Generation Zero’s Election Scorecards

Voting papers have now started going out for local body elections. While the Mayoral contest understandably gets the most coverage, there is considerably less the further down the chain the position is and so the harder it becomes. In some cases at a Councillor level but almost certainly by the time you get to the local board level you’re likely to be voting on people you’ve never seen or even heard of before based on nothing more than a picture and a vague blurb – and it’s amazing how crappy they can be. And candidates for DHB and if you have one, a licencing trust take this to another level.

To try and help inform the public, our friends at Generation Zero have put in a huge effort to interview and score candidates for mayor, council and local board. Here’s what they say:

We asked every council candidate the same 14 questions on Transport, Housing and the Environment. We gave them points based on how well they answered and how well they matched Generation Zero’s vision for a liveable low-carbon Auckland.

One thing I really like is how much detail they’ve provided this time. They’ve explicitly list the questions they’ve asked and their marking criteria so that it’s clear everyone is marked by looking through the same lens. The 14 questions are grouped into the three categories mentioned above – with over half focused on transport – a fourth category is scores a candidate’s competency and is based on a number of different factors.

At a glance readers are able to see the overall score and the score for each category. By drilling down on a candidate you can to see how many points were scored for each question along with the markers thoughts on the candidate.

As an example, here are the five highest scores for mayor. John Palino scored the lowest of probably any candidate with a E overall.

gen-zero-2016-scorecard-mayor

Given Goff is the front runner in all polls so far I’ve used his result to show the synopsis and break down in his scores for the transport section.

gen-zero-2016-scorecard-phil-goff

What is interesting about looking through the various council wards is some have lots of candidates that have scored well to pick from – such as in Manukau

gen-zero-2016-scorecard-manukau

While in other areas people will to choose from candidates who have scored fairly low, one such ward is Maungakiekie-Tāmaki where the best score was incumbent Denise Krum with a C+.

gen-zero-2016-scorecard-maungakiekie-tamaki

As well as getting an A+ score, Manukau candidate Efeso Collins is also probably the first Auckland candidate in to have his own song. Perhaps it should become a requirement of candidates from now on?

Unfortunately, not all mayoral or council candidates have a ranking as it relied on Generation Zero being able to contact them and them being willing to be interviewed for this. Overall it’s a fantastic resource so thank you to Generation Zero for putting so much effort in for it.

In addition to the work above, if you’re looking for more information candidates the council’s official website has information too. And lastly, Vote Local has a quiz you can do which then compares your answers to mayoral candidates.

Happy voting

City Rail Link and ATAP imminent

This week is shaping up to be an important one for the future of transport in Auckland with updates expected on both the government’s funding of the City Rail Link and the final Auckland Transport Alignment Project report due to be publicly released. Both issues are understood to have been discussed in the government’s Cabinet meeting yesterday. Tomorrow the council will hold a special meeting of the governing body behind closed doors to get updates on the decisions made so a public response can be made when the information is released, expected to be Thursday.

This meeting has been called to consider progress with central government on the City Rail Link and the Auckland Transport Alignment Project.

The above reports were not available at the time of going to print as the content is contingent on cabinet consideration that has yet to take place. The reason for urgency is to enable the council to respond quickly following that cabinet consideration.

While we wait for the Thursday, here are a few questions and thoughts I’ve had and will be keeping an eye on when the announcement happens.

City Rail Link

  • Will the government fund 50% of the project?
  • As we know the council are already funding ~$250 million for the early works on the project which will see cut and cover tunnels dug from Britomart to south of Wyndham St. This was needed in part so developments like Commercial Bay on the old Downtown mall site could proceed. Will any government funding commitment cover the entire project including a share of the early works or will it only apply to the rest of the project?
  • If a formal funding announcement isn’t made, does that leave it up to the next council to agree on the outcome. Does that create a risk that if enough incoming Councillors are hostile to the project we could see delays?
  • Will any funding be announced for other improvements to the rail network to enable the CRL to operate better, for example for more trains, more cross-overs, signalling enhancements, the much needed third main or a number of other potential upgrades.

Aotea Station Design Platform Mar - 16

Auckland Transport Alignment Project

The Foundation and Interim reports have given us a good idea of the kinds of things ATAP is looking at so I’m not expecting anything too radical to appear but you never fully know.

  • Focus on the first decade – ATAP breaks future projects down by the approximate decade they will be needed. Given how rapidly things can change, the modelling gets more inaccurate the longer in the future something is so any project more than a decade out might as well be ignored. An exercise like ATAP is probably needed ever 5-10 years to ensure we’re on the right track and those projects can be reviewed and re-prioritised then.
  • Road Pricing – Prior to ATAP, discussions around road pricing have existed solely as a way to try and raise additional revenue. Yet it can also be used to encourage people not to drive at certain times which can in turn have a big impact on congestion. The results in the interim report were very positive and as a result we saw the first signs the government were softening on the issue – Newshub reports this softening has continued. I don’t expect we will see specific details about any road pricing scheme but an indication of when one may be needed is likely. I also expect this will be the area most focused on by the media.
  • Future Technology – whether it be the likes of Uber or autonomous vehicles, almost daily there is talk of role technology could have in changing transport in the future. ATAP has been looking at the potential impacts and the Interim Report noted there are potentially quite positive impacts, but the big uncertainty will be how much and when those impacts might be seen. I don’t expect this report to answer that question and again why this exercise is probably needed on a set basis.
  • Government Funding the plan – Funding the CRL is one thing but with both the council and government finally expected to be on the same page around Auckland’s transport priorities, attention is going to have to turn to how we fund it. ATAP should give a better indication of both the quantum and timing of the funding needed. I hope we’ll see an initial response from the government at the same time as the report is released.
  • Mayoral candidate response – The Mayoral hopefuls are out promising projects to voters. How will Vic Crone respond if ATAP says an additional harbour crossing isn’t anywhere near a priority or what about Phil Goff if light rail is in the same boat? Whoever is elected mayor is likely going to need to come up with additional funding to help pay for the projects needed. How will this sit with candidates promising to cap or cut rates?

