AT’s surveillance system

Concern erupted yesterday about whether Auckland Transport was going to by effectively spying on us all as part of a new surveillance system they are buying.

Surveillance technology that uses high definition cameras and software that puts names to faces and owners to cars is coming to Auckland.

Surveillance will also include scanning social media and news websites.

Auckland Transport, the regional transport provider, has yet to announce the multi-million dollar deal, but California’s Hewlett-Packard Development Company said today it has the contract.

No dollar sum is given.

They call it a “visionary Big Data” project and in a statement said Auckland has selected HP “to drive groundbreaking future cities initiative”.

With over 2000 cameras deployed across Auckland, the system will use a “HP Intelligent Scene Analysis System” and licence plate recognition for accurate identification.

They will screen for dangerous activities and analyse safety threats across the city.

All the data gathered by the cameras will be processed by HP cloud servers based in Palo Alto, California.

Auckland Transport’s PR department has not confirmed the announcement, but Auckland Transport’s Chief Information Officer Roger Jones is quoted by HP.

“The safety and well-being of our citizens is always our top priority and the Future Cities initiative is a big step in the right direction,” he is quoted saying.

“Only HP could comprehensively deliver the custom solution, expertise and ecosystem at this scale to transform our vision into reality.”

The vast amount of data including text, images, audio and real-time video will be analysed by HP’s system.

“The system will leverage data from a variety of sources, including thousands of security and traffic management cameras, a vast network of road and environmental sensors as well as real-time social media and news feeds,” HP said.

“We are proud to work with such an innovative and forward-thinking government agency like Auckland Transport,” HP’s Big Data group manager Colin Mahony said.

“This comprehensive HP … big data solution will enhance the life of their citizens and will become a model of transport systems for cities around the globe.”

And this video shows what the supposed system is meant to be capable of.

Tracking number plates and individuals across the city is pretty big brother stuff and combined with the data being shipped off to the US it’s pretty easy to see why people are concerned about this. One thing worth pointing out at this time is that all the cameras already exist out on around the city, this project is about the back-end system they are connected to.

Last night AT finally responded to concern on social media about the article saying

They’ve also said the details in the Stuff article are incorrect and that they won’t be using that capability

And this is the article they pointed to that was in the Herald

There are a couple of things very odd about this whole situation and it’s hard to know what the truth actually is. In particular AT say they aren’t using number plate recognition yet the HP press release suggests that the police will in which case the data must be being collected.

In the first phase of the project, Auckland Transport will focus on improving public safety. Law enforcement will use HP Intelligent Scene Analysis System and license plate recognition for accurate identification and scene analysis for dangerous activities and analyzing safety threats from over 2,000 cameras deployed within Auckland. Going forward this information will be linked with rich insight from social media news sources to provide a comprehensive solution that can proactively identify breaking trends and respond to critical safety incidents for cyclists and transport users.

All up it feels like AT are being a bit secretive about what’s happening which is never a good sign and it seems to me that they need to come clean and explain exactly what they are doing if they want to build any semblance of public trust over this.

Unfortunately being secretive about what’s actually happening seems to be a common theme with AT technology projects with the roll out of the HOP system a classic example.

I also note that the council was recently advertising for a new member to sit on the board of directors. In particular they want someone with technology experience which I assume is to help the board actually understand what is going on. As an example, this Business Technology Update going to the board today kind of suggests to me that the IT staff are trying to baffle the board with figures and terminology. To my knowledge the new director hasn’t been appointed yet so hopefully they will be soon.

 

Update: AT have provided this statement

Auckland Transport publicly announced the agreement with HP at its June board meeting. The information was picked up by the NZ Herald which ran a story in July.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11297578

Auckland Transport currently has five video systems which it inherited, this will bring it down to one processing system.

We are not installing new cameras, this is a “back end” system for the approximately 1800 cameras we have access to covering intersections, railway and busway stations. Initially we will be doing a trial using 100 cameras.

The system will be used to monitor traffic flows, vandalism and safety. We will not be using any capability which identifies faces or number plates, our cameras do not have the ability to do that.

Let’s be very clear NO information is being sent to the United States. Information can be stored on our system in Auckland for a maximum of 7 days.

We are working through draft policies with the Privacy Commissioner and will make the policies public before any changes are made.

