Tame on the money

TVNZ’s Breakfast host Jack Tame wrote an excellent opinion piece on transport in Auckland in the Herald on Sunday yesterday.

I can’t read the future but I can tell you right now it’ll be packed tomorrow morning from Drury to Takanini.

You don’t need to live in Auckland to know how frustrating it is to be sitting in traffic.

Congestion is a great equaliser. You can be a multi-millionaire in a kitted-out late European, or struggling to make ends meet with an unregistered, bunged-up, eighth-hand Mitsubishi and it all works the same.

Traffic doesn’t care for fancy cars. It’s not moving faster for anyone.

Sitting in traffic for hours is such a normal part of the week for so many Aucklanders I can sympathise with people who live elsewhere and turn up their noses at our beautiful harbours and warm weather. It’s a serious quality-of-life thing.

The last point is important, in my opinion, Auckland has some of the best and most unique mix of natural features for a city anywhere in the world. The harbours, the Hauraki Gulf and islands, the volcanoes, the beaches and ranges. But the city is let down by its built form and nowhere is that more noticeable than with transport.


Auckland’s geography creates numerous pinch points that funnel people through narrow corridors. If any city could benefit from high quality public transport to help move more people through those pinch points, it’s Auckland. Yet for decades we’ve spend most of our transport effort in trying to solve these problems though the least efficient way of doing so, roads.S

Next Jack uses a line we’ve been known to use on more than one occasion.

No city ever solved its traffic problems by building more roads. And with a significant slab of the migration surge focused on the Auckland region, the morning commute won’t get much shorter any time soon

According to the Ministry of Transport, registered vehicles on New Zealand roads increased by 185,000 in 2016. Only so many motorway extensions and tunnels will cope with that kind of growth.

Traffic is Auckland’s great shame.

We already know a solution will involve massive investment in public transport. Friends visiting recently from overseas were staggered to discover even a light rail link to the airport is potentially more than a decade away.

This in a city of more than 1.5 million people.

But anyone who suggests there isn’t an appetite for change need only consider Auckland’s jam-packed city buses and increasingly popular commuter trains.

Who in their right mind would choose an idling first gear crawl over a shorter, smoother, commute to work?

I can’t disagree with any of that and we know that when high quality solutions, like rapid transit, are provided, that people flock to use them. What we need is to provide more of those high quality options to a greater number of people around the region. And as the rapid transit network expands and interconnects, its usefulness will multiply seeing even more people wanting to use the trains and buses we already have.

With the council and government now both agreeing on the need for a strategic PT network, now’s the time for them to put the money up and get it built.

Jack finishes up with this.

Every morning I read the traffic report and watch our live motorway shots with a mix of sympathy and disdain.

Then I leave the studio, wipe off my make-up, get on my bike and ride home.

AT Event PT Groundhog

Auckland Anniversary weekend, like many other long weekends, has long been associated with people packing up their car and fleeing the city, usually to beaches in places like the Coromandel Peninsula or North of Auckland. In the last few years in particular, we’ve also started to see Auckland growing into becoming an international city that is able to celebrate the anniversary weekend through a wide range of events. What’s more, many of these events are now being held in the city centre. Take yesterday for example, in the city centre we had:

The impact of this change and development of the city centre as a destination not just for work has been hugely positive and importantly popular too, going by the massive numbers of people drawn to the city to participate in the events.

Unfortunately, a cloud continues to hang over events like what took place yesterday – and the rest of the weekend, AT’s continued sole focus on the hunt for the great white commuter (the stereotypical 9-5 office worker). This is evident by the almost non-existent public transport that existed due to public holidays being treated with a Sunday timetable – with one exception, some extra trains to cater for the cricket.

But even the extra trains put on for the cricket would have been useless for most as there were only a few extra services put on at the expected start and finish time of the match. That meant throughout most of the day, the rail network continued to run with just 30 minute frequencies – a level at which most people would think makes using it just too hard.

And it’s not just the infrequent services that cause issues but also how long they run for. On Sunday, and like with New Year’s Eve, the final trains for the day left just minutes before the fireworks ended. On Monday, the same thing happened with the Laneway Festival as the last trains departed Britomart just before the festival ended.

To me this all represents a massive missed opportunity to showcase our PT network, which has been improving. It also likely means AT aren’t getting the most of their 99c child fares on weekends.