What are the things you’ll be looking for with both the CRL and ATAP are made public?

Join the call for a truly bikeable Auckland!

Our good friends at Bike Auckland have launched a campaign for a truly bikeable Auckland. Below I’ve re-posted their blog post introducing the campaign.

bikeable-akl

We’re launching a campaign for a truly bikeable Auckland – and calling on the incoming council and local boards to commit to the vision, with a vital network, more local links, and safer streets.

We’d love you to sign on. Here’s why…

Six weeks ago, Auckland Council voted unanimously to greenlight SkyPath, the missing link for our bikeable future. What gave them the courage to do that? You did! You spoke up ten thousand strong in favour of SkyPath. Our city leaders heard your enthusiasm, loud and clear. And they saw what it looks like on a map when everyone who’s keen to bike in this city puts up their hands.

It was the same when you showed up en masse for the opening of the iconic pink Lightpath. And when you came along on the Sunday Best Ride. And when we flooded into K Rd for a day of Open Streets, where every other overheard comment was ‘Can’t we do this every weekend?’.

The sheer joy of people of all ages, walking and biking happily in a beautiful city, is a powerful thing to witness. It’s a powerful thing to be part of. And a powerful impulse for change.

Now, with the local election just around the corner (voting starts 16 September!), we’re counting on you to help make bikes count again.

Why now? Because our city’s at a tipping point for everyday cycling, thanks to a recent burst of ‘kickstarter’ investment from central government and the transport levy. The network effect is kicking in, as more and more cycleways are built and connected. The CBD and isthmus are the current focus, with links to other transport hubs –  but our vision has always been to get that bike-friendly energy happening all over the city. Ultimately, we want every neighbourhood to be bikeable by every person who wants to bike.

What’s a ‘bikeable’ city? It’s a humble notion. A bikeable distance is not too far. A bikeable route is not too hilly. A bikeable expedition is not too onerous. A bikeable neighbourhood is one where it makes sense – and feels safe and normal– to use a bike instead of a car for short trips.

It’s also a big vision. A bikeable city is a city that’s fully enabled for bikes. A bikeable city allows people of all ages to get around on bikes whenever they feel like it. A bikeable city is accessible without a car (especially when combined with public transport). A bikeable city takes safe streets as read. A bikeable city is all sorts of other things too, as anyone who’s travelled (or remembers the good old days) can attest. Quieter. Friendlier. Fitter. Healthier. More efficient. And fun.

Who’s a bikeable city for? Everyone who says they’d bike more if it felt safer (60% of Aucklanders, according to a 2015 Auckland Transport survey; 92% of people who answered a 2013 poll by the AA!). All of us who go somewhere safe to ride for fun on the weekend, and wish we could do it from home, too. Everyone who’d like to travel further and faster than you can on foot, while enjoying fresh air and the buzz of getting around under your own steam.

A better city for bikes is a better city for everyone. All around the world, cities are realising they can’t squeeze more cars in and still feel like a place you want to live. Bikes offer a cheap-as-chips solution to a growing city’s needs:

  • a fast track to a sustainable future
  • expanding access to growing public transport networks
  • affordable commuting
  • regular activity for over-scheduled folk
  • transport options for kids and teenagers and the elderly
  • handy transport for local trips
  • one less car on the road and one more healthy citizen on the go
  • magical short-cuts around peak-hour congestion

A truly bikeable Auckland is within reach… as long as we keep up the momentum at every level. The budget and the know-how are out there. It just takes political will. That means us wanting it enough to ask our city leaders to make it happen.

So, how do we get there from here?

We shout!

Let’s make some noise. Hop on over to the campaign page to add your name. And share the link with friends and family who’d love to see a bikeable Auckland in their lifetime. The more of us who speak up, the sooner it will happen.

PS Over the coming weeks we’ll dig deeper into each element of our three-part vision. We’ll also track where the candidates stand. Some of the ‘bike burb’ groups are interviewing local board candidates; we’re inviting candidates to commit to the vision so you can see who’s bike-friendly. Watch this space.

PPS Here’s that link again! Let’s go!

2016 Mayoral Hopeful Transport Policies

We’re now less than one month away from having a new mayor and later this week voting papers go out. Our friends at Generation Zero have once again been creating score cards for the mayoral and council candidates and they’ll be released later this week but in the meantime, I’ve taken a quick look through the transport policies of the main contenders and picked out what I think are the key points.

Phil Goff

Goff’s policy definitely reads better than he’s presented it (from what I’ve seen so far). He makes many points not dissimilar to what we would say, such as “Given the population growth, trying to build our way out of congestion with roads alone will not work.”

His policy seems to show good nuance about transport issues and plans, or at least he’s had good advice on them. The plans contained are nothing revolutionary, if anything they largely mirror what is in current plans from Auckland Transport. Some key examples include:

  • Battery powered trains to Pukekohe
  • Improving Park & Ride but he specifies on outer parts of the network
  • Extending the Northern Busway
  • Building a North-western Busway on SH16
  • Building AMETI to Pakuranga as soon as possible and extending that to ultimately East Tamaki and Manukau.

The biggest part of his policy though is Light Rail – initially mirroring AT’s plan of Wynyard and down Dominion Rd – and he wants to see a business case completed so that the project can be added to the 2018 Long Term Plan. He talks of future projects potentially including converting the AMETI busway, to the North Shore and the Airport.

