Rethinking Traffic Offences – Drink Driving

  1. I recently bought a copy of Roger Brooking’s Flying Blind – How the justice system perpetuates crime and the Corrections Department fails to correct, I have found it so far to be a very insightful read, there was a section on Driving under the Influence, what I read was astonishing and decided to post about it due to the many deaths/injuries/near misses that happen on NZ Streets as a result of people under the influence.

From Flying Blind

The only drink-drivers in New Zealand required by law to attend an alcohol and drug assessment are those given an ‘indefinite’ disqualification – affecting only about 1,500 of the 30,000 people convicted each year. The vast majority of drink-drivers are disqualified for between six months and 12 months, and automatically get their licence back at the end of the disqualification – with no questions asked.

Every year, one third of those convicted are repeat offenders and many drink drivers continue driving while disqualified – and sometimes end up killing someone. Disqualified drivers involved in fatal accidents are three times more likely than other drivers to be under the influence of alcohol.

Surprisingly, treatment for alcohol dependence is not required even in the most serious cases when someone has been killed. For instance, in September 2009, 71-year-old Alison Downer was driving drunk and killed a cyclist near Otaki. It was her fourth conviction. Ms Downer was sent to prison for 2½ years and given an eight-year disqualification.

The disqualifications given to these drink-drivers who caused death, range from 3½ years to 8 years. Irrespective of whether they were sent to prison or not, they were given much longer periods of disqualification than normal because someone was killed. However, not one of them was required by the judge to attend an assessment or treatment for their drinking problem. Because none of them were disqualified ‘indefinitely’, they’re all eligible to get their driver’s licence back at the end of their disqualification without being required to attend any treatment.

The Dominion Post picked up on this anomaly in August 2010 and described it as a ‘loophole in the law which serious drink-drivers were slipping through’. This description is inaccurate because it implies there is a legal wall in place which effectively blocks the vast majority of drink-drivers from getting their licence back without treatment. Such is not the case. Currently, 95% of disqualified drivers get through the wall because there is no legal requirement to mandate drink-drivers into treatment (except the 1,500 given an indefinite disqualification). drives through. Each year up to 4,000 disqualified drivers get through one particular hole allowing them to apply for a limited licence – which theoretically enables them to drive for work-related purposes only.

Even for those given an ‘indefinite’ disqualification, the outcome is fairly meaningless. There’s nothing ‘indefinite’ about it. After a minimum period of one year and one day, drink-drivers with an ‘indefinite’ disqualification can see an approved alcohol assessor and begin the process of getting their licence back. If they pass the assessment, and resit their licence, they can be back on the road within 18 months. Although 1,500 people a year receive indefinite disqualifications, about 1,000 others with indefinite disqualifications get their licences back each year. Even recidivist drink-drivers with five or more convictions seem to have little difficulty regaining their driver’s licence.

So some scary stats

  • A third of the 30,000 convictions for drink drivers are re-offenders
  • Only small number of people convicted for drink driving receive a drug/alcohol assessment. But even then, these assessments are not necessarily done by addiction experts, the blood tests can be unreliable as for most people, stopping drinking for about a month will allow them to pass, and if a person gets an unsatisfactory result they can go to a different assessor to try get a satisfactory result. – Drink Driving Intervention Trust Submission on the Amendment
  • Most people convicted of Drink Driving never receive drug/alcohol counselling and/or treatment before getting their licence back

Questions should be asked, is a system where people automatically receive their licences back a smart one considering the road toll, and the danger to society it poses. Surely it would make sense to have a system where people convicted of drink driving undergo a drug/alcohol assessment to determine if person has dependency/addiction and:

  • If no, was it a stupid mistake that they are unlikely to repeat.
  • If yes, undergo successfully a best practice drug/alcohol treatment programme to help with dependency/addiction before returning licence.

To put things another way, imagine if after a set period we just returned without question firearms licences to people who were convicted of using firearms while under the influence.

I looked up the Ministry of Transports Alcohol & Drugs Report which had some interesting information on the issue

  • 28% of Fatal crashes had Alcohol & Drugs as the sole cause or a contributing factor.
  • For every 100 alcohol or drug-impaired drivers or riders who died in road crashes, 47 of their passengers and 24 sober road users died with them.
  • In 2015 90 people died, and 1623 were injured in crashes where alcohol/drugs was at least a contributing factor

Another initiative that the government has introduced is Alcohol Interlocks.

After the mandatory interlock period expires, if a person still has dependency/addiction it hasn’t solved their issue and they could re-offend, this is no different from prison where after release the same environment exists and the person can relapse. Since the interlock period is 1 year, around the average time a person pre-mandatory interlock would lose their licence anyway, it may not address long term re-offending of those who have addiction issues.

Mandatory Interlocks may help keep drunk drivers off the road, however if a person has dependency/addiction that doesn’t mean overuse/misuse of alcohol will stop, which can have flow on negative social effects in areas outside of transport such as Health, Social Services & other Criminal offences etc. NZ Law Commission Alcohol in our Lives, An Issues Paper on the Reform of New Zealand’s Liquor Laws, July 2009, Wellington, p 245 found that 80% of all offending occurs under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Alcohol also plays a major role in violent crime. New Zealand studies suggest that more than half of the 140,000 physical and sexual assaults which occur every year involve a perpetrator who had been drinking. Alcohol also seems to be the drug of choice for murderers. Between 1999 and 2008, there were 489 murders in New Zealand. In half of these, either the perpetrator or the victim (often both) was under the influence of alcohol – Stevenson, National Alcohol Assessment, April 2009.

