TomTom have once again released their meaningless congestion index.

TomTom has announced the results of the TomTom Traffic Index 2013, revealing New Zealanders waste up to 93 hours a year stuck in traffic and that Wellingtonian’s experienced the worst traffic delays during peak hours, spending up to an extra 41 minutes in an hour commute. The Index also revealed that traffic congestion on non-highways is worse than main roads.

The regional results of the Index covers 9 major cities across Australia & New Zealand, with Sydney listed as the most congested city in the region, followed by Auckland and Wellington.

  1. Sydney 34%
  2. Auckland 29%
  3. Wellington 28%
  4. Melbourne 27%
  5. Perth 27%
  6. Christchurch 26%
  7. Adelaide 25%
  8. Brisbane 23%
  9. Canberra 17%

According to the TomTom Traffic Index, Friday morning is the least congested time to commute in New Zealand. The most congested commute was found to be Tuesday morning, and Thursday evening.

There were no cities from our region featured in the top 10 most congested global cities. Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch ranked 22nd, 25th and 42nd respectively in the world’s most congested cities list.

The ranking by overall congestion level in 2013 were:

  1. Moscow 74%
  2. Istanbul 62%
  3. Rio de Janeiro 55%
  4. Mexico City 54%
  5. São Paulo 46%
  6. Palermo 39%
  7. Warsaw 39%
  8. Rome 37%
  9. Los Angeles 36%
  10. Dublin 35%

“The TomTom Traffic Index gives us a great insight into the state of our traffic network. By providing an accurate analysis of traffic flow and guiding traffic away from congested areas, TomTom plays a key role in helping to ease congestion, improving the traffic flow for the cities,” said Phil Allen, TomTom Maps and Traffic Licensing, SE Asia and Oceania.

Here’s Auckland

TomTom Auckland 2014

It’s meaningless for a number of reasons including:

1. It measures the difference in speed between free flow and congested periods. That means cities with lots of all day congestion there isn’t as much of a difference between peak and off peak times and therefore they get recorded as having less congestion.

2. It doesn’t take into account the speeds at which roads most efficiently move traffic – which is not in free flow conditions. This is something picked up on in research conducted for the NZTA by Ian Wallis and Associates

Various definitions of congestion were reviewed and it was found that the concept of congestion is surprisingly ill-defined. A definition commonly used by economists treats all interactions between vehicles as congestion, while a common engineering definition is based on levels of service and recognises congestion only when the road is operating near or in excess of capacity. A definition of congestion based on the road capacity (ie the maximum sustainable flow) was adopted. The costs of congestion on this basis are derived from the difference between the observed travel times and estimated travel times when the road is operating at capacity.

The graph below shows the engineering definition mentioned above.


3. It doesn’t represent all trips on the transport network. We know that even though only about 10% of all trips to work (which excludes trips for education) are made via PT, it still represents a lot of people. For trips to the City Centre more than half of the people arrive by means other than a private vehicle and many of the PT users arrive via the train, ferry or a bus that has travelled along bus lanes. The people on those services or walking/cycling are doing so often completely free of congestion and so their experience isn’t counted.

4. The data only comes from people with a TomTom device and who have obviously had it on. Many people making the same trip on a daily basis or running a regular errand like going to a supermarket are likely to simply leave their GPS systems off. That is likely to distort the overall figures as they may use routes that have less congestion on them than the route the GPS would select.

5. It can disproportionately impact on smaller cities. As an example if you’re in a larger city and have a 45 minute commute however congestion delays you by 30 minutes that equates to a 67% congestion rate however if you are in a smaller city and you’re commute is only 15 minutes and you get delayed by 15 minutes that’s a 100% delay despite the hold up being half of what the bigger city experienced.

It’s starting to get a bit old now however there’s a good piece on the issues with the methodology in this piece from Reuters, some of which is covered above.

Lastly in the email I received about it they also mentioned this

Of the 138 countries surveyed for the Traffic Index, a global average congestion rate of 26% was recorded, placing New Zealand above the average with a rate of 28%. To put things in perspective, Wellington and Auckland even beat out New York City (39th) in the global rankings, a thriving metropolis of 8.4 million.

So we have worse congestion than New York, a city where the majority get around by methods other than a car and who in recent years has been reclaiming road space for pedestrians, cyclists and buses. Perhaps we should do more of that.

Lastly if we really want to move people around then then the Congestion Free Network would allow people to do that completely free of congestion giving some real choice.

CFN 2030A

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  1. LOL, that survey is a joke. Thanks for pointing it out. I wish the mainstream media could understand it, instead of spreading misinformation.

    Also, Manhattan is full of vibrant one-way streets, which is why it was so much easier to take a few vehicle lanes out and stick bike lanes in. It is alot more difficult and costly when you have two-way streets everywhere.

  2. It seems that in order for a consumer GPS to report back to TomTom it must be connected to your smartphone with mobile data enabled, which really limits the sample of an average-joe commute.
    I wonder how much of the trip data is gathered from fleet vehicles with hard-wired GPS monitoring rather than consumers – this would bias towards trucks and service vehicles which will (hopefully!) be driven by experienced drivers who may take different routes or different lanes than the general public driving to work or school.

  3. So this is saying that Friday night is the second least congested night to drive? Surely not! Friday traffic always seems the worst to me… Does anyone else think so?

  4. Also remember that users of the Tom Tom are a self-selected bunch, they buy a Tom Tom with the Traffic congestion reporting/gathering feature – and use it – precisely because they want to know about such congestion. The side effect of doing that is that their GPS will report on their journeys to Tom tom (and other Tom Tom users).

    This means that only those who are likely to drive in congestion are going to bother to buy one of these and just as importantly – use it – during the congested times.

    So this means that the information it gives is very much a worst case picture and by no means is representative of the wider experience.

    A better method for gathering this data would be to use the Cell tower location tracking data the likes of Telecom and Vodafone have, that will tell with much better precision the true congestion experience in a given area – on the basis that you don’t need a special device or need to turn it on, and its always tracking 24×7.

    However, privacy laws no doubt make this a non-starter in NZ, but its what services like Waze is trying to achieve through crowd sourcing.

  5. I think this is the classic case of trying to reduce detailed information into one number which – in the process – destroys the usefulness of the underlying information.

    What Tom Tom have here is a sample of data on how traffic speeds vary across the day on some roads in some cities. It’s neither compete nor meaningless. They should publish that as maps/graphs showing variation across the city/day as it would be very useful. However, reducing this data into one congestion ratio and then comparing within/between cities obscures all of what is useful in the underlying information and gives it a sense of statistical validity that it does not have.

    So Tom Tom’s primary mistake, I think, is they have given into the marketing concept of “one number”, rather than presenting more detailed, nuanced data on what is happening on roads in our cities. The latter is not as sexy, but it is more “real”.

    1. INRIX does the “more nuanced” analyses but unfortunately they do not do NZ, Australian or Swedish cities yet. You can bet I will be all over the findings like a rash as soon as they do.

      In global datasets of average commute times per city, which also do not include NZ but do include Sweden, all the outliers on the high side are higher density ones either with higher public transport mode share or policies that are actively seeking it. The outlier “smaller city” among them, is Stockholm, which shares our lack of roads and has long-established public transport-oriented planning including many now-infamous ghetto-ised apartment-block clusters.

      Average commute times data sets for cities globally tend to cluster around 23-24 minutes. Cities that have this outcome include Indianapolis, Lyon, and Stuttgart. Almost all the cities below this are low density US cities – Salt Lake City is an exemplar of economic strength, rapid growth, housing affordability, low congestion and 21-minute average commute times. It is half Auckland’s density and like Indianapolis, has considerably more highway and arterial road lane-miles than Auckland by any measures including per-capita ones.

      Los Angeles is easily the best of the world’s large cities, at 27 minutes. Its commute times are better than its congestion delays, due to very high dispersion of employment (which is a no-brainer policy that every local government should follow).

      Stockholm is an absolutely laughable outlier in the data for a smaller city, at 35 minutes. Sydney, at 34 minutes, is the other odd city out for relatively smaller size and “new world” status – the rest of the cities at 34 minutes and over, are:

      Paris 34 minutes
      Prague 34 minutes
      New York 34 minutes
      Stockholm 35 minutes
      Osaka 36 minutes
      London 37 minutes
      Singapore 38 minutes
      Seoul 42 minutes
      Hong Kong 46 minutes
      Tokyo 46 minutes

      I would be very, very surprised if Auckland did not fall somewhere quite close to Stockholm if we had data for commute times, seeing Auckland’s lack of road space, urban density, and congestion delays are so similar to Stockholm’s (at least relative to US cities of similar population).

      1. why is dispersion of employment a no-brainer policy that every local government should follow? That’s a massive pile of unjustified codswallop right there.

        Found the rest of your comment quite insightful however.

        1. I am disappointed that you didn’t find the dispersion of employment an insightful point too. Dispersion of employment plays a causative role in the direction of reduced commuting times. The more centralised employment is, in general, the longer average commuting times will be. This is because RE markets “price” access. If employment is centralised, the population of the city will be spatially sorted by income, on the basis of ability to pay for access.

          The more that employment is dispersed, the less that “access to employment” is an amenity “priced into” any one location. There is an interesting paper by William Wheaton from 2002 titled “Commuting, Ricardian Rent and House Prices in Cities With Dispersed Employment and Mixed Land Use”.

          Most cities now have dispersed employment, this is a norm, and outlier cities of even a few percent – eg 25%+ of employment centralised versus the norm of 20% and less, need to be explained in terms of deliberate planning policy.

          A 1924 book by Robert Murray Haig, “Towards an Understanding of the Metropolis” predicted this most accurately on the basis of an excellent general theory of transportation and land rent that still stands today. It is one of the most appallingly forgotten branches of urban economics. Much of the classic works by Alonso, Wingo, Mills etc incorporate and build on Haig’s thesis.

          Automobility brings far more supply of land into the urban economy than anything else so far, and this enables firms to make rational trade-offs between location and the cost of space, according to their needs. Of course the garment industry that was once the mainstay of employment in Manhattan is no longer there, and this makes good sense. It also makes good sense that Wolfsburg is far less dense than London, and UK planners should have allowed some of their cities to remain less dense and with lower land costs, and they might still have an automobile industry as strong as the one based in Wolfsburg.

          As a general educational read on urban evolution, I recommend Robert Fishman’s “Megalopolis Unbound”, which I believe can be accessed online. William Fruth’s “The Flow of Money and Its Impact on Local Economies” is excellent too. The UK’s urban planners should all read it by way of a remedial education.

      2. ‘Auckland’s lack of road space’ Phil you are clearly on some strange other planet referring to some other Auckland. The motorway lane Kms per capita in Auckland are low compared to where? What’s the data?

        Dispersal is no good thing. And if you want proof I suggest you visit chrischurch now. Here is an already highly dispersed city that just experienced an acceleration of spread. This must be your dream town; all edge and no city. The traffic is horrendous, and the population is below half a million. I know it seems like it could work but no. Dispersed communities do not stay put; they spend all day driving across town to that other non-centre. Everything is spread and duplicated and inefficient. No density means efficient movement systems are hard to support.

