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Photo of the Day: Red III

Learning Your Stripes, 2013, Regan Gentry, Papatoetoe. Commissioned by Auckland Council





Safer driving will lead to cheaper insurance

Warning, this post may sound a bit like an advertisement.

Last week I got invited to find out a new product from Tower insurance that’s launching today that they hope will not only lower car insurance costs but also help make driving safer. In a nutshell the product is a smartphone app that measures driving behaviour using GPS and the sensors in the phone. From that it works out if you’re good driver or not and if you are, can give you discounts off your car insurance of up to 20%.

For the first time in New Zealand, safe drivers can benefit from lower insurance premiums based on their individual driving performance – thanks to an innovative free smartphone app offered by TOWER.

SmartDriver’ monitors and assesses an individual’s driving behaviour based on 250 kilometres of travel.  Drivers who score well can then gain a discount on motor premiums of up to 20 per cent.

TOWER Chief Executive Officer David Hancock says TOWER’s strategy of innovating for the benefit of its customers is evidenced by the launch of SmartDriver. TOWER is always looking for ways to improve its risk profile, while lowering costs and providing enhanced value for customers.

“The insurance industry does not have a reputation for innovation, but TOWER is committed to delivering relevant products and better value to customers to help them protect the things they care about. This app is the first of its kind to be launched in Australasia.

“We’re really excited about SmartDriver’s potential to help customers in two ways – saving safe drivers money on premiums and encouraging safer driving for all New Zealanders.”

It’s all part of a move towards risk based pricing where those that present less risk pay less.

TOWER General Manager – Customer Proposition Mark Savage says the app means motor vehicle insurance premiums can now be determined using an individual’s driving behaviour, rather than solely relying on averaged claims risk and demographic data such as age and location.

“This kind of user-based-insurance – or UBI – has the potential to dramatically change the motor insurance market. TOWER has been monitoring the overseas experience for some time and we felt as a nation of drivers it made perfect sense to introduce it here.

“UBI provides fairer pricing to customers based on their driving, not just that of the population at large.  And there is the huge advantage of making those using the app more conscious of their behaviour on the road.”

Mr Savage says telematics, the technology behind UBI, enables driving data to be gathered and transmitted directly from a vehicle on the road to the insurer. The insurer can monitor, analyse, score and then adjust premiums accordingly.

“By collecting basic driving information such as trip duration, distance travelled, location, braking and acceleration, we can build an understanding of driving behaviour and individual risk and adjust premiums accordingly. The app also allows customers to see their score versus the average score calculated from all the SmartDriver users who have completed 250 kilometres using the app.”

Tower have said that this is just a first step on the road to greater risk based pricing and they said giving discounts for those that have a car but who might be using PT, walking or cycling during the week might be considered in the future. I certainly hope it’s something that happens.

While the insurance aspect is obviously the key point of the app, it’s the potential impacts on driver safety that interest me the most. Tower said that amongst staff who helped trial the app, they found driving behaviour improved the more they used it through a combination of driving at slower speeds as well as smoother accelerating and braking. One of the key ways Tower have managed to achieve this is through the gameification in the app that gives points for better driving, achievements and leaderboards. That means that even if someone does the same trip every day there can be an incentive to constantly improve. I’ve been trialling the app and certainly noticed myself trying harder to be a better driver.

I also think there are some potentially interesting implications from this kind of technology. For example as the app keeps a record including a map of the trip taken, parents concerned about their kids driving (if they’re driving at all ;-)) could require them to use the app and show them the results. Of course if that were to happen it would probably just push even more young people to simply not bother getting a licence, using other modes to get around.

So here are some images of what the app looks like.

Opening the app you simply push start for it to start recording your journey and stop again to end it. Only journeys of more than 2km count towards getting a score.

Tower Smartdriver app 1

At the end of each valid trip you get marked. Also notice the gameification elements (most of mine are like the one on the left)

Tower Smartdriver app 3

Delving into a trip gives more details. As you can see I went to Warkworth on Friday afternoon. Despite moderate traffic it flowed smoothly except for one part around Schedewys Hill where I got marked down for braking due to a truck crawling up the hill (fixing that part of the route is one of the few things that need doing to the P2W route). Note these aren’t the same trips as the images above.