This is a $2million upgrade of a system we have had for 10 years, there is nothing new here other than that we are going to one processing system and we are introducing some automation.<\blockquote>

Auckland: the world’s friendliest city

UK travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler has just named Auckland the world’s friendliest city in its 2014 rankings. It introduces Auckland with a great photo that highlights the city’s growing urbanity:

Conde Nast auckland friendliest city

FRIENDLIEST: 1. Auckland, New Zealand

Score: 86.0 (tie)

We must admit, we saw this one coming—and so did you. “The people are friendly, and their humor and view on life is something to aspire to attain,” said one reader. “Such a gorgeous city on the water” with “clear air,” “fresh food,” and “amazing culture,” others raved. A trip to the Auckland Museum for its Maori collections and “terrific” cultural performances is highly recommended. If you’ve never been to New Zealand, this “clean, youthful, adventurous, beautiful” city is the “ideal starting place” for seeing the country.

Last year’s world ranking: no. 16 (friendliest).

It’s fantastic to see New Zealand’s urban places start to make it into the travel magazines in their own right rather than as brief stopping-off points on the way to the Southern Alps. More of this please!

A targeted transport rate?

An article in last Friday’s NZ Herald provided an interesting insight into where the investigations into additional transport funding options are at. This is the second phase of the project to close the supposed $12 billion funding gap over the next 30 years. The article highlights that effort has been focusing on analysing different forms of road pricing and is perhaps leaning towards a motorway charging scheme:

Evaluating road tolls and fuel-tax rises and traditional funding methods such as rate rises and targeted rates is the job of the group due to report to the council next month.

The Herald understands that the independent alternative transport funding group is leaning towards motorway tolls. It will also provide options for targeted rates and extra rates rises.

On Wednesday, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee reiterated the Government’s pre-election position that there would be no regional fuel taxes or tolling of existing state highways in Auckland.

Auckland Council cannot introduce motorway tolls or a regional fuel tax without government approval.

I think tolling motorways could have some benefits but it also could have considerable downsides and we’ve outlined some of these before. The main problem with them is the potential for traffic diversion from motorways onto local roads. What also can’t be ignored is that a fairly high proportion of money raised from schemes like these goes into the administration of the system itself, this means it’s a fund-raising system that’s likely to be quite a lot less efficient than fuel taxes and rates. Some of the strongest proponents of motorway tolling has been the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID) and I suspect this is two fold,

  1. their members want to build, maintain and operate any tolling system
  2. their members want the additional funding that flows from the tolls to help build more infrastructure

One of the key problems with the alternative funding exercise right from the start has been the ignorance of whether we actually need to raise the additional funding for transport. The Integrated Transport Programme, which outlined the full transport programme over the next 30 years, included a huge number of incredibly costly and stupid projects included within its project list:

Knocking out $12 billion from the project list above is a pretty simple exercise – as we highlighted in our detailed analysis of the Congestion Free Network‘s financials. Therefore, based on the Integrated Transport Programme’s list of projects outlined above there is a very valid question about whether any form of additional funding is necessary. In addition even if a funding deficit still exists, if it was considerably smaller it might have allowed for some of the earlier dismissed funding options to be viable once again.

Another major flaw in many tolling proponents arguments that could have a significant impact on what projects get built is that any tolling or road pricing schemes are going to change demand substantially and as such it is likely to reduce or remove the need for many roading projects. Conversely it is likely to shift many PT projects up the priority ladder.

I guess the big question that we will all need to grapple with over the next few months, as the alternative funding group makes a recommendation to the Council, who then decides what they want to include in the draft Long Term Plan, is whether anything has changed since the ITP came out last year. It’s possible that two things have changed, which could mean a greater need for extra transport funding than we had previously expected.

  1. We know from the agendas for Auckland Transport closed board meetings that a lot of work has been going on to update the Integrated Transport Programme and the list of projects. Hopefully this means a lot of the crazier projects (like $665m on Albany Highway or around $900m on upgrading Great South Road) have been removed or the figures corrected.
  2. We know from the LTP Mayor’s Proposal that a lower level of rates increase means less money available overall for transport from normal funding sources compared to what’s in the current Long Term Plan. At first glance, it seems like most of the good projects can be funded over the next decade but there’s still no word on how much can be spent on things like walking and cycling, or the timing of various bus lanes and interchanges needed for the new network.

So given we know motorway tolling is an idea with many flaws and that the government isn’t going to approve new funding sources like this anyway, but there might be a need for a bit more money for transport, it seems sensible to be looking at other options. Which, returning to Friday’s Herald article, seems to be what’s happening:

Aucklanders could pay a new charge on top of rates to fund transport projects.

A “targeted rate” is one option being considered by an independent group looking at alternative funding measures to plug a $12 billion-plus transport funding gap over the next 30 years…

…Auckland Council cannot introduce motorway tolls or a regional fuel tax without government approval.

The National-led Government changed the law in 2009. Acting Mayor Penny Hulse said the $2.4 billion city rail link had been included in a new 10-year budget and did not need a targeted rate.

