The politics of Auckland

Elections last year in other English-speaking countries got me thinking about the urban implications of political geography. The US presidential election and the UK’s Brexit vote both featured large divides in voting patterns between big cities and rural areas and small towns.

As the Economist observed, the US electoral map actually consists of a whole bunch of Democratic-voting urban areas and Republican-voting rural areas, rather than red and blue states. Even in Texas, which votes consistently Republican, Houston voted massively for the Democratic candidate. The red areas in this map are mostly empty:

And as the BBC observed, the vote against Brexit was strongest in London, a few other large cities like Manchester, and Scotland, while smaller towns and rural areas went the other way.

As much as anything, this speaks of a cultural and political divide between urban and non-urban areas. Many people have written tedious articles on this issue, implicitly claiming that this area or that represents “Real America” or “Real Britain”. (My perspective: If you have a definition of “Real America” that excludes large cities, you’re doing it wrong because most Americans live in large cities.)

I don’t want to get into that debate here. Instead, I want to ask: Is the same thing happening in New Zealand? Are our large cities – Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch – diverging from the rest of the country?

Demographically, Auckland is different. It’s faster-growing than the rest of the country, as is Christchurch. It has more young people, and more people who were born overseas. (Many of whom have come to identify as New Zealanders and share New Zealand values.) But is there evidence that Aucklanders think differently than people elsewhere?

Electoral returns provide valuable information on peoples’ preferences and values. Peoples’ votes reflect, to a degree, how they see the world and what they value. Consequently, I’ve analysed data from the last six New Zealand general elections (1999-2014) to understand how big-city New Zealanders compare to the rest.

Over this time, political parties’ fortunes have swung dramatically. The National Party’s share of party votes has been as low as 21% and as high as 47%, while Labour’s has been as low as 25% and as high as 41%. The Greens doubled their vote share over this period, from 5% to 11%, while NZ First came back from a brush with death due to a 4% party vote. Other parties – the Alliance, ACT, United Future – have ceased to exist or survived only as single-MP zombie parties.

Consequently, I’m most interested in changes in party vote shares in different places. That will tell us whether big-city Kiwis are responding to changes in parties’ perceived competence, policies, and the general economic and social environment as rural and small-town Kiwis.

The following chart summarises the share of party votes that National received in Auckland (23 electorates in 2014), Wellington (6 electorates), and Christchurch (5 electorates). I’ve started with National as it got the most party votes in the most recent election. This graph shows that:

  • Auckland tends to vote for National at a similar rate to small-town and rural New Zealand
  • Wellington, on the other hand, has diverged – it has been substantially less National-leaning than non-urban parts of the country since 2005
  • Prior to 2011, Christchurch also seemed to be less National-leaning, but this gap has closed since the earthquakes.

Here’s a similar graph for the Labour Party. This time, Auckland has matched the “Rest of NZ” trend less closely, with the result that it is now somewhat more likely to vote for Labour than non-urban parts of the country. Wellington, again, has usually voted for Labour at substantially higher rates.

The Green Party is where things start to get interesting. Both Wellington and Christchurch give a substantially higher share of their party votes to the Greens than the rest of the country, and this gap has widened in every election since 1999. Auckland, by contrast, continues to vote for the Green Party at a rate that’s similar to small-town and rural New Zealand. This data doesn’t allow us to understand why – it could be due to policy preferences, or simply to the fact that the Green Party hasn’t historically had many Auckland-based MPs to campaign for the vote here.

Finally, New Zealand First. This is the only area where we can observe large divergences between how Aucklanders vote and how small-town and rural New Zealanders vote. Over the last six elections, there has been a consistent gap between the NZF party vote in the three big cities and in rural areas. This is likely to reflect NZF’s political positioning, including its opposition to immigration and advocacy for policies to support small towns rather than big cities.

The broad lesson from this data is that Auckland’s political preferences do not not seem to be diverging from small-town and rural New Zealand. Across the city as a whole, Aucklanders vote much the same as other New Zealanders. This is very different than the trend observed in the UK and US, where recent elections have brought differences in preferences and values into sharp relief. And it’s also different to the trend observed in Wellington, which is substantially more left-leaning than non-urban NZ.

A provocative hypothesis

Without getting into the rights and wrongs of different political parties – Transportblog is a nonpartisan endeavour – I would argue that this data is good news for Auckland and New Zealand. The way we vote suggests that we are less likely to suffer from the same ills as the UK and the US. And, over time, it should mean that we get better urban and transport policy from central government.

