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Why buses represent democracy in action

A great TED talk by Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia who did so much to help transform the city through rapid improvements to the cities bus and cycle infrastructure. The title of his talk is

“An advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport,” argues Enrique Peñalosa. In this spirited talk, the former mayor of Bogotá shares some of the tactics he used to change the transportation dynamic in the Colombian capital… and suggests ways to think about building smart cities of the future.

Enrique Peñalosa was the mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, between 1998 and 2000. He advocates for sustainability and mobility in the cities of the future.

71 comments to Why buses represent democracy in action

  • And that’s precisely why the ACToids out there call buses “the Loser Cruiser”. They hate democracy, i.e. the idea that a poor person’s vote is worth as much as theirs.

    • Mark Todd

      There is certainly a good argument to say people that do not pay taxes should not be allowed to vote. When you allow the unemployed to vote, they vote for the party that gives the biggest handout. Socialism does not work, the idea of stealing from the rich to give to the poor just makes everyone poor.

      • Max

        So now you are equating public transport with stealing? While claiming that poor people don’t pay taxes? An insult and a lie in a two-line paragraph. Well done.

      • George

        Poor people might make decisions you don’t like. So we should take their votes away. You really do hate democracy, don’t you?

      • Bryce P

        You might be in for a shock if the vote for PT spending were given to current PT users. Your assumptions are based on your own prejudices, not reality.

      • Max

        “When you allow the unemployed to vote, they vote for the party that gives the biggest handout.”

        Also: Do you think the rich don’t do the same? Most of the National voters I meet seem to talk how much they liked their big tax cuts.

        Meanwhile the poor got shafted by GST rises to pay for those tax breaks (GST is much greater significance of the total income for them).

        • Joshua

          While I don’t agree with Mark Todd’s comment, I also agree with the tax cuts. In the end tax is a percentage of your income, it’s pretty un-fair to say we are going to take a bigger percentage of your money the harder you work. Not much of a incentive to work hard for your living is it?

          Although this is very topic!

      • Go away Phil, go troll Whale Oil instead, you’ll feel right at home.

      • Sacha

        “they vote for the party that gives the biggest handout”

        Yes, that must be why the Nats are in power. Dunce.

      • Waspman

        Then in theory everyone but little children (who have adults that are taxed on their behalf) should get the vote because last time I looked you cant take a dump in this country without been taxed and National have been most proactive in that area.

  • JimboJones

    The bus network is one of the most frustrating aspects of AT. It could be improved so much with very little money, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone with the motivation to make the changes, they are always ‘coming soon’ but never seem to come. I live in Mt Roskill and take Dominion road buses every so often (not to get to work, getting to Newmarket is a hassle) – I’m always disappointed with how long it takes to travel 10kms. Lots of people still pay cash (the HOP discount isn’t enough and the changeover an embarrassment), the bus detours down Mt Eden road instead of continuing down Ian McKinnen drive, the bus stops are too close together, bus lanes are needed in the weekends when Dominion road is almost at its busiest, and the electronic schedule boards blatantly lie. I can’t imagine any of these things would be difficult to fix if we had someone like Enrique Peñalosa pushing the changes!!
    Many years ago Auckland Council were about to start improving Dominion road and were promising 24 hour bus lanes and widening with bike lanes – now the bus lane hours are staying as is, the bike lanes involve zigzagging through side streets, and nothing is happening still. Its like AT feel they are achieving something as long as they plan to do something in the future but never actually do it.

    • You can thank your local business association for that, they fought tooth and nail to ensure that a handful of carpark a kept stuffing things up for everyone.

      • JimboJones

        I try my hardest to take my business elsewhere as a way of ‘thanking’ them

      • SF Lauren

        You can also thank the people who think its best to spend hundreds of millions to build busways in the middle of nowhere whilst leaving the most congested sections like this to suffer.

        • Where have we built busways in the middle of nowhere?

          • Greg N

            Umm, other than pn the North Shore, where have we built *ANY* busways?

          • SF Lauren

            The one they are looking to spend half a billion building out west even though that route is already getting upgraded as we speak and adding a busway will only serve to increase the performance of the best operating section of that route by a fraction whilst leaving the rest of the route to weavr through congested roads and intersections.

