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March-16 Patronage

March was definitely mad for many bus and train users with the annual surge in usage resulting in many reporting full services – which in the case of buses often resulting in having to wait for a number to go past before one with enough space to squeeze on came along. Infact it was so mad AT even roped in other operators like Party Bus to help provide extra capacity. However, a number of factors – such as having Easter in March – meant that for buses at least, the month won’t go down in the record books. There were however still some good results on the city’s trains and ferries.

2016-03 - Total Patronage

In total patronage was down slightly by 2.8% however taking Easter and special events like the Cricket World Cup last year in to account it would have been up 1.6%. What isn’t mentioned anywhere in the AT reports is any impact the fare changes at the end of February may have had.

2016-03 - Patronage Table

The fall in patronage was led by buses which in March were down 5.8% compared to March last year, a fairly substantial change. When AT normalise the usage to take into account the unique factors they say it would still have been down 2.2%. But in addition to the normal factors, they say changes to bus stops late last year as part of the first stage of City Rail Link changes also had an impact on usage and had they not occurred, patronage would have been slightly up. They also say they expect to see some recovery in these figures in April. I certainly hope that happens as March is the third consecutive month that patronage has fallen compared to the same time last year.

Despite the factors that negatively impacted on patronage, the solid growth in train use in the past few years has continued – although those factors tempered it a bit. For the month train trips were up 4.7% but AT say taking the other factors into account would have seen it up 13.8%. The underlying growth has remained solid with the average number of trips each business day rising by around 10,000 per day or 17.3%. Given the pattern seen last year with weekday usage, this suggests we should continue to see strong rail growth this year too. As we already know, we passed 16 million trips in early April.

2016-03 - Rail Weekday

One thing that will definitely be helping rail usage is the significant improvement in performance since going all electric in July last year. In March 98.9% arrived at their final destination and of those 95.1% did so within 5 minutes of the timetable.

Ferries are also doing well with the number of trips up 9.2% compared to last March and it would have been up 11.2% without the likes of Easter.


In addition to the overall patronage, there are some other interesting metrics in the monthly stats report.

  • The latest quarterly satisfaction results are available and show a mixed bag with trains up, buses flat and ferries down compared when last measured in December. Buses and ferries are also down compared to March last year.

2016-03 - PT Satisfaction

  • There is a two-month lag on the financial metrics but they show PT and especially rail continuing to improve. Farebox recovery which is mandated by the NZTA to reach 50% by June 2018 reached 49.6% and that is primarily being driven by a relatively rapid improvement in rail performance. As this month’s result won’t be seen till we get the April figures, it will be interesting to see what impact the falling bus patronage and change in fares at the end of February has had.

2016-03 - Farebox

  • HOP usage also improved in March hitting 80% for the first time on trains and buses not far behind on 78%

2016-03 - HOP Usage

There are a number of things that will boost patronage in coming months.

  • According to AT’s journey planner, the Western Line will go to 10 minute peak and 20 minute inter-peak frequencies – matching the southern and eastern line – on May 9
  • At the end of July AT will introduce integrated fares which along with making multiple trips using PT easier, is also likely reduce the cost for many people. AT staff are seeking board approval for the prices in the closed session of the board meeting later this week.
  • HOP usage should continue to improve as all SuperGold card trips will have to be made by HOP card from July onwards (via a concession)
  • AT are also planning to improve the frequency of the Northern Express from Silverdale in late June, shifting from 15 to 10 minute peak frequencies which they say is in response to high patronage growth and insufficient capacity.
  • The new bus network for South Auckland along with the Otahuhu bus/train interchange is still on track to go live in October.

Auckland in 1967

A look back at Auckland as it was in 1967. I many ways it presents the city as an overblown country town – the same view that I think many still hold to this day.


Sunday reading 24 April 2016

Welcome back to Sunday reading. This week, let’s start off with an impressive rant from Newshub reporter Lachlan Forsyth: “Auckland’s housing market is broken and it’s a lie to deny it“:

Why is an entire generation being shut out of the housing market? Did all those people suddenly up their expectations? Or was it because supply dried up, and house prices started rocketing?

Auckland needs 13,000 houses a year, for the next 30 years. We’re currently building about 8,000. By 2018, it’s estimated the shortfall could rise to 25,000 homes.

Anyone denying it’s now harder to buy a house is lying, stupid, or quite possibly both.

Older generations, you know, the ones who received free healthcare, education, and superannuation for their ENTIRE LIVES, now sit snug in their homes, enjoying tax-free, triple-digit capital gains; while subsequent generations are being left out in the cold, watching helplessly as their home ownership dreams dissipate into the air.

Let me simplify things even further. They’ve done okay for themselves, pulled up the ladder behind them, and are now blaming their kids and grandkids for the situation they find themselves in.

“Lower your expectations!”

“We started at the bottom of the ladder!”

“Interest rates were much higher back then!”