First, in spite of the demographic differences between Aucklanders and New Zealanders living outside the big cities, voting data suggests that we broadly share the same values and preferences. On the whole, Aucklanders have responded the same way to parties’ electoral appeals, suggesting that they too are bound by common interests and respond to the same economic and social trends.

This reduces the risk that we end up in a similar place as the US or UK – unable to agree on basic aspects of how our society should operate, with sharp divisions between people in different places.

Second, because Auckland sits in the political centre, political parties must pay attention to its needs if they want to get elected. As the past six elections show, Aucklanders’ votes are available to centre-right parties and centre-left parties, provided that they make a good case for themselves. And, unlike in the US where you can win the presidency while losing New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, Denver, Seattle, inner Atlanta, etc by 50 percentage points, it’s not possible to lose big in Auckland and win the national election.

This is a very good thing for Auckland, as the city has some unique needs as a result of its rapid population and economic growth. It needs policy support to enable it to build more housing, especially in the existing urban area, and transport investments that are fit for purpose, including greater attention to its rapid transit network and urban cycling. These ideas are broadly popular with Aucklanders:

Local government can address some of this, but central government needs to come to the party as well as it is an important source of funding and policymaking. The politics of Auckland create strong incentives to do that. Over time, this will mean a city that gets more of its problems fixed, and more of its opportunities realised. And New Zealand as a whole will benefit from having a more productive, dynamic city that can, say, pay taxes to fund comfortable retirements in Whakatane and Timaru.

What do you think about the way Aucklanders vote?

New data on cycling

We’re always on the lookout for interesting new pieces of transport data. Smartphone apps and automated trip counters provide an increasing amount of usable, timely data that can tell us how, where, and (at times) why we’re travelling.

Moreover, transport agencies are increasingly open about publishing their data and opening it up for others to analyse. For instance, Auckland Transport now publishes data from dozens of automated cycle counters on its website, allowing organisations like Bike Auckland and Transportblog to track and analyse the benefits of investment in safe, separated cycleways.

But transport agencies aren’t the only people with data. I recently ran across two interesting sources of data on cycling that are being collected and published by private companies.

First, Strava, a social network that allows cyclists and runners to track their routes and publish them online, recently published a global map of user-submitted cycling routes. While Strava is targeted more towards athletes (or at least weekend warriors) than everyday cycle commuters, it still provides an interesting glimpse into where some people are cycling. (But not all!)

Here’s Auckland. This map pretty clearly shows the impact of recreation/sports cycling – although major commuter routes like Lake Road, Tamaki Drive, and the Northwestern Cycleway show up strongly, so does Scenic Drive in the Waitakeres, which is definitely not a common commuting route:

strava-auckland-map

Here’s Christchurch – again, some of the same patterns, with hilly rides to the south of the city showing up stronger than cycling within the city:

strava-christchurch-map

And here’s Wellington. Perhaps not surprisingly, the busiest Strava corridors are on the flat areas around the edge of the harbour, and the ride up to the Hutt Valley:

strava-wellington-map

Second, I happened to find out that the data from the automated cycle counter that AT installed on the Quay St cycleway is published online by Eco-Counter, alongside data from a whole bunch of similar counters around the world. (The only similar counter in NZ is in Hastings.)

The data shows daily trips on the Quay St cycleway. We’ve just ticked over 41,000 trips, or an average of 574 per day since it opened:

eco-counter-quay-st

That’s pretty good for Auckland, but Eco-Counter’s data also shows how much better we could be. For instance, here’s a cycle counter in Freiburg, Germany, which I wrote about after a visit last December. They get an average of 9,134 cycle trips per day passing by their city centre counting point:

eco-counter-freiburg

Closer to home, here’s a cycle counter in Darebin, a middle-suburban part of Melbourne, that gets more trips a day than Quay St – 1,340 cyclists a day on average. If the Australians can manage that in the ‘burbs, why can’t we?

eco-counter-darebin

As always, discussion is encouraged! Also, if you have any additional sources of interesting data, leave them in the comments.

Get in quick to open up our government and government data!

This is a guest post from reader Isabella

Have you ever wanted a government organisation to be less opaque?
Or thought “if only we could get the data on that…”?
Or admired some gorgeous datavis and wanted more?

Now’s your chance! Get your ideas in BY WEDNESDAY 24TH to shape New Zealand’s Open Government Action Plan.