The new interlock system understands the reason they need to be mandatory, but does not address the fact well. The situation which was happening before was that the person had to pay for the interlock, as these are nearly $3000 a year these interlocks were unaffordable for many who were convicted, knowing this lawyers would ask judges to not give an interlock sentence and instead suspend licence. With the change now being mandatory with the low subsides being available many with struggle financially with could effect families or more realistically the person never being able to get licence back due to being unable to afford to pay for the Interlock. Thus at current this change very heavily hits the poor disproportionately.

Mandatory Interlocks don’t necessarily help people overcome dependency/addiction, we have to ask a question as a society if all we want to do is keep drunk drivers off the road, or do we want to treat this as a public health issue helping people who struggle with dependency/addiction which will reduce harm in the long run in more areas than just transport.

For those who want to read further the Drink Driving Intervention Trust Submission on the bill which goes into more detail on the matter of the effectiveness of interlocks, the current assessments & financial burden of interlocks can be found here which Roger Brookings was an author of.

While great strides have been taken on reducing Drink Driving, with better enforcement as well as education like Auckland Transport’s recent Drink Drive Free Campaign which has made Drink Driving much more socially unacceptable, and of course the famous Safer Journeys Ad, more needs to be done on making sure that people with dependency/addiction issues receive treatment before being let back on our streets.


Since I’ve been in Auckland…

I moved to Auckland to take up a full-time job in early 2012. Prior to that, I’d spent a few years working in Wellington, a year getting a master’s degree at University of Auckland, and a few months travelling around between jobs.

At that point, I was in my mid-20s. I’d saved money while working, but between study and travel I’d spent most of those savings. I had enough money to put up the bond on a rental flat and pay for necessities while waiting for my first paycheck, but not a lot more. After the paychecks started to come in, I paid down student loans and – like most other young people – saved a big chunk of my paycheck for the future.

10-year-birth cohort average saving rates by age of household head (Treasury)

Up to this point, my experience wasn’t that much different than my parents’. They were just about to start their careers, with about the same bank balance as me (ie very little). But our experiences quickly started to diverge: they were able to buy a home, and I wasn’t thanks to Auckland’s crazy housing market.

In early 2012, the median house price was a bit under $500,000. I thought this was crazily high given the quality of housing on the market. But it got crazier. Over the next five years, the median house price rose by 60% to just over $800,000. This was a rapid change that has been hugely beneficial for people who already own homes (and who benefit on untaxed capital gains on those homes).

It’s also been disheartening and destructive for young people like me who don’t own homes but who might want to. Rising house prices have forced us into a series of unpleasant tradeoffs and deferred dreams.

Since I started full-time work in Auckland, I’ve saved a large portion of every paycheck. A chunk of the money has gone to Kiwisaver, in anticipation of the fact that my parents’ generation will vote to protect their superannuation and minimise their taxes at all costs while raising my retirement age. But even more money has gone straight into a savings account, both to give me short-term financial flexibility and to save up towards a deposit on a home.

I did the right thing. A lot of other people my age did the same. But society didn’t do right by us. If house prices had stayed at their 2012 levels, I’d be able to buy a home, but as it is, it’s not affordable.

Contrary to the media focus on saving for a deposit, that’s not actually the main sticking point. The problem we face is that rising prices have also contributed to increasing mortgage repayments, which are structurally unaffordable (or at least severely undesirable) for most young people.

Let’s look at the maths. Over the last five years, average mortgage interest rates haven’t budged much – they’ve been in the range of 5.5%. So young people borrowing for a home generally aren’t getting a better deal on debt servicing costs.

In 2012, buying a median home for around $500,000 would mean saving $100,000, or 20%, for a deposit, and taking out a $400,000 loan. According to’s mortgage calculator, repaying the loan over a 25 year period would cost me around $560 a week. This is basically affordable for a two-income household, although many people may need to earn some extra income by getting a flatmate. It’s also not that much more expensive than paying the rent on a comparable home.

But in 2017, buying a median home for around $800,000 would mean saving $160,000 for a deposit and taking out a $640,000 loan. This loan would cost around $900 a week – over 50% more than the mortgage on an average home in 2012. This is far less affordable, because young people’s incomes certainly haven’t risen by 50% in the same time. And it’s also significantly out of whack with rental costs.

For most young people (or young couples) paying an extra $340 a week is the difference between a decent savings rate and hardly any savings. Borrowing to buy a first home means committing to saving very little between the ages of 30 and 60.

In effect, young people who want to own a home must now commit to tying up their entire net worth and a huge chunk of their discretionary income over their entire working life in the property. The mortgage eats everything else. Forget starting a business, starting a family, studying to get a new job, travelling, or saving towards an early retirement: that money’s all going towards payments on an overinflated mortgage.

It doesn’t help that the Government just announced that they’re going to raise the retirement age for everybody under the age of 45, while leaving the Boomer generation alone.

