Continuing our summer holiday reading this New York Times article on New York’s Subway, The Case for the Subway, touches on many important issues. Its overt subject is the terrible current state of the Subway, but along the way it covers universal issues about how cities work and the role of effective Transit systems in successful cities. To summarise:

  1. Cities are density.
  2. Density creates wealth.
  3. Transit creates density and spreads that wealth more equitably.
  4. Most great cities are built on great Transit systems.
  5. Smart cities fund high quality Transit networks by capturing some of the land value uplift they create.

As New York evolved over the decades, the subway was the one constant, the very thing that made it possible to repurpose 19th-century factories and warehouses as offices or condominiums, or to reimagine a two-mile spit of land between Manhattan and Queens that once housed a smallpox hospital as a high-tech university hub. When the city is in crisis — financial or emotional — the subway is always a crucial part of the solution. The subway led the city’s recovery from the fiscal calamity of the 1970s. The subway was at the center of the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan after the Sept. 11 attacks. The subway got New York back to work after the most devastating storm in the city’s history just five years ago…

For all the changes in transportation technology since the first tunnels were dug — the rise of the automobile, the proliferation of bike lanes and ferries, our growing addiction to ride-hailing apps and dreams of a future filled with autonomous vehicles — the subway remains the only way to move large numbers of people around the city. Today, New York’s subway carries close to six million people every day, more than twice the entire population of Chicago. The subway may no longer be a technological marvel, but it continues to perform a daily magic trick: It brings people together, but it also spreads people out. It is this paradox — these constant expansions and contractions, like a beating heart — that keep the human capital flowing and the city growing. New York’s subway has no zones and no hours of operation. It connects rich and poor neighborhoods alike. The subway has never been segregated. It is always open, and the fare is always the same no matter how far you need to go. In New York, movement — anywhere, anytime — is a right.

That the Subway still works at all given its decades long underfunding and ill-suited governance structure is a miracle, and a testament both to the original engineering and the daily labours of so many dedicated staff. That this degree of neglect has been allowed to continue for so long despite the enormous wealth created and sustained by the system is a glaring indictment on US societal decline.

Along with fixing the existing network there are also obvious and long overdue additions like the crosstown Triboro Line, on existing rail right of ways, that are screaming out for investment.

*Note the Triboro link is to work by the Regional Plan Association, another great US city civil society advocacy organisation. That country is such a paradox. It’s official political systems are broken in so many ways and at many levels (as the NYT article examples) but it also generates and sustains absolutely world class social institutions. SPUR in San Francisco is another fantastic example for us at Greater Auckland.

This is a great in-depth look at the challenges and opportunities ahead for 21st Century New York, and a good reminder of need to set up clear governance structures and sustainable funding mechanisms for high economic value social systems.

Plenty to reflect on for all cities, including Auckland, in this extreme case. Enjoy.

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  1. Transit expansion (without land use regulation that forces developers to include affordable housing) drives up property values and gentrification – how do you reconcile that with your claim about equity?

    1. Don’t need inclusionary Crown through State Housing or KiwiBuild in partnership with Panuku can build affordable homes.

      1. If Kiwibuild was actually affordable and linked to TOD this might work – however it’s not, which leaves a huge burden on state housing to provide for a much larger group than just low-income households

        1. And without getting into a debate over the details of Kiwibuild & HNZ projects, more broadly it’s worth acknowledging that intensification in cities is often linked to processes that exacerbate inequality – therefore the details of how it’s done are very important, and blanket claims that all density (or even ‘density done well’) is good, are misleading

        2. Did you read the linked article?
          Land use zoning changes and inclusive housing policies are indeed also necessary. No one thing is ever sufficient in the pursuit of thriving and equitable cities.
          Is there any claim that this isn’t the case?

        3. What are you even arguing for Jen

          Patrick didn’t even say that density creates more equity what he said was access to transit does.

  2. “Before the subway, it was by no means a foregone conclusion that New York would become the greatest city on earth.” I started laughing at the chauvinism of that statement. FFS it is not even the greatest city in the US.

      1. Maybe if you exclude Vienna before 1914, Paris 1918-1939, London 1981-, Berlin 1990-, Los Angeles, San Francisco after the earthquake and bubonic plague, Miami, Pittsburgh post steel, Seattle 1991-95, San Diego, Tokyo but not before 1950, Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, Melbourne, Geneva…
        New York would be great if you were Rich Uncle Pennybags. For most of last century it was an expensive violent place full of ripoffs. As the song says ‘The wind goes right through you, it’s no place for the old’

        1. These rankings are more or less subjective, but it is pretty hard to argue that NY wasn’t the most vital, creative, and defining city of that often awful century. Your view of the great roiling city seems particularly one sided, stuck in a 1970s movie. Great does not mean gentle place to retire, in fact is pretty much the exact opposite of that…

        2. They are subjective. New York is a major finance centre and was also a place where a lot of stuff got made. But it seems to exist to take money off visitors like so many old world cities do now. It is a great place to visit but it is also a great place to leave. Was it ever the greatest city? Maybe in the forties and fifties. It had the benefit of being a financial centre that didn’t have to be rebuilt. Other than that its success has been due to a very good port and legal restrictions making it an entry and exit point for people and goods.