This dull-sounding document is important: it’s the plan for the work in local and central government to open up publicly funded data for reuse, and to open up government processes for better accountability, transparency and creativity. There’s more every year, and it’s getting better and faster. Help steer it!

Transportblog readers, bloggers, commenters and all – this is you.

We need people like you to be able to see into government’s decision-making processes and subject them to the praise, censure and improvement they deserve.

We need people like you to be able to get data on things that matter and turn them into insightful information and juicy, juicy knowledge.  So…

  • If you’ve ever had an idea for how the government – local and central – should be more open, go here and tell ’em.
  • If you’ve ever had an idea for a neat open data project, go here and write it down.
  • If you’ve ever known anyone else who’d have these ideas, send them here and tell them to write.

And do it soon! the engagement is only live til end of Wednesday 24th. (though you can be involved longer term – see here)

Want some background?

They say:

“The Open Government Partnership (OGP) recognises that government can be more effective when citizens are aware and involved in building an open society.  The focus of the partnership is on developing a two-year National Action Plan between citizens and government, and the government is currently running a process to develop New Zealand’s second plan.  One of the guiding principles for the plan is the innovative use of technology to be more transparent

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is an international programme where the governments of 70 countries have committed to becoming more open, accountable and responsive to citizens.

New Zealand joined the OGP in 2014 and is now developing its second National Action Plan (NAP) to identify the best approaches to open up government and data, over the next two years.”

Congestion in large Australasian cities

Is Auckland abnormally congested?

I occasionally hear people bemoaning that Auckland is one of the most congested cities in the world, or at least one of the most congested cities for its size.

I’ve previously taken a look at this from a few angles – looking at trends in traffic delay in Auckland and average commuting time in large cities around the world. Auckland looks pretty good on the latter measure, which kind of belies the “most congested city” rhetoric:

Avg commute times in large cities

For another look at the same issue, we can take a look at data on traffic delay in cities across New Zealand and Australia.

Helpfully, the Australian Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) publishes data on the cost of congestion in large Australian cities. They measure congestion as the amount of traffic delay that could feasibly be avoided without reducing the overall value that people get out of travelling.

Unfortunately, comparable figures aren’t available for New Zealand cities. The Ministry of Transport tracks delays in traffic, but doesn’t make monetised estimates of avoidable congestion costs. However, it isn’t that hard to make a reasonable estimate, if you combine MoT’s traffic delay statistics (average delay of 0.52 minutes per kilometre in March 2014, but less in the November survey) with their data on the total amount of vehicle travel in Auckland (12.7 billion vehicle-kilometres driven in 2014).

Following BITRE’s approach, I’ve assumed that avoidable congestion is about 55% of total delay – reflecting the fact that many people prefer to travel even on congested roads. I then monetised the total delay-hours using NZTA’s standard figures for the value of travel time (around $23.40 in 2015 dollars) and converted between Australian and New Zealand money. After mixing in some data on city population in Australia and New Zealand, I got the following chart:

Aus NZ city population congestion costs chart

Each individual point is an observation from a single city in a single year – so it’s possible to see how congestion has evolved over time in each city. We can immediately see three important things from this chart.

The first is that Auckland is right on the trend-line. We have the congestion levels that you’d expect to see in an Australasian city with 1.5 million residents – right between Adelaide and Perth. So once again, there are no signs that Auckland is particularly exceptional in the traffic congestion area.

The second is that congestion is a nonlinear phenomenon – it increases faster than city size. You can see that in the upward-sloping trendline fitted through the points on the graph. On average, in this sample of cities, a 10% increase in population is associated with around a 13% increase in congestion levels.

What that means is that new residents entering the city experience the average congestion levels in the city – 10% of that 13% increase – and also have a (relatively small) negative impact on congestion for existing residents – the remaining 3% increase.

The third is that, setting aside the average relationships across all of the cities, individual cities appear to follow slightly different trends. For instance, while Perth and Melbourne have followed the trend-line pretty closely, there seems to be a steeper relationship between congestion and population size in Adelaide and Brisbane.

That suggests that urban policies – land use, transport investments, etc – can enable some cities to grow in more or less efficient ways. Which specific urban policies are better or worse is a bit of a vexing question – but there does appear to be something there.

What do you make of the data on congestion costs in Australasian cities?

Growth in cycling on new separated cycleways

Last week, Auckland Council unanimously voted to approve the construction of Skypath, the long-overdue walking and cycling link across the Waitemata Harbour. (There is still the hurdle of a potential Environment Court appeal by opponents.) Well done to all the councillors, some of whom had previously expressed scepticism – the city will be better for their votes, and their willingness to rethink an occasionally contentious issue.

