One of the arguments commonly used against demands for more balance in transport investment between motorways and Transit or Active networks is that it would do nothing to change demand. Those with this position point to the current mode spilt in transport use and basically claim it is permanent, implying it is the result of perfect choice. In essence this is the government’s position, claiming that most people drive therefore we need more roads. This view contains two unexamined assumptions; one, that driving is always best served by adding more roads, and two, any change in driving demand, even if desired, is not possible to any meaningful degree. The people have chosen and even were there good alternatives, say a wonderfully efficient and appealing Transit network or safe and complete cycling system in Auckland, few would use them. Because driving is always, for everyone, in all situations, the ideal mode.


This is known as a Status Quo bias. And it is a position that you will also find held by many professionals in the transport planning and provision industry. It has a perfectly rational basis in experience for many as it is true that for about half a century leading up to about the middle of the last decade some key statistics such as growth in driving demand and electricity use were constantly rising across OCED countries. So much so that the main role of those in these industries pretty much consisted of working to predict the quantum of the rise and then trying to best provide for it. And for some years it was hard to keep up with the rise in demand, an exciting and busy ride for those at the heart of it no doubt. Many whole careers have been formed through this period and many at the top of their fields have little or no experience in any other condition.

That we have now had a good eight or so years since this state was the case in either driving volume rises or in electricity demand should enable us to expect a change in attitude both by professionals and politicians in these fields. However it is not clear that this is happening much at all, or at least if it is it’s uneven at best.

We can speculate why this might be; fear of change, inertia, innate conservatism of the fields, or vested interests [many a fine and well paid job in the auto-highway complex]…? But that isn’t what interests me here.

In this post it is my intention to show with a fascinating example in a related field why it is evident that we are indeed living in an age of disruption of these assumptions and discontinuity from these certainties from the previous century. And that it is really incumbent on any intelligent individual in these industries to ask a whole lot of more open-ended and interesting questions about how best to serve the future in their field.

Consider the fascinating example described here at the The Conversation site, an analysis of electricity demand this summer in Australia by Mike Sandiford from the University of Melbourne that shows the impact that the uptake of distributed solar power [PV] generation is having on the demand profile there. With a series of very clear charts Sandiford describes the extent of the disruption to the previously consistent growth pattern in electricity demand caused by individuals and small organisations installing PV on their buildings across Australia. Around 2 gigawatts in the last few years have been added in this way and here’s the result:

Note it is well worth looking at the original site for fuller information on this data:


For me the especially interesting and relevant charts are the ones below. Because in summer in a hot country electricity demand peaks in the afternoon [particularly because of the huge jump in aircon use] just when PV generation also is most productive. So this uptake in PV has the brilliant effect of smoothing the peak. In other words taking the pressure off the demand at exactly the best time, saving the nation a fortune in investment in capacity that is unneeded most of the time anyway. Here’s the metaphor: the baseload generators in Australia are just like our motorways; they easily supply heaps of capacity outside of the peaks, but it would be wasteful and inefficient to build extra capacity for the period of highest demand only to have them idle for the rest of the day. Especially when an alternative is easily within reach.


Average summer demand profile by time of day for South Australia. Left panel shows absolute demand for the last four summers. Right panel shows the percentage change relative to summer 2010. Data from AEMO, charts by Mike Sandiford.

This is exactly the way that investment now in Transit systems in Auckland is likely to be more cost effective and efficient than trying to build out the vastly dominant motorways systems with sufficient capacity for the peak of the peaks. There certainly is plenty of evidence that alternatives to driving can and will if provided smooth demand at the peaks in a way analogous to the way PV has smoothed the demand peaks in the Australian electricity market. We know from experience this century that improvement in Transit service is rewarded with big lifts in uptake. Two examples: Train use rising exponentially since the opening of Britomart [despite the frequent shutdowns for works and breakdowns by tatty old trains and the incomplete and disjointed network] correlating to a drop in the number of cars entering the city centre in the morning peak. And the result of the only new Transit Right Of Way for decades, the Northern Busway, having a hugely positive impact on the efficient performance of the motorway over the Harbour Bridge by substantially affecting demand [despite being less than half complete].