We know that by in large, most people are rational. Many are more than happy to use PT if a decent service is provided but what AT continues to provide on days like yesterday doesn’t even come close to a decent service.

Of course, the ultimate solution is for AT to not treat event days like this weekend separate at all but just to provide a decent base level of service every day. That is part of the philosophy behind the New Network but it’s notable that AT haven’t implemented the associated rail changes with it yet, these were described in AT’s Regional Public Transport Plan as:

This isn’t the first time I’ve raised issues about the provision PT and events and sadly I doubt it will be the last.

Did you have any PT experiences over the weekend and how did they go?

More petrol station changes

Last year, Z Energy bought Caltex New Zealand’s network of petrol stations from global oil giant Chevron. That was a pretty big deal (almost $800 million, in fact).

Just before Christmas 2016, another deal was announced. Caltex Australia* has bought the Gull New Zealand network of petrol stations (and associated operations). With a price of $340 million, it’s not as big as the Z Energy/ Caltex New Zealand deal, but still big numbers.

Caltex Australia was separate from Caltex New Zealand, although they obviously shared the same branding, and had some common ownership until recently. Caltex Australia is listed on the Australian stock exchange, and was half-owned by Chevron until 2015. Chevron have now sold out completely.

The ol’ Power Chief.

The Gull transaction is subject to Overseas Investment Office approval, which probably isn’t much of a barrier. You’ve just got one foreign-controlled company replacing another.

The press release is here:

This acquisition delivers on Caltex [Australia’s] strategic plan as it optimises Caltex’s infrastructure position, builds trading and shipping capability, grows the supply base and enhances Caltex’s retail fuel offering through low risk entry into a new market.

Gull has been successfully operating in the New Zealand fuel market since 1998 and is operationally positioned as a challenger brand. It has 77 retail sites in total, including 55 controlled retail sites (around one-third of sites unmanned) and 22 supply sites. It also provides fuel to numerous commercial (B2B) customers.

Gull sells around 300ML of transport fuel (petrol and diesel) representing around 5% of the New Zealand market. The Mount Maunganui terminal is the largest facility of its type in New Zealand with total storage of approximately 90ML. Whilst its retail network is concentrated in the northern half of the North Island of New Zealand, Gull is well placed to profitably grow via new to industry and/or new supply site expansions. As part of the transaction, Caltex will be retaining Gull’s Brand, management and employees.

Gull’s branding and position is based on selling petrol cheaper than everyone else, so presumably the new owners will keep that going.

In other news, things are also changing across the Tasman. Woolworths Australia, the company which owns Countdown supermarkets in NZ, is selling its 500+ petrol stations to BP Australia. The two companies have signed a “Strategic Partnership” to do fuel discounts together for the next 10 years – i.e. people shopping at Woolworths supermarkets in Australia will get the 4 cents off a litre at BP stations.

Which is to say, supermarket fuel dockets are likely to continue for another 10 years or so, at least in Australia. They’ve been in both NZ and Australia for 10 years already (see an earlier post on them here), and look set to stick around.

I’ve noticed things getting quite messy in the last year, in terms of different prices, vouchers and so on. At least twice, I’ve gone into a Mobil with a voucher to use, and been told that they’ve got a 10 cents off special running that day, so I don’t need the voucher. Then there’s AA Smartfuel, which works at Caltex and BP, and changes to which supermarket brand gives discounts at which petrol station brand.

Slightly blurry cellphone photo, but this is another one of those 10 cents off things. The price ‘for today’ is actually 192.9. To realise this, you apparently have to be driving past, looking at the headline price, then reading the other sign and its small print, and mentally confirming that there are no additional hoops to jump through. But why not just put 192.9 on the electronic sign?

There’s also more price variation in different parts of the city and country. So when you’re driving around, try to avoid being taken for a ride (zing!).

Econ 101 says it’s good to see that price variation – it’s a sign of competition and is supposedly good for overall “utility”. Drivers who are less price sensitive, or oblivious to the variations,  end up paying more, and those who are more price sensitive don’t pay as much. But I’m sure you’d rather have the money in your own pocket. Even if you can’t be bothered carrying around vouchers (or keeping a Smartfuel card in your wallet), try to keep an eye out for where the petrol’s cheaper.