Outside of the big PT stuff he also mentions a few other areas:

  • Walking and cycling which includes encouraging the government to extend the Urban Cycleway Fund, talks about making it easier for kids to ride to school and says he wants a bike share scheme piloted through the private sector.
  • For ferries he is calling for them to be integrated, by this I assume he means the routes of Devonport, Stanley Bay and Waiheke are contracted and controlled by AT rather than being commercial routes (the other routes are already contracted).
  • He also talks about wanting more electric vehicles and car sharing.

The last and a big plank of Goff’s transport policy surrounds the need to find alternative sources of funding to pay for more transport projects, much like Len Brown has. He wants the government issue infrastructure bonds which would be paid back first by a regional fuel tax introduced quickly and later replaced by GPS based road pricing.

Goff’s transport policy is essentially to continue in the general direction the city is already heading – which is to say generally on the right track.

Victoria Crone

Crone says we need to get more people using public transport and she names a few PT projects she thinks are needed, such as the North-western Busway, AMETI and electrification to Pukekohe but also says the biggest issue is that people can’t get to PT because there are not enough Park & Rides. As we know, increasing Park & Ride isn’t going to have any so appreciable effect on patronage but if she can get private companies to pay for it like she claims, that would help offset some of the issue of them. I do agree with the need to improve feeder services though and a lot of improvement will come via the New Bus Network.

A lot of her policy centers around what she calls Smart Transport. This includes:

  • real time tweaking of traffic lights
  • more variable lane arterials – like AT is trialling on Whangaparaoa Rd.
  • more sensors to track travel patterns

One of the more concerning comments relating to sensors is below and suggests bus and cycle lanes could be under threat if she was elected.

We will use this information to assess the efficacy of bus and cycle lanes throughout Auckland, ensuring we are not turning our roads into unproductive assets.

As well as the three big PT projects mentioned earlier, Crone also wants to focus on four expensive and low value roading projects

  • Penlink
  • Lake Rd
  • Mill Rd
  • Another Harbour Crossing (note to Crone, it’ll be the third crossing, not the second). For the AWHC she’s also pledged to try and convince the government to bring it forward by promising an initial contribution of $150 million, small change on a $5 billion+ project. She has also now said she wants to include some form of rapid transit connection as part of the project and would contribute an additional $600 million for that.

The last of Crones ideas on her website is to get AT to think about the future of transport including looking at autonomous vehicles, on demand PT services etc. This is odd giving the Ministry of Transport are already doing exactly this and this is already being considered as part of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project. In fact, many of the things she talks about are things already happening or are being assessed by ATAP.

Just yesterday she released this post suggesting she wants the price of parking in the city reduced until such time as PT is good enough – no definition of what that is.

Mark Thomas

Thomas’ biggest idea is to push transport decisions for ‘sub-regional and local transport’ projects to a more local level by splitting up the decision making at Auckland Transport into six regional transport boards. The boards would cover the north, west, central, east, south and rural/islands areas. I can’t see how this would be either effective or save money like he claims.

On PT he says he wants a ‘New Hybrid Mass Transport Plan’ but it is not clear how this is actually any different from what AT have been proposing. He does talk about the need to extend the Northern Busway, North-western Busway and extending rail to the South – by which I assume he means electrification.

Thomas says his focus is on getting more money out of the council from re-prioritising first but also doesn’t rule out congestion charging in the future.

He says is top 10 regional projects to focus on are below. Some are okay but others are odd, for example since when is a train station at Selwyn a regional priority.

  1. The Penlink investigation ($200m – PPP candidate)
  2. Supporting extension of the Northern bus way (NZTA principal funder)
  3. A specific option to improve Lake Road (cost not yet clear but Indicative Business Case underway)
  4. A North-western bus way to Westgate (NZTA principal funding)
  5. A new Selwyn rail station (likely cost $25m)
  6. Dominion Road upgrade ($45m)
  7. Stage 2 of AMETI (the Pakuranga to Panmure bus way – $550 in current LTP from 2021)
  8. Rapid transit to the airport (cost not clear, although light rail/heaving rails options currently $2billion – potential PPP candidate)
  9. The Mill Road extension ($400m – potential PPP candidate)
  10. Future rail planning to the south (cost not yet clear)

Chlöe Swarbrick

In my view Chloe has one of the better transport policies and talks about how giving people a choice in how they get around by focusing investment in PT and active modes will also help those who are driving to also get around.

For PT she specifically mentions our Congestion Free Network as something that inspired her thinking and notes it is essentially what is on AT’s plans but she wants to bring the timing of projects forward so we aren’t still waiting for 30 years for it to be completed.

She says on PT she will prioritise:

  • Increasing frequency and continuity of public transport on our current networks
  • Rail to Auckland Airport (light or heavy)
  • Growth of feeder services
  • Rail on Auckland’s second harbour crossing
  • Trialling routes destined for rail with uncongested busways
  • Working with central government to ensure public transport infrastructure is given proper priority – over and above new roads

It’s good to see someone suggesting trialling routes with buses first before jumping to rail, much as Patrick suggested last week.

Chloe says walking and cycling needs to be taken seriously and she “will work to see that all new (inevitable) roading developments are accompanied by safe cycling areas, demarcated from the road, alongside”. Given her comments, while I’m sure it’s implied, I thought she might have also mentioned making existing roads safe too.

John Palino

Palino’s transport policy is contained within his 97 page book on his plans for Auckland. Unfortunately, I think his views are a rambling pile of rubbish and are based on fundamental errors, misunderstandings and a general case of avoiding reality. Ever since I first saw it I’ve had to resist an almost line by line take-down of it. It is clear he is opposed to the very idea of the city and his key policy is to create a new ‘Satellite City’ somewhere between Drury and Pukekohe where all future growth can happen because we shouldn’t change any existing suburbs. It’s not clear how this new city is any different to the previous attempts at the same thing (e.g. Albany, Botany, Manukau, Westgate/Massey North).

