20 Things for Auckland

Investor, business commentator and friend of the blog, Lance Wiggs, has written an excellent post on 20 obvious things to remember for Auckland, especially with local body elections coming up. Most of it relates to topics we’ve talked about before.


We can easily forget that most people don’t read Transport Blog, find The High Cost of Free Parking obvious or understand that great cities are great to walk in – and lousy to drive in. Many of us have lived overseas though, and we just tend to forget just how things worked over there and what is missing here.

So here are 20 (not so) obvious things about cities, and Auckland in particular, that we should all remember.

1: Many people living in a small area makes for a better life for all. It’s more efficient, more fun and increases business, and that’s why people choose to live in big dense cities.

2: Large roads create moats that block parts of cities from each other and we risk losing the benefits of urbanism. Many of the motorways that carved up cities overseas are now being removed, and the same applies to ports.

3: Parking spaces not only take up valuable land, but they also reduce the positive effects of urbanism. They are expensive and should be removed or charged for accordingly.

4: All the great cities of the world are horrible places to find and pay for a car park. That’s a design feature, as they prioritize walking and public transport to cope with the demand for moving people.

5: Public transport takes cars off the road and increases, dramatically, the ability of a city to deliver people to and from work and shops, and with very limited use of land. It is far cheaper, based on both marginal and capital costs, to move people with public transport than cars.

6: An empty rail line or bus lane is a good thing – the point is to make their lanes congestion-free so that riders can get to their destination faster.

7: Removing cars and car parks, broadening footpaths and installing shared spaces increases business (significantly) to the local merchants, and makes for higher value commercial buildings as well. People want to be in spaces that are friendly to people.

8: Apartments can be awesome places to live – and they should come in all shapes and sizes to cater for all stages of life. They are also intrinsically cheaper to build, supply with services and, with urban density, commute and shop from. You can generally survive without a car.

9: Driving to work is a horrible experience versus walking, riding and public transport – in that order. If you have the other options then take them.

10: To get people out of cars and onto cycleways and walking we need to provide pleasant and safe environments for walkers and cyclists. It’s not enough to do big projects – we need a network from homes to school, shops and work.

11: Driving kids to school is a confidence trick – switching back to kids walking and cycling will make everybody safer by removing cars from the streets, making kids healthier and providing critical mass of kids to react to and prevent any low probability but newsworthy predators. But we need to switch entire schools at a time to make this work. We also need to be smarter about buses for schools.

12: We make personal choices for transport that are not our own best interests, such as choosing to drive (and be traffic) rather than, say, walk. The right economics, such as variable tolls and parking charges and cross-subsidization of public transport nudge us into making better choices and save money for everyone.

13: New Zealand has one of the world’s most efficient domestic airline systems. Getting from the airport to Auckand city though is embarrassingly poor – great cities offer rail or light rail.

14: Autonomous cars are still cars, and risk clogging the roads even more as they reverse commute after dropping passengers. Autonomous taxis are still taxis. Neither takes cars off the roads – people will still want their Toyotas, Fords, BMWs and Mercedes Benzes with their stuff inside, while those shared cars will need constant cleaning.

15: Auckland has the potential to be one of the world’s great cities. We are rapidly building in population, especially downtown, and we need to invest to grow. That means increasing our debt funding, making sure the rates are set at the right level (they are amongst the lowest in NZ), building smart infrastructure to allow for density, removing trucks and cars by providing better alternatives and unleashing bigger buildings in and around downtown.

16: Allowing bigger buildings in your property zone will increase the value of your property – a lot. That’s free money. You may even find a developer who will buy your place for a lot of cash and give you a free apartment in their new development.

17: In large cities the houses with backyards, as we have in the leafy inner city suburbs, belong to a few extremely wealthy families. In Auckland the pressure is building to convert those houses to much higher value apartments.

18: Global warming will make beach front property more marginal – but property overlooking the coast will always be valuable.

19: Induced demand, where if you build it they will come, applies not just for roads, where new roads rapidly get clogged, but also for rail, light rail and bike lanes. The latter also increase the value of surrounding property. Build the bike lanes and they get used, and the evidence is clear to see.

20: In short Auckland needs to maintain or increase rates as a percentage of home value, borrow more, unleash the ability to build bigger commercial and residential buildings, invest heavily in public transport including rail, light rail and bus lanes, expand the walkable areas and cycle lanes, look to move the port within 10 years, say, increase the cost and reduce the supply of parking and work with schools and businesses to acelerate the transition to walking, cycling and public transport. And they can use an abundance of evidence from Auckland and offshore to make these decisions.

The reason Auckland is doing so well is that the current CEO and people that work for Auckland Council and aligned organizations as well as the private sector are working hard to achieve these goals. The central government is also largely aligned. The results, like the crowds in Britomart and Wynyard Quarter, the number of cranes downtown, the rapid rise in public transport, walking and cycling and increase in collective prosperity and delight in the inner city are clear for all to see.

However we need a Mayor and Council that support growth, that support investment and that support rather than constantly undermines the largely excellent work done by Auckland Council. We need Councillors who not only read their papers (and many don’t I’m told), but who also read and understand the vast body of work and international experience on urban and transport planning. We need Councillors who use, as National MP Simon O’Connor recently said to Parliament, reason, evidence and experts inform and make decisions. We need a Mayor and Councillors who are positive about the future of Auckland, who are inspiring and who have the skills and experience to do the work.

We don’t need Councilors who are sports or media celebrities with no real qualifications for the role. We don’t need Councillors who say no to every proposal without reading or turning up to resident events. We don’t need Councillors who undermine the CEO and Auckland Council, such as those who voted against he Unitary Plan submission.