I did a road trip down the West Coast in early January – filled up in Greymouth, and tried to leave the next big fill-up to Wanaka. I figured the petrol in Wanaka would be cheaper than in the tiny village of Fox Glacier. Three pretty good reasons: Wanaka’s a bigger town, it’s got two petrol stations, and it’s less isolated. So I was quite surprised when the petrol price in Wanaka turned out to be higher than Fox Glacier (3 cents I think).

Then Queenstown was about 8 cents a litre less than Wanaka, and still about 8 cents more expensive than Auckland (again, from memory). Unsurprisingly, the prices tend to be much lower in the big cities and places on major highways – small, isolated towns have higher prices.

Ka mua, ka muri: Looking back in order to move forward

‘They always say time changes everything, but actually you have change them yourself’ -Andy Warhol

Ka mua, ka muri is a Māori proverb that expresses a great truth around a simple image. The image is of a person walking backwards into the future. It suggests that the past is clearly visible but the future is not, that we have imperfect information for the road ahead, but also that this is a natural state of affairs. Let us look back for clues to the way forward, but also understand that the future is unwritten. The future comes out of the past but will not be identical to it. The only unchanging thing is change.

It is in this spirit then that I want to take a walk through the following chart showing the last decade Auckland Public Transit ridership.

We constructed this chart deliberately in order to more clearly show some trends that we feel are important but are not so evident in the way Auckland Transport usually illustrate their data. Some observations:

1. Auckland is a harbour city and therefore Ferries are important, offer some the most pleasurable PT trips you’ll enjoy anywhere in the world, and are worth working on. But, as the chart shows has been the case over the last decade, Ferries will not drive a ‘transformation shift’ in Transit use. In Nov 2006 there were some 4.14m annual Ferry trips, or around 7.9% of the total, by Nov 2016 this has risen to 6.01m and 7.1%. Ferry use has been growing consistently but not as fast as land based Rapid Transit so we can also expect its proportional contribution to continue this gradual slide. Will it reach 7m out 100m total?

People often point to Sydney as a model, but with around 15.4m annual Ferry trips there in a city of 5m the numbers suggest that Auckland is already doing proportionately pretty well by comparison. The major difference between the two cities is fares, Ferries are expensive in Auckland, with the high volume routes unsubsidised [though the low volume ones are heavily subsidised] whereas they are really cheap in Sydney. The best deal of all, and strongly recommended, is a trip to Manly on a Sunday, because of the Sunday fare cap this Waiheke like trip, plus all your other travel that day, is capped at $2.50! Only beaten by the 65+age group in Auckland who can get to Waiheke and elsewhere for free at any time.

Ferries are, of course, permanently limited by geography, and even with greater investment, up zoning around wharves, better bus and bike connection (all worth doing) they will struggle to hold on to the 7% contribution. This is why we separated them out and made them the floor of our chart: Ferries are the hard biscuit base of the AKL Transit cake.

2. Buses do the heavy the lifting and will continue to do so, this is the middle band of the chart, ordinary buses, non-Rapid buses on local roads. Over the last decade (remember we’re walking backwards here) most Transit users were on these buses. And although this proportion is shrinking because the relative growth in Rapid Transit it’s still hefty: 60m trips out of 84m total, 71% in Nov 2016.

However over the last 18 months or so growth in bus use, outside of the Northern Busway, has stalled. Some of this will be people unsurprisingly choosing the improved train or Rapid bus where they can. But also we are in the middle of a total shakeup of the bus system, the New Network, which can be expected to disrupt use before it builds new ridership. But perhaps there’s a more worrying trend here too? Perhaps there is a need to give more attention to this important but more quotidian part of the system? More, more contiguous, and longer duration, bus lanes. Better physical and timed connection with Rapid Transit stations. Furthermore the New Network needs to be understood less as an end point but as a start; there will be a need for constant re-calibration and improvement of its design and implementation as it rolls out.

This part of the bus system mustn’t get lost in the necessary swing of attention to the shiny new kid on the block; the Rapid Network, as it is not being replaced by this newcomer but rather is pivoting into a vital more foundational role for it. These non-Rapid buses are the main filling in our cake, they provide the most nutrition and heft, and will continue to do so, even as their role morphs and shifts.

