In this recent post on Auckland’s transport funding gap, Peter Nunns espoused the merits of time-of-use transport pricing as a way of increasing the productivity of the transport system. Peter came up with this analogy to help highlight the merits of time-of-use transport pricing:
Let’s say you’re managing a factory. Your machines are running at 100% utilisation ten percent of the time, and 20% utilisation the rest of the time. This is constraining your ability to produce more, so you ask the chief executive for money to buy more machines. His answer, if he’s got any sense, will be: “Get knotted. You need to manage your workflow better.”
As some of you may know I also support time-of-use transport pricing (articulated in posts here and here). Notwithstanding my general support, I do accept there’s important design and implementation issues to work through. For this reason I’m relatively relaxed about timing and would prefer that – instead of rushing headlong into a particular solution (as the NZCID would have us do) – we instead took the time to have a decent/informed public debate about the concept. I hope that such a debate would end with the majority of people supporting the idea in principle, which would then enable political/technical leaders some space to work out exactly what we should do, how we should do it, and by when.
In this post I simply wanted to reflect on two of the dissenting comments raised in response to Peter’s post. For example, one person commented:
My understanding is that NZTA and the government are principally opposed to a discriminatory tax on assets that have already been paid for.
This statement suggests that time-of-use road pricing is a “tax”. From what I understand, taxes are typically used by governments to fund any number of activities that are largely unrelated to the activity being taxed. Income tax and GST, for example, are used to fund a whole manner of things, such as education and health. In contrast, revenue raised from transport activities (at least in New Zealand) are hypothecated to operating, maintaining, and improving the transport system (the MED website provides a breakdown of the various duties, taxes, and levies that are applied to liquid motor fuels in New Zealand for those are you who are interested).
The second part of the aforementioned comment part inferred that time-of-use transport pricing was wrong because the “assets have already been paid for“. I don’t think this is a credible argument for several reasons.
The first reason is that it presumes new roads do actually pay for themselves, insofar as the fuel duties paid by drivers are adequate to cover the lifetime costs of construction and maintenance. This is patently not true of local roads, where costs are part-funded by rate-payers, not road-users. I suspect it’s also not true of many of the RoNS, which would certainly struggle to cover their costs. Hence, it’s not really the case that new roads are paying for themselves, it’s just that their financial ass is being covered by old roads that have more than paid for themselves. I don’t know when roads actually “break-even” (and suspect it varies a lot from place to place), but suspect that many of our recent improvements don’t come close.
But the more critical issue with the suggestion that the “assets have already been paid for” is that the costs of a road do not end with construction and maintenance.
More specifically, roads incur ongoing congestion costs, which tend to arise at peak times. Now I do understand that congestion is a less tangible economic costs than construction and maintenance costs, which must be funded directly out of the transport budget. In contrast to these costs, congestion is an external, non-monetary cost. When we say “external” we are referring to the fact that the person who chooses to drive in congested conditions does so without having to bear the additional delays they cause to other drivers that are stuck in the queue behind them. Hence congestion is an external cost that arises from our individual decisions to drive. Despite being less tangible, it’s nonetheless real – as any commuter will know!
So rather than being a tax, time-of-use transport pricing is, I think, better seen as a targeted user-charge. One which seeks to place the costs associated with travelling at peak times at the feet of the people who are making those decisions. And given that much of our transport budget is currently being spent on transport projects that are designed to cater for people that are travelling at peak times, then it makes sense to charge more for these trips than for trips that take place at off-peak times.
Having raised those two issues, the same person went onto state:
The charge is a mechanism to force people to change the mode they use to travel. In the case of congestion charging it makes PT more attractive in comparison to driving … In effect you are shifting the equilibrium in favour of the poor using PT and the wealthy driving.
My first issue with this statement is the presumption that the primary benefit of time-of-use road pricing is that it changes existing behaviour. Naturally modal shift from cars and to PT would occur and result in less congestion. Such a benefit can be thought of as a “static efficiency“, in that the benefit arises from improving the efficiency with which people currently travel. In saying that the experience with time-of-use road pricing overseas is that 80% of people keep driving, i.e. the majority of people kept doing what they have always done, and there is very little change in PT use.
So I would argue that the primary economic benefit of time-of-use road pricing lies less with it impacts on people that are currently driving, and more with how it impacts on people’s future decisions about where they live/work/play; it impacts on our future land use and transport decisions.
Benefits from more efficient decisions being made in the future can be thought of as “dynamic efficiencies“. By sending a price signal about the relative scarcity of road space at peak times, time-of-use road pricing will progressively encourage people and businesses to make choices in the future that help them to avoid situations the need to drive at peak times. Thus, the dynamic efficiencies of time-of-use transport pricing will accrue progressively over time, by discouraging people from making decisions that result in inefficient transport and land use outcomes.
I would suggest the dynamic efficiencies of time-of-use transport are more important in a city like Auckland, which is expected to grow rapidly over the coming decades.
As an aside, the potential for time-of-use road pricing to deliver dynamic efficiencies is a major reason why I don’t buy the line that “we need to invest in alternatives first” before we consider implementing a time-of-use transport pricing scheme. The reality is that we already have the primary “alternative”: We simply need people to exercise more discretion about where they live/work/play to ensure they don’t end up driving so much at peak times. And the longer we go without time-of-use transport pricing, then the fewer people who make transport/location decisions in consideration of their true costs and the harder it will be to implement such a scheme in the future.
Consider, example, the Auckland Plan’s proposed greenfields development around Hobsonville and Pukekohe. Do you think such locations would be equally attractive with time-of-use road pricing? And do we think that implementing time-of-use transport pricing will be more or less easy once these suburbs have developed and lots of their residents are now driving elsewhere to work? Personally, I think the answers are “no” and “much less easy” – which is why I suspect the dynamic efficiencies of time-of-use transport pricing would quickly dominate the static efficiencies associated with (relatively small) mode shift.
The second issue that I would like to address is the suggestion that “the equilibrium will shift in favour of the poor using PT and the wealthy driving“. The point that is being made here is that time-of-use transport pricing is likely to result in our transport system being prioritised for high-value travel. And it is true that the latter is positively correlated with income.
In saying this, I think it’s important to consider the following issues:
Income is not the primary/sole determinant of people’s willingness-to-pay for travel. I would argue that many other factors determine how much someone is willing to pay for transport, e.g. the purpose of a trip is more important than someone’s income. Speaking from personal experience, I know that if am travelling for work purposes then I am more prepared to pay more than if I travelling for recreational purposes. The key point to note here is that willingness to pay varies greatly depending on the reasons why someone is travelling and while income is likely to play a role (if only for framing their perspective on relative costs), it’s not as straight-forward as the comment above makes out.
It makes presumptions about how a scheme would operate. As mentioned in some of my earlier posts, the degree to which a time-of-use road pricing scheme impacts on low/high income households depends very much on its design and wider policy decisions about how the resulting revenues are used. If the scheme was designed to be revenue neutral, for example, then the additional revenue could be used to lower fuel excise duties and/or improve public transport – in this way resulting in a situation where low income households were much better off (remembering of course that low income households tend to drive less, especially at peak times, and own less efficient cars – hence they pay more fuel tax per kilometre).
