An Essential Transport Budget for Auckland

Guest Post by Ryan Mearns, Generation Zero

As we outlined yesterday Auckland Council’s transport budget options in the Long Term Plan offered a false choice. Build everything in the Auckland Plan Network at the cost of finding an extra $300 million a year in alternative funding, or delay important public transport improvements and the city cycling network in the Basic Network Plan. The obvious middle ground would be to prioritise the projects that deliver public transport and cycling improvements, and delay non-essential projects to save money.

That’s the reason why we have come up with an alternative budget. Our Essential Transport Budget (ETB) proposes Auckland Council prioritise the essential public transport, walking and cycling projects in the Auckland Plan Network in the 2015-2025 Long Term Plan. By prioritising only the essential transport projects from the Auckland Plan budget, the Essential Transport Budget saves ratepayers $220 million a year over the next 10 years.

The Essential Transport Budget proposes spending $7.7 billion over next 10 years, $2.5 billion less than Auckland Council’s Auckland Plan Network ($10.3 billion). This reduces the $300 million a year Auckland Council is attempting to raise through alternative funding to only $80 million a year. At the core of the ETB is a commitment to prioritise public transport and cycling projects, and delay non-essential roading projects such as Lincoln Road and Mill Road. This will ensure we start building the building blocks of a turn up and go congestion free public transport network. Over the first 3 years of the ETB walking and cycling would receive $114 million and public transport improvements would receive $621.1 million.



The Essential Transport Budget would allow Auckland to pursue a number of transformational projects over the next 3 years that would be delayed by 5 years and overall funding reduced if we went with the Basic Transport Network:

Buses: The ETB includes funds all of the infrastructure necessary to roll out Auckland’s totally redesigned bus network over the next 3 years which significantly increases the number of frequent services across the city. A number of interchanges are required such as at Otahuhu and Manukau to facilitate bus-rail and bus-bus transfers before Auckland Transport can roll out the southern New Network. The ETB also includes funding for Auckland Transport’s plan to roll out at least 40km of new bus lanes over the next 3 years, which should reduce journey times and improve reliability on on our busiest bus corridors. Busways are also included in the ETB, with work funded to start on the city centre busways, AMETI busways to Pakuranga and Botany, and Te Atatu station which will be the first major part of the North-Western busway.

New FTN Network

Cycling: The ETB includes a tripling of the cycling budget to over $30 million per year. This should finally allow Auckland to make significant progress on build a safe, separated regional cycling network. This $30 million will be further increased when paired with the government’s urban cycling investment panel. Key beneficiaries of this are likely to be the city centre cycleways such as Karangahape Road, which should be able to be fast-tracked with this extra money.

City Centre Priority routes

Rail and Ferry: The ETB includes funding for upgrades of the remaining substandard railway stations such as Takanini and Pukekohe, and upgrades to suburban terminals at Devonport, Half-Moon Bay, Bayswater and Northcote. It also allows for funding of major works at the Downtown Ferry terminal to reduce congestion at peak times, and allow for improvements in ferry frequency.

The Essential Transport Budget accepts the Basic Transport Network as a base budget to work from, and adds the most essential projects from the Auckland Plan. The Basic plan has already been significantly prioritized by Auckland Transport, so there is little further waste we can identify. Importantly the Basic Transport Network includes funding for the City Rail Link, including enabling works starting later this year. Significant portions of the spending on the Basic Network are made up of ‘Renewals’ funding, which is required simply to maintain Auckland’s 7900km local road network in an acceptable condition. This accounts for nearly $2.5 billion over 10 years in both the Basic and Essential budgets, and accounts for nearly 1/3 of the total spending even in the ETB. There are also a number of already committed projects such as the Albany Highway upgrade, roading associated with the North-Western transformation, as well as general operational spend in areas like IT that our Essential Transport Budget has included.

Auckland’s transport budget needs a significant change in direction to both deliver a city that is well prepared for both the opportunities and challenges of the future. Both of the options presented by the Auckland Council as part of the Long Term Plan consultation fail to meet this standard. The Basic Plan under invests in key infrastructure needed to transform our city, such as rebuilding our bus services; upgrading rail, bus and ferry interchanges and building a safe, separated cycling network. The Auckland Plan builds the infrastructure required, however it also builds a large amount of extra roading projects that have no strategic purpose, apart from desperately trying to ‘solve’ congestion. Therefore it comes at a very high cost, at an extra $300 million a year more than the funding available.

The Essential Transport Network we have presented focusses on building just the important infrastructure we need to fix our cities problems, which saves us $220 million per year compared the Auckland Plan. This also significantly reduces the burden of alternative funding, and opens up more possibilities for innovative funding to fill our budget gap in the shorter term while agreement is gained from the government.