        Cycling may save that poor city if the Council isn’t bankrupted by the government and therefore gets to build its cycle ways.

        The problem with your often repeated views is that they start with a bunch of unsupported assumptions: density is bad, dispersal is perfect, cities are bad, acres of sprawl and everyone driving is ideal. To say that these views are contestable is an understatement.

        Oh and you ignore geography. Auckland is not not a prairie city, spreading out everywhere like an egg dropped on the floor, but a long narrow and highly constrained one, comparing it with Indianapolis or wherever in the Midwest is facile.

        1. I agree that there is an appalling lack of data about highway and arterial and road lane-miles by city, except for the USA.

          What I am going by is TomTom’s “network length” data, plus a look on Google Earth at the number of lanes in the city’s highways and arteries.

          In the TomTom data set, Indy’s total highway network length is 269 miles, and non-highway network length is 1,517 miles.

          Auckland’s total highway network length is 162 miles, and non-highway network length is 782 miles.

          But “network length” is not lane-miles.

          Looking on Google Earth, we see that Indy’s highways are mostly three lanes each way, with four in stretches. We can also see a lot more 2-lanes-each way non-highway arterials than Auckland. So the lane-miles disparity is much greater than the network length disparity.

          What is the point you are trying to make about Christchurch? It also lacks lane-miles but its greater dispersion of employment than Wellington definitely gives it the advantage over Wellington in terms of congestion delays. Christchurch is still bad compared to US benchmark cities but the lack of lane-miles is responsible for this. The current situation is of course partly caused by upheavals from their disaster and an appallingly slow recovery process. I would argue that ChCh is coping remarkably well “because of” people “making do” and “because of” dispersion and “in spite of” glorified planning of a new “smart” city instead of running with the natural direction of urban evolution.

          I promise you that ChCh’s congestion and commuting times (if only there was data available) will NOT get BETTER if you smart-growthers and CBD-firsters get your way. It would definitely get better if ChCh followed the examples of Raleigh, Salt Lake City and Indy. Part of our general mental problem is “small nation syndrome”, trying to pretend that we have our own Hong Kong and London instead of accepting that we are at best Indianapolis, Wichita, and Boise; let alone Grenoble, Marseille, Nantes, Hanover, Augsburg and Mannheim with their “advantage” of long-standing pre-automobile existence.

          I accept that geography makes things more difficult for some of our cities, but this is all the more reason to refocus our growth where it will be cheaper, not to try and cram more in where it is already most difficult due to geography, let alone the inefficiencies of trying to operate around already-built-out locations.

          1. Indy is no role model for Auckland. It’s impossible even if it were desirable. You cannot compare two totally opposite geographies. Anyway Indy has huge quantities of at grade parking in the centre showing that it is un-intense and under performing, as a city. You fail to grasp in your city- hating that intensity is what a city is, by definition. You take it as axiomatic that un-urban places are better than urban ones. This is nonsensical when discussing urban form. All you are saying is that you like little towns. That’s fine. They are generally drivable as the dis benefits of driving accrue at scale.

            Also I fear you can’t count lanes or perhaps you are using a very old map. Auckland has hugely over wide motorways in all directions. Nine plus lanes is common, and they are being widened madly all the time in a futile attempt to ‘solve’ congestion. What this is is a very expensive creation of congestion, we are buying more it every year by doubling down on autodependency. For what is congestion? Too much driving. Not too few roads. Roads beget traffic.

          2. I don’t understand your fixation with ‘Smart Growth’. Presumably by ‘smart growth’ you mean planning policy which restricts greenfield growth outside of existing city limits but removes density restrictions within the existing city to allow growth of higher intensity residential development. Auckland has never had such a policy implemented and to the best of my knowledge nor has anywhere else in New Zealand.

            Auckland has paid plenty of lip service to Smart Growth ideals but in practice Auckland has simultaneously restricted greenfield growth and urban intensification. This combined with a geography which naturally limits developable land has created the extremely unaffordable housing we have.

          3. Has anywhere in the world both restricted greenfield expansion and allowed higher density redevelopment in the existing city?

          4. Is Google Earth out of date? Auckland’s highway NETWORK consists mostly of 2 lanes each way; there are some stretches where there are 3 and only a few spots where there are on-ramps and off-ramps and slip lanes and so on where it goes any wider.

            You are telling me I like “little towns”? Yes, they are “little” on the global scale, but so are ALL NZ’s cities including Auckland. I already said something about “small nation syndrome” and dreaming that Hong Kong and London are our models. I am talking about accepting the reality instead of blowing money on misguided conceits.

            You are just flat wrong about building road space and the relationship between this and congestion, and about “induced traffic”. Indy has 20% higher VMT than Auckland, which combined with something like 3 times as much road space, produces very much lower congestion delays. They probably avoid “breakdown”, stop-start congestion almost altogether. I suggest that 20% more VMT represents a kind of saturation; it is absurd to suggest that VMT would keep growing and growing and growing to keep 3 times as much road space choked in breakdown congestion conditions.

            It is doubling down on 19th century transport system “investments” and urban planning that is death-dealing to urban economies most of the time.

            I don’t mind agreeing that one possible definition for “city” involves “intensity”, but the fact is that urban economies with 700 people per square kilometer are definitely not “rural”. It is also a fact that certain types of industry simply do not exist at all in parts of the first world where urban planners have forced densities of 3000+ per square kilometer, along with land costs tens or even hundreds of times as high. All the moaning about losing industry offshore is simply not coherent if we weren’t prepared to allow the conditions for the kind of industry that has been retained by many of the USA’s cheap-land cities, and now experiencing an “on-shoring” phenomenon.

            It is cargo-cult thinking to assume that industries compatible with density and high land costs will spring up everywhere we create density and high land costs. Alain Bertaud’s forthcoming paper makes the point that planning only “prevents”, it does not “create”. Most cities, most of the time, have a choice between “having” or “not having” unglamorous sources of local primary income and employment; the choice is not between unglamorous and glamorous. Urban planners do not choose whether Wall Street locates in their city or Manhattan. They do, however, influence whether 1000 local flowers can bloom or not. The Silicon Valley whiz-kids got started in cheap industrial parks on what was exurban land at the time.

          5. Frank and Steve;

            I absolutely agree that height restrictions should be abolished as the first step to increasing urban efficiency.

            However, has Hong Kong restricted its building “up”? It has the most floor space per given area of any city in the world. But are its rents low?

            Singapore is the best anyone can do for keeping housing “affordable” by building “up” not out. And they do not have freehold land ownership at all, no “planning gain” is captured, there are no NIMBY rights at all, and planners have absolute powers.

            By all means suggest this for Auckland and watch what happens to the current “support” for save-the-planet urban planning. By these means, Singapore achieves floor rents about 50% below Hong Kong. However, their cost of housing relative to incomes is still at least double all the US cities that build “out” uninhibitedly, in spite of the housing being only 1/5 the space and the land space per person being exponentially lower. This probably reflects the higher cost of actual construction when building “up”, and the higher cost of infrastructure in such dense working environments – even with economic rent in land eliminated.

            When you have a UGB you immediately create inflation in economic land rent regardless of whether you allow building up or not. Allowed heights and density merely determine site rents, not floor rents. Boston is low density and unaffordable because it has very low density mandates combined with a de facto UGB. But upzoning with a UGB merely determines that you will have unaffordable small housing instead of unaffordable large housing.

            Houston, interestingly, does not lack tall-building floor space, and probably has some of the lowest-rental tall-building apartments in the world; and this is within walking distance of the most Fortune 500 Company Head offices of any city in the world. This is because unconstrained ability to build “out” keeps land rents low in the entire urban area – regardless of how many floors you build; hence floor rents are lowered rather than site rents increased. The decision to build a tall building in Houston is made entirely on functional grounds rather than rent-seeking ones. Also, property investment in cities like Houston is done on rational long term rental income prospects, rather than being regarded as like gold or bullion, which is the way property investors and land bankers always start to think after a UGB is imposed. Heck, it barely matters whether you even develop your site or not – getting it upzoned and flicking it on is the objective. The next owner may not even bother to develop it either. The whole point is the 15% per annum capital gains………

          6. Frank, I agree with your general point; bear in mind that Germany has powers of compulsory acquisition that get threatened if any land owner starts looking like getting too greedy.


            Something else that helps is that their exurban land that is periodically permitted for development, is largely in many small holdings, as opposed to the very large farms that are the norm in Anglo world cities. This reduces the oligopoly power of land bankers.

            Germany’s autobahn system will also have a powerful land-rent-reducing effect due to the sheer coverage of land area that someone driving at over 160 km/h has. It makes the housing in rural towns in all directions a workable option for a city’s employees.

          7. Phil banging about Hong Kong is a total Strawman. No one here thinks Auckland’s conditions are similar to Hong Kong and nor does anyone believe it will ever become like Hong Kong. But similarly Auckland’s geography is entirely unlike Indianapolis or St Louis.

            And the only two lane motorways are at the fringes and are not congested, so even if 20 lanes wide would do nothing to speed drivers: SH 18, rural SH 1 [much being widened now], bits of SH 20 [about to be widened], SH16 is being widened to nine right now.

            All crazy waste of money to encourage peak driving and uneconomic sprawl.

          8. “Germany’s autobahn system will also have a powerful land-rent-reducing effect due to the sheer coverage of land area that someone driving at over 160 km/h has. It makes the housing in rural towns in all directions a workable option for a city’s employees.”

            Except around cities there are speed limits. You’d need to drive for quite a bit from central city areas to reach the areas where there are no speed limits, even then the suggested top speed is 130km/h.

          9. Patrick, I talked about Hong Kong as an example, in answering a question about land rent and building “up”. Kindly get the context.

            I have, however, noticed Len Brown talking about Hong Kong as the model city to base Auckland on. It is me who thinks this is lunacy, not me who is advocating this. My point today is that building “up” more than any other city in the world has not resulted in HK being anything other than one of the world’s most expensive cities for housing space. Other people are arguing that it is restrictions on building “up” that makes a city unaffordable. It is not. It is always restrictions on building “out”.

            What you perceive as Auckland’s “crazy waste of money to encourage peak driving and uneconomic sprawl”, I see as “a good start”. I think I have supported this assertion well so far with observations. Sprawl is actually not uneconomic as sprawl per se. Wasteful travel is uneconomic. Stockholm’s 35 minutes average commute to work time is a waste compared to Salt Lake City’s 21 minutes, even though – or rather, BECAUSE – SLC is around 1/3 as dense as Stockholm and has far more highway lane-miles.

            Los Angeles achieves 27 minutes in spite of being one of the USA’s least-provided with highway lane-miles per capita, because of very high dispersion of employment.

            If you want to define the factors that affect “wasteful commuting”, they are

            1) The centralisation or dispersion of employment
            2) The percentage of total housing co-location options (relative to potential employment) that are affordable to each household
            3) The intensity of the road network where the resulting travel patterns occur

            Planners need to write that out 1000 times.