I think it’s hard for middle-aged people, most of whom own homes that were bought in much easier times, to understand how challenging this is for young people. I followed my parents’ advice: get an education, start a career, and save hard. But while I’ve been saving, the required mortgage repayments have climbed to stupefying new heights.

This isn’t just bad for individuals: recent increases in house prices have created a social and economic time-bomb. Mortgage payments now compete with other important aspirations, such as starting a family, building a business, or saving for an early retirement. Left unchecked, this will ruin many things that are good about New Zealand, like the laid-back lifestyle, the focus on family and friends, and the opportunity to start up something new in the garage.

We can’t pretend that we can have a decent society for all while property prices stay high or climb even higher. Something has to give.

Lightpath couldn’t stand the light

Lightpath is just over a year old but it quickly reached iconic status and feels like it has been part of the city for a lot longer than it has. As of the end of January, over 228k people had cycled along its magenta surface. But that surface is not as bright as it originally was, having been faded by the elements. It has also been cracking and blistering in places.

To fix these issues the NZTA are closing this important connection for just over a week starting next Wednesday to fix it.

Auckland’s Lightpath cycleway will get its own special sunscreen application next month, to protect it from the elements and make its colour even more vibrant.

The magenta surface will be refreshed and UV protected as part of ongoing maintenance.

The work means the shared path will be closed to all users between the 1st and the 9th of March.

“This UV coating is marine grade and is used on cruise and container ships, so the paint surface will now live up to the harshest possible conditions and will be far more fade resistant,” says Brett Gliddon the NZ Transport Agency’s Auckland Highway Manager.

“We’re delighted with the popularity of the Lightpath and apologise for any inconvenience its closure will cause, but along with Auckland Transport and Auckland Council, we’re committed to keeping it well maintained so that many more thousands of people can continue to enjoy it.”

The estimated cost of the refresh and UV protection is $115,000, which will be funded through money previously set aside by Auckland Council from the City Centre Targeted Rate.

The UV coating will involve a base coat being painted on to the existing surface, which will look a little redder than the current surface, the final magenta top coat will then be applied which will create the vibrant magenta colour again.

The work can only be carried out during dry weather and so the closure dates may be shifted.

Very wet weather at the time the original surface was laid is believed to have caused some bonding issues with the existing surface which is made of recycled glass and this will be fixed during the maintenance work.

This from Stuff shows the difference between the original surface and what it will look like after this work is done.

I’m a little conflicted over this. On one hand I can appreciate that this work needs to be done and the weather narrows down when this can happen. But on the other hand, this is also the time of the year that is most conducive to cycling and closing it for over a week leaves people who want a safe, protected option for accessing the western side of the city without one. Can you imagine the NZTA accepting a motorway being fully closed for a week for works?

It’s also disappointing that this needs to happen, why wasn’t weathering factored in when the surface was originally laid or were corners cut in order to get it open on time?

Let’s hope the NZTA and AT get this work done as fast as possible and that there are no further delays.

Third Main Business Case OIA

In November I made a request under the Official Information Act regarding any potential Third Main business case, as it was one of my ATAP ASAP’s and I wanted to know if any movement had been made, especially as it was mentioned in ATAP & the agencies had gone quiet on the issue.

The response I received back confirms one exists, it is in draft form pending approval from KiwiRail & the Minister.

You can see the full response from the NZTA here

What is the Third Main?

Third Main Slide


Proximity as a transport solution

55 Symonds Street

This school year Auckland University will be opening up housing for 600+ students at the City Centre Campus, including the 55 Symonds Street building pictured above. This is a welcome addition to the meager (though increasing) supply of student housing of about 3,100 units.

For reference 600+ people is close to the number of cars on one traffic lane running along Symonds Street through the campus during a peak AM hour. Of course, very few students travel by car, so the new residents are more likely to be releasing valuable seats on packed public transport services during the already oversubscribed peak period.

Students living in these new facilities will travel much shorter distances overall then their counterparts scattered across the city. People located in central locations travel shorter distance since they are located close to their primary place of “work” and have a concentration of services and destinations close by. As students they are not captured in conventional journey to work surveys and their daily walking trips aren’t even considered.

Here is a map of the average travel distance of commuters from the 2013 census.

Average commute distance, 2013 Census (Data: Stats NZ)

Here is an interesting article by California planning guru William Fulton in Governing Magazine, “A Low Cost Solution to Traffic” where he poses one obvious solution to the 21st century transport challenge as described in Austin Texas.

A couple of generations ago, we would have solved this problem pretty simply, by foolishly spending a lot of money to plow new freeways through existing communities. But attitudes have changed…

Which brings us to proximity. One of the few ways around this problem is to build more housing close to the urban cores — or, at least, close to the dense suburban job centers. Urban planners often argue for locating more housing along high-frequency transit lines, which makes sense because many people can commute by transit.

What’s not well understood, however, is that well-located housing can cut down on the amount of driving — and hence the need for additional road space — even if people are still tethered to their cars. One famous study in the San Francisco Bay Area found that people living in Berkeley and Oakland drive only half as far as people in the outer suburbs — not because they take transit more, but because the places they have to go are closer together.