Please visit for more information, including detailed project lists. A detailed report of our proposal is available here. Further blogs will be coming in the next few days, including more detail around projects included and excluded, and detail around funding options. We will also be launching a quick submission form in the next few days so people can easily submit in favour of our plan to the the Long Term Plan feedback. 


Why we need an Essential Budget

Guest Post from Ryan Mearns, Generation Zero Auckland

For nearly 50 years from the early 1950’s Auckland invested solely in roads, and especially motorways, with all other transport modes being totally ignored. This one sided level of investment was not seen in Australian cities, who invested in mass transit alongside new motorways. From the early 2000’s we finally started to invest in public transport with the opening of Britomart, the Northern Busway and rail electrification. This has shown huge dividends with this high quality rapid public transport largely being responsible for the big patronage gains we have seen.

2015-01 - Total Patronage

However the core bus network is inefficient, confusing and unnecessarily duplicates the rail network. Buses also often lack dedicated lanes so are stuck in the same congestion as single occupant vehicles, which means their is little incentive to catch a bus, buses are unreliable and operations are inefficient as lots of buses as needed to run the slow services.

The 50 years of sole investment in roads has also left our streets designed purely for the movement of cars, ignoring the needs of people who want to walk, ride a bicycle or use mobility aids for local trips. This has resulted in cycling only having a 1% mode share for all trips, and 49% of children being driven to school.

We are now aware of variety of significant trends that affect transport in particular. Public transport patronage has continued to grow quickly, while it has become clear that the level of driving is unlikely to return to the highs of the mid 2000’s. Changing trends are also especially notable for younger people, with teenagers delaying getting their drivers licences, and more people choosing to live without a car, especially in inner suburbs. As this generation grow up, we must ensure we build a city that matches their transport preferences, not transport preferences of previous generations.

However the Long Term Plan has presented us with a false choice between two budgets, the Basic Network and the Auckland Plan Network. Both of these have significant issues.

Basic Network

The Basic Plan Network includes only projects which can be funded from existing sources such as rates, other council income and subsidies from government. This represents a 25% reduction in funding compared to what was planned in the previous Long Term Plan.

The Basic Plan includes some projects that are important for the transformation of our city, including enabling works for the City Rail Link starting in late 2015, and the main works starting between 2017 and 2020, dependent on funding negotiations with central government.

It also includes a number of committed projects which are already under construction, or required as part of previously agreed funding commitments.

However there is a major funding squeeze placed on important transport projects, and this is especially stark in the first 3 years of the Basic Plan.

Cycling: There is almost no money included for new cycling projects for the first 3 years of the plan, with the only exception being the Waterview cycleway which was required as mitigation for the Waterview Connection project.

Buses: The Basic Transport Plan would result in the full roll-out of the new bus network being delayed a further 5 years, until 2021, as new interchanges at locations such as Otahuhu are required to allow connections between buses and trains. Similarly Auckland Transport’s plans to roll out 40 kilometres of new bus lanes over the next 3 years will be postponed. Both these bus improvements will means commuters will be stuck with inefficient and frustratingly slow bus services for several mores years. This will be significant drag on public transport patronage, as well as costing Auckland Transport money from higher operating costs and low fare revenue.

Rail: The Basic Transport plan delays upgrades of the remaining poor quality railway stations, which means commuters will be stuck with substandard facilities for years to come, again stalling patronage growth. Grade separation is also excluded from the Basic Plan, so this will lead to more dangerous incidents at our level crossings as rail frequencies increase of the next several years. This also has the potential to restrict peak frequency on the Western Line.

Ferry: The Basic Plan delays upgrades to Ferry terminals, including the congested Downtown ferry terminal. This will means commuters are stuck with substandard facilities, and increases to peak services will be restricted, again affecting patronage.


Auckland Plan

The Auckland Plan was confirmed in 2012 as the spatial plan for the new Auckland Council. While it set out a 30 year vision for Auckland, it also failed to make hard decisions around prioritisation of transport projects, and called for a very high level of continued transport investment across all modes. In the short term it also carried on with a significant number of legacy projects that local councils had been investigating, even if these were unaffordable.

The Auckland Plan budget continues the issues seen in the 2012 Auckland Plan, and once again Auckland Council and Auckland Transport have failed to set a strategic direction for the future of Auckland.

The Auckland Plan includes significant investment in public transport such as City Rail Link enabling works and interchanges to allow reorganisation of the bus network. It also invests in the tripling of the cycling budget. However at the same time there is still a large number of business as usual roading projects, designed in a vain effort of ‘solve’ traffic congestion. However Auckland has been pursuing these projects for 50 years, and they have not solved congestion, and they often make congestion across the city worse, not better.