  3. Inclusionary zoning was taken out Unitary Plan and rightfully so. Kiwi Build, the Housing Commission UDA and Panuku all have the measures necessary to build affordable housing especially close to transit lines.

    I was having a discussion yesterday about Transit Orientated Developments starting with the Metro Centres and transit stations and working our way back from there.

    Patrick is right that the transit lines do promote equity (providing the short range fares are equitable (which ours are not)) and probably the biggest promoter of such equity. You cant build affordable homes out in the sticks (thinking Westgate) if transport costs are going to be high.

    I suppose if we want a live example making its way through it could be Transform Manukau. 600ha of varying land uses and under utilised land. All pretty close to a major transit line or even a bus stop. I’d say that be a good place for Panuku and the Housing Commission to build some of those affordable homes given proximity to transit and employment.

    1. To be fair to Westgate though if NW Light Rail is built as proposed by the current Government Westgate would be closer to say the city transport wise than Manukau.

      1. The most obvious current example here in Auckland of high quality permanent Transit’s role in improving spatial equity is the CRL. West AKL is primarily a dormitory area, it lacks employment at scale but houses a big proportion of the city’s population, and, generally, not the richest or most socially mobile.

        Among the key benefits of the CRL is it substantially improve access for this population to the biggest and highest paid employment and learning area in the nation. Enabling that population to better compete for more work or education places more easily, facing lower locational and transport barriers.

      2. This is most true and the NW LRT line would give an equitable way of getting to the City Centre. Especially more so given the West and North lack large employment complexes like heavy industry and large scale commercial.

        In extending the point, the idea isnt for Manukau to be closer or further to the City than Westgate but rather Manukau City Centre acting as a Centre itself pulling commuters in from the South and South East.

        So rather than going from your brand new Pacific Rise/Gardens apartment inside the Transform Manukau Area to Manukau Station and then train into town, it would be going from your brand new pacific rise apartment inside the Transform Manukau area to the 33 bus on the Great South Road and a short bus trip to Manukau City Centre for work. This would be more equitable for the South and goes to the point Patrick made that transit lines give such equity whether from Westgate to the City Centre or Pacific Rise to Manukau City Centre.

        1. Is there actually any evidence of improved social mobility? Maybe it just brings the poor in to service the big companies . Council’s contracts could improve social mobility and transport. Like the big environmental contracts and the studies and research which service the Waitakeres are based in Mt Eden and the Inner city and elsewhere. Or the social community website for the Southern Initiative which was a contract designed to improve opportunities in South Auckland went to a new company in Waiheke. Or the Facilities Maintenance contract went to an Australian owned company. Surely they could have been local opportunities for people in their own area. Better procurement would improve social mobility and give locals fair access to opportunities. Buy social services websites and social change agencies from companies that actually base themselves in the communities they say they are trying to help. Allow local people to be awarded the management contracts (and fairly paid) for their local spaces and grow local businesses. Council’s procurement does little to support local businesses SME’s or social mobility or transport.

        2. Your point about Council’s procurement processes is a good one, but separate from the more simple issue of transit increasing equity through increased physical mobility.

        3. Does transit increase equity? In theory. But I don’t think it is. If the council’s procurement developed industries that were local to their communities, those employed locally wouldn’t need big transport. EG. We have a Kauri Dieback Manager who comes from Rodney paid for from our Waitakere budgets. Decreases local opportunities as person outside Waitakere was chosen for the Job. Was cronyism as she is the boards unelected member of the party. The job wasn’t advertised locally. Poor transport choices as she has to commute from a completely different local board. Local Iwi and the someone from the local marae weren’t chosen for the job ? Just one example. So In my opinion, poor procurement and poor culture and values within council are having the biggest impact on the transit and inequality situations. And eroding local economic opportunities.

        4. One example I”m personally aware of, as my colleague was researching it, is the increase in social mobility in north Dublin when the DART was put in. This was a very impoverished area, and the DART provided access to job interviews and jobs, with a substantial effect on people in those areas within the catchment.

        5. Increaing access is an aid to equity. Enabling more people to access more employment and learning options is an obvious gain for equity. Lowering cost barriers for more to more is obviously a good and fairer thing.

          Council procurement policy is an entirely separate issue, and off topic here.

    2. Two points. 1/ Westgate is closer to the city centre than Manurewa both in distance and travel time. 2/ Why do we care how far affordable housing is from the city centre? Most people don’t work in the city centre.

      1. I don’t think Ben mentioned the city centre. You’re right – we should care about access to jobs not the CBD per se, but it just *happens* that the CBD is roughly central in the distribution of employment across the city, and offers greater earning potential for people. As a rough proxy for access to potential employment choices, access to the CBD is therefore a good rule of thumb indicator for people at many different income levels.

        1. Also ‘most jobs’, is not ‘best jobs’. The City Centre does have:

          1. by far the highest density of employment (very important for choice)
          2. the highest value jobs
          3. the fastest growth in employment (urban services is a global job growth sector)
          in the whole region and the whole nation (except, in terms of highest value jobs, which are in central Wellington because of government).
          4.has the highest number and density of tertiary education places and choices.

