Follow us on Twitter

Northland, Politics, Transport, and Pork

On March 28 the (normally safe) National-held electorate of Northland heads for a bye-election. The outcome of the bye-election will be fascinating for several reasons.

The first reason is that it’s politically important. If Winston Peters wins then it will be more difficult for National to pass controversial legislation, because they will need the votes of not just one but two support parties.

Legislation like the Sky City casino-for-convention-centre deal and RMA reforms suddenly become pawns in a three-way game of arbitrage between parties with somewhat different support bases and philosophies. Amusingly, National could end up leading a government not too dissimilar to what they warned the opposition would have been like, had the latter prevailed at the last election.

david_cunliffe_is_in_labour_s_ad_while_national_go_53f39d7296

The second reason the bye-election is so interesting is that transport has, somewhat unexpectedly, become a major campaign issue.

Early in the campaign, the Minister of Transport (Simon Bridges) suddenly found $69 million in previously stretched transport budgets for two-laning a number of bridges in Northland. This funding announcement was apparently made without any information or advice being sought, or received, from transport officials. This is an announcement that Winston himself would be proud of, indeed he’s pulled similar stunts in the past.

The reality for National, however, is that few people seem to have been impressed by the transport funding announcement. Instead, it has received considerable attention for delving so blatantly into pork-barrel politics.

Northland-morepork

Questions have also been raised about the effectiveness of the spend. For many of the locals interviewed by Campbell Live, two-waying bridges seem to be far from the top of the priorities list.

National have also apparently linked funding for the Puhoi-Wellsford highway to the outcome of the bye-election. Amazing how an apparently essential piece of transport infrastructure can so suddenly becomes not so important when there is a bye-election.

I’ve personally found it interesting watching National’s transport pork-barrel approach in Northland, especially in light of recent political happenings in Australia, where I am currently based.

In Victoria, Dennis Nathpine’s Liberal Government tied their political fortunes to the eye-wateringly expensive $18 billion “East-West Link”. It was a bad pick, with polls showing the East-West link had levels of support that were half of comparable metro rail projects. Napthine was subsequently kicked out of office.

Article Lead - wide6165269910pke2image.related.articleLeadwide.729x410.10pfiz.png1412250883220.jpg-620x349

Meanwhile, in Queensland, Campbell-Newman built a reputation for delivering large, expensive, and largely unnecessary motorway tunnels. His Government’s promises of more roading pork were spectacularly dismissed after only one term in office after a 12% swing back to Labour.

And at the Federal level Tony Abbott’s unwillingness to fund passenger transport improvements in Australia’s rapidly growing cities is receiving growing criticism. This is in stark contrast to the former (and possible future) Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull, who supports passenger transport.

As an economist, I think there’s a key message for National in all of these events. It’s not just that roading pork hasn’t been sufficient to save political bacon, but also that there is often a large gap between stated and revealed preferences.

Why is this important? Well, I suspect what all of these conservative parties have done, including National, is held focus groups where they’ve asked people whether they support more investment in roads. In response, many of these people have said “yes”. Something like these guys.

 

itchyscratchypoochie_03

 

The problem with stated preference surveys is the trade-offs are usually not made explicit. More specifically, when you invest more in roads, you often find that you don’t get much bang for your buck.

So while people say they want more investment in roads, after a couple of years of fluffing about with largely ineffective road investments, they suddenly realise that they’re not actually much better off. Political strategies based on stated preferences may therefore work in the short run, but they are likely to run out of gas in the long run.

The lesson for National in all this, I think, is that they increasingly run the risk that people will catch onto the fact that their transport pork is failing to return much value. Every new road that opens which fails to meet forecasts, every new business case that is shown to be baloney, eventually creates the case for your opponents to shred your credibility. It won’t happen overnight, but it probably will happen.

This is especially true when you’re foolish enough to do what National have done, i.e. hang your dirty transport laundry out to dry in the blazing heat of a Northland bye-election.

This seems to be a timely and early lesson for Simon Bridges: Emulating the pork-barrel approach employed by Joyce and Brownlee will not necessarily bring you enduring political success. Just ask Nathpine, Campbell-Newman, and Abbott if you want to see the proof in that political pudding.

CRL Design Showcase

Auckland Transport have announced a “Design Showcase” for the three new or improved stations that will be delivered as part of the CRL as well as the public areas surrounding them.

CRL Design Showcase poster

A design showcase for the City Rail Link’s three new stations and their adjacent public spaces will give Aucklanders a peek into the future.

The CRL, which starts construction late this year, will re‐shape the city by bringing Britomart, Aotea and Karangahape Road within three to six minutes of each other and Mt Eden within nine.

Each station, new ones at Aotea and Karangahape and a redeveloped Mt Eden, has been designed in partnership with Mana whenua, who shared their considerable knowledge of the local areas to provide a unique look and feel.

“We think people will be excited when they see these new spaces and what they’ll do for the city,” says Chris Meale, CRL Project Director. “Together they represent the city’s most significant place shaping opportunity in the next decade.”

“Visitors to the design showcase in mid‐April will also find out how the first stage of construction will roll out later this year.”

Auckland’s population is expected to grow by 700,000 in the next 30 years with the CRL considered vital to meet the city’s traffic needs by 2040.

It will double the number of people within 30 minutes of the city, reducing the time and increasing the frequency of most trips, while allowing for more connections between rail, ferry, bus services.

“Auckland’s CBD is the heart of the city’s economy with up to 16,000 employees per square kilometer, accounting for 34 percent of jobs in New Zealand and 37 percent of the country’s GDP,” says Meale.

“Improved access to the city centre is the key to Auckland’s economic growth.” The design showcase is being held in an AT Bus by the No.1 Café in QE11 Square, 10am to 4pm daily from Sat 11 to Wed 15 April.