Along with hating the CBD, he also hates projects associated with it such as the City Rail Link which is clear he would cancel if at all possible. His transport pledges are:

  1. Free Auckland of a CBD focus and stop attempting to only move people to and from the CBD.
  2. No congestion charges on existing roads.
  3. Toll Roads to be built where there is a sound business case for building them.
  4. Review expenditure on cycleways.
  5. Review parking at Park & Ride stations within the first three months of being elected, and provide a plan for increasing parking within twelve months.
  6. Move forward on roading projects with good cost benefit ratios and need to begin, such as the East West link and the second harbour crossing.
  7. Integrate Transport in a growth plan that eliminates future congestion by allowing the development of new intensive suburbs along the transport spine, providing Aucklanders the opportunity to live close to where they work, or have affordable housing close to existing transport infrastructure.

 

Are there any key parts to their policies I missed or any other candidates with notable policy?

Also note, the Campaign for Better Transport are holding a mayoral candidate transport debate on tomorrow night.

Park and Ride not really a no-brainer

Building more Park & Ride is often cited as a “no-brainer” way to get more people using public transport – especially by politicians. This election we’ve got a number of political hopefuls promising to build a lot more of them as a way to get many more people using PT, a stance also echoed by the likes of the AA. In a way it’s positive as it at least shows they recognise that PT, and particularly busway, train and ferry services are useful, popular and there is a demand for them. But is it really a no-brainer or are those promoting the idea perhaps guilty of not engaging their own brain first before making these promises.

According to Auckland Transport’s Parking Strategy, there are currently around 5,500 park & ride spaces across the region with the biggest single facility being Albany with 1,100 spaces – those people parked at the northern end are walking over 300m to get to the platforms.

Albany Park and Ride 2

The Albany Park and Ride’s 1,100 fill up early most work days

AT have also said they want to see another 10,000 P&R spaces across the region by 2046, as shown in the map below.

AT PnR strategy map

Before jumping in and building a lot of carparks we first need to question whether they will be effective. The issues generally fall into two categories, patronage and the cost. So let’s look at those two aspects.

Patronage

Despite the presence of huge carparks, the number of PT trips generated by P&R is surprisingly small. For the most part these carparks will only ever be filled once day on the approximately 250 working days each year. I would assume there is a higher number of single occupant vehicles than normal but let’s use a fairly standard 1.2 people per vehicle. That means each carpark likely generates about 600 PT trips per year (250 days x 1.2 people per car x 2 PT trips per day).

So a large P&R like the one Albany might account for about 660k trips per year. It might sound like a lot but remember we recently saw the latest station boarding stats and it showed over 1.8 million trips began or ended at Albany. In other words, the P&R accounted for only about 36% of all trips to or from the station. Furthermore, Albany is one of the highest percentages of P&R use, for the busway and train stations for which the number of P&R spaces are available, the average number of trips generated is just 19%. Expanding the calculations, the current 5,500 carparks contribute just 3.3 million trips per year while patronage across the entire PT network was 83 million trips. An extra 10,000 would add only 6 million trips, only an extra 7%

Of course all of this assumes that all users of new park and ride facilities are new users. The provision of more carparking is also likely to have the side effect of encouraging some of those who access stations by other means to change their behaviour so the actual gains in patronage are likely to be much less.

Thinking about the future, improving walking, cycling and bus connections (Simplified Fares and New Network) are likely to have a much greater impact. Further for those that believe autonomous vehicles are just around the corner, one of the biggest areas they’re could have a quick impact is in solving the first/last mile problem, shuttling people to and from stations. Of all ways of accessing PT stations, driving and parking is probably the one with the poorest future.

 

Cost

Even basic P&R’s can be incredibly expensive. the most recent one completed was at Swanson where 136 carparks were added for a cost of $2.5 million. That works out as a cost of $18k per space and that’s just for a seeming simple surface level carpark.

Swanson Park n Ride 1

The extension of the Albany carpark a few years ago cost $5.5 million for 550 carparks, or $10k per space – although that may have excluded the cost of the land. More intensive parking facilities such as multi-storey carparks can cost $25,000 per space or more. Then there are the opex costs for lights, security, cleaning etc. Even at $10k per space we’re looking at a minimum of $100 million to add the 10k carparks AT plan, given the more recent figures $200 million+ seems more appropriate and that’s if we can find the physical space for them.

But it’s not just the physical construction and opex costs that need to be considered but also the land use ones too. As the Albany carpark shows, it a lot of space to hold that many cars and the Albany site is about 37,000m². Last time I looked there simply isn’t masses of vacant land just waiting for a carpark to be built next to stations so adding them will require removing existing buildings. Removing houses (in a housing crisis) to provide carparking for a PT station would look as stupid as sounds. Furthermore, more intensive land use next to the station could encourage just as many PT trips, possibly more plus could have other benefits too, such as housing people.

Another issue and also a potential cost is that large carparks can create localised congestion issues which may require expensive road upgrades to address.

Candidates promising prudent financial management and also massive P&R expansions are contradicting themselves. Yes, we absolutely need to improve access to PT stations but the cost of building a carpark should be weighed up against the cost of improving access by other methods. For example, how many new trips could be achieved by focusing that $200m on great walking and cycling facilities to stations (AT are looking at improving access to two stations as part of the Urban Cycleway Fund programme).