          Indeed access to all employment and education is the key, and the fastest way to improve that for any dormitory area is to improve access to the City Centre, by Transit. Across town travel by car has long been widely available, though is subject to worsening traffic congestion.

          Also note the CRL is of course a region-wide network improver, and also only part of the full network necessary. So it isn’t all about the City Centre, but it does all hinge on the success of the City Centre.

          Ben’s much longed for Manukau sub-centre, and others, will succeed faster as the Centre hits capacity limits; spill-over effect.

        2. Yes. CRL Services that stop in Henderson and don’t serve areas like Ranui are definitely an equitable outcome for the West.

        1. Just now Google maps says Britomart to Westgate by bus and walk is 40min. Britomart to Manukau by train and walk is 49min. So where are you calling ‘the sticks’?
          The CBD has a lot of jobs but most people don’t work there, especially most people who need an affordable home.

        2. Westgate sits on an urban rural fringe
          Manukau is in the middle of a large urban area and serves as a core to said urban area.

          So yes Westgate is pretty much in the sticks
          The West either travels to the industrial complexes in the South or the City Centre for work so your point there is moot.

        3. Ben if you check out Commuterview
          you will see that very few people from the Census area units around Westgate go to the areas in the south. Most go to Henderson, North Harbour, Central Area West and Kingdale.
          I accept your point that there should be more housing built in Manukau but I dont accept that Westgate is the sticks. There should be a hell of a lot more intensification there specifically because there is space around it for further development.

        4. If Westgate is the sticks, at least it is in an area measured to have the world’s highest level of racial tolerance. 🙂

          I reckon hands off the farmland near Westgate at least until the NW LR or busway is open, and the subsequent phase of whatever PT is required to make West Auckland function for its residents has been planned and consented. Planning more housing out there before that’s sorted is just risky.

          Which means doing something else for housing right now. Specifically, whatever it takes to enable brownfields development to happen quickly. We might then find that the farmland near Westgate could be used for something else – like providing access to farmland for city-dwellers, and coping with the ecological footprint of our city.

        5. Yes, it’s far more important that I have access to farmland than I actually have a home to live in. Definitely a priority at the moment.

    3. I found the comment in the article “MTA is largely cut out of the land profiteering that it enables” interesting. Your comment “Kiwi Build, the Housing Commission UDA and Panuku all have the measures necessary to build affordable housing especially close to transit lines” makes me wonder how far and how fast we can take the concept…

      At one extreme we’d be talking about AT able to buy and develop land along transit for profit in order to fund more transit. Another example would be local and central government developing land as they put in transit and taking the benefit not as profit but as social housing. Of course another version would be developers’ fees for land along transit lines… so the profit is shared between developers and the Council who can then fund more transit lines. It seems this latter option would be a barrier to development despite presumably involving similar concepts. And I’m sure Kelvin could expand on a commercial transit operator / land developer model too.

      It’s hard to see what would be socially or politically possible in Auckland, but something has to happen quickly.

      1. The crazy situation we have at the moment is that AT is not even allowed to subtract selling land around a new Transit project from the cost of the project, but must count any land acquired as a cost!?

        This I think all goes back to an ideological objection to public bodies ‘profiteering’, i.e. land speculation windfalls must be the preserve of the private sector! Check out the sorry history of Albany and the motorway north, when the Min of Works was wound up the land was privatised cheaply to well connected companies and huge windfalls ensued. National Party good crony capitalism in plain sight.

        Where as the most successful Transit cities have some degree of land value capture at the heart of there model. All the way from Hong Kong and Japan where the Transit operators are developers too, to London Crossrail, and Battersea Northern Line extension, where there is substantial landowner funding of the huge capital cost because of the enormous uplift in value this systems cause.

        In short we want to set up development and transit structures that enable that value capture. The new gov is on to this. Housing and transport are joined at the hip regardless; it’s just smart to use that for the public good, and not simply windfalls for a few lucky or well connected people or companies.

        To understand the National Party on this, it is important remember they are still the farmers’ party at heart, and the basic farming business model is to build up the farm as a huge capital asset to retire on, often scrimping a living all the way along. Land speculation is at the heart of this world view, and getting your farm re-zoned as urban land is like winning the lottery. Though that re-zoning alone isn’t enough, infrastructure is needed too, especially the m’way to spread urban land value out to the farmland….

        We may not have a ‘military-industrial complex’ here, but we do have a highway-sprawl one.

        1. Hopefully the land value capture reform would fix the current problem such as Greenlane, Grafton, Remumera train station – having a land wasting single storey rail station adjoining low density housing with no attractive amenities.

      2. to Heidi, the developer fee model would only work if there is mechanisms to prevent land banking, such as developer penalty if the land is not developed within a time limit.

        To lower barriers and get things started, developers fee should only be paid when the project is completed to lower development financing cost.

        Council should be able to borrow against unclaimed development contributions and secured against the land to get infrastructure money to get things built early.

  4. Reading the 5 point summary one is tempted to quibble with each point but on balance it seems sound. However it all assumes wealth and sharing wealth is all that matters. For the moderately well off and better educated (typical readers of this blog) the city experience is undoubtedly richer and more stimulating. However cities have a downside with an underclass experiencing food-banks, the city mission, violence and endless exploitation.

