Shopping and public transport: Westfield around the world

The conventional wisdom in New Zealand seems to be that people will always drive to go shopping, they won’t take public transport or cycle. It’s even spawned the term #Quaxing, named after your friend and mine, councillor Dick Quax.

I’ll talk about some UK and Australian examples of shopping centres below. In other news, UK and Australia are no longer to considered to be part of the western world.

With the Auckland Unitary Plan working through the hearings process, one of the topics up for debate is “parking minimums” – the idea that new shops, offices, bars etc need to provide a minimum number of carparks, based on their floor area (these rules also apply for dwellings across most of Auckland, based on the number of bedrooms).

Various retailers and shopping centres have argued for parking minimums to remain, including Scentre Group – who operate the Westfield centres across Auckland (and the rest of NZ, and Australia). They own some of the largest shopping centres in Auckland, and control a large number of carparks. They have valid concerns about other people using their parks when visiting other shops or places, and that potential ‘freeloading’ is the reason for them wanting parking minimums.

Incidentally, there are plenty of shopping centres in NZ which do quite well out of this ‘freeloading’. They know that they have the carparks, and shoppers will drive and park there but also visit the shops outside the mall, post some mail, etc. Providing the hub for parking means they’ve got the opportunity to make some sales at the beginning or end of this trip. Westfield Newmarket does this – a $10 purchase gives you two hours free parking there, and you’re free to wander around the rest of Newmarket as well. Back in the day, I’d often do this, and just go and grab something I needed at the supermarket. Many thousands of people would do something similar.

The wider Westfield group has an excellent understanding of cities, and retail centres which are oriented towards public transport. Until recently, they were the biggest owner of retail property in the world (they’ve now restructured and split off the NZ/ Australia centres into Scentre Group). Westfield has plenty of central city malls around the world, in some of the most high profile locations in the world. That includes two centres in the UK (London and Stratford City) which rely heavily on quaxing for their success. To quote:

One of the largest shopping centres in Europe, Westfield London, opened in 2008. Modal targets were for 40 percent of shoppers to visit by car, and 60 percent by public transport, walking and cycling. So far the actual figures have been 22 percent car and 78 percent walking, cycling and public transport.

Westfield London

Westfield London is multi-modal. Image source: Wikipedia

These UK centres are very successful. They each have specialty shop sales of £9,500 per square metre (this figure won’t mean much to most of you, but take my word for it, that’s a lot), and annual sales of around £1,000,000,000 (it’s pretty obvious that’s a lot). Public transport links allow these malls to achieve a level of sales that would quite simply not be possible in New Zealand, with our more car-dependent society and retail sector.

Car-based shoppers are still important for Westfield London and Stratford City. However, these malls have around 40% fewer carparks per square metre of retail space than equivalent centres in New Zealand (3 carparks per 100 sqm, whereas we’d have 5 per 100). And yet they have sales which are substantially higher than any centre in New Zealand – at least double the sales per square metre of a typical NZ centre, even before allowing for the cheaper price of goods in the UK.

Closer to home, Westfield Sydney is one of the global flagship centres for the Westfield brand, with a prime position in the Sydney CBD. It’s top of Westfield’s Australian portfolio in every respect, except total sales, where it comes second to Westfield Bondi Junction. And yet this mall, which is about seven or eight times the size of Auckland’s (current) Downtown Shopping Centre, has just 172 carparks. That’s not a typo, although of course there’ll be more in other buildings in the area. Westfield are certainly not wedded to having masses of parking; it depends on the location.

The examples above are in bigger cities than Auckland, and in central locations with excellent public transport provision. But Auckland shouldn’t short-change itself. Public transport patronage is booming, and the New Network will give much better access to much of the city in the next few years. Once the City Rail Link is complete, shopping centres like Sylvia Park, or Westfield Newmarket, or the proposed Downtown Shopping Centre, could target much higher sales than their current level, and with fewer parks. Getting to the shops on a bike, bus or train will become increasingly common in Auckland.

Not Shopping by Car

In my predictions for 2015 I didn’t include that a elected official would make a fool of themselves but I should have – although in hindsight I guess it was inevitable. What can’t be predicted was that it would happen barely a few days into the new year. The honour for this idiocy goes none other than Auckland Councillor Dick Quax who in replying to a tweet from Luke about making Sylvia Park more sustainable said this gem.