This attempt of the Auckland Plan to fund all possible transport solutions means it comes at a very high cost, around $300 million a year more that funding available from existing income such as rates and NZTA subsidies. This has led to the Auckland Plan requiring significant alternative funding from extensive motorway tolling, or further rates rises and fuel taxes. These alternative funding plans as currently proposed will heap high costs onto vulnerable families due to the current poor state of alternative transport modes across wide areas of Auckland. This is especially true of road tolling where in some areas such as along the North-Western Motorway and the Manukau Harbour Crossing there are no local road alternatives.

The Essential Budget

These significant failings have led Generation Zero and other advocacy groups to come up with an alternative we have titled the ‘Essential Budget’. This will be previewed at tonights Auckland Conversations event, and the full details will be launched tomorrow.

Sunday reading 22 February 2015

Every week we read more than we can write about on the blog. To avoid letting good commentary and research fall by the wayside, we’re going to publish weekly excerpts from what we’ve been reading.

Deborah Snoonian Glenn, “Want your city to thrive? Look to its trees“, Citylab:

“Our trees provide measurable environmental and economic benefits year after year,” says Charles Herbertson, city engineer and director of public works. “It’s hard to imagine this area without the wonderful collection we have. People move here for the old-growth trees.”


Culver City’s efforts follow similar moves in nearby Santa Monica as well as in larger cities such as Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Tampa. Increasingly, cities have recognized that trees provide not only environmental benefits and curb appeal—they’re also good for business.

Peter H, “Greenwood St Industrial Area doesn’t need parking requirements“, Hamilton Urban Blog:

Prior to the 1960s, Hamilton city’s car parking was based on property owners’ willingness to supply and car owners’ willingness to pay (parking space being real estate). This is a free market-based approach shaped by supply and demand of storage space, which can be found in places like Japan and Germany according to this Blog site: Reinventing parking: which cities have abolished parking


From the 20-odd surveys, parking demand could be close to 4 per 100m2 for some and below 1 per 100m2 for many (does anyone have access to these surveys?). This tell us what we already know and illustrates why it is not normal to just predict and provide for the very fast-changing manufacturing industries, “because of the significant variations in the extent to which differing manufacturing processes are labour or capital intensive.” (Page55 NZTA reports 374)

Forgotten NZ, “Symonds St Cemetery“:

Symonds Street Cemetery, Auckland’s oldest graveyard, opened in 1842 and full of forgotten souls and a disturbing history… Some are long forgotten here for the more typical reasons such as lost or stolen markers, vandalism, tombstone decay or the fact that they never had/could afford a grave marker in the first place, but more so for the reason that the large Catholic section of the cemetery was dug up in the 1960s to make way for the motorway that many Aucklanders now drive over daily.  Not only were the bodies exhumed from this area, many of the original marble and sandstone headstones and ornate statues were actually used as motorway filler (somehow this was okay with Auckland residents at the time, or the Council did as it so pleased and any objections were ignored)…

Richard Florida, “A new index to measure sprawl gives high marks to Los Angeles“, Citylab:

Laidley points out that the metros that saw the least sprawl—those that actually grew denser—are ones that have their outward growth limited by so-called “growth control” policies. Oregon, one of the first states to introduce metropolitan growth boundaries, has two metros in the top 10: Salem and Portland. Honolulu, Santa Barbara and Seattle also have their outward growth limited by growth control policies.

Many of the metros that saw the most sprawl are older Rustbelt communities that have suffered from deindustrialization, job loss and population decline, such as Detroit, Flint, Cleveland, Toledo and, perhaps surprisingly, Chicago. These metros are locked in a troubling syndrome of outward expansion without economic or population growth.


But what is the connection between sprawl and economic and social outcomes? To get at this, Laidley conducts a series of statistical analyses (including bivariate correlations, multivariate regression analysis and more sophisticated fixed-effects models) to better gauge the connection between sprawl and phenomena like hazardous pollution, carbon emissions and housing affordability. Using regression analyses, he finds that:

For every 10 percent increase in sprawl, there is an approximately 5.7 percent increase in per capita carbon emissions, a 9.6 percent increase in per capita hazardous pollution, and a 4.1 percent and 2.9 percent reduction in the owner and renter housing affordability index, respectively.

Richard Easther, “A turning lane as lovely as a tree?“,

Since Auckland Transport’s argument for felling the trees hinges on traffic models, I was keen to take a look at the modelling they used to settle on their “preferred option”. Either my google-fu is weak or the detailed models are not in the public domain. That said, digging into the paperwork, I found “Appendix H“, reviewing the analyses performed by Auckland Transport and its contractors, written by Leo Hills, an independent traffic engineer.