It will certainly be interesting to analyse the details of the transport budget as they emerge in the coming months, to see what can be afforded in the baseline transport programme and whether any additional money is required.

Dr Sean Simpson from Lanzatech

On 8th October, Dr Sean Simpson from Lanzatech will be speaking at the University of Auckland, on the subject of “Climate-friendly fuel: A challenge of scale and time”.  This is part of the Energy Centre’s Energy Matters lecture series.

Sean is a great speaker – I saw him give a keynote address at the Energy Conference back in March – so I’d strongly recommend coming along if you’re interested in these issues, or even just if you’re into science or commercialising new technologies. You can register here, and it’s a public event so anyone can attend.

The synopsis for the lecture is:

World energy demand is expected to increase by up to 40% by 2030 with renewable sources playing an increasing role in the primary global energy supply. Internationally, governments have already begun incentivising and mandating the increased use of renewable fuels in the transport sector. It is anticipated that the global markets for more environmentally sustainable alternatives will exceed $100 billion by 2020 so finding sustainable, scalable solutions that will safeguard the environment while not detrimentally impacting food supplies is essential.

This talk will discuss sustainable hydrocarbon fuel and chemical production processes, ranging from available, mature technologies, to processes on the brink of commercialisation and those still further back in their development stage.

 

And the following gives more detail on the speaker:

Dr Sean Simpson is the Chief Scientific Officer and Co-founder of LanzaTech. He leads the development and commercialisation of the company’s core technology, which involves taking waste gases from steel mills and converting them into high-value low-carbon fuels and high-value chemicals. The core technology has been successfully demonstrated in a pilot plant in New Zealand and two large pre-commercial scale plants in China.

Since its inception in 2005, Dr Simpson has led the company to secure numerous rounds of venture capital funding, significant commercial and technical partnerships with leading global organisations, and government R&D grants. His leadership has encouraged collaboration between biologists, fermentation specialists, process and design engineers and business development teams to develop the technology and the company to become a global leader in gas fermentation.

Prior to LanzaTech, Dr Simpson had eight years’ experience in bio-products development and is the author of more than 20 publications and numerous patents.

If you want a bit of a sneak preview, Sean’s presentation at the Energy Conference was filmed and is on Youtube.

The importance of housing choices in cities

Good cities should provide choices to their inhabitants. Any big (or small!) city is composed of a variety of people with various preferences, needs, and budgets. Look around you: Aucklanders are a bloody diverse bunch, and we’re getting more so as I type these words.

The Aucklanders of the future will want to get around in different ways, live in different places, and entertain themselves in different ways. In fact, this is already happening. It’s the reason for the success of the innovative mixed-use developments on the waterfront, the runaway success of Britomart and other rail upgrades, and, on the flip side, declines in vehicle kilometres travelled per capita.

At Transportblog, we recognise the importance of choice in cities, which is why we’re so enthusiastic about opportunities to invest in a better public transport network and better walking and cycling options. We believe that offering Aucklanders more travel choices at an affordable price will improve our living standards. Full stop.

What’s true in the transport market is also true in the housing market. Offering a greater range of housing choices will raise the living standards of Aucklanders, because we want to live in different types of homes. Enabling higher-density development in more areas will make some people much better off, because they want to live in dense environments, without making anyone else worse off.

Critics of intensification often fail to understand this argument. They say: “Oh, you just want to make everyone live in a tiny shoebox apartment!” In fact, the exact opposite is true. Enabling some people to choose to live in apartments or terraced houses will ensure that there is more land available for others who would prefer a lifestyle block in Dairy Flat or a quarter acre in Flat Bush.

Essentially, urban planning that enables housing choice allows for both high-density and medium-density living options and more low-density suburban living. This isn’t idle conjecture – it’s a well-established finding in urban economic theory and the empirical literature.

A few years ago a team of economists from the Reserve Bank of Australia put this idea to the test using economic modelling techniques. Their paper, entitled “Urban Structure and Housing Prices: Some Evidence from Australian Cities” (pdf), tested the impact of different urban policies. (NZIER economist Kirdan Lees has also done some similar work for New Zealand, but his initial paper (pdf) did not look at building height limits. In any case, the results are similar.)

The RBA economists model a relatively simple, monocentric city with employment and amenities concentrated in the centre and the residential population radiating out in a circle – the basic workhorse model in urban economics. While this is a simplification, it can easily be generalised to a polycentric city – just imagine multiple centres rather than a single centre. Their “unconstrained equilibrium” looks like this:

Kulish et al (2011) unconstrained

In short, densities – and building heights – are highest in the areas that are most accessible to employment and amenities. Land prices are also highest in these areas. This doesn’t occur as a result of a planner’s fiat – it happens because lots of people want to live close to the action. Others, of course, would prefer to be a bit further away with more space – and that is what they get in the unconstrained urban equilibrium.