For more information on the CRL visit: www.cityraillink.co.nz and www.facebook.com/cityraillink

It should be interesting to see what they have planned, however seeing it’s on a bus I also hope they’ll roll it out to show other parts of the region. This is because one of the major issues I continue to have is the reoccurring focus on what the project does for the central city and not the massive benefits it also provides to other parts of the region.

The AA and the Long Term Plan

Last week the submissions for the Council’s Long Term Plan closed and one of the more interesting outcomes was the response by the AA and the NZCID. Together they have called for a “Plan C” instead of the all or nothing options that the council presented. One interesting aspect about their press release was the reference to some AA member surveys that have been conducted about the transport plans and which have helped them reach the position they have. Some of the results are in the AA’s latest Auckland Matters newsletter (5MB).

In total the AA say they had over 5,000 responses to an online member survey giving them some good quantitative results and they’ve also set up a 100 member Auckland Panel to give some more in-depth qualitative results – of which just over 50 responded to this survey. To me the summarised responses highlight a few key issues, some of which we’ve been talking about for a few years now and that were a key reason behind us creating the Congestion Free Network. I’m mixing up some of the points that I think are interrelated.

The outcomes of #1 and #6 clearly show that the council and Auckland Transport need to do a much better job at explaining why certain transport projects are needed and how they are funded. This is particularly the case with #6 where little has been done to address notion that the CRL is just about a train line going in circles around CBD.

AA LTP Survey Response 1&6
To me it is so vital for our transport agencies to show how their plans – and in particular the PT plans – form part of a complete network and not just a series of individual projects. It’s not just enough to draw a project line on a map, agencies actually need to show the public what network outcomes the projects enable. As an example the CRL is often shown as just a small line in the central city but what they don’t show is that it boosts and improves train services across the entire network. With a Regional Rapid Transit map like the CFN they could point to the network and say “this is what we’re working towards and XXXX project is needed to enable that”. Instead projects like the CRL get subjected to thousands misunderstanding it and thinking it’s just about people in the CBD.

Moving on and #2, #3 and 7 tell a very interesting story and are perhaps the most relevant to the LTP and what we’ve been saying. People, including AA members want a greater choice in how they get around. They don’t want the only option for them – or perhaps for the person in front of them – to be to have to drive. I think it’s also telling that the AA’s own members don’t think that the current plans being presented are good enough, especially seeing as there’s a huge spend and congestion is still predicted to get worse.

AA LTP Survey Response 2,3 & 7

 

Perhaps it could be summarised as AA members the current plans aren’t good enough and they want more transport choice.

Next up #4, #5 and #9 talk about costs. In relation to the points above, especially #3, I think these results are crucial. Yes the largest proportion of people said they wanting the full plan but clearly not enough to be prepared to pay the kind of costs the council say will be needed to pay for that. I’m sure a few of the economists might have something to say about this point as clearly people don’t see enough benefits in the spending to warrant it. It also lines up with my long held comments that a middle ground option is needed (and of course exactly what the Essential Transport Budget is).

AA LTP Survey Response 4, 5 & 9

I don’t really think point 10 is relevant to this discussion so lastly #10 which is really one of the most important issues. Currently we seem to have both the council and the government (through the NZTA) doing completely different things. The government are currently spending up large on a range of hand picked motorway projects regardless of how important Auckland ranks them. I personally think it’s time that both the council and government come form of agreement around how projects are ranked and funded in the future because at the moment each seem to be doing their own thing. To me Auckland should have the ability to “no we don’t want XX project at this time and we think the money would be better spent on …..”

AA LTP Survey Response 10

As I said earlier, overall many of the comments the AA have made end up being very similar to what we talk about too. In many ways it’s very reassuring that the AA’s members seem to be saying the same thing.

The AA have also put their entire LTP & RLTP submission online and that contains some of the more in-depth information into the survey results. Below are just a few of the parts that caught my attention.

Perhaps the biggest one is this on their attitudes to PT and roads investment. Over 75% agree or strongly agree that better PT would reduce congestion and make the city more liveable and over 60% say it would reduce the need to have a car. In addition 56% agree that more roads won’t solve Auckland’s problems – although many obviously think that there can be some improvements in roads.

AA LTP Survey - PT v Roads

The next few results come from the smaller qualitative panel. Most think a good PT system is essential for city pride

AA LTP Survey - City Pride

And most agree that sustainability is important or essential to take into account.

AA LTP Survey - Sustainability

Lastly just a few of the comments from their submission itself. On roads the AA’s stance is unsurprising but what’s good is that they’re showing strong support for the other modes. On PT in general they appear very supportive of continued investment.

As discussed previously, our Members want choice with the transport modes they use, and there is no doubt that public transport has an important role to play in providing a reliable, accessible, safe, and affordable alternative to the private vehicle for our Members. Given public transport in Auckland is still developing, it is crucial that the transport programme protects not only the significant investment in the network over the last 10-15 years, but also current and forecast levels of patronage growth.

On the CRL they are also supportive – although like us believe better information is needed.

On balance, we are supportive of the City Rail Link. We agree that the CRL is critical to complete the rail network. Combined with electrification of the rail network and new EMUs, the CRL will increase network capacity, resilience, and reliability. We also support the early enabling works over the next three years. Tying in the enabling works with the Precinct Properties Lower Albert Street site redevelopment makes sense.

However, we do have concerns that AT has not included any Benefit Cost Ratios, discussion about value for money, or any information about what the benefits of the CRL are in the RLTP. The approach AT has taken towards the benefits of the CRL is too high-level and lacks data and analysis to explain its assertions that the CRL will:

  • “enable a more productive economy”
  • create “flow-on benefits across the whole of Auckland”
  • “fundamentally change the growth and infrastructure landscape of Auckland, in a similar way to the original opening of the Auckland Harbour Bridge”.

On Light Rail they say they are surprised it’s suddenly emerged and ask a range of questions including whether there is enough intensification allowed given the proposed Unitary Plan restrictions.