A question: at what point did half-a-million dollars become synonymous with affordable? When did ‘affordable Auckland housing’ come to mean a house in Waikato?

Those who advocate urban sprawl bemoan the cost of the infrastructure and connections that requires.

“Building on the city fringes is so expensive! Better sell some assets!”

But any plan to intensify within the city, where utilities and infrastructure already exist, is met with further opposition by those who don’t want to see their lifestyle or leafy neighbourhoods impinged.

“Build out, not up! Why ruin the city with three-storey apartments?!”

Forsyth makes an excellent point on the political economy of urban growth that I seldom see people acknowledge. Current homeowners have little incentive to vote for intensification, as constraints on housing supply keep their property prices high and reduce change in their area. But they have even less incentive to vote for lots of urban sprawl, as it means paying higher rates (or central government taxes) in exchange for a policy that will, if it succeeds, reduce the value of their homes.

In the long run, I wonder whether solving these issues will take new governance models and policy tools. That’s what US law professor David Schleicher argues. The Economist, which takes an interest in urban planning from time to time, reviews some of his ideas:

Most onerous planning restrictions reflect the difficult political economy underlying urban growth. Would-be migrants to rich cities stand to benefit handsomely from access to lucrative jobs, but lack a political say in the places that are building too little. Within cities the balance of costs and benefits favours NIMBYs. Everyone in the city stands to gain from growth; productivity in skilled cities rises with population, so when more people move in, all workers’ incomes should rise. But the gains from any particular property development are relatively small and thinly spread, whereas the costs are highly concentrated.

Those in the immediate vicinity of a big new project must put up with noise and other inconveniences during construction, and increased competition for parking spaces and places in good schools after it, not to mention blocked views. Because affected residents live near each other and often share local-government representatives, the cost of organising opposition to new projects is low (and the motivation to do so is high). Even those who see urban growth as a positive have strong incentives to oppose development in their own backyards. Since almost every part of a city is someone’s backyard, far too little construction takes place.

Clever policy, however, can help balance the concerns of NIMBYs with the broad benefits of growth in productive places. One approach is simply to neutralise local opposition to development by compensating neighbours for the costs they bear when new construction is approved—to bribe, them, in effect. David Schleicher, a professor of land-use law at Yale Law School, has proposed the use of “tax increment local transfers”, or TILTs. New buildings normally generate extra property-tax revenue for the city once they have been completed. Some portion of the expected rise in the tax take associated with a proposed new development (the tax increment) could be promised to nearby residents in the form of a temporary property-tax rebate, scheduled to last ten years, say, if the development went ahead. As Mr Schleicher notes, TILTs would enhance the signalling value of local opposition to new projects: residents who fight against a proposed development despite the prospect of direct financial gain from it are more likely to have reservations worth addressing.

Interesting ideas. If they worked, they could make a big difference to the way our cities functioned. They could, for example, bring us back to the halcyon days of the early 1900s – a period in which we simply built more (tall) buildings. Michael Andersen at Bike Portland reviews the historical record:

Portland’s “huge population boom” and “explosive growth” have driven such a painful housing shortage that it’s not uncommon these days to hear Portlanders wish the city would stop creating so many jobs.

Since 2008, the city’s population growth rate has been about 9,000 net new residents per year, or 1.5 percent.

But when many of the buildings that continue to define northwest Portland were built, Portland’s population was growing by 7 percent every year for years on end. In the decade of the 1900s, the city that started at 90,000 residents added 11,679 new ones every year on average…

Portland’s situation wasn’t unique. Seattle grew even faster in the same decade, and Los Angeles faster still. San Francisco’s similar boom came in the 1870s. For St. Louis it was the 1850s; for Philadelphia the 1860s; for Chicago the 1890s; for Detroit the 1910s.

How did cities survive population booms four or five times larger than Portland is going through today?

And why, somewhere around 1920, did U.S. cities never see population booms again — even in an age of deep geographic inequality that is watching smaller cities like Urbana, Illinois continue to shed jobs while some bigger ones, including Portland, add them hand over fist?

You can see the answer any time you ride a bike through northwest Portland. Growing cities built and built and built — because until 1920 or so, there were no laws that said you couldn’t.

2110 nw flanders 1908

2110 NW Flanders, built 1908.

120 nw trinity 1912 21-50
120 NW Trinity, built 1912.

Incidentally, Auckland’s a bit different than Portland (and the other west coast US cities)… it was a comparatively slow starter. A quick look at the urban population database produced by Motu a few years back suggests that Auckland’s growth – in terms of added people per year – accelerated after World War 2 and is now accelerating again. However, growth in percentage terms was much, much higher in the early part of the 20th century – between 1901 and 1926, Auckland’s population grew at an average of 4.3% per annum. Big changes.