High Density Bike Rack - Akoranga 2

At the Akoranga Busway station it can sometimes be hard to find a park

All of this isn’t to say that P&R isn’t useful in some situations. These can include:

  • On the outsides of the main urban area where land is cheaper, PT feeder services poorer and where it is also serving nearby rural populations.
  • Where the parking can be priced appropriately. This can offset some/all of the subsidy to providing parking, encourage use of more efficient modes for accessing stations and also address those local congestion issues. I’ve written before about how Calgary implemented charging.
  • Particularly where the station is provided ahead of surrounding land use – such as at Albany – it can act as form of a landbanking until a high enough land use intensity becomes viable.

 

Guess you could sum it all up as park & ride is not quite the ‘no-brainer’ some claim.

 

While on the topic of P&R, A few weeks ago Auckland Transport put out a press release stating they were looking to expand the Papakura Park & Ride and in the process highlighting they’re bloody expensive.

Auckland Transport (AT) is looking at ways to extend one of its busiest park and rides at Papakura Railway Station. AT is set to issue a tender which could see a significant increase to the 327 parking spaces currently at Papakura.

The extension is to cope with the large jump in numbers of people using the Southern rail line; passenger growth has been 19 percent in the past 6 months.

Auckland Transport’s Group Manager Strategic Development, Chris Morgan, says traditional park and rides are expensive because they rely on buying land. “With Auckland’s high land values, a parking bay can cost $25,000 or more, so we are looking at a number of options including the possibility of using pre-fabricated steel decking.”

He says Auckland Transport is in the early stages of investigating a trial for Papakura, but there are still a number of issues to be worked through like design and traffic assessments for the site.

“We want to look at trialling innovative ways to provide more parking at key locations.”

Barney Irvine from the Automobile Association (AA) says the AA supports moves to expand park and ride facilities. “There’s clear demand from our members for more park and ride, and we see it as an excellent way to increase the appeal of public transport.”

In Auckland, there are currently 5,500 park and rides bays. Chris Morgan says there needs to be almost double that number by 2040 and there are plans to put in 800 more bays within 2 years including 400 at Westgate and new spaces at Silverdale, Pukekohe and Hobsonville.

Housing is popular

I’ve written several blog posts talking about challenges facing local democracy and consultation processes. This is an important issue. Harvard economists Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson make a convincing argument that inclusive political institutions, such as broad electoral franchises and transparent policy processes, are the essential element for countries’ long-term economic and social success. Governments that listen to their citizens are better at delivering higher levels of wellbeing. Governments that don’t are seldom awesome.

Consequently, it’s worth paying close attention to the details of democratic and consultative processes. When they are done well, they can provide valuable insight into people’s needs and preferences. But when done badly, they may instead provide avenues for narrow-minded minorities to hijack the policy process.

One challenge in developing a better understanding of people’s values is there is relatively little opinion polling on a lot of major policy issues. This can leave politicians to make policy in a bit of an information void, relying upon anecdotes and comments from people who choose to call or write them. This anecdata might be representative of the general public sentiment… but then again, it might not be.

With that in mind, it was interesting to see the results of two new polls released in the last week.

The first was commissioned by The Spinoff as part of its coverage of the Unitary Plan decision and Auckland’s local government elections. They asked a representative sample of Aucklanders how they felt about the Unitary Plan:

The Unitary Plan, which The Spinoff and others have been banging on about recently, was signed off by Auckland Council with a surprising lack of rowdy opposition last week. It turns out our newly reformed pro-density politicians were channelling the views of Aucklanders at large, with more than a stonking 85% of those who expressed a view broadly supporting the plan – albeit most with some reservations – in an SSI poll for the Spinoff, commissioned with Jennings Murphy.

Asked, “Do you broadly agree with Auckland’s Unitary Plan and its plan to allow for 422,000 new homes in the city over the next 25 years?”, 19.1% of respondents chose the option “yes, great idea” and 55.8% “yes, but have some reservations”. Just 12.4% answered “no” and 12.8% said “don’t know”.

spinoff unitary plan poll

This is a big result. It follows four years of public and sometimes acrimonious debate about the ultimate shape of the plan. What we seem to have got out the end is a planning rulebook that will make a useful contribution to allowing Auckland to build more homes to meet the current shortfall and future growth… and a fair degree of public consensus that doing so is a good thing.

The second poll, which Bernard Hickey reported on Interest.co.nz, asked New Zealanders whether they’d like to see house prices rise, flatten, or fall. The result was resoundingly in favour of lower house prices:

In news that counters assumptions about home owners opposing falling house prices, an opinion poll conducted by UMR has found 60% of Aucklanders and 55% of home owners would prefer that house prices either fell a bit or fell dramatically over the next year.

The poll of 1,000 New Zealanders over the age of 18 was taken from July 29 to August 17 through UMR’s online omnibus survey and found a total of 63% who would either prefer house prices to ‘fall but not too much’ (37%) or to fall dramatically (26%).

UMR, which conducts polls for the Labour Party, found 55% of home owners would prefer house prices to fall a bit (40%) or dramatically (15%).

The poll found 14% of respondents preferred house prices either kept rising rapidly (4%) or at a slower pace (14%), while 17% of Aucklanders wanted house prices to keep rising rapidly (4%) or at a slower pace (13%). A total of 15% of home owners wanted house prices to rise rapidly (2%) or at a slower pace (13%). There were 633 home owners and 331 Aucklanders in the poll of 1,000 respondents.

The poll also asked if there was a housing crisis at the moment and found that 81% of all respondents and 85% of Aucklanders thought there was a crisis, while 79% of home owners thought there was housing crisis. Fourteen per cent of those polled thought there was no crisis and 5% were unsure.

This is a fascinating result. There’s a high degree of consensus that high house prices are currently a major problem (“crisis!”) and broad, although not universal, agreement that they should be lower.