There are two separate but related points here:

1. The expectations of continual rises in driving demand are far from certain, especially as they have not been observed for quite some time [discontinuity] and are subject to the rise of alternatives [disruption].

2. We can choose to benefit from the advantages to society from these changes by investing and encouraging them.

Auckland already has an impressively extensive and well constructed motorway system that will offer a substantially complete network once current works are finished and that it is likely that the best way to get the highest value for money out of it and to ensure its continued efficient use is to invest away from it. Looking at the boxes below shows that serious consideration should be given to making the bulk of our next investments in transport from the right hand one. Especially as we certainly need to find the best and most effective ways to best utilise the sunk costs in existing investments. Want to keep the current dominant system functioning then invest in the complimentary alternatives to smooth that peak demand down to a manageable level.

ITP Major Project Costs

At first look the analogy between Transit and PV uptake may seem imperfect because we cannot as individuals choose to have a better Transit system, but we can of course choose to use Transit if it is available at a good price, which really is all that has happened to the electricity market in Australia. The technology of PV is now available at a quality and a price that makes it an obvious choice by enough people to materially disrupt the need for many billions of dollars worth of new generation investment by society. And while this is upsetting the established power industry it is a great result for the financial burden on ordinary Australians, including those who have not bought PV. Exactly the same choice in the transport sector could be ours if we invest in it. And these advantages would accrue especially to those who never catch a bus or a train or ride a bike. Advantages in lower costs and a freer existing road system.

We live in an age of disruptions and discontinuities.

We need to be open to new opportunities and put less energy into fighting to try to keep things as they are:

Prepare To Stop!
Prepare To Stop!
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  1. There does appear to be a lot of dislike of change in the engineering field in NZ, I had an interesting discussion with an extremely well qualified engineer (and young) last night that has been involved in delivering a lot of cycling and walking facilities associated with many of the new motorway projects around Auckland, he completely failed to fathom how I could propose taking roadspace off cars in the central city to provide better facilities for cyclists. He even started trotting out the age-old theories of the motorway network being unfinished and that car users unlike cyclist actually paid their way. Was slightly depressing to be hearing these views from even the new generation of engineers in NZ, I can only blame it on a complete failure of institutions like Auckland Uni to actually teach more than than the idea that the city is a traffic sewer and should only be changed to allo more traffic to pass through.

    1. But it is more than just engineers. The belief that prioritising the building of roads over other less ‘popular’ modes for the past sixty years is one held by most people despite ever increasing evidence to the contrary. This belief is perpetuated by the exaggerated links(some say myths) between economic growth and transport infrastructure. Take last night. An unmitigated disaster that highlights surely the extreme vulnerability to a single event. Resilient NOT ! And yet a councillor, Cameron someone, immediately uses this as as an excuse as to why we need MORE investment in the same mode. He believes that fixing the blockages, completing water view will somehow will reduce this vulnerability, when a more reasoned response would surely see the benefit of a more dispersing mobility across the modes (with appropriate investment) will be a more enduring and ultimately resilient outcome.

      1. You are absolutely right it isn’t just engineers or planners or politicians. There is a very vocal section of the public that scream loudly for MOAR ROADZ whatever happens. But it is the planners, and engineers, and urban designers that have the expertise and responsibility to have more a sophisticated understanding of what is going on and what could be done differently. They are, at the very least, l paid to understand this stuff… Perhaps my standards are unrealistically high?

  2. BTW, small thing, but ‘transit’ or ‘transport’ – does using US terminologies tacitly align us with their “auto”-centric world?

    1. I was wondering about that? Does ‘transit network’ in this article mean public transport network, or the entire transport network?

      1. Yes I do use that Americanism, capitalised, finding it a useful and concise handle for a phrase I write again and again. I certainly feel it is better than the clunky and rather old fashioned ‘Public Transport’.
        I also use ‘Active’ as shorthand for cycling and walking. I’m sure even for new readers the meanings are more than clear enough because of context: ‘…balance in transport investment between motorways and Transit or Active networks…’

        Too American for you? I think Americans do a lot of things really well, perhaps not always in this field but I do like this for its concision and clarity. If you take Transit in the US you’re not driving your car.