On a completely different note, it turns out that people react differently to you depending upon how you solve the trolley problem. (No, not Auckland LRT, although we’re always looking for new answers to that one!) Cornell University researchers have been studying the social implications of classic moral dilemmas:

Imagine that an out of control trolley is speeding towards a group of five people. You are standing on a footbridge above, next to a large man. If you push him off the bridge onto the track below, his body will stop the trolley before it hits the five people. He will die, but the five others will be saved. Should you push the man off the bridge?

Before you make your decision, you should know that your popularity could depend on it. According to a new study of more than 2,400 participants, which we carried out with David Pizarro from Cornell University, the way you answer the “trolley problem” can have a big impact on how much people trust you…

Statistically, more people think that it’s wrong to push the man off the bridge to save the five others. On one level, this makes sense – we shudder at the thought of a friend or partner doing a cost-benefit analysis of whether you should be sacrificed for the greater good. So why do more people prefer this rule-based approach to morality?

Some scholars have argued that deontological intuitions arise from “irrational” emotional responses. But we thought there might be another explanation: namely, the power of popularity. We proposed that if people who stick to moral rules are considered to be better social partners, that might explain why more people take a deontological view.

There probably aren’t too many implications for transport policy, other than the obvious, which is to design transport systems that don’t kill people.

Elsewhere, a seemingly new blog (The Aspiring Economist) writes a good review of an essential paper on the New Zealand economy: Phil McCann’s “Economic geography, globalisation, and the New Zealand productivity paradox“. Worth a read:

This leaves us with some kind of a puzzle: New Zealand has been outperformed by comparable OECD peers but pursues best practice in many regulatory and institutional areas, as assessed by the Doing Business and World Governance Indicators. This phenomenon is also known as New Zealand’s productivity paradox

What McCann argues is that New Zealand’s position in the international marketplace has worsened in the globalisation era in which the world has become flat. The cause for this worsening is New Zealand’s unusual economic geography compared to other advanced economies. What do we mean by ‘unusual’? Hendy (2010) names four indicators for New Zealand:

  1. Low population density
  2. Large share of primary/ agricultural goods in exports for an advanced economy
  3. Low export diversity compared to other advanced economies: New Zealand’s Export Diversification Index were at 2.28 in 2010 (IMF, 2014)
  4. High geographical isolation

Let’s look at this in more detail. Where is the link between these indicators and the productivity paradox? For McCann this stems from the fact that there are low value-added and high value-added goods in today’s international marketplace. For the former he assumes falling spatial transaction costs in the era of globalisation. For high value-added goods, however, spatial transaction costs have actually increased coupled with increasing economies of scale…

While we’re on the subject of economists, Paul Krugman had some pretty interesting thoughts on policies for addressing climate change. His key argument is that we shouldn’t avoid implementing workable policies in favour of theoretically pure ones:

Econ 101 tells us that if you want to reduce emissions of a pollutant, the most efficient way to do that is to put a price on emissions, so that all possible routes to reduction are taken, and the marginal cost is the same for all routes. It’s a real insight, and has had positive impacts on real-world policy — cap-and-trade has worked very well at reducing acid rain.

That said, there are reasons Econ 101 may not be right here. There is some evidence that consumers aren’t hyper rational when it comes to conservation, that they may pass up conservation opportunities even when it would save them money — and in that case rule rather than prices may be the right way to make them change. And to the extent that we’re talking about innovation, the Econ 101 case says nothing at all: the efficiency case for carbon pricing is about making best use of existing technology, not about providing incentives to develop better technology.

But leave all that aside, and ask: how *important* is it that our carbon-emissions strategy take the form of a universal or near-universal price on carbon?

The answer, in principle, is that it depends on the complexity of the required response. If reducing emissions really has to involve moving on many fronts, anything that looks like an administrative solution — telling, say, power companies what to do or not to do — is going to be much more costly than carbon pricing that exploits all the possibilities. But if a large part of the solution is going to involve a fairly limited set of measures — such as putting a quick end to the practice of burning coal to generate electricity — getting to broad-based carbon pricing is much less central.

Krugman’s really just elaborating on the implications of the “theory of the second best” in climate policy. But this is an insight that has broader applicability – say, for transport policy. I’ve argued in the past that efficient congestion pricing would be a great “first best” solution to many problems of urban transport. But there are a number of practical roadblocks to actually getting there – not least the cost of setting up a congestion charging system!

Does this mean we have to give up on the idea of efficiently managing congestion? No, not necessarily. But it might mean cobbling together a raft of policies that look unrelated at first glance – a mix of transformative investments in rapid transit and cycling, bus lanes or high-occupancy-toll lanes on more roads, and changes to parking policies. Could be interesting.

But is congestion really that bad? That’s also a good question. The fact that so many people participate in it suggests that perhaps it’s not as big a problem as we assume.

Over at Vox, Libby Nelson does the maths on Free Cone Day at the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream chain. It’s a classic value of time question – people spend time to get something (an ice cream cone) that they could buy instead. But is it worth it?