It’s time to professionalise Auckland Council. Let’s make sure that there are enough high quality independent and party aligned candidates for all electorates. And if you are considering standing on the sort of platform outlined above – then please do so. I’m willing to help.

Collins Comments on Auckland

Every now and then you see comments that make you want to laugh, cry or just bang your head against a wall at the stupidity of them. Yesterday there were a couple of such comments from Judith Collins in an opinion piece talking about the Auckland mayoralty. They aren’t really the key part of her opinion but present a good opportunity to bust a few urban myths and concern trolling.

First up one of those old urban legends.

A sprawling city the size of London with a population the size of Perth’s.

There’s couple of interesting aspects to this statement in the comparison of London and Perth.

I’m not quite sure where the comparison with London came about, possibly it was one of those ones from the 50’s and 60’s that was used to justify investing in roads and not in public transport. Regardless of its origin it’s false and presumably only came about by including much of Auckland’s rural hinterland. If we’re talking about cities then we should be comparing the urban area and in that regard London at around 1,738km² is over three times the size of Auckland at 559km². You can clearly see the difference in the image below which shows the two cities at the same scale.

London vs Auckland

Auckland is a long relatively narrow city due to its geography and would look considerably smaller if it too was on a river plain.

It’s also odd that she chose Perth to compare Auckland too. Perth’s population is now estimated to be over 2 million, a level Auckland is not expected to reach for roughly another 15 years. Of course we’ve already kind of been following Perth for some time when it comes to transport, not least of which included using their old rolling stock until we too electrified our rail network.  If we want to continue to follow Perth then more investment in our public transport network and in particular rail will be needed which brings us to the second comment of hers.

Auckland needs roads first and foremost. The Central Rail Link is a good idea and would be a lot better if it included stations at the University of Auckland and AUT. The fact that it won’t include Auckland City Hospital is a lost opportunity. But, then again, Auckland’s hills and gullies make this extremely expensive. Therein lies one of the other issues that London, for example, doesn’t face. Auckland is not flat. It’s built around 60 volcanic cones after all.

The good news for Judith is we have done exactly what she suggests. We’ve spent decades building roads first and foremost and with the exception of a few bits here and there, our road network is largely complete. Once Waterview opens little over a year there will not be any significant gaps in our roading network and all projects after that are tinkering with what we already have. That means for Auckland to move into the future it needs to start focusing on its missing modes, its high quality public transport and active modes networks.

It’s the comment about the CRL not including the Universities and the Hospital that is what really drove me to write this post. It’s classic white anting and the suggestion the CRL route be changed to include these two locations along with Wynyard has been pushed by the NZCID for some time – they are also pushing for a longer and more expensive road tunnel under the harbour. It all reminded me of a document I received from an OIA request over a year ago but never posted. The document is a presentation by the then Minister of Transport to the Cabinet Strategy Committee and is dated 23 August 2013 and I assume Collins was on that committee while she was a minister.

In explaining the CRL it states the CRL is Key infrastructure project for meeting forecast growth in demand for access to Auckland’s city centre It also notes that 14 options for route alignment, number and location of stations were considered in the Options Evaluation Study before determining the preferred route and that the preferred route was endorsed by Auckland Transport, Kiwirail and Auckland Council.

It says the confirmed route is 3.4km long and has the old cost of $2.86 billion.

  • Fairly straight alignment, consistent with rail planning principles
  • Proven constructability
  • Central route covers both sides of CBD
  • Significant travel time savings for Western Line passengers.

It then looks at the NZCID route. Notice it is about 800m longer and costs about $800 million more

MoT on Alternate CRL Route - Page 4

The stations proposed would obviously have an impact on patronage, the page below doesn’t show the Hospital or Wynyard but as you can see there is little difference in how many people would use alternative route for the Universities.

MoT on Alternate CRL Route - Page 5

Modelling of the overall impact of PT patronage out to 2041 shows that in the AM peak there would be a difference of just 150 trips. This is likely because the longer less direct route for some journeys will put a number of people off using PT.

MoT on Alternate CRL Route - Page 6

If the small difference in patronage wasn’t bad enough it also turns out the route isn’t feasible as it would require a 9% grade when the maximum for trains is 3.5%. Just eyeballing the graphics also suggests that it would involve some very deep stations.

MoT on Alternate CRL Route - Page 7

As for connecting Wynyard, they say AT modelling suggests that on its own it isn’t enough to serve with rail. It doesn’t mention it but to me Wynyard seems much more suited to being a station on a route that connects to the North Shore.

MoT on Alternate CRL Route - Page 8

The presentation notes the following conclusions

MoT on Alternate CRL Route - Page 9

And the last part of her comment

And we Aucklanders love our cars. Many Aucklanders work in south Auckland and live in west Auckland. That’s the nature of Auckland. Buses travel on roads. Rail is useful and needed but it’s not the only solution.

As I’ve said in the past Auckland’s love affair with cars is more of an arranged marriage due to a lack of quality options.

Yes many people do live in West Auckland and travel to South Auckland for work. However have a play with Statistics NZ interactive commuter map and you’ll see it’s not super significant numbers. Once the new network is in place it will be easier than ever to commute between the two areas. For those that want to drive – which is likely to remain the fastest option – if only there was a road that would let them bypass having to travel through the city to get to the south. Perhaps we could call the road the Western Ring Road. The example below is of commute patterns to the area unit that includes the Airport. Around 1,200 of the nearly 16,000 people who commuted there came from West Auckland

Census Journey to Work - Airport

Lastly of course buses travel on roads but they generally do so on local roads, not state highways like the government is prioritising. I look forward to seeing Collins tell us all what roads for buses she is proposing be built.

Reader views: Who’s talking about cities?