The first thing that struck me is that Appendix H is a tepid document. Its tone reminded me of an examiner’s report for a thesis whose author has done the bare minimum to get by: the student may pass, but no-one involved will be proud. (Except possibly the student, of course.) It damns Auckland Transport’s analyses with faint praise, queries the reasoning behind their choices, and points out that almost identical results could be obtained without removing the trees.

In other words, an independent analysis of Auckland Transport’s own modelling comes well short of giving it a ringing endorsement.

Claire Martin, “When the parking space becomes a park“, New York Times:

They started an experiment. In a stretch of downtown San Francisco that lacked greenery, they found an empty parking space, rolled out a patch of grass turf and set up a park bench and a potted tree. They put up a sign that read, “If you’d like to enjoy this little park, please put some coins in the meter.” Then they went across the street to watch.

The land next to a parking spot, Mr. Bela says, probably rented for a couple of hundred dollars a square foot per year, “but you could rent this little piece of land, 200 square feet, in downtown San Francisco for a couple dollars an hour.”

Mr. Bela and the others saw a pedestrian wander into the spot, put money in the meter and sit on a bench. Soon another sauntered in, and the two struck up a conversation. Just like that, the exercise was a success. Without much effort or expense, the parking spot had been transformed into a mini-park.

And finally, make sure to take a look at this fantastic video from Brussels, which shows just how many barriers we throw up into the path of people on bikes:

The most accurate car commercial

This is possibly the best, or at least most accurate car commercial ever. It was obviously intended to show the company cares about people but really shows just how much space we dedicate to the movement of vehicles. It’s from 2003.

H/T Modacity

Sunday reading 15 February 2015

Every week we read more than we can write about on the blog. To avoid letting good commentary and research fall by the wayside, we’re going to publish weekly excerpts from what we’ve been reading.

Brian Fallow, “Key dodges funding issue“, The New Zealand Herald.

One of the problems with the reliance on a property tax for half of local government’s revenue (on average nationwide) is that the twin trends of an ageing population and declining home ownership mean a growing proportion of ratepayers will be elderly, with limited income growth from which to pay ever-rising rates bills.

Elisabeth Easter, “Auckland: Seven secret cycleways”, The New Zealand Herald.

Slowly but surely, Auckland is becoming a city for cyclists.

Thanks to the good people of Auckland Transport, a series of easy rides (mostly all off-road) have been identified as Great Auckland Rides, explained by individual “passports” downloadable from their website.

Via Copenhagenize.

Adam Hengels, “Only Two Ways to Fight Gentrification (you’re not going to like one of them)”. Market Urbanism.

When considering gentrification, we must accept the fact that rich people don’t just vaporize by prohibiting the creation of housing for them.  If housing desires cannot be met in upscale neighborhoods, the wealthy can and will outbid less affluent people elsewhere.  With that in mind, there are only 2 solutions to stem the tide of gentrification.  The first solution is widespread liberalization of zoning.  This is particularly needed in already desirable locations where incumbent residents have effectively depopulated their neighborhoods over several decades.  The only other solution is to eradicate rich people altogether. This, I hope, is not what people have in mind when they declare class war.

Inspired (to put it mildly) by Copenhagenize, here’s a local interpretation for K Road.



Steve Mouzon, “Cheapways” (the thoroughfare formerly known as the Freeway), Original Green. Mouzon describes the destructive nature of urban highways. This post and others from his “Sprawl Series” inspired numerous TransportBlog posts including “Proximity and Integration (The Metropolitan Revolution)”.

It is so named because it has likely destroyed over a trillion of dollars of real estate value around it in the US and drains municipal coffers across the country of billions in property taxes and sales tax revenues. As a matter of fact, most Cheapways destroy substantially more real estate value than the several-million-per-mile that it costs to construct them.

Cheapways were originally built to allow people to move to sprawling suburbs but work in the city. City-dwellers don’t need them to get to their jobs downtown, of course, because they’re living there already. So make no mistake: Cheapways weren’t built for the city, but for the sprawling suburbs.


Steve Pearlstein, “Debunking the conventional wisdom about conventions”, The Washington Post.

Washington finally has a great new (tax-subsidized) convention hotel to go along with its great new (subsidized) downtown convention center. The glass-and-steel building is about as light and inviting as a 1,175-room hotel can be. With the completion of the Marriott Marquis, Washington is now positioned to compete for more and bigger national meetings and conventions.

Unfortunately, in the hypercompetitive world of (subsidized) conventions, there is never a good time to rest on your laurels.

Before long, local boosters will join with the Convention Industrial Complex (CIC) to try to convince us that our billion-dollar investment will all be for naught if we don’t pony up more public funds to expand the existing facilities so that we can go toe to toe with Chicago and Vegas or keep up with the competition from San Diego and Nashville. That’s already happening in Boston, one of Washington’s big rivals, where the Massachusetts legislature has just approved $1.1 billion in additional financing for convention center expansion. And it’s only a matter of time before it happens here again.