In the wake of the Skypath decision, it’s worth taking a look at what’s happened to cycling in the city over the last year. The other week, Bike Auckland published some valuable new analysis of Auckland Transport’s cycle count data. Thanks to AT’s programme of rolling out new cycle counters, we now know a lot more about where people are cycling.

We also know a lot more about the outcomes from recent investments in new safe cycle facilities, such as Grafton Gully, the Pinkpath, Nelson St, and the newly installed Quay St cycleway.

The summary is that these cycle investments have been quite successful. The number of people cycling has increased in locations where safe cycling facilities have been rolled out, while staying relatively constant in other places. (This is, needless to say, good news for the fortunes of Skypath.)

Over to Bike Auckland:

AT is now also reporting the details of those counts much more openly, here. The summary data for June is not available yet – although we have the data for individual locations, as seen on the graphs below – but we do know that in May 2016, cycle numbers were up 22% on May of the year before!

If this growth continues, Auckland may well be the city in New Zealand furthest along on the way to reaching NZTA’s goal of 30% growth in urban cycling by 2018.

…it is pleasing (if not unexpected) to see where the greatest growth is.

Surprise! It’s where new cycleways have been built… and on the routes leading to these new bikeways. This is the network effect – another way of saying ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’ – and it’s really starting to kick in.

And especially on those routes, we see an interesting change – the usual winter drop-off is much shallower than usual, and in some cases hardly seems to be happening. Can it be that, with better cycleways and more company, riders are happier to keep going when it gets chilly, damp, and dark in the evenings? Is Auckland exhibiting a bit of the ‘Viking biking’ spirit of our Scandinavian antipodes?

Richard Easther, one of Bike Auckland’s associates, has done us all the lovely favour of putting those dry numbers into easy-to-grasp visuals, so we can see how and where Auckland biking is growing. Below, see some fascinating graphs of the flows at some of the counters around Auckland…

[Ed note: if you’re not a graphs or data person, two things to note: the numbers up the left hand side show the monthly total of bike trips; and you’ll notice a dip in the middle of each year as winter arrives. What’s striking about the growth on the new and newly connected paths is that not only is the annual ‘high tide’ getting higher, but the ‘low tide’ is too.]

Beach Rd

Clearly Beach Road is benefitting from all the improvements, including Grafton Gully and its own Stage II extension. A jump of around a third in many of the months earlier this year!

A few instructive contrasts, and some (brief) added commentary from me.

The first thing has been that new cycle investments in and around the city centre haven’t simply cannibalised existing cycle numbers. Cycle counts on Beach Road (and the off-road Grafton Gully cycleway) are up, in spite of the competition from the PinkPath / Nelson St. And, if you follow the link through, you’ll also see that cycling on Symonds St and K Rd has held steady:

Nelson St cycleway

Nelson Street (i.e. through the City itself, not Lightpath) is showing very heavy numbers. The REAL growth here is not visible in the stats: after all, before the protected cycleway opened, this route had just some 5-10 incredibly brave cyclists every morning… now there are several hundred daily, even though the route is still truncated and stops at Victoria St.

The second is that investments in and around the city centre have been followed by significant growth on existing parts of the cycle network. That’s most clearly in evidence on the Northwest Cycleway, which is seeing the largest annual growth ever:

NW Cycleway (Kingsland)

Here’s where the network effect rubber really hits the road, er, off-road cycleway. You can see how the magnetic field of the pink path boom (and the related Grafton Gully effect) has spread far and wide – even more than 5km away, in Kingsland, where numbers are massively up on 2014 and 2015.

NW Cycleway (Te Atatu)

And the effect continues at Te Atatu over 10 km away; if the numbers traveling to the city from further out are a bit lower, they’re still really really high (and resisting the usual winter drop-off). Recent cycleway improvements along the causeway will definitely have helped with this.

The third finding is about the dog that didn’t bark: cycle counts on streets that have not seen investments in safe separated cycle facilities. Some of these streets show some minor growth, but by and large demand is not increasing. That’s in evidence on routes like Tamaki Drive:

Tamaki Dr (EB + WB)

We see a slight boost on Tamaki Drive – but the real growth will come from Quay Street (now open), Quay Street to Ngapipi (~2017-2018) and Glen Innes-Tamaki (2018). Until then, though, our busiest cycle route continues to pedal along in huge numbers.