Even if the federal government is right, and a half-hour of leisure time is only worth $6.45, that’s still more than it would have cost to just buy the ice cream cone another day and use the time to do something more fun than standing in line.

But the cold economics of the value of time don’t allow for the joy of getting something for free that you’d otherwise have to pay for. And, yes, there’s psychological research to back up the commonsense conclusion that people love free stuff.

In a paper written at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2006, Kristina Shampan’er and Dan Ariely argued that people like free stuff so much that they don’t just think of it as a smaller price to pay, but as an added benefit.

According to Shampan’er and Ariely’s research, a free ice cream cone isn’t the same as an ice cream cone you paid for — it’s better. And that means that wasting your time standing in line for it might mean you’re still getting a pretty good deal.

This has important implications for congestion pricing. Feel free to discuss in comments!

The Value of Well-Designed Cities

When it comes to the debate about housing and development, there’s been plenty of discussion about the physical impacts of decisions we make, for example the height and bulk of buildings. There’s even been to a lesser extent a discussion on the capital costs of development, the costs of building or upgrading roads, pipes and other infrastructure. Some of this is quite evident now with the Transport for Future Growth consultations currently underway.

One area that hasn’t really been discussed at any level – other than probably some obscure high level planning papers – is the impact our development choices have on rates and operational costs. In many ways this is odd given how loudly many sections of our society protest every time rates are increased. But there is a clear link between rates and the types of development we allow.

A few weeks ago there was another fantastic Auckland Conversations talk, this time by Joe Minicozzi.

Joe Minicozzi, Principal of Urban3, pioneers in geo-spatial representation of economic productivity. This helps communities make better decisions through the understanding of data and design. Joe’s work has prompted a paradigm shift in understanding the economic potency of well designed cities.

Joe’s multidisciplinary expertise with city planning in the public and private sectors, as well as his ingenuity with real estate finance, prompted the development of his award-winning analytical tools that have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Planetizen, Planning, and New Urban News.

Urban3’s research illustrates the benefits of urban density, heritage conservation and mixed-use developments. These have an economic impact that lead to creating sustainable and vibrant cities.

And here’s a short summary video of the key points of the discussion

If you follow many of the discussions the council has on planning and rates issues in Auckland you’ll notice is there’s a huge contradiction between the rhetoric of some groups and councillors towards rates and debt, and the land use/urban polices they also promote.

Some parts of the presentation reference work Kent has produced and written about on the blog before. Joe has picked up on some of that for use in the image below showing the value of property per hectare in the centre of Auckland.

Urban 3 - Value per Hectare

Improving how we use our land has multiple benefits to the bottom line of the council. It can allow for us to use our infrastructure more efficiently while at the same time reducing the amount of expensive new infrastructure needed while also increasing the number of people contributing towards the upkeep of that infrastructure. In short if you want lower rates, cut back on the sprawl.

Development Contributions: The DC Marvel

Man, that’s a bad comic reference in the title of this post. I’m sorry everyone.

But seriously folks, development contributions (DCs) are very important, and I think we should all have a general understanding of what they do and why they exist. This post was prompted by a Herald article where Phil Twyford, Labour’s housing spokesperson, said that the fact that more DCs had been collected across the country meant that “the Government’s reforms have failed”. That’s really twisting the figures. I’ll explain why below.

“Development contributions”are payments which developers have to make to councils, to help fund the cost of new infrastructure. They exist because new houses, shops, offices etc create extra demand for council-provided resources. For example, if we’re going to build another 400,000 homes in Auckland in the next 30 years, the council needs to invest in transport, parks, water reservoirs, and community facilities. The ‘sprawl’ areas alone could cost the council $13.7 billion.

These costs could be funded in several different ways:

  1. General rates. The costs of the new areas are spread across all Aucklanders, but is this fair?
  2. Targeted rates, which are only paid by properties in the new areas.
  3. Up-front development contributions, which end up getting capitalised into the price of properties in the new areas.

A couple of decades ago, most councils essentially used approach #1. And some are even returning to this approach, either to encourage development, or because they’ve got lots of spare capacity so don’t really need the contributions. As one example, Rotorua has recently scrapped DCs.

However, most councils are now using a “user pays” approach, i.e. #2 or #3 above. I think that’s a good thing, but it’s also good that councils have the flexibility to charge less if they want to – it helps Rotorua compete with Tauranga, for example.

As a side note, #2 and #3 have much the same effect, with one main difference – #2 pushes property prices down and has higher ongoing costs (rates), and #3 is the opposite. The “net present value” of each one should be pretty much the same. More on that in a future post.

Development Contributions

Development Contributions: serious business.

The 2014 reforms came about because the government was concerned that DCs were actually being used to fund projects that didn’t actually have much to do with the new developments. The reforms have brought more transparency and accountability, which is good, although some of the other changes could be argued either way (e.g. DCs could previously help to fund a wide range of community facilities. Now, they can only fund very basic facilities with a very local focus. Swimming pools and libraries which might be used by people from further afield have to be funded through general rates).