Before I wrap up, I should say that I think the whole time-of-use transport pricing debate could be flipped on its head if it was presented as 1) revenue neutral and 2) linked to lower prices for off-peak travel. In fact, what we should actually be discussing is not “higher peak charges”, but higher peak charges that are used to fund lower off-peak charges.
Finally, some of you may have noted my preference for “time-of-use transport pricing” rather than “time-of-use road pricing”. The reason I prefer the former terminology is that it emphasises the general concept, rather than its specific application. Indeed, very similar arguments apply to the use of public transport: Maybe we should consider charging public transport users more to travel at peak times, with the additional revenue in turn helping to fund lower off-peak travel? I think so.
My job often takes me overseas. I’m actually writing this from Brisbane. And often when I fly back to Auckland I find a small tear forming in the corner of my eye. I’m happy not just because I get to see colleagues, friends, family, and Baby Kuku (see below). I just generally love being home in Auckland.
I also find that every time I get back to Auckland something new is happening. I stumble across new cafes, new stores, new buildings etc. Houses on my street are being renovated and painted and generally tidied up. Even if the city is not perfect, it feels like things are heading in a positive direction. It just feels good.
Recently, however, the NZ Herald has started to run a number of very negative articles about the Unitary Plan (UP). In this recent post Matt outlined a number of ways in which these articles have tended to misrepresent information about the UP in an attempt to create “bad news” stories. This concerns me.
For all its talk of “multi-storey” development, the Herald has not – as far as I know – provided any examples of what 4-6 storey buildings look like overseas. Let me assist. The photo below, for example, shows a 6 storey building (including the attic) in Amsterdam. As Maurice put it “be ye not afraid.”
Now I accept that the UP is not perfect.
But the trade-offs involved are complex. Auckland is growing (nice problem to have), development needs to happen somewhere, less development in one area means more development somewhere else, different development patterns have different implications for infrastructure costs, and so on.
Raising height limits, for example, reduces the need for greenfields sprawl, and vice versa. The UP tries to find a balance between these types of issues.
From what I can tell the Herald is having none of it. This latest article by Bernard Orsman spends a lot of time taking things to a whole new level of uninformed emotive negativity. The views of a local resident and landowner, for example, are paraphrased as follows (emphasis added):
Statements like this provide little comfort … they confirm her worst suspicions that the council is paying lip-service and acting like the Government of Cyprus to steal property rights for a bankrupt agenda.
Even when you ignore the bizarre connection to Cyprus, this comment is simply illogical.
Let’s get this clear: Raising height limits enhances property rights, because it enables landowners to develop their properties more intensively. Repeat after me: “Raising height limits enhances my property rights“. To claim that the UP proposes to “steal” property rights is, in this context, completely illogical.
What’s more frustrating than the comment itself, however, was that the journalist does not subject it to any critical examination. There was no reflection on the tension between the resident’s property rights and the rights of her neighbours, nor how they might be resolved in a manner that was fair and efficient for the city.
Hypocrisy underscores much of the emotional rhetoric. The local residents, for example, felt:
“We are the landowners. We are supposed to have ownership of that land, but we have this group of people who have come to Mt Eden and made sweeping changes …”
At this point I had to laugh. Was the journalist not tempted to point out that all the UP does is enable development rather than require it. So if all the landowners don’t want to develop their land then that’s fine. If some of them do, then they can – up to four storeys. Sweeping? Hardly.
I guess it’s just easier to encourage NIMBYs to squeal like entitled little piggies. Not good enough, in my opinion. But then the article finishes with what struck me as truly awful journalism:
Hate speech is coming to a street near you – if you live in a quiet piece of suburbia, like Poronui St in Mt Eden, and object to your neighbourhood being rezoned for apartments and infill housing. In a sign that the council is losing the battle to persuade middle-class suburban Auckland to adapt to a new way of life, it has appointed 28-year-old councillor Michael Goudie to counter more conservative views.
Not only that, but wise heads like deputy-mayor Penny Hulse are turning a blind eye while Goudie promotes an anonymous blog article, We Hate Nimbys (Not In My Back Yard) that labels a “sea of grey hair” opposing a new planning rulebook “selfish, arrogant, narrow -minded and parochial people” who should “just hurry up and die”.
In one fell swoop the article seems to be implying:
If you object to the re-zoning proposed in the UP, then you will be subjected to hate speech.
That the Auckland Council is, first, trying to persuade people to adapt to “new way of life” and, second, that they are losing that battle.
Councillor Michael Goudie has been appointed by Auckland Council to promote the UP. But Goudie, sanctions hate speech and is tacitly endorsed/supported by Penny Hulse.
Weasel words like this are a red-flag for me, and they are often used by extremists like the Tea Party movement in the U.S. As Michael Higgins notes in this entertaining and impassioned debate with a Tea Party advocate, the general strategy is to ”get a large crowd, whip them up, and try and discover what is their greater fear. Work on that and feed it right back and you get a frenzy” (1:05).
The greatest fear held by some of Auckland’s residents seems to be multi-storey development, and the Herald is now dutifully whipping this fear up into a frenzy.
Now I appreciate that the Herald needs to sell newspapers, and the negativity they push may achieve that end. I also understand readers of the Herald tend to be older and more conservative, which in turn is likely to be reflected in the types of articles that are pursued by Herald’s editors and journalists.
Basically, I understand that the Herald has a commercial prerogative to reflect the views of their readers.
Nonetheless, I think the Herald’s coverage of the Unitary Plan has now crossed some sort of ethical line. Their negative and imbalanced reporting on the UP is certainly not what a responsible newspaper would do, nor is it – I suspect – what decent Aucklanders want.
Most decent Aucklanders would, I think, recognise the UP is too important to be exploited for political or commercial gain. To do so would be akin to crapping in your own backyard – because your actions will, in the long run, harm the community around you (that you rely on for your business).
By not providing more balanced reporting on the Unitary Plan I think the Herald is betraying the future of our city. Emotive words perhaps, but that’s nonetheless how I feel.
At the end of the debate, Higgins suggests his Tea Party opponent should “be proud to be a decent American, rather than be just a wanker whipping up fear” (4:12). I’d like to send a similar message to the Herald.
Be proud to be decent Aucklanders, rather than just wankers whipping up fear.
“Movement and place”: A simple concept that underpins many of the debates on this blog.
For those who have not heard of the “movement and place” concept before, let me briefly re-cap. “Movement” describes how cities need to accommodate flows of people and products. “Place”, on the other hand, describes how cities need to provide locations in which socio-economic activity can thrive.
In my mind, “movement and place” describe extreme ends of a mobility/accessibility spectrum, between which there are many nuanced variations. Train stations, for example, are “places” that facilitate “movement”, as is on-street car-parking. There is of course a need to distinguish between the functions of public and private “places”. Notwithstanding all these nuances, I think “movement and place” is a useful concept because it highlights a key trade-off that emerges within almost every urban transport planning project: How can we enable movement while sustaining place?