    There needs to be a point 6: effectively free travel on mass transit. We have it with the Goldcard but it is really needed for the working poor, the unemployed, children and students. If society can afford to provide roads and bridges for the wealthy to drive their SUVs from home to entertainment then it ought to provide free transport for the less wealthy.

    1. Point 6 is part of the confidence + supply agreement between the Labour and Greens

      2a) Investigate a Green Transport Card as part of work to reduce the cost of public
      transport, prioritising people in low income households and people on a benefit

      1. Thanks. It is easy to forget the cost of transport (even heavily subsidized PT) when you take say a $2 fare and multiple by the number of journeys – say 10 for work and another 5 for social activities and then double for your partner and double again for your 3 children – that still adds up to only one night out for a yuppie but it is a significant chunk of a benefit or low income after rents. [BTW honest I’m no socialist but NZ is changing me – just want to see a fair go. In too many ways Auckland city is unfair].

        A job-seeker Goldcard needs no investigation – good for the unemployed and good for businesses looking for new employees.

        1. I agree, Bob. Free transit for all those groups you mention (the working poor, the unemployed, children and students), and I’d also add free transit for off-peak travel, to increase the energy efficiency of the network.

          Reasons given against free transit include unnecessary use – but this would apply to the (often suggested) yearly or monthly passes, and too much use at peak times (solved by the free off-peak travel).

        2. +1 – you are right – outside peak times PT is usually 90% empty (that’s North Shore) so no actual cost to add beneficiaries. What is this mythical ‘unnecessary use’ – sleepers under bridges hiding from the cold and rain?
          One other category of off-peak free traveler: tourists.

        3. Heidi, I guess it depends what issue you are trying to address. The yearly pass of Vienna seems to be so successful on many levels. The first is that it has substantially reduced all car trips. Currently private motor vehicle trips only represent 27% of all trips with that predicted to drop to less than 20% by 2025. This also has a huge effect on reducing greenhouse emissions.

          A yearly pass also seems to encourage public transport usage just as a gym membership tends to encourage patronage. See the above figures.

          Also, the real wealth creator for people is if they can be induced not to own a car. If a yearly pass can take you almost anywhere then what is the necessity for a car? Vehicle ownership in Vienna declined by about 8% in the three years to 2016.

          And why not discounted public transport for more wealthy people? It seems a reasonable trade that if the more wealthy are going to pay for all this cheap travel that they too should be able to avail themselves of it, if they choose to abandon their cars.

          It is quite clear that efforts to avert a climate change crisis -and if you don’t think it’s coming then you must have slept through the last two days – is not going to be solved by just getting poor people on buses.

          Lastly if you want to help the poor then it’s called the welfare system. Untargeted giveaways are just economically wasteful The gold card is a prime example. NZ is just about to be swamped by a wave of wealthy baby boomers. And don’t tell me that they have paid taxes all their life because there will be a huge number who will be paid more in pensions during their retirement that they ever paid as taxes in their working life. There will also be the property owners who have potentially paid no tax.

          Lets construct a public transport system that delivers what can reasonably be expected from it. I like the Vienna system because it delivered annual growth of 18% over a ten year period c.f. our current miserable achievement of about 7%.

        4. Taka-ite, I do like the yearly passes idea. In fact I don’t disagree with anything you write here. My preference is actually for free transit across the board. I don’t see any other way to make the emissions and energy changes required. But since others aren’t on board with that, I’m happy to consider other options. The free off-peak travel as a compromise step comes from the increased efficiency and ROI that spreading the load over a larger part of the day brings.

          Bob, the “unnecessary travel” is the low-value short trips people might make if travel is free. I’ve noticed people in Helsinki with passes taking the trams for one or two stops. Personally, I don’t care: these people also don’t have cars, and for those who do, don’t use them to nip to the dairy as my neighbours do, which is another low-value trip that should be done by active modes.

          Regarding tax, I thought the NY article had some pertinent points. Most depressing was that it took Rockefeller to push through legislative changes. That’s not democracy; that’s power. Do we have a Rockefeller equivalent – do we need one? I suspect we do.

        5. We saw this when the City Link bus was free, it was constantly jam packed with people going one block up Queen street, to the point when I found it difficult to get from Britomart up to where I lived near K Road. After they brought in the token 50c ticket price things stopped being so ridiculous, and I doubt those folk are driving one block up Queen Street now.

        6. “The free off-peak travel as a compromise step comes from the increased efficiency and ROI that spreading the load over a larger part of the day brings.”

          Heidi, there is no ROI because no one is paying anything in the off peak.

          Say 9am is nominated as off peak and your plan works. It is likely to transfer only a small portion from those travelling at peak, but it may well have the effect of clogging current off peak services. Should AT add more off-peak zero revenue buses/ trains to fix this issue. What is the incentive for AT to add buses to give respectable off peak services e.g. it is disgraceful that from the city to a metropolitan centre, Albany, the buses are at half hour intervals on Sunday evenings.

          What about the off peak services that are currently full? I am surprised on the few occasions that I travel off peak from Takapuna to the city and vice versa just how full the buses are.

          I have discussed the yearly Vienna pass because the figures show just how successful it is at encouraging people to use public transport. Those who choose not to buy monthly or yearly passes (the cheapest option) pay nearer the true cost of the transport and single return fares are about $6.50 from memory.

