Story: Transport – overview

Page 1. Transport trends

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Transport allows people or goods to be moved between places. In the past, it was also the main way of transferring information, through mail or by oral accounts from travellers. Means of transport include walking; human-powered or sail-driven water craft; animals and animal-powered vehicles; and machine-powered vehicles on land and water and in the air.

Adopting new transport

Reasons for adopting new forms of transport include greater speed and comfort, more freedom of choice, and prestige from travelling in the new way. Sometimes purchase and running costs have limited the uptake of new transport technology, especially for commercial carrying of goods. However, speed and reliability of service can outweigh these costs.

19th-century transport

In New Zealand for much of the 19th century, water transport – by waka (canoe), sailing vessel and then steamship – was best for long journeys and for moving cargo. Later, people preferred to travel by rail and, in many towns, by tram. Steam locomotives competed strongly with steamships for hauling cargo. Away from navigable waterways and railway lines, animal-powered transport using bullocks – and, increasingly, horses – remained a flexible form of carrying goods and people over shorter distances. People walked where other options were unavailable, impractical or too expensive, but bicycles increasingly offered an efficient alternative.

20th-century transport

Early in the 20th century motor transport began to challenge the dominance of steam. Its main advantage was greater personal freedom. During the interwar period motor vehicles became so widespread that they were the dominant form of land transport. Meanwhile the internal combustion engine had been adapted for powered aircraft, and diesel-engined ships gradually replaced steamers. In the later 20th century jets made flying cheaper and faster. They became the first choice for travel over long distances and for transporting valuable and perishable products.

Let your fingers do the driving

Continued rapid progress in electronic communications has raised hopes that travel for shopping, leisure and work will be reduced. It probably helped explain the increase in the proportion of those working at home – from 8.3% in 1996 to 9.2% a decade later.

Transport in the 2000s

In the early 2000s most people used private motor cars for everyday travel. The number of New Zealanders for each licensed car dropped from 2.03 to 1.86 between 2000 and 2006. The proportion of workers who drove to work increased from 63.2% in 1996 to 65.3% in 2006, while the proportion of those walking, jogging, travelling as passengers or bicycling fell. A surge in oil prices and the cost of petrol in 2007 and 2008 almost certainly had some effect on car use. However, the development of large malls and of ‘big barn’ retailing, which mainly depended on private motor transport, continued. Motor transport remained the main way of shifting goods. Despite considerable economic growth, the volume of freight carried by rail increased by less than 1% between 2000 and 2006.

International air travel also remained pervasive. The number of New Zealanders departing overseas for less than 12 months in 2008/9 was 64% greater than in 1998/99, slightly more than the increase in short-term international visitors. The financial crisis that began in 2008 affected the tourist industry, but represented only a minor reversal of the trend.

Climate change concerns

In the early 2000s there were concerns about emissions from motor vehicles and jet aircraft contributing to global climate change, with commentators labelling the growing level of dependence on fossil-fuel-based transport as unsustainable in the long term. However, this did not significantly affect people’s transport choices. Although ‘hybrid’ petrol and electric cars provided little competition to those driven by petrol alone, some saw these alternatives as offering solutions to the emissions problem.

How to cite this page:

James Watson, 'Transport – overview - Transport trends', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/transport-overview/page-1 (accessed 23 September 2021)

Story by James Watson, published 11 Mar 2010