Finding an optimal balance is rarely easy. The first reason is that movement and place are often competing for the same physical space. Think of bus lanes on Symonds Street. The second issue is that movement itself tends to generate negative effects, such as noise and air pollution, which undermine the quality of a place. Again, think of Symonds Street.
In this post I wanted to try and provide some historical perspective on “movement and place”. I have been pondering for a while now whether the optimal balance between movement and place is shifting over time and, if so, what the implications of such a shift might be. And when I say “over time” I don’t mean in the last few years. I’m actually talking about experiences of the last hundred years, as examined through the life of my grandmother.
Violet Donovan was born in West Ham, London in 1920 (shown below). Post-WWI Europe was not a particularly happy place, so her family soon migrated from to the U.S. They promptly settled in the booming industrial town of Buffalo. As a child Violet went to sleep listening to the echoes of gun shots resonating across Lake Erie, where the U.S. Navy was engaged in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent bootleggers from spiriting moonshine into the U.S.
They were hard times.
Like many “poor” children my grandmother was sent to summer camp. While there Violet befriended another young girl called Alice. Years later my grandmother discovered that Alice’s father had ended up in jail after he was caught stealing bread to feed his family. She also discovered that at the time social welfare assistance was not extended to the immediate families of criminals and that Alice had died of starvation.
As an adult Violet would later pen this poem about Alice, which was titled “Inside”:
You never met Alice, – I wish you had,
She is a very good friend of mine,
One I have known for a long, long time,
Her skin is black, and mine is white
And yet, I think we look alike
Inside, if you know what I mean.
You never met Alice, – I wish you had,
I called her Lily, – it sounded right,
She called me ‘Tiny’, – I wasn’t quite,
Each read the other like a book
Saw ourselves as we thought we’d look
Inside, if you know what I mean.
You’ll never meet Alice, – that’s too bad,
Alice went away, – she had to go
A ‘Lily’ doesn’t last long, you know
Now, it isn’t that she hides,
But rather that she always bides,
Inside, if you know what I mean.
Eventually the lingering Great Depression caused Violet’s father James – my great grandfather – to lose his job. With limited few opportunities in the U.S., Violet’s family promptly decided to migrate again, this time to New Zealand, where James had landed a job at the Devonport Naval Base. Violet celebrated her 16th birthday on the voyage to New Zealand.
Violet’s family arrived in Wellington after sunset and promptly boarded an overnight train bound for Auckland. Then, upon arriving in Auckland, the entire family finally boarded the ferry to Devonport (like the one shown below) – just as the sun was rising over Rangitoto. Apparently the spring sunlight lit the waters of the Waitemata in sparkling hues of blue that Violet would never forget, even as she grew old.
After the industrial drudgery of Buffalo and London Auckland must have seemed like a verdant oasis. Not that life in Auckland was necessarily easy: Violet would later raise three children on her own, at a time when women were paid approximately half a man’s wage for the same job. At one point she was working three jobs, seven days a week, just to get by. She never had sufficient time or money to learn to drive, let alone buy a vehicle; Violet depended on public transport her entire life.
I suspect that few people today, myself including, can fully comprehend the degree to which my grandmother relied on public transport. For example, as a keen carpenter Violet would transport lengths of timber home from the hardware store by laying them down the aisle of the bus. And when in the 1980s Auckland’s bus services were cut in response to declining demand, the bus stop closest to Violet’s unit was no longer served. She immediately went out and purchased some roller skates, which she used to skate to the bus stop that was now closest to her hours.
Yes that’s correct – at the grand old age of 60 my grandmother invented “roll and ride” (R&R).
Violet so loved Auckland that – once settled here – she rarely left, except perhaps for the occasional day trip to Waiheke or Waiuku to visit her increasingly spoilt and precocious grandchildren.
I think Violet’s life is remarkable not just for what she endured; indeed hardship was not uncommon to the generation born immediately after WWI. The causes of socio-economic troubles were many and varied, such as the global influenza epidemic, the Great Depression, WWII, and finally the Cold War, among a number of other trials and tribulations. Instead I think Violet’s life is remarkable because of the historical perspective it provides on the relative importance of movement and place. The reasons why people really need to be able to move and what they do when they eventually find somewhere that they life.
International travel was a life-raft that enabled Violet’s family to escape first from the U.K. to the U.S. and then again from the U.S. to N.Z. It was the ability to travel that enabled Violet’s family to access a better life in N.Z. While the waves of international migration that dominated our early European history have gradually receded, we are now in the grip of other, more local, migratory trends – such as rural to urban drift. Here the role of push and pull factors, plus transport’s enabling function, seems to be very much the same as it was in Violet’s day. Transport enables people to access opportunities that don’t exist where they currently live.
We now live, however, in a vastly different global environment. From what I can tell much of the world has got its act together. New Zealand, in general, and Auckland, in particular, no longer has the inherent competitive advantages we once had as an affluent safe-haven in a war-ravaged and uncertain world. Global competition for labour is more intense, while the real costs of long-distance travel have declined – making it easy for people to come here, but also making it easier for people to leave – both locals and immigrants – when they don’t find what they are looking for.
I think this post is already long enough so I’m now going to just say what I think, even if I’m the first to admit that the supporting arguments are not fully formed: I think New Zealand’s urban areas need to place a greater emphasis on place. I can understand New Zealand’s historical emphasis on movement, because there were a lot of people moving around. But the benefits of movement seem to be diminishing by the day, whereas the benefits of place, insofar as it provides us with a competitive advantage in the great global competition for skilled talent, seems to be increasing.
New Zealand truly needs, but doesn’t yet have, cities and towns in which people can live, work, and play – all without the need to travel very far. We need to start making places that provide joy and intrigue to our urban areas.
I want to wrap up by listing a few final questions for you good people to chew over:
As New Zealand’s cities and towns become more settled, would you not expect the relative importance of “place” to increase?
If so are similar trends emerging in countries overseas? Is there evidence to suggest countries with similar histories, such as Australia, are experiencing a similar shift, i.e. away from movement and towards place?
If there has been an increased emphasis on place, what are the different ways in which it surfaces ? For example, are we now more willing to pay for quality public spaces?
Does an increased emphasis on place need to be reflected in our political institutions and governance arrangements? Should we consider:
Develop a new place-based agency, e.g. the “New Zealand Place-making Agency” (NZPA) to sit within the MfE as a counter-balance to movement-based agencies, such as the MoT and NZTA? Or
Delegate the place-making function to local councils, albeit empowered with a new mandate to reinvigorate “life between buildings”?
These are the sorts of (complex) questions that arise when one takes a historical perspective on “movement and place”; I’d appreciate your help in answering them!
*** This post is dedicated to the loving memory of Violet Donovan. May your words, cheekiness, and spirit live on. ***
Of late we’ve seen a number of rather animated discussions on the topic of “NIMBYs” (not-in-my-back-yard), such as:
Milford - where people objected to a proposed plan change for higher density apartments and townhouses on the grounds that it was “out of character”.