Tower Smartdriver app 2

And here are the gameification elements which comprise of leaderboards and achievements. I would love to see something similar for HOP card users to encourage more PT trips. You have to register through the app to get these results and the official score after completion of 250km but it isn’t required to monitor individual trips.

Tower Smartdriver app 4

The app generally seems to work well but there are a few improvements I’d like to see e.g while the app is running it prevents the screen from turning off which is a pain, on Android the back button seems buggy and often backs out of the app rather than going back to the previous screen. It would also be great for them to tie in the app to a mapping app and surely it would be worthwhile measuring if someone is using a phone at the same time as driving.

Overall I think this is a good move by tower and the use of technology to improve driver safety is something I definitely support, a view obviously shared by Ernst Zollner who is also the NZTA’s new regional director for Auckland and Northland/

Ernst Zӧllner, Road Safety Director at the NZ Transport Agency, says any technology that has the potential to contribute to making New Zealand roads safer for users is positive.

“Creating a safe road system depends on safer vehicles, users, roads and roadsides, and safer speeds. It’s really good to see a private insurer sharing responsibility for improving road safety by using technology and incentivising smart choices. This is consistent with Safer Journeys, the Government’s road safety strategy to 2020.”

Photo of the day: Auckland at Dusk

A great photo from reader Russell James Smith.

Photo of the Day: Red

A Small House Fits a Hundred People You Love by Anthony Sumich on the Sturges Rd Railway overbridge. Commissioned by Auckland Council:


Cars have their artistic uses too. Happily this being West Auckland not every car was black or grey.

Photograph by Patrick Reynolds.

Bringing down the King

If you’ve been around Aotea Square and/or are a Game of Thrones fan you are likely to have seen or known about the Bring down the King event SkyTV have been holding in Aotea Square. If you haven’t heard about it there are details here.

He is a difficult character to like, but now Game of Thrones fans have the opportunity to topple King Joffrey.

Ahead of the television series’ fourth season, audiences across the world can help bring down a seven meter statue of the character that has been errected in Auckland’s Aotea Square.

The statue of King Joffrey is expected to fall in five days.

Fans are tasked with harnessing power of social media to topple the king, using the Twitter hashtag #bringdowntheking.

A rope will be positioned around the King’s neck, and every tweet will bring the statue closer to toppling.

By now you might be wondering why I’m even bringing this up. The reason is because of just how successful it was in stoking public interest and activating Aotea Square. As the time drew closer for the statue to topple down. I was on my way to a meeting at 5pm so couldn’t stop to watch but I did take this quick photo showing a few hundred people standing around watching it. I suspect that number grew as people left work too.


It’s great that something so simple can help to make the city more interesting and liveable place. Good work Sky TV.

Wanted: An All Mode Transport Agency

This morning NZTA reported some run-of-the-mill snarfus on their big Auckland motorway system via Twitter, below

NZTA Tweet 1

Matt took the opportunity to suggest they improve their communications to include more forms of transport available in Auckland, in particular the Rail network that they do help fund to operate [but weirdly are barred from funding new capital works on the rail network- even ones that would lower the net operating cost]. And this was their reply. Very good to see and certainly look forward to it becoming a reality:

NZTA Tweet 2

Here’s the full conversation:

TB-NZTA tweets

I also took the opportunity to help improve one of NZTA’s earlier tweets:

PR-NZTA tweets

It would be better if my addition was able to more of a suggestion than quite so blunt and clipped but I ran out characters. Perhaps in order to be more concise on social media NZTA should  just use a nice colloquialism like this tweeter last week:

Sacha tweet

Munted: that is both a concise and precise description of traffic in Auckland often, especially when it rains, or on a Monday, or a Friday or…. well anytime and for many reasons. Despite, or rather because of, the billions that continues to be spent on the motorway system. Time for the clever people at our ‘Transport Agency’ to be unleashed fully onto all modes and systems, not just State Highways, and not just in their communications.