Angie Schmitt, “Are Engineers Allowed to Speak Up for Reforming Their Profession?”, Streetsblog Network. Chuck Marohn of Strongtowns who coined the term STROADS and created the brilliant “Conversation with an Engineer” recently had his professional license challenged by a fellow engineer.

The charges were quickly dismissed by the Minnesota licensing board, but the incident has raised questions about engineers’ freedom to speak openly for reform and challenge institutional dogma.

Marohn’s message is often critical of the American Society of Civil Engineers, arguing that spending less on infrastructure would lead to smarter long-term decisions. The challenge was put forward by Jeffrey Peltola, a fellow engineer who is active in the MoveMN campaign to increase taxes for transportation spending in Minnesota. Marohn has been an outspoken critic of the group.

Upcoming seminar: New ideas in economic evaluation

Next Tuesday, the Government Economics Network and Auckland Council are hosting a seminar entitled “Economic evaluation in Auckland – new ideas and challenges“. It’s on a topic that I personally find very interesting – some readers may also be keen:

Estimating the economic impact of transport interventions using the Gross Value Added approach.

Current transport appraisal methods, with their focus on the economic welfare benefits and costs of transport investment, are well grounded in theory and widely used. However, these methods do not provide estimates of extra Gross Domestic Product and extra jobs, nor the spatial distribution of any economic gains and losses. Gross Value Added (GVA) models, have recently applied in the United Kingdom and the United States to account for some of these effects.

In this presentation, Anthony Byett, outlines the results of NZTA-commissioned research on the development of a GVA model for New Zealand. The research uses 2001 and 2006 census data from the 72 sub-national territories, and applies the model to a proposed additional Waitematā Harbour crossing. Promisingly, the model reveals productivity gains from local agglomeration and points to some productivity gains from wider connectivity as well. However, the building and use of the model also reveals shortcomings with the measurement of effective densities and the ability to reach inferences about regional distribution. Nonetheless, the model did prove insightful in highlighting where the benefits of another harbour crossing will likely lie.

Economic evaluation and Cost Benefit Analysis: Implications for practitioners, government agencies and Auckland Council.

Chris Parker, Auckland Council’s recently appointed Chief Economist, will reflect on recent developments in economic evaluation, including the NZTA research using the Gross Value added approach, and discuss some of the implications for practitioners, government agencies and Auckland Council.

The two speakers promise to be pretty interesting. Anthony Byett has led some pretty interesting work into the productivity of road networks. Chris Parker has just been appointed as the Council’s new Chief Economist following on quite a bit of work in transport appraisal at consultancy NZIER.

The seminar is being held at the Council Chambers in the Auckland Town Hall from 1pm to 2:30pm on Tuesday 17 February. You can RSVP at the GEN website.

Ports of Auckland vehicle needs

Postscript: I adopted a fairly cautious tone when I wrote this post, as I hadn’t really had a chance to go back and check my thesis modelling and see how my results compared to NZIER’s. Now I have, and my (rather mechanical) modelling shows 155,000-190,000 vehicles imported into the country each year, based on typical assumptions around population growth and vehicle scrapping. Even using more bold scrapping assumptions, there’s still only up to around 210,000 vehicles a year. As such, I believe that NZIER’s forecasts are very high – definitely “at the upper end”. I imagine they got there by assuming that “vehicles per capita” continue to increase well into the future, which seems unlikely.

NZIER have published a report for Ports of Auckland Ltd (POAL), claiming that the port will eventually run into capacity constraints and that it’s important to plan for expansion now. I don’t necessarily disagree with that conclusion. However, one of the forecasts in the report looks quite bullish, and that’s the number of “light vehicles” (vehicles under 3.5 tonnes) that will be imported into the future.

It’s an important forecast, since the report notes that vehicle imports make up 45% of POAL’s imports by weight, and no doubt more than that in terms of space taken up, time to process and so on. “The dominance of vehicle imports for POAL is suggestive that these are a key driver of any capacity constraints… [and they] need to be temporarily parked for processing using wharf space”.

NZIER predict that vehicle imports will rise well above historical levels in the 2020s and 2030s:

Light vehicle imports have grown rapidly since 2010. Growth has been supported by the replacement of ageing vehicles that some people deferred in the recession and a high exchange rate. Light vehicle imports have already exceeded the forecast for 2041 made in the PwC upper North Island port study (2012b). They are projected to increase by between 19% to 46% by 2025 and to continue to grow over our forecast period with ups and downs reflecting natural replacement cycles in the vehicle fleet (see Figure 5).Import forecasts

The upper bound projection in Figure 5 assumes POAL maintains its current market share and the lower bound assumes its average market share since 2007. Vehicle imports are heavily concentrated in POAL (around 90% of vehicle imports). This reflects the fact that Auckland is New Zealand’s major market and the focal point of vehicle wholesaling, refurbishment and distribution. This is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

So, there isn’t really any of what we call “sensitivity testing” here – NZIER presumably make a single forecast for the total number of vehicles being imported into New Zealand, and then take a higher percentage (the red line) or a lower percentage (the blue line) which is assumed to be Auckland’s share of those vehicles.