As we develop transport solutions for the wicked challenges of regional transport and city centre access, this is one area where it seems we could do much better. Every new housing unit comes with a built-in transport requirement.

What if centrally located or rapid transit proximate housing  was funded/supported as a transport investment? As the housing cycle inevitably slows, is there a role of government to step in to support housing options that will also help to solve the city’s transport problems instead of exacerbating the problem by focusing on far flung, car-dependent development?

Sylvia Park Station Eastern/Carbine Rd Access LGOIMA

Sylvia Park Station

Back in September I wrote a post about Sylvia Park station, and how providing access to Carbine Road was a easy low hanging fruit to increase the catchment of our Rapid Transit Network, connecting people better to jobs in the Carbine Rd area, enabling the higher density residential development of the area in the Mixed Use and THAB zones, as well as significantly improving access to people studying at NZMA. Lastly it will allow better access to people in the area who wish to cross the Eastern Line, reducing severance. I decided to find out from AT via the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 whether any investigation was being done.

Dear Auckland Transport,

Has AT done any investigation into providing access from Sylvia Park station from the East ie. the Carbine Rd side?

Yours faithfully,

Harriet Gale

Unfortunately the answer the answer is no

I think this is disappointing, as I think there is an really great opportunity for a small amount of money (compared to most transport projects) to achieve something great for the area, and for the network.

Is Auckland too big?

[This was originally posted in unfinished form this morning. It has since been rewritten.]

Is Auckland too big? Some people are asking that question.

For instance, in a Twitter exchange a while back Radio New Zealand producer Tim Watkin stated:

Others disagreed, observing that we didn’t have any obvious way to make Auckland smaller, meaning that people must have good reasons for wanting to be here:

As it turns out, Auckland (1.6 million people) isn’t the only city where people are debating this question. The San Francisco Bay Area (7.6 million people) has the same challenges, as Kim-Mai Cutler has ably documented. So does Boulder, Colorado (300,000 people). Actual population size is not, it seems correlated with complaints about cities being “too big”.

BOULDER, Colo. — The small city of Boulder, home to the University of Colorado’s flagship campus, has a booming local economy and a pleasantly compact downtown with mountain views. Not surprisingly, a lot of people want to move here.

Something else is also not surprising: Many of the people who already live in Boulder would prefer that the newcomers settle somewhere else.

“The quality of the experience of being in Boulder, part of it has to do with being able to go to this meadow and it isn’t just littered with human beings,” said Steve Pomerance, a former city councilman who moved here from Connecticut in the 1960s.

All of Boulder’s charms are under threat, Mr. Pomerance said as he concluded an hourlong tour. Rush-hour traffic has become horrendous. Quaint, two-story storefronts are being dwarfed by glass and steel. Cars park along the road to the meadow.

These days, you can find a Steve Pomerance in cities across the country — people who moved somewhere before it exploded and now worry that growth is killing the place they love.

Economically, this is looking like an interesting question. Under what conditions can a city be “too big”, and are those conditions likely to hold true in practice?

There are some economic models setting out why and how cities might grow to be larger than their optimal size. (The same models also predict that cities can be smaller than optimal, but I will ignore this case for the moment.) Economist David Albouy and three co-authors investigate the theory of the issue in a November 2016 paper entitled “The optimal distribution of population across cities“.

Albouy et al develop a model of city size that includes two offsetting externalities associated with city size. On the positive side, agglomeration economies, or the economic and social benefits of scale and density. On the negative side, congestion and crowding, which are assumed to increase nonlinearly with city size. Putting it together, they get a picture that looks something like this:

This probably doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you’ve read the paper and sifted through the equations. But it’s pretty simple. If you’re seeking to maximise the net social benefits created by the city, you want it to be size ni (on the X axis). That’s the point at which the marginal costs imposed by the next city resident exceed the marginal benefits that they deliver.

But people will continue to move to the city even after it hits this size, as new residents receive the social average benefit from locating in the city, rather than the marginal benefit. Left uncorrected, the city will grow to a larger size (nm_large on the X axis).

This model shows how cities can grow to be larger than their optimal size, due to congestion costs that increase faster than agglomeration benefits beyond a certain size. However – importantly – it also make a very strong prediction that people will stop wanting to move to cities at a certain point. In other words, this model does not predict that cities will grow without limit: it predicts that they will reach a certain size and then stop growing.

In that sense, this model predicts that city size is analogous to road congestion. Although many roads are above the socially optimal level of congestion, congestion simply doesn’t increase without limit. At some point people decide not to drive any more, as illustrated empirically by Wallis and Lupton:

Within the model, there may be reasons why optimal size differs between cities. For instance, cities may:

  • Have different types of agglomeration economies, resulting in a stronger or weaker case for increased size
  • Have different transport systems leading to different relationships between growth and congestion
  • Be located near more sensitive ecosystems, meaning that growth may be more damaging.

However, on the whole, the predictions made by the model are extremely difficult to reconcile with observed reality, which is that urban growth follows a ‘random walk’ process, with large cities more or less equally likely to grow as small cities. (This is often referred to as Ghibrat’s Law.)