        1. Given the organisation is currently called Auckland Transport (like it or not), I’d go with ‘transport’ and ‘public transport’ and at least linguistically align the discussion on these boards with reality. (As an aside I’m glad they ditched that awful Maxx branding – it was chosen from a design competition mainly because it included a lame pukeko mascot which in the end they never used, I believe.)

          Anyhoo, ‘public transport’ may sound less shiny and modern to you but I think it sounds like a better catchall in the NZ context.

          ‘Public transit’ sounds awkward, ‘transit’ alone could be anything.

          Personally, I’d prefer to ‘disrupt’ the flow of received wisdom on ‘transportation’ from the auto-centric US – which is not to bash all US culture or endeavor, after all, we all know about American exceptionalism, since they have a fondness for mentioning it a lot!

  3. From a Herald article about yesterday’s gridlock:

    “Mr Brewer said he’d like more improvements to the motorway network and more bus lanes, ferry terminals and cycle and walkways, rather than the CBD rail tunnel” (And after scoring points for being ‘pro-PT’ then turn those bus lanes into T3 lanes). My actual point is in the following sentence from the same article:

    “Jennifer Lann said she boarded a bus heading west that left the [sic] Britomart at 5.35pm and was only halfway up Albert St by 6.15pm, so she ran back to the station and caught a train.”

    New opportunities vs keeping the things as they are…

    1. Quite seriously what is he proposing? Duplicate CMJ? That is the only thing that would have stopped last night’s issue from a roading only perspective.

      More bus lanes would have been good though. The section of Albert St between Swanson Sts and Victoria St heading south needs to be buses only at peak, as does Vincent. Cars have Nelson and Hobson for this journey.

      It was nice walk home though. I’d say I was twice as fast on foot as the cars on Albert St.

  4. You know they published the results of a survey just the other week related to this. They survey showed that over 60% of aucklanders thought that the pt system was both good quality and value for money. However over 80% of these same people still chose to drive to work.

  5. I don’t know why you complain about the government not providing for walking and cycling. They do this for most of their urban projects and it is really the council that it meant to look after the inner workings of the city.

    1. And that is a shame, I would like to have the option to bike to work but it’s just far too dangerous where I live. Even though I live next to what AT calls a cycle route.

    2. The responsibility for improving transportation in Auckland is actually a shared one between local and central government. Money for improvements comes from both fuel excise and rates. Last nights chaos as a consequence of a single motorway event is pretty tangible proof that local and central goby need to work to improve the system rather than find my designation or mode.

    1. It was in the herald either last week or the week before. I was surprised that nobody wrote a story about it here.

        1. Sadly the herald still likes to publish some stories in paper mode only. And my company IP address is blocked to I can’t link even if I found it.

  6. Looks like Cameron Brewer is advocating for the Eastern Motorway. I’m sure his constituents will appreciate that.

    1. Cameron Brewer really did expose himself if the Herald is correctly quoting him. He spent the best part of 2 and a half hours getting home last night owing to the not so unusual traffic chaos in Auckland. Ironically he then revealed that he thinks “improving”, read – more motorways – will improve things (where’s the room ?? remove part of Auckland Grammar perhaps?), that more bus lanes (that take up more arterial road lanes and use roads that are gridlocked) along with cycle ways is the answer and notably criticising the CRL. He even had the gall to get stuck into Len Brown about traffic jams and where the real priorities lie.

      Cameron, who more often than not comes up in the media for opposing anything Len Brown or his council wants to do might recall that Brown was elected for, amongst other things, his recognition that traffic problems in Auckland need to be solved quickly with alternative means, namely rail and better integrated public transport. And yet that certain section in the council keep dragging the chain on any changes Brown wants to institute. Its bad enough central government are so myopic when it comes to Auckland’s traffic woes but it really grates when mindless infighting ensures nothing changes. However a big thumbs up to Cameron for showing us he has absolutely no idea!