3. Rapid is where its at. There is no clearer lesson from the last decade in Transit in Auckland than this. People want high quality, frequent, turn-up-and-go, moving free of congestion, Transit. Our backwards view shows that where ever been delivered, particularly since the rail network was upgraded with electrification in the last few years, Aucklanders have piled on the services, and in consistently increasing numbers. Year on year growth of 20% has been standard on Rail and Northern Busway as their services have approached Rapid status (and neither are truly there yet).

There is no surer bet in transport provision in Auckland today than this [except perhaps that every new urban motorway lane we add, particularly in the absence of a Rapid Transit alternative, will clog quickly with induced traffic].  For all Aucklanders, and particularly for drivers, the lesson of the last decade is that we need to accelerate provision of Rapid Transit to the whole city. Particularly to those areas with none: The North West, The South East [AMETI], The South West [including the Airport and environs], and the Central Isthmus. Because a full network of high standard attractive Rapid Transit services will be so much more powerful than its parts, enabling and encouraging many thousands more people to go about much of their daily business without their cars.

This will require investment in permanent right of ways, but the bulk of these capital costs are one off and of enduring value, and as they will limit the endless spiral upwards of costs imposed by unchecked driving demand, this direction offers better ongoing value. This is transformational, this is real change, but to achieve it requires a change in both direction and pace; a change in what we fund and in what order. The trial is complete: We know what we need to keep AKL moving and prospering as it grows; it is, like Seattle, a policy of going all in on high quality Transit. The blue part in the first chart above is the only part of the pie that can rise profoundly, meaningfully, have any real impact on the burdens of traffic congestion and transform the way our city operates and is. But to achieve it the chefs have to get on and make it.

Same as it ever was.

Around 1958-59, after returning from a four month tour of galleries in North America, Colin McCahon painted ‘Tomorrow will be the same but not as this is’ with house paint and west coast sand. It is in the collection of the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu, despite the opposition of some Councillors at the time. Listen to Sam Neill discuss this work




City Math

There was a good article a few days ago by Brent Toderian in Toronto’s Metro News highlighting that if you use the “math of city-making”, which is often at odds with the way cities have developed over the last 60+ decades, you can build a better city. Brent has visited Auckland a few times to work with the council on planning issues and has talked at a number of Auckland Conversations events including here in 2013 and here a year later.

Here are some of the examples he uses in his article.

  • A common political argument is that bike and transit riders should “pay their own way.” A study in Vancouver however suggested that for every dollar we individually spend on walking, society pays just 1 cent. For biking, it’s eight cents, and for bus-riding, $1.50. But for every personal dollar spent driving, society pays a whopping $9.20! Such math makes clear where the big subsidies are, without even starting to count the broader environmental, economic, spatial and quality-of-life consequences of our movement choices. The less people need to drive in our cities, the less we all pay, in more ways than one.
  • Another study in Copenhagen (where the full cost of transportation choices are routinely calculated) found that when you factor in costs like time, accidents, pollution and climate change, each kilometre cycled actually gains society 18 cents!
  • A recent American study suggested that compact development, on average, costs 38 per cent less in up-front infrastructure and 10 per cent less in ongoing service delivery than conventional suburban development, while generating 10 times more per acre in tax revenue. Many cities overbuilding the suburbs are putting their fiscal future at risk — and that’s before the bigger picture costs are even included.
  • Over the last decade, Canadian cities like Calgary, Edmonton, London, Halifax, Regina and Abbotsford have been doing the hard math on the real costs of how and where they grow — not just up or out, but how smarter design choices save costs. The resulting math has been powerful — tens of billions of dollars more of public cost for car-dependant suburban growth than for smart infill — and I haven’t even yet seen such a study that includes all the full and life-cycle costs of our growth choices. Once these shocking numbers are revealed, municipal leaders can’t “un-know” them, no matter what political ideology they live by.

Want more examples? There’s math showing that replacing on-street parking with safe, separated bike-lanes is good for street-fronting businesses. That crime goes down as density goes up. That providing housing for the homeless actually saves public money. That you can move more people on a street when car lanes are replaced by well-designed space for walking, biking and transit.

There are of course many others we’ve seen and covered over the years, including many local studies that have shown the same results as above. Do you have any city math favourites?