Franktly it’s such an absurd comment it deserves ridicule. What’s more it wasn’t a one off as after a number of people replied telling him how wrong he was he made this comment.

and this one after Bryce mentions he gets groceries by bike.

For those not on Twitter, the number of replies and comments in relation to Dick’s comments has been huge. As many pointed out, in cities such as London, Paris and New York millions rely on PT, walking and cycling in their daily lives for not just getting to work but for socialising and shopping.

Unfortunately Dick seems to fall into the view that “you can only shop with a car”, a view that’s especially strong amongst retailers who almost universally call for more (free) parking. Yet interestingly research shows retailers generally overestimate how their customers get to their shops and that considerable numbers of people get to shopping areas without a car. Studies done in Graz, Austria in 1991 and repeated in Bristol, UK show this mismatch.

Shopping travel by mode Graz 1

Shopping travel by mode Bristol 1



But what about local information? This research conducted for the NZTA on the reallocation of road space looks at the issue. It found that retailers in NZ were a little better at estimating shoppers transport modes but then that could be due to there being fewer viable options. Despite that it says

The data shows that sustainable transport users account for 40% of the total spend in the shopping areas and account for 37% of all shoppers who completed the survey. The data indicates the pedestrians and cyclists contribute a higher economic spend proportionately to the modal share and are important to the economic viability of local shopping areas.

The study also identified that retailers generally overestimate the importance of on-street parking outside shops. Shoppers value high-quality pedestrian and urban design features in shopping areas more than they value parking and those who drive are willing to walk to the shopping precinct from other locally available parking areas.

Considering how vehicle dominated most of our cities are and how high car mode share is on most other measures are – e.g.the census which only measures journeys to work – 37% shopping by non car means seems remarkably high.

Of course if you really want to, for much of your shopping you don’t even need to leave your house with online shopping getting more and more popular. At the end of the day there are two important things it would be worth Quax remembering.

  • Cars don’t buy stuff, people do
  • People are logical and most will use what is the easiest and most convenient method for them to get around.

Making PT, walking and cycling easier will mean more and more people will choose to use those modes for more trips, including to the shops.

Shopping Adventures by Train

Next week Auckland Transport’s new train timetables launch which as well as improving services on the network also improve legibility which is great for us, the users. It will also see all trains on the Eastern line be run using electric trains and those combined with improved reliability of the network and the old diesel fleet means AT are starting to realise that they have a service they can sell.

As a result they’ve now launched a fairly simply campaign called Shopping Adventures by Train saying:

Some of Auckland’s most exciting shopping areas are easily reached by train. Make your next shopping outing extra special and extra easy – travel by train!
No parking or traffic hassles, just spend more time shopping.

Shopping Adventures by Train

(click for a larger version)

I think this is quite a good idea  from Auckland Transport, especially in the lead up to Christmas. One downside though is the Christmas/New Year shutdown means it’s not able to be 100% effective as people won’t be able to use trains if they want to go to shops on Boxing Day. This really needs to be the last year we close the network down over the holiday period.

A couple of other thoughts:

  • It would be great to do this on a wider scale once the new bus network is rolled out.
  • While most items are fairly easy to carry one public transport, there will always be some things that are awkward to lug around. Tying in PT use with some kind of home delivery service could make for a winning combo.
  • It’s interesting that they talk about access to the shops in some cases but not others. In particular Henderson station is close to Westcity however the pedestrian access is horrid. By comparison access to Lynnmall from the station is super easy

As the entire PT network becomes increasingly developed and is able to offer a more compelling service lets hope we see a lot more campaigns from AT to get people using PT for a wider variety of trips. Perhaps next over summer could be “Bus to the Beach” highlighting the buses that travel to beaches such as Takapuna.

The good news about intensification

I thought a commenter on a recent post about a new apartment development on Great North Road had a really great point about the state of the debate:

…the fact is the intensifiers are not winning the argument, as was noted by someone else above. I wish they were but with the tin-ear people have here for this sort of argument, it doesn’t surprise me that it is being lost. Compare the nuanced arguments made here about transport (expansive, studied proposals like the CFN) to the “developers and freemarkets will sort it out” type arguments around intensification and you’ll see what I mean.

