Via economist Donal Curtin, I ran across the draft report that the Australian Competition Policy Review issued last September. It’s a long and fairly technical document, but the introduction made some good points in accessible language:

Competition policy sits well with the values Australians express in their everyday interactions. We expect markets to be fair and we want prices to be as low as they can reasonably be. We also value choice and responsiveness in market transactions — we want markets to offer us variety and novel, innovative products as well as quality, service and reliability.

These are generally sound principles, and I think it’s worth considering how they might apply to transport policy. The first and most important observation is that New Zealand suffers from a serious dearth of choice in urban transport markets. Unlike most other developed countries, we have failed to invest in high-quality public transport, walking, and cycling alternatives.

This is what lack of choice looks like.
This is what lack of choice looks like in the US, another prominent exception.

In fact, it’s even worse than that: transport policy has actively sought to reduce or block choice and competition in urban transport markets. Late last year, I discussed how Auckland ended up with a motorway network rather than a regional rail network in the 1950s: politicians and planners misrepresented the costs and benefits of the scheme in order to scupper the alternatives. The same story has been repeated, with variations, over and over since then.

But surely more lanes will fix it?
Building more lanes will not give us more choice.

Things are changing – but too slowly. For example, changes to public transport policy and agency mindset are starting to deliver more useful bus networks. In Auckland, extensions of the rapid transit network – Britomart, the Onehunga Line, and the Northern Busway – have been highly successful. It is important to build on these successes, as they are integral to having real transport choices.

These people now have a choice.
These people now have a choice.

The Australian Competition Policy Review carries on:

Access and choice are particularly relevant to vulnerable Australians or those on low incomes, whose day-to-day existence can mean regular interactions with government. They too should enjoy the benefits of choice, where this can reasonably be exercised, and service providers that respond to their needs and preferences. These aspects of competition can be sought even in ‘markets’ where no private sector supplier is present.

This is especially true of transport. Low-income families have the most to gain from better transport choices, as they are in the worst position to afford the costs of owning and operating a car. As I found when looking at the costs of commuting by car and public transport, households could save thousands of dollars a year by cutting back on car ownership and riding the bus to work. (Findings reinforced by a recent study of commuter costs in Australian and NZ cities.)

Cycling is free! (Source)
Cycling is free! (Source)

At the moment, low-income households in Auckland and other large NZ cities disproportionately live in far-flung suburbs with limited transport choices (as I found when writing a research paper on housing and transport costs). Auckland’s New Network will improve service in many historically under-served areas of the city, but this is only a small step. As Luke showed when he looked at walking and cycling in Manukau, post-war suburbs are still pretty grim for everything but cars.

At this point, New Zealand’s transport policies should be oriented around giving people more and better transport choices. If we want transport to raise our quality of life, the best way to do it is to build our “missing modes”. More lanes on the same motorway will not cut it.

What choices would you like to make when travelling?

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  1. By what measure has the Onehunga line been “highly successful”? No doubt about Britomart and the Northern Busway.

    Also, what city is the top picture from? That’s one heck of a piece of roading!

    1. Have to go check the patronage figures – last I saw Onehunga was running ahead of projections. But that’s a year or so out of date.

      I think the junction is from southern California… north America is absolutely full of these brutalist monstrosities:

        1. More specifically, it’s the Circle Interchange right outside the downtown area of Chicago. You have to get through this interchange to get to the downtown area by car if you use the Dan Ryan (coming from the south), the Kennedy expressway from the north, or the Eisenhower expressway from the west.

          Which is ironic, isn’t it? Given that Chicago has an extensive, frequent, gridded bus system, an extensive, frequent local train system (the L) and an extensive commuter train system that has diesel and electric lines that stretches to the edges of Chicagos far flung suburbs in all directions.

          Someone was saying something about choice?

        2. Whoops! This is what happens when you google quickly late at night. I had been looking for a picture of a freeway interchange in Southern California – they’ve got some shockers down there.

        3. You should be more careful with your posts and selection of pictures – its seems like you picked the image from a comment on that imgur page linked above after rejecting the main post’s images, despite it’s obvious fake nature. Makes one question the rest of what you write, even if it’s interesting to read. (It is nitpicking but meh)

        4. That is indeed a nitpick. In terms of how I came by the image – I found it thru a separate google image search. I actually ran across the imgur post later, while reverse image searching to attempt to find the original source.

          In any case, I don’t think the choice of image has much of a bearing on the arguments that I’m making. When I present data in chart or map form, I’m always careful to cite the source and (if necessary) explain how I analysed it. The same goes for other factual claims. Images, on the other hand, are mainly put in to avoid boring people with an enormous wall of text.

  2. All choices. Happy Days. I want it all. We just need to look at roads like a blank canvas, no lines. Now what can we fit in for a start. Remove parking and flush medians on arterials only. Can we fit 4m for 2 way cycle incl 1m seperation and 7m two way bus? Stuff this useless bus priority shit at intersections only unless less than 14m width overall not even one way bus acheivable.

  3. Is traffic really that bad in Auckland? I don’t understand the obsession. By any global standard Auckland doesn’t have a traffic problem. Leave the roads as they are and build some PT. Allow people to live in AK without a car (bliss).

    1. Yes, if adequate alternative transport modes are in place, traffic congestion will manage itself adequately. Wherever possible, alternative transport should have dedicated rights of way.

      I expect car-sharing and Uber et al are really going to dent NZer’s obsession with car ownership.

    2. It’s not and you’re right. When Waterview is complete we will have finished the motorway network and can move on to finishing the other modes.