          I think that there is considerable merit in rewarding those who choose to use public transport consistently and that is achieved by a monthly / yearly pass.

          On the reverse side I see little merit in allowing a regular car user who decides to take the bus off-peak because his car is being fixed to be rewarded by having a free fare. Myriads of other examples exist. Single trips don’t form any sort of pattern to encourage public transport use.

          By definition the bulk of people travel in peak times. Often this occurs because work or study patterns compel these travel times. Cheap off peak travel does nothing to address car usage during peak times. I believe that the limited money available needs to be spent in a way that will produce the best outcome.

          I am advocating a model that has had demonstrable success in rapidly increasing public transport uptake. I am also drawn to it because in 8 successive years Vienna has been adjudged by Mercer as the world’s most livable city. If there are other systems that have worked let’s discuss them.

        7. Let’s have the pass then. 🙂 But this is an Auckland-wide conversation, and people have many differing concerns. Some concerns expressed here include the lack of energy and financial efficiency during off-peak, the subsidy that flat fares or passes give to people living at greater distance, the low-value trips that occur when there is no cost of an additional trip (from either passes or free fares).

          Some of this could probably just be swallowed – eg, maybe it’s OK in the end to put more capacity in areas where people tend to want to take low-value trips, because the psychological effect could be huge – each successful PT trip (however small) nudges people towards feeling mobile without the car, and might convince people to go car-free.

          Or, maybe it’s OK in the end to give subsidies to people living at greater distance, because sprawl should just be contained by other means, the fares should be subsidised heavily anyway so none should be so high as put anyone off, and in any case, those living at a greater distance still have to cope with longer travel times.

          But I can’t see any way around the peak vs off-peak concern. Three people in a bus or a train carriage is simply a poor use of energy. Your pass idea needs to have added to it something to encourage a flatter demand across the day. (And yes I used ROI sloppily, meaning “return” to include all benefits of the investment.)

        8. Heidi
          I absolutely agree that a flat fare advantages those on the edge of the city and therefore may encourage sprawl. (I am sometimes irked that my buses from Takapuna to the city are invariably well patronised and my fare is subsidising others, but there is a greater good). However sprawl has been deemed to be necessary and so I think it is ok to give these far flung people access to a yearly pass because these people are probably travelling the most and therefore contributing the most to carbon emissions. However in my view this should come with a caveat. If you choose to live away from the main transport corridor then you should expect to pay for any park and ride facility that is necessary. These people are probably obtaining the benefit of cheaper land and so there should be a cost. This will at least be a deterrent to those choosing to build miles away from the transport corridor. It will also optimise the use of park and rides. It is economic madness to build these for those who can walk, cycle or car pool. Ration demand by price.

          I agree that one or two block public transport trips are not ideal and we would hope for people to walk. If it is an issue in Vienna then it doesn’t seem to manifest in their health figures with them sitting at 54 on the world obesity index and us sitting at 4.

          In answer to your question about whether we will need legislative change to make a difference then I agree with you and say we absolutely will.

          Let me give you an example of our leaderships enlightened thinking. It’s a classic from Panuku Developments, “the vision is to make the most of Takapuna’s unique sea and lakeside location and create a safe, accessible and vibrant town centre oriented around pedestrians and cyclists.” (great vision!)

          (and straight up the bullshit!) So would you believe that their first step is to propose a 450 place multi storey car park in central Takapuna regardless of what else they do. I don’t swear but f**/*** clowns! How do you address something like this? Well you have probably seen from the tenor of some of my posts that if AT and Panuku act like clowns then I call them on it.

          Last week I started a war of words with AT and Panuku. I hope that the moderators will allow me to post some of the more amusing responses.

        9. Looking forward to it. I hope you make it a post, and put in all the nitty gritty, not just the amusing bits! 🙂

        10. Yes MFD, badly expressed. Here’s what I was trying to say. Baby boomers are more wealthy than any previous generation They have very high levels of home ownership. They are also living longer and are more healthy. Because they are living longer there are more of them and the State will support them by way of pensions for a longer period.

          It is my view, and yes the language is emotive, that those baby boomers in retirement will swamp NZ The younger people of NZ will not be able to support the current pension structure. I am supported in this view by the Retirement Commissioner and many economists.

          As a person who is closer to retirement than not, I see the system as not sustainable and to give concessions to those who don’t need them more unhelpful. I am not concerned that the system will fail me, but that my kids will struggle to support the demands of the elderly.

      2. I agree with the concept but I don’t understand why it needs investigation.

        Can’t we just link it to the Community Services card? So you turn up with your CS card and get a Gold Hop card? Why is that so difficult?

        Haven’t those people already been screened as being deserving?

        Student and child entitlement is even easier. Turn up with student ID and/or proof of age.

  5. Great read, thanks for drawing attention to the article. It’s remarkable how consistently politicians and business people tend to forget the foundational role Transit has played in the success of modern cities and their economies.