In July, former Reserve Bank chair Arthur Grimes caused a stir by suggesting that we should build a lot more homes in Auckland to cut prices by around 40%. (Remember: real house prices fell by around 40% in the 1970s, after rising rapidly due to a confluence of supply and demand factors. So Grimes is not arguing for something that has never happened before.)

Prime Minister John Key’s response was a bit skeptical… but possibly not very much in touch with the public perception:

“I think it is crazy. Go and ask the average Aucklander who has got a mortgage with a bank if they want to see 40 per cent of their equity disappear.”

Now, it’s one thing to want house prices to be lower in the abstract, and another thing for the value of your own home to fall. So if prices actually started dropping, people might not be so enthused about the outcomes. (Especially if the flow-on effects on consumer confidence and construction activity led to a recession.) But I think we can conclude that:

  • New Zealanders are worried about high housing costs, and their ill effects on young people and low-income households
  • Policies that enable more housing to get built are popular
  • People don’t think current high prices are a good thing and would like to see them change.

This is a good thing: there is public support for solving New Zealand’s housing affordability problems. In a democratic political system, this should translate into policies that better reflect our values. Reasons for optimism…

How Councillors voted on the Unitary Plan

At 5pm on Friday the Unitary Plan was officially notified with this notice appearing in the NZ Herald.

NZ Herald Notification notice

The documents that were made available at 5pm included the final version of the plan the Council finished agreeing to earlier in the week. Also available from then were the minutes from that council meeting and so while we wait to see if there are any appeals, I trawled through the minutes to see which way the Mayor and Councillors voted on key issues and tried to put that information into a table. This includes both votes where a division was called and the Mayor and Councillors individually stated their position and votes where the resolution was passed but someone wanted their dissent noted.

A couple on notes about the tables.

  • While most of it was fairly straight forward to follow, it can get a bit confusing when some votes are delayed or especially in the case of item 6.14.1 (which covers the zoning maps) it can be hard to follow who was at the table, who wasn’t and who couldn’t participate due to conflicts of interest.
  • I don’t intend on posting all of the results as some of them are fairly boring technical matters where everyone agreed so I’ll just focus on a few key areas. You can click on the images for a bigger version.
  • The outcomes as to whether a vote was good or bad is based on my judgment call based on what we’ve discussed in the past or the result that will make it easier to deliver more housing. On some votes you may disagree with how I’ve scored it.
  • Green = Good, Red = Bad, C = Conflict of Interest and blank means they weren’t at the table.
  • I’ve only included a small explanation of the items voted on but have also included the page number the vote appeared on in the minutes should you wish to scroll through to see more information.

First up a number of hot topics including heritage and viewshafts

Final UP - Voting Table 1

Here are some of the items related to the City Centre and business zones. We were supporters of deleting the minimum dwelling sizes so most Councillors get marked down for voting to keep them.

Final UP - Voting Table 2

And here are some of the residential zones. One odd observation is that Cameron Brewer supported keeping minimum dwelling sizes in the City Centre but opposed keeping them in the general residential zones.

Final UP - Voting Table 3

There are obviously a lot more votes and as mentioned, many are fairly boring.

One of the reasons for pulling the data together was also to see which Councillors were the most or least supportive. The graph below counts the total number of red boxes from the tables above and the rest of the results. As you can see there was clearly one Councillor whose name came up more than others. To be fair not all votes are necessarily equal, especially some of the dissents which can be for fairly minor things but I think it is interesting none the less.

Final UP - Votes Against

What do you think of the results?

Zoning reform: Costs, benefits, and distributional impacts (1 of n)

This is the first part in an open-ended series on the economics and politics of zoning reform. The Unitary Plan decision means that Auckland’s urban planning framework is set for the short to medium term – albeit with inevitable appeals and changes. But the issues we’ve been grappling with over the past few years – i.e. how, where, and why to adjust the rulebook – will keep coming back. A growing city must also be a continually changing city, and zoning decisions can either help or hinder that.

A good starting point for thinking about the economics and politics of zoning reform is to ask: What are the costs and benefits of allowing more housing to be developed? And how are these costs and benefits distributed?

I investigated these questions in a conference paper at this year’s New Zealand Association of Economists. Without getting into the numbers, we can identify three main effects:

First, the benefits of new housing primarily accrue to people who are newly entering the housing market. For instance, young people trying to buy or rent a home benefit from there being more homes, as it means they can get better housing or cheaper housing. Equivalently, restrictions on new housing development mainly impose costs on people who don’t already own homes. When the supply of housing is restricted, then they face a choice between paying more for housing that meets their needs, living in substandard or crowded housing, or leaving the city entirely.

Second, the costs – adverse effects – of new development are location- and context-dependent. The distributional impacts – who is affected? – can also vary quite a lot. For instance, a new subdivision on the city fringe probably wouldn’t shade anyone’s home or block its view, but it might worsen water quality or biodiversity. And, given the dysfunctional way we build new suburbs, it will definitely increase traffic congestion.

By contrast, redevelopment and infill within the city will tend to have fewer environmental impacts – it’s already a city! – but there are more neighbours who may be affected by the various nuisances associated with development, like having new buildings casting shade on adjacent properties or more people parking on “their” street. People don’t like change very much… but they can easily adjust to different “status quo” scenarios.

For instance, consider Ponsonby. It would all be horribly illegal under today’s zoning codes. Lot sizes too small, buildings too close to each other and taking up too much of the lot, no parking, etc, etc. If you tried to get houses like these consented today, especially in an existing suburb, you’d be refused in about three seconds flat. But because they’ve been there for decades, people see them as something that should be protected – present-day zoning code be damned!