Photo of the day: Takapuna Beach

It might be a long journey getting there via PT for me but one thing you can do in Takapuna that you can’t do in any other major employment area in Auckland is be at the beach with just a short walk.

Takapuna Beach

V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

The Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront in Cape Town is one of the world’s top waterfronts, and one of South Africa’s major tourist attractions.

When I took these photos in late 2010, Auckland had its Viaduct Harbour and Princes Wharf, but Queen’s Wharf was still closed to the public, and the first stages of Wynyard Quarter were at least six months away from opening. We’ve come a long way in the last three years, and Auckland’s waterfront will keep improving as Wynyard (and other areas) continue to develop.

Table Mountain is visible from most parts of Cape Town (well, the parts that tourists go to at least), and provides an impressive backdrop when looking back towards the city from the V&A. Please excuse the photobombing seagull.

There’s a good night-time shot of this office building on Wikipedia.

Trees are often lacking in waterfront settings, but can add some real warmth and colour, and help to make spaces seem less artificial. I’m pleased to see that Wynyard Quarter is getting a better dose of plant life than Princes Wharf and Viaduct before it.

A stage for performances and cultural displays is always popular; when I was there, the Diwali festival was on.

Cruise ships, charter yachts, and working vessels rub shoulders in their berths: the V&A Waterfront, like Auckland’s one, is a working waterfront, with a major port nearby.

The V&A Waterfront is also home to a major shopping centre, Victoria Wharf, which is strongly oriented towards tourists, and includes a large number of high-end and luxury retailers. And a Canterbury of New Zealand store, funnily enough. Jimmy Choo was selling shoes for NZD $2,000 or $3,000; I don’t think I was the target market. Eating and drinking, though, was a bit easier to afford, and allowed for more of an interface between the inside and outside of the shopping centre.

The photo below shows well-utilised public seating along the water’s edge, and an admittedly uninspiring part of the shopping centre.

There are useful parallels for Auckland; while Wynyard Quarter won’t have as strong a retail focus (based on the master plan for the area), it does incorporate a significant amount of public space amongst what will eventually be plenty of private space – apartments, offices etc. With the bars and restaurants in the various waterfront precincts, Auckland is already spoilt for choice.

I haven’t shown many shots of the private space at the V&A Waterfront (apartments, hotels etc), because I didn’t really visit it. I understand that it’s more separated than we would expect here; a symptom of South Africa’s higher crime rates, and residents’ and guests’ need to feel secure in their home environments. Or the massive divide between the haves and the have nots, if you prefer.

The private and public spaces at Wynyard Quarter are much more integrated than this, although of course the apartments and hotels will be top-end, and there will still be some degree of separation. Although Auckland developments like The Parc and Lighter Quay are more separated than the norm, they still relate to the street, and you can walk right up to them. In South Africa, you’d expect to have fences and armed security guards between you and luxury apartments!

There’s some fascinating background on V&A Waterfront here, written by the waterfront’s former Executive Manager – Planning & Development. The article talks about the V&A’s history, how it was financed, its design principles and international context, and it’s recommended reading for anyone who is interested in large-scale, master planned development.

Fifteen years ago, those who lobbied for what is today Cape Town’s Victoria and Alfred Waterfront were regarded as idealistic dreamers. When the V&A Waterfront Company was formed and work started in 1989, most Capetonians said ‘it will never happen’. Today, the project receives 22 million visitors annually and commercially it has been one of South Africa’s biggest real estate success stories.

Photo of the day: Foggy train

A photo from reader Liam of a train approaching a foggy Mt Eden station yesterday morning. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the Mt Eden station after the CRL is completed and if Auckland Transport try to run what would likely be very inefficient Western line to Newmarket services. Personally I prefer the alternative of a simpler running pattern with transfers at Newton and done so with a higher frequency on those routes.

Foggy Train

Reflections on Constellation Station

I’ve been a user of the busway on and off since it opened, and recently I’ve been passing through Constellation station on a daily basis. This post is just a collection of my thoughts on how the station stacks up in my mind, particularly with regard to access to and from the station itself. I’d like to know what other people think.