Incidentally, here’s what the historical trend looks like for the whole of New Zealand, based on data from NZTA:

Historical imports

We can see here that vehicle registrations (pretty much identical to imports) were close to an all-time high in 2014, having previously reached this level in the heady days of 2003-2005. As NZIER note, there was a strong recovery from 2010 onwards, following a major dip in the recession/ GFC years.

I should also note that the actual figure for 2014 was higher than the NZIER forecast (they predict around 180,000, whereas the actual for NZ was around 260,000, and 90% of that would be 230,000 for POAL). So that figure at least is conservative.

What are the assumptions that go into this model?

The econometric model used to create our forecast takes into account:

  • The ageing of the light vehicle fleet, including scrapping or retirement of vehicles
  • Population growth, including taking into account net migration
  • The propensity of different age cohorts to purchase vehicles (revealed preferences of households)
  • The effect of increasing incomes as gross domestic product grows
  • City density and public transport use (these can reduce car use, and potentially car ownership in some instances).

The first bullet point is an important one, and scrapping is hard to predict – it was very low in 2014, for example, despite plenty of new cars being added to the fleet. Many cars in NZ were made around 1996 – often imported second-hand in the early 2000s – and those are getting to the end of their lives. Will they all be replaced, and with new cars or used imports?. This is a source of uncertainty for any forecasts, and could be explored with different scenarios. My own feeling is that some of these cars won’t be replaced; we could very well be looking at “vehicle saturation”, and this could lead to lower vehicle imports.

The number of “vehicles per household” has tended to increase in the past, and NZIER note that “vehicles per household increased 0.1% per annum between 2006 and 2013, despite a very sluggish economy and medium household income growth of only 0.6%”.

Figure 7 shows that vehicle ownership rates across New Zealand are back on the rise as the economy recovers. Ownership rates relative to the population fell during the global financial crisis as people put off major purchases, but have begun to grow again. Vehicle ownership trends are a good indicator of demand for vehicle imports.

Vehicle ownership

But the concept of vehicle saturation – a tailing off in cars per household (or per person, or however you want to measure it) is well established now, being observed in most OECD countries. The number of vehicles per household has now stabilised, or is even falling, in many countries.

I should also note that NZ already has more vehicles per household than almost every other country in the world, with the exception of the US and a couple of others. And what’s happening in the US? From this link, which we’ve covered in previous posts:


Anyway, I certainly don’t have an issue with the port’s need to plan ahead, figure out how much capacity it needs and future proof its ability to provide that capacity. That’s all fine, and the potential effects on other harbour users can be debated by the council and Aucklanders. But forecasts like this are quite uncertain – they depend on the assumptions you put in, including things like what fraction of cars entering the fleet are going to be new and how long they’ll last, and how many cars households will want. There should be some exploration of the uncertainties around them, and ideally a range of possibilities should be discussed. This forecast is just one possible outcome, and it seems to be at the upper end. If that’s the case, then it probably makes the port’s situation look a bit more urgent than the reality.

Auckland’s mass grave

Not many people realise this but there is a mass grave in central Auckland, the final resting place of hundreds of our city’s pioneers. Folks using the new Grafton Cycleway might have caught a glimpse of this as they ride past:


Theses pioneers weren’t buried in a mass grave however, they were all respected and beloved family members who were laid to rest in their own graves. So why did they come to share a communal concrete sarcophagus tucked up the back of Auckland’s most neglected cemetery? Because motorways.

In the late 50s transport planners decided to build Spaghetti Junction right through Newton and Grafton, and the original resting place of these folks presented an convenient route for the motorway. You see the graveyard at K Rd and Symonds St used to stretch all the way back to St Benedicts St… in fact it was the graveyard of St Benedicts Church. So standing here on the cycleway, the cemetery behind you belongs to that church all the way over there:


Everything in between used to be a cemetery, or more like what they call a memorial park today. According to the Historic Places Register, some 4,100 graves were dug up from the path of the motorway and relocated en masse to two sites. One is the concrete box up the back of K’ Rd, the other I have no idea. Does anyone else know?

