… long time sprawl and car advocates are beginning to realise that private vehicle use is dropping – even if their reasoning behind the trends and their analysis of the implications is somewhat strange.
But it is interesting to see a post on New Geography, using Auckland as the case study city, detailing the falling use of private vehicles to travel around. Here’s the up front statement by Phil McDermott – author of the blog post on New Geography:
The prospect of falling car use now needs to be firmly factored into planning for western cities.
That may come as a bit of a surprise in light of the preoccupation with city plans that aim to get people out of their cars, but it is already happening. And it is highly likely to continue regardless of whether or not we promote urban consolidation and expensive transit systems.
I don’t really want to turn this into a post that simply picks apart everything stated by Mr McDermott, but there’s some interesting logic jumps in the statement above. Perhaps, one might equally assume, the promotion of urban consolidation and “expensive” (like building new motorways is cheap) transit systems over the past few years might have something to do with the trends we’re now seeing.
But anyway, let’s set that aside for now and look at the numbers – which come from a fairly detailed analysis of the New Zealand Travel Survey, which is published by the Ministry of Transport every two years. The results for Auckland show that travel peaked in 2007 and has declined by a not insignificant 15% over the period of the survey. Public transport use declined in the early part of the survey period but has increased by around 13% between 2007 and 2011:A more detailed look at car travel reveals some really interesting information:
What this shows is that throughout the overall 2003-2011 period the greatest decline for all types of car trips was trip length. In other words, people took shorter trips – possible reasons for this include fewer domestic holidays compared to international holidays or more people choosing to fly than drive, as well as perhaps a renewed interest in inner suburban living or ensuring that you live closer to your work. The other interesting thing to note is that passenger trips declined at a much faster rate than driver trips – perhaps supporting the idea that it’s the long distance holiday trips which have gone down the most.
However, since 2007 the numbers have been a more even decline between kilometres and trip legs and the time spent travelling. This seems to suggest that while the early declines were mainly just the elimination of very long trips, since 2007 we have seen people simply take fewer trips. It’s difficult to pick out reasons for this but perhaps this is more of the cultural shift among young people coming through – people who simply don’t want to have to drive in order to get around. I think it’s no coincidence that the years of fewer trips coincide with the years where public transport patronage went up the most.
The New Geography post has a reasonably good discussion of further reasons behind these trends, such as an ageing population, higher fuel prices and the growing role of public transport (noted somewhat grudgingly I feel). There’s also a slightly odd assumption that decentralisation might have led to shorter trips – which seems counter-intuitive to the very concept of decentralisation which is moving things further apart. Furthermore, in the latter part of last decade employment actually grew faster in the city centre than anywhere else in Auckland, while most residential growth was also through intensification rather than greenfield development. This is what’s said in the City Centre Future Access Study supporting documentation about employment growth:Another factor in the reduced traffic volumes is quite a marked change in the trends of car ownership from previous growth rates:
There is evidence accumulating to suggest that significant changes are taking place at the margin of transport demand and car dependence. If this is a sign of things to come it raises questions about long-term road expenditure, about dire predictions of road congestion, and about the benefits of adopting expensive land use and transport measures designed to force people out of their cars.
Already, within a more constrained economy, people seem to be making their own decisions to reduce car dependence.
In terms of city planning, it suggests that decentralisation may be more sustainable than the compact city protagonists make out. In this respect, is interesting that motorway traffic counts show that significant reductions in inner city vehicle flows are offset by gains (albeit much smaller) in outer parts of the city – even as measured distance travelled falls.
And Auckland definitely needs to rethink assumptions behind spending plans for major road and rail infrastructure – and confront the risks and costs of getting them wrong.
I’m not quite sure I understand the logic of the “we don’t need to enable people to get around via alternatives to the car and to live in the inner suburbs they seem to want to live in” argument that is being made. I look at this information and what immediately comes to mind is “stop all roading projects which aren’t already under construction and do a major rethink of the way future transport demand is generated”. Public transport patronage is growing, road use is falling – effectively the people are voting with their feet for what they want future transport policy to be focused on. I do agree with Mr McDermott that the congestion assumptions behind the results of the City Centre Future Access Study are probably a load of rubbish, but the more logical alternative (that instead of driving all those people will be on the bus or train) actually just makes the case for the project even stronger.
But anyway, I look forward to some serious critiquing of projects like Puhoi-Wellsford and an Additional Harbour Crossing from the good folk at New Geography.