  7. Excellent post! Keep it up. Please keep chipping away at the illogical beliefs of the establishment. These posts are informative and raise interesting issues for discussion. I am regularly surprised how entrenched the car dominant model is in the minds of the professionals. I am a young traffic engineer in training and it has long been obvious to me the law of diminishing returns applies here. it defies common sense to continue to prop up a failing car dominant model. not to mention the massive strategic vulnerability for NZ to be so car dependent.

    Neither the bus or train are suitable for my commute and won’t be for the foreseeable future. But even I see the benefit in helping others use PT more often.

  8. “…at the illogical beliefs of the establishment….”

    But they are not illogical. After all, at the time even Ozymandius’s empire must have made sense to the establishment. The establishment is by definition the group with the most to gain from the status quo, and therefore the most to lose from change. If you are a developer with a fortune sunk into greenfields land banks, an old school chum who gets all your roading contracts for subdivisions and you’ve got the inside running on the councils zoning decisions, then the idea of high density housing being built around PT hubs by someone you don’t know is a disaster. So enter Cameron Brewer, your champion of the Auckland establishment…

    1. S you’re right, but there is no point in name calling, what we have to do is demolish the lazy and lame justifications they have for the policies of self enrichment.

      You will see that poor dim Cr Brewer is now having to claim that he opposes the best Transit plans for AK because he believes in the need for more Transit….. He is tying himself in knots. And will be left behind.

  9. Last night was not a one off, us Western bus-drivers have been treated with a 45 min ride from Brito to K-Road (2.3km!!!!!) DAILY!!! for the last 4 weeks. No fail!!! So why not cutting 20 min of that by taking Go West out of Hobson street and straight over Vincent. What seems to be the problem here??? Politics??? Oh, yep, sorry, forgot about the big money Sky City gets out of us picking up from the under Tower… ….. Get real about your fabulous Transit system, review where the buses actually go…and what damage your actually doing to your clientele and the future of AT. At present your losing plenty and they won’t be back on the buses, believe me, we get all the flak……The new year has started with a self-inflicted shot in the foot…..

  10. Cameron Brewer’s opinion is certainly not supported by all constituants. Eastern Bays people are of course concerned about ever increasing traffic resulting from development to the South and East but don’t all see a big noisy motorway plonked in a green valley as the solution or way of enhancing the lifetyle that residents enjoy.

    Local Board support for AMTEI and PT, transit lanes, cycle and walkways and the study into an additional train station at Purewa show a positive approach to the needs of population growth without despoiling the area, which has happened in other parts of Auckland.

  11. Your PV analogy matches what many motorists including myself already do. I and many of my colleagues get to work between 6:00 – 6:30am. By doing this we do not contribute to the peak demand. This is basically a ‘do nothing’ solution as it requires no money needing to be spent on widening roads. All it requires is for those people whose lives can accomodate a shift in commute schedule to do it and for employers to be OK with flexible working hours. I leave work at about 3:30pm and normally also miss the beginning of the evening peak.

    1. KB, good on you, you’re being rational and your decision helps other users too. But clearly you are in a minority or there wouldn’t be such pronounced peaks.

      But it still is a huge mistake to have a sizeable city on a very constrained geography entirely dependent on one mode. One mode designed and built to funnel all movements, local and regional through a number of expensively constructed choke points.

      Stupid monomania.

      And here’s the thing, we’ve got this big motorway system, so we’ve got to get the best out of it; and it is clear that the thing to do now is to invest in the half baked complimentary existing systems. This will save us billions in spending and many more in efficiency.

      1. I also commute outside the peaks due to flexible working conditions and not having a life outside work, but most employees don’t have that option.

  12. Another example of disruption by PV. This time Germany. Couple of interesting observations, wind on this chart is quite variable but not so the solar. Either it just reflects conditions at the time or perhaps the solar has a wider geographical distribution. But the other issue, and I’m surprised no one has mentioned it, could this happen here? And what does this do to the value of powercos over the medium term….?

  13. S, I understand where are coming from, but I am meaning more than just a few people, I mean governments and professionals that service the government (local or central). These institutions are meant for the benefit of all and not jusy 1%ers. there should be no consideration of personal gain. on that basis it is illogical to spend public money in such a biased manner when so many factors point to a need for change.