Ponsonby - where locals objected to a new building because of its height (two-storeys), under-provision of car-parking, high floor/area ratio, and modern architectural style.
Te Atatu - where some locals have opposed the development of a bus station because of “the types of people bus shelters might attract” (like me!).
Onehunga - where locals have objected to a three-storey development on the grounds of parking provision and appearance.
Northcote Point – where locals are opposing the development of a walkway/cycleway over the harbour bridge.
Lest we forget Orakei Point: Where the following development got caught in a maelstrom of NIMBY outrage (source):
As you can see from these images, the proposed development at Orakei Point would have been something of a focal point for conspicuous consumption, and therefore quite out of character with the rest of Orakei. Not. Anyway, partly as a result of NIMBY grandstanding, the Orakei Point development has not yet got off the ground – approximately 6 years after it was first proposed. And that means Orakei – and perhaps more importantly Auckland – now has ~400 fewer homes than we might have had otherwise. That in turn means that house prices will be that much higher.
But experiences such as those listed above finally seem to be prompting a public backlash, with the “Eye on Auckland” blog launching what I thought was a humorous – if indiscriminate – assault on Auckland’s NIMBYs. You can read the two blog posts here and here. The author’s disdain for NIMBYs is evident in almost every sentence; here’s just a taste:
Let me start by telling you about a conversation I had with a woman a few days ago. Immediately upon meeting me she presumed that I am a follower of her cult and starts off with a rhetorical question “who wants to live in a high-rise” I replied with a resounding I do. She looked at me as if I had three heads.
Fumbling around for words she ignorantly and arrogantly stated that much of Auckland will turn into a slum. I calmly told her that I live in a high density development which has won awards both locally and internationally – it couldn’t be further from a slum. Again she just stared at me, aghast and surprised, trying to fire up both of her brain cells. I also reminded her that many single dwelling suburbs are bigger slums than any apartment building that I have seen.
I asked her where she lives and she told me that she lives on an amazing lifestyle block. I should have guessed. I responded by telling her that best she starts worrying because the likes of Dick Quax, Cameron Brewer, Jan O’Connor, Grant Killon, Amy Adams and Nick Smith will soon be arriving on her land with huge bulldozers to make way for endless rows of affordable housing while singing hi-ho, hi-ho it’s off to work we go.
The look on her face was classic. Not once had she thought of that possibility. This is something that the crusty and rusty brigade will not be telling their blind mice. Instead they feed them morsels of lies, chunks of exaggeration and pellets filled with poisonous nightmares. The nimby’s happily consume it – ignorant and totally detached from reality.
The strange thing is that the [Unitary] plan actually puts in massive protections for single dwelling sites. No longer will you be able to build an apartment building down a small cul de sac. Rather they will be confined to town centres. The plan will formalise and control a situation that is already happening.
Personally, I also struggle with NIMBYs blatantly self-centered objections to developments in their community.
I’m astounded that NIMBYs are so happy to flip the “veil of ignorance” concept on its head, and instead assume that everyone else is as selfish as them. When you challenge their views on a particular development they often retort by saying “I’m sure you would not want to live next to THAT kind of development now would you?” To which my answer quite often is “yes I would actually”. It’s also ironic when NIMBYs’ self-centered positions lead them to take hypocritical stances. In Orakei, for example, you had a group of NIMBYs living in large detached dwellings miles from anything, who subsequently drove their cars everywhere, who then had the gall to turn around and oppose a medium-density, mixed-use development adjacent to a train station – on the grounds it will generate “too much traffic”. Oh dear, hypocritical much?
My second issue with NIMBY sentiment is related to – but nonetheless distinct from – the first issue. That is, NIMBYs rarely – if ever – seem to consider what would happen if the constraints on development that they seek were to be extended universally over the rest of Auckland. Consider the example of St Heliers, which is discussed in the “Eye on Auckland” post. Here, people seem to be objecting to a proposed multi-storey development on the grounds St Heliers is “special”. But hang on a flame-grilled marzipan minute: Is not every community in Auckland special? At least for the people that live there? And does that mean we should we constrain development in every community that considers itself special? Exactly how does one define “special”? Unfortunately NIMBYs aren’t very keen to look into the “special” wormhole they have created.
Every community that quarantines itself from further development is effectively causing more intensive development to happen somewhere else (NB: As an aside the same applies to the metropolitan urban limit, but that’s a discussion for another day). Put another way, constraints on development proposed by NIMBYs would, if generalised across the rest of Auckland, mean that the demand for new development was inevitably funneled into ever fewer locations. These places would, in turn, need to be developed to much higher density than they would have to in a situation where development was shared more evenly across Auckland’s communities. As an aside, that’s one of the benefits of Auckland Council’s online “Shape Auckland Housing Simulator“. Go on NIMBYs have a play.
Now having said all this, I’ve started to think that perhaps I need to modify my NIMBY engagement strategy to be less belligerent. After all, some NIMBYs do have a genuine attachment to their community – even if I consider their definition of community to be too narrow to encompass a functional socio-economic unit. To highlight the difference: Whereas NIMBYs usually define their community in terms of their suburb, I will define my community as the city. Right now, I define my community not as Grafton, but Auckland – the latter is the city where I work, live, and play.
I then sat back and considered what factors might explain the differences between how we define community? I’m sure some of it is personal, rather than logical – as much as our own egos tries to convince us that all our positions are premised on the latter. For example, in my life (thus far) I have lived in Waiuku, Northcote, Newmarket, City Centre, Parnell, and Grafton. This diversity of abodes would probably lead me to appreciate more of the city than most. Perhaps some of my attitude is also attributable to my age and preferences: In that I’d much prefer to be out and about scouring the Waitakere Ranges than sitting at home in my undies sipping cups of tea .
Either way, I think it’s important critics of NIMBYs, such as myself, are first honest with ourselves about why we define our community more broadly than those they are criticising. I think there’s good reasons to define a community as being more broadly than a suburb, especially in a world where communications are making it increasingly easy to develop and maintain connections across distance . Nonetheless we owe it to ourselves and the targets of our criticism to be able to articulate the reasons why we prefer a broader definition of community.
For me personally, my definition of community starts with an appreciation of the following points:
Suburbs do not exist in socio-economic isolation. They are part of a much larger economic unit called “Auckland”, which means they are, for example, part of a larger housing/job market.
Auckland is growing and changing. Inexorable population growth and demographic trends mean Auckland needs to accommodate a larger and older population with smaller average household size.
These trends will gradually transform/re-shape Auckland’s urban form. In particular, we will likely need to greatly expand the number of compact houses located in proximity to town centres/facilities/amenities.
It’s better for everyone if more communities help to accommodate this transformation. The more we spread the growth/load across existing town centres, the less any individual centre will need to develop.
So rather than simply hating on NIMBYs, I think a better approach is to try to redefine their concept of “community”.