In New Zealand, we can see this at work. Auckland has grown faster than most of the rest of the country over the last century (excluding smaller centres close to Auckland), and it’s expected to continue to do so. Canterbury, which contains one of NZ’s two next biggest cities, is also expected to grow rapidly. If models of optimal city size held true, we’d expect Auckland to be at a disadvantage for further growth:

Statistics NZ’s 2013-2043 population growth projections

As Fujita, Krugman and Venables observe in their great book on new economic geography, the idea that urban growth is more or less random is empirically plausible but tends to upend models like the one I’ve described above. Cities, it seems, are not like roads: They can always fit a few more people in without grinding to a halt. Although it is a common trope, there may be no such thing as a city that is “too big”.

Platform 2 Mystery Solved – Better Newmarket Transfers

Back in September I wrote a post on better Newmarket Station Transfers, following up from this & the many comments debating the issue I decided try answer the mystery of Platform 2 once and for all.

EMU Newmarket

On the 22.11.2016 I received a reply to my LGOIMA (Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act) request

Dear Harriet

Thank you for contacting Auckland Transport (AT) on 25 October 2016 requesting the following information: “What is the reason that Platform 2 at Newmarket cannot be used, and has any investigation taken place to better utilise platform 2.”

Auckland Transport can confirm that platform 2 is currently not in use for health and safety reasons related to how the door control system was designed and configured on the current fleet of trains. At present, although the doors can be opened on the right, or left hand side independently, the door close system works on both sides of the train at once, thus closing all bar the Local Door.

In normal circumstances the Train Manager (TM) will open the doors on one side of the train. At the time of departure the TM places a key in the doorway they are operating from. This door then becomes the Local Door and remains open once the TM has ensured that it is safe to do so and has closed all of the other doors on the train. By keeping the Local Door open, the TM is then able to undertake the second, mandatory safety check to ensure that no one is trapped in any of the doors and that it is safe for the train to depart. Once this assurance has been gained the TM can then close their Local Door and give the departure signal to the Driver.

At Newmarket, if the train is standing with the doors open on both sides and the TM is working from their Local Door on Platform 3, once they have undertaken their first safety check on Platform 3, the TM presses the Door Close button from their ‘Local Door’ (which is located on the Platform 3 side of the train) the door system automatically closes all of the doors on both sides of the train, aside from the Local Door.

This means the doors on Platform 2 could potentially close on or trap a customer as no safety check has been made. Additionally, although the TM is able to make the mandatory second safety check on Platform 3, there would be no doors open on the Platform 2 for the TM to ensure that it was safe for the train to depart.

This, of course is not a safe method of operation and is not permitted. This situation has been recognised as an issue by both Auckland Transport and Transdev and thus Platform 2 at Newmarket has never been formally commissioned, is not equipped with Passenger Information Display and is not included within the Transdev Railway Safety Case as an operational platform. AT are working with Transdev, KiwiRail and NZTA to agree a safe method of operating, to support the commissioning of Platform 2.

Any investigations would have to include, but is not limited to:

  1. A review of Departure sequencing from Newmarket.
  2. An understanding of how this may affect Timetable resiliency, Station Dwell Time, and Terminal Congestion.
  3. Signal sighting requirements from P2.
  4. Installation of, and upgrade to, a number of required Signalling and Public.
  5. After these, and other identified requirements have been satisfactorily concluded, Transdev Auckland, would be required to submit a variation to their safety Case for approval from the regulatory bodies. 

We trust the above information has addressed the matters raised however, should you believe that we have not responded appropriately to your request, you have the right in accordance with section 27(3) of the LGOIMA to make a complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman to seek an investigation and review in regard to this matter. If you have any further queries please contact Auckland Transport on 09 355 3553 quoting Official Information request number CAS-432585-S8M8M4.

Yours sincerely Brendon Main Group Manager AT Metro Operation

So what have we learnt, we have learnt that

  1. Doors can be opened on both sides.
  2. That with with the right upgrades & training opening the doors on both sides is perfectly feasible.
  3. That the doors can be opened on just P2 for Northbound Services with even simpler upgrades such as signal sighting and passenger information.

In my post I wrote about opening the doors just on the P2 side for Northbound services, & just for P3 for Eastbound services to allow greater transfer accessibility for those transferring between the Onehunga/Southern & Western Lines, commentators discussed opening the doors on both sides as a solution as well.

How a timed connection at Newmarket could work. The trains already use these routes, it's just a matter of timetabling them to arrive at the station at the same time.

How a timed connection at Newmarket could work. The trains already use these routes, it’s just a matter of timetabling them to arrive at the station at the same time.

What this reply shows us is that both options are feasible, with the option of doors only opening on the side for easiest transfer is very feasible.

I encourage AT/Transdev/Kiwirail to quickly implement either the option I suggested, or the opening on both sides option, as it will make the Network just that little bit better for the users.

Sunday reading 11 December 2016

Welcome back to Sunday reading – the second-to-last edition of the year! Two weeks hence I will be tramping rather than reading and writing things on the internet.

To start things off, here’s a great video on the history of land ownership that nicely illustrates the contentious history of any given place. It’s something I think of occasionally in Auckland: the city’s Maori name, Tamaki Makaurau, alludes to its history as a battleground between iwi from Northland and the Waikato.

