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A plan to run cable cars along High St could be a "small but significant" start to Dunedin preparing for the effects of peak oil, an Australian transport researcher says.
"Cable cars and trams worked wonderfully 100 years ago when we did not have cheap oil," Associate Prof Philip Laird, of Wollongong University, told the Otago Daily Times last week.
"It may be a case of back to the future, but a city like Dunedin has an opportunity to learn from its past to prepare for the challenges ahead."
Dr Laird, a rail development and energy in transport researcher, said oil prices would eventually force Dunedin from the "common obsession" with the motorcar.
If prices returned to the 2008 peak of nearly $US150 a barrel, there would be incentive to look to fuel-efficient cars and energy-efficient means of transport, including cable cars, trams, suburban trains, and buses.
The Dunedin Cable Car Trust's estimated $13 million to $15 million plans to have a cable car run between the Exchange and Mornington looked to be a good start.
The cable car would be made before building and material costs increased too much on the back of the high cost of oil.
It would also demonstrate how an "alternative transport corridor" could work on city roads, he said.
It could encourage similar developments elsewhere in the city, and link to alternative transport elsewhere.
Dunedin's historical development, and its wide main streets, meant there may also be a role for trams or trains, possibly blended as light rail.
"Even a small project can be the start of further planning to include transport alternatives in urban design.
"To start now could have tourism and commuter benefits even before oil prices bite."
There would "no doubt be some talk" about the estimated cost, even if it would not be borne by ratepayers, Dr Laird said.
"But, there is a need for a mindset change.
"Consider this: we are very good at expecting a return from the likes of rail, but not very good at expecting the same return from roads."
Dr Laird said Auckland's rail electrification by 2013, Wellington's new electric trains, and Christchurch's central bus exchange and tourist trams showed the potential to prepare for peak oil.
Government support for the Auckland and Wellington projects suggested Dunedin could seek help for projects that would help ease New Zealand's reliance on imported oil, he said.
Trust chairman Phillip Cole said the trust continued to develop its plans to ensure its benefits outweighed its costs, and would get its money from non-council sources.
He hoped the route would be extended to link with others "once the real benefits are realised".
A meeting for people at the Exchange end of the cable-car route is planned next month.