Pedestrian access: What pedestrian access? Well there is some, admittedly. If you walk across the bus access roads, and down through the Park and Ride lot you eventually get to a footpath where you can make a ninety degree turn next to a retaining wall and gradually make your way to Constellation Drive. So it’s there, but not necessarily legible or at all easy to find out where to go. Clearly people walking any further than the carpark were the last thing on the designers’ minds, despite the fact it is actually pretty close to a fair number of houses and jobs.

Pick up and drop off: Every time I get off at Constellation, which is just about every day, I see more people waiting to get picked up than those who walk down to cars in the parking lot. I’d love to see a proper survey, but from my observation far more people get dropped off and collected than use the Park and Ride.

The whole pick up / drop off access is something greatly missing in the station design. There are a handful of parking spots with five minute time limits for “Kiss and Ride”, but to get near them you have to stand in the middle of the carpark to get near them. Every day I see a dozen or so people milling around on an exposed section of kerbside footpath waiting where they can be seen by their drivers coming in to the carpark to collect them. In the wind and rain there is little to do but stand in the elements with an umbrella or coat. There is a series of canopies that provide a sheltered path from the station down into the parking lot , yet crucially there is nothing at the point where the Kiss and Ride access is. No shelter, let alone a bench or anything else to make life easy. I think that is a big design flaw and something that needs to be addressed.

A further issue is the route drivers must take in and out of the station to pick someone up, in through the same cattle run lanes as Park n Riders, and out via a circuitous tour of the carpark itself. Quite frankly it seems that such movements were simply not considered in the design. Nevertheless there are two bus only roads accessing the station from which you can’t get to the carpark, and vice versa. These come together just between the station and the carpark which I would say is the perfect place to have pick up and drop of bays, it would just be a case of allowing drivers to use those two bus only roads. Given that you can’t actually get anywhere else on those bus roads there is little chance of them becoming congested or cars getting in the way of buses, so why not open them up for non-parkers? There is even room to add some shelters for people waiting.

Park and Ride: This is full before 8am, which suggests that it needs to be priced to manage access and use. On the surface that sounds a little draconian, why slug bus users to park at the station, aren’t we trying to encourage people onto the busway? Well yes and no. For a start we don’t know how many people would otherwise just catch a connector bus, something that is fairly easy (at peak times at least) now Hop is in place. Is free parking at Constellation station just a subsidy to some drivers? Does it just encourage more driving? I’ve seen surveys that show that most parkers at Constellation are simply coming from nearby suburbs like Unsworth and Mairangi Bay, places that have good bus feeders already. The sorts of residents who really need Park and Ride, say those who live out the back of Albany of Schnapper Rock that are never going to get good bus connections, are a small minority. How do we prioritise these people over those who live in nearby suburbs with good bus links? Well the simplest way I can see is pricing. Set the price a bit too high to be good value compared to catching a quick feeder bus from nearby suburbs, but still low enough that it is better value that driving the whole way if you are commuting from Paremoremo or Kaukapakapa.

Another issue is that a full parking lot is one that nobody else can use, which is a stickler if you’ve got an urgent meeting or last minute appointment. I’m sure there are plenty of people who would be willing to pay quite a bit to park there, if there were some still available during the day.

It is obviously designed for boom gates to be added, so let’s do it already. For fairness we should charge at least the same as a single stage bus trip to the station to park at the station, or really just charge it as high as you can until it hits about 95% utilised. That way the people who really need to Park and Ride can do so when they need to, and for everyone else that last minute convenience is available… at a fair price.

There have recently been some ludicrous suggestions that 70% of busway users are park n riders. But if you use the station yourself you’ll quickly realise that is a physical impossibility given the numbers of people moving through. There are about 1,500 parking spaces on the Busway, all gone before the morning peak really kicks off. All day there are some 7,000 trips a day on the Northern Express alone and about 20,000 across the whole busway system. So you do the math on that one. I don’t know how anyone could calculate that actually, perhaps they surveyed people arriving at the station entrance from the carpark during one peak hour, and divided that by the patronage of just the Northern Express? Who knows?