This, of course, did not cease when Europeans arrived. In The Spinoff, historian Vincent O’Malley tells the story of how “the great war for New Zealand broke out less than 50km from Queen St“. It’s a sad story of suspicion and greed undermining what could have been a sustained, mutually beneficial partnership between the growing city of Auckland and the Waikato iwi:

Tainui and other iwi developed a thriving economy based on feeding the settlers of Auckland. By the 1850s flour mills were dotted across the Waikato landscape and produce was being exported as far as the goldfields of California and Victoria. Māori were New Zealand’s leading export earners and key contributors to government coffers. Tainui were at the forefront of these developments and most observers in the early 1850s would have found it almost inconceivable that less than a decade later they would stand accused of plotting the imminent massacre of Auckland’s residents.

Those allegations were not only entirely unfounded but also illogical. Destroying the key outlet for their produce would have been suicidal for Tainui. Their wealth and therefore power depended to a large degree on Auckland’s ongoing wellbeing. But how had it even come to pass that they might be accused of such a thing?

For one thing, as settler numbers grew their reliance upon Māori lessened (at the same time that demand for Māori land increased). Lurking Victorian assumptions of racial superiority over ‘native’ peoples began to come to the fore. Great rangatira complained of being racially abused whenever they visited Pākehā townships like Auckland, in contrast to the great hospitality that even lowly Europeans continued to receive from Māori. In 1858 Europeans in New Zealand outnumbered Māori for the first time. And while Pākehā were happy for Māori to feed and defend them, they were not prepared to share the governance of the colony with the chiefs. In 1852 a new constitution for the colony established a parliament (and provincial assemblies) from which Māori were effectively excluded because the right to vote was based on European forms of land tenure.

The Kīngitanga (King movement) was one of the ways in which Māori responded. Despite initial reluctance, in 1858 an elderly Te Wherowhero (now called Pōtatau Te Wherowhero) was raised up as the first king. Some Europeans welcomed this development, seeing it as a positive reform that would improve social order and governance within Māori communities. Others chose to brand it as a challenge to the Crown’s authority. That was a difficult position to sustain given that Queen Victoria was described as “a fence for us all…Maoris and Pakehas” by Wiremu Tamihana (known as the ‘kingmaker’ by Europeans for his role in anointing the new king). Nevertheless, that the Kīngitanga could not be allowed to stand became official Crown policy, paving the way for the invasion of its Waikato heartland in July 1863.

The New Zealand Wars in the 1860s were one of the most significant things to happen to the country. They set our course for the next century – abrogation of the Treaty of Waitangi, massive expansion of European settlement, and a shift in economic and political power from Maori to European settlers.

Yet Pakeha seldom talk about them. For instance, an ancestor of mine was a Land Court judge at Helensville from 1858 to 1875 – a pretty momentous time and place. But my family has passed down very little knowledge of that time. That may just be our lackadaisical approach to oral history, but I get the sense that the country as a whole prefers to ignore the New Zealand Wars. Why is that?

One theory I’ve got is that humans are just intrinsically bad at remembering that things used to be different. I had that thought when reading Tamsin Rutter’s article in the Guardian about Ghent (Belgium)’s successful car-free city centre. A policy that was wildly unpopular prior to introduction is now wildly popular:

One morning in 1997, Frank Beke, the mayor of Ghent, woke up to find he’d been sent a bullet in the post. For the next few weeks Beke wore a bulletproof jacket, while police stood guard outside his house and accompanied him everywhere he went. “I was very anxious for my family,” he says. “I was protected by police but my wife and my children weren’t.”

The culprit was eventually found and arrested – a man who owned a shoe shop in the Belgian city’s medieval centre. His motive? Beke’s plans to pedestrianise the area around his shop.

“It was a rather radical plan to ban all cars from an area of about 35 hectares,” recalls Beke. “With every decision you take, there can be some opposition – but I never expected a bullet, of course.”

There were protests outside Ghent’s city hall: businesses were afraid they’d lose their customers, elderly residents were concerned about being cut off from their children. But Beke stood his ground, and although a few businesses that relied on car access had to move, today the city centre is thriving.

His successor, Daniël Termont, says that if he were now to reintroduce cars into the city centre, he’d be the one wearing a bulletproof jacket. In all, 72% of Ghentians are in favour of Termont’s new plans to expand the pedestrian zone by 15 hectares (a further 17% are neutral).

Change can initially be disconcerting, but once it’s happened people usually get accustomed to it. This can have both positive and negative consequences. For instance, in Foreign Affairs Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Frantz explain how creeping erosion of democratic norms is now a greater threat than coups and revolutions: “How Democracies Fall Apart“:

Post–Cold War populists such as Chávez, Putin, and Erdogan took a slow and steady approach to dismantling democracy. These leaders first come to power through democratic elections and subsequently harness widespread discontent to gradually undermine institutional constraints on their rule, marginalize the opposition, and erode civil society. The playbook is consistent and straightforward: deliberately install loyalists in key positions of power (particularly in the judiciary and security services) and neutralize the media by buying it, legislating against it, and enforcing censorship. This strategy makes it hard to discern when the break with democracy actually occurs, and its insidiousness poses one of the most significant threats to democracy in the twenty-first century.