Next, the RBA economists simulated the effects of imposing a building height limit. In effect, limiting building heights would prevent people from choosing to live at high densities near employment and amenities. Here are the results – the magenta lines show the effects of the constraint:

Kulish et al (2011) building height limit

Pay close attention to the middle two panels. They show that a building height limit does not just restrict high-density development in the centre – it also raises densities in the outskirts of the city. In short, a city that constrains medium to high density development doesn’t just fail to provide options for people who want to live in apartments. It also fails to provide options for people who want quarter acre sections or lifestyle blocks.

Has this happened in Auckland? It’s difficult to say for certain, but my research on population densities in NZ and Australian cities found that Auckland was missing out on both medium-density suburbs and low-density exurbs.

Finally, as the first panel shows, these restrictions are expected to raise the cost of housing for everybody, regardless of location or housing preference. As I said at the start, good cities provide choices for their inhabitants. Failing to provide for choice in the housing market just means that we all pay too much for homes that don’t suit our preferences.

So, what’s your dream Auckland home? Subject to budget constraints, of course…

A Minister for Cities?

John Key by Platon

John Key by Platon

On the Monday night after his impressive victory in the election the Prime Minister presented a very statesman like and inclusive tone in an interview on Campbell Live:

“I will lead a Government that will govern for all New Zealanders” was a quote from Mr Key’s acceptance speech that stood out for many, writes Campbell.

Throughout the interview he gives a strong impression that he has no intention of standing still in the glow of this endorsement, he clearly has ambitions to cement his appeal across as a broad spectrum of the public as possible. If he is to achieve this then it will likely involve reaching across traditional divides in policy to bring even more people into his camp. Of course he will also want to carry his base with him if he is to initiate anything new, so it will need to be acceptable to general market-led philosophy even if  novel for National otherwise.

The other increasingly important issue to him now will be thoughts of legacy, of history’s judgement. I see an appetite for more than ‘steady as she goes’ for this term, both in terms of building for another or if it were to be his swansong. I believe we can expect a more creative and dynamic John Key, looking to make a make a mark beyond being a good manager and a great salesman:

Robert Muldoon’s ambition, “to leave the country in no worse shape than I found it”, Mr Key describes as having an incredibly low ambition.

“I want to leave the country in better shape than I found it,” he says. [ibid]

It is certainly the case that Key has a unique opportunity to be bold, especially within his own party, as no Prime Minister in recent memory has such a strong position to carry even the most sceptical and conservative caucus or cabinet into unfamiliar waters. But where are the opportunities for change?

I will argue here that there is one area that he can certainly do this, that is consistent with modern market-led conservatism [if less so with our own rather parochial traditions], that it is consistent with his type of leadership, and importantly, is already working for those he admires overseas. Furthermore he has already shown some movement in this direction. This opportunity is for him to position his government as the driver of the economic transformation already underway in our cities, and in particular in our one city of scale: Auckland [but not exclusively].

This is to place Key in the similar mould as the UK’s David Cameron [who he expressly admires] and other right of centre leaders such as London Mayor Boris Johnson and ex-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. These are three modern conservative leaders who have built their reputations in large part by championing the power of cities for economic, environmental, and social transformation.

John Key could go down in history as the man who added a new layer to New Zealand’s economy and identity: the man who added another support to our currently somewhat unstable economic structure, and added another, urban, thread to our social fabric, and who began the turnaround in our environmental performance. And it all starts in our cities.

This does not involve abandoning nor neglecting the countryside, that is already getting huge attention from this government which should continue. But that this is an additional opportunity to add to that work which would remain at the core of his government’s activity.

And conditions are perfect. This is the moment to seize. This is the direction being taken by governments and cities everywhere in the developed world, while perhaps radical here, it is rapidly becoming orthodox and necessary policy to invest in changing urban form to compete for talent and new business. It can be argued that this government has been lucky with the soft commodities boom but that now that is clearly on the wane, but we have already seen that the services sector is already there to at least soften that blow:

Gross Domestic Product rose by 0.7% in the June quarter, according to Statistics NZ, driven by strong growth in the services sector.

The main driver was a 4.2% increase in business services activity, which was partially offset by a 2.8% decline in agriculture, forestry and fishing.