If you’re like me you probably assumed that the motorways ringing Auckland central were intentionally located into the steep, unused gullies that ring the city. At least this is what I used to think, until a little snooping revealed most of these gullies are man made, huge cuts carved out of level ground in the 60s for the motorways to run though. In the picture above the great trench never used to be there, as we can see below it used to be more or less flat and level. In this aerial the full graveyard can be seen at the bottom, K’ Rd runs across the middle, with St Benedicts Church just visible at the bottom left. While K’ Rd has always been on the ridgeline, the broad severing trench of the Central Motorway Junction is clearly a recent creation.

whites aerial

All a bit sad really, these old photos show what great fine-grained urban fabric we used to have in this part of town. Now the whole lot is sliced up and separated. In this picture we can see five or six streets running between Karangahape Rd and Eden Terrace, between Newton Rd and Symonds St. Today we have just one. I can’t help but think all our traffic and transport problems in this area are of our own device.

Anyway, to finish here is a shot of the rest of the cemetery, which is actually quite lovely in the right light. I wonder if we can’t tidy it up a bit and link it through to the cycleway and Symonds St better?




Development update: February 2015

Today, we’ve launched the new RCG Development Tracker page – up and running now, so take a look. The aim is for this to be the most comprehensive source of public data on developments in New Zealand, updated every month. It covers apartments and terraces, as well as hotel, retail, office and retirement village projects. In this post, though, I’ll just look at the residential sector.

You only have to look around Auckland to see that there’s a lot of development activity happening at the moment. Some projects, like the Turing Building, have been completed and residents are now settling in (and the much larger Sugartree Prima building isn’t far behind). Cranes are up for Urba Residences, The Boutique and more, and piling is going in at 88 Broadway. A sales office is currently being built at Wynyard Quarter, for apartments there.

There are many more apartments and terraces being planned, or considered, and the Auckland Council hopes to get thousands more in its Special Housing Areas. All up, we’re now tracking more than 28,000 units in Auckland. That’s just for apartment and terrace-led developments – we won’t be covering traditional subdivisions here.

However, it’s important to give this some context. Some of the projects currently being proposed won’t ever be built; developers will go under, pre-sales won’t be as high as expected, or ideas will be shelved to wait for more favourable conditions. There are already a few projects that seem to have dropped off the radar, although they’ve been replaced with others.

As such, it’s useful to look at building consent statistics. These give us a better idea of how much building will actually take place in the near future. Take apartments, for example: the building consent figures in 2014 were the highest since 2005, and this year seems likely to go even higher.

Auckland Apartment Consents

Stats like this show that it’s a busy summer for builders around Auckland and New Zealand, with a large number of projects on the go.

There’s more to come, too: 2,462 apartments and terraces are currently under construction, and there’s about the same number again which are being sold or marketed.

Development pie chart

Sunday reading 8 February 2015

Every week we read more than we can write about on the blog. To avoid letting good commentary and research fall by the wayside, we’re going to publish weekly excerpts from what we’ve been reading.

Jennifer Kent, “Higher-density living can make us healthier, but not on its own“, The Conversation:

There are potential health benefits associated with higher-density living, but these benefits depend on several other variables. A review commissioned by the Heart Foundation identified three key factors.

First is the quality of infrastructure in the surrounding neighbourhood and region. Higher-density housing needs to be situated among public transport networks, jobs, schools, shops, services, open space and active transport infrastructure.

Second is the quality of construction and management of the homes themselves. It has been far too easy in Australia to provide higher-density housing that is poorly sited, badly built, and ineptly managed. It is also far too easy to forget that density means diversity – it includes detached and semi-detached housing, townhouses, low- and mid-rise apartment buildings, as well as high-rise.

Third is the social and cultural make-up of the community that is living in higher-density places. We mentioned that healthy built environments need people to make them work, and people are sometimes frustratingly brilliant in their diversity. Indeed, success depends on the capacity of new and existing communities to adapt to different ways of living, working, travelling and socialising. This makes it difficult to make realistic generalisations about the impact of density on human health.

Barnaby Bennett, James Dann, Emma Johnson, and Ryan Reynolds, Once in a lifetime: unofficial versions, Public Address. This is an excerpt from a recent book on the Canterbury earthquakes and slow rebuild:

It began with a sharp jolt at 4:37 a.m. on 4 September 2010. Radio New Zealand shifted to their emergency broadcast (which unfortunately was the Beach Boys’ song Good Vibrations) and a collective thought emerged from New Zealanders that would be repeated endlessly over the next few years: ‘Christchurch isn’t supposed to have big earthquakes.’

When dawn rose and the dust settled after this first quake in September, it felt like a bullet had been dodged. The damage was significant; buildings were evacuated; there was talk of widespread demolition. Yet somehow, almost magically, no one was killed.