Video of the day: Future of cities

Here’s an interesting short documentary on the future of cities – if you look closely, you can see a few shots of Auckland (and a few ideas on what we could do next):


Wheely suitcase in Europe #8: Santiago de Compostela to Lisbon — Where dwell-times are short

Earlier this year I undertook a rather long and splendid journey starting in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and ending in Lisbon, Portugal. In seven previous posts I document our progress as follows:

  1. Amsterdam to Annecy
  2. Annecy to Cassis
  3. Cassis to Llanca
  4. Llanca to Zaragoza
  5. Zaragoza to San Sebastian
  6. San Sebastian to Gijon
  7. Gijon to Santiago de Compostela

The routes we took are also illustrated in the map below. At various stages in our journey we used different transport modes, including combination of plane, car, bicycle, train, bus, and ride-share.

At first glance this may seem like a strange route. After all, the natural line of travel from the south of France is to continue south along the east coast of Spain. Two seasonal factors influenced our decision to head west instead (NB: We were travelling in July and the end of August), namely 1) the heat of the Spanish summer and 2) the influx of summer tourists. Spain’s Atlantic coast is both milder (20 – 30 degrees) and receives fewer summer tourists. So if you do go to Spain in the summer, then I’d recommmed heading north-west.

In this post, I document the final leg of our journey, which us from Santiago de Compostela, Spain to Lisbon, Portugal. We travelled by BlaBlaCar to Porto, and then caught the train to Lisbon. Combining two transport modes enabled us to save us both time and money. More specifically, the train from Santiago de Compostela to Porto runs infrequently (every 3 hours), is slow (4.5 hours), and relatively expensive (35 Euro per person). In comparison, BlaBlaCar picked us up from our door, took 2.5 hours, and cost only 16 Eur per person.

An apt way to end our journey, I thought. One of my fellow bloggers (a’hem, PATRICK) expressed bemusement that we didn’t use the train to travel everywhere. I freely admit rail is nice, where it exists, is frequent, fast, and affordable. On our journey, however, not all these criteria were met all of the time. The two reasons I gave to Patrick for using non-train transpot modes, which I think is worth repeating here, are:

  1. If you want to travel off the beaten track in Europe, ***then*** sometimes you will need to make use of transport modes other than rail. This is especially true when travelling in countries with less well-developed rail networks; and
  2. If you are travelling in Europe at peak times, e.g. summer and/or oevr Christmas, ***then*** you can expect that the high-speed trains will be expensive if not completely full on some days.

For these two reasons I’d strongly suggest that people add buses and BlaBlacar to their list of back-up transport modes. When combined with rail, they make it really easy to travel in Europe without hiring your own car. Of course, neither of these modes is perfect either, hence the need to be flexible.

There, multi-modal sales pitch over. Having arrived in Lisbon, we then set about enjoying ourselves even more than we did on the train. Being late August, the temperature was pushing 30 degrees. I must say that we had 5 days in Lisbon, and it wasn’t enough. Two things strike you almost immediately about Lisbon: 1) the city is extremely beautiful and 2) the geography and topography is spectacular, albeit something that makes it harder to get around.

From a transport perspective, the most interesting aspect of Lisbon has to be the quaint trams that navigate through very narrow streets and up very steep hills, as shown below.

Apart from exploring the city, including the castle shown in the prevous image, we also took two day-trips further afield. One day we caught a suburban train along the coast to a sea-side village called Cascais. The train takes ~40 minutes, and runs right along the coast.

I can report that dwell-times on Lisbon’s (heavy) rail line to Cascais are approximately 25-35 seconds, even under peak summer loads. I mention this because Portugal is not, shall we say, the wealthiest and/or most technologically-advanced nation in Europe. Nonetheless it still manages to achieve dwell-times half that of Auckland. Shame on us.

If Phil Goff and the new Council need any convincing that they should push AT on the dwell-times, then I’d suggest we put them, first, on a plane to Lisbon and, second, on a train to Cascais. Perhaps we could even find a European watch-maker to sponsor the trip and supply watches so the Councillors can precisely time the dwell-times?

On our other day-trip, we rented a car and headed to the UNESCO world-heritage site of Sintra. While Lisbon is a wonderful place to visit in of itself, Sintra moves the region into the top-shelf. Sintra manages to combine both natural and historical beauty in a way I’ve not really experienced anywhere else, and which is as a result somewhat hard to explain.