On the New Network they are supportive and concerned about the rollout of it being delayed

AT is currently rolling out the New Network, which is a positive step in rationalising the bus network. However, the BTN will delay the full rollout of the network by approximately five years due to delays in constructing new interchanges at Otahuhu and Manukau and constructing new busways. These delays may affect not only public transport patronage, but also fare revenue generated, which will cost AT in operating subsidies.

On cycling they say they are comfortable with the strategic direction of AT, they also want more protected cycleways and for AT to release more of their cycling data

We acknowledge that within a constrained funding environment that AT must make tough choices about project choice, scope, and budgets. As a member of the Cycling Safety Panel, our recommendation is for AT to focus funding on good quality projects that reduce the risk of conflict with other transport users and provide safe, reliable and preferably segregated connections. Cycleways like Beach Road are an excellent example of a safe road system for cyclists.

We do not want to see funding made available to projects that expose cyclists to dangerous situations through poorly designed cycleways or cycleways that stop abruptly, leaving cyclists vulnerable on the road network. Nor would we want to see investment in cycleways that does not correspond with strong demand, existing or potential. To that end, we would like to see data provided on cycleway patronage, so that AT can promote the success of the network, and reassure the wider public that investment is meeting cycling targets.

Overall it’s good to see the AA being rational and supportive of other modes and I guess their members telling them so strongly they want choice helps with that.

Demographia fails Urban Economics 101

Every year since 2005, pro-sprawl think-tank Demographia has published a new edition of its “International Housing Affordability Survey“. They report a “median multiple” measure of housing affordability that compares median house prices to median household incomes within a number of cities, mostly in the English-speaking world.

Demographia’s aim, in publishing this data, is to argue that “if housing exceeds 3.0 times annual household incomes, that there is institutional failure at the local level. The political and regulatory impediments with respect to land supply and infrastructure provision must be dealt with.” By this, they mean building car-dependent suburbs on the urban fringe – and nothing else.

Another Demographia-approved urban paradise.

A number of people, including Todd Litman and Stu Donovan (on Transportblog), have taken aim at Demographia’s empirical analysis and choice of metrics. Unfortunately, Demographia is unwilling to open up its analysis and methodology for an independent peer reviewed, so it’s difficult to referee those claims.

Here, I want to take a look at the issue from a different perspective. Basically, the urban economics literature suggests that Demographia’s chosen measures do not mean what they think they mean. And they almost certainly do not prove the case they’re trying to make.Before I explain why, let’s start out with a quick look at the data. According to Demographia’s 2015 report:

  • The most “affordable” cities included the likes of Detroit (median multiple of 2.1), Cleveland (2.6), and Houston (3.5)
  • The “unaffordable” cities included most large Australian cities, including Sydney (9.8) and Melbourne (8.7), many “coastal” North American cities, such as Los Angeles (8.0), San Francisco (9.2), Vancouver (10.6), New York (6.1), and Boston (5.4)
  • All New Zealand cities were on the “unaffordable” end of the spectrum, ranging from Palmerston North (4.1) and Dunedin (4.6) to Christchurch (6.1), Tauranga (6.8) and Auckland (8.2).

In other words, there’s a quite large range of median multiples. This raises a quite obvious question: Why are people willing to pay so much more to live in some places? Why live in “unaffordable” San Francisco when “affordable” Houston is just down the road? Why live in Auckland when housing is relatively cheaper in Dunedin?

IMG_3218

Why would anyone want to live in a large, multicultural city located between two beautiful harbours in a subtropical climate? Sheer madness.

Urban economists have studied this phenomenon in detail, and observed that there is an omitted variable in Demographia’s equation: the differing amenities offered by different cities. If a city offers good natural amenities or consumer amenities, people will be willing to pay more to live there. Conversely, if a place isn’t particularly nice, people won’t be willing to pay much for houses there. (Common sense, really.)

In his fantastic survey of the urban economics literature, Harvard economist Ed Glaeser goes so far as to say that ratio measures, such the median multiple popularised by Demographia, are useless for analysis:

It is quite common in discussions of housing affordability to focus on the share of income being spent on housing, as if this is a natural measure of the degree to which housing affordability is a problem within an area. The spatial equilibrium assumption suggests that this measure is not particularly meaningful or helpful.

In short, urban economics suggests that we should interpret a high median multiple as an indication that a city offers great amenity for its residents, rather than an indication of bad policies. I tested this hypothesis by looking at the correlation between the (2012) Demographia median multiple figures and two international quality of living rankings. I found that there was a positive correlation between median multiples and livability.

Here’s the correlation between the median multiple (X axis) and the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2012 Best Cities Ranking (Y axis). I was only able to match up 12 cities, but there’s a fairly strong positive trend:

Demographia median multiple vs EIU livability index

Here’s the correlation between the median multiple (X axis) and Mercer’s 2012 Quality of Living Survey (Y axis; lower numbers indicate higher rankings). Once again, a positive correlation, with 31 data points:

Demographia median multiple vs Mercer livability ranking

In other words, high house prices relative to incomes are a good indicator that a city is a nice place to live. Rather than proving that Metropolitan Urban Limits inevitably push up house prices, Demographia’s median multiple seems to simply measure cities’ relative levels of amenity. When they argue that all cities should have a median multiple of under three, they are arguing for an absurdity: that all cities should offer the exact same level of amenity to their residents.

If we wanted to accomplish that, we’d have to destroy most of the things that make great cities great. This might make housing cheaper, but it wouldn’t make us any better off in a broader sense. That’s because it would require us to:

  • Bulldoze the Waitakere Ranges and use the spoil to fill in the Hauraki Gulf – to ensure that Auckland didn’t have any natural advantages over a flat, inland city like Hamilton
  • Dynamite the historic boulevards of Paris and replace them with American-style subdivisions and malls – to ensure that Paris didn’t offer anything that Houston doesn’t
  • Ban any venture capital or startup activity in San Francisco, to ensure that it doesn’t offer any agglomeration economies that don’t exist in Detroit
  • Build large screens over sunny cities like Tauranga and Brisbane – to ensure that they don’t have nicer weather than Moscow or Toronto.