This could be by explaining the points I have outlined above, or alternatively you could ask them where their friends and family live, where they work and shop, or which regional parks they like to visit. As they talk, you could then draw dots and lines on a map in front of them. In doing so, you may help them to develop at least a visual appreciation that their community goes a wee bit further than the suburb in which they live. Make sure you emphasise that less development in St Heliers, for example, will mean more development in Orakei, and that their Dentist in Orakei would probably prefer if St Heliers picked up it’s fair share of the growth, and vice versa.
Easier said than done perhaps, but nevertheless worth a shot. If you asked me what we have got to lose then I would respond “the city’s future”; yes I think the battle with NIMBYs is – in the long run – that important. That’s why I’d like to finish this post by praising (Deputy Mayor) Penny Hulse for taking on the NIMBYs in St Heliers when she said ““You can’t put a bell jar over the top of St Heliers and have no change.” Thank goodness for Ms Hulse’s strong political leadership on this issue; let’s have some more of that.
About 5 years ago what was then the Hyatt Hotel (since renamed the Pullman Hotel) underwent major renovations, which involved adding some apartments on the northern side of the building and rebuilding their frontage with Princes Street.
The location of the hotel is shown below, on the north-eastern corner of the intersection of Princes and Waterloo Quadrant.
Then something very strange happened – a verandah pole encased in plywood boxing was plonked right in the middle of the footpath on Princes Street, as illustrated below.
At the time it happened the whole arrangement looked so mediocre I assumed that it had to be temporary. As years passed, however, I have reluctantly come to realise that the pole and associated box were a permanent feature of Auckland’s pedestrian environment.
This, I suggest, is problematic.
The first issue is that the pole and box together block a good proportion of the footpath, which at that point is quite narrow due to the presence of a post box and street tree. The second issue is that the top of box have sharp corners that sit at head/eye height for a slightly shorter than average person. The third and final issue is that it’s just plain ugly.
So I contacted the Pullman Hotel and raised the issue with them. To which they responded:
I am just following up on your expressed concern to me on the 07/08/2012 about the boxing surrounding a beam connected to our hotel which is blocking a part of the pathway on Princes Street.
I have been in contact with the hotels Director of Engineering in regards to this and he has informed me that when the hotel was originally operated under Hyatt the boxing was a temporary supporting. However during the change of ownership the boxing was given consent and the council approved for it to stay there permanently.
I appreciate your concerns and can understand where you are coming from in retrospect of this, however as this has not directly affected anyone at this stage there are no plans in the near future for this to be removed.
If you do have further queries in regards to your concerns, please feel free to contact the city council directly.
The points in bold are quite important. The first point is an acknowledgement that it was intended as a temporary arrangement. The second point is an assertion the pole and box “has not directly affected anyone at this stage.”
Which seems odd – because it obviously affected me enough to raise the issue i the first place. I suspect the box has also affected many more people over the last 5 years, even if they have not bothered to raise the issue with the hotel.
So anyway, later in August 2012 I followed the advice of the Pullman Hotel and followed up with Auckland Transport. On the 6 September their feedback coordinator replied with the following email:
Thank you for contacting us about the Verandah pole outside the Pullman Hotel on Princess Street. While we had hoped to provide you with an update by this time, our investigation is taking longer than initially anticipated. We apologise for the delay and you can expect to receive an update by mid-September.
As you’re probably aware September 2012 has well and truly come and gone, as have another 6-7 months, and I’ve still not yet received any further information from Auckland Transport, despite me sending a follow-up email to clarify what the status of my complaint was.
So having demonstrated what I think is a reasonable amount of patience (~5 years since the box went in and more than 8 months since I first raised the issue with the Pullman) I think it’s time for me to simply come up with my own version of how the situation has unfolded:
The original designs for the verandah screwed up by placing the pole in the footpath, when a much cleaner – albeit more expensive – solution would have been to anchor the support to the side of the building. Someone at the Pullman/Hyatt Hotel then managed to pull the wool over the former Auckland City Council’s eyes by convincing them it would not be a major issue if the temporary verandah support was a permanent fixture. Meanwhile, Auckland Transport / Auckland Council are paralysed by this situation because consent has obviously be granted in error. And instead of being proactive about resolving the issue they are hoping that it quietly disappears off the radar.
As an aside, I think the attitude of the Pullman Hotel in response to this issue demonstrates a disregard for the public realm. I can’t escape the irony that as soon as you walk through the door to their hotel (which is situated a mere 10m up the road from this ugly pole) you see granite paving and plush carpet. If the Pullman Hotel thinks obstructive and ugly plywood boxing is good enough for Auckland’s footpaths then it should be good enough for their foyer, in my opinion.
I’d suggest Auckland Transport’s needs to get it’s act together and engage more proactively with pedestrian issues when they are raised by members of the community. All I want is an explanation for why a private business has been able to treat the public realm with such blatant disregard.
Having raised the issue with both the Pullmand Hotel and Auckland Transport the only avenues left for me are this blog post and capitalist resistance. But that I mean encouraging all of my guests to avoid staying at the Pullman Hotel. I encourage you to do the same.
Are you passionate about cities? Want to know more about public transport?
If so then you might be interested in an upcoming event being held at the University of Auckland: “Get Connected – Futures in Public Transport” (NB: The link takes you to the Facebook page for the event, where you can RSVP). On the night (19 March) you will get the opportunity to hear from the following speakers:
Jarrett Walker - who has 20 years experience working on public transport projects across the Asia-Pacific, especially the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. FYI Jarrett was the lead consultant on the recent re-design of Auckland’s PT network. Jarrett currently resides in Portland but – as mentioned in this earlier post - he has a soft-spot for Auckland, which he describes as:
“… New Zealand’s largest city, the focal point of an agrarian nation’s ambivalence about urban life. If you’re a young North American who wonders what Seattle was like 40 years ago when I was a tyke — before Microsoft, Amazon, and Starbucks — Auckland’s your answer. To a visitor accustomed to North American or European levels of civic vanity, it often seems that Auckland still doesn’t know how beautiful it is. That’s always an attractive feature, in cities as in people, even though (or perhaps because) it can’t possibly last.”
Anthony Cross – who is employed by Auckland Transport in the enviable position of “Public Transport Network Planning Manager” (aka “PTNPM”). Anthony was raised in Auckland but spent much of his early professional career working in Wellington. After helping the Capital’s public transport network become one of the most efficient and effective in Australasia, he was kidnapped by our oompa loompas and brought to Auckland. We managed to convince him to stay after promising him a job title that sounded important but was difficult to say.
Joshua Arbury – since founding the Auckland Transport Blog (I can hear the cries of gleeful appreciation resonate across Auckland) Josh has upped sticks and moved onto greener – in the money sense – transport pastures at the Auckland Council, where he now occupies the position of Principal Transport Planner. My oompa loopma spies at Council inform me Josh can speak knowledgeably and with ease on any transport and land use topic, particularly the transport sections of the Auckland Plan. And that he loves his daughters.