I would say that Sintra is best understood as a sub-region, which is dominated by a large forest and mountain range within which are sprinkled an amazing number of amazingly beautiful places of interest, such as public gardens, villages, palaces, castles, and convents. Here’s a few images to whet the appetite (NB: All images are grabbed from the web; let me know if they are yours and you would like credit and/or them taken down). If you’re intrigued, then check out the Wiki page for more detail.

Sintra is only an hours’ drive from Lisbon, or there is also a train from Lisbon. Just be aware that the coast west of Sintra is also worth exploring, and cannot be reached by train.

Having spent five wonderful days in Lisbon, and four weeks travelling across Europe, we then flew back to Amsterdam so that I could begin the current academic year. If you are interested in the relative cost and speed of the different travel modes we used then let me know and I’ll try and write up a summary post. Otherwise, I have another upcoming travel post which considers our Christmas adventure in Bordeaux.

Until then, I will leave you to enjoy the New Zealand summer, of which I am suitably jealous. Travel safe y’all.

Why is ATs website so customer unfriendly?

Yesterday afternoon I noticed a tweet from reader Tina Plunkett asking where she could top-up her HOP card on Ponsonby Rd.

While this isn’t something I ever look up, I knew I’d seen it on the AT website before and as I had some spare time I thought I’d try and be helpful by looking it up for her. I was out at the time so this meant doing so on my phone but I assumed it would easy enough.

I knew I’d seen a list and even a map of retailers in the AT HOP section of the website which was located under Bus Train Ferry on the AT Website so I started by navigating there. But here’s where I came unstuck, I couldn’t get to the AT HOP section as on the mobile version of AT’s website, it doesn’t exist. Here are a couple of screen shots showing the AT HOP section nowhere to be found.


So there’s an image I can click on to get a HOP card and there’s a whole heap of fine text that I assume is there for legal reasons but no links to the any details about HOP, like where they can be topped up. To do that you have to dig through the menu icon at the top right of the page (in the first image) but even then, it’s not intuitive or easy to find.

As a comparison, here is the desktop version showing the heading sitting just under the Real Time Board on the left hand menu. That isn’t to say the desktop version is great either, personally I find it a cluttered, junky mess and I get the impression that AT simply don’t care about the customer experience of those who may want to use it.


I think the issue here is broader than something seemingly important missing from the mobile version of their website but goes to the wider issue of how AT interact with customers. I tend to know my way around the AT site fairly well as I’m often looking around it as part of posts I’m writing – and is why I knew I’d seen the HOP section and map. But even for me, I find the website a mess and often completely unfriendly to users. I can imagine someone who’s a bit PT curious and sick of sitting in traffic every day going to the AT site, taking one look at it and deciding it’s simply all too hard.

I’m sure many of you have seen better implementations of equivalent websites for other cities. If you have some outstanding examples of getting it right then let us know in the comments and I’ll look at another post so we can give AT some ideas for improvement.

While on the topic of HOP retailers, looking at them for this post also highlighted once again just how few places there are to top-up a card – something I don’t think about as I normally top-up online. As you can see from the map there are some huge areas where there are not many places to do this. Outside of the rail network, locations to top-up are sparse.


And I won’t even go into the garbage fire that you’re presented with if you log in to your AT account.

Postcard from Japan: Kamakura Day Trip

I’m back from my holiday now which means I can focus on writing posts again, including sharing more my trip. In this post I’ll cover a day trip we took to Kamakura, a seaside city south of Tokyo that is known for a number of festivals as well as Buddhist shrines and temples. The city is surrounded on three sides by some steep hills which help to make you feel like you’re in a very different location, despite not being all that far from Tokyo. We actually traveled there a day before our trip to Hakone that I’ve already written about.


Kamakura is about 50km south of Tokyo by rail making it very similar in distance as Britomart to Pukekohe – and one of the reasons I felt it was useful to discuss here. To get there we first made our way to Shinagawa, like we did for going to Hakone, and transferred to the Yokosuka Line which runs through Kamakura. There are only 10 stops on the 47km between Shinagawa and Kamakura and while not high speed, the trains would often reach 120km/h with that section of the journey taking around 54 minutes.

By comparison the approximately 49km between Pukekohe and Britomart has 15 stops and takes around 1:18 including a 6-8 minute transfer at Papakura. I suspect we could get travel times down to that kind of level if we can sort out the electrification issue (either by battery powered EMUs or extending the wires), completing the much needed third main to allow some faster limited stop services to run. This would also need to be after the CRL when there is some additional capacity on the rail network as all of the current capacity will be needed.