          • Greg N

            And how that different from what is being done now with those very same roads – specifically for cars?
            Those roads you are pouring so much scorn on for daring to have the audacity to consider including some PT components (for once).

            I’d prefer that any “wasting” of money be put towards making PT better as it will improve things over time, than simply adding more lanes to existing roads, that will always fill up in short order with yet more cars and need yet more widening and further work – on the basis that the “next” set of changes will finally solve the congestion problem..

            And in any case, as you say – its not built yet – planning maybe, not building, and any PT components being considered are equally likely to come under pressure to be dumped in favour of yet spending the money on more roads and adding lanes on existing roads.

            It all sounds like concern trolling on your part to me.

          • I assume you are referring to the Constellation-Westgate-Waterview busway in the ITP? That’s called planning Richard.

            Auckland council are in the process of releasing enough land in the upper harbour to build a new Tauranga in the next two decades. AT are planning a busway system in the same time so that growth can happen without crippling every interchange and set of ramps between constellation and Waterview. FYI the motorway is already at a standstill from Westgate to Te Atatu every morning, especially the on ramps. A busway allowing buses to skip that section would cut twenty minutes off the bus trip today, let alone over the next three decades as we build New Zealand’s fifth largest city out the back of Westgate. Not to mention the fact that it could move more people than an entirely new motorway in parallel.

            Now I suppose you’re off to advocate ripping out the northern busway because it only runs from constellation to Akoranga “whilst leaving the rest of the route to weave through congested roads and intersections”? And here I was thinking it functioned quite well with a busway in the outer suburbs, motorway running in the middle and bus lanes on street approaching the city….

            But to get back to your original point, could you please point out where planning this future busway has required other bus lanes to not be built? Because the very bus lanes referred to above, Dominion Rd, have just completed consultation and design and are soon to be extended and improved. Seems like AT can actually improve bus lanes and plan new bus corridors at the same time.

          • SF Lauren

            Um Greg, as I just said above they are upgrading the provision for buses along that route right now. Although a large amount of money is being spent on general traffic much of that work results in the bus, pedestrian and cycle provisions being greatly improved.

            As for any money being spent on PT being good money spent is a joke. What use is a busway in Huntley or a subway in Cambridge if central Auckland has a congested PT system as this is effect the same as the western busway.

            I would much rather spend that same money to get a good result and not just do something near usless because its easy.

          • SF Lauren

            Great traffic modeling there nick. Do you camparison against a road that is undercontruction and being upgraded. Compare it to what SH16 will be like in 2017 and your 20min saving will turn into about 5s.

            Of course maybe now you want to start using the traffic projections you always complain to be false and claim SH16 will be super congested in 2017.

            Regarding the northern busway, you have made that stupid comment about 20 times before and as per the previous 20 times, the norhern busway gets a free run all the way from constellation to where people want to get off at Fanshawe St.

            The SH16 busway you support has 5km of local roads to weave through once its off the motorway.

            The differerence is so fast its moronic to bring it up yet you insist on doing so time and time again.

          • SF Lauren

            To get back to the original poiny, where did I claim a busway didnt get build? I dont recall even talking about bus lanes?

            You in another diminsion again?

          • I don’t believe traffic modelling, as a rule, and I don’t need a model to know that building a whole new city worth of houses at the end of the northwestern is going to overwhelm an extra lane each way. I might point out that the brand new Hobsonville Rd interchange is chronically congested and forces buses to wait behind traffic to get anywhere near the motorway, are they rebuilding it again in 2017? Why are you worried about 2017 anyway? Has someone announced a new busway opening in 2017? I though it was programmed for the second decade of the ITP. You should be more worried about 2027 when suburbia stretches to Kumeu.

            If you hadn’t noticed Great North Rd has continuous bus lanes right from PT Chevalier to the city, that is better than the last 5km of the northern busway which requires buses to sit in traffic on the motorway, then sit in general traffic on customs and Sturdee st. That is as much of a free run as the northern busway. If you don’t like that then they can run on the motorway through to Newton Rd or Hobson St, just like the Northern Busway does, although it’s going to be faster on the bus lanes at peak times.