Because the reforms narrowed the range of things that DCs can be used for, they’ve generally meant that the DCs per new house, or per new building, have declined.

On the other hand, because more development is occurring, the ‘total’ level of DCs being collected has still increased. And that’s the issue with Mr Twyford’s statement. He was quite rightly called out on it by Nick Smith, who replied that “building activity had picked up substantially, yet the increase in contributions was below that pickup level”.

We’re now getting closer to a situation where new development ‘pays its way’, and if it’s cheaper to provide new infrastructure to Grey Lynn than to Greenhithe, for example, that gets reflected in lower DCs for Grey Lynn.

Note that this is only true for council-provided infrastructure. Government infrastructure, like schools and motorways, aren’t funded this way. It might be that these things cost more to provide in ‘sprawl’ areas than in ‘intensified’ areas, so sprawl still gets a bit of a subsidy, but that’s something for the government to consider.

Likewise, there might still be other issues to sort out – e.g. if we’re under-charging for greenhouse gas emissions, there’s more incentive for people to live out on the fringes and drive more. If we can find the ‘right’ charge, whatever that might be, then people face the true cost of their emissions and might choose to live more centrally instead.

At any rate, once we start to untangle these kinds of issues, we might not be so reliant on blunt instruments like urban limits.

A Summary of AT’s Internal CRL Business Case

The City Rail Link is probably the most intensely scrutinised transport project New Zealand has ever seen thanks to the government’s earlier outright opposition to it. Over the last six years we’ve seen a number of studies, reports and business cases examining the project and often one sided and deeply flawed reviews of all of these. In 2013 when the government finally came to the party and agreed with the project although they wanted to delay it till 2020. In January they agreed the project could start earlier (although their funding may still only start in 2020) which would allow Auckland Transport to get on with the project including negotiating contracts.

AT already had approval and was/is well underway with the first stage of the CRL up to Wyndham St. Late last year they started the process of sounding out the market on the rest of the project. As part of that they’ve produced an internal business case looking at the project taking into account the all of the changes to the project and improvements in their understanding of it.

AT have now released a glossy summary of this business case – one issue with the document is that many of the graphics are of quite low quality and in some cases impossible to read. They are quick to point out right on the front cover:

This document is AT’s internal business case to facilitate the Gateway Review process prior to letting contracts for enabling works construction.

It is not a joint business case with government.

As I understand it, the Gateway Review process is related to the market sounding and working out the best way of sequencing and contracting out the project. As AT Chairman Lester Levy says at the end of his opening message.

The business case summarised here will continue to evolve. This version is suitable for the AT Board’s decision on letting Enabling Works contracts. As the project is further developed the costs (and benefits) will be refined and the business case advanced.

On to the interesting stuff.

AT say their detailed economic assessment shows the project will return benefits of $2.96 – $3.2 billion in Net Present Value using the NZTA standard 40-year assessment with a 6% discount ratio. When assessed against the costs including operational ones (also in NPV terms) it has a BCR of 1.6-1.7. That’s much better than the 0.4 in the hatchet job that was the Ministry’s initial review or the 0.9 in the City Centre Future Access Study which wasn’t a full detailed assessment. It’s also better that most of the government’s big RoNS projects

A breakdown of the benefits is shown in the graphic below.

CRL Benefits graphic

Travel time savings are obviously the biggest single benefit and the document gives some information on the project’s impact on transport use. The results were modelled by the joint modelling group that is made up of the council, AT and the NZTA. They say that in 2046 during the two-hour morning peak there will be 50,000 people using rail if the CRL is built compared with 32,000 using rail if the CRL wasn’t built and 12,000 in the AM peak in 2014. Aotea Station will surpass Britomart and see 13,000 people pass through in the morning while Britomart will still be busier than it is today and have 12,000 during that time.

The modelling also looks at difference in mode share for the city centre across the entire day between 2010 and 2041. As you can see private vehicle usage remains unchanged at 34,000 – about the same as it also was 2001. Bus use and ferry use both increases slightly but the big changes come from rail, light rail and active modes which grow significantly. Based on those figures, by 2041 only 26% of people will enter the city centre in a car. It also must be remembered that so far we’ve had a history of underestimating public transport usage.

CRL City Centre Mode Share

Interestingly in the section that briefly talks about capital and operating costs it says AT may not need new trains initially.

As the CRL allows a major productivity benefit from shortening the route from the west to Britomart, additional EMUs may not be required for the immediate post-CRL opening services. The shorter route means that the overall operating cost for the rail services will reduce.

This seems hard to believe given how fast patronage is growing. Yes the CRL will speed services up and combined with improvements that need to be made before then, it will help get more out of the fleet we have but in my view, the CRL will be so popular that not having additional services sounds like a recipe for very busy trains.