Pippa Mitchell – last but certainly not least we have Pippa. In her career Pippa has worked on a range of complex and fascinating projects, such as the roll-out of real-time information at bus stops. She has also worked on some not so interesting projects (haven’t we all!), such as bus stop re-locations. I would expect Pippa to inject some level-headed reality into the evening’s discourse, because we don’t want anyone to finish the evening having listened to Jarrett, Anthony, and Josh and come away thinking that it’s all drugs, sex, and rock-n-roll in this industry.
That’s not all. In between these distinguished and knowledgeable speakers you will also get to hear from our very own Patrick Reynolds; a man who is known for his enthusiasm, beautiful photos, and occasional words of random wisdom.
You know that if you give enough monkeys enough time banging away on a keyboard then chances are they will eventually churn out a word-for-word version of Hamlet? Well the same goes for Patrick when he’s talking about transport – eventually, and after much gnashing of teeth, he will say things that are both intelligent and witty. If for nothing else, you should come along to the evening and listen to Patrick (NB: Patrick I do love you).
Here’s the event flyer if you’re interested (kudos to Kent); please remember to RSVP through the Facebook event page for catering purposes. Important notes:
For those not in Auckland we will try to video the event so it can subsequently be uploaded on onto the blog; and
The point of the event is to get people (especially students) thinking about PT careers. It is not to debate the PT situation in Auckland.
P.P.s You will note that some of the people in the photo below are illuminated. This represents current peak hour bus mode share, i.e. a little less than half of people travelling into the city in peak periods arrive by bus.
In this recent post Matt collated some stunning photos of Auckland. More than most cities, Auckland is blessed with a wonderful natural environment. But some of the comments on Matt’s post gave me cause to pause, because they noted that all the stunning photos of Auckland were taken from approximately 300m up in the air and/or at night.
“bbc” put it this way:
All cities look picturesque from above at night, the issue is at street level which is where you actually interact with a city. At the fine-grained level Auckland is a particularly ugly city, and has a long way to go.
To which “Steve West” responded:
So true. São Paulo for example looks awesome at night yet it is a bit of a hole too. New Zealand does not have attractive cities – it is only the natural backdrop which offset the harshness of the 1980s era concrete and glass box prefab which continues to this day. Thanks Rogernomics. Recent article in a UK paper to that point – natural scenery nice but Auckland a bit crap.
Having read Steve’s comment I went off scurrying for the article he was referring to. Instead of finding that one however, I uncovered another two recent articles in U.K. that discussed Auckland. The first one was published in The Sun and made particularly positive claims about Auckland being “hobbit forming”. Nice, we’re obviously doing something right.
I then stumbled across this article in the Guardian, which was rather bluntly titled “How cities fail their cyclists in different ways.” It started off discussing Hong Kong, which was interesting, but scrolling down the page a little more you find a sub-section titled “Cities where cycling should be more popular than it is. Example: Auckland“. The content that follows is, I think, worth repeating in full:
Yes, it’s hilly in places and, once you reach the suburbs, very spread out, but Auckland really should be awash with cyclists. It has suitably temperate weather and that same spread out-ness leaves plenty of potential space for bike lanes.
But wander, with the eye of a regular cyclist, around the city centre, and you’re almost immediately struck by the lack of bikes on the road. Outside peak times they’re almost non-existent, barring the occasional cycle courier. Those you do see generally sport the Lycra garb and haunted expression of the cycling enthusiast in a bike-unfriendly environment.
The city is trying to boost numbers and, according to the most recent annual cycling survey, with some success, with 30% more riders on the roads than five years ago. But the numbers remain fairly small – just under 13,500 “cycling movements” observed on one day at 82 monitoring sites. It’s not helped by a compulsory helmet law, in place since the mid-1990s.
I was aghast to learn that the city’s harbour bridge, the main link between the centre and suburbs to the north, has no way at all for cyclists to cross. They must either plonk their bike on a ferry or take a fairly long detour. As an emblem for a city dominated by cars and roads it’s hard to beat.
The more I thought about it the more I found myself agreeing with the basic premise of the above article: Auckland is quite suited to cycling. One of the benefits of our geography is that there are pleasant views (like the ones shown in Matt’s photos) waiting at the top of most hills and around most corners. And it’s not like we have a winter that’s quite as cold as Amsterdam, where I used to live (and cycle!).
I know we talk about public transport a lot on this blog and it is true that Auckland can do much better in this regard. However I’m increasingly wondering if we’re not over-looking opportunities for Auckland to become more of a cycling city.
A recent presentation on the Integrated Transport Programme, for example, apparently made no mention of walking or cycling, instead referring only to major (read “expensive”) road and public transport projects. I know it’s only a presentation and that we should hold fire until the ITP itself is released, but what message does it send when the summary to a 30-year strategic document developed by almost all the government agencies involved in transport planning does not identify one signature walking/cycling project? It’s amazing to me that walking in particularly can be so over-looked given that it still contributes almost 10% of journeys to work.
And the failure to mention walking/cycling projects from the ITP presentation came hot on the heels of this month’s AT business report, which also left out cycling statistics altogether. It seems like Auckland Transport is suddenly afraid of using the “c” word?
As a cyclist myself I’m obviously “biased” – but on the other hand let’s not ignore than a person on the other side of the world felt sufficiently motivated to use Auckland as an example of a city where “cycling should be more popular than it is.” This point is worth ramming home: A journalist in the U.K. - who could have chosen any city in the world – choose Auckland. That’s not something to be proud of my friends, and it’s not something that will help us to become the world’s most livable city. While Auckland has and continues to make progress on many transport fronts, in my view our investment in cycling still lags.
In my opinion Auckland needs to become vastly more welcoming to cyclists before it can lay claim to being the world’s most livable city. And only then might you start to see beautiful photos being taken at ground level.
One of the more interesting arguments went something along the lines of “many people will never catch a bus so we should invest in rail“. I find this line of argument interesting because it expresses a view (about how to grow public transport patronage) that differs substantially from my own. Having spent last night tossing and turning with this issue rolling around in my head, I thought it would be worthwhile to fritter away more time on Sunday writing this blog post.
Anyhoo, when people argue that the best way to grow public transport patronage is to invest in rail they tend to invoke the following logic:
Premise 1: There’s a large group of people out there who don’t use public transport (true)
Premise 2: Many of these people have preconceived notions of the merits of rail versus bus technologies, which typically favour the former (also true)
Conclusion: Therefore growing public transport patronage is best achieved through investment in rail
While I agree with both premises, I don’t agree with the conclusion for the following two reasons:
Buses can adopt many of the characteristics that have historically been associated with rail. For example, if people appreciate ride quality, then maybe we should invest in higher quality buses and better road surface and geometry? If people appreciate the speed/reliability of rail, then maybe we should provide buses with similar levels of priority? If there are policies that help rail systems run faster, e.g. pre-paying for tickets, wider stop spacing, and all-door boarding then why not adopt them on buses too? If people are attracted to simpler operating patterns that are more legible then let’s operate our bus system the same way. Basically all of these factors, which people typically associate with rail, are not intrinsic to any particular technology, but instead reflect mutable decisions. The design of the Northern Busway and the Central Connector, for example, exemplify how bus corridors can adopt “rail” characteristics where desirable.