          10. Patrick, can you re-do that pie graph in terms of “cost per person km of travel” on each category?

            There is a good reason for spending money on one thing rather than another. Carrier pigeons have been seriously under-funded as a means of communication, cellphone towers have hogged all the budget. We need to level the playing field back to the carrier pigeons – or perhaps public telephone booths. Who misses these any more?

  6. I too would like to a system instituted to collect better data. But TomTom’s inadequacies surely equalise out from city to city, so that comparisons between cities are at least somewhat valid.

    The whole point of the backwards-bending traffic demand and flow curve drawn attention to by Ian Wallis & Associates, is that “breakdown” congestion is an unmitigated disaster. That is, traffic in stop-start condition. “Slowed traffic” is what many cities regard as congestion, and act to do something about it before it becomes “breakdown” congestion.

    NZ’s cities have “breakdown” congestion. I have had a thorough correspondence with David Lupton, Ian Wallis’s analyst, on these points.

    It should surely interest us that there are US cities with similar population levels,1/2 or 1/3 our urban density, and 2 to 3 times as much highway and arterial lane miles per capita, that have a TomTom score of 10 to 15 minutes. There is no way data or analytical shortcomings can account for differences of this magnitude.

    The US benchmark cities have house price median multiples perennially around 3, illustrating the connection between automobility and economic land rent.

    In the Dominion Post reportage this morning, Mike Noon of the AA suggests that our congestion might not be so bad from the perspective of all-day travel speeds, from which congestion delays data is derived. I confidently assert that our cities would also be international outliers in all-day congestion delays on the entire network if we had data for this. The INRIX organisation does this analysis but has not included NZ cities as yet. However, low density US cities with low TomTom scores have even lower INRIX scores, whereas cities with high TomTom scores as the result of anti-road, anti-sprawl planning have even higher INRIX scores.

    For example, here are three UK cities from a data collation I have done (the collation is for many more cities than this):

    Manchester: Pop. 2.2 million; density 4,000 per sq km;TomTom “congestion delay per hour of driving at peak” 36 minutes; INRIX congestion score 25.3

    Birmingham UK: Pop. 2.3 million; density 3,800 per sq. km; TomTom “congestion delay per hour of driving at peak” 27 minutes; INRIX congestion score 20.5

    Liverpool: Pop. 820,000; density 4,400 per sq. km; TomTom “congestion delay per hour of driving at peak” 23 minutes; INRIX congestion score 21.5

    I compare these with, say, the following US cities:

    Indianapolis: Pop. 1.5 million; density 800 per sq. km; TomTom “congestion delay per hour of driving at peak” 15 minutes; INRIX congestion score 5.0

    St Louis; Pop. 2.3 million; density 900 per sq. km; TomTom “congestion delay per hour of driving at peak” 16 minutes; INRIX congestion score 4.3

    Oklahoma City: Pop. 900,000; density 800 per sq. km; TomTom “congestion delay per hour of driving at peak” 14 minutes; INRIX congestion score 3.1

    Do we see a trend emerging here?

    1. I suspect NZ’s cities have very little congestion outside of peak periods, hence why the Tom Tom congestion score is so bad (because our “freeflow” conditions are unusually “free”).

      In terms of stopping us from reaching the point of “breakdown” congestion, does this not suggest we need congestion pricing more so than investment in road capacity?

      1. Every city in the first world will have minimal congestion delays at 3 am, which is presumably the benchmark from which “peak delay” could be calculated.

        I would argue that Auckland and Wellington have as bad congestion as anywhere else in the world at 10 am, 11 am, noon, 1pm and 2 pm. Not just in their CBD’s but in suburban nodes as well. Kilbirnie, Johnsonville and Petone are ridiculous and Auckland has many more similar examples.

        The whole point of the very low INRIX scores for cities like Indianapolis and Oklahoma City is that they have far less congestion delays on the entire network all day. The INRIX scores for cities more like Auckland and Wellington are far higher, which leads me to assert that if INRIX ever does figures for Auckland and Wellington, they will be bad.

        Portland Oregon scores 27 minutes on TomTom and 14.0 on INRIX. It has diverged in the wrong direction from typical US cities of its size ever since imposing a UGB and diverting road spending to light rail. I promise you it will continue to do so. This is not rocket science, because road spending enables person-kilometers of travel at around 1 to 2 cents of subsidy cost over the long term but Portland’s light rail system costs around a dollar per person-km of travel and this is sunk costs of moving people around in the past. Len Brown’s Folly will be similarly costly for Auckland.

        The reality in the UK’s cities is that they ran out of the economic oomph long since to continue to pay the cost of PT subsidies, as a direct consequence of their established planning package since 1947. If you understand Alain Bertaud’s “Cities As Labour Markets” thesis it will be clear why.

  7. Have any of the advocates of the congestion free network ever had to squeeze onto a train that is already full because they know the next one along will be no better? What is congestion free about that?

    1. If only the congestion free network (e.g. CRL) included large capacity increases on existing train services, through higher frequencies! Oh, what a straightforward solution that would be.

      1. 30 cents plus per person km of subsidy cost; how much bigger rates increases do you want by increasing Commuter Rail ridership?

        Over the long term laying roads costs about 1 or 2 cents per person km of travel on them, and you still have the roads for everyone to keep using. The “benefit” of the 30 cents plus per person km on commuter rail is gone forever once spent, it is the cost of moving people around in the past.

        At least car drivers pay for their own vehicle, energy, repairs, insurance, etc. It is possible to get below 30 cents per km cost over the life of a discretely-purchased used Asian-made 1.3 litre engined car. And the driver of one of these will be getting superior energy and emissions efficiency to even rush hour commuter rail services. If the 1.3 litre car has one passenger on board it slaughters even the world’s best subway systems for efficiency. And it takes you anywhere…..!

        So do motorbikes, which are more efficient still. Motorbikes are creating massive improvements in informal housing conditions in third world countries because people can build themselves larger informal housing where there is more space available at a lower cost, and ride their motorbike to get where they need to instead of walking, cycling or catching PT.

        Motorbike makers are introducing special urban transport models with a bit of weather protection, a lower saddle, and cushier suspension, to cater for this exploding market.

        Alain Bertaud is soon to visit NZ and he is right up with the play on all this stuff.

        1. “Over the long term laying roads costs about 1 or 2 cents per person km of travel on them”

          I highly doubt you can construct roads that cheaply and even if you could that figure does not take into account the cost of the land the road occupies nor the degradation of the value of the land surrounding the road.

          Public Transport would not need such high subsidies if we did not have planning density restrictions which prohibit the creation of an efficient urban form.

          The closest place the world has to a true free market in housing is Tokyo. Despite significant population growth in the last 15 years Tokyo has had flat to falling house prices through extensive construction in its 23 inner wards. Without restrictions on dense land use Tokyo is also able to operate profitable private railways.

          1. The whole point is “per person km” in the long term. I stand by what I am saying. The Booz Allan Hamilton “Land Transport Costs” study from 2005 correctly put less than 1 cent per person km of car travel for road maintenance. The initial capital cost falls over time to converge on a cent or two. It is completely different for PT because PT subsidies are so high for operating costs and capital replacement costs of a kind that car drivers pay for themselves. And total person-kms of travel are exponentially greater for roads.

            Also need to net out the cost involved in engineering the roads for heavy vehicles, which is not a cost correctly allocated to cars.

            Tokyo is not a model for us, is it, unless we are going to let half Japan’s population move here. Its urban property market is fascinating; of course its long trend to affordability was preceded by a colossal boom in prices and construction that has left the entire economy of Japan shaky ever since. They also have a demographic collapse.

            There is even a “cultural” factor:


            I believe that there are inherent inelasticities in building “up” that means that this can never replicate competitive automobile based development for lowering economic land rent. A boom in building “up” seems to be always associated with a bubble in prices as well, and speculators chasing gains. If sufficient has been constructed during the boom, the subsequent bust may well result in affordability. But developers building automobile based fringe suburbs in free competition with each other keeps prices flat from the outset.

            I pick that because of this, Southern USA and parts of the US heartland will eventually be recognised as a new stand-out economic performer in the global economy.

          2. I never said Tokyo is a model for us – I mentioned it as an example of what happens in conditions closer to a free market, and as proof that affordability can be achieved through the efficient utilisation of land. There are always limitations to comparisons with other cities as every city is different. There are of course limitations on what Auckland can take from depressed rust belt cities sitting on unlimited flat land.

            It is not exactly correct to say Tokyo has a demographic collapse. Japan has, but this has been offset in Tokyo by domestic migration.

          3. Frank McRae: “even if you could that figure does not take into account the cost of the land the road occupies nor the degradation of the value of the land surrounding the road.”

            Degradation? Land without road access is almost worthless. Think barrios in South America, or that high rise mud city in Yemen. That’s why we’ve been building homes with access to a nearby road since at least Roman times.

          4. It is a fair point that basic access to property increases value, but that is not what we are talking about here. Auckland has a mature road system and most properties have access to roads. My comment was made in the context of expanding the capacity of existing roads through widening, and adding motorway capacity (Phil H thinks we need three times as much motorway). Motorways certainly degrade the value of directly adjacent property, and to a lesser extent so do multi-lane arterials. The extent to which these roads increase value by providing accessibility is a different matter.

        2. > 30 cents plus per person km of subsidy cost

          It’s ridiculous to talk about things being “subsidised” in the context of transport policy. By any reasonable definition, all modes of transport are vastly subsidised, and the exact figure depends on what you count. Should we count government-mandated free parking? The implied rent of cars getting free use of the vast majority of the space on our public roads? We expect the government to run transport since no-one else is really capable of doing so in an integrated way.

          The question is – what is good value for the public’s money, both in taxes, and spent privately? Capacity increases are far cheaper through PT than through road expansion. The CRL, for a mere $2 billion, provides a capacity increase that’s the equivalent of 6 motorway lanes (one-way). How much would those motorway lanes cost to add? $10 billion? $20 billion?

          Part of the reason it’s a good deal is that it unlocks existing capacity in the rail network. For the cost of a 3km tunnel, a few minor tweaks, and some rolling stock, the whole existing rail network becomes way more effective.

          > Over the long term laying roads costs about 1 or 2 cents per person km of travel on them

          Historically, perhaps, but Auckland has run out of room for cheap roading expansion projects. Any new roads require tunnelling or vast property acquisition.

          > At least car drivers pay for their own vehicle, energy, repairs, insurance, etc.

          Which is exactly the problem. PT fares are all inclusive, but driving acts as an effective off-the-books tax, since you have to supply, run, and often park the car at your own expense. Indeed, you often have to pay to park the car even if you don’t have one. Which biases any naive financial comparisons.

          1. Auckland certainly has not “run out of land”, as a look on Google Earth will reveal. It is just a question of where we want growth to go.

            Centralising growth is a massive mistake subscribed to by unfortunately large numbers of uninformed people. What I am arguing here is that it is far cheaper to build road-based greenfields and even PT-based greenfields development than it is to do intensification. I am against planners wishing to funnel ever more people into CBD’s by whatever means. It is cargo cult thinking anyway as there is no guarantee that the entire city economy will rebalance to sectors that are compatible with high density and high rents.