            Yes it’s an incredibly vast difference: a busway in the outer suburbs that runs along shoulder lanes on the motorway before joining bus lanes on city streets to reach downtown… Wait, actually that is exactly the same. What do you know. What a failure the Northern Busway is, they should have flagged it all until they could have built a full busway through downtown and across the harbour first. That would have been much more effective, far cheaper and built faster. Yeah right.

          • SF Lauren

            Nick, for someone who works in Aucklands transport sector and admins a blog about transport in Auckland I find it near unbelievable that you hadn’t noticed the construction going on at the Lincoln road interchange and the congestion it has been causing for the past two years.

            And in the event 100k people do pop up at the end of the northwestern motorway I rather doubt the congestion free bus shoulders on SH16 are going to cause them any issues. The sections of great north road with no bus lanes and all the intersections will cause a real issue however with no plans or money to address it as it is planned to all be wated fixing nothing further out west.

          • Sorry but I have no idea what you mean. Are you saying that the Northwestern congestion is only due to the construction and that after it is finished buses will never be subject to congestion delays, even ten years later?

            Looking above I can see you don’t have much grasp of how a busway functions and what is allows, you seem to think it is just an bypass lane to run express buses into the city.

        • Sacha

          “What use is a busway in Huntley or a subway in Cambridge..”

          That’s such disgustingly distorted arguing, I shudder to think at the quality of advice you provide in your day job, Richard. Get some help.

    • JimboJones

      Just noticed I said ‘Auckland Council’ not ‘Auckland City Council’. From memory they were prevented from starting work on Dominion Road by a spending block prior to the formation of the super city

    • Bryce P

      So if the bus lane hours are staying the same, we’re spending $40M to achieve what exactly?

      • Changing bus lane hours doesn’t cost a thing.

        That $40m is for the while corridor project, mostly new paving and lamp posts and street furniture, but it does include extending the bus lanes right through the intersections.

        • Bryce P

          From the basic plans accessible on AT’s site, it appears much of the cash for this important PT upgrade is for beautifying works.

          • I would say it is most of the cash for the street upgrade on beautifying works, although a fair bit is for public transport improvements. The point is it isn’t just a bus lane project, it’s a whole corridor upgrade.

            Nonetheless I think continuous lanes that go right up and through intersections will be very effective, and extending the hours of operation can be done very easily.

          • Bryce P

            I guess this project just doesn’t excite me considering the amount of money being spent on it. Enabling buses to pass through intersections is great but could have been done for very little in the overall scheme. The cycle routes are interesting but only because they offer a local peak at slow, street based cycle routes. As far as Dom Rd goes, imagine the outrage if cars were forced to take the long way around? AT’s focus? 1) cars 2) PT 3) freight 4+5) pedestrians/cycling

          • How can you claim pedestrians are last and cars first when the lions share of the $40m is being spent on improving the pedestrian environment at the expense of traffic? They are widening footpaths, adding new pedestrian crossings, converting some of the existing ones to raised tables and ensuring there is a refuge island every 100m.

            Pedestrian provision is going way up, at the expense of traffic speed more or less. Buses will get about 10% faster and presumably a lot more reliable. Yes nothing new is being done for cyclists but you can’t say they are prioritising cars over pedestrians or buses.

          • Bryce P

            Only because it helps the corridor look nice.

            Have been trying to get AT to fix a street crossing so kids can get to school by themselves, safely. Nothing. Nada. No problem according to Auckland Transport. Rejected. They did a pedestrian / vehicle count at 11am on a weekday. Surprise, surprise, no kids around. Requested they join me at the crossing at 8:30 am. Won’t do it. Staffed by auto oriented idiots (mostly, because I know there are some people there who care but they are in the minority and not at the top). Look at the failure to put cycle parking at Panmure.

    • Waspman

      And here in lies the problem of basing PT on buses. They need road space and a lot of it and as per normal get stuck in traffic worse than cars. They always require the outside of the road to access stops and then require time to get back out.. Objectively you have to feel for businesses who try to make a living on Dominion Rd because the reality is without car parking they won’t remain in business.