There is economic growth to foster in town and it has different needs to the traditional industries based in the countryside. And we need as a country to diversify our economic base. Urban areas and Auckland in particular are growing in population, activity, and infrastructure requirement and offer just such an opportunity:

NZ city population growth 1926-2006

Data source: http://www.motu.org.nz/publications/detail/a_new_zealand_urban_population_database

A leader who rejects the mistaken idea that urban growth must somehow be restricted for the rest of the nation to prosper will be the one that can ride this economic force for the good of the whole country. And again Auckland in particular seems right now to be at the sweet spot in terms of scale, density, and growth for this boon. Furthermore his government has already set the foundation for a new urban policy with two earlier decisions that are now bearing fruit: the Super City amalgamation and the electrification of the rail network.

Also because of both the existing conditions in our cities and in the stated preference of their citizens there is actually much less risk to such a pro-urban policy change than it may seem to anyone familiar with the usual cliches of New Zealand Party politics. While it would be a bold move for a leader of the ‘country Party’ that is actually the genius in the idea. It seems clear to me that the notion that National must force the same policies on the cities as fit their core constituents in the provinces is as flawed as the corollary that other parties must try to force urban conditions onto rural communities. This is a lazy idea can can be easily blown open by confident leadership. Different horses for these two courses is clearly what is required for the good of all.

At the core of the policy difference required between urban and country areas is in the type of transport infrastructure investments that have the most effective outcomes. Roads, Ports, Rail for freight, are needed in the countryside. Cities need these too, but they also need the spatial efficiency of quality passenger transport systems. And nowhere is this more true than in Auckland right now.

Let’s consider the evidence: Stated preference, revealed preference, and overseas examples.

1. Stated Preference:

Such an astute student of public opinion polls and changes in sentiment will not miss the profound changes happening in cities all across the world and clearly in evidence in Auckland? Here is what Aucklanders say their city needs:

 

Stuff Poll - Govt Focus

Ok well this is all very good, but are they voting with their feet, are they using the public transport there already is? Well yes:

2. Revealed Preference:

This century has shown a very strong growth in uptake of our often substandard-but-improving Public Transport systems. Here is a recent example, the latest figures for the rail network:

14 - Aug AK Rail Patronage

And if we look at the figures in detail one very very clear theme stands out loud and clear: The services that approach Rapid Transit standards, ie are on their own right of way, have a high frequency, and offer better quality service are the ones that are growing way above all else. In Auckland that means the improving rail network and the buses using the Northern Busway, each of which attracted around 18% more users this August than last.

And in particular all of the growth in numbers accessing the vital economic heart that is the City Centre has been met by our Transit Systems. Especially Rail and the NEX, but also walking, cycling, and ferry use. So much so that the economic value of the City Centre can only grow through these modes, space for private vehicle access is finite and to try to expand it can only come at considerable cost to the economic performance and appeal of the area.

3. Overseas Example:

Mr Cameron said: “Big infrastructure projects like Crossrail are vital for the economy of London and the rest of Britain. They are the foundation-stone on which business can grow, compete and support jobs

From coverage of a visit by David Cameron and Boris Johnson to the tunnels of the Crossrail project in the Telegraph.

Cameron and Johnson in Crossrail

Cameron and Johnson in Crossrail

Crossrail, while in fact the third layer of underground rail for London, is, on a scaled basis, very similar to Auckland’s City Rail Link project. While it is much bigger and much more expensive it does exactly the same thing in exactly the same way. It comprises of a core section underground through the Centre of the City that connects to existing rail lines that reach out into the edges of the city. So while the new work is under the centre the reach and value of the project is spread right to the peripheries. It brings a new capacity to a growing Centre that is extremely spatially efficient: it delivers the economic power of concentrations of people without occupying land and buildings or clogging streets with vehicles.

But the key point here is in the UK, as in the US, understanding of the economic value of urban passenger transport systems is not captured by one side of the political divide. In fact the most dynamic conservative leaders, like Cameron, Johnson, and Bloomberg are leading the charge on these projects. Because they make the most economic sense in cities.

CROSSRAIL BUSINESS CASE SUMMARY REPORT

The Crossrail Business Case Summary Report published in July 2010 presents the latest update of the business case for Crossrail, a new world-class and affordable railway across London.

The report confirms the project is supported by the Coalition Government and forms a key part of theMayor’s Transport Strategy, published by the Mayor of London in May 2010.

And for Cameron as for other modern right of centre leaders it isn’t just about the biggest cities. Speaking at the launch of a programme for investment in Rail for Glasgow, Cameron said:

And for too long governments in London and Edinburgh have acted as though taking powers away from Britain’s great cities is the best way to create growth, rather than trusting the people living there to find their own specific solutions to meet their own unique needs.

Before the election our Prime Minister made a first move towards supporting the changing shape of cities by announcing a new policy to fund urban cycleways nationally. This surely is just the start.