Ponsonby Russell St

Third, enabling housing development can allow cities to grow larger and in a more economically efficient pattern – leading to enhanced agglomeration economies. The benefits of increased productivity and greater consumer choice accrue broadly to most people in the city, or potentially even to the entire country. (Taxes paid in Auckland pay for retirements in Tauranga!)

Conversely, evidence from overseas cities suggests that restricting housing supply can result in large economic costs as a result of the misallocation of workers throughout space. For instance:

  • In the US, Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti found that high housing costs have discouraged people from getting jobs in high-productivity cities – in particular New York, San Francisco, and San Jose. If those cities had allowed more homes to be built over the past three decades – which would have entailed more intensive development – the US economy would now be 9.7% larger than it actually is, with commensurate gains in income.
  • In the Netherlands, Wouter Vermeulen and Jos van Ommeren found that housing supply, not productivity or availability of jobs, has driven cities’ growth. Rather than moving to locations with abundant high-income jobs, people move to places with more homes – again, with a cost to overall economic outcomes.

As Matt Yglesias observed, agglomeration economies benefit workers with different skills… provided that they can afford to locate in high-productivity cities:

…just as factories served as economic anchors for regions, today’s big industries produce broader local prosperity.

Here are some examples from the San Francisco area:

The problem is that for most residents of these places, the higher cost of living erodes the benefits of higher pay.

So how does all this add up? There are two answers. The first is that the benefits of urban development tend to outweigh the costs… provided that it isn’t happening in a totally dysfunctional way, like paving over the habits of endangered birds or building astonishingly unredeemable eyesores. In other words, the benefits for people who are getting housed, plus increased agglomeration economies, outweigh the costs from negative social or environmental impacts. So from the perspective of long-run social wellbeing, zoning that enables more development seems like a good idea.

The second answer is that the distributional impacts tend to determine the politics of zoning. As economist William Fischel observed, local governments tend to be dominated by “homevoters” who are mainly worried about risks to their property values and quality of life. In this context, the fact that enabling urban development mostly has benefits for new entrants to the housing market – i.e. young people and people moving into the city from elsewhere – is pretty important.

National and local voter turnout chart

As economists like to say, the incentives facing local government voters aren’t well aligned with long-run social wellbeing. To current voters, zoning reform isn’t necessarily an appealing proposition. It appears to create uncertainty for their neighbourhood and property values, while principally benefitting other people.

This is a very understandable view for individuals to hold, but it’s not awesome for society as a whole. If cities and economies don’t change, they wither and die, creating vast human misery in the process. In order to prevent that from happening – i.e. to keep people from crowding into unsanitary accommodation or going homeless – we need to be willing to reform our zoning policies.

In the subsequent posts in this series, I’m going to take a look at what that might look like. In the first instance, I want to focus on the institutional arrangements that enable reform, considering issues like:

  • The trade-off between localised and centralised decision-making
  • The good and bad in New Zealand’s legislative framework
  • The role of analysis and evidence in planning decisions
  • The role of social norms in encouraging (or discouraging) people to plan for future generations.

As always, leave your views in the comments.

Local governments’ democracy problem

Local governments have a responsibility to represent the interests and desires of their constituents. That idea is written into the oath that elected representatives swear when taking their seats:

I, [full name of mayor, councillor or board member], declare that I will faithfully and impartially, and according to the best of my skill and judgment, execute and perform, in the best interests of [name of region, district, city, local or community board], the powers, authorities, and duties vested in or imposed upon me as a member of the [name of local authority] by virtue of the Local Government Act 2002, the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987, or any other Act.

For representative democracy to work, politicians must be willing to think beyond narrow parochial interests and act in the interests of the broader community. But unfortunately, elections don’t necessarily reward politicians that take this view.

The following chart from Local Government New Zealand illustrates a key challenge for democracy at the local government level. Voter turnout in local elections has steadily declined over the past two and a half decades. In 2013, only 40% of registered voters participated. This means that local body politicians have an incentive to respond to the needs and desires of a smaller and smaller share of the population:

LGNZ local government voter turnout chart

In a January press release on LGNZ’s plans to raise voter turnout, their president stated that change was urgently needed:

“Our goal is that, for the first time in nearly two decades, local government will be elected by a majority of New Zealanders,” said Mr Yule.

That’s a worthy mission. But another way of interpreting the data is that, for the last two decades, local governments have had extraordinarily weak democratic mandates. The people that are elected to councils generally aren’t voted in by a majority of citizens. In fact, most people chose not to vote for any of the candidates.

A weak democratic mandate is exacerbated by uneven rates of voting and civic participation. Last year, I took a look at the demographics of the people who submitted on Auckland Council’s Long Term Plan. I found that many groups were severely underrepresented among submitters, especially:

  • Maori, Pasifika and Asian people – underrepresented by 62%, 81%, and 73%, respectively
  • People aged under 25 – underrepresented by 70% or more.

Astonishingly, the picture gets worse when we look at who votes in local elections.

The following chart compares voter turnout rates in national and local elections by age category, using data sourced from the Electoral Commission and LGNZ. (Unfortunately, LGNZ hasn’t published any more recent data, but turnout has undoubtedly fallen further since 2001.)

Older people – i.e. those over 50 – turn out at roughly the same rate in both local and national elections. Younger people generally vote at lower rates than older ones in national elections. But participation among younger people – especially those under 30 – falls off much, much more severely in local elections.

National and local voter turnout chart

This chart shows two important things.

The first is that local governments do not represent the young, except occasionally by accident or in a mood of generosity. Why should they? Young people might be the future, but they don’t turn out to vote. In that context, local governments will generally be captured by the interests of older residents. (Many of whom vote primarily to preserve their property values against nuisances like affordable housing.)

If you believe in democracy, as I do, this seems like a serious problem. It’s important that people are heard at election time, and afterwards.

