This is a longer post than usual, but I want to tackle a question that’s been nagging me for quite a while, as well as look into some issues with the inner workings of our transport planning system. The big question, the one that we should always be coming back to over time is: “why, despite tens of billions of dollars in investment, are so many transport outcomes generally getting worse rather than better?” To do that I’m going to run through some pretty big issues:

  1. How much do we spend on transport and what do we get for this?
  2. How should we properly understand “value for money”?
  3. What do we need to change to get better results from our huge spend on transport?

In coming up with this post I’ve talked with quite a few people in the transport sector and their thoughts have been very helpful.

What do we spend on transport and what are we getting?

Over the past 10 years central and local government between them have spent in the order of $30 billion on transport. This is a lot of public money, with transport frequently being the largest area of expenditure for local councils and the fourth or fifth biggest area of investment for central government. Budget 2017/18 documents report $5.2 billion of central government transport spending, behind only Social Development, Health, Education and Finance costs.

You pay for transport in a variety of ways:

  • Over 60 cents per litre on fuel tax, with broadly equivalent charges on diesel (which ramps up with heavier vehicles)
  • Around $1000 a year for the average Auckland ratepayer
  • Vehicle licensing fees that vary but are generally well over $100 per year per vehicle
  • A fairly big chunk from general taxation.

In Auckland, the council and government investment in transport sits at around $2 billion per year. This has increased dramatically over the past 15 years.

Source: ATAP

In some respects the impact and benefits of all this spend is obvious. Auckland now has a functioning rail system, a completed motorway network, a great Northern Busway, integrated ticketing, a few high-quality cycleways and more. But in other respects we have gone backwards:

There are a few obvious contributors to these issues. In a fast growing city like Auckland “standing still” can be an achievement. But I think this is only part of the story. To provide an analogy, it is as if we increased education spending four-fold, had really complicated systems in place to project where that money would be best spent, but then found out a decade later that kids were actually getting a poorer education.

Ultimately we should expect more from such a massive spend on transport and we need to understand what’s stopping this from happening. Given the huge amount of spend on transport over the past decade, at a high level it’s difficult to say that we have achieved “value for money” in an overall sense.

How should we understand “value for money”?

The need to achieve “value for money” from our transport spend is obvious, and highlighted in many of the plans that guide transport decision making across the country. For example, the (previously government’