            As Alain Bertaud says, planners can’t create, they can only prevent.

            It is also a disgraceful contemporary rent-seeking ploy by the top 1% where the big CBD property rentiers are in the big scheme of things. It is incoherent to be celebrating leftish books on inequality and ignoring the means by which the rich get richer at the expense of the poor, in which land rent and the associated finance costs are implicated heavily. In contrast, wealth creating producers of goods and services in which there is consumer surplus, in competitive markets, do not impoverish anybody in the process.

            Economic rent in urban land is orders of magnitude lower per unit of land because of automobility, so the overall economic rent cost to society and the real productive economy is far lower in spite of rents “lost” to road space.

            Furthermore, the bearers of the externalities and the cost of implied rent and the cost of whatever subsidies do exist for automobility, happen to overlap very extensively with the “set” of actual car drivers, riders, and beneficiaries of automobility. Even someone who prides themself on not owning a car, benefits from local suppliers having the stuff he eats trucked in, and benefits from the systemically lower housing costs.

            There is nothing like this overlap between the beneficiaries of PT and the payers of the direct subsidies, not to mention the externalities that no-one ever seems to mention (such as rails community severance and the cost of grade separations).

            I am always irked by assertions that we are “providing mobility for the poor”, when the lion’s share of PT spending is on getting yuppies to CBD’s.

          2. > Auckland certainly has not “run out of land”, as a look on Google Earth will reveal. It is just a question of where we want growth to go.

            Expanding outwards will make traffic in the existing city worse, since you still need to drive through the existing city to get to most new destinations, and to any destinations in the existing city. Think about it for a second: if greenfield expansion didn’t affect the existing city, why bother building it next door? Why not build the new subdivisions in the middle of the Rangipo desert?

            So, expanding outwards requires two separate lots of capital expense: new roads in the greenfields, and expansions within the existing city. Whereas infill growth only requires capacity increases within the existing city – and they have a double win: 1. they can be more easily served with PT, walking, and cycling, and 2. the trips will be, on average, shorter.

            It’s no coincidence that Auckland is our largest city, our densest city, and our most economically productive city.

            > Centralising growth is a massive mistake subscribed to by unfortunately large numbers of uninformed people.

            Dispersing growth doesn’t stop the need for journeys to other parts of the metro area, and makes many of those journeys longer. It may have made sense in an age of single-income families and jobs for life, but these days every family has 2 income earners, often more, all travelling to random parts of the city for jobs that change every couple of years.

            Plus, dispersing growth with the aim of localising employment and services pretty much removes the agglomeration advantages of big cities in the first place. If people aren’t going to leave their local neighbourhood much, why expand outwards at all? Why not live in provincial New Zealand, full of cheap housing?

            > Furthermore, the bearers of the externalities and the cost of implied rent and the cost of whatever subsidies do exist for automobility, happen to overlap very extensively with the “set” of actual car drivers, riders, and beneficiaries of automobility. Even someone who prides themself on not owning a car, benefits from local suppliers having the stuff he eats trucked in, and benefits from the systemically lower housing costs.

            Well, duh. We focus all our efforts on one mode, so of course pretty much everyone uses it. “Subsidy” in transport generally goes from those who use less transport to those who use more.

            > I am always irked by assertions that we are “providing mobility for the poor”, when the lion’s share of PT spending is on getting yuppies to CBD’s.

            What is that in reference to, exactly?

          3. Phil H – That attitude that PT is just for the rich to get to the CBD is a very Anglocentric view. That is only because Anglophone countries have neglected their PT for so long and invested only in autocentric policies.

            In Europe (not the UK which has taken a disastrous path for PT until recently) that statement would be laughed at. In Prague (with the most used metro per capita in the world) and Bucharest (both cities where I have lived) you wont see the rich on there at all. It is all workers paying very little for travel while the rich puttered along at 10km/h in their cars because for them anything is better than having to use the shameful PT that only the poor use

            From a lot of your statements you have a remarkably Anglo-centric view point as you only really talk about Australasia, North America and the UK. NZ shouldnt be looking at big cities. We should be looking at snmaller cities and what has worked.

            Have you ever lived in a non-Anglophone city with a really good PT system (e.g. Vienna, Prague, Budapest)? If you had, it will be a very different experience from travelling on PT in the UK, US or Australia.

            You raised Wolfsburg. Have you been there? I was there for negotiations with Volkswagen and it certainly didnt appear low density to me. The centre was full of apartments. I am sure house prices are low but unless you work for VW there isnt much else there.

        3. “If the 1.3 litre car has one passenger on board it slaughters even the world’s best subway systems for efficiency.” – That is an amazing statement. Evidence please and citations.

          1. Wow really, that is your “evidence”.

            First the Lowson report only looks at US and UK data. As I said above you are incredibly Anglocentric in your views. Table 6 is only looking at the US where ridership is low on many light rail projects. I have seen that chart ripped a new one by a commentator, I will try and find it. Second, I dont actually see your point. It still says that rail is better than a car.

            The other one is a comparison of hybrid vs hydrogen cars. But I looked at that chart. I have a heap of questions. What does average mean? How has this been worked out? Was that a peer reviewed article?

            Sorry, not very convincing.

          2. Cycling is by far the most efficient conversion of energy [food] into distance [travel]. It blows all forms of powered travel away. Why aren’t you promoting cycling investment above all else? Because you are inexplicably obsessed with congestion as some kind of singularity that explains everything.

            Anyway if you are concerned with energy efficiency, and I agree we should be, well you’ll have to drop your density-is-bad position:

          3. I keep pointing out repeatedly that the correlation between density and lesser transport energy use, is that higher housing costs in all the denser cities leave people with less discretionary income, not just to spend on travel, but to spend on things that generate travel, such as cohabitation and child-bearing, necessitating location compromises relative to two jobs and one or more schools. It is also the vastly inflated land costs that necessitates the lower consumption of space per person; this is forced, not a matter of choice.

            Look at the extreme ends of the above graph – Houston has the cheapest housing even though it is the largest, and HK has the most expensive even though it is the smallest. The relationship holds good throughout the series. I am told that even Peter Newman admits this privately now.

          4. No Phil that is not what the chart shows: It show that Houtonites spend much more money and time sitting in cars than anyone else. Which they can do because Houston is the capital of a petro state, meaning that their economy, like a Middle Eastern Shiekdom, and unlike most other cities in the world, benefits more than it looses from increases in oil price.

    2. Oh yes, that’s congestion too. Lots of capacity on the rail ROW once a certain deadend is dealt with. Anyway the ideal outcome is to have all modes and routes operating efficiently and at high capacity. Not to overbuild one mode and neglect another.

    1. Not at all – I am merely presenting a data set of cities for comparison purposes so that it cannot be said that I am using outliers one way or the other. Liverpool is similarly down-at-heel to St Louis, and much smaller, and yet smart-growth type urban planning has still managed to deliver housing unaffordability and traffic congestion.

      In fact most UK cities have inner city slums and blight little different to US cities. The US cities very affordable suburban housing and low traffic congestion are ameliorating factors that you can bet the people in the UK’s cities would die for.

      1. Liverpool’s urban from is not the result of ‘smart growth’. Phil you may have a barrow to push but that is just silly. Liverpool’s urban form is the result of the accretion of many centuries technologies and policies. Including ‘planning’ by Luftwaffe, and the subsequent disaster of modernist ‘towers in the park’ and motorways of the post war period. Neither of these phases were smart, and nor has there subsequently been much growth.

        1. The Town and Country Planning Act 1947 doesn’t apply to Liverpool?

          It would be much more ridiculous to say that any city in the first world does not have lower-density suburban sprawl and that houses of much smaller size cost twice as much because that is exactly what the locals want, and there would be no market at all to be served by some developer buying rural land nearby at rural prices and undercutting other developers who paid too much.

          Only the presence of a UGB or a proxy for one explains the absence of competitive-price-driven automobile based development. The UK could and should have at least one “Houston”. Paul Cheshire of the LSE Spatial Economics Research Centre told me when he was in NZ last year, that he and his colleagues have been trying for years to persuade the administrations responsible to let this happen. Instead of throwing endless “regional development” subsidies at cities with green belt tourniquets around their economic necks, just take off the freakin’ tourniquet….!!!

          1. No, it doesn’t Liverpool has barely grown and given that there is such limited and unintegrated PT cannot be called smart growth.

  8. Instead of trying to deny that anti-car planning causes more losses through congestion delays than gains, tenuous in any case, from mode shift; and instead of attacking any brave new data sources; how about getting the responsible bureaucracies to get proper analysis done in the first place? If you don’t like TomTom or INRIX or TTI, then why can’t all the bureaucracies that are pushing modern planning fads, with all their taxpayer funding (topped up by Soros and the Rockefellers) actually produce some superior analysis that you would presumably find acceptable? Seeing they are making all the policy prescriptions anyway, it should be obligatory that they have proper real life data to support their assumptions.

    I think if the truth could be known, the responsible bureaucracies will have learned that any “studies” they have tried to do have inconvenient results for them and the vested interests that they are puppets of.

    There are two major breaches of statistical method committed by all studies that support “smart growth”.

    Firstly, they confuse correlation and causation and fail to eliminate co-dependent endogeneities – such as the process of urban evolution that produces a Manhattan.

    Secondly, they are “cross sectional” analyses rather than “time series”. They show that someone in Manhattan lives more sustainably than someone in a fringe suburb in Houston; whereas what we need to know. is the results over time of imposing a given policy course. The UK’s cities are the obvious prior experiment in “smart growth” and there is no obvious gain at all. The housing unaffordability and flow-on social injustices are scandalous, as are the zero-sum economic rent wealth transfers to the property rentiers in the top 1%. Average commute to work times are the highest in the OECD and productivity is in a serious “gap” condition relative to comparable economies; and more and more economic analysis is blaming the rigid urban planning, congestion and land rent for this.

    Of course analyses might reveal lower energy consumption in the UK, but the obvious causation for this is deprivation of discretionary income and even living space, period. The causation is certainly not “efficiency”.

    The simple reason that there is no significant strain of advocacy for LOW density sustainable urban form is that there is nothing in it for the big property rentiers. Brave people who have seen the light, like Dushko Bogunovich, find themselves pushed to the side.

    1. When has Auckland ever had any ‘anti-car planning’? It has has had over 60 years of unfettered public investment in roads, and planning regulations which prohibit dense land use and promote the over supply of car parks.

      1. US cities with similar population to Auckland have generally built 2 to 3 times as much highway and arterial lane-miles. If you look at the 1964 De Leuw Cather proposals for Auckland highway network “needed by 1980”, quite a lot of it remains unbuilt, and population is far higher now than the report had projected for 1980.

        It depends on your perspective whether you think Auckland has had “unfettered public investment in roads” or the opposite, which is what I hold. Do you have examples of model cities that you think Auckland should have emulated – mine being Indianapolis and Raleigh and Salt Lake City. I also claim on good grounds that the UK’s cities are cautionary lessons in the disasters consequent on “smart growth” even if the label has been different.