    Every time I overhear or read a (Herald) letter with someone whingeing about spending on Transit instead of roads, I’m reminded of the role that the first generation of trams played in building Auckland’s economy. At least NY still has routes in place, even if crumbling; we were dumb enough to rip up a highly performing system! At least we have an investment strategy beginning to emerge…

    1. I imagine the tram tracks would have been replaced a couple of times by now. Few cities that are reinstating trams are building a network like Auckland had and Melbourne still has – basically an intensive but not particularly fast PT network. Most are doing what Auckland is planning – using LR as a form of mass transit on a select number of dedicated routes that don’t have to compete with private cars.

      1. And indeed Melbourne really has two networks. One is the old tram system that just replaces local buses, and the other are the few lines that you’d actually call light rail.

        We should be, and hopefully are, building the latter in Auckland. But I’m not sure if we need the former.

        1. So why are we trying to make the NW LRT meandre through Pt Chev/Grey Lynn in the name of ‘catchment’.

        2. Nick – I think I’m with you, although I would not frame it as the interchangeability of buses and ‘old’ trams. The crux of the issue is surely about the correlation & causality between Transit and urban form. More particularly, the type of Transit, urban form and related opportunities at a given point in time and space.

          Old tram networks were symbiotic with dense corridors and nodes defined by the default mode at that time of walking, with economic advantage gained from PT in absence of cars – the classic ‘streetcar suburbs’ of North America. City form has naturally evolved since then, Auckland noticeably so; new networks necessarily relate to a current condition of more dispersed nodes, with lower densities between, with a structure based on vehicle movement. New LRT should naturally be different from old trams due to this, while also looking for what the future opportunities are that it could unlock or transform, and whether / how that will happen.

          This is possibly where it gets murky for Auckland right now. The unitary plan talks about form based on corridors _and_ centres, but this is somewhat ambiguous when Transit networks are overlaid in light of the above, and in light of the current state & opportunities for density of each corridor & node. This also becomes about local network formatting around stops – are they / how can they be walk or cycle friendly, in relation to local land use reality & potential. In many cases, modern-era dispersed centres are hobbled by so much vehicle infrastructure that they may struggle to readily add in good local access to major PT stops.

          In short – critical examination is required of if, where & how we get to Vancouver-scale density & public realm quality at dispersed nodes, or activate rapid corridor densification in areas where zoning & community views currently assume existing character is pre-eminent. There’s some important questions around actual neighbourhoods, as well as how to better integrate Transit and land use planning within this…

      2. The point is that had the trams been retained, we could have upgraded them incrementally to LR, incrementally excluded cars on the busiest routes, and expanded the network. The loss of the trams means we are starting from a long way behind.

        1. We could have, although I suspect more likely would be what happened in Melbourne – the trams have kept running as they are with minimal right of way and have slowly got more and more clogged up with cars.

          Also I’m not sure every tram route has the width to take both tram and vehicle lanes, so there would likely still be some compromised running in places. In addition as the city grew the tram routes closer to the CBD would have had to account for buses coming from suburbs that never had trams.

          It’s worth remembering Auckland was far from unique in removing its tram network, most cities in the world did it, Melbourne is closer to unique in that it kept its network.

        2. Take Jervois Rd as an example. Had the trams been retained, only one traffic lane each way would have been possible all these years. So higher numbers of people could have moved along the corridor, on better and better trams, the road would not have become the rat run alternative to the SH16 that it is, and the traffic induced by doubling the road capacity would not have happened. All good.

        3. In theory you are right and that would have been an ideal outcome, however there is no reason to think that is what would have happened.

          The reason we have four lane roads like that is not because the trams were taken out, the reason the trams were taken out was so we could have more room for vehicles. It is highly likely if the trams were kept they would still be competing for road space with private cars now.

          Were Auckland really went wrong was not developing the rail network 30-40 years earlier than ultimately happened.

        4. “if the trams were kept they would still be competing for road space with private cars now.” Or put the other way around, cars would have had competition from trams all these decades, ie there would be less induced traffic now. So the worst case scenario would still have involved better people-moving and less induced traffic.

          I’m not sure why you hold this position on the trams. Of course we can design LR better now. Had we kept the trams, generations of people would have used PT more, and used cars less, meaning the dominant mindset would be very different. Politically, a lot more would be possible.

        5. I’m not sure if we would have upgraded the trams to light rail, we would have just had modern trams.

          I don’t agree Jervios Rd would have only one traffic lane each way if the trams had been retained. The trams used to run in the traffic lane, or more to the point what little traffic there used to be pre WWII used to run in the tram lane.

          The likelyhood is there would have been for lanes for traffic, and trams would have been stuck behind traffic in the middle lanes. This is exactly what happens across the vast majority of Melbourne’s tram network. You should hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth whenever anyone suggests maybe the trams should have priority over cars.

          That’s why I make the distinction between trams and light rail. It’s not the age of the vehicles, it’s the running way. If we’d kept the old trams running in general traffic, today we’d probably just have new trams running in general traffic, which is little better than the bus (and in some case, worse).

          Its also not certain generations of people would have used PT more. Again if you look at many of Melbourne’s tram routes, they almost died off in the 80s and 90s and today a number of them carry less people than our buses. It’s a case of the bad ones do badly, and only the good ones do well.