Like many of the lines around Tokyo, the trains running down the Yokosuka line have some serious capacity. They have the same length as about three of our 3-car trains combined but can hold many more people as nine of the eleven carriages use metro style bench seating – like the middle of our trains – while the other two carriages are first class but are also double deckers. I don’t know what the capacity is but I assume it would easily be in the 1500-2000 per train range and that capacity is clearly needed. Even on a mid-morning on a weekday heading away from Tokyo the train was decently busy. As a comparison, one of our 6-car trains has a stated capacity of 750 people. Moving to bench style seating is something we may need to consider to improve capacity and something I’ll look at in a later post – the good news is our trains are designed for it to be done easily.

Arriving at the station in Kamakura there was a nice bit of wayfinding in the form of some walking routes options. We decided to do The Great Buddha Course although we didn’t follow it exactly as suggested. We also did a bit of The Kamakura Quick Course, although we didn’t realise it at the time.


Setting off one of the first things I noticed was the infrastructure, the hills have had plenty of tunnels punched through them for local connectivity. Like many places in Japan though, the local roads where most people live are designed to a completely different scale. Footpaths might not exist but it’s not such an issue when cars are only travelling slow anyway. If a car came the other way – and they did – they definitely couldn’t pass at speed.


As seen on the wayfinding, one of the highlights of the route we took was the Great Buddha at Kotoku-in Temple. It is made from bronze, is 13.5m tall, was built in 1252 and has survived undamaged both a Tsunami (which wiped out the buildings around it), and later an earthquake which damaged the base it sits on. For a nominal fee you could also go inside for a look which also shows how it was made 764 years ago.


Moving down further to the Hase-dera Temple we got our first good view of the beach and back over a decent part of the city.


Shortly after that we reached the end of the course. It was suggested that we catch a small, mostly single track railway back to the main station however we decided to walk instead and go via the beach. The beach was fairly deserted, being a Friday afternoon and not particularly warm. I imagine it’s quite popular in the heat of summer though. Along much of the beach there was a decently wide seaside walkway/cycleway but it is next to a coastal highway which felt like much more of a barrier than its size or traffic volumes at the time might suggest. I was also surprised to see very little in the way of making better use asset the town had.


So with seemingly not a lot to do at the beach we made our way back to town, about 1km north.

We’ve talked recently about the proposed Victoria St Linear Park that Auckland Transport seem to be neutering, even though it’s not really a park and is in fact vital to the operation of the City Rail Link. In Kamakura it is much more of a linear park and is in fact part of a shrine to the north. The park/walkway is split in two equal halves and totals around 500m long. It is straight down the middle of the road and is also raised above it. Access to it is only at either end or in the middle.


In spring with the cherry blossoms in bloom I imagine it would be very pretty but also very different to why we need more people space on Victoria St.


By now it was mid-late afternoon and we hadn’t had lunch so we were getting hungry. We made our way to an area that had a bit of activity and it turned out to be where all the activity was. Running almost 600m north from the train station and bus terminal, Komachi St was lined with food and retail options and with a lot of people, it had a great atmosphere.


After looking around for a bit it was time to head home. We made our way back down the street to the train station and not long later we were on our way back to Tokyo.

All up a good day and one that I feel can provide some lessons for us.

The Big Smoke

The Big Smoke – putting New Zealand’s cities centre-stage 

by Ben Schrader

I wrote The Big Smoke: New Zealand Cities, 1840-1920 because I’d long felt that New Zealand history, as taught and written, did not resonate with me. The history I learnt at school and university had emphasised the ‘rural myth’. This asserted that Pākehā had come to New Zealand to settle land alienated from Māori. Settlers would buy a parcel of forest or grassland, and then clear, fence and farm it. Alternatively, they could reside in towns, and provide goods and services – grocery, blacksmithing, stock and station supplies – to those on encircling farms. Cities only functioned, in these accounts, as markets and ports. ‘Real’ New Zealanders, it seemed, lived on the land.