But Demographia’s not aware of this. Their analysis is overly simplistic. The only thing it reveals is the authors’ grievous failure to understand the basics of urban economics. It’s no wonder that Demographia has never tried to have its studies peer reviewed or published in academic journals. Their claims aren’t supported by any valid conceptual model. But I guess that’s what happens when you get an urban planner and a former property developer to do an economist’s job…

Image of the day: Museum Boulevard

This interesting image popped up on twitter today showing an earlier plan for the area behind the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

IMG_20150323_175026

It looks like it would have been a fairly grand boulevard to complement the museum but it obviously never happened. This is how it currently looks.

image001-5

Why are trains failing so much?

With March Madness in full swing it seems that Auckland Transport and Transdev have taken a new approach to dealing with the high demand, driving customers away through rubbish performance.

Train users from across the region – but it seems particularly West Auckland – have been suffering after what feels like daily issues that are putting even more pressure on already stretched services. People can accept one or two issues but when they become an almost daily occurrence the only result will be less people using trains.

Here are a just couple of examples from the last week or so of what we’ve seen happening from AT’s text message service. It is by no means an exhaustive list of issues that have occurred and is only on the western line. There have also been issues on other lines too (the am times are based on services at my local station – Sturges Rd, pm times based on Britomart).

13 March

7:43am train running at reduced seating capacity – a later text states it was full from Avondale

5:36pm train running at reduced capacity

16 March

4:36pm train delayed 10 minutes due to an earlier train fault

5:06 train delayed 20 minutes due to an earlier train fault

5:36 train delayed 15 minutes due to an earlier train fault

5:50 train delayed 25 minutes due to an earlier train fault

17 March

4:36pm train cancelled from Kingsland due to a train fault

4:50pm train delayed 10 minutes due to an earlier train fault

19 March

6:59am train cancelled due to vandalism

5:20pm train running at reduced seating capacity

20 March

7:43am train delayed 10 minutes due to a train crew matter

5:50pm train delayed by 10 minutes due to an earlier train fault

23 March

7:43am train cancelled due to an earlier train fault

The reason these are so bad particularly on the western line is any cancelled train means the next train is at least 15 minutes away. Depending on what station you use that might be only the delay as trains that have been so full thanks to the surge in patronage mean that following services simply can’t cope. As such people from inner stations have been unable to even get on some trains meaning potentially they could be experiencing a 45 minute or longer wait. Even if you’re lucky enough to get on a train in these situations it is going to be a cramped affair.

Of course this wouldn’t be quite so bad if frequency was every 10 minutes like first promised for the western line in 2010 but AT have managed to find a constant stream of excuses as to why it can’t happen.

So what’s causing these delays and cancellations? My understanding – although I’m happy to be corrected by AT and/or Transdev is that it’s a combination of few things. Maintenance is understandably being reduced on the aging diesel trains ahead of the roll out of the electrics that is leading to more of them failing. They also are extremely stretched with their staff numbers and don’t really have enough drivers to run the timetable properly.

At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter what the reasons are for the delays, what’s clear is that all those involved need to get this issue addressed extremely quickly otherwise the great patronage gains that we’ve seen in the last 1½ years will plateau again or even fall away. This is because the two most important aspects of any PT service regardless of mode or what city it is in are always frequency and reliability

The Demographics of Travel to Work

The last census was two years ago and there’s already been a lot of analysis of the results of it. In terms of transport the census asks about Journeys to Work and while it is a fairly flawed metric due to it ignoring other trip generators like journeys to education – a large component of the morning peak in particular – it still has shown some interesting results. From it we know that in Auckland the number of people commuting to work by car increased, however it has partially come from fewer people carpooling and even more importantly it was eclipsed by the number commuting by PT. Add in the strong growth in people using active modes and there’s been the below shifts in modeshare.

modeshare-change-percent

PV = private vehicle

 

I just happened to be looking at Stats NZ a few days ago and came across data giving a demographic break down of the results which is something I haven’t seen before and the results are fascinating. In particular the results that caught my attention the most were those by age and gender and how that had changed over time.

First up the total number of people who said they worked on Census day and you can clearly see from this the aging of the baby boomer generation.

Census Journey to Work by Age - Auckland - Total

Unsurprisingly the number of people driving a private vehicle to work looks fairly similar to the graph above. What is interesting are the other private vehicle categories of driving a company vehicle, driving a motorbike or scooter and being a passenger in a car.

Census Journey to Work by Age - Auckland -  Private Vehicle

Moving on to public transport I’ve only shown bus and train below because ferries are included in the Other category. What’s remarkable about the changes is that it so clearly shows that the growth in PT is being driven by the younger generations. The question is what the people in these younger age groups will do once they start getting older and having families etc. The changes in the older age groups suggest that the numbers using PT won’t drop off as much as they have in the past which will have big implications for mode share in the future.

Census Journey to Work by Age - Auckland - Public Transport

I’ve also looked at the data for Wellington and while most categories have a fairly similar profile to Auckland, the one that stands out as being dramatically different is in train use. I suspect that as Auckland’s network matures it will start to look more like Wellington’s does now.

Census Journey to Work by Age - AKL & WLG- train

Next up are the active modes of walking and cycling with two very different trends. For walking its young people driving the change whereas for cycling it’s older generations making the shift.

Census Journey to Work by Age - Auckland - Active

Lastly it’s the Other – which is likely to primarily be ferries – and those who worked from home. The latter is primarily made up of people who live in rural areas and the wealthier coastal areas places within the urban area.