And, on the North Shore, East Coast Rd:

East Coast Rd

Numbers on East Coast Road near Constellation Drive have been static – not surprising, as little cycle investment has occurred in the area in recent years.

The good news is that we can learn from the positive results on and around new separated cycleways. If we want to boost cycling elsewhere in the city – and we should; it’s the cheapest and most efficient way to get around in cities – it’s pretty clear what we should do.

Are Aucklanders paying too much in rates?

Aucklanders (and, I suspect, people in general) complain about high and rising property taxes. But are our rates actually too high? Compared to what?

An article last year reported on what ratepayers are paying in each of New Zealand’s territorial authorities:

Not surprisingly, rates in the most sought-after areas are also high. Those living in Auckland, where the average household income is around $76,000, face annual bills of $2636. The average house price in Auckland was $678,533 in February.

But residents in Christchurch face comparatively low bills. At $1706 a year, they make the top 10 for cheapest rate bills.

In other words:

  • In 2014, the average Auckland ratepayer paid rates equal to 0.39% of their property’s value ($2636/$678,553). This year, of course, that figure will be lower as property values have increased much, much, much faster than rates bills.
  • In Christchurch, the average ratepayer paid rates equal to 0.37% of their property’s value ($1706 divided by the average home price of $462,086).

The article didn’t bother comparing New Zealand’s rates bills with property taxes in other countries, so I went out and gathered some data on property taxes in the US and Canada, two countries that are frequently cited as examples for New Zealand to follow. (Albeit sometimes for very different reasons.)

Before getting into the figures, I should say that this isn’t a perfect comparison, because:

  • There are more layers of government in Canada and the US, due to their federal systems
  • Local governments in Canada and the US have more fiscal responsibilities – schools are funded by local governments in the US and provincial governments in Canada, for example
  • But they also have more options for levying taxes – in the US, local governments can impose income taxes, sales taxes, and business taxes. In Canada, provincial governments can do the same.

Overall, the Canadian data is likely to be much more comparable than the US data, as municipal governments’ responsibilities and tax powers are more similar. With that in mind, here’s how Auckland stacks up to the major Canadian cities. The data is from a 2014 Globe and Mail article:

Canada residential property taxes chart

Basically, Auckland (and Christchurch) has quite low property taxes relative to most Canadian cities. The only city that pays a lower property tax rate is Vancouver. (More on that below.)

And here’s how Auckland’s residential property tax rates stack up to the five most-taxed and least-taxed American states. The data is from tax-rates.org:

US states residential property taxes chart

In keeping with American states’ reputations as “laboratories of democracy”, different states seem to be testing out very different property tax policies. If Auckland and Christchurch were in the US, they would be among the most lightly-taxed places in the country. Certainly much less so than that bastion of high property taxes, Texas.

Wait a minute, Texas?

Here’s what tax-rates.org had to say about Harris County, which contains Houston:

Harris County has one of the highest median property taxes in the United States, and is ranked 152nd of the 3143 counties in order of median property taxes.

The average yearly property tax paid by Harris County residents amounts to about 4.26% of their yearly income.

Here’s a chart comparing property tax rates between a selection of major US cities. Houston is head and shoulders above the rest, in terms of property taxes. And, nonwithstanding the disclaimers, Auckland seems to be relatively lightly taxed:

US cities residential property taxes chart

Perhaps the lesson is that if we want to be more like Houston, which some people cite as an example for Auckland to follow, we should start by raising property taxes. The median Houston homeowner pays US$3,040 in property tax. That’s roughly equivalent to NZ$4,100, or 50% more than Aucklanders pay.

Houston needs the cash to pay for all those roads, of course. But its relatively high property taxes are also likely to be one of the hidden causes of Houston’s relatively affordable housing. This is because high property taxes tend to discourage people from bidding up house prices – the more they pay for houses, the more they pay in taxes!

On the other side of the coin, literally, Vancouver offers much lower property taxes. Another analysis of Canadian property tax data shows that the average Vancouver homeowner pays CA$2,322 in property taxes. That’s roughly equivalent to NZ$2,500 – or slightly less than Auckland rates. It seems like Vancouver’s compact, transit-oriented urban form is quite cheap for local taxpayers.

And finally, there’s no evidence that rates are especially high in Auckland or other New Zealand cities. If anything, it’s the opposite – property is taxed unusually lightly in New Zealand.