The inferior position of cities was emphasised in New Zealand’s cultural production. I grew up reading Barry Crump’s ‘Good Keen Men’ books and thinking his ‘Man Alone’ protagonists were archetypal Kiwi blokes.  At secondary school I joined the tramping club and during the holidays headed into the bush with others. I looked forward to the physical challenges these trips provided, but for me the attraction of tramping was less the scenery and more the sociability: there is nothing like putting the world to rights around a campfire.  The prospect of going into the bush by myself held no appeal. I could never be a Good Keen Man. This was confirmed to me at the end of every tramp by the elation I felt on returning to Wellington and the trappings of civilisation, not least a hot shower.

On examining my family history I realised I was not the first Schrader to have an urban sensibility. My great, great grandfather, James, was born in 1834 in London. In 1862 he sought a new life in New Zealand. He landed in Dunedin and soon found work as a post office clerk. Ever since then the Schraders down my line of the family have lived in large towns or cities and pursued urban occupations: as clerks, tailors, grocers, restaurateurs and writers. Their homes have not looked out upon pasture or bush but the street and their neighbour’s fences. All have lived with the sights, sounds and smells of the people about them.

Whereas many historians have situated Pākehā identities in the land, I have always had a much stronger affinity with cities. I can appreciate the beauty of the snow-clad Southern Alps glistening in the sun, but the vistas that enthral me are city ones: the gradual revealing of Wellington as the motorway leaves the Ngāūranga Gorge; Auckland’s towering skyline from Waitematā Harbour’s undulating surface, or the ornate Victorian buildings lining Dunedin’s Princes Street. In other words, my social identity is grounded more in the streets and lanes of the cities where my forebears and I have lived than in the forests and farms that surround them.


Of course I knew my family were not the only ones to prefer city life; the rapid growth of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin underlines this. But the rise of these cities and those who built them has been underplayed in New Zealand history writing. This is surprising, considering that since the 1910s most New Zealanders have been urban dwellers – 86 per cent in 2014. Yet we know surprisingly little about these people and the spaces in which they lived. New Zealand generally lacks the substantial studies of urban life that are standard in national histories overseas.

So why hasn’t urban history captured the imagination of New Zealand historians? I proffer three suggestions. The first is that many adopted the anti-city bias of mid-twentieth-century nationalist literary culture. Writers like Rex (A.R.D.) Fairburn endlessly celebrated the naturalness of country life over the artificiality of city life – even though he lived in Devonport. The two most influential histories of Pākehā society, Jock Phillips’s A Man’s Country? (1987) and Miles Fairburn’s The Ideal Society and its Enemies (1989), are both rural-centric. The bias has carried to the present, most notably in environmental history. Overseas the sub-field has a strong urban strain, but in a new edition of Making a New Land: Environmental Histories of New Zealand (2013), just two of the eighteen essays consider city environments.

A second possibility is that many historians avoid spatial analysis. It is not surprising that disciplines with a spatial bent, such as urban design and geography, have long been at the forefront of city research. Since the 1950s, scholars like Kenneth Cumberland, Eric Pawson, and Garth Falconer have employed spatial analysis to chart New Zealand’s urban development. Conversely, historians have generally seen cities as places where events happen, rarely considering how space – buildings, streets, landscapes – frame and shape these events.

The third reason is that in a small history community like New Zealand’s, there is less room for the diversity of sub-fields that characterise the profession overseas. The research interests of most historians have simply lain elsewhere.

If urban history has been in the wings of scholarship, The Big Smoke is an attempt to bring them centre-stage.  It examines what cities looked like and how they changed. It considers why women especially lived in cities and how Māori experienced and shaped them. It explores the ways the street was a living room and stage for city life. And it explains why New Zealand so quickly became a nation of townspeople.street-people-2

I hope the book will appeal particularly to those who, like me, do not identify with the ‘Good Keen Man’ stereotype. Certainly, there is growing evidence that New Zealand’s rural iconography no longer resonates with how most New Zealanders see themselves. Symptomatic of this shift was the ending of the long-running Speight’s ‘Southern Man’ advertising campaign in 2012. A Speight’s executive explained that New Zealand’s urbanisation meant the relevance of the great outdoors had changed. Future campaigns would be city-based, he said.

The same goes for our history writing. In a modern age of mega-cities we can no longer think of ourselves only as people of the land. If we are better to understand what is happening in our society in the present, more historians need to enter the city streets, lanes and cul-de-sacs of its past.

The Big Smoke: New Zealand Cities, 1840-1920 by Ben Schrader is published by Bridget Williams Books and out now (www.bwb.co.nz/books/big-smoke).