It presumes the best way to grow patronage is to attract new users. The above argument contains an implicit assumption that the best way to grow patronage is to attract people that are not currently using public transport. But what if your current public transport system is only meeting a proportion of the travel demands of its existing users? In that case would there not be an opportunity to grow patronage by increasing the degree to which public transport meets the travel needs of existing users? And if you consider that younger people tend to use public transport more, does this create the opportunity to grow patronage simply by slowing the rate at which current users stop using PT as they grow older? Stated differently, could we grow public transport patronage by slowing the rate at which existing users becoming non-users.
The first point noted above is, I think, fairly self-evident and does not require much further discussion. All I’d like to clarify is that I’m not suggesting buses can adopt all of rail’s attributes, only pointing out that it is possible for buses to adopt many of the attributes that crop-up most frequently in “mode centric” debates. And by adopting these characteristics buses can effectively narrow (not eliminate) the “quality gap” that many people have in mind when they express a preference for rail.
The second point, I think, is more interesting and deserves further discussion. What I am suggesting here is that attracting “new users” to public transport is only one way of growing patronage. Another way, which would seem to involve less effort, is to expand the degree to which PT meets the needs of existing users and, in particular, slow the rate at which they stop using public transport as they grow older. That is, to focus on patronage retention rather than simple expansion.
Indeed, evidence seems to suggest that in the wake of a PT improvement the most immediate patronage growth is attributable to existing users subsequently choosing to use public transport more. And given that public transport is more popular among younger people, in the long run such improvements may increase the degree to which public transport is incorporated into their future decisions, such as whether to get a drivers license, buy a vehicle, and – perhaps most importantly – the relative locations of their home/work. The logic of this argument could be summarised as follows:
Premise 1: A large number of relatively young people are currently using public transport to meet a proportion of their travel needs (true)
Premise 2: These young people will, in the future, have to make many significant transport/lifestyle decisions that will impact on their future demand for public transport (true)
Conclusion: Therefore growing public transport patronage may be best achieved by focusing on meeting the needs of existing users which, in turn, will slow the rate at which existing users stop using public transport
Some numbers might also help to make this argument a little clearer.
First, consider a stylised world that consists of only three groups of people who are able to be completely characterised by their age-group. In the figure below the x-axis (horizontal) shows these three age-groups, whereas the y-axis (vertical) shows the percentage of trips made by car and public transport for each age-group (the MoT’s HTS hints at similar differences in use of public transport between age-groups, even if the mode share is different).
Hypothetical travel demands from the stylised world of Stuart’s imagination, which is very loosely based on reality.
Now if we know the population weightings for the 0-19, 20-65, and 65+ age groups – and we assume that all groups have the same daily need for travel (which may be approximately true for the 0-19 and 19-65 age groups) – then we can calculate the contribution of each age group to total PT trips, as illustrated below.
Base mode shares
The first thing to note is that while the 0-19 age-group is only 30% of the population, they contribute 60% of all PT trips, which is more than twice as much as the contribution made by the 19-65 age-group. Similarly, while the 65+ age group is only one-sixth of the 19-65 age-group, the former contributes 2/3 of the patronage of the latter.
Using this little hypothetical quantitative framework we can now test a few different scenarios.
Let’s first consider a scenario where we invested heavily in rail with the aim of getting more people in the 19-65 age-group onto public transport. And let’s say that this investment was spectacularly successful, such that the public transport mode share for this age-group doubled from 10% to 20% (highlighted in red), while patronage in the other groups was unaffected (for the purposes of this exercise it’s useful to hold mode shares in other age groups constant). The impact on overall travel demands is summarised in the table below, where the important figure is in the right-hand column, second row from the bottom. This shows that public transport’s share of all trips has increased from 25% to 31% as a result of this investment.
Scenario 1 – Rail centric investment increases PT mode share for 19-65 age-group by 100% and increases overall PT mode share to 31%.
Let’s consider another scenario, where PT investment focuses on users in the 0-19 age-group. This might be, for example, a doubling in the level of concessions for these users and a focus on expanding frequency and span so that public transport meets more of their all-day, all-week travel demands. Let’s also say that this investment increases PT’s market share in the 0-19 age-group by 50%, i.e. from 50% to 75% (highlighted in red), while other groups are unaffected. The impacts on overall travel demands are shown below, where the important number is “32%”. So a 50% increase in PT market share for the 0-19 age-group generates slightly more PT trips than the 100% increase in PT market share for the 19-65 age-group.
Scenario 2a – Network wide investment lifts PT mode share in 0-19 age-group by 50% and increases overall PT mode share to 32%
But that’s not all of course. The second part of my argument observes that investments targeted at younger age groups may impact on their future decisions about how public transport can contribute to their quality of life. Thus, let’s consider a situation where the 0-19 age-group, which is already more favourable to PT, “expands” to include people in the next bracket, i.e. the 20-24 age-group. This is basically arguing that the PT investment made in the previous scenario “slows” the rate at which people transition from the “young” to “middle aged” age-group, at least in terms of their travel patterns. This might occur, for example, if people decide to delay getting their drivers’ license or buying a vehicle, or choosing to live somewhere that enables them to access their work via public transport once they leave university.
The impact slowing down this demographic “shift” is highlighted in red in the table below, where the change in age brackets changes increases PT market share further to 37%.
Scenario 2b – Network wide investment causes an expansion in the size of the younger age-group, which increases overall PT mode share to 37%.
While this hyper-simplified quantitative framework essentially “proves” very little, it is useful for illustrating the differences between the two arguments posed above. A focus on investment that retains existing (in this case younger) users can generate considerable patronage growth, because it combines immediate patronage growth (i.e. an increase in mode share, as per Scenario 2a) with an expansion in the size of the population that views public transport as being relevant to their lives (i.e. an increase in the size of the age-group, as per scenario 2b).
These two somewhat distinct patronage impacts are illustrated by the red arrows in the chart below, where the vertical arrow indicates the increase in mode share and the horizontal arrow indicates an expansion in the age-group.
Ultimately, I think that the investment required to achieve the shifts shown in red above are likely to be easier than getting new people (i.e. the 90% of car users in the 19-65 age-group) onto public transport, mainly because people in the middle age-group will have already made many decisions, e.g. how many cars to own and where to live and work, which reduces the need for and effectiveness of PT. This in turn suggests that shifting these people onto PT, through for example investment in rail service, will be relatively expensive and inefficient because you are effectively fighting against major socio-economic decisions that people have already made.
Some of you might baulk at these conclusions.You could point out that increasing PT mode share from 50% to 75% for the 0-19 age-group is likely to be significantly harder than increasing PT mode share from 10% to 20% for the 19-65 age group (NB: These numbers are made up). Perhaps. It is certainly true that market saturation will kick in at some point, such that the size of the vertical red arrow in the figure would reduce and the role of the horizontal arrow would increase. But on the other hand I’d suggest that public transport in Auckland is far from saturation in any age-group, or indeed any market segment that you can think of. For example, while many young people use PT for travelling to/from school and university, the remainder of their travel demands are likely to be met by cars. Hence even though younger age-groups already use PT proportionally more, I suspect that there remains considerable room for further growth.