The steady dismantling of democratic norms and practices by democratically elected leaders, what we call “authoritarianization,” marks a significant change in the way that democracies have historically fallen apart. Data on authoritarian regimes show that until recently, coups have been the primary threats to democracy. From 1946 to 1999, 64 percent of democracies failed because of such insurgencies. In the last decade, however, populist-fueled authoritarianization has been on the rise, accounting for 40 percent of all democratic failures between 2000 and 2010 and matching coups in frequency. If current trends persist, populist-fueled authoritarianization will soon become the most common pathway to autocracy.

Even more disheartening, the slow and gradual nature of populist-fueled democratic backsliding is difficult to counter. Because it is subtle and incremental, there is no single moment that triggers widespread resistance or creates a focal point around which an opposition can coalesce. And in cases in which vocal critics do emerge, populist leaders can easily frame them as “fifth columnists,” “agents of the establishment,” or other provocateurs seeking to destabilize the system. Piecemeal democratic erosion, therefore, typically provokes only fragmented resistance.

As I’ve written before, democracy is important. It’s the best way to ensure that we get a better society over time, and one that remains open and equitable both economically, socially, and culturally. But it needs to be actively safeguarded and improved, rather than taken for granted.

And now for something completely different. London School of Economics scholar Cheng Keat Tang asks: “Do we value the London congestion charge?” He takes a look at the effects of the toll cordon around the London city centre on several metrics:

Effects of the London Congestion Charge

Is the charge effective? My research show that indeed it is. Relying on traffic data at a road level, I find that vehicular flow fell by 6% to 9% after the CC is first introduced in 2003, and 4% to 6% when the WEZ is implemented in 2007. Subsequent hikes, other than the initial increase in charge in 2005 (from £5.00 to £8.00), has a less discernible impact on traffic. This is understandable as marginal increases in the charge are less likely to dissuade drivers from commuting into the zone than its introduction. Commuters are now required to pay £11.50 to drive into the cordoned area when the CC is up. With less driving in the CCZ, air quality has also improved, according to others’ research. The implementation of the CC was associated with a 12 per cent reduction in air pollutants as such PM10 (Particulate Matter) and NO (Nitrogen Oxide) in the zone (Beevers et al. 2005). Roads are also much safer with a decline in accident and casualty counts (Green et al, 2016). The success of the original congestion charge led to the subsequent extension of the congestion charge zone to central west London (WEZ) in 2007 that covers Kensington and Chelsea borough – one of the most expensive and sought after estates in London.

How much do residents value these benefits?

So do homeowners pay for these benefits? To examine this, I restrict the analysis to properties very close to the congestion charge boundary (within 1 kilometre) to exploit the sharp discontinuity in traffic flow induced by the charge between roads just inside the zone and roads just outside (as drivers are deterred from driving into Central London). This ensures that properties in and out of the charged zone are almost similar other than being affected by the charge (or receiving the benefits from improved traffic conditions).

Comparing house price changes before and after the CC is implemented, my findings show that homeowners do pay for these benefits. When the WEZ was implemented, house prices rose by 4 per cent (about £30,000) relative to comparable transactions outside the zone. However, similar price increases did not occur in the original CCZ when it was introduced in 2003.

Another fascinating recent piece of data on transport markets comes courtesy of the Financial Times. Apparently Uber is making significant losses:

For context, cost recovery on Auckland’s public transport network was 48.8% in October 2016 – and Auckland Transport isn’t trying to run the public transport network to make a profit, but instead to achieve other social and economic goals.

Alex Wilhelm (Mattermark) provides further context on the numbers, concluding that:

Self-driving cars aren’t going to drop into the market in time for Uber to improve its operational results before its IPO. In fact, its investments in that area could make its IPO-time results worse by forcing the company to tabulate long-term investments into R&D as short-term cash and stock costs.

Such is the life of a public company.

Uber loses more money than I would have thought, and it has done so at a faster clip than I expected for longer than I anticipated. That said, its growth is impressive. Incredibly so, really.

Here’s the question you need to answer: If Uber’s China exit lowers its operating costs, will investors cheer more the improvement of its margin results, or will they instead worry about reduced potential top line growth?

For what it’s worth, I’m skeptical about the idea that Uber can sustainably increase prices on users even if it does ‘monopolise’ the taxi market. Its strategy seems to depend upon breaking down barriers to entry in the taxi market – ie bypassing or eliminating systems where there are a limited number of permits to operate a cab in a city. If it succeeds in doing so, it will in turn face competition when it tries to increase fares. So the end game is unclear.

On the other hand, one thing that is increasingly clear is that protected cycle lanes save lives. In CityLab, David Dudley reports:

The transformative virtues of protected bike lanes have been the focus of much research lately. A 2014 study from Portland State University determined that segregated bike paths are not only demonstrably safer for riders, they have the power to lure lapsed riders back aboard their bikes. And in a new paper in the American Journal of Public Health, “Safer Cycling Through Improved Infrastructure,” the authors John Pucher and Ralph Buehler demonstrate that those cities that have invested heavily in fully protected bike paths over the last decade or so have reaped the biggest safety improvements and ridership boosts. “It is not simply a matter of expanding bicycle infrastructure,” the authors write. “The specific type of bicycle infrastructure matters. Several studies show the crucial importance of physical separation of cycling facilities from motor vehicle traffic on heavily traveled roads.”