Census Journey to Work by Age - Auckland -  Other

 

Overall there are some very interesting changes happening with how we travel and those are primarily occurring in non-car modes. If the younger generations continue to keep the current trends up then it’s likely to have big implications for how people get around in the future. The question is whether what we’re building is going to support that change or hinder it.

The other piece of demographic information available is mode usage based on gender. Unlike age the gender split over each mode doesn’t seem to be changing much over time but what the data does highlight is that there is quite a lot of variance between the two based on which mode is looked at. Overall 54% of those who said they were working are men versus 46% women.

In the graph below are the total numbers of each gender for each mode – with the exception of Driving a Private Car as it’s so large it makes it difficult to see the other results. The first thing you notice is how over represented men are in driving a company vehicle. This is also the case for riding motorbike or cycling. In the other modes more women than men are likely to be a car passenger, use PT, walk or work from home.

Census Journey to Work by Gender & Mode - Auckland

To highlight the degree of over or under representation the graph below shows this for females (the opposite can obviously bee seen for males). Of these the quickest and easiest I think that we could change would be cycling and to do that it is essential we make our roads safer through far greater use of cycle infrastructure.

Census Journey to Work Female Over-Under Representation - Auckland

If anyone wants to look into this deeper this info is also available by local board level which I’m sure would show some interesting results between different parts of Auckland.

Sunday reading 22 March 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.

Joel Leider, “House price-to-rent ratios in major US markets: a data visualization case study“:

My wife and I are buying (and selling) a house, and the metric I always return to is price-to-rent ratio. Sure, the real estate agent will show you comps for similar homes in the area. And all your friends, family, in-laws will chime in as to what they think a proper price. But price-to-rent ratio has the beauty of simplicity. It’s like a stock’s p/e ratio, and gives us a contingency plan. If you keep your price-to-rent ratio –price / (rent * 12)– below 20, at today’s interest rates you could rent out your house and still pay your mortgage plus tax. […]

Let’s look at price-to-rent ratios for some major markets. Below are the ratios for the Portland, OR metro area. In the city center, as well as some desirable suburbs, the ratio is getting high. In my situation, my wife and I are moving from Sherwood to Beaverton (ratio goes from 16 to 14). Sherwood is pink, but pretty far from the city center. With its amazing schools, it attracts the kind of people willing to pay somewhat of a premium to own over renting.

zillow_zip_PDX

And, hey presto, some people have compiled a similar set of figures for Auckland’s suburbs:

Peter Nunns, Hadyn Hitchins and Paul Owen, “To buy or not to buy? A spatial analysis of house prices and rents in Auckland, 2001-2013” (pdf), Auckland Council technical publication:

We observe significant geographical variations in the relationship between rents and prices. Indicative rental yields are significantly lower in some areas than others, indicating that prices are high relative to rents.

Broadly speaking, the city centre fringe areas, along with beach-side suburbs in east Auckland and the North Shore, tend to have lower rental yields. These geographic variations remained relatively constant over time – i.e. the areas with the lowest indicative rental yields in 2001 tended to also have the lowest yields in 2013.

These persistently low yields present a conundrum for interpretation. They highlight an important feature of the housing market: that dwellings are both simultaneously investment and consumption goods (Henderson & Ioannides, 1987). Low yields could be interpreted as an indication that buyers in some areas are investing in the expectation that prices will rise rapidly in the future. On the other hand, buyers may not be seeking investment, but rather placing a premium on the high amenity values in these areas. This is supported by the fact that owner-occupation in area units with less than 3 per cent rental yield is higher (68%) than those areas with a higher yield (58%).

Nunns, Hitchins and Owen indicative rental yields 2013

Adele Peters, “7 Cities That Are Starting To Go Car-Free“, FastCoexist:

After over a hundred years of living with cars, some cities are slowly starting to realize that the automobile doesn’t make a lot of sense in the urban context. It isn’t just the smog or the traffic deaths; in a city, cars aren’t even a convenient way to get around.

Traffic in London today moves slower than an average cyclist (or a horse-drawn carriage). Commuters in L.A. spend 90 hours a year stuck in traffic. A U.K. study found that drivers spend 106 days of their lives looking for parking spots.

[…]

Forty years ago, traffic was as bad in Copenhagen as any other large city. Now, over half of the city’s population bikes to work every day—nine times more bike commuters than in Portland, Oregon, the city with the most bike commuters in the U.S.

Copenhagen started introducing pedestrian zones in the 1960s in the city center, and car-free zones slowly spread over the next few decades. The city now has over 200 miles of bike lanes, with new bike superhighways under development to reach surrounding suburbs. The city has one of the lowest rates of car ownership in Europe.

Carlton Reid, “The demise and rebirth of cycling in Britain“, The Guardian:

In car-centric Britain planners assumed that cycling was teetering on the edge of extinction, and by omission they would do all they could to hasten this demise. Civil engineer and planner Professor Colin Buchanan wrote a highly-influential 1963 transport report for the government which recommended that nothing be done at all to encourage urban cycling. Buchanan’s Traffic in Towns was used by town planners to bulldoze motorways through British cities.

Dave Hansford, “The Agony of Vanuatu and the New Climate Colonialism“, Public Address:

Aotearoa has become a pariah at climate talks, not least because it leads a camp seeking “opt-in, opt-out” provisions, and a ban on any legally-enforceable penalties should national targets be missed. It also seeks to have the warming effect of methane – one of New Zealand’s most voluminous pollutants – redefined so as to lessen our total emissions.

[…]

It insists that, given our preponderance of hydro power, there’s little more we can do to curtail energy emissions, as though our almost entirely fossil-fuelled land transport and industrial energy sectors were not, in fact, the fastest-growing sources of new emissions. As though this Government hadn’t borrowed billions for an orgy of motorway building. As though it hadn’t slashed spending on public transport, walking and cycling, even as it woed oil and gas companies with $8m of enticements last year.

