducing pollution,” Mr Goff said.

“Every car share vehicle takes up to 13 cars off our roads and every electric vehicle is one less car sending carbon into our atmosphere.”

Mercury is also itself a convert, having owned and driven EVs since 2013, the company’s chief executive Fraser Whineray said.

“This partnership between Mercury and Cityhop is about testing innovative and sustainable approaches to ease Auckland’s transport challenges.”

Where the parties stand

In the lead up to the election, a number of the key parties have released policy positions on transport that include pro-EV initiatives.

The incumbent National Party wants to see EVs comprise one-third of government-owned vehicles by 2021 – a date well within the likely term of its government should it be re-elected.

The Maori Party want to see EVs subsidised for community groups; The Opportunities Party (TOP) has said it would replace the whole public sector vehicle fleet with EVs; and NZ First has promised to require all government vehicles be electric ones by 2025 or 2026.

The Greens would exempt all EVs from fringe benefit tax, and Labour would mandate that all future government vehicle fleets comprise electric vehicles.

Will a winning policy deliver the big outcome?

However, a new study released last week by the University of Otago’s Centre for Sustainability has slammed the short-term electoral cycle as “unproductive” in terms of reaching sustainability goals for transport.

Co-author Dr Janet Stephenson, director of the Centre for Sustainability, said the government tended to focus on limited-scope projects in the transport sector.

“Transport investments and issues are long-term and not well-suited to three-year election cycles,” Dr Stephenson said.

“Ideally there should be cross-party agreement on some fundamental principles of transport sustainability to ensure we don’t continue to get policy flip-flops, and also don’t lock ourselves into infrastructure commitments which tie us to unsustainable transport for decades to come.”

The research paper looked at the problems created by “automobility” – a transport system dominated by high levels of private-vehicle ownership, near-complete reliance on fossil fuels and sprawling urban areas.

“Our study looked for ‘deep interventions’ – longer-term strategies that underpin the transport sector and influence how decisions are made,” she said.

“These deeper changes are about how the transport system is funded, how funding allocation decisions are made, and how we design our cities.”

Dr Stephenson said government agencies needed to make sure their policies were aligned.

“For example, the Ministry of Transport does not control urban form. Getting more people using active transport and having fewer diesel cars spewing particulates improves public health,” she said.

“More efficient cars and more use of public transport means we use less energy and there are lower greenhouse gas emissions.

“So transport, health, housing, energy and environment are all interrelated. If you can align good outcomes from them all, you can have win-wins all round.”

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