The other week, I reposted Melissa Bruntlett’s great reflection about gender and urban activism, and asked: Can Transportblog facilitate a broader conversation about urban issues that allows more voices to be heard?

Judging by the diversity of views and perspectives that came out in the comments, Aucklanders from all different walks of life are clearly passionate about the future of their city. As many readers don’t look at the comments section, I thought it would be good to highlight a few of the many great responses we got.

Kurt T calls for a focus on active modes in south Auckland, where people could really benefit from the option to get around without a car:

I’m early 30s, male, brown and interested in transport issues. I am currently studying for a change of career into international business, but the amount of time I spend reading this blog and about transport and urban design issues in Auckland makes me wonder if I’m not missing a trick here and should get some sort of urban planning qualification under my belt.

A different perspective that I can bring to the table growing in Auckland is the need for active modes to be encouraged in poorer areas. It’s no secret that Maori and Polynesians face some pretty horrid health outcomes in NZ and I feel that auto-culture and city design focused on shifting metal boxes as quickly as possible to the detriment of active citizens (as was so tragically demonstrated last week) have played a role in the stats we see today and that better urban design that prioritises humans propelling themselves under their own steam could play a huge role in reversing some of these terrible trends. Priority funding for protected cycleways on all major arterials in South and West Auckland would be a start. There would also be significant cost savings as was demonstrated in one of the posts here not too long ago to Auckland’s poorest citizens forgoing their vehicles and hopping on a bike.

Another is changing the perception among poorer Aucklanders that cycling is a child’s past-time or for middle-class, white males in lycra into something that is far more functional, beneficial and generalised. But I fear that that won’t happen until the infrastructure is built first and people are confident.

Suzanne reports on the realities of transport for someone who’s got both kids and a job:

I read transport blog from time to time – I am definitely interested in improving transport across Auckland. I live in Central-East Auckland, with kids that I have to drop off in neighbouring suburbs each day, followed by a long 50-odd km commute South for work. Then I do the whole thing in reverse at the other end of the day. I see horrendous traffic queues coming into the city from the South each day and am very grateful that I am heading away from that traffic. Co-workers from Pukekohe who have to go into town occasionally for work tell me that they need to leave home at 6am in order to have a reasonable commute.

But the thing that bothers me personally is that dropping off my kids each morning in two different places in rush hour can take me an hour before I even leave the city, even though in total I am travelling less than 10km in total for those drop offs. Part of the problem is that before school care and daycare don’t open until 7:30, so I have to travel in rush hour. And there is little alternative with my route but to take a car.

I should add that I am a public transport advocate, who used to use it before the demands of kids and my work. I am happy to develop these options, in order to get more cars off the road.

@ByTheMotorway makes some fascinating and well thought-out points about the value of street grids in providing safety and accessibility for all users:

I find that giving priority to street grids in cycling strategy, is of greater relevance to the non-white, non-cis-male, ability-variant, economically underprivileged, etc., sectors of the population.


* The Chinese grandparents who do cycle or would cycle short distances on Dominion Rd and its surrounds need neither a cycleway by any motorway, nor a “parallel route” elsewhere. The streetcar-suburb grid matters most — in catchments of front-door-to-front-door trips around local centres and bus stops, not necessarily up a single linear corridor.

* Likewise, the main radial route that matters to a schoolkid in South Auckland is the one that takes them from the front door of their home to the school gate, preferably via Aunty’s house, and not via SH1 or NAL. Except, we have to multiply this in every direction for a targeted proportion of the school population. Secondarily, we can repeat the process for extended family, babysitters, local shops, houses of worship, and PT nodes. Only a local street grid can encompass all of these assets to enable all of these trips and support such a community, space- and cost-efficiently.

* K’Rd is where it is and what it is for a reason. There are a number of streets that could have evolved to do what K’Rd does (Ponsonby, Symonds, Beach, Fort, maybe), but these would all share certain highly-connected network-geometric traits. One function of K’Rd is evident in its massive importance to Auckland’s queer peoples, starving artists and the like, who have historically been underprivileged, and often relied on the social support of this neighbourhood of scale. These same network-geometric qualities are why it is among Auckland’s busiest cycling, walking and PT-carrying streets already, and why it deserves better treatment. (Note: the same geometric rule applies to Queen St and finance, or Shortland St and law, but keep in mind the initial premise of servicing basic need vs discretion.)

Chris seconds Kurt’s points about transport priorities in south Auckland, and adds his voice as a car-using supporter of better public transport and walking and cycling:

There are some exciting PT projects such as the Manukau and Otahuhu interchanges and electrification to Pukekohe which will make a huge difference once they are completed. Such a shame that there is no funding for them yet. What is lacking though in the south, in order to decrease the car dependence, is a focus on creating multimodal streets with cycle networks and bus lanes where suitable. Instead people are expected to park and ride.

I live in rural Karaka and although I rely on my car, I see much greater merit in govt and council investment in sustainable transport, so well done to the efforts of the transportblog team in advocating for this.

Angela talks about how having children has changed the way she uses and perceives urban transport systems – safety for children walking or cycling by roads is a huge concern:

I’m a women in my 30’s (just) with two young kids. I read your blog daily and find it very interesting. I moved back to NZ in 2008 from HK so used public transport for everything. I was frustrated with the PT here and wanted to understand why it was so poor – this blog has given me some real insights. I’ve seen great improvement since I’ve come back. I do not have the depth of knowledge to write any posts and that is probably why most of the post are written by people in the industry who tend to be male and have more time. A couple of points I’d like to make from family perspective is I didn’t realise how much we were dictated to by cars until I had kids. Then you realise how often you have to stay watch out for the road, cars constantly when you’re out and about. As an adult you’ve learned these things and take it for granted. Shared spaces are great but it is confusing for kids as it seems like a pedestrian area so harder to realise it is a type of road and they need to watch for cars. Also my kids are not school age yet but when they are it will be easier for me to use public transport as they are not reliant on me to get to school. So things like improving walking and road crossings would make a huge difference.