So, in summary, I am proposing that were John Key looking for something fresh, something that will deliver results, something that could define at least this term of his leadership if not something that could lift him up to the ranks of our greatest Prime Ministers, like King Dick Seddon, then adding Minister for Auckland, or perhaps even Minister for Urban Growth, or Minister for Cities, to his roles could be the stroke of genius he is looking for. Perhaps with Nikki Kaye as associate.

In practice this would then mean:

  • Government working much more constructively with the Auckland Council and abandoning any petty obstruction that some less mature players on the right have towards it because of their dislike of Len Brown. Key is surely well above that.
  • Championing the economic potential of our cities for the whole country. Showing that this does not come at the expense of the rest of the country and the primary sector in particular.
  • Advancing the CRL expeditiously. After all; is there a better reading of those letters than: Centre Right Legacy?
  • Recognising that the idea that efficient urban passenger transport is somehow left-wing is a curious and outdated local relic.
  • Accepting the clear evidence that the top priority for the city in terms of transport infrastructure need is a full Rapid Transit System of a mixture of modes, like our CFN.
  • Listening to all the evidence on urban form and housing affordability, and not just the lobbying of vested interests and the Demographia lobby who monotonically urge more sprawl, as there is so much evidence in favour of the economic efficiency of a more compact urban form leading to more international competitive cities.
  • Taking seriously the opportunities that cities offer for improving our energy efficiency and environmental performance nationally.

This government has officially had a policy of being a ‘fast follower’ on climate change. In practice it has done little, fast or otherwise, and always claimed that the reason for this is that it won’t do anything to add cost to the primary produce sector. Well that doesn’t explain its failure to act in the urban areas, where transport, and especially personal transport, is the biggest contributor to carbon emissions. There is a great deal of opportunity to take on all fronts by listening to the desires of city people in the transport and housing sectors and one day some leader is going to take that opportunity. Could it be now? And could that be John Key?

Public continue to want better PT

This week the council released the results of a survey into the public’s priorities for the region and once again transport came out on top.

The majority of Aucklanders say better public transport, less traffic congestion, and more affordable and quality housing are the top priorities for the region.

The results are part of an annual survey measuring what Aucklanders want from their council and how they feel Auckland Council is performing.

The annual survey is a valuable tool to help the council gauge the concerns and priorities of its residents, and to identify where the council needs to improve its services, activities and communication.

The latest council-Colmar Brunton survey was concluded in September 2013 and measures a range of factors, including perception and attitudes towards council’s performance, and what Aucklanders want from their council.

When asked what Auckland needed to focus on to become the world’s most liveable city, 61 per cent of respondents said improved public transport, 54 per cent said reduced traffic congestion, and 44 per cent said more affordable and quality housing.

You can find the full results of the survey here. It took place last year and in total over 3000 people took part with a margin of error of 1.8%. One thing I’m not sure of is why the results took so long to be released.

Here’s the full list of responses that gave the answers above.

AKL council priorities 2013 - Key Priority areas

The top two answers are extremely similar which highlights the desire with which people want to see transport improved. Of course one of the advantages of investing in PT is that while it won’t reduce congestion directly (due to induced demand) it can reduce the number of people exposed to congestion as there are options to avoid it.

The results are also similar to a lot of other polls. A few months ago a poll from Stuff saw huge support for investing in PT

Stuff Poll - Govt Focus

A NZ Herald poll last year showed 54.6% of respondents think PT is the best way to improve Auckland’s traffic problems

Also earlier last year a UMR poll showed large support nationwide for better PT.

UMR Road vs PT poll

 

Of course what we’re getting in funding is quite different with a huge amount of funding being poured into roading projects while PT projects struggle.

On a separate note, also from the survey there was a number of questions related to the council’s sub brands. What surprised me was not so much the results but just how many sub brands the council has.

AKL council priorities 2013 - Council Brands

Stuart’s 100 #34 Best of Both Worlds

34: Best of Both Worlds

day 34

What if the New Auckland can combine the best of both worlds?

One of the defining characteristics of the 21st century is that cities everywhere are having a global conversation and a global competition with each other. Many have old rivalries and have always contrasted their way of life against that of their neighbours; others are getting to know each other and are constantly comparing and competing as up and coming cities on the world stage.

One aspect of this that is clear is that the old divides between cities increasingly do not apply. Auckland (along with say Los Angeles and Sydney) has historically belonged in a grouping of cities usually characterised as having the world’s most beautiful urban settings but characterised by high levels of sprawl, auto-dependency and low levels lacking in public life and vitality . Each often gets compared with their neighbours the vibrant liveable cities (San Francisco, Melbourne and Wellington). Increasingly these comparisons are outdated.