        1. you have not addressed the issue of planning regulations that prohibit dense land use and promote over supply of car-parks.

          As mentioned to you in earlier posts, evidence suggests these regulations have a far greater effect on cost of housing and transport costs (by stimulating driving) than the “smart growth” policies you rally against with an almost religious fervour.

          Pity your energy can’t be better applied to arguing for policy changes that matter, such as removing minimum parking requirements, minimum apartment sizes, floor area ratios, building set backs, height limits …

        2. Phil. De Leuw Cather predicated their motorway plan on ‘completing a Rapid Transit Network’ before building the their recommended motorway one. This had rail lines to the Airport, the Shore, and Howick. They observed that a car only city would be inefficient, unaffordable, and unpleasant, how prescient.

          This whole side of their advice was ignored for five decades yet you claim Auckland has had ‘anti-car planning’. Your entire argument is unsupportably skewed.

          Here is a map of the rail with bus feeders Rapid Transit system that they advised ‘being completed before’ the motorway plan. Never happened of course:

        3. Well we have completed more of the motorways in the De Leuw Cather report than we have the rapid rail that it recommended (and was conveniently ignored by the government of the day right up until today):

          I dont understand how you can see some urban, hipster conspiracy to create higher density cities with good public transport. How much economic and political power do you think urban hipsters have? I can tell you when I conduct negotiations with CEOs or see a group of local or national politicians, “urban hipster” is not a phrase that springs to mind.

          Cities like Portland, Vancouver and Seattle would be my picks for where Auckland should emulate. However, I am sure you will point put that all have high property prices. Isnt that a sign of success however? Also, like Auckland, they all struggle to get anti-density rules loosened to be able to take advantage of their strengths, such as good PT and cycling.

          Surely you should be arguing for the release of all anti-development rules, whether up or out. Only if we have that freedom to choose can we then say the market has been able to operate. Even Houston is now recognising the limits of their sprawl and trying to free up further density outside the Loop. St Louis is one city that is also trying to revitalise its inncer city with light rail.

          I know my wife went to high school in St Louis for a year and everyone there was too afraid to go into the inner city or ride the buses. Coming from Europe as a 16 year old, she found it like a prison suburb where her mobility was severely curtailed. She couldnt believe that there werent even footpaths where she lived and there was never anyone on the street. Regardless of house prices, is that somewhere you want to raise your children? I certainly don’t.

          1. It is not that the urban hipsters are conspiring, it is that the big property rentier class is conspiring and the urban hipsters are one of their categories of “useful idiots”. The massive increases in economic land rent after a UGB or proxy for it is imposed is well understood by the smartest property speculators, hence Soros and/or Rockefeller money in every second smart-growth promotion study.

            The useful idiots think these people genuinely care about the environment and want to use their wealth in socially useful causes. DOH!!

            Urban density is nothing to do with crime, safety, and social vibrancy. I do not claim that dense inner cities correlate with crime-ridden ghettoes, because they don’t. Dense inner cities can be anything from one end of the scale to the other. So can suburbs. Do you want me to start citing studies on the correlation between density and social capital? There is no correlation.

            What is the backyard barbecue? What kind of density do most people live in, who belong to clubs covering multitudes of interests? There is no correlation between density of locale and the tendency to belong to a tramping club, a chess club, a tennis club, a volunteer organisation, and what have you. If anything the correlation is in favour of suburbs, not apartment-stacked inner cities.

            House prices do not have to be high regardless of what the local people are going to make of whatever conditions they are placed in. Aucklanders don’t do anything different now, to justify their house prices being 9 times annual incomes instead of 3 times. In fact the effect of this on households is likely to curtail social engagement. It also leads to increased spatial sorting of people according to income level, and “affordable housing” provided by trading off quality and amenity will be the future ghettoes, just like Rinkeby, Husby and Tensta (Google them along with the word “riots”).

            There is an effect present in cities like Vancouver whereby the entire city is like an exclusionary suburb. Without urban growth containment policies, the prices could be closer to a median multiple of 3 and any riff-raff could choose to move there, and we can’t have that, can we? It is a funny thing, but exclusionary suburbs are a common feature in US cities – the idea is to impose minimum lot sizes of 1 acre and more and all sorts of covenants to ensure high costs of housing to keep the riff-raff and their school-disrupting kids out – but I am not claiming such “causation” between low density zoning and exclusionary covenants and superior economic and social outcomes that it would be desirable if all locations were to adopt them as well. It makes no more sense to say that all cities adopting Vancouver’s policies would make them more successful as well. Vancouver has been hijacked as an entire exclusionary city, that is all.

            At least for most of history Canadians and especially Americans have had somewhere else to live that is affordable as well as having reasonable job prospects. This is not the case when all cities in a given country have anti-sprawl regulations, as in the UK – and NZ is heading this way. There is simply nowhere for anyone to escape the great housing wealth transfer rip-off in favour of the top 1%. And of course the top 1% love it this way, don’t they? Why else do you think there are constant moves afoot to impose smart growth on all US cities from the Federal level, and to impose smart growth on the entire world via UN mandates?

            I have no time for conspiracy theories involving the Illuminati and the Bildergers, etc etc – the people who subscribe to these theories see evidence that needs no more explanation than simple rent-seeking and grabs for wealth transfers, and blow it up into something unnecessary. They just need to get a whole lot smarter about urban economic and land rent, and light will dawn.

  9. A question about the so called ‘economic’ measure of congestion vs the ‘engineering’ measure in point 2.

    I can see how the engineering measure may be useful if you are treating the roading infrastructure as fixed, but if you are considering whether to invest in greater capacity then isn’t the economic measure more relevant?

    I presume an increase in capacity (ie a bigger motorway) would shift the entire curve out to the right. This not only benefits commuters that the maximum sustainable flow point, but also above this point, when speed is decreasing but flow is increasing. If my presumption is correct then using the economic measure would include the benefits to these motorists, but the engineering measure would not, as it ignores these congestion impacts.

    My initial thought is that this suggests the engineering measure isn’t useful when considering transport infrastructure investment decisions.

    1. Very appropriate question. Ian Wallis and Associates are frustrated that the local government bureaucracies refuse to take the backwards-bending demand and flow curve into account. The crucial point is that allowing the main routes and indeed multiple parts of the network to go into “breakdown” congestion carries very steep external costs.

      The point being made by Matt L in the original posting is that “congestion delay” measured from point of maximum flow rate rather than maximum potential speed, would give a lower congestion delay figure. But this would result in Indianapolis’ congestion delay ending up as 2 minutes instead of 15, and Wellington’s ending up as 28 minutes instead of 41.

      “Breakdown” congestion is not preferable regardless of what benchmark you calculate it from. It is not rational to use it as a tool to “try and force people out of their cars”, because the costs are far higher than the alleged gains from having a PT mode share of a couple of percentage points higher as a result.

      BTW I am all for congestion pricing, but disparate impact is a problem when it is combined with growth containment policies. Congestion pricing should be used “instead of” growth containment policies, not “as well as”. There are papers, eg by Alex Anas, that calculate the costs imposed on society by growth containment to be 60 times as high as the costs imposed by congestion charging that would be equally as effective at changing resource consumption. Many of the coping mechanisms for congestion charging and increased petrol taxes involve residences and workplaces sorting into more efficient co-locations, and the use of smaller more efficient cars. But the “smart growther” wants none of this multi-choice stuff for people.

  10. Let me get this straight. According to TomTom, the average peak-hour commute in Wellington comprises 41 minutes of delay for every hour of travel. This is compared to “free-flow conditions”, during which the journey must presumably take only 19 min. So a journey which normally takes 19 min in uncongested conditions will take one hour in the peak, i.e. a 315% increase! Is this really an “average” experience? Not amongst anybody I know. On a few occasions per year when some incident causes a jam-up, then yes, this may happen. But as an average over every working day for all commuters. . .! This claim is not credible. It is rubbish and belongs in the appropriate receptacle.

    1. Maybe the people you know don’t have a Tom Tom device and have figured out that you can use your phone to navigate when required. Which wouldn’t be on the same route they use every day to get to work.

      1. @ jonno1 – Yes, of course you are right.
        41 ÷19 x 100 = 215.7% net increase.

        60 ÷ 19 x 100 = 315.7% meaning the gross result is 315% of the original!

        1. Haha, no worries, I was just winding you up having made the same mistake in the past. A bigger number always looks better, so just leave off the word “increase”. 🙂

    2. Oh come on, Dave B; a 10 minute trip at night-time on any main routes in Wellington easily turns into a 40 minute one in rush hour. SH1 from the north, SH2 from the Hutt Valley, Adelaide Rd from the South, Cobham Drive to the city from the East.

      The crawl at the choke points, and nearing the trip destination at the focus of trips by myriads of people, are what does it.

      In contrast, cities with greater dispersion of employment have more of their road networks used by the same number of people, and used in both directions at both ends of the day.

      I look at the 16%-odd of commuting in the Wellington region that is done on the commuter rail system, as a lost efficiency whereby the same people could be making a shorter trip to a job outside the Wgtn CBD – if Wellington had a more normal jobs distribution. It is an international outlier at 1/3 of regional employment being in the main CBD. If it was sub 20%, the shorter car trips to dispersed jobs would be more efficient than the longer train trips, and we could avoid the cost of the train system. Plus housing would tend to be more affordable, as some of the higher prices are due to location premiums surrounding the main employment agglomeration.

      1. @ Phil
        If your journey takes 40min during the peak, then I think you are being very optimistic (or lawbreaking) to claim it can be done in as little as 10 min at other times. Take Wellingon-Waikanae. 1 hour by train at all times, say 50min by car during off-peak, 1½ hr max during peak – sound reasonable? If so, a far cry from the 41 min delay per hour of travel claimed by TomTom. From where I live in Ngaio, 7 min will normally see you at the near end of town off-peak, and rarely will it take over twice that in the peak. Perhaps if you intentionally hunt for the slowest, most congested few moments of the day you might break the 15 min barrier, but is that a fair assessment? TomTom’s assessment totally fails to convince.

        As for the “16% commuting by rail”, in order to get this figure you will of course be comparing rail on its one corridor with total commuting by road on all corridors. Not a valid comparison, unless we expand rail to serve lots of other corridors (Newtown-Kilbirnie-Airport, anyone?). I saw a figure some years ago for rail’s modal share over the Ngauranga-Wgtn corridor and it was high. 40% rings a bell, but unfortunately I cannot find any confirmation of that (I will keep looking). So this would be a far more appropriate figure to use if you want to compare apples with apples. Rail is a highly significant mode for accessing Wellington city from all other parts of the region. To do away with the need for this by scattering employment would be a massive exercise in social upheaval. However the up-side might be that any slim justification for a Transmission Gully motorway would also totally disappear!

        1. It is a piece of cake to do it from say Tinakori Rd to Waikanae in 30 minutes at 2 am. I have been a passenger on a charter bus that has taken 50 minutes from Johnsonville to Levin very early in the morning.