As an aside it seems to me that the best way to influence the travel choices of the 19-65 age-group is not by tailoring our public transport improvements to align with their preferences, but instead to change the way that we price and manage the use of private vehicles. This means targeting vehicle use directly through – for example through time-of-use pricing and parking pricing. Of course, in the process of improving the public transport service for existing users we are likely to attract some new users from outside our target markets, and these people definitely should be catered for as required. But they are a positive second-order patronage benefit, rather than the primary driver of investment in the public transport system.
In many ways this message is a relatively non-glamorous one of getting “back to basics”, i.e. placing a bigger emphasis on getting the existing network operating efficiently, rather than worrying too much about the technology being used to deliver it. On a simple level, thinking about public transport patronage this way encourages you to place a higher focus on existing users, rather than potential new users. More specifically, growing public transport patronage starts from having a detailed understanding of (and appreciation for) existing users. This alone can tell you a lot about the types of markets (and PT services) that are likely to generate the most patronage in the future. In my mind the “rail only” approach discussed above unintentionally demeans, or at least undervalues, the preferences of existing users – the majority of whom are using buses.
Before wrapping this up, I think it’s also worth mentioning that some aspects of this discussion are related to an earlier post on generational differences. That is, because most of our transport decision makers (including myself) fall into the 19-65 age-group there is a natural tendency for us to propose solutions that address our needs, rather than the needs of our users. This can result, for example, in a undue focus on high-speed services. For their part, PT users seem to not value speed – or more accurately “travel-time” – as much as other attributes, such as frequency, reliability, simplicity, and affordability. And in my experience relatively few people currently on the bus will complain that the bus is “not a train“.
None of this is to suggest that the attributes associated with rail-based solutions are irrelevant, or that investment in rail won’t attract new passengers – experience shows that it certainly will. But it is intended to highlight that the best way to grow our patronage is probably to focus less on large infrastructure projects and more on small to medium scale improvements to the existing network (whether it be rail, bus, or ferry). These will in turn help to generate more trips from existing users for more years. When you think about public transport from this perspective you realise that passenger retention equates to patronage growth; that the views of existing users, especially the young, are significantly more important than the views of non-users.
Having said all that, what would be my advice for the people at Auckland Transport and Auckland Council who are currently grappling with a slowdown in patronage growth, especially on rail? The first thing I would do, I think, is to get to know my existing customers better; learn to cherish their patronage and respect their choices; and – perhaps most importantly – consider initiatives that will encourage young people to keep using PT even as they get older. Some targeted market research into secondary and tertiary students who are currently using public transport, for example, might be a good place to start. Tertiary students that are about to graduate probably offer the most potential for future patronage growth.
I get the feeling that’s what a good business would do.
A Norwegian friend (whom I affectionately refer – and defer – to as the “Socialist Dictator”) recently alerted me to this article entitled “Why you should travel young“.
If you are looking for a delightfully introspective, relatively insightful, and genuinely motivating article on the virtues of travel then I’d encourage you to read this article. Why? Because it makes points that have been resonating in my bones for a while now, but been unable to articulate. For my part, the pleasure I derive from travel relates to its ability to simultaneously make you feel more aware of both yourself and the world around you.
Having read the article I was then sufficiently motivated to add some of my own biofuel to the travel fire started by Patrick’s post on his recent trip to Antartica. The destination for my own recent travels were nowhere near as glamorous, although it was probably more sustainable and definitely more readily reached (at least for those of you whom reside in Auckland). So I’d like to ask you to join me for destination “Waitakere Ranges.”
Now I know what most of you are probably thinking: “Been there done that”. But, if I may be so bold as to have a follow up question: Have you ever walked the Hillary Trail? If you have, then well done; you may want to read on for nostalgia’s sake. If you have not, then you should read on to find out why a four day, three night hike is something that all Aucklanders with a love for travel and a reasonable degree of fitness and knowledge of the outdoors should do.
Before we get onto the trail itself, I wanted to answer the question of “how does one get there?” A question to which my emphatic response is: The Western Line. That’s right, you can “hop” on the train right to Glen Eden, from where a short (and fast) taxi ride will take you right to the start of the track (Arataki Visitor centre), as shown below.
But that begs another question: “why would you take the train rather than drive?” Well, for me the main reason is that I don’t actually own one of these so-called “private automobiles”. But for those of you who are burdened by a car there’s another good reason to leave the car at home: The Hillary Trail is not a loop track. Thus, unless you want to leave vehicles at both ends, or spend time getting someone to drop you back to the start once you’ve finished, then a combination of public transport and taxi is actually a fairly good option. In the photo below I provide a demonstration of the correct posture to use when one is trying to “tag on” to the start of a hiking trip wearing a pack.
Once the logistics of getting to the start of the track have been sorted then all you really need to do is walk. 70km in fact, as per the route map shown below. The Hillary Trail route takes you from Arataki Visitor Centre to the Karamatura, Pararaha, and finally Craw Campgrounds on the first, second, and third nights respectively. On the final day (which is a long one!) you walk out to finish at Muriwai Beach, where an icecream and a swim provides a fitting end to an awesome hike.
Now I realise that sounds like a lot of effort. And it is: The Hillary Trail is not without its challenging sections. But the “pay-off”, as they say, is huge: Even though I have lived in Auckland for all my years and been in the Waitakeres on a good many occasions, I found that there was nothing like hiking the Waitakeres from top to bottom to get you a more connected sense of how it’s various coves, beaches, and ranges fit together.
It also really rams home the extraordinary biodiversity that Auckland has sitting on it’s western door-step. That’s enough talking from me; to finish I’d just like to share some of my many photos taken from from the Hillary Trail itself. I’d suggest you do it while you’re still young . No ifs, no buts.
P.s. My random “travel highlight” was wandering out to the public reserve at Whatipu only to be showered in freshly baked scones that were leftover from a gathering of the Orpheus Society (NB: The Orpheus is the name of a ship that sank entering the Manukau Harbour and has the unfortunate honour of being New Zealand’s most deadly maritime disaster). Then, to cap it off, Mr Bob Harvey himself – one of the instigators of the Hillary Trail concept when he was Mayor of Waitakere – wanders over to have a chat about life in general. Viva!
Day #1: Settling in for the night at the Karamatura Campground
Day#2: Close to Whatipu, looking west towards the northern shore of the entrance to the Manukau Harbour.
Day #2: Looking east along the northern edge of the Manukau Harbour
Day #2: Volcanic peaks around Pararaha Campground
Day #3: Hiking north along the beach towards Anawhata
Day #3: Isolated and inaccessible beach (Mercer’s Bay), just south of Piha
Day #3: Nikau groves just north of Piha
Day #4: Lake Wainamu, just south of Bethells Beach
Day #4: Looking south over Te Henga and Bethells Beach