Here in NZ this is important for Auckland (and Wellington) to recognise in a number of ways.

For one we should stop dissing LA and saying we don’t want to be like them. It isn’t the 1960s anymore and the old LA stereotypes increasingly don’t apply. They have been building metro system and light rail for quite some time now and Downtown LA is regenerating and gentrifying at a pace that it seems they are really embracing the urban century.

Likewise Sydney is quite blatantly and unashamedly copying the tactics and successful strategies of Melbourne (light rail, laneways, small bars, arts and culture) to bring a new energy and feel-good pride to the city.

And here in our little corner of the world Auckland is increasingly not defined by the old ways, and is staking its own claim as one of the most vibrant and liveable cities around.

Who said cities can’t be beautiful and vibrant? Why can’t we have amazing beaches, harbours and natural settings and amazing culture, life and energy? LA, Sydney and Auckland are all working to prove this wrong. Increasingly, it does feel like these cities can combine the best of both worlds.

Stuart Houghton 2014

Auckland can’t afford to price out the young

It’s no secret that Auckland has a problem with high-cost housing. House prices have risen significantly faster than average incomes in recent years. As a recent Treasury working paper (Skidmore, 2014) documented, Auckland’s house prices have quadrupled in the last generation, and rents have more than doubled.

Skidmore (2014) house price indexSkidmore (2014) rental price index

This is widely acknowledged as a problem, but it’s important to understand that it’s not necessarily a problem for all Aucklanders. Another Treasury working paper (Law and Meehan, 2013) shows that young New Zealanders – singles and couples between 25 and 34 – are significantly less likely to own their own homes.

Most middle-aged and retired people are on the property ladder and thus able to benefit from capital gains from Auckland’s housing market. Rising prices are often positive for older people. But they’re not very good for the young, who don’t own property and, increasingly, find themselves shut out by rising prices.

Law and Meehan (2013) home ownership rate

To make matters worse for young Aucklanders, rising house prices are coupled with falling real incomes. We aren’t merely standing still – we’re rapidly falling behind.

The chart below shows real income growth for employed people by age group from Statistics NZ’s LEED data on median earnings of full quarter jobs, deflated by the consumer price index. Since the global financial crisis, real median wages for people under 35 have fallen. But people over 35 have done pretty well over the same time period:

Generational divergence in incomes

Generational divergence in incomes

In short, Auckland seems to be developing a dangerous “two-speed” economy. Most middle-aged people can expect their wages to rise and the value of their houses to boom. Most young people are experiencing wages that are stagnating or falling while being shut out of the housing market by high prices.

This is the point at which older Aucklanders sometimes seem to shrug their shoulders and say, “so what – I’ve got it good.” But they shouldn’t be so complacent, because we don’t have to be here. If it becomes too hard to live in Auckland, young Aucklanders will leave. If we can get a better deal elsewhere – higher wages or cheaper housing – we can go there instead. And for many of us, this will mean leaving New Zealand.

Young New Zealanders are mobile. We’ve seen our friends and family abscond to Melbourne or Sydney, or go to London on OE and choose not to come back. We may have moved here from other places. While we want to be able to live in Auckland and participate in the city’s revitalisation, we’re keenly aware that we have options.

I’ve written before about how New Zealand has the opportunity to raise its living standards by investing in better cities. Well, the reverse is also true. Expensive housing and lower wages for the young is a recipe for long-term economic failure. If you’re middle-aged, this should worry you: We might not be around to pay your pensions and buy your expensive houses when you want to downsize. We’d like to stay and pay for your retirement – we really would! – but we need a pay rise and affordable housing options.

So what’s your plan to make Auckland affordable for young people?

Alain Bertaud in Auckland

Back in July former World Bank urban planner Alain Bertaud and his wife Marie-Agnes, a fellow professional in the field, came down to New Zealand at the invitation of the NZ Initiative and the Minister of Finance’s office to deliver a series of talks on urban economics. He had a number of thought-provoking things to say to urbanists of all stripes – a message that was very much in line with Transportblog’s core principles and big ideas.

He looks much happier in person

While Bertaud is sometimes cited as a proponent of low-density urban sprawl and motorway development, his arguments about urban development were nuanced and thoughtful. The Bertauds are, after all, urbanists themselves. They have chosen to live in vibrant, dense, and diverse cities – Paris, Washington, D.C., and lately New York. (That’s a revealed preference if I’ve ever seen one – they certainly don’t live in Houston!)

In addition to seeing Bertaud’s talk , which is available online here (pdf), I was lucky enough to sit in on a smaller discussion section with other professionals in the field. I took three key messages away from the talk and the conversation.