Frederick Melo, “The Green Line at 6 months: How’s it doing?“, Twin Cities Pioneer Press:

Metro Transit’s Green Line debuted six months ago, promising a comfortable, modern light-rail connection between downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Fans and foes instantly squared off, foreseeing a big boost to economic development along University Avenue or the demise of longstanding businesses.

Six months in, one thing is clear: Ridership has nearly surpassed projections for the year 2030. From June 14 through the end of November, about 5.6 million passengers rode the line, averaging more than 1 million rides per month. The state’s first light-rail project, the Hiawatha Line, or Blue Line, debuted in June 2004 and took more than two years to reach that level.

Emily Badger, “Why parking spaces shouldn’t be wasted on cars“, Wonkblog:

For the last few years, Philadelphia has converted a handful of parking spots in front of neighborhood businesses into temporary “parklets” no bigger than the space that might fit one or two cars (these tiny interventions are now popular in a lot of cities). Records from adjacent businesses show sales went up about 20 percent immediately after the parks were installed, relative to right beforehand.

David Roos, “Cycling to Work in Vancouver“: A nice little photo-essay that shows the city from a bike’s-eye view. It does a good job of highlighting Vancouver’s built form and partially-completed cycle network:

I live on a designated quiet street (Haro) on the edge of the West End in Vancouver and work Downtown on the corner of Hornby and Dunsmuir Streets – the two best downtown cycleways – making me a good candidate for cycling to work. Walking takes around 15 minutes. Cycling takes a variable amount of time, depending on how much excitement I want in my life.

Helmets are required by law. I see about 70/30 (helmets/no helmets). I’ve not yet been fined.

Josie Pagani, “Process, not pork the problem for National”, Pundit:

There’s nothing wrong with building bridges in Northland or roads in Tauranga, or even politicians promising to do these things in by-elections. Investing in infrastructure – roads, rail, energy – stimulates the economy when it is otherwise starved of capital.

The problem is process. You have to weight up the cost of spending $69 million on bridges up North against building bridges somewhere else, or building a new school or a hospital. You need a mechanism for deciding if a project is fully funded by government or costs are shared with private capital.

Sean Hollister, “Elon Musk describes the future of self-driving cars“, Gizmodo:

We’re a very long way from that, because there’s always going to be some—for a very long time there will be some legacy cars on the road.

And it is important to just appreciate the size of the automotive industrial base. It’s not as though when somebody makes an autonomous car, that suddenly all the cars will be autonomous. There’s two billion of them. The total number of cars and trucks on the road is two billion and climbing… The capacity of car/truck production is about 100 million a year.

So if tomorrow all cars were autonomous, it would take 20 years to replace the fleet, assuming the fleet stayed the same size. Arguably it could get smaller if things were autonomous, but still it’s maybe 15 years or something and it’s not all going to transition immediately. It’s going to take quite a while. And it’s the same for electrification of cars. Changing that industrial base to be electric — if all cars tomorrow produced were electric, it would still take 20 years to replace the fleet. And right now it’s 1 percent.

Adam Hengels, “Urban[ism] Legend: The Free Market Can’t Provide Affordable Housing“, Market Urbanism:

“Relaxing” won’t do the trick in a city where prices are high enough to justify skyscrapers with four to ten times the density currently allowed.  When considering a supply cap that only allows a fraction of what the market demands, one can not reasonably conclude “Unlimited FAR” (building density) would merely result in a bit more development here and there. A radically liberalized land-use regime would deliver numbers of units several times what is permitted under current regulation.

Ms. Cort correctly concludes that because of today’s construction costs, new construction would not provide housing at prices affordable to low income people.  This will certainly be the case in the most expensive areas where developers would be allowed to meet market demands by building 60 story skyscrapers.  Advocates of land-use liberalization who understand the costs of construction would not claim that dense new construction will house the poor.  But if enough supply is allowed to come to market today, today’s new construction will become tomorrow’s affordable housing.

Guest Post: Orange Smoothy

This is a part one of a two part guest post by highly visible e-cyclist and regular reader Greg Nikoloff

This post is about my experiences with my Pedego brand (http://pedego.co.nz) electric bike (e-bike), which I purchased from Bute Bikes (who also trade as Electricbikes.co.nz) in February 2013. This post was prompted by Patrick sending me an email asking for me to do a post on “that electric bike of yours”, so here goes. This is part 1. Part 2 which has details of my commute and some thoughts on the future will follow.

The Bike:

Orange Pedego

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of you have probably seen it, the bright Orange “Beach Cruiser”- style electric bike at events like the Cyclovia event, Meet the Bruntlett’s event, the opening of the Grafton Gully Cycleway and various times around the CBD. I and the “Orange Smoothy” were at the recent pilot Bike Rave on Friday night recently past, so you’ve may have seen it then, or even just along the roads along Remuera way or out and about in parts of the CBD at times before or since.

Some of you that have seen it, may not have noticed it was an electric one. Indeed an AT Train Manager on one of the EMUs I took it on recently asked me if that silver thing on the back was my lunchbox. When I said “No, that’s the battery pack”, he expressed amazement that it was an e-bike and wanted to know more about it. Which is a common situation – people see it as an attractive bike first, an e-bike second, that’s if they even notice. And when they find out it’s both, the questions about it always arise.

A small history lesson:

I’ve owned this bike for just on 2 years now, and have clocked up over 2400 kilometres of “riding”. I put riding in quotes, as the electronic odometer which records distances covered, ticks over whether you are pedalling at the time or not, so I estimate the actual “pedalled” distance is about 90% of that number. Its only 90% because sometimes I just decide to cruise on electric battery alone to enjoy the scenery in peace, as I motor along almost silently, sometimes I just cruise down the many hills I come across without power or pedalling. The odometer still ticks over in both those cases.

I’d wanted an e-bike for years, back when I was a kid at school in fact, before such things could have become practical – due to the lack of lightweight battery tech and no high-performance brushless DC electric motors with solid state electronic control systems as we have now.