      When Dominion Rd had trams they ran up the middle, nicely contained. Buses are useful when you establish a route but only as an opener, not as a permanent solution. We have to get more sophisticated and thinking long term.

      • KLK

        While I agree long term thats a thoroughfare for the extra capacity that light rail can provide, I’m not sure what the difference is between a bus running up the middle of the road and light rail. Same considerations re stops, access, etc. Not sure they always require “the outside of the road”. Isn’t a busway in the middle of the road proposed for AMETI?

        We could get a cheap fix with a busway that would make a huge change and upgrade to light rail later. A la Northern Busway. That is, of course, unless you just don’t like buses….

      • Nick R

        When Dominion Rd had trams they just stopped in the middle of the street, traffic had to stop as people dashed out to the middle and climbed up to the door.

        These days you would have to provide platforms with pedestrian crossings to access them. Nothing fundamentally different from putting bus lanes in the middle, like ameti, and indeed some cities run their trams at the kerb side.

  • Complain to the Mayor. It seems his modus operandi is that he agrees with the people who make the most noise!

    Send a copy to the Labour party because with their proposed change to superannuation they will be the only ones able to afford better public transport.

    • Greg N

      Why Bother?
      The mayor has only (by law) one vote, the same as every other councillor, and a casting vote for a tied-vote situation.
      So why bother with him – when your local councillor is the best place to start?
      And in your case that wouldn’t be Councillor Brewer by any chance?

      And isn’t he the one whose “mode de jour” is to be the biggest agreer with those who make the most noise – himself included in that list.

  • SF Lauren

    Where does the similarity to democracy start? I would have thought it is more like socialism where everone pays for something regardless to if they want it or not. Of not I dont have anything against a modest level of socialism.

    A basic road would be more like democracy where people can do what they like and the upgrades are made to for the most used mode.

    • Max

      So SF Lauren – if a basic transport system / road system is more democratic and more user-pays, less having to pay for something I don’t want, how can I stop paying for more expensive food & groceries for example, due to car park mandatory minimum costs, even when I walk to the shop or cafe? Why do my taxes and rates end up including motorway costs, when most of the time I cycle? It seems I am subsidising the car crowd here. Where do I stop doing that?

      Away from the “gotcha” arguments – as you note, a level of subsidising things for the greater good is sensible in a community, even if a specific individual doesn’t benefit (I have no kids – but I am fine with being taxed / having to pay rates for schools, playgrounds etc…). The bid discussion is which level is an acceptable subsidy. At the moment, we have lots of hidden subsidies for driving, and a few more open subsidies for PT use, which do not really equate to all THAT much compare dto the car subsidy – even in those places where PT is arguably more efficient for the whole body of society.

      • SF Lauren

        Very simple Max. Just go to the shops that dont have parking, charge higher prices and have a smaller selection.

        Those shops you mention with the parking are actually cheaper because the have a far greater client base.

        • Greg N

          Got any evidence for that bland assertion?

          • SF Lauren

            Actually its based on the prices in the shops and there selections. Feel free to go and have a look for yourself as these shops are all over the city and world and a free to go to.

          • Greg N

            Any perceived price benefits of those shops that you imply are cheaper is only because of the lack of true application of the externalties that these shops incur to the community but which they “get away with”.as these external costs are not applied to the creators of the problems, instead they’re paid by everyone – whether we use those services/shops or not.

            Problem is that that model is not sustainable, in this country – whether we want to acknowledge it or not.

            But all we ever see from you is the same old tired thinking, and you spouting the same old retreaded opinion as “facts” about how wonderful things are everywhere right now so just leave us folks alone to build more of the same..

            Right now, your thinking shows the Victorian approach we’re taking to finite resource management
            - that is dig a big hole and then ignore that one as you dig a bigger hole next door, and keep repeating ad infinitum.

    • You’ve mixed up modes of government with economic ideology. Democracy isn’t related to socialism, they aren’t opposites, or even on the same spectrum.

      You appear to be confusing democracy with libitarianism. That’s the opposite of socialism, and both can be democratic or undemocratic.

      In Colombia the majority of citizens aren’t upper class or car drivers. The fact that bogota has started investing in bus infrastructure instead of car infrastructure is democracy in action.