Aotea Station Design Platform Mar - 16

Aotea Station will be the busiest in the city

One of the big things our economic assessments aren’t able to grasp – especially with projects like the CRL – is just how transformational they can be, especially when it comes to land use. For the West in particular it will be like the whole area has been lifted and moved 10 minutes+ closer to the city. Even within the project area it opens up some significant development potential.

They say that just the CRL footprint includes 4.9ha of developable land with a potential floor space of 210,000m² to 250,000m². That could be enough space for thousands of jobs and thousands of new resident. The estimated value of this potential new development is $1.2-$1.4 billion and of course that won’t have been included in the business case. Some of the options for redevelopment are shown below.

CRL TOD options

The project, while disruptive to build, will be fantastic for Auckland and it’s good that over the last few years AT have been able to get on with it despite the initial government opposition. We’ve already seen the disruption start with bus and traffic changes and as underground services get shifted. Within weeks diggers will be on the ground to actually start working on the tunnels themselves.

Central Auckland population growth, 1891-2013

I’ve been investigating how different parts of New Zealand have grown in the last 125 years, inspired by a 2013 Motu study. As part of that, I noticed that there’s actually pretty good data for ‘central’ Auckland, i.e. the isthmus (other parts of Auckland are a bit trickier, but hopefully I can work through that). The 2010 amalgamation of all the old Auckland councils still seems quite recent, but those councils had actually only been around since 1989.

Before that, we had a system of boroughs and counties which had survived quite intact since the 19th century. And it turns out that the Eden County, and the various boroughs within it, was almost identical to the 1989-2010 Auckland City boundaries, what Stats New Zealand now call the “Central Auckland Zone” of the Auckland Urban Area. The only difference is that it excluded Otahuhu.

If that all sounds like too much of a mouthful, here’s a map of Eden County – I’ve just used the figures for that, but adding in Otahuhu.



And here’s what the figures look like:

Central Auckland's Population v2

By 1891, there were already more than 50,000 people living in central Auckland, which grew pretty steadily until 1971. The population hardly budged from 1971 to 1991, actually dropping slightly at one point, but since then it’s been on a major growth path, faster than at any time previously. My guess is that we’ll keep up this growth for a long time to come.

Incidentally, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin all had quite similar populations at the end of the 19th century. It was only in the 20th century that Auckland became so much larger than any of our other cities.

So why did central Auckland stop growing in the 70s and 80s? New Zealand as a whole had lower growth rates in this period – lower migration, perhaps. Auckland had lower growth as well, and most of the growth that did happen was out to the north, west, or (especially) the south. From some other Stats data (and note that Otahuhu has shifted back to south Auckland for this one – population around 11,000)

Total Auckland Population v2

Another interesting point here is that central Auckland dominated population growth in the region until well into the 1950s. It was after 1956, or maybe even 1961, when the southern, western and northern areas started to take off.

Western Springs Precinct

This is a Guest Post by David Shearer MP.

NB we welcome guest posts from anyone, all are judged on their individual merits and relevance. It is always good to hear what politicians of all flavours would like to see happen in our cities, especially when they are neither campaigning nor just complaining.

Western Springs through new eyes
MP David Shearer

Recent talk of a stadium on Auckland’s waterfront costing hundreds of millions is all very well, but how about seeing an old treasure through new eyes and planning for the future of Western Springs. With the amount of use the area gets, I can’t think of better bang for the ratepayer buck.

At the moment Western Springs is a collection of disparate elements – but it could be a beautifully-designed whole. It’s crying out for it. Think about what’s currently there:

The Auckland Zoo is in the middle of a $120million overhaul, projected to attract a million visitors per year within the decade – and it’s already pulling in 700,000.

MOTAT has new leadership, great ideas, 250,000 visitors a year and an abundance of prime land. It also has a bold architectural plan, conceived by the late Ian Athfield, awaiting funding and action.

There’s the speedway, the Western Springs soccer club, the Ponsonby Rugby Club, and the Auckland Performing Arts Centre (TAPAC) – each one a drawcard in its own right.

Add to that Pasifika, Auckland City Limits and other concerts, not to mention the thousands of families of all ethnicities who stroll around Western Springs Park on weekends, enjoying the special ecological features and Meola Creek.

Taken together, it’s a huge chunk of urban land, possibly the most-used in Auckland. Eden Park gets much more attention and has far fewer people using it.

As Auckland’s population increases, our open spaces will become increasingly more precious. Preparing for that means seeing and treating Western Springs as a destination.

Part of that is understanding the area as an ecological whole. To the west of Meola reef is a volcanic lava flow that extends right out into the harbour. In the other direction it extends across Meola Rd into Western Springs. Its waterways flow through to Chamberlain Park and beyond. Together, it’s a wide greenbelt, an environmental treasure that could do with the kind of design that will help Aucklanders really use and enjoy it from one end to the other.

