The Minister of Transport released a statement on Wednesday which boasted that traffic volumes were up, and that this was a sure sign of economic recovery:

“Total travel [measured in kilometres travelled] was flat between 2005 and 2012, but growth returned in 2013 with a 1.6 per cent increase in total travel nationwide, and more recent data suggests larger increases are on the way,” Mr Brownlee says.

What is interesting is the first part of that statement. Total travel was flat between 2005 and 2012 – that’s 7 years. Growth in road travel had stabilised, which may have been for a number of reasons – increasing awareness of the environmental cost of road travel, concern at the cost of petrol, increase in the availability of the internet reducing the demand for meetings. A progressive, forward-looking Minister of Transport – one who was aware of the inevitability of climate change and our need to reduce carbon emissions – might have championed this statistic, and looked for ways to start reducing the amount of travel. But no, not Brownlee. For him, progress is a SUV hurtling needlessly down a 3-lane highway, one person in the cab (one example would be traffic coming in to Christchurch from the north; 84% of vehicles on this stretch have just one person in the car).

Why is road travel increasing? Probably due to the billions of dollars National is throwing at their Roads of National Significance program. We know that if you build a road, people will use it. It seems that as the RONS start coming online, people are using them, and road travel is going up again. From Christopher Kissling, an emeritus professor of transport studies:

Motorways induce more demand. Congestion never disappears. Experience elsewhere shows that fixing one black spot simply moves it to another place.

It is remarkable that after the best part of a decade, while road travel was flat, and the evidence pointing towards climate change was stacking up, this government is still fixated on finding ways to increase road usage, and to open up new areas of our country for mining and drilling for more things to burn. But then, should we really be surprised when this Minister is the man who was proud to open the Pike River Mine?

Brownlee opens Pike River Mine - from Rebecca Macfie's excellent book "Tragedy at Pike River Mine"

Brownlee opens Pike River Mine – from Rebecca Macfie’s excellent book “Tragedy at Pike River Mine”