  14. Err, Patrick are you trying to talk down the value of the SOEa about to be partially sold? Solid Energy have already done that to themselves.

  15. The core problem is that society has to manage the costs of expensive travel capacity (roads, rails, buses trains cars). Part of that is capacity for peak demand on roads, to avoid excessive delays for road traffic Because at present, many commuters (and much freight) has little choice but to go by car/truck. Engineers, who like building things, tend to favour more roads, rails and infrastructure. Politicians, who tend to favour monuments, favour big expensive capital expenditures, like rail. (But the actual impact of providing rail extensions was only of the order of 10,000 vehicles reduction in peak period traffic when I last analysed it in 2005) Transport planners, being public servants, tend to favour central planning and public transport. (Although the marginal cost of peak period trips on PT is pretty high, since most buses only manage 2-3 return trips in the peak; are pretty empty on backload; and are idle the rest of the day, so have high fixed costs per passenger.) But I notice that at peak hours, most of the cars which take up motorway space are 3/4 empty. And I know from research that in a few US cities, self organised car pooling on busy routes, has a significant impact on reducing peak hour road demands and congestion. Given the choice between a $1 billion rail system, or more costly motorways, and Auckland’s $1 billion plus annual cost of congestion, it seems to me that trying to learn from the cities that have made carpooling work would be a good idea. Sadly, Auckland Transport knows carpooling doesn’t work; because it’s tried, with little impact on peak flows. Since it CAN work (as shown by San Francisco & Washington) it seems to me that a proper implementation of a well designed carpooling system in Auckland could have much more cost effective outcomes than more motorways, or the proposed rail extension. KB describes a “citizen initiative solution”; he flexes his work hours. With the right suburban parking arrangements, many commuters can deploy a similar solution of car pooling. ( Imagine the Northern busway but with very little capital cost nor operating costs for buses). But Auckland Transport sees car pooling as competition for buses; so they either prevent it, or discreetly discourage any initiatives. Their Benefit: Cost analysis looks more at Council costs than citizen costs & benefits. Until they do comprehensive Benefit:Cost analysis from the perspective of the citizens (both of NZ & Auckland) they are short changing Aucklanders. By way of illustration, the RLTS TP25 report (2005)shows modal operating costs of 10 cents/km for buses v 35cents/km for trains.Fig 6; and system costs of 3 times the user benefits. )
    (Declaration of Interest: I have an interest in a Company seeking to support self organised car-pooling in New Zealand and globally. But I’m much more interested in reducing congestion in Auckland, whoever does it cost effectively for all the citizens.) The attached Table shows an analyses of the 2005 Auckland Transport Plan. The relative costs are telling.

    Given the limited funding available, the effectiveness of different modes is an important indicator of where to expend efforts.
    Building infrastructure, be it roads, rail track, bus fleets, or other facilities, is largely determined by the capacity required for peak period traffic. If peak demand can be reduced, then less costly infrastructure is required.
    It follows that a good measure of the relative effectiveness of investment in various modes is to consider the capital and operating costs of providing one unit of extra peak period capacity.

    The following table, prepared by Trip Convergence in 2005 from hter regional transport plan data, summarises a simple comparison on this basis.

    Comparison of Costs of Travel options for traffic growth .
    Mode Roads / Cars Walk / Cycle TDM Carpool PT Buses PT Trains
    Capex $2,990m $52.3m $28.3m $800m $1,087m (+$543m risk)
    Opex $3,417m $1.0 $24.6m $765m $919m
    Traffic change
    AM peak 65,921 to 72,000 5,000 23,414 27,979 9,357
    Equivalent to 3,000 MW trips
    NPV of Cost per incremental or saved annual trip
    $8,000 $140 $105 based $5,700 $21,800
    on 23,414 trips
    Congestion Impact
    Reduce about $25m
    in face of growth Est $30m Est $230m Est $440m Est $140m
    Ten Yr BCR 0.04 5.6 44 2.8 0.55

    Travel Demand Management, including car pooling, is much more cost effective than Trains, more roads and cars, or even buses on a per saved annual regular trip basis.

    Its a shame that we can’t learn from the international best.

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