To show how that effect works nationwide, the study authors compared accident statistics and ridership rates from 10 American cities that are “at the vanguard of building physically separated cycling facilities,” says Pucher, a professor emeritus of urban planning at Rutgers University’s Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. In Portland, Oregon, the rate of severe injuries or fatalities per 100,000 trips dropped 72 percent from 2000 to 2015, as the city’s bike network grew by 53 percent and the number of bicycle trips taken by Portlanders climbed a whopping 391 percent. In Minneapolis, the bikeway network grew 113 percent and trips climbed 203 percent while injuries and fatalities dropped 79 percent. Other cities with big safety improvements include New York City (with a 72 percent drop), Chicago (60 percent), Seattle (53 percent), and Washington, D.C. (50 percent). “In all 10 of the cities,” Pucher notes, “the combined number of fatalities and serious injuries … fell sharply compared to the number of daily bike commuters reported by the U.S. Census Bureau in its annual American Community Survey.”

To close, an important comment on the state of economics and policy analysis from Noah Smith: “An econ theory, falsified“:

[Consider] the “Econ 101” theory of the labor market. This is a model we all know very well – it has one labor supply curve and one labor demand curve, one undifferentiated type of labor and one single wage.

OK, so what are some empirical things we know about labor markets? Here are two stylized facts that, while not completely uncontroversial, are pretty one-sided in the literature:

1. A surge of immigration does not have a big immediate negative impact on wages.

2. Modest minimum wage hikes do not have a big immediate negative impact on employment.

[…] The first fact alone does not falsify the Econ 101 theory of labor markets. It could be the case that short-run labor demand is simply very elastic… Since labor demand is elastic, the supply shift from a bunch of immigrants showing up in the labor market doesn’t have a big effect on wages in this picture.

BUT, this is impossible to reconcile with the second stylized fact. If labor demand is very elastic, minimum wage should have big noticeable negative effects on employment … By the same token, if you try to explain the second stylized fact by making both labor supply and demand very inelastic, then you contradict the first stylized fact. You just can’t explain both of these facts at the same time with this theory. It cannot be done.

So the Econ 101 theory of labor supply and labor demand has been falsified. It’s just not a useful theory for explaining labor markets in the short term (the long term might be a different story). It’s not a good approximation. It doesn’t give good qualitative intuition. And it’s especially bad for explaining the market for low-wage labor, which is the market that most of the aforementioned studies concentrate on.

What is a better theory of the labor market? Maybe general equilibrium (which might say that immigration creates its own demand). Maybe a model with imperfect competition (which might say that minimum wage reduces monopsony power). Maybe search and matching theory (which might say that frictions make all short-term effects pretty small). Maybe a theory with very heterogeneous types of labor. Maybe something else.

Assignment for the summer holidays: Consider what it would mean if your simple theory of the world didn’t hold true?

Smaller Consultations – December

Recently I noticed that AT often do smaller online consultations all the time, as far as I know these are not shared widely. As a result I have decided to do a post every now and again on all the small consultations that are happening giving people the opportunity to share their thoughts with AT from Crossings to Bus Lanes to Parking. The ones to look out for below are the Mt Eden Road Bus Lanes and the pedestrian improvement consultations.

Please take a look through and complete the AT online consultation forms where you can, also don’t forget to consult on the three major cycle consultations in Westhaven, Herne Bay & Parnell talked about on the blog here, as well as the Mt Albert Consultation where cycle lanes are being proposed to be removed from the plan as discussed on the blog here.

Consultations that interested me

  • Mt Eden Rd bus network improvements – Proposal to add Bus Lanes on Mt Eden Road from Roskill Way to Grahame Breed Drive, the New Bus Lanes + some existing ones would be 7-10 & 4-7 from Roskill Way to Mt Albert Road, two signalised crossings will be added for pedestrians & bus stops improved by changing the position and length of some. Closes 18.12.2016
  • Meadowbank Rd and Manapau St – intersection upgrade – Proposal to upgrade the intersection by narrowing the intersection, adding a refuge island, and adding no stopping restrictions. Closes 16.12.2016
  • Ladies Mile, Ellerslie – pedestrian crossing improvements – Adds new footpath, a raise crossing across Ladies Mile nearish the Town Centre & adds some no stopping restrictions. This is my area, personally I think the crossing needs to be at the end as that would better assist those crossing in the Town Centre & another one needs to be added across Main Highway for safer access to the Buses & Train Station. Closes 15.12.2016
  • Hayr Road, Three Kings – pedestrian crossing improvements – Proposal to improve crossing. Closes 15.12.2016
  • Eaglehurst Road, Ranier St, Laud Ave and Gavin Street, Ellerslie – local area traffic management – Proposal to add speed tables & install new speed humps due to complaints of speeding. Closes 13.12.2016
  • View Road, Mt Eden – Pedestrian crossing and intersection improvements – Proposal for Pedestrian Improvements on View Road. Closes 14.12.2016


North Shore Consultations


Central Consultations


West Auckland Consultations


South Auckland Consultations