      • SF Lauren

        You have said nothing of substance for me to even comment in there. Rather impressive to write 3 separate sentences and yet say nothing. Maybe try and start saying what the issue is and how you would see it changed.

        • counterpoint

          “Rather impressive to write 3 separate sentences and yet say nothing”

          Ironically, you’ve managed to do exactly that…

          • SF Lauren

            My one point was to highlight that he didnt say anything, given you understood that your comment is obiously false.

          • Counterpoint

            “… given you understood that your comment is obiously false.”

            I’m not sure that I did understand it.

            Nobody needs me to point out that you have a reputation for nitpicking and point missing, but the thread seems to make perfect sense to me. Lets run it in reverse….

            SF Lauren (1:57pm)
            “Maybe try and start saying what the issue is and how you would see it changed.”

            Nick R (1:08pm)
            “You’ve mixed up modes of government with economic ideology.”

            SF Lauren (11:17am)
            “Where does the similarity to democracy start? I would have thought it is more like socialism…
            … A basic road would be more like democracy…”

            Looks the issue is that you can’t see the link between the argument in the video and the notion that buses represent democracy, a point which Nick R attempts to address. Now, I realize that taken literally it is something of a non-sequitur (how can a bus be a system of governance?), but seeing as I’m much too late to the “Roads != User Pays” party, I’ll summarize with a quote.

            Max (12:41pm)
            “…if a basic transport system / road system is more democratic and more user-pays … how can I stop paying for more expensive food & groceries for example, due to car park mandatory minimum costs … Why do my taxes and rates end up including motorway costs … It seems I am subsidising the car crowd here”

            Getting back on topic – presumably the similarity to democracy begins when the barrier to entry for transportation is lowered (ie: one does not need to purchase and maintain a car to fully participate in transport). In order to provide the maximum clarity (as I anticipate… shall we say…. “confusion”), I will expressly state that this does not imply that 100% of trips could be, or even ought to be made by bus, or indeed by any particular mode, rather that some provisional coverage for common trips is made other than by private vehicle. My personal feeling is that in Auckland, this is far from the current state of affairs, but as ever I suspect you may disagree.

          • SF Lauren

            Counter point, feel free to point out how nick explained hoe buses are like democracy at work and how he was correct in claiming I was wrong about calling it socialism.

            As far as can see he said A is not G and F is not K even though we were only talking about A and B.

            Now as we should all know in democracy we all vote for the person that we think will do the best job for us. The person that wins is the one that gets the most votes. So in the case of transport people can take any mode they like and the one that gets used the most is the one that people choose.

            In socialism we all put our money into a bucket and then someone else chooses how it should be spent based on what they think rather than what people want to do.

            In the case of Colmbia their bus improvements would appear to be based on the democracy of their system as most of thr people use buses. Thats based purely on their demographics and buses have nothing to do with it.

          • Counterpoint

            You’re wrong about calling it socialism in as much as what you say makes no sense. You seem to want an explanation that relates the mechanics of an election to the everyday effect of these buses. It’s as if you want me to point to the ballot box on the bus or something. I’ve been beaten to the punch, but putting your money in box to be spent as some authority sees fit carries some pretty stark echos of the manner in which NZTA is run.

            “As far as can see he said A is not G and F is not K even though we were only talking about A and B.”

            You’re talking about A and B as if they are related in a way that they are not. As Nick said, democracy and socialism are not some kind of political duality as your framing would imply. You are wrong in as much as what you say is a non-sequitur.

            “So in the case of transport people can take any mode they like and the one that gets used the most is the one that people choose.”

            This quote demonstrates such an astoundingly narrow view of the situation, that its difficult to know where to begin. I would hazard a guess that a good place to start would be the “…take any mode they like…” component, a phrase that I dare say requires some qualifiers (for example, what conditions would constitute a free choice in this scenario?). One hint might be to look at the phrase “… in Colombia … [bus improvements] … are based on the democracy of their system…” and think about the initial conditions. Because I don’t think that word means what you think it means….

        • Ok I’ll try again in very simple terms seing as you can’t understand.