Lastly, an anonymous (female) reader wrote in to discuss the challenges of publicly expressing one’s views while working in government:

The reason I’ve taken it to email rather than in the comments section is that as a public sector employee I am bound by a code of conduct that makes me very wary about commenting in a public forum about matters relevant to my employer that isn’t official policy. As an individual I am very passionate and hold some strong views that are not always in alignment with my employer, but feel I can only express them verbally in the company of friends. So I am a silent voice on the blog, I read it and discuss it with friends, but don’t feel it is appropriate for me to comment. This could be impacting on why some voices are not heard on the blog. Particularly when women are more likely to be employed in the public sector, and often take a more cautious approach interpreting codes of conduct.

Thanks to everyone who responded – please continue the conversation!

Celebrating Auckland’s Transformation

Auckland has come a long way in recent years when it comes to the city and waterfront more interesting and people oriented. This was highlighted beautifully on the weekend as tens of thousands every day flocked to the waterfront to celebrate Auckland’s 175th birthday. From Captain Cook Wharf through to the Wynyard Quarter the place was buzzing with people once again proving that people respond when we make spaces for people.

Queen St Temporary Space - Ludo

Photo from Ludo Campbell-Reid

And it isn’t just Aucklanders noticing the redevelopment of the city. This piece a week ago titled Revamped Auckland waterfront inspires from The Press in Christchurch highlights the transformation that Auckland is making:

The girl sits inside what looks like a ventilation shaft, her very own stainless-steel cocoon, legs dangling over the side. Families with pushchairs, a woman walking her dog, cyclists, tourists, and locals stroll past. All look relaxed and carefree.

As they wander the length of the old pier, there’s plenty to grab their attention: Colourful metal cylinders, sculptures shaped like crabs, fish, whales, octopuses, and seahorses. Children splash through a pool underneath a gigantic metal sculpture that looks like it could be an intergalactic TV aerial. Teenagers shoot basketball hoops. Shoppers browse through treasures in market stalls.

Shipping containers have been turned into information booths; old warehouses have become restaurants and cafes. We join the throng for a leisurely and surprisingly affordable lunch.

Welcome to the Wynyard Quarter, part of Auckland’s burgeoning transformation of its previously neglected waterfront. Starting in 2011, this bold and imaginative, development has proved hugely successful. If you are heading to the City of Sails, go – you’ll love it.

We didn’t find getting around Auckland without a car too hard. We stayed on the North Shore. To reach the Wynyard Quarter, we used the Northern Express, a bus service that has is own motorway lane and bus stations. It couldn’t have been easier. We found Aucklanders more courteous to pedestrians than Christchurch drivers.

Public transportation makes a mockery of the calls for more car-parking in Christchurch. Without car parks, the city will fail, say those with a vested interest in developing their central city private businesses – for which they would love a dollop of public money.

Go to other cities and you won’t find car-parking easy either. If you can, you take the bus or train – or bike – instead.

Future cities will be nothing like the old ones. We need to be more flexible, and if that means tweaking or even radically changing former plans, let’s get on with it.

Hell even the few comments are fairly positive and it’s not like Cantabrians are known for their positive views on Auckland. This one in particular is good.

Wynyard Quarter is an amazing place to visit. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been revising my long held opinion of Auckland as a bleak soulless wasteland. Auckland’s inner city is now full of vibrancy and character again.

Wynyard Busy

North Wharf was certainly busy with people enjoying the space

What’s often forgotten is that some of the city’s most impressive transformations have only really been completed for less than 5 years. This includes Wynyard Quarter, the shared spaces and much of the Britomart Precinct.

And then there was this fantastic piece from Jack Tame in the Herald a few days ago:

Imagine describing Auckland to a foreigner who’d never heard her name. A sub-tropical climate with 1.5 million people; suburbs freckled by volcanic nipples, each so perfectly coned and green you’d swear it was just clever landscaping; a city with two impressive harbours, two impressive and different coasts; a city where rich, poor, suburban or central, most people are only ever a few minutes from the sea.

You’d likely explain to your foreign friend that Auckland is the Pacific capital, a city rich with Maori and Polynesian culture. There may be more Pacific Island people here than in all the islands combined and the blend and diversity of Aucklanders is unlike anywhere else on Earth.

We’re spoilt. Auckland is an almighty playground, geographic and cultural. But as the city flourishes and booms it will take planning not to balls it all up. Our city must intensify. It’s unsustainable to sprawl our way to Hamilton, and naive to think that every Aucklander needs to live on a quarter-acre block.

We’re making progress. Britomart and Wynyard Quarter are perfect examples of good public space and will always be embraced.

But high-quality, high-density living options and public transport are essential in ensuring Auckland remains a great place to live.

I’ve long said that Auckland has one of the best natural settings in the world, one that many cities could only dream about. If we can continue down the path we’re on we have a chance to make our urban environment just as wonderful.

Auckland and Wellington per capita train use

The news recently that Auckland had surpassed Wellington for rail patronage as well as passed the 12 million trips mark was good however  as we and many others have noted, on a per capita basis Wellington is still well ahead. The per capita result got me thinking about  how we measure it and whether the population figure used is ideal. It’s generally measured by dividing the number of trips taken by the population of the region

  • Auckland – 12 million trips with 1.53 million people = 8 trips per person
  • Wellington – 11.9 million trips with 0.49 million people = 24 trips per person

As you can see based on this Wellingtonians use trains 3 times more than Aucklanders do and for Auckland to have the same per capita rate patronage with it’s current population it would need to have around 37 million trips, something not likely possible without the City Rail Link (the modelling I’ve seen suggests Auckland won’t get patronage above ~25 million trips without the CRL).