I’m a fan of living bridges linking our green spaces. A cycle and pedestrian bridge across Meola Road could link these two parts. Another to cross the multiple road lanes of Great North Road and the North-western Motorway into Chamberlain Park would enable an uninterrupted ‘green ride’ through these landscapes.

Western Springs and environs showing potential locations for new cycle and walking links

Western Springs and environs showing potential locations for new cycle and walking links

At the moment, every big event within Western Springs needs a special transport plan. The place buzzes – yet it can be inconvenient and inefficient to get to resulting in congestion and parking chaos.

Surely it qualifies for smart modern infrastructure and transport. In the short term, at the very least, the Great North Rd bus route should be upgraded, with expanded timetables servicing Western Springs, the zoo and MOTAT.

The area is actually handy to trains, though at the moment you wouldn’t know it. Baldwin Ave Station is close and an improved pedestrian/bike route between Western Springs and the golf course would connect people to it and go a long way to addressing the access problems that now exist.

Meanwhile, the Zoo, MOTAT, TAPAC and other parts are currently atomised, focusing on their own individual development, simply because there’s no big-picture plan for them to work within. Could light rail help? What about a pedestrian/cycleway underpass at St Lukes? Could the vintage tram route be expanded to make the trams truly functional and useful?

Our waterways – like Meola Creekhave been taken for granted over decades, parts of them neglected and built-over, but they’re still there, waiting to be rediscovered and cherished by a new generation of Aucklanders.

The waterways are the living link between all these areas: Chamberlain Park, Western Springs and the Harbour. The water runs down from one of our precious maunga, Mt Owairaka to the sea.

I’d like to see urban designers grappling with these issues: pulling the disparate parts together into a modern, user-friendly precinct.

The natural environment is unique and should be preserved and enhanced: cycle ways, pedestrian paths, water flows and thoughtful, effective public transport.

The local communities, and the many using this space are passionate about it and should have a big say in the form of the design. That enthusiasm was able to save the Pohutukawa grove on Great North Road opposite MOTAT last year. It was a lesson in how well-loved the area is, and how invested locals rightly are in it. They are best insurance against lazy design.

With the City Rail Link on its way and a safe network of cycle lanes slowly taking shape, it feels like Auckland is growing up.

But perhaps – in reaching for more big, expensive projects – we’re at risk of overlooking some of the beauty that’s already here.

I think it’s time for Auckland’s planners to look at Western Springs with fresh eyes and deliver us a precinct that will be another jewel in Auckland’s crown.

BALWIN AVE new routes

Possible cycle and walking connections to Baldwin Ave Station. Existing NW cycleway in blue, Potential links across the golf course and bridge across SH16 and Gt Nth Rd, purple, and Linwood Ave and St Lukes Rd in red.

Postscript: The purple routes above are consistent with the masterplan the Albert Eden Local Board published recently, below, among other things these would improve the walk/ride potential for Western Springs College and Pasadena Intermediate enormously. The red route, which needs upgrading, is the obvious way to connect the train network to both the permanent attractions of MOTAT and events at the Park, although then the problem that AT/NZTA designed the new supersized St Lukes bridge with only half a thought for any user not in a vehicle then does come even more glaring than ever:

Chamberlain Golf Course scenario 4


New Lynn to Avondale Path Consultation

Auckland Transport have started consultation on another of their major cycleway projects, the New Lynn to Avondale Shared Path. This 2.9km route will link in the Waterview Shared Path now under construction through to Avondale largely alongside the rail line. The project is expected to cost $17.7 million and was included in the Urban Cycle Funding package announced by the government last year.

As part of the project a new bridge will be built over the Whau River next to the rail bridge.

Whau River Bridge Impression

On the Bridge and Whau River, AT say

In the past Maori used the Whau River as a portage route between the Manukau and Waitemata Harbours.

Iwi have chosen imagery for the path and the bridge, promoting the importance to the local area of traditional waka portage and harvesting activities along the Whau River and the migration of the kuaka (godwit).

These images will be portrayed in various ways on the bridge and along the path. There will be patterns within the concrete on the bridge structure. In addition, images will be cut out of a metal panel which will run across the bridge, screening it from the adjacent rail bridge.

The high level route is shown below

New Lynn to Avondale Path route

Here’s what AT say about the route


The shared path will:

  • Start at Rankin Avenue in New Lynn and finish east of the Blockhouse Bay Road/Rosebank Road/Trent Street intersection in Avondale. Gaps in the existing shared path between Rankin Avenue and Portage Road will be filled with new sections of shared path.
  • Be 2.9 kilometres long.
  • Be mostly off-road within the rail corridor, with a section through Chalmers Reserve in Avondale.
  • Create a continuous shared path linking New Lynn Train Station, Avondale Train Station, Waterview Shared Path (currently under construction), the Northwestern cycleway and city centre networks.
  • Connect with the proposed Te Whau Pathway and other local walking and cycling routes.
  • Have access points at road crossings including Portage Road, Arran Street, St Georges Road, Chalmers Street, St Jude Street and Blockhouse Bay Road.
  • Cross the Whau River on a new purpose-built bridge (which will stand alongside the existing rail bridge). The Whau Local Board has provided significant funding for this bridge.
  • Be fenced off from the railway line and neighbouring properties.
  • Be well lit and designed to promote safety for users and neighbours of the path.