        6. The reason I hold the position I do on the trams is I don’t think what Auckland had and Melbourne still has is that much different to what buses provide. We could just as easily prioritised bus lanes or even cycle lanes on Jervois Rd to reduce private vehicle capacity but we didn’t.

          What we should have done is built Britomart in the 1960s, double tracked the Western line in the 1970s, electrified and put in the new bus network in the 1980s and built the CRL in the 1990s. Had we done that we would be so much further ahead than we are now. Had we kept the trams we might have slightly better patronage than the bus routes that replaced them but I doubt it would be significant.

    2. “At least NY still has routes in place, even if crumbling”

      I think the other thing to learn from NY (and the US in general) is how expensive infrastructure is to maintain. We’d be stupid not to look at their experience, knowing the energy situation, and not try to build infrastructure with the lowest maintenance costs.

      1. Yes but timely maintenance and constant upgrading is always cheaper than allowing decline and then requiring total rebuilds… The US situation is one of the tragedy of the commons, and an ideological battle of private wealth versus public goods. It acts as a great warning to us here.

        We of course witnessed the same thing with passenger rail here, happily we are well into the revival now from the darkest days.

        And, personally, I am very aware of the similar cycle in London. I lived there in the mid 1980s, pretty much the nadir of the Tube’s fortunes, after decades of underfunding and neglect. It was also a miracle that the system was still functioning at all, also a testament to the high quality of the old engineering and dedicated staff (many West Indian immigrants) prewar wooden carriages etc. It took the disaster of the Kings Cross fire to at last turn this situation around, and now its another great age for that wonderful system with CrossRail nearing completion, The Overground, and upgrades and small extensions all over (e.g. Battersea).

        I hope it doesn’t require a massive disaster in NY for the desperately needed renaissance in The Subway to properly begin. And we all know the US has massive capacity and ability when it turns its attention to things… but we can clearly see NY is a good thirty years behind London, Paris, and every Chinese city, and even about a decade behind little old AKL is this cycle.

        What that country needs, and ironically the current disaster in office may be paving the way for it, is a 21st Century New Deal president. A public works centred candidate…. rebuilding urban transit and supercharging the energy transition would indeed go a long way to making the US great again.

  6. What do the LR vs HR brigade think of the last paragraphs of The Case for the Subway? Instead of independent lines, the subway trains can change lines, as required when events like a baseball game changes travel patterns substantially. Not something we’d aspire to, no?

    1. Yes and no. We already have a heavily ‘inter-lined’ system, i.e. lines that share track. This creates interdependence, a problem on one line affects all the rest in AKL, this is not the case in London or Paris where the lines are usually entirely separate. Other systems have more interlining, but nowhere do we have four tracks, let alone 8 or 16, the kind of capacity and redundancy that enables that to work. Our two-track network will be an efficient little workhorse post CRL, but absolutely doesn’t want more lines leading into it, at least not without a second CRL (ultimately this could be good, but not soon).

      So for the next lines it is an absolute advantage for them to be separated, and if separate the technology can be anything; Light Rail, Light Metro, BRT, whatever. It needn’t be bound by historical happenstance, gauge, platform height, etc etc…

      1. …additionally lets take Eden Park for example, Dom Rd Light Rail adds additional Transit capacity to that event destination along with the rail line, so peak demand is still met by adding new systems anyway. It is a mistake to think we have to repeat the current system to get more. It’s just not true.

        1. Yes. I’d love to see cycle networks easing the load on transport for events, too. Another independent network that doesn’t get stuffed when another network is overloaded.

  7. The situation in New York is a great example of what happens when you give massive subsidies to Public Transport systems. The Subway is a great system until you are required to pay the full price of your trip.

    The flat price across the system may be hailed by some but it’s endemic of the problem. When fare collection is so low as a portion of costs we become reliant on public organisations to pay the difference. These organisations often have competing financial obligations and can’t subsidise everything for everyone.

    The electronic AT Hop system makes New York’s card system look pre-historic. What needs to happen as part of the subway re-investment is to install an electronic ticketing system which will allow for a non-flat pricing system. In turn that would reduce subsidies which would assist with funding re-investment into the subway system.

    1. I wish we had flat fares here too Matthew – it’s against all of my equity instincts to charge people in Auckland’s poorer outer suburbs more to get to work and education opportunities in the CBD than we charge people in the wealthy inner city suburbs.

      If we could change that, and make frequent services universally available across Auckland, we would make huge strides forward to reducing inequality and also reducing transport-related fatalities, pollution and time wasted in traffic.

      The cost of having to maintain cars because of unfair distribution of public transport is hurting many many Aucklanders, and I’d welcome a higher priority being given to transport equity in AT’s planning.

      1. Ok but what about Auckland’s wealthy outer suburbs and poorer inner suburbs?

        This is a house value map of Auckland, a pretty good proxy for wealth.

        There are plenty of very wealthy remote suburbs even before you get into the lifestyle belt (Bucklands Beach, Browns Bay, Ormiston, Weymouth, Te Atatu, Long Bay).

        The problem with a flat fare is you have to make everyone pay the average fare regardless of how far they are travelling, how much of the resource they are using, and how much value they get from it.