While the residents of the capital definitely use trains more, the calculation is a very broad one as it uses the regional population. Both regions have large areas with a lot of residents that don’t live anywhere near a rail line that are extremely unlikely to use a train, for example the North Shore in Auckland or much of Wellington City except the parts near the Johnsonville Line.

For Auckland you can see this in the map below from the census Journey to Work data where train use is unsurprisingly concentrated around the rail network.

2013 - Auckland Journey to Work by Train



So it got me thinking about what the per capita results would look like if we based it just on the population that lives near a rail line. Reader Steve D helped me out and looked at the population numbers within all meshblocks that have some point within either 1km or 2km of a rail line.

This is only a close shot of Auckland to give an idea

Auckland Rail Population

And here’s Wellington

Wellington Rail Population

Based on the looking at meshblocks 1 or 2km from a train station the results are below.

Akl vs WLG 1-2km

So based on this Aucklanders still use the train less than residents of Wellington but the it’s not quite as bad as it appears when just looking at the regional level data.

Perhaps once Auckland gets the new network rolled out with integrated fares we might start to see per capita rail use in Auckland approach that of Wellington.

Population-weighted densities in New Zealand and Australia

Urban population density is a hot topic – some people complain that it’s getting too high in Auckland, while others worry that it’s too low to get the urban outcomes we want. Either way, density matters – it can have a big impact on:

  • The efficiency of infrastructure provision and public transport services
  • Urban productivity and levels of competition in industries like retail
  • Amenity for residents – higher density can support cultural institutions and local vibrancy, but some people may prefer more open space
  • Preservation of open space and agricultural land on the urban fringes
  • Cities’ energy efficiency and use of resources.

However, we seldom ask: What is population density and are we measuring it correctly?

With the support of my employer, MRCagney, I’ve just written a short working paper that looks at this issue: Population-weighted densities in New Zealand and Australian cities: A new comparative dataset. It can be read in full here (pdf) and comes with an interactive spreadsheet that allows easy comparisons between cities.

This paper presents a new, more robust measure of density: population-weighted density. In contrast to simple average density measures, which basically measure the number of people living in the average hectare of land in the city (which is generally found in a low-density fringe suburb), this measure estimates the density of the neighbourhood in which the city’s average resident lives. As a result, this measure is much more representative of the lived experience of a city’s residents. The US Census Bureau has used a similar approach in their recent population density profiles.

While a wider range of results are available in the full paper, some of the most interesting findings actually relate to Auckland. In short, there have been some massive changes to the city over the last decade:

  • Auckland’s population density has increased 33% since 2001 – the city’s population-weighted density is now around 43 people per hectare after a decade of infill development and intensification
  • As a result, Auckland is now the third-densest city in Australasia – behind Sydney (76 people/hectare) and Melbourne (45 people/hectare) but significantly ahead of Wellington (38 people/hectare), Perth (30 people/hectare), and Brisbane (34 people/hectare).
  • There is no geographic reason why good public transport will not work in Auckland. Cities that are less dense than Auckland have successful, high-patronage PT systems.

And now, some visualisations!

Here are maps of Auckland’s population density in 2001 and 2013. As you can see, the city’s gotten incrementally denser throughout its entire area – look at the slightly darker shades of blue appearing all over the isthmus, on the North Shore, in the West and in Manukau.

Auckland density 01-13 v2

If we zoom into centres of New Zealand’s three largest cities, we can see that there have been big changes in city centre density in both Auckland and Wellington. Christchurch, on the other hand, as suffered from the effects of the 2011 Canterbury Earthquake, which demolished much of the city centre and reversed the city’s tentative moves towards apartment living. In spite of rapid demographic transition in Auckland’s city centre, rising density hasn’t really spilled over to surrounding suburbs.

Akl Wgtn Chch city centre comparison v1

Comparisons between cities also provide some interesting insights. The following chart, from the interactive spreadsheet, compares population density profiles in Perth and Auckland. Perth has frequently been cited as an example for Auckland due to the success of its electrified rail network, which now carries over 60 million annual boardings. However, Perth’s less dense, and significantly more sprawling, than Auckland. Clearly, low density isn’t holding back Auckland’s PT system.

Auckland Perth density profiles

The following chart makes that point even more clearly. It shows population-weighted densities and annual public transport ridership in eight large Australasian cities. Although Auckland is the third-densest city, it’s got the lowest PT boardings per capita.

Density and PT ridership

In short, Auckland is in an especially good position to benefit from a virtuous cycle in its transport system. Recent increases in density throughout the urbanised area have contributed to rising ridership on public transport, strengthening the case for further investment in projects like the City Rail Link, the AMETI busway, and the city’s New Network. Delivering a better public transport system will, in turn, encourage further land use change.

If you’re interested in this topic, take a look at the working paper and the interactive spreadsheet. What do you think about Auckland’s changing urban form?

Auckland as a Consumer City – And what it might mean for the CRL

In this recent post we discussed agglomeration economies in consumption. Just to re-cap, agglomeration economies describe the external economic benefits that arise from proximity. They’re essentially the economic benefits of cities.

The benefits of agglomeration are realised by both “producers” (typically employees in the form of higher wages or businesses in the form of higher profits) and “consumers” in the form of more diverse/specialised goods and services (NB: I use a broad definition of “goods and services”, which includes all forms of social/cultural interaction). For reasons I don’t fully understand myself, much of the literature on agglomeration economies focuses exclusively on agglomeration benefits to producers.