          Socialism and libertarianism are competing socio-economic ideologies.
          Democracy and authoritarianism are competing modes of government.
          Democracy and socialism are completely unrelated, the aren’t opposites or alternatives, or different ways of doing the same thing. In other words, buses can be democratic and socialist, which is precisely the case in Peñalosa’s home town of Bogota.

          • SF Lauren

            Wonderful to know Nick, however i fail to see how that actually relates to what I said or goes any way to show how buses are democratic.

          • patrick M

            “In socialism we all put our money into a bucket and then someone else chooses how it should be spent based on what they think rather than what people want to do.” Sounds just like the NZTA :)
            “The person that wins is the one that gets the most votes”. If I recall National only received 47.31% of the popular vote, not exactly a ringing endorsement for democracy. But I digress and we have seen back room alliances and deals done to secure a government. A government hell bent on believing in tyranny of the majority. A tenuous majority at best, and if John Banks is convicted one that will only get smaller.

          • This is thing with the sloppy use of these terms by our resident trolls: NZTA is such a classic example of centralised tax-and-spend authoritarianism that you almost have to be Joseph Stalin to be in favour of it, yet both these know-nothing numpties are big fans of this set-up but bang on about the imaginary evils of ‘socialism’ . Go figure.

    • SF Lauren

      To answer my own question, the democracy part comes in with the alocation of road space. And so rather than giving large parts over to private cars that are only used by a select few over there large portions of the road reserve were given to buses, pefestrains and bikes. The reference to buses and democracy was misguided.

      Anyway, I dont know why I couldnt get a simple answer like that.

  • Make It Go

    We need to get Señor Peñalosa down to Auckland to speak as part of the Auckland Conversations series. Putting him on the same bill as Janette Sadik-Khan would be good.

    • Max

      Meh. We had so many good speakers already. We need to ACT, not wait anothe year for another speaker. If Penalosa really was Mayor only for 2-3 years, that is the real key thing here. In 2-3 years, all Auckland seems to achieve is produce another draft plan for something. Action on the plan then gets timetabled for 2023.

      • Greg N

        Unless its more motorways with a sniff of Government funding (via NZTA) on offer – in which case, an immediate board of enquiry is established to commence the building ASAP without further consultation or thought on if its needed or the best use of money.

      • Bryce P

        Exactly. Between the speakers that have been here already and evidence from around the world there is much to be done but Auckland Transport (and Auckland Council?) appear to be taking a slowly, slowly approach to improving public transport and even more slowly, cycling. Look at what NYC achieved in a 6 year period with JSK as transport commissioner.

    • nonsense

      Auckland honorary citizen!

  • Fred

    Auckland has achieved quite a lot of progress in the past decade, despite a government that aside from about a year in 2007-2008 has been either skeptical or actively hostile to PT. Imagine how fast progress could be made with a supportive government pushing Auckland to go harder and faster.

  • Fair comment Bryce. And what if AT was even remotely democratic? For example, someone on this thread has suggested that over 50% of the people who enter the city along Fanshawe St do so on a bus. Given the huge economic benefits for the city and country of this occurring would it seem reasonable for those coming from the north to have a more than reasonable bus lane?

    And you might argue that it is.

    If more than 50% come to the city by bus, is it reasonable to assume that more than 50% leave by bus? If this is so then should they also should be reasonably treated by way of an efficient bus way?

    The evidence is they are not. Travelling from the mid city to the Shore is a sad experience. Buses inch (centimetre?) along Albert and Fanshawe.(Yeah, and the bridge).

    Why not a simple New York type fix? Why don’t AT get a couple of guys with paint brushes one weekend and draw a few bus lanes. Let’s see if the fabric of Auckland as we know it is irrecion (no, I just can’t spell it) forever changed – even though we could paint over the paint. I can feel the angst building in Remuera already.

    AT’s current public transport effort is poor (if only I could spell abysmal).. I keep banging on about this, but it shouldn’t take 2 years to run a consultation programme to decide if we want to change the bus routes. Talking about stuff isn’t actually doing anything!

    Let’s get things moving now.

    This might be off the wall, but what if we said, how can we move many people efficiently, conveniently and cheaply by public transport, and if we can’t find a solution then build a road?

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