          I suppose speed limits constantly being lowered could lead to congestion delays being said to be “reducing” relative to completely free-flow speeds. I think the important point is that breakdown congestion, where flow rates are reduced even as demand is increased, is lunacy to do nothing about. It is patently obvious on Wellington region roads at rush hour, that we are in breakdown congestion conditions. One of the worst aspects is that traffic light controlled intersections involve every vehicle in a queue stretching back miles, having to stop multiple times for the same traffic light as the queue starts and stops again repeatedly. Grade separation is urgently indicated in all such cases and it is banana republic stuff to regard it as acceptable just because you want to encourage a few more people to use PT instead.

          “Corridor mode share” for commuter rail is a completely invalid concept, as it is impossible to either run an entire urban economy on one corridor, or run rails out to cover similar numbers of alternative network entry and exit points as roads commonly do. Except in very high density cities with 20 million odd people. Even then, Hong Kong’s subway system does not cover as much of the urban area as Manila’s Jitneys do.

          It is not a “social upheaval” at all to let Wellington CBD employment share fall from its current 33% to a more natural 20%. It is a perfectly natural phenomenon that is simply not being allowed to happen, with far more onerous consequences for society than allowing it.

          And the way that people like you are talking, you want total PT mode share to increase to what…..? By car mode share falling to what……..? And what percentage of people and their employers having to relocate into closer proximity to railway lines……?

          And you’ve got the cheek to accuse me of advocating “social upheaval”? Not to mention the direction that housing costs will take under my proposals versus your proposals. Do you advocate compulsory acquisition of the sites that you would have redeveloped for people and businesses to relocate to in proximity to railway lines? How then do you expect anyone to be able to afford the rent or the cost of the space, seeing the total supply of land in the urban area will be reduced by several tens of percent? Do you not understand the effect of this?

          Anyone who is advocating compulsory acquisition of land to “save the planet”, I accord much higher credibility for their intelligence and sincerity. I would still argue that low density solutions achieved by fiscal incentives and multiple behavioral change mechanisms, are better. Anthony Downs said in his “Still Stuck in Traffic” (2004) which advocates congestion pricing, that trying to change resource consumption and emissions by urban planning was like trying to change the position of a picture on a living room wall by moving the wall instead of the picture. Fiscal incentives are “moving the picture” by comparison.

          I advocate land taxes as well as congestion pricing. Those two things would nail it. Forget the UGB.

          1. 56.7 kmh, at least half of that road is less than 100k limit, you are breaking the law, google says 44 minutes without traffic, all experience that I have around Wellington agrees.

      2. Thanks Phil. I will leave someone else to answer this. I am keen to keep the debate stirred, but it takes time which I unfortunately do not have at the moment..

        1. Dave and Phil, strictly if you are using ‘free flow’ as a comparator, then it should be free flow – not flow constrained to some administratively determined speed limit. The Tom Tom comparator is the observed low-traffic travel time, which may be somewhere between the two.

  11. I enjoy the robust debate on this blog, such as between Phil and Patrick above, as it adds to my knowledge base having never formally studied urban planning. But what puzzles me is that both extreme positions seem to be entrenched, almost as if they are ideological rather than evidence-based. I’m not saying that is actually the case, however where the data are available, why does not the analysis thereof produce the same or similar conclusions? To be fair, Phil’s arguments come across as being more sustainable, but that may be because he’s a better communicator/spin-doctor (I’m trying to offend everyone equally here). For the Auckland scenario Stu may have hit on one significant issue: arbitrary constraints on both inner-city density and urban limits thereby creating the worst of both worlds. Patrick also mentioned the natural constraints imposed by the isthmus.

    It would be great if someone with the relevant skills could take all the relevant data, including cross-subsidies and other externalities, and analyse it impartially.

    1. jonno do you seriously believe that Auckland has been built on anti-car policies? That’s just plain wrong. As is Phil’s understanding of the advice from De Leuw Cather, grasp of geography and history [Liverpool’s urban development]. What on earth are you left with to find ‘more sustainable’ in Phil’s position?

      1. Sorry Patrick, I was using “sustainable” in the sense of “supportable”. You appear to have interpreted it in the greenie sense, which is quite revealing.

        To reiterate, I’m not taking sides here. I would really like to know what is the best response to a growing population. Clearly there are many variables, so the only way to reach a valid conclusion as to best practice is somehow to measure cities where certain variables are relatively consistent and only a few are not, thereby providing some degree of confidence in the explanation for different outcomes. Certainly not an easy task, but neither is it impossible.

        1. No I understood your usage; it just doesn’t make any sense. PH’s conclusions are simply a repetition of his assumptions, which are all unsupportable and without basis in fact.

          Clearly every city is specific and its optimal growth strategy [if it is growing] will be formed by its geography, history, culture, and economy. But as we have a general and polarised argument here it is instructive that we have two cities in NZ heading in opposite directions which can help us decide what we may prefer.

          I repeat CHCH is a now an almost perfect case study of centreless dispersal; I strongly recommend going and having a look. Brownlee and friends are making the kind of city they believe is ideal on the back of a great disaster; they are dispersing one of our already overly dispersed and auto-dependent urban centres [along with Hamilton and Tauranga]. And already the outcome is plain, it has absurd levels of disconnection and traffic malfunction for such a tiny city. The economic inefficiencies of this are currently hidden beneath the artificial stimulus of the rebuild. It is very sad in my view but is the fulfilment of all of PH’s wishes. He should move there.

          Auckland, thankfully, is at last growing more like a city, with a proper heart and the agglomeration efficiencies that this generates. And it is largely the people and the market doing this, as we still have all the regulations of the sprawl age in place; this is no top down action being forced on people. In this it is aided by its existing pre-war extant areas [those not shattered by the urban motorway building era, or error]. But is is also hindered by the sixty years of formless sprawl and the continuing investment in the wrong transport infrastructure by central government.

          Time will tell which urban will be the more successful.

        2. Jonno here is an interesting post from Hamilton Urban Blog on the matter, with an illustration of the problem:

          We know the answer though, with planning regulations that restrict intensification and little in the way of natural barriers Hamilton will spread outwards until it kills its own economic base. It will then likely collapse, unless it develops a new non-acgricultural economic foundation, ie develops an urban economy. Hard to see how it can compete with Auckland for that though, given regions tend to pick single winners on that score because of the powers of agglomeration.

    2. Thanks, Jonno

      I used to accept the same assumptions as what most on here are, but I started to smell huge rats as time went on, that things in the real world were not looking like the planners promised us they would. Especially in the UK.

      Every bit of research I have done has confirmed my sense of smell, and I am trying to call out all the false claims. I encourage others to start looking more carefully into actual data to see if indeed US cities that have “allowed sprawl and built highways” have ended up with worse outcomes than those that have done the opposite.

      There is a disconnect between the people in the USA who tell us that “we have never solved congestion by building more highways”, and our perceptions. What the people in the USA mean, is that they still get a slowdown at rush hour. However, you don’t avoid getting this slowdown at rush hour by doing something different like smart growth, PT-oriented planning; you get breakdown congestion and stop-start travel instead…..! At least the US cities that have “failed to solve congestion”, still only have “slowdown” style congestion.

      1. 1. You keep talking about the conspiracy of “the planners” and smart growth when most of the people you are arguing with are pushing for greater liberalisation of planning rules.

        2. Demand for land on Auckland’s isthmus would be high no matter how much greenfield land was available. Talk of artificially created rents on land is nonsense (although I concede Urban limits do put some upward pressure on central land – just not to the extent you suggest).

        3. There have been few barriers to dispersed employment in Auckland and many policies which have encouraged this.

        1. Essentially the only thing I disagree with is the UGB. You can liberalise everything else, but the UGB is like putting cat piss in the punch that otherwise was a very good punch recipe. It ruins everything else you put in it.

          If you disagree about the outcomes for land prices, I would like to ask how much research you have done on this? A crummy villa in Grey Lynn that sold for $60,000 20 years ago and $1.1 million now is all ABOUT land price inflation. The raw land cost embodied in the price has gone from $20,000 to $1 million. That is pretty major land price inflation in my reckoning.

          It all starts HERE:

          Note how the inflation I suggest in the price of land in Grey Lynn is so consistent with the figures given there for a large greenfield fringe site?

          I do not have very complimentary thoughts about anyone who is prepared to wave away and make excuses for this stuff.

      2. Again, you show your Anglocentric bias. You go on about the UK and the US which is a small proportion of the world and no representative of even the developed world.

        I dont know what you mean by “worse outcomes”. I certainly know that living in PT oriented European cities is a far more enriching and liberating experience with far greater accessibility to the city than the auto oriented experience in Australasian cities. The US cities you have pointed to (except maybe Salt Lake City?) all have inner city blight which has made them just a group of suburbs. If that is the kind of city you want then good luck to you but it isn’t one I want to live in or have enjoyed living in.

        Auckland’s house prices are astronomical compared to housing in the European cities I have lived in which were all way more centralised and had smaller automobile modal shares.

        The very best operating cities are the ones where a sizeable minority (or even majority, e.g. Groningen) travel by bicycle and that should be where we are moving. It is such a shame that Chch abandoned its position as Cyclopolis and the 2nd best cycling city in the world.

        1. The lack of data from European cities with regard to affordable housing and mobility is a huge problem.

          1. I imagine there is a huge amount of data available – just not in English. However, housing prices in cities a similar size to Auckland such as Prague and Budapest are much better in my experience. And Prague salaries are not that much worse than NZ now (I can tell you from recruiting there).

            For $250 a year I got unlimited travel on the Prague metro. No car can beat that for value, no matter how good the roads.

            Plus there is a lot more variety and ability to live in a small apartment and then move up as circumstances change. Difficult in NZ when you concentrate almost all development on one type of sprawl based housing.

          2. I used to live in Helsinki, which is a similar size to Auckland. Its house prices are about the same as Christchurch’s but with more choice of apartment, terrace and stand alone housing. Helsinki housing prices are considerably cheaper than Auckland.

            A yearly PT card for greater Helsinki was about 900 euro with half price for students.

            After tax income is about the same as NZ. The major difference was the improved local public services -free tertiary education and excellent public and private transport infrastructure (health, primary and secondary education, benefits were about the same).

            When my Finnish relatives visit the first thing they notice is the dominance of the ‘car’ and how public spaces are not friendly for walking, biking and so on.

            The other big difference is in Finland they didn’t seem to have this culture war between car and PT. When I was in Espoo/Helsinki they did a massive upgrade of the inner ring motorway requiring a huge tunnel through a hillside and big new on/off ramps to remove a few traffic lights and car based congestion. But now they doing a massive extensive of their underground/metro. Neither project seemed to be controversial.

            So in summary I don’t think Patrick or Phil are right. They both have good arguments and the solution is to be found somewhere between the them.

        2. Brendon’s point about Helsinki is good – I suggest that every Euro city with low traffic congestion just happens to have a great road network as well. If you look at the graphic for Helsinki’s road network in the TomTom analysis, hmmmm… it looks to me like a highway and arterial network “to die for”.

