In the last couple of days I’ve come across a 2007 study that the Ministry for Economic Development did into public transport in Auckland. It makes for quite interesting reading in terms of its analysis of what Auckland’s transport problems are, and how they might be best solved.

Usefully, the paper looks at the connections between Auckland’s economic development and its transport ‘situation’. This is outlined below:

I think it’s useful that the term “transport accessibility” has been mentioned. In transport circles we can get obsessed about congestion whereas actually what really matters is accessibility. In many cases poor transport accessibility will be caused by congestion, but that’s not necessarily the case. Furthermore, while ‘induced demand’ can mean that it’s damn near impossible to actually “fix” traffic congestion, various things certainly can be done to improve transport accessibility.

The paper also sets the scene a bit for what the Auckland ‘transport situation’ is, and how that may be negatively impacting upon the city’s economic development.

We’re getting closer and closer to ‘completing’ these ‘incomplete road networks’ as there has been the accelerated road building programme over the past three years (and in the near future) that were proposed by this paper, so one would imagine that the other two matter: travel demand management and improving the public transport network, would start to be the focus.

It is on the issue of “improving the public transport network” that this particular paper focuses, as outlined below:
Since 2007 we have started to see the benefits of public transport projects that were under construction then, such as the Northern Busway and Project DART rail upgrades, start to be realised – and public transport patronage has risen at a more impressive level. But it’s clear that the public transport system still under-performs, and that is a significant reason for the poor transport accessibility that Auckland has.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things the paper does is outline a few of the policies that may have contributed to public transport under-achieving so much.
What this analysis shows is that the benefits of public transport projects may well have been under-estimated in previous analyses of transport infrastructure projects. Three key issues are outlined above: the high discount rate that under-values the long-term benefits of public transport infrastructure investment, the wider economic benefits of public transport that have been previously ignored and the interaction between land-use and transport planning: in particular the need to look at how transport contributes to whether strategy and planning documents actually achieve their goals.

Over the past three years a few of these things seem to have been changing. Lower discount rates (the standard is 8%, although the holiday highway’s BCR was also analysed at 4% and 6% to make it not look quite so bad) have been adopted, we are increasingly seeing the wider economic benefits of transport projects being analysed (although the quality of that analysis still seems debatable) and there is an increasing focus on the need to integrate land-use and transport planning, even if the technicalities of how we actually do that still leave a lot to be desired.

The conclusions of this paper are quite interesting, in terms of how they relate to the need for public transport to be improved in Auckland:

The whole paper certainly makes for interesting reading, even if it is a bit complex and technical at times. It’s surprising that the current government, with such a focus on developing policies that promote economic growth, haven’t looked more closely at this.

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  1. A side fact to chew on our trains were declared dead 15 years ago by the australian rail service, so what do we do? we go and by of course.

  2. There are numerous proven ways to reduce traffic congestion, eg. by making roads less appealing to drive (eg. by road narrowing, shared space, turning a lane over to bus-only use or bicycle road or wider footpath or street furniture) and simultaneously giving people an alternative option (eg. park&ride, safely segregated bicycle roads, shortcut route to walk, frequent and predictable public transport).

    It’s also odd as a non-Kiwi that so many New Zealander planners appear to think only in terms of cars AND/OR bus and train, rather than the full range of transport options (especially neglecting bicycle and pedestrian safety and the permeability of the urban environment to encourage use of these forms).

    Look outside Australia-NZ a bit more and you see that the environment is the biggest influence. In Seoul and Tokyo, the environment around you encourages you to walk around the neighbourhood, looking in shops, people-watching, taking photos, enjoying the views (and take the underground between neighbourhoods). In Osaka and Amsterdam, Munich and Copenhagen, the safe bicycle planning means the environment invites you to get around by bicycle. In NZ cities, the sprawling car parks, unecessarily wide and fast urban roads, and scarcity of thought for people on foot or bicycle mean the environment encourages you to drive. Simple as that: the environment invites you.

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