        In Auckland you would need to make the flat fare cost the same as the three zone fare, so $4.85 with HOP or $7 cash. So it’s $4.85 for a kid to catch the bus to their primary school, $4.85 for nanna popping down to the shops, $4.85 for someone living in Kelston commuting to work in Henderson, and yes, $4.85 for a stockbroker commuting from his lifestyle block in Paerata to a downtown office tower.

        I don’t see that as fair at all.

        If we want equity of transit access for poorer folk we should subsidise fares for the poor and let people who can afford to pay their way do so. IMHO we should simply extend the ‘child’ fares to cover anyone who is a beneficiary or has a community services card.

        1. Huh, that map confirms that inner suburbs are rich (and people like living near the ocean so the east coast bays are also expensive).

          Sometimes those land values can be misleading. For instance around Beach Haven the values will appear lower than they really are in practice, because the land plots extend into the bush covered gullies. You’re not allowed to clear the bush and build in those gullies. Sometimes that restriction covers over half of the area of a plot.

          Still, Beach Haven is not affluent, but it’s also not an inner suburb, it’s a 45 minute bus ride from to the CBD.

        2. No, as you can clearly see on that map, in general (i.e. there’s a few exceptions) they’re significantly less expensive than the isthmus. All the orange and red is in the central suburbs and the coastal areas. There are no blueish areas on the isthmus at all.

          You can also see the preference for coastal areas on that map, but a narrow band of rich areas along the coast will not have much influence on where the poorer outer suburbs are.

      2. I would have thought flat fares would just encourage people to live further out, thus encouraging sprawl. I also think it would increase the value of land which would mean there would be no real financial benefit for the working poor living further out.

        ‘The cost of having to maintain cars because of unfair distribution of public transport is hurting many many Aucklanders, and I’d welcome a higher priority being given to transport equity in AT’s planning.’

        Agree, this must be hurting people in the East, NW, SW and parts of the North Shore. We have gone down to one car as we live near good rapid transit options so don’t really need two anymore.

        1. Yes Patrick they do encourage sprawl and that that is a reason not to go there. However I believe that there are many other reasons that they do make sense.

          My starting point is Vienna, where for some years they have had a yearly pass that equates to about $2 per day. One of the results is that car trips only comprise about 27% of total trips undertaken with a target of less than 20% by 2025. Public transport trips per annum are huge with the figure just over 950 million. The impact on greenhouse emission reduction is obviously huge.

          Yes there is a huge cost for Vienna in running this system, but the community has obviously bought into it with yearly passes now outstripping car ownership.

          If I then look at my own backyard and contemplate SH1 north from the bridge, there has been huge money spent on addition of lanes and now fiddling with interchanges that would never have occurred if the far flung travellers could have been induced from their cars.

          Next I look at cities like London and Sao Paulo. London has the congestion tax that started at about NZ$20 and from memory is now over $22. What if we drew a circle from the middle of Queen St? What number of trips should it capture? 80,000 daily trips would produce at least 400 million dollars per year. In Sao Paulo if you choose to travel to travel to the city from distance then you pay road tolls. Travelling from 100 kms distance you encounter two tolls. Such revenue would go a long way to paying for a flat fare. And the equity of a universal flat fare system is that you can avoid the congestion charge by choosing public transport.

          As all the moderators on this blog have stated it costs a lot less to build a couple of train tracks than eight lanes of motorway. The more people that we put on public transport then the less roading expenditure that is required everywhere.

          For these and other reasons I strongly support flat fares because the good for the whole of the community outweighs any consideration of subsidising sprawl.

          I do strongly agree with your position that park and rides are wasteful. If people choose not to live on public transport corridors then they should pay for the parking and the cost should be closer to the actual price rather than a nominal cost.

  8. Great post and interesting article linked to which I fully read the other day. There is part of me that wants to visit the kind of classic 70’s-80’s New York I’ve seen in movies over the years with all its hustle, bustle, smell, fumes grit and grime (or is it crime?). Sadly I probably won’t get that chance until things a more cycle & ped friendly, electric vehicle like. That would be good too of course in a different way.

    1. Just searched murder rate by city. The winner is Caracas Venezuela with 130 per 100,000. Compare with NZ’s 1.5 (couldn’t find a figure for Auckland). So it isn’t immigration is must be socialism?

      Recommend everyone reads “The better angels of our nature” by Steven Pinker.

      1. I imagine it is more poverty and failed governments than socialism. The socialist Scandinavians have some of the lowest murder rates in the world.

        1. I was joking (actually I voted labour) but who on earth would assume murder being related to immigration? Much depends on the nature of the immigrant (wealthy, poor or middle-class) and then the culture of the immigrant (for example the detectable difference between the Northern and Southern states of the USA with the later giving ‘honour’ a higher status).
          Reading the news I get the impression that disproportionately Asian owned newsagents/dairies/liquor stores seem to be held up by disproportionately Maori/PI but without details of poverty, family breakdown and ethnic mix even that could be totally wrong. For example if say 75% of hold-ups in an area are by PIs that proves nothing until you know what percentage of the local community is PI and even then are they 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th generation Kiwis? The one statement that can be safely asserted is that the vast majority of people of whatever origin and ethnic self-identity are honest. Less poverty and more equality tends to reduce crime – it doesn’t need to change people’s morality because it does reduce the motivation for crime.

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