          I suspect that the “great public transport” in Euro cities is paid for (yes, they are heavily subsidised) by a stronger local economy in which automobility has played a powerful enabling part.

          The 1964 De Leuw Cather plan did include both and I did not mean to argue against their proposals for bus routes especially, but I disagree with mixed rails and buses versus a 100% bus based system. It would have been the completion of their road network proposals that would have made the systemic difference. The PT subsidies might well have been afforded by the stronger local economy that would have resulted.

          This has been a full-on thread, and as I think I have done in the past, I want to nuance my position regarding ideal urban densities. the US cities I am pointing out as having such impressive congestion and housing affordability outcomes do not need to be SO low density to achieve these outcomes. The excessively low density is the result of deliberate “exclusionary” large-lot mandates in many developments. The inherent problem is that the cost of urban land in real terms always falls if it is allowed to so that for developments to be “exclusionary” they need to mandate larger and larger lot sizes.

          I would fix this with targeted land taxes and/or a high degree of localisation of local government, enabling communities to be exclusionary if they wish simply by charging extra high rates, which revenue they then spend on desirable amenities. Given sufficient freedom of incorporation of municipalities, choices can be maximised. If someone wants a cheap house in an exurb with no footpaths and collect-your own water supply and septic tank waste disposal, and super low rates, they should be allowed that option too.

          Most European urban areas have suburbs that tourists never see, and come back here spouting about how dense and PT-oriented Euro cities are. Even watching cycle racing on TV, I can see a lot more variety than that. Let alone the resource of Google Earth. Demographia’s “World Urban Areas” density statistics are very helpful.

          Numerous Euro cities are similar density to Auckland only they work far better and have lower house prices. This is because the Euro cities had far more pre-automobile development and this achieved a critical mass in the old core city, that is still there. They were also first-world industrialised countries right in the middle of several hundred million inhabitants of several other first-world countries. NZ has never been a first-world industrialised country; we were once a rich primary products exporting country but this has been a route to long term slippage down global wealth rankings.

          They had land-rent-reducing automobile dependent suburbanisation and highway building too, merely not as low density (large lot) as the US cities. In fact ours was never that low density either. The difference in car mode share of total travel in Europe versus the USA is only in the single digit percentage points – 76% versus 83%

          We never had the high income urban primary industry sectors that Europe did, to generate the subsidies needed for PT, along with our lack of the pre-auto cores already in place for centuries. NZ cities were young and small anyway, with the population still heavily rural overall, when the automobile hit us. We don’t have the same options. We could do a lot more with 30 million people but even then we would not be on par with Europe. If Australia had 100 million that would help too. Of course there are hundreds of millions of Asians whose playground we could be as they develop and get rich. But the late Prof Sir Paul Callaghan had it right; NZ has great potential for niche high-tech and creative industries that serve niche markets in Asia and globally. He appreciated the point that Silicon Valley emerged on low-cost exurban land with ample affordable exurban living opportunities for workforces. Of course it is highly exclusive now but that does not change the point, in fact IT businesses are often picking Austin or Raleigh now because they are more like what Silicon Valley WAS like once.

          My point overall is that 2,400 people per square km (Auckland and many Euro urban areas) is dense enough already; 4,000 as in most UK cities, is too dense; and less than 1000 is wastefully low density. However the damage to the economy and society from wastefully low density is obviously nowhere near as bad as that from enforced containment of horizontal growth. I think that using land taxes and road pricing instead of a UGB, (and abolishing height restrictions) Auckland would settle at around 1800 per square km, with maximum choice and maximum efficiency; exurbs for some and Queen St apartments for others. BOTH choices would be FAR more affordable than they are now.

          1. It would also be great to get statistics on how much countries/cities spend on transport. Finland’s to ‘die for’ transport system must come at considerable expense. A quick check of Google map and a travel guide will show you there is huge capital expenditure going on. What is less considered is there operational expenses are high too. Winter tyres are compulsory and damage to the roads is considerable, once cracks form ice quickly damages it further. Then there is the expense of a massive fleet of snow ploughs and trucks to cart away the snow. But despite this expense Finland has a strong diversified economy. Or perhaps because Finland has invested in transport they don’t have the supply constraints we do and this allows (amongst other factors -education etc) their economy to be successful?

          2. Brendon:

            “…..perhaps because Finland has invested in transport they don’t have the supply constraints we do and this allows (amongst other factors -education etc) their economy to be successful?…..”

            I think that is 100% the truth. We forget the importance of transport at our peril. And as Alain Bertaud’s “Cities as Labour Markets” describes very well, there is a kind of multiplier effect from the most possible number of workers and jobs being able to co-locate affordably and there to be as quick access as possible to as many jobs and workers as possible, from any one point to another.

            Inflexible, fixed route transport systems interact with real estate markets in such a way that the affordability criteria is violated, on top of the access to and from as many points as possible also being greatly limited. I liken this to IT based on electromagnetic tape on reels that have to rewind back and forth to do anything, while automobility is like integrated circuits.

          3. “Most European urban areas have suburbs that tourists never see, and come back here spouting about how dense and PT-oriented Euro cities are” – Brendon and I are not talking from the perspective of tourists. We are talking as residents of Pargue (me) and Helsinki (Brendon). I lived in a “sidliste” (the big communist built apartment blocks) in Prague. It actually was not too bad except it was in Krc which is quite far from the centre and a bit quiet for me.

            I can also comment on Bucharest and Rouen (Normandy) as a resident. Rouen (with 500,000 residents) has built a light rail system that is a great success.

            It seems to me that it is you praising the American Mid West cities who is the tourist and a Internet tourist as that as you dont appear to have actually visited these places and certainly not lived there. How do you know they create a good experience and are pleasant places to live? How can you assess the day to day reality of living in such an auto dependent environment? Have you ever lived in a PT rich city with Auckland’s population.

            As for the “rich European cities”, well Prague built its metro 100% during the Communist era. Not exactly a booming economic period. However it, along with the older trams and (always on time) buses create an excellent mobility experience. It was such an easy and pleasant city to get around, even in the middle of a harsh winter.

        3. Prague, Budapest and Helsinki are all high income desirable cities that Goosoid and myself have commented here because they have better transport and lower housing costs than Auckland. You choose to ignore what is written now and go out on a tangent to something Goosoid has written in the past, to avoid his actual point. I think that is bad form, this discussion has been good natured and doesn’t need this sort of nonsense.

      3. My question is who cares? Seriously, why try and ‘fix’ congestion. All cities have pek commuter traffic congestion, except those with failed economies and hollowed out population. Generally the bigger the economy, the busier the city, the more desirable the city, the greater the traffic.

        Traffic exists because cars are very space inefficient, which is counter to the very raison d’être of cities, which is basically agglomeration. I couldn’t care less about it. I don’t drive at peak commuter times so I never experience it, why blow up the very reason cities exist in a quixotic attempt to avoid having to slow down a bit while trying to drive at the same time as everyone else?

        1. Seriously Nick we can all argue about mode share and the allocation of public space/infrastructure for the various options. But to say congestion is just irrelevant is 3rd world thinking. You may as well go and live in the slums of Mumbai where you can experience urban density without mobility.

          1. Ah ha, quite correct Brendon. You used the right word there: mobility. Mobility is not the same thing as traffic congestion, or the lack thereof. Congestion is irrelevant, mobility is relevant.

            Look at those top three worst congestion, Moscow, Istanbul, Rio. All have bad traffic, all are easy to move around and have thriving economies and many millions of residents.

            Let’s forget about traffic and focus on mobility. We can consider traffic as an aspect of mobility, but not the one and only measure.

  12. Phil H. I can’t let you publish obvious truth distortions without at least a little correction
    ..… You mentioned “ over the long term laying roads costs about 1 or 2 cents per person km of travel on them”. And then compared that to PT subsidy 30 cents per km.
    Not many if any of the current roads being built would come anywhere near the 1 or 2 cents per km you quoted. Of course the big RoNS projects are fairly expensive in this measure. For example Transmission Gully with a PPP will come out between 50 and 60 cents per km travelled over the next 25 years. Add to that the vehicle operational costs which the IRD estimate at 77cents per km. So in that case per k travelled cost per roads are well north of $1.
    The proposed Auckland motorway widening projects and extensions are slightly cheaper, but still around that dollar mark per km travelled. Not at all close to 1 or 2 cents.

    1. The cost involved in engineering and building a road for cars only would be far lower. It is road freight that should pay the cost difference between engineering the road for 2 tons and engineering it for 25 tons plus.

      Spreading the costs out over 25 years is not “in the long term” as far as roads are concerned. Who cares what the Romans paid to build the roads they built? They are still there.

      In the long run, the cost per person km of roads steadily falls the more they are used; however the cost per person km spent on PT simply accumulates in a linear fashion with nothing to show for it except travel in the past.

      There is always a given point on the future time scale at which the public cost of roads and the public cost of PT per person km, crosses over and from then on it is all costs down a black hole for PT, while the road just gives and gives and gives.

      BTW I think Wellington should be left to stagnate due to the costs of infrastructure on its difficult terrain and the country should embark on a visionary project to shift urban growth to where it is cheap to build roads and what is more, where disaster risk is lower. Wellington is playing chicken with fate, intensifying and building “up” right on a major fault line. NZ has far too much concentration of risk in the siting of its urban populations. One major city in NZ getting hit with a disaster, on a comparable scale, is like the USA getting New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago all hit at once.

      I predict that the NZ economy will never recover from “the big one” taking out Wellington.

      1. Nice quote: – ‘It is road freight that should pay the cost difference between engineering the road for 2 tons and engineering it for 25 tons plus.’
        The trouble is this never happens does it? Either taxpayers subsidise trucks or car drivers subsidise trucks…..this is todays reality as I’m sure Phil is well aware.

        Love the assumption by Phil in his arguments that there is little ongoing maintenance on roads.
        The argument that unlike roads, costs per person or per tonne of freight on rail do not fall the more rail is used is similarly flawed in logic.

        1. The authoritative BAH 2005 study on NZ Surface Transport costs did show less than 1 cent per person km for road maintenance. That study did a good job netting out the cost for trucks.

          Rail freight makes more sense than passenger rail, period, but NZ’s geography makes rail an economic disaster. Dave Heatley’s study on its costs over its history suggests that we would be better off without all of it except the main trunk line. I am not a Greenie, but I think much of NZ’s more marginal farmland might as well have been left as wilderness because it has never paid off its infrastructure requirements.

          Actually unless you are talking about increases in ridership of commuter rail of orders of magnitude, it is perfectly correct to assert as I do that smaller increases in rider numbers would indeed lead to increased total costs, with minimal cost reduction in per-person-km terms. The problem is always sufficient rolling stock at peak times. The more you need and the more you have, the more the off-peak losses, especially when you need space to park up the idle rolling stock, and you are obliged to hire staff for 8 hours plus overtime, every day (union rules).