In those days the closest you probably could have come to would be some steam-punk like creation using big “coil springs” in the rear wheel hub to somehow to capture braking/stopping energy, for storage for a quicker start. An idea I think based on the fact that there was a lawn mower that had a similar “clock-work” wind-up mechanism for starting it, instead of the usual “pull on the rope” style starter. In those days, it was either that or bolting on an internal combustion engine – my brother tried that with a 2 stroke lawn mower engine mounted between the frame near the pedals on a regular man’s bike – it worked ok but was noisy, and without a doubt dangerous and illegal (neither of us had motorcycle or car licenses then).

Why the Pedego?

Despite looking on and off for years, I never found one that ticked all the boxes, or pushed all the buttons for me. And that I could also afford to buy. I’d tried some other e-bikes a few years before and they were pretty underwhelming and gutless. But after some research and a test ride, it seemed the Pedego did met most my requirements. I was also wondering how I’d cope in Auckland traffic, not having ridden in traffic for years. A very valid concern, so that’s why I got the biggest and brightest bike I could – hence why its orange! The big tyres I got added as an after-factory option, allow me to go off road (or across rough ground like a local park), that normal bikes (and me) might struggle with and the bigger seat means my back or backside doesn’t get too sore when I do so.

As this is an upright style bike, you don’t have to hunch over the handle-bars, instead you can ride looking at the scenery and keeping an eye out for dangers. Plus being upright, it makes you “higher” off the ground than the motorist in the cars you ride beside.

While the Pedego model is a top-spec e-bike chock full of name-brand componentry, it is not the cheapest, nor the most expensive e-bike out there. The cost of my model was $2,690 for the base model, plus upgrades to a 50% higher capacity battery (15 Watt/Hr v 10 Watt/hr Std) and the bigger “Fat Bastard” oops Schwalbe “Fat Frank” tyres, a bigger seat, and some other upgrade features. The total cost with those add-ons was $3,300 inc. GST from the previously mentioned Bute Bikes in Browns Bay. All prices in early 2013 dollars. This being a Transport blog post, I’ve indexed my CAPEX spending to the actual year of spend i.e. 2013.

Yes, you can buy a cheaper e-bike but many look to me that they are designed in China for lighter weight Asian riders and won’t cope well with NZ-sized riders (or crappy Auckland roads). Some of these come with Lead Acid or other “low-tech” batteries, and the many I’ve seen look pretty flimsy to me. And then there is the after-sales service aspect. I knew from my reading that Electric Bikes as a distributor had been around for years. In fact I’d heard an interview with them on National Radio a few years ago but they were based in Tauranga back then – but that meant I couldn’t easily test-drive one. Now they’re Auckland based, and Bute Bikes have their own NZ-designed models, similar to the Pedego in functionality, but which work out about $500-$1,000 cheaper for similar features. The style and features (and the lack of colours!) didn’t appeal as much to me as the Pedego did.

Pedego is “America’s number one e-bike brand” by sales so they say – not that means much to me or you, I’m sure. After all the Ford F150 truck, being America’s most popular vehicle by sales, is not very relevant for NZ. So some e-bike for rich yanks may not be what it seems, or is it?

Ok, cut to the chase – what’s it like?

My first go on the Pedego was on a grey windy Saturday, with wet roads, not ideal for the first time cycling in years. Bute Bikes set me up on a demo model, adjusted seat and handle-bar height. They showed me the 2 throttle control modes, and turned me loose on a cruiser model like the one I figured I wanted. They encouraged me to take a spin on it around the damp streets of Browns Bay. Within minutes I was hooked on the experience. I hadn’t ridden a bike for many years so I wasn’t sure how I would cope with an ordinary bike let alone an e-bike. Anyway, a 10-minute spin showed this was nothing but an extra-ordinary bike, which produced a very big and ever-widening grin. After a 30-minute hoon around the local park and surrounds and it was back to Bute Bikes complete with huge grin to discuss the cost and factory upgrade options. Two years on, here we still are – same bike, 2,400 km on the clock, one puncture (last December: cost me $20 for a new tube at the local bike shop and they fitted it while I waited), and not much more in maintenance.

When riding its like a heavyish (25kg or so) bike that rides well. But when you turn on the power and crank power up to max, it’s like having a massive hand at your back pushing you along – remember when you first learned to ride a bike and a parent or older sibling helped you get up to speed and pushed you along as you pedalled to help on the hills? Well imagine that, except that push never goes away, it’s there all day, every day, as and when you want it – that’s the e-bike experience in a nutshell. An e-bike simply lollops along, and takes you with it.

The motor in mine is the maximum legal power allowed on an e-bike by NZ law – 300 watts. That doesn’t sound like much (the European limit is 250W and some other brands keep the 250W same maximum power limit in NZ models). When you’re on an e-bike and you dial up 100% power, you can definitely feel it, and it’s like having legs that are 20 years younger at once. You can almost become a “Steve Austin: 6 Million dollar Man” wannabe. Beat that, you MAMIL!

The e-bike goes about 38-40km/hr top speed (exactly how fast much depends on the battery charge) as the electronic controller under the battery limits the top speed to 40km/hr, Beyond that speed you are on your own again – no more e-bike; it’s just a regular “me-bike”.

They say “power corrupts”, and having that sort of power on tap definitely corrupts changes your riding style. For instance when you have to pull up at the lights suddenly while still in top gear (7th for me), normally it’s a real bugger to get that sorted before the lights go green – you either hobble off at 5 km/hr or you have to get the back wheel off the ground to peddle it around in to a lower gear. With the e-bike, just leave it in 7th, and open up the throttle when the lights go green, pedal away, and you’re usually at 30+ km/hr by the time you leave the other side of the intersection!