Taxis: A simple question, why are there not taxis lined up at Constellation Station, particularly later in the evening? The NEX runs till about three in the morning on weekends but all it does is drop you at a station in the middle of nowhere. There would be plenty of folks who would be happy to spend ten bucks to get dropped home from the station by taxi, it would make a good alternative to the $60 or $70 taxi all the way from town to the East Coast Bays (or stumbling down back streets for an hour, which is my usual tactic). Taxis could meet each arrival of the NEX and shuttle people a few minutes home and be back to meet the next. They might do three or four runs an hour. That has to be more profitable than taxis waiting around for hours to get a single fare out of town, then dead running all the way back in.

The funny thing is that North Harbour Taxis have their depot a few hundred metres away just off Constellation Drive. Why not base some of their drivers at the station carpark instead? How about it AT, wouldn’t take much more than a phone call and a chat to set it up.

Bus connectivity: For the most part the busway currently runs like our train lines. Some buses come near the station, but basically you have to get yourself to or from the station some other way to connect the ‘mainline’ service. Despite always having an excellent paper integrated ticketing product and now with Hop fully rolled out, the network design just didn’t allow it to happen particularly easily. The main feeder route to Constellation is the 880, a two way loop that runs direct to Mairangi Bay, Rothesay Bay and Browns Bay on one side, and over to Unsworth and Rosedale on the other. The route is about as direct as possible between these suburbs and the station. It’s perfect, except for the fact it comes once every half hour at best, and hourly off peak and all weekend.

The very worst thing however is that it runs half hourly on weekday evenings, I’m frequently not back at the station by 7pm and if you miss that bus there is a thirty minute wait until the next with no other options for getting to the East Coast Bays. How many commuters could rely on such a service to get home? What good is the busway rapid transit running every five or ten minutes at that time, if you might have to wait 29 minutes to leave the station? Because of that, people are mostly stuck either taking a direct express bus, or driving or walking to the station.

My guess is that the focus on Park and Ride has meant that connecting buses were not a priority. Perhaps if we cared less about storing cars and more about moving people, they could have run the collector loops twice as frequently? Fifteen minute feeders would work wonders.

Personally I prefer to take the 86X express through the station from downtown straight to my neighbourhood, and most evenings more people get on at Constellation than get off. Yes, people get on an outbound afternoon express in the suburbs to head further out. This is actually a good sign for the value of Hop and the likely success of the New Network. Not long ago I would catch the 86X from Constellation outbound in the afternoons, and the driver and other passengers would look at me like I was insane. These days there are usually half a dozen other people doing the same (normal people too, not just transit nerds whose idea of fun is making funny connections).

Given the lack of frequency on the 880 feeder route it seems some folks have learned that they 86X follows the same route, so you can simply wait at the one stop and take whichever arrives first. A beautiful efficiency of hop. Bring on the New Network where every single route works this way.

This leads me to one other gripe. Of all the reviews of patronage and how people use the busway, they all seem to exclude all the patrons that arrive and depart on the same direct bus. They appear to count Park n Ride, Kiss n Ride and walk up (but how well?), and the few passengers transferring from a true feeder service to the NEX. But they seem to ignore all the patronage on through buses when assessing the relative use of the station. That’s a problem, because it overstates the proportion of Park n Ride users to total passenger numbers, and greatly downplays the value of connector buses.  If you simply ignore most of the passengers that catch the bus to Constellation because they happen to leave on the same bus again, then you have a very poor picture of how willing people are to catch a bus to the station.

So in summary all of these points indicate a clear picture: people are absolutely drawn to the frequent, fast and reliable service of the Northern Express on the busway. However, there is currently a big lack of effective connecting and feeding services. Now I’m not too concerned here because the New Network will change all of that and make the busway a leading example of how to do it right. Nonetheless, a little attention to walking, cycling, kiss and ride and taxi access would be a good thing. It looks like the gold plated the stations in terms of their amenity for waiting passengers and park and riders, but overlooked some pretty fundamental aspects of station accessibility. It wouldn’t take too much to fix that.