          Yes, cars suffer from this disadvantage too, but car drivers pay for these costs themselves. Shifting people from driving cars and paying their own way, to riding commuter rail and getting subsidised running costs and capital replacement costs, is a recipe for local fiscal meltdown. This is only slightly less bad than the forecasted patronage not even materialising, as is likely to occur with Len Brown’s Folly.

          Auckland’s ratepayers have some very nasty shocks coming down the track; of course Len Brown and his counterparts in Wellington are staking everything on a future government bailing them out. This is of course just shifting the deckchairs on the Titanic. Poor old Joe and Jane public get socked anyway; only I suppose people in Westport end up paying in to prop up the bigger cities follies, which will be nice for them.

          1. Hi Phil I note from your comments elsewhere that time is a challenge when trawling through old documents. Yes that BAH study is fairly comprehensive. I did not see the 1 cent per person km for road maintenance which is not to say it isn’t in there somewhere. However I did take note of the following very general conclusions:

            Urban roads are more profitable than rural ones.
            Both rail and road under-price peak hour commuting relative to off-peak commuting.
            Critically, neither road nor rail cover their ‘total provider/external costs’.
            For roads, the cost is $5.6 billion per annum with total user charges of $2.6 billion per annum. If, as is suggested, the requirement for a return on sunk assets is eliminated, total provider/external costs are still $3.7 billion per annum.
            For rail freight, income is noted at $328 million. Recurrent costs including track renewal and rolling stock replacement total $287 million. However, when requirements for an economic rate of return on CAPEX (7%) is factored in, the total cost increases by a further $113 million. When an economic return (rent etc) on the land, and economic costs of the formation, tunnels, bridges is also added, a further $362 million is added. It can therefore be seen that although rail freight covers its direct costs it struggles to cover the long term cost of capital.
            One last interesting little snippet – the report draws a conclusion that long distance rail passengers are over-charged compared to other competing transportation modes… long distance rail passengers are carried at low cost to society compared to other modes.

            Dave Heatley’s study? – a lightweight affair compared to the BAH study, pre-loaded with that author’s own biases, full of non-substantiated claims.

  13. Once again Phil Hayward tries to argue that because certain highly car-oriented U.S. cities experience a low congestion index, then this somehow justifies building far more motorways in NZ cities (and by extension, all cities worldwide, since according to Phil, this is a universal prescription for success).

    So what are the two obvious holes in Phil’s argument that he is unable to see? (Phil, I welcome your rebuttal if I am misrepresenting your stance!)

    1. Public transport aims to provide a congestion-free or congestion-reduced alternative. How effectively it does this is largely a matter of funding, relative to what is spent trying to facilitate car-use. Yet Phil advocates doing away with this congestion-free alternative (especially rail which he hates!), arguing that if it doesn’t solve road-congestion then none of its other benefits count.

    So take London where only 35% commute by car, yet TomTom calculates a congestion index of 34%. In contrast, 50% commute by public transport (Train 20%, Underground 18%, bus 12% – ). Clearly many of that 50% benefit through commuting congestion-free. The 35% who commute by car for whatever reason, both cause and suffer the congestion. However just like TomTom, Phil Hayward only considers the experience of the 35% as being a valid measure of the city’s transport-system-effectiveness. He simply discounts the experience of the 50%. Clearly this is not valid for London, so is it any more valid for Auckland, Wellington or anywhere else where a congestion-free public transport alternative exists?

    2. The U.S. cities which Phil hales as being models to follow were, I believe, largely planned and built around car-only passenger-transport. They are characterised by suburbs sprawling over a wide area and linked by an extensive roading network. Their centres are heavily ringed and intersected by major highways. Yet it is true, that even as “drive everywhere cities”, they manage to function.

    But just how many of these cities in recent times have been converted to this format from other, very-different layouts? To plan and build a 100% car-city from scratch on a vast area of low-value land is one thing. To take an established and mixed city such as we have, remove its public transport and retro-fit enough car-infrastructure to obviate congestion is a massive jump. It is indeed what Auckland has tried to do and failed at. A sure-fire route to inefficiency and the worst of both worlds!

    But this is exactly what Phil Hayward is crusading for! The imposition of an inappropriate and extreme car-centric prescription onto cities with an already-established and largely car-incompatible constitution. In the 1960’s this may have seemed like a promising solution to the problems of rising car-ownership. However hindsight has long-since confirmed otherwise. Has Phil learned nothing during this time?

    The best solution for most “normal” cities is to turn away from these destructive attempts at morphing into auto-topia, and instead to build on the traditional benefits of a thriving commercial centre, of urban and suburban liveability, walkability and cycle-ability, of high public transport-use and reduced car-dependence. If far-flung suburbs become unavoidable, they must be more like satellite-villages and have comprehensive public transport built in from the outset. And if there is still congestion once all these measures are in place, it can much more reasonably be left to self-limit.

    1. Thanks for posing the challenge, DaveB.

      Sure more people in London commute by public transport. Does this get them from A to B faster, or enable them to cover more GPS co-ordinates within a given time frame, than the automobile dependent alternative?

      London has 9.5 million people at a density of 5,900 people per square km, and its average commute to work time is 37 minutes. Los Angeles has 14 million people at a density of 2400 per square km and its average commute to work time is 27 minutes. And it is the worst congestion-delayed city in the USA.

      Los Angeles has for 3 decades plus, been spending one third of its “transport” budget on public transport but the share of total travel on this is up to 4% so far.

      PT is not a “congestion-free alternative” at all. It is only “uncongested” because its relevance to most people is not high enough that people will demand it in excess of its provision. Nor will they pay anywhere near the share of “their” vehicle capital and running costs that car drivers do. There are not queues at public telephone boxes any more either but this does not mean building more of them is a valid alternative to building mobile phone transmitter towers.

      Your point is valid about “retrofitting” one mode-based form onto another. But pre-automobile core cities can remain while automobile based development spreads around them and assumes more and more of the total urban economy’s population and economic activity. The core is only useful any more for offices, and a national economy cannot be based on only this.

      The total New York urban area is a classic case of having the best of both worlds. It is not an either/or choice. Philadelphia is another example on a smaller scale. It does have 6.5 million people.

      The NZ national economy simply cannot compete in the world without a similar sort of balance in its national economy. The problem for our “pre automobile” cores and spines, is that they were never anywhere near as big as the cores of Lyon or Manchester or Boston, let alone Paris or London or Philadelphia or New York. And trying to grow the population and employment of the city core in the automobile age is the real exercise in shoveling stuff uphill simply because of the resulting price of space unless you compulsorily acquire the sites for redevelopment.

      Letting the urban area spread and reduce in overall density, land prices to fall, and employment disperse, is in fact the route to increased efficiency. If your core rejuvenates like New York’s did after it lost its manufacturing, that is good luck, not planning. Having a low, flat urban land rent curve actually helps a core rejuvenate if it is going to. It is an uphill battle in UK cities with all land costing at least 100 times too much. Planners can dictate that “if it doesn’t happen in the core, it doesn’t happen at all” and the result most of the time is “it doesn’t happen at all”.

      The UK and NZ both need a “Houston”. NZ even more so because we do not have a London and never will.

      I would rephrase your comment “Yet it is true, that even as “drive everywhere cities”, they manage to function”, as “Yet it is true, even a few outlier cities with higher PT mode shares manage to function” but in all cases commute times are longer and access from any one GPS co-ordinate to another is nowhere near as enabled as automobile based lower density cities. These cities manage to function in spite of this disadvantage only due to the kind of city they evolved as over centuries – not because of urban planning.

      But for the lower income people needed as cleaners, shelf stockers, etc existence in economies like London is hell, especially their housing conditions and commutes.

      1. Thanks Phil. I will leave someone else to answer this. I am keen to keep the debate stirred, but it takes time which I unfortunately do not have at the moment.

        Now the question is, when I press “send” will this little post finally appear where I want it to?

        1. I am in the same boat really. I sacrificed income today to participate in this to the extent I did. That is how much I care about it. I definitely can’t do this very frequently at all. I appreciate the courteous tone from all.

  14. As one of the authors of the Ian Wallis study you quote, can I make a few points?
    The Tom Tom data looks like an excellent resource if it is interpreted properly (Phil is right that INRIX is probably better). it wasn’t around when we did our study, the graph you present was based on NZTA motorway monitoring sites. While our study criticised the comparison of congested time and free flow time as a measure of the cost of congestion, the same base data can be used to get a more meaningful measure. As a rule of thumb, it turns out (for motorways at least) that maximum flow corresponds to travel times about 25% higher than free flow times. (genuine free flow times, not just off peak – your point) This means a Tom Tom index of 25% suggests that traffic flow is at its most efficient. The Auckland figure of 29% you quote is not too far away from that, but of course averages are not very useful in this context and there are certainly routes in Auckland that do get congested – ie have an index well exceeding 25%. The Tom Tom index has other uses. Multiplying the index by the congested time and multiplying by a value of time gives a route-specific measure of the de-congestion benefit from diverting drivers to public transport. This has already been used in a study into the benefits of Park and Ride – not using Tom Tom data, but calculating the index another way. New Zealand’s robust use of cost benefit analysis for new roads in the latter part of last century did tend to be more parsimonious than some other countries (including US) so I am not surprised by the Tom Tom rankings.

    1. Your comment is hard to digest, the lack of white space between the points you’re making leads me to believe that you agree that as portrayed the study doesn’t lad to the conclusions that form the headline.

      The second conclusion I’ve drawn is that that data provides some measure of congestion and flow, but needs to be interpreted in conjunction with other data.

      Let me know if I’m putting words in your mouth, occasionally I’ll admit that I’ve made an error or am wrong in my interpretation.

      1. Nik I’m sorry if what I said was too cryptic. My main point were 1) the Tom Tom data is very useful additional data but it does have to be interpreted. So while I think the headline of the blog is a bit unfair, I do agree with some of the criticisms.

        2) The conclusion that because the Tom Tom index is 29, congestion in Auckland is bad is misleading. An efficient transport network would have an index of 25, so Auckland isn’t doing too badly. The media story about 12 days stuck in traffic is definitely misleading.

        3) An average value over a city will disguise routes that are highly congested and routes that are not congested at all. The index Tom Tom uses can be calculated on a route by route basis, in which case it can be used to give a very useful estimate of the benefit from ‘congestion relief’ measures such as park and ride. (the higher the index, the bigger the benefit per vehicle displaced)

        4) New Zealand used to have a robust cost benefit analysis based road investment regime. The investment criteria were tough compared with some other countries. Hence we invested in less new roads. The ‘roads of national significance’ can be seen as a reaction to this.

    1. Not really, in most places internationally there is very little emphasis on either April Fools or Guy Fawkes, so I doubt the release was thought of in a sarcastic way at all.

      I do admit that I have effectively a media release that I’ve delayed for timing reasons, but the rest of the world may not think in the same way.

  15. well, an important ommision is that there is no reference at all to the number of vehicles relative to the area covered.
    number of vehicles must be an absolute parameter in any such traffic index. How it can be related to the traffic can be worked out by those who prepare the index.

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