  • A safer, more appealing route for pedestrians and people on bikes.
  • Easier access to local train stations and town centres.
  • New landscaping and improved visual appearance of public spaces.
  • New wayfinding signage.
  • New cycle parking.


Construction of the bridge is proposed to take place in late 2016, with the aim to start construction of the shared path in 2017.

There are more detailed maps here (9MB) showing just where the path will go with one of the challenging aspects seeming to be at the Avondale Train Station where the path will go along the back of it. There are a number of other pinch points along the route too.

New Lynn to Avondale Path route - Avondal Station

The consultation will run till 15 May and AT will also have people to talk to at the New Lynn Night Markets in a few weeks

New Lynn Night Market.
When: Thursday 5 May 2016.
Time: 6pm to 9pm.
Where: New Lynn Community Centre, 45 Totara Avenue, New Lynn.

Has AT scaled back Light Rail?

I keep a fairly close eye on many of the documents that come out of Auckland Transport and recently I’ve been noticing a change in some of them in regard to light rail.

When first announced last year AT proposed four light rail routes across the Isthmus to “fill the void” – the central isthmus area between the Western and Southern rail lines. Within the void are some of Auckland’s original tram suburbs and as such some of the city’s busiest bus routes. AT predict that at current levels of growth the streets in the city centre will soon become a wall of buses and so using higher capacity light rail on some busy routes would help in reducing overall volumes of vehicles on city streets. They proposed to light rail on Sandringham, Dominion, Mt Eden and Manukau roads. That would then free up more space for buses from other areas such as the Northwest and the North Shore.

At the time they produced this map showing how the light rail plans might fit in with their other plans for rapid transit across the region.


Those four routes would enter the city using either Queen St for the first two mentioned and Symonds St for the latter to. The timing was also be spread out over a few decades so it wasn’t going to happen all at once but they showed all the routes anyway.

City Access - LRT

The map above also shows light rail travelling via Quay St before going to Wynyard. Late last year the AT board agreed to go via Customs St instead. Given my experiences with buses through that area I think this is the right decision.

Later AT also started thinking about using light rail to the airport and that was added to the maps too. Four light rail lines can also clearly be seen in the staged Rapid Transit maps which AT have been showing around a lot lately.

AT Rapid Transit Network 2015-2045

But in recent times I’ve started noticing some changes in the way AT talk about light rail and it seems to coincide with the project getting more scrutiny from the likes of the NZTA and the Ministry of Transport.

A recent presentation to the council’s Development Committee had an updated version of one of the maps above. The presentation was talking about the next study/document to be created looking at the central city – known as the Central Access Plan. As part of that AT included a map showing the potential investment programme. As you can see only the Dominion Rd light rail corridor is shown properly although there is also a faint Sandringham Rd line too. Missing from the map are the Mt Eden and Manukau road routes.

CAP - Potential Investment - LRT

Now a new version of the Rapid Transit map has been published by the herald and it too only shows two light rail corridors.

Rapid Transit Map

The Dominion Rd route makes a huge amount of sense as it is the busiest of the routes and while it may not look like it, the Unitary plan actually allows quite a bit of development pretty much all the way down the corridor through the use of mixed use zoning. But Sandringham Rd is also included too. My guess is the building the Dominion Rd route will also necessitate supporting infrastructure like depot’s which would be shared with the Sandringham Rd route and as such it likely means the cost of laying tracks down the road is much lower compared to doing so on the Mt Eden/Manukau roads routes.

So what about the other two routes?

The AT website now only lists these two routes mentioned above and does so with details such as the distance and number of stops for each section (Wynyard to Britomart, Queen Street to Dominion Road, Dominion Road and Sandringham Road). Now the only mention of the other routes is:

Wider light rail network

A wider light rail network could add 2 corridors along Mt Eden and Manukau Roads, converging on a second spine along Symonds Street.

This does seem suggest that AT have scaled back their thinking or plans for light rail and bumped Mt Eden and Manukau roads off the immediate agenda. This could be due to potential funding pressures or just more detailed investigations into the proposals but either way it would be good for them to say just why this has happened.


As an aside it’s good to see the Herald finally publishing a map showing the plans for the rapid transit network. It’s something they should have been doing a long time ago and if not them, AT should be pushing it a lot more including making it and the details behind it more accessible on their website. They and the council have also started showing how it develops over time rather than at one point in the future – just like we did with the Congestion Free Network which is great to see. Perhaps they should make an interactive version, something a bit like this.