This rings true to me. Although I would argue that a lot of thought has gone into Transportblog’s analysis of policies like the Unitary Plan or the effects of limits on density, it’s often difficult to tell the good news stories about market-led intensification.

This is challenging in part because there appear to be trade-offs. Building an apartment building in Ponsonby is obviously a good thing for new residents, as they get to live in a nice area that they might not otherwise be able to afford. But it also has some disadvantages for existing residents, who may feel like they have to put up with more traffic, less sunlight on their porches, and so on and so forth.

In short, it’s easy to fall into an “us versus them” narrative – which is what I was arguing against in the earlier post. I don’t think this is necessary. There are many positive stories about rising residential densities and a lot of benefits for existing residents. We should start telling these stories.

Basically, it boils down to this:

If more people live in a neighbourhood, more services will be available locally for all residents.

Higher population densities make it more efficient for transport agencies to run high-frequency bus routes. They make it easier for supermarkets to open up in closer proximity, competing down prices for groceries. They make it easier for councils to justify improving local parks, improving streetlighting, and upgrading streets. Density allows there to be a cafe or two on every block, so residents can easily step out for a hot drink in the morning. This is all good stuff!

Essentially, having more people around you means that there’s a bigger local market for all sorts of useful things. As densities increase, neighbourhoods will become more convenient for the people who live in them. But if they don’t, there’s never going to be a reason to run a bus every ten minutes. There’s never going to be an incentive for Countdown to open a shop one kilometre down the road from New World. The cafes and drycleaners and florists will never set up across the street.

Here are a few examples of the kinds of environments that could be enabled by intensification. Importantly, these aren’t high-density neighbourhoods – they tend to be composed of terraced houses, row houses, and 4-6 storey apartment buildings rather than massive high-rise towers.

Here’s Greenwich Village, Jane Jacob’s old hood and one of Manhattan’s medium-density neighbourhoods. Look at how many retail and dining choices the residents have:

manhattan greenwich village

Here’s a typical cafe in Paris, another city that’s great due to its density and mix of uses. The city’s awash in local cafe and restaurant options because it is dense enough to support lots of them.


Here’s an example from San Francisco – the Castro district, which is one of the spiritual homes of gay and lesbian culture in North America. Medium densities in the area support fantastic (if a bit off-the-wall) nightlife.

san francisco the castro

And finally, one from Auckland: this is the Elliot Street shared space, which never would have happened without the apartment boom in the city centre. I bet a lot of people around Auckland are looking at how great this is and asking, “when will my neighbourhood get something like this?” The answer is: When your neighbourhood has enough people to support it!


So, what would you like to see happening in your area? Do you think that having a few more people around would help it happen?

Lower Queen St the place to be for retailers

An interesting article yesterday on what is happening in the retail building market in central Auckland.

Cruise ship passengers and Auckland shoppers are providing the impetus for the redevelopment and popularity of the lower Queen St retail area, says Nilesh Patel, associate director of retail services at CBRE.

Following AMP Capital’s announced refurbishment of the lobby and ground floor level of its 15-storey tower building at 45 Queen St, to be occupied by international brands Christian Dior, Prada and Swarovski as well as ANZ bank, two new high-profile retailers are moving into the area.

Patel says that Johnstons of Elgin, a high-quality British brand noted for fine woollen and cashmere cloth, clothing and accessories will open its doors at 90 Queen St in October.

“This will be its first store in the New Zealand market, which is a strong indicator of the attractive nature of Auckland’s retail sector,” Patel says.

“We’re also going to see T2, the boutique tea shop, open at 87-93 Queen St right next to the existing Mont Blanc store, which will add to the increased quality of tenants in the lower part of Auckland’s main street.

It seems that the lower part of Queen St and some of its surrounds are really becoming the hub of high end retail in Auckland. Other big name brands already in the short section of Queen St between Fort and Customs St include Louis Vuitton and Gucci and Mont Blanc. Along with this there has also been some pretty stunning other changes like the upgrade of Fort St and neighbouring streets which has been a massive success on every level, particularly in hospitality which is up 400% on what it was before the upgrade. Some other awesome developments include the likes of Imperial Lane which links Queen St to Fort Lane.

The Imperial by Fearon Hay Architects

The Imperial by Fearon Hay Architects

So what’s causing all of these high end retailers to move to this location, why not instead be located further up Queen St, on High, in Newmarket or even out in a mall in the suburbs?