This unfortunate lack of attention on consumer benefits is, in turn, reflected in one-dimensional policy. NZTA’s economic evaluation manual, for example, considers only agglomeration benefits in production. In my last post I argued for a wider focus on agglomeration economies in consumption. In the long run production and consumption are simply two different sides of the same economic coin, i.e we produce so we can consume.

Stated differently, the value of what we produce is intrinsically dependent on our opportunities to consume. And when it comes to providing opportunities for consumption, cities do have a unique advantage – and that advantage seems to be growing in significance. The abstract to Ed Glaeser’s 2001 paper “Consumer City”, for example, reads as follows:

Urban economics has traditionally viewed cities as having advantages in production and disadvantages in consumption. We argue that the role of urban density in facilitating consumption is extremely important and understudied. As firms become more mobile, the success of cities hinges more and more on cities’ role as centres of consumption. Empirically, we find that high amenity cities have grown faster than low amenity cities. Urban rents have gone up faster than urban wages, suggesting that the demand for living in cities has risen for reasons beyond rising wages. The rise of reverse commuting suggests the same consumer city phenomena.

In his paper Glaser analyses several data sets to support his hypothesis that cities are becoming increasingly important centres of consumption. In this post I will follow Glaeser’s lead and present some evidence to suggest that Auckland is becoming one such “consumer city”. And ultimately use this to argue that the Government’s CRL criteria are rather foolish (they’re foolish for other reasons too). From where I’m sitting Auckland may well be a poster child for agglomeration economies in consumption.

I award the city this status not because it has achieved some marvellous consumer nirvana, indeed it still leaves much to be desired. Nonetheless, what is most interesting about Auckland is the rate at which new opportunities for consumption are driving the city’s growth. Through this agglomeration process the cities underlying economic DNA, namely land values, is being fundamentally altered in ways that support greater density.

The figure below, for example, shows population growth in Auckland’s city centre (NB: Defined rather narrowly as Auckland Central West and East census area units). What this graph shows is that over the last 12 years the residential population of Auckland’s city centre has grown approximately 2.5 times faster than the rest of the region (321% growth versus 121% growth). Population in city centre In absolute numbers the population of the city centre grew by just over 15,000 people, whereas the remainder of the Auckland grew by approximately 240,000. Hence, about 6% of Auckland’s population growth in the last 12 years has been accommodated in just these two areas units. Needless to say these two area units were already the densest in the region, and now they are even denser. So why are more and more people choosing to cram into the densest parts of the city? The primary answer to this question, I believe, is agglomeration economies in consumption. Put simply, people are choosing to live in the city centre because they are attracted to the opportunities for consumption that it presents, at least in comparison to other parts of the region. By living downtown, people simply can see and do more/better “things” than would be possible if they were living elsewhere. That’s possibly why the old commercial building that fronts onto Anzac Avenue (and who backs onto my apartment building) is now being converted into loft apartments, as shown below.


Data also hints at strengthening agglomeration economies over time, at least for new residents attracted to live in Auckland. Consider for example this research by Arthur Grimes (Chairman of the Reserve Bank) into property values in Auckland. In the graph below Arthur has modelled how land prices vary with distance from Auckland’s city centre – and in turn how this relationship has varied over time. Arthur’s key finding is that land values in the city centre have increased substantially more than land values at the urban periphery.

Lnad values Auckland

In fact, back in 1992 the land in Auckland’s city centre was actually valued less than land in surrounding suburbs (i.e. 6km away). This is extraordinarily unusual – and just goes to show just how poorly Auckland was performing as a city in the very recent past. Or, put in a more positive light, how far we’ve come in a short space of time. Fast forward to 2003 and Auckland’s land rent curve has reverted to the more traditional “monotonically declining” shape (try busting that phrase out at your next party), where land values in the city centre are valued at almost twice those found in surrounding suburbs. To me this is evidence that Auckland’s underlying economic DNA, i.e. relative land values, has been transformed.

And all this has come and gone with barely a squeak in policy circles! Well the implications are rather profound. It suggests that eventually we may have to pedestrianise Queen Street – simply because the volume of pedestrians will justify such a move on travel-time savings alone. More specifically, it just goes to show the silly nature of the Government’s criteria for funding the CRL. For those who are not aware, the Government set the following two criteria for accelerating funding of the CRL: 1) annual rail patronage in excess of 20 million and 2) total CBD employment growing by 25% over current levels.

The question I have been asking myself ever since the  Government’s announcement is why choose these particular criteria? As an aside is not the best economic criteria for funding simply whether the economic benefits of the CRL exceed its costs ?

Moreover, there are plausible scenarios I can think of where the city centre’s employment numbers don’t grow by over 25% but the CRL becomes increasingly essential nonetheless. Consider a scenario where 1) the residential population of the city centre grows rapidly (as it has done for the last 15 years or so), which 2) forces up the value of land downtown and 3) thereby increases the cost of parking, which ultimately 4) stimulates mode shift from car to rail. Such a scenario could well play out even if total CBD employment remained constant.

Ultimately the criteria the Government has set for accelerating funding for the CRL really do seem rather foolish. They seem to fundamentally misunderstands recent growth in Auckland and how this might increase demand for non-car transport solutions. In a nutshell, Auckland is fast becoming a consumer city as well as a centre of production. And what a wonderful consumer city it could be too; I think it has the potential to one day challenge the exquisite beauty and vibrancy of places like Istanbul.

Realising this potential requires, however, we realise the need for different transport solutions, i.e. fewer cars, and more people – especially in Auckland city centre.