    3. Yes the traffic is bad. But the fact that car mode has effectively blocked two networks is worse. Why do we need to penalise both bus and cycle use when in the high majority the pavement width is already there and enough for cars also. Bus in it’s own lane is 10 times better or more. Kids cycling with physical protection is all going to help the performance and liveability around our roads. I don’t see any downsides unless you like idling wasting time,fuel etc and widening roads around the problem and delaying and spending billions for nothing.

    4. Useful-Idiot: check out the TomTom Traffic Index.

      Auckland’s delay per 1 hour of driving at peak is currently 41 minutes, it has been as high as 45 minutes. Wellington is currently 47 minutes.

      There are almost no cities anywhere else in the world with only 1 million or less population, with delays anything like this bad. Low density US cities of around 1 million population, like Indianapolis, Nashville and Salt Lake City, typically have a delay around 15 minutes. Cities of half a million easily can fall below 10 minutes.

      The simple fact is that Auckland is around 3 times as dense and has only around 1/3 the highway lane-miles of the comparable US city. The US cities also typically have house price median multiples stable at around 3.

      These things are all inter-related. It is time we started using facts not myths, to base our policy decisions on.

      Further mind-blowing data is in a just-released UN Habitat Report, “Streets as Public Spaces and Drivers of Urban Prosperity”. They point out that vibrant urbanism, walkability and repurposing of street space in the most successful cities in the world has been possible because their street space was considerable to start with. They are expressing alarm that developing countries cities are building up higgledy-piggledy without setting aside street space well in advance, which leads to intractable difficulties with congestion and conflicts on all levels, regardless of whether you are talking about cars OR alternatives!

      The dynamite in the report as far as we are concerned, is that Auckland ranks along with Moscow at the bottom of the chart of cities outside the third world, for its street intensity. They actually provide an interesting discussion of the history of mistakes made in Auckland, that has left Auckland as an outlier on the low side.

      Amsterdam, which is the same overall urban density as Auckland (circa 2500 people per square km) has a city street grid TWO POINT FIVE TIMES as intense as Auckland’s. Even its suburbs have a higher street intensity than Auckland.

      The Bertauds actually calculated Auckland’s density at 2800 people per sq km, so the other figure I am quoting (Demographia) is at the very least confirmed.

    1. I’m a big proponent of testing ideas on the market. Rather than expounding the virtues of skinny cars (or, as I like to call them, fat, ugly motorcycles) in the comments section, why don’t you go away and sell some of the things?

      Then, once we’ve had a chance to see whether people will buy them and how they perform on NZ roads, we can assess your claims about them with actual data.

      If, however, posting blog comments is part of your marketing strategy, I would encourage you to read item 8(iii) of the user guidelines (, which discourages “blatant promotion of products and/or services”. Transportblog is _not_ a marketing channel.

      1. OK Peter. Auckland is one of the places that offers this missing mode of transport which I support. As suggested, I don’t include any specific urls for any product or service, however, I do link to studies like IBM for Smarter Cities or Atlantic’s “1 Long Graph”. This is not a marketing strategy. I like discussions of transportation and resolution theory.

        If someone here believed that flying cars were the best missing mode consistently and frequently, I can’t see how that would damage the reputation of the blog or interfere with healthy discussion. All of these products are market tested. Some of the modes and products are more popular than others.

  4. Let’s have choices that are properly priced and truly user-pays too. Motorists should be paying around another 7 cents per km on top of the existing costs they do pay (their own car, their own petrol, their own repairs, petrol taxes) so as to truly cover the externalities. Parking in the city absolutely should be priced to cover the opportunity cost of the space.

    And public transport fares should have the subsidies abolished and everything should be level-playing-field.

    It is a mystery to me why anyone thinks this would cause a shift from cars to PT.

  5. There is an essential problem, an opposing force of gravity, with trying to achieve mode shift. Exponentially more trip origins and destinations can be covered by car. The per-person supply of land facilitated by a city’s transport system, determines housing costs; a principle recognised 90 years ago (Robert Murray Haig, 1926) and built on in the urban economics literature ever since (Alonso, Wingo, Ratcliff, Goldberg). Hong Kong stacks people up in dog-kennel “homes” in skyscrapers on subway routes, and their house price median multiple is 16+.

    At the level of transit-oriented locations within an urban area where freedom of movement by automobile is the norm, a “pricing out” effect tends to occur:

    Anthony Downs; “A Growth Strategy for the Greater Vancouver Region”, 2007:

    “……The cost of land poses a key dilemma for urban planners everywhere who want to concentrate jobs together so they can be best served by public transit. Such concentration raises the costs of land near centers; in fact, it would confer a monopoly advantage on landowners who owned such land and could exploit firms trying to locate there. Now firms want to locate elsewhere to cut their land costs.

    Planned concentration of jobs in a few centers is not consistent with private ownership and control of land. Some type of collective control over that land would be necessary to prevent monopolistic exploitation of land values. In theory, this could be done with high land taxes in such areas and special zoning rules. But adopting those devices is politically difficult in a free enterprise economy…..

    “……A similar but less intensive dilemma concerns land near transit stops, where it would be most efficient to concentrate high-density housing and jobs. That also creates ownership monopolies over such land unless it is specially controlled or taxed. Yet focusing development near transit stops is a key to using more transit…..”

    It is possible for socially responsible government which is dedicated to public transport integrated urban planning, to avoid this effect by owning the sites served by the system. Ironically, HK does have such a system but their government is not socially responsible. Singapore and Japan achieve far superior housing justice because their enterprises operating the property integrated with the subway system, operate on a “capital cost plus” basis and do not follow the market upwards. In fact they anchor the market downwards by competing with the automobile-dependent alternatives on price, which is the opposite of what happens in cities with Anglo property rights.

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