The second is that there are high barriers to youth participation in local government elections. How else do you explain the wildly divergent participation rates at national and local government elections?

The LGNZ paper I referred to earlier has a more comprehensive run-down of various potential causes of falling voter turnout, but it’s worth mentioning a few possible hypotheses that might disproportionately affect the young:

  • Local government elections are exclusively conducted by postal ballots, which poses a barrier for renters. As young people are much more likely to rent, and renters are more likely to move frequently, the ballots are more likely to be posted to the wrong address. Consequently, there may be a case to set up a few voting booths in places where they can be accessed by young people.
  • It’s difficult to get good information about candidates. As political party affiliation is less common (and less relevant for policy anyway) at a council level, it’s harder to assess where candidates stand on the issues. The media tends to focus on high-profile races like mayoral elections, while paying less attention to councillors and local board candidates. This barrier may be higher for younger people, who won’t have had as many opportunities to get to know candidates in person or by reputation.

I also want to raise one dark possibility that LGNZ does not mention: that youth participation in local democracy is low because it is neither welcomed nor encouraged. In other words, young people may not be heard respectfully at town hall meetings or in residents associations, leading them to get turned off from engaging.

Back in February, Bernard Hickey reported on what happened when youth representatives spoke at a Council meeting on potential changes to the city’s Unitary Plan, which was then being reviewed by an Independent Hearings Panel:

I watched this democratic deficit exposed most cruelly when the Council’s Youth Advisory Chair, Flora Apulu, spoke to the Council about how she felt the weight of the city’s half a million young people on her shoulders as she argued for the affordable housing they desperately needed from this “up-zoned” plan.

She was jeered and heckled by the dozens of elderly and predominantly Pakeha homeowners sitting just metres behind her.

Sudhvir Singh from Generation Zero was jeered even more loudly when he said the generation of home-owners sitting behind him were “pulling up the ladder” of home ownership on the young of today.

“Poor you”, was the response. Indeed. Poor us.

Ms Apulu and Mr Singh seem like they can stand up to a bit of heckling without being intimidated into silence, but the same can’t be said for everyone. If a similarly dismissive atmosphere prevails at other meetings, should we be surprised when few young people take an interest in local elections? As this chart from LGNZ shows, low youth voting rates coincide with a dearth of young candidates:

LGNZ age of candidates chart

To sum up, local governments seem to face challenges for democratic legitimacy. Voter turnout is anemic, and it’s unusually low among the young. This weakens councils’ democratic mandates and weakens their ability to understand and respond appropriately to their constituents’ needs and desires.

So what can be done to save local democracy?

The most important thing that people can do is to get out and vote in the 2016 local government elections. Voting is especially important if you’re young – council decisions will affect whether you can afford to rent or buy a home in the place you’d like to live.

Here are the key dates to keep an eye on. Unfortunately, the enrollment deadline closed last Friday, but if you didn’t enroll in time there’s still an opportunity to request and cast a special ballot.

Local government election dates 2016

But it’s not a matter for individuals. Governments need to lower the barriers that people face to voting in local elections and participating in consultation processes. The low rate of youth participation is not a trivial issue – in some respects, it sits at the heart of Auckland’s housing affordability challenge.

Young people bear the costs of policies that restrict housing supply in areas that are accessible to jobs and amenities. Empowering them in local body politics would create a constituency for change – not one that would sweep aside all other views, but one that would at least have a seat at the table.

What do you think could be improved in local elections?

Auckland 2016 Election Lists

The deadline for the 2016 local body elections was yesterday and last night the Auckland Council released the list of confirmed candidates. The council say 447 candidates have put their hands up for the 170 positions available for Mayor, Councillor and Local Board member. This is down on previous years with there being 470 in 2013 and 545 in 2010. Below are the 17 candidates for Mayor

Auckland 2016 Mayoral Candidates 2

In past years we’ve had some colourful candidates for mayor such as David Willmott under the ticket of Roads First and who could forget Emmett Hussey, especially his campaign vehicle. I wonder if there is anyone this time that can fill that role.

On to the Councillors, with three steeping we’re guaranteed to see some change at the council table and obviously there’s the potential for more depending on how the elections go. I won’t list all of the names but here are a couple of quick observations in no particular order

  • Franklin Councillor Bill Cashmore has been re-elected un-opposed. Bill has been one of the better councillors so it will be good to see him back around the council table.
  • At the last election, Cameron Brewer in Orakei plus Dick Quax and Sharon Stewart in Howick were all elected unopposed. This time Brewer is stepping down (but he’s standing for the Rodney Local Board) and there are four candidates in Orakei. Further east in Howick there are ten candidates standing including both Quax and Stewart.
  • The North Shore has the most candidates with 12 putting their names forward. Chris Darby is standing again but George Wood is not but instead is standing for the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board with five other candidates under a ticket called Team George Wood.
  • Candidates in the Manukau ward have a 50% chance of getting elected with just four people putting their hands up for the job including current councillor Alf Filipaina. The other Manukau councillor, Arthur Anae is stepping down.
  • Further south in the Manurewa-Papakura ward the candidates have an even better chance of being elected with just three people putting their hands up including current councillors Calum Penrose and John Walker.
  • We already knew the Waitemata Ward would be an interesting seat with Mike Lee and Bill Ralston duking it out and they will be joined by just one other in the form of local board member Rob Thomas.

I put together this quick graph of the number of candidates in each ward compared to the number of seats.

Auckland 2016 Council Candidates & Seats

I’m not going to both looking the numerous local boards so you’ll have to have a look at the list if you want to see who’s standing in your area.

I’m sure it’s bound to be an interesting election. Voting opens on September 16 and goes through to October 8.