How rail was saved in Auckland

Next Monday will be a historic day for transport in Auckland as for the first time the city will have electric trains carrying fare paying passengers. Electrifying the rail network is something that has been talked about for 90 years, mostly in conjunction with a version of the City Rail Link. While Britomart was undoubtedly a turning point for rail in Auckland it wouldn’t have been possible without some key events and a whole pile of luck that occurred just over a decade earlier, without which it is unlikely we would have a rail system today. One man was at the centre of it all and this is the story of how he saved rail in Auckland.

The story starts in the late 80’s where the Auckland rail network is in serious decline. The trains were being run under the name of City Line which was part of NZ Rail Ltd and also ran a number of bus services.

Unlike Wellington which had just fairly new electric trains, the trains running on the Auckland network were decrepit and consisted of former long distance carriages that had been converted for suburban use. They were originally built in 1936 and had steel frames but the bodies were made from wood. They were also hard to access, requiring customers to climb up into the trains from what were basically oversized kerbs that masqueraded as station platforms. The video below shows what these trains looked like and there are more linked to here. Also note: to change ends there was no driving cab like today, the locomotive had to be uncoupled and moved to the other end of the train at a station with a passing loop.

At the time Auckland had also seen numerous grand plans for new public transport networks but none ever saw the political support needed to actually implement them. At the time the latest idea was convert the western line to light rail using a tram train from Henderson then send it via a tunnel under K Rd before running down the surface of Queen St. The problem was the idea couldn’t get political support. The City Council didn’t want trams on Queen St and the regional council saw it as competition to the Yellow Bus Company which they owned 90% of. That left Auckland with its near derelict trains and not much hope for the future.

It’s now the early 90’s and enter Raymond Siddalls. With a year to go before the regional council took over the contracting of services he was in charge running the suburban fleet. His bosses had also tasked him with shutting the Auckland network down. With an aging fleet, falling patronage and little political support (both locally or nationally) no one thought it could be made to work. After looking at the operations Raymond was surprised to find that with with a restructure he was be able to cut down the costs and actually have the company start making a profit on the gross contracts it held.

The critical time came in 1991 when a decision needed to be made on how to move forward. New legislation controlling how public transport services would operate was coming into effect and basically changed everything. No longer could PT be treated as a social service and the focus was on making PT stand up commercially. The legislation also didn’t allow for any distinction between rail and bus services which meant bus companies could tender for rail routes. Note: this legislation is still in effect today and has had a significant negative effect on the planning and provision of PT for over two decades. The new PTOM legislation should address most (but not all) of the issues it caused.

With the network actually making a profit the operation was kept going and the operating company tendered for the 120 services a day that they were already running (today there are something like 365 services per day). One problem though was each service had to take on the full cost of running the network. They subsequently were able to re-tender for the services as a combined timetable which allowed the costs to be shared across all services.

The councils started to get on board and the company was awarded the contract in the South for three years while in the west it was for four years. They were then able to successfully argue that with a 4 year contract on the entire network there was a chance to look at new rolling stock which would boost and the councils agreed to this. The contract was due to start in June 1992.

Around this time it just so happened that one staff member was about to go to Perth to attend a wedding. Perth was just about to finish electrifying their rail network and so the staff member was asked to drop in to find out what they were planning to do with their unneeded DMU’s (Diesel Multiple Units – the ones that don’t have a locomotive).

It turns out there were no plans for them and so subsequently Raymond flew over to inspect and value the trains. He made a call that there were no other buyers interested in them and so put in an offer for them at scrap value. All up he was aiming for 20 trains and his hunch about no other buyers being interested paid off, managing to secure 19 of them.

One of the ADLs as they looked before being refurbished in the mid 2000’s

With a new fleet of trains seemingly secured it wasn’t the end of the problems though. Perth is flat and the steepest track has a grade of 1:200 while Auckland is far from flat with trains needing to be able to handle grades of 1:36. This meant many needed their engines and transmissions overhauled to be able to handle the Auckland conditions. They also wanted to refurbish the trains by re-upholstering the seats and replacing the floor coverings. Lastly they had to raise the platform heights around the network so that people could actually get on to the trains. To make things even more difficult in Auckland the rail unions were striking trying to reopen the workshops and re-employ some of the staff who had been laid off by the earlier rail restructuring.

To fund the overhaul, refurbishment and raise the platform heights it was determined that the only way they could make it viable would be if the rail contract was extended to 10 years. Due to the confirmed availability of rolling stock this was considered a good deal. As such the regional council ended up voting unanimously to support the proposal with one person abstaining – the abstention was from a light rail advocate.

In another stroke of luck all of this happened just before the rail network was privatised, something that could have put the whole idea in jeopardy.

At around the time the DMU’s were introduced patronage on the rail network reached its lowest point ever of just over 1 million trips per year. Within a couple of years after their introduction, the DMU’s were responsible for a reverse in the in the patronage decline that had been witnessed over the previous decades. It then continued to grow and reached about 2.5 million trips before Britomart was opened. It was also that growth that helped give the political courage needed to get Britomart built.

Historic Rail network patronage

Raymond also happened to table the idea of Britomart all the way back in 1990 and he was instrumental in ensuring that a corridor was left to the site of Britomart as the initial plan had been to sell off the old rail yard land entirely.

Put simply without the actions that Raymond took we almost certainly would not have a rail network today that is about to served by modern electric trains. He has been a hero to PT in Auckland that I think the city should be eternally thankful for. Thanks Raymond.

Note: Thanks to Raymond for agreeing to share his memories with us. Also thanks to Auckland Transport (where Raymond currently works) for allowing us to talk to him.