The quake altered the political landscape, and the previously unpopular mayor Bob Parker surged to a second term in the November local body elections. Local MP and Minister Gerry Brownlee was given the new role of Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery (CER), and Parliament passed the first version of the CER legislation to enable a coordinated response to the destruction. Little did these leaders or the people of Christchurch know what was still to come.

Press Association (UK), “More people cycling in London than ever before“, The Guardian:

Record numbers of cyclists are pedalling their way around the capital, according to Transport for London (TfL), which said cycling levels were 10% higher in the three months to December than in the same quarter in 2013, and were the highest since records began in 2000. By the end of 2014/15, TfL forecasts a 12% rise from the previous financial year.

Last year was also a record for the number of hires from London’s cycle hire scheme, with more than 10m journeys made – up 5% on 2012 (the previous highest year) and 25% on 2013.

The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: “Last week I announced my final intentions for the new east-west and north-south superhighways. These amazing numbers show how cyclists are becoming ubiquitous in London and prove, if further proof were needed, why we need to crack on with catering for them. Barclays Cycle Hire continues to grow in popularity and there can be no doubt that our trusty bicycles have changed the way people get around our great city.”

Anne Gibson, “Wellington factory set to pump out prefab homes“, NZ Herald:

New Zealand’s first factory turning out finished houses has opened in Wellington, aiming to produce up to 500 places annually.

Sean Murrie, Matrix Homes chief executive and director, said Finance Minister Bill English yesterday opened the 8000sq m Trentham factory in the former General Motors assembly plant.

“People are building components of houses, then assembling them on the site. But the whole thing here is we’re turning fully finished houses with code compliance certificates,” Murrie said. […]

Module costs

• $89,000: 51sq m, one bedroom.

• $99,000: 70sq m, two bedrooms.

• $195,000: 140sq m, 4 bedroom, 2 bathrooms.

• Transport costs: $10,000 in Wellington, $20,000 in Auckland.

• Piles are included in Wellington transport costs but not in Auckland. Pile costs for Auckland are an extra $3000.

Worldbuilding Stack Exchange, “Why would people in 500+ years be using waterways for transport?” Some top answers:

Today we ship by water. 500 years ago we shipped by water. 500 years before that we shipped by water. 500 years before that we shipped by water. Its a good bet 500 years from now we still will. –  GrandmasterB answered Feb 2 at 21:03

We’d send things by ship for the same reason we do today. It’s cheap. It’s not likely that individuals, corporations, or governments of the future would not be motivated by the cost savings associated with transport by ship.

Unless there is some magical energy source in the future that makes energy free, or nearly free, in terms of monetary and environmental costs we will likely always use waterways where possible.

Without this energy source, it may be that, after peak oil, fuel will be so expensive that transporting cargo by aircraft will be prohibitively expensive. So people of the future will look at photos of cargo planes and think that we are the crazy ones. – Samuel answered Feb 2 at 21:01

Bob Dey, “UP8: Crucial question: Who will control land release?“, Bob Dey Property Report:

The key question about how greenfields land will be rezoned under Auckland’s unitary plan is: Who controls it, council or developers?

The second question is how infrastructure for rezoned land can be put in place before or as it’s needed, not after.

And the third is: How will it be funded?

The first of those questions is one for the independent panel hearing submissions on the unitary plan. The second has been mentioned by council people from time to time, but without a proposition being brought forward. And the third, on funding, has to be considered if the order of infrastructure provision, or the supplier, changes.

Urban Kchoze, “Highways and boulevards: A capacity-cost analysis“:

Cyclists and pedestrians are outright banned from highways, even if they did want to travel there (and they wouldn’t). Highways create a big wasteland around them to achieve object clearance zones (or recovery zones), and their high speed favors distant, sprawled out developments that means that even if you decide to build footpaths or bike paths alongside them, no one would use them.

As to transit, though buses can certainly travel on highways, they cannot SERVE them. Vehicles are not supposed to stop on highways unless they have a malfunction. And even if they could, highways are off-limits to pedestrians. AND even if they weren’t, highways rarely have walkable developments at interchanges, so the use of such buses would be limited, if not completely inexistent. So only express buses traveling long distances can really use highways.

Still, you can use highways for express buses, shouldn’t that count? Well, no. Because you can do the same with boulevards too.

So what does this mean? This means that the capacity of highways for transit is 0, for bikes is 0, for walking is 0. But boulevard, as they are space efficient and closer to developments, can easily support all these modes of travel.

So in the end, a proper comparison leads to this graph, comparing a 4-lane boulevard with a standard high-frequency bus line and bike path, a 4-lane boulevard with a high-frequency articulated bus line and bike path, a 4-lane boulevard with a tram using 2 of these lanes (thrown in just for fun) and a 4-lane highway:

Comparison of capacity between different boulevards and an highway

Comparison of capacity between different boulevards and an highway