What do you make of this data?

Is public transport an “inferior good”?

I’ve recently been taking a look at Statistics NZ’s Census data on car ownership in Auckland. One interesting observation is that low-income households are considerably more likely to not own a car. One implication is that minimum parking requirements, which require everyone to have carparks (or pay for their provision every time they go to the shops), are a quite regressive policy. (More on this in a future post!) And, of course, providing frequent, reliable public transport services and safe walking and cycling options throughout the city will benefit low-income households the most. (In other words, separated bike lanes are not just about hipster urbanism!)

Another interpretation of the data on car ownership is that it shows that a car is what economists call a “normal good“. In plain English, this means that when people’s incomes increase, they tend to have more of them. This seems to be true in Auckland: high-income households are less likely to own no cars and more likely to own three or more cars.

However, people commonly assume (or assert) that public transport is an “inferior good“, or something that people consume less of as their incomes increase. This assumption is deeply embedded in transport policymaking and transport modelling. It’s part of the reason that policymakers have been so eager to disinvest and underfund our public transport networks over the past half-century: “In the future, we’ll all be richer and drive more.”

But is this actually true? Let’s take a look at the data.

First, I took a look at the Household Economic Survey data, which Statistics NZ has very helpfully broken down by decile of household income. Here’s a chart showing the percent of household spending that goes to transport (including cars, petrol, public transport, etc) and passenger transport alone:

HES transport spending by decile 2013 chart

In short, higher-income households do seem to spend more money on passenger transport, both in absolute term (i.e. dollars per week) and as a share of their incomes. This may suggest that public transport isn’t an inferior good. Unfortunately, though, it’s not possible to draw any definitive conclusions from this data for two reasons. First, the Stats NZ data doesn’t allow us to split out urban areas (where average incomes tend to be higher and PT is available) from rural areas (which tend to be poorer and lacking in PT). Second, Stats NZ has grouped air travel into the passenger transport category… which means we might just be picking up the fact that richer people fly more.

So let’s take a look at a second set of data: 2013 Census data on household incomes and main commute mode. To avoid issues with comparing between rural and urban areas, I focused on data for Auckland alone. The following scatter-plot shows the correlation between PT mode share for commute journeys and median personal income for Auckland area units. (I’ve excluded area units with population densities less than 1 person per hectare, as they’re likely to be rural areas where PT isn’t available.)

Census 2013 personal incomes and PT mode share chart

There isn’t much of a pattern in this data. There are some higher-income areas with high PT mode share, and some with low PT mode share. But the trendline does seem to be moderately positive. In other words, the Census data doesn’t seem to indicate that PT is an inferior good – people in higher-income areas are slightly more likely to use PT.

Finally, it’s worth taking a look at changes over time. In other words: Are Aucklanders using PT more or less as average incomes increase? In order to examine this question, I looked at Statistics NZ’s data on household incomes by region as well as the public transport boardings data that Matt has diligently compiled. The Stats NZ data only reaches back to 1998, so we’re limited to looking at recent changes.

Matt’s data on patronage shows that total PT boardings in Auckland rose from 37.6 million in 1998 to 72.4 million in 2014 – significantly outpacing population growth. Incomes also rose over the same period. Here’s a chart comparing changes in (nominal) median household incomes with changes in PT boardings per capita for the Auckland region:

Auckland median household incomes and PT boardings chart

In recent years, Aucklanders haven’t reduced their use of public transport as incomes increased. In fact, we’ve seen the exact opposite – PT trips per capita have risen in line with median incomes. (Or even slightly faster, as I didn’t account for the effect of inflation on incomes.)

Is this conclusive evidence that PT is a “normal good” that people will demand more of when they get richer? Probably not – I don’t have the time, budget, or micro-data to analyse the behaviour of individual transport users. But it provides no empirical support whatsoever for the assumption that PT is an “inferior good” that people will want less of in the future.

In short, we should probably stop simply assuming that PT use will wither away with rising incomes. That might be true, but it’s not obviously apparent in the data. A better course of action would be to start planning to provide public transport that will be useful to people of all incomes.

Opening up the data

An interesting TED Talk on opening up data from cities

City agencies have access to a wealth of data and statistics reflecting every part of urban life. But as data analyst Ben Wellington suggests in this entertaining talk, sometimes they just don’t know what to do with it. He shows how a combination of unexpected questions and smart data crunching can produce strangely useful insights, and shares tips on how to release large sets of data so that anyone can use them.