How census mode share has changed over time

On Saturday we finally saw the first glimpses of information on the Journey to Work (JTW) data from the 2013 Census for Auckland (we received the national figures a few months ago). This morning Stu looked at how effective investment in each mode has been since 2006. For this post I’m going to look at how the trends in Auckland have been changing over time and I’ve managed to find the data from as far back as 1996.

First up we have the total number of people in each category.

2013 - Auckland Journey to Work - Total Chart

One thing that surprises me about this figure is just how little the “Worked from home” figure has changed over time. As a percentage of the total it has remained unchanged at 7% despite great advances in the ease and ability of people to work at home. It also defies the claims of those who argue we don’t need to invest in PT because more and more people will work from home in the future and not need to travel.

I’ve also simplified that by looking only at the modes that required transport and grouping similar ones together. I have included the “Other” column with PT as I understand much of patronage in that bucket is related to the ferries. You’ll also notice that I’ve dropped the “Working from home” and “Didn’t go to work” columns to only look at those who are going to work.

2013 - Auckland Journey to Work - Chart Simplified

So all modes had an increase but the fascinating thing is that there was a larger increase in PT than there was in Private Vehicles. Converting the figures above to mode share percentages we get.

2013 - Auckland Journey to Work - Percentage

and the simplified version

2013 - Auckland Journey to Work - Percentage simplifed

Private vehicles clearly still dominate the figures for how people get to work although that is slowly starting to change as more people use public transport, walking and cycling as those options improve. During the last census cycle we’ve had big improvements to the rail network and the construction of the Northern Busway, both of which have driven a lot of growth. By the next census AT should have completed the current tranche of projects that will really revolutionise PT in Auckland. These include Electrification, the New Network, integrated ticketing/fares and other customer experience improvements. Combined those improvements could quite possibly push private vehicle usage below 80%.

Further if the current trends continue then from these numbers we might be able to say that 2001 (or sometime around then) was the point when car dominance peaked in Auckland. Imagine just how much further that share would drop if we were to build the Congestion Free Network.

Lastly just to try and put the changes in perspective. What would have happened if the growth that occurred had of been at the same mode share percentage as 2006. By my calculation it would have meant we would have had just over 11,300 more private vehicle trips, 9,000 less PT trips and 2,300 less active trips. Most of the growth of active and PT trips has been to the city centre and so to accommodate those extra 11,300 private vehicles trips on the road network would have needed 2-3 extra lanes of road capacity, in other words effectively we would have needed another motorway to the city centre.

Strong employment growth in the central city

Last week Statistics NZ released their business demography statistics for 2013 which provides a range of information about businesses in New Zealand. One of the really interesting bits of information included within the release are employee counts by geographic area, which can tell us the number of jobs in each area unit. The data is collected annually in February each year and is available back to 2000. So what’s happening with employment in Auckland?

First of all, at a region wide level, you can see that at an increase of just under 6,300 jobs the increase was less than it had been for the prior two years. However, what we did see is that the total number of jobs surpassed what we had prior to the GFC, which is very significant. Note this doesn’t mean the unemployment rate is lower as we have had population growth and more young people entering the job market. You can also see that in the last few years there has been quite a jump in percentage of jobs in Auckland compared to the rest of the country with the number increasing by more than 1% in the last few years to a high of 33.5%. This suggests that Auckland is performing better than the rest of NZ which lines up with other economic data we have seen.

Auckland Employment 2000-2013

However the really interesting part is when we look at what is happening at a more detailed level. For each area unit I have assigned it to one of the following

  • Rural Northwest – Rural areas and towns to the North and west outside the main Auckland Urban area. This includes the likes of Huapai and Warkworth.
  • Hibiscus – The urban area of Orewa, Silverdale and the Whangaparaoa Peninsula.
  • North Shore – The old North Shore City Council area.
  • West Auckland – The urban parts of the old Waitakere City Council area.
  • Central City – The CBD and neighbouring fringe suburbs like Freemans Bay, Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, Eden Terrace, Grafton, Newmarket and Parnell.
  • Other Isthmus – The old Auckland City council area outside of the Central City.
  • South Auckland – The urban areas of the old Manukau City and Papakura District council areas.
  • Rural Southeast – The rural areas and towns in the South and East of Auckland including Pukekohe.

The results are below, however for the keen eyed among you, the numbers don’t add up completely to the ones above as there are a small handful of jobs noted as being on one of the harbours or islands around the region. Due to how small the number, is I excluded them from the table below.

Auckland Employment Breakdown 2000-2013

When you start to go through the results there are some quite interesting trends, especially over the last few years. The table below shows the change in job numbers over the same time period.

Auckland Employment Breakdown Change 2000-2013

Looking at what’s happening recently, what’s surprising is just how strong the growth has been in the central city over the last few years. In total it accounts for about 52% of the increases in employment that has occurred, and over the last year that figure is up to around 78%. These numbers are absolutely massive but also show just how strong the demand for the central city is.

Looking at the other parts of the region, over the last year the only other growth of note has been in the North with both the North Shore and Hibiscus areas seeing any significant change. The one area that is particularly concerning is West Auckland where there are now fewer jobs than there were in 2004. I wonder if anything can or should be done to try and reverse the change.

Another area that these numbers highlight is just how many jobs as a total number there actually are in the central city area (map of which is below). Percentage wise it accounts for about 24.5% of all employment in the region however as a total number there are more people working in the central city than all of South Auckland, more than the Hibiscus area, North Shore and West Auckland combined and almost the same as all of the jobs in the rest of the old Auckland City area which includes all of the industrial areas around Onehunga, Penrose and Mt Wellington.

Auckland Central City CAUs


Of course this strong employment growth comes recently after we found out that there had also been some really strong population growth in the area.