First, cities are labour markets. We often forget this fact, even though it’s the reason we have cities at all. Cities are the physical expression of agglomeration economies, or the productivity advantages of locating near other people and businesses. In Bertaud’s view, ensuring the efficiency of urban labour markets means ensuring that people can access a large number of jobs from their homes.

As a result, he argued that urban and transport planning should aim to keep down commute times. He recommended looking at two key measures – first, the number of jobs available within a 30 minute drive, and second, the number of jobs available within a 45 to 60 minute public transport journey. Here, for example, is his analysis of commute times in Singapore and the US.

Bertaud travel time graph

Bertaud didn’t recommend any specific policies to reduce travel times, although he spoke positively about Singapore’s use of demand-responsive road pricing and development of an expansive metro network to reduce average travel times. As a transport economist there are a couple of key observations I’d make on the topic:

  1. Building more roads is not a good way to reduce travel times. Induced demand – people driving more or moving further out of town in response to new road capacity – usually eats up the forecast travel time savings. In short, people travel more but they don’t travel any faster. If you want to actually reduce driving times, the only way to do it is to introduce road pricing.
  2. Cities with reasonable densities and an underdeveloped public transport network – like Auckland! – are in a good position to improve employment accessibility through investments in rapid transit networks and better bus networks. Fortunately, Auckland’s pursuing this approach.
  3. In light of induced demand, the best way to improve the accessibility of jobs may be to simply make things closer together. The efficiency of dense urban environments is often underrated. For example, although the roads in downtown Manhattan are far more congested than Houston’s, Manhattan’s effective labour market is much bigger simply because everything is so close.

Second, we must plan for the cities that actually exist, not the cities that we wish could exist. Bertaud presented an excellent graphic to illustrate this point. It showed four kinds of cities – three that exist and one that does not (and can not):

Bertaud urban structure graph

Most cities that exist today are what Bertaud calls “composite cities”, meaning that a significant share of jobs are located in the CBD or in major centres, while other jobs are scattered around in industrial parks, neighbourhood shops, etc. In this city, people have a range of different travel needs. Many people need to get to large-scale, high-density employment hubs, which are efficiently served by rail lines and busways, while others are better off driving to more dispersed employment locations.

In short, real-world cities require a range of transport solutions, and they will not function well if one mode is unreasonably neglected. We don’t have to go far for an example of the perils of mode bias: the remarkable renaissance of the Auckland city centre, and its increasing contribution to New Zealand’s economy, would not have been possible without reinvestment in the rail system and the development of Britomart.

citycentre-pt-patronage-screenline

City centre screenline survey results show public transport accounts for all growth in inbound trips over the last two decades

However, Bertaud criticised what he described as the “urban village” model, which hypothesises that if employment is dispersed evenly throughout neighbourhood centres then people will travel only to the nearest centre. This is a seductive idea – it promises to reduce travel distances by distributing employment. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist in the real world because people have complex travel needs. Even if one member of a family chooses to live near where they work, their partner will often have to commute to a job further away.

We see this flawed idea pop up from time to time in New Zealand from advocates for suburbanisation. For example, people sometimes argue that we could reduce congestion by stopping growth in the city centre and relocating it to Manukau central instead. Aside from the fact that we tried this before and it failed, decentralising employment would only increase congestion from all the cross-town trips and reduce the efficiency of Auckland’s labour market.

We don’t have to go far for an example of the failures of the urban village model. Christchurch lost its city centre in the 2011 Canterbury Earthquake, and employment dispersed throughout the city. Although the jobs have decentralised, the city now suffers from higher congestion as it can’t run efficient bus services or provide enough road capacity.

Third, it’s important to ask whether planning regulations are restricting development in areas that are accessible to employment and amenities. Economists in New Zealand have spent a lot of time talking about Auckland’s metropolitan urban limits while paying little attention to regulations in the rest of the city. Bertaud argues that limits on density, such as building height limits or minimum lot sizes, can price out the poor from accessible areas. Incidentally, this may be happening in Auckland – my research found that poorer people tend to live further from employment hubs and commute longer distances as a result.

Bertaud said that when he was advising developing-world cities on planning policies, he’d often start by creating a map of the minimum lot size required by existing rules and estimating what share of the city’s population could afford that amount of land. Here, for example, is his map of floor-to-area ratios in Mumbai, India, which shows that in most parts of the city people are required to buy 1 square metre of land for every 1 square metre of dwelling they want to build. As land is quite expensive in Mumbai, this is basically a policy that requires the poor to get out or build illegally:

It would be fascinating to see a similar map for Auckland if anyone wants to have a go…

If you went to Bertaud’s talk, what did you think of his ideas?