Another point, you don’t need to run red lights or sneak across with the pedestrians to keep on schedule. You can afford to be legal, wait with/at the front of the cars, then safely zoom away when the light goes green – and catch up those cyclists who rode through the red lights ahead of you – and you’ll do that in a few hundred metres or so, without breaking a sweat. So you can get the virtuous glow of exercise and of being a more law abiding cyclist at the same time, as well leaving the motorists behind in your dust at the lights.

Going up hills is where the e-bike really comes into its own. Yes, the obvious one is you don’t have to peddle as hard. Generally you still have to peddle – the e-bike can easily do smaller hills on its own. Really big ones, not so much – I’m sure it could make it up Carlton Gore Road on its own at about 6-8km/hr if you didn’t peddle. I know some of the back streets I cycle near the Orakei boardwalk are pretty steep in places and I’ve gone up those on battery alone just to see how it manages it, and they are over a 10% grade.

The second point, which is just as relevant is this – when you do pedal, it’s much faster to get up the hill. Which means your time spent straining at the pedals is very much reduced; you’ll still need to get some huff and puff up though. But I never have to get up on the pedals to get up a hill – I can ride seated all the time if I choose. So e-bikes make it easy to become a “gentleman/woman rider”.

The best way to visualise this, is that it simply “flattens the hills”. What it won’t do well is push you up a hill very fast if you don’t pedal. But this simply means that you can pedal your e-bike, as if it’s flat everywhere. i.e. it turns Auckland into Amsterdam. And you know what – when you cycle up the hills faster than the cars in the next lane because they’re grinding up the hill in slow crawl traffic and you, in the bus lane next door are not – that’s priceless! You can’t buy that sort of pleasure and satisfaction as cheaply, or anywhere else I know of.

And lastly, the dreaded head wind – that can be pretty tiring to ride into especially on an upright. I know from my dreaded easterly winds when I lived in Christchurch that winds are a real drag. On an e-bikes it still is, except that you are doing it at 30km/hr instead of 15km/hr or less. You get a bit more wind-buffeted but then you spend a lot less time in it. So in theory, for half the overall effort – you get there, quicker, and feeling more refreshed.

When you go downhill, the bike doesn’t recharge. The guys at Bute Bikes have some good discussion on this on the FAQs area of their website, but basically the mechanical and electrical complications you get as a result of doing so don’t actually extend the range much, so they say it’s better to buy a bigger battery and go that way and have a bike you can peddle normally. So it’s eminently do-able and worthwhile for regenerative braking on a $15m EMU – not so much on a $3K e-bike.

I know from 2 years regular use and charging that the battery is starting to lose its “freshness” – you can tell as the bike goes faster when it’s just off the charger in the morning, as compared to the go-home trip at the end of the day. Even so it still goes like a rocket. As for electricity cost, I haven’t really calculated that, but I know it will charge up in about 3-4 hours on the charger provided – which is little more than a large sized laptop charger with 48 volt output. So maybe 5 cents per charge is probably the actual cost. I think I pay more money on my power bill for running my 32 inch LCD TV a few hours each day than charging my e-bike.

The battery will probably need to be refurbished/replaced in the next 2 or so years, but it’s designed for that, with the battery being removable and is built from standard cells inside. So I don’t expect to have to scrap the e-bike ‘cos the battery is worn out. The capacity (in watt/hours) of the battery controls the distance you can get. My rules of thumb for my set up is up to 40km/hr speed for about 30-40km distance – your mileage will vary.

Having said that, I have cycled into town, up and down Grafton Gully a couple of times, gone to the new Waterfront Promenade and headed back home on it along Tamaki Drive, into a stiff easterly breeze, all at top speed/full throttle, I’ll have done the thick end of 30km and the battery will be nearly tapped out by the time I get home, with top speed dropping to about 32-35 km/hr on the way back. So yes mileage does vary. I took the bike last year on the Hauraki rail trail from Waihi to Kopu (via Paeroa) and the battery was full at the start and about 1/3 charged at the end, even after pedalling along the boring flat from Paeroa to Kopu at a good clip. And while doing the Hauraki Rail trail I saw a couple of (suggested collective noun for a group of e-bikes –“a fleet”), near new Pedegos going the other way (up the hill).

So that’s part 1 of my experiences with my e-bike. Part 2 will look more closely at my daily commute in detail to get a feel for how it works in practise.

Lastly, just before I go (for all you Star Trek TV series fans, this is the episodes “tinkly bit” – I’ll explain in part 2 more what a “tinkly bit” is if you don’t know).

Todays, tinkly bit, is a small graphic design note.

If you look at the Pedego logo, you can see it, like, the well-known FedEx logo, uses negative space to some effect – heres a close up of the Pedego (NZ) logo:

Pedego_NZ_Logo

 

 

 

You can see the D and O of word PEDEGO use the negative space to show an electric plug and electric socket (albeit a US socket). Which neatly reminds you that this is an electric bike i.e. technically a “plug-in hybrid electric vehicle” (PHEV). Hybrid ‘cos it has two fuel sources electric powered and human powered.

While I’ve not read/heard the exact pronunciation of the Pedego brand name, I assume it is said as 3 words “PED” “E” “GO” , I suspect some would see/say it as “PED” “EGO”.

Part Two next Saturday.

 

Saturday picture: The fate of bicyclists

When bicycle were first invented and popularised in the late 1800s, they were met with a degree of moral panic. Would bicycles lead women into immorality? Would upstanding citizens be overrun by mobs of cycling hoons?

David Herlihy’s book Bicycle: The History presents one particularly hilarious example of these reactions. It shows Puck magazine’s 1897 vision of Sunday cyclists who have biked their way into the inferno.

Puck 1897 Bicycle Hell

We now live in a more secular society, where relatively few people argue that weekend warriors are risking their immortal souls with Sunday morning rides. But, as some people’s fevered reaction to new on-street bicycle facilities shows, a small minority do seem to believe that a bit of green paint and a few safe hit posts will condemn them to traffic hell.