“The most recent pedestrian count data from the Property Institute show a healthy foot traffic picture, with numbers increasing to multi-years peaks at the lower end of Queen St and at their highest levels since 2009,” he says.

“It’s been a good five to six years since we’ve seen activity of this level in Auckland’s retail property sector. There was strong activity before the global financial crisis but we certainly haven’t seen the market behave like this since at least 2008.”

Patel says changes to pedestrian and vehicular traffic mean there are more shoppers on foot, and more people in the downtown area, including in Fort St where the streetscape has been redeveloped to make it more pedestrian friendly.

So the simple answer is people, and lots of them. Make it nicer and easier for people to walk and around the city and they will do so – who knows, they may even buy stuff. Wow, who would have thought that.

The article also notes that another aspect that is helping this area of town are the cruise ship passengers visiting the city with numbers increasing from 19,400 in 1996-97 to 214,000 in 2011-12 although considering about 50,000 people walk past here every weekday, the cruise passengers are a likely to be a very small number overall. Of course one of the biggest aspects that would have helped in increasing the number of people walking in the city centre, but one that isn’t mentioned in the article has been the increase in the use of public transport. We know that in the morning peak alone there are now over 34,000 people getting off buses, trains or ferries somewhere in the CBD which is up from about 21,000 in 2001. At the same time the number of vehicles entering the CBD has decreased by about 6,000.

Now it won’t just be PT that has driven this change, the revitalisation of other areas including the Britomart precinct, the other shared spaces, the viaduct and a little further away Wynyard have all helped to start making the city more attractive and inviting. All of this doesn’t help building rental prices though.

Patel says the redevelopment of lower Queen St is also driven by the popularity of the harbour area including the Britomart precinct and pedestrian access to the ferry terminal and Britomart Transport Centre.

“All these factors are having an impact on retail rents,” he says. “It’s noteworthy that the collective shift towards the bottom of the city isn’t necessarily being pushed by retailer capital or the Kiwi economy – it’s more about the lack of availability of properties. As a result we are seeing rents being forced up, with lease terms typically six years or more, incentives dropping and core vacancy levels dropping.”

Patel says there are also some clear and noteworthy rent distinctions appearing along Queen St: “Between Fort St and Customs St we are seeing rents average between $2500 to $3500 per sq m; from Victoria St down to the eastern end of Fort St we are seeing around $2000 to $2500 per sq m; and from Victoria St to Wellesley St it comes down to $1500-$2000 per sq m.”

With Electrification, the new bus network and other PT developments that are all meant to dramatically increase patronage I imagine the current trends will only continue. I guess if you are a building owner in lower Queen St you will be very happy with what is happening.

Better PT needed for Boxing Day

Intricately tied in with the tradition of Christmas we also have the Boxing day sales. Its one of the few days a year where the vast carparks of shopping malls completely overflow due to the demand for shopping that cars often floods out onto the streets. People can spend just as much time getting to the mall and finding a car park as they can shopping itself. And we often get reports about it in media, like this from the NZ Herald:

Traffic was one of the biggest headaches – cars were nose-to-tail for more than 500m from Westfield’s St Lukes mall in Auckland, while the motorway was backed up a similar distance at the Sylvia Park exit.

When the Herald visited St Lukes, it took more than half an hour to get a park, and only after a man led the way to his soon-to-be-empty space.

Some shoppers reported circling the carpark for up to an hour before finding an empty spot.

I don’t know about you but sitting in heavy traffic for 500m and then circling and looking for a car park for 30 minutes to an hour is not my idea of fun, it’s also hardly the ‘freedom’ cars are promised to give us. Perhaps in future, this day more than any other is something that Auckland Transport should consider targeting to try and get people using public transport to do their shopping. This should especially be the case once we get our new PT network implemented with a lot more high frequency services giving much better coverage across the region.

Some people like to argue that shopping isn’t easy without a car but personally I think that is largely nonsense. Most shopping at malls consists items small enough to fit into bags and is perfectly easy to carry on a bus or train, my Christmas shopping for example fit into just a handful of bags and was easy enough to carry with me on a train.

So come on AT, how about a bit of a campaign next year about using PT to do boxing day shopping as in many cases it would sure beat the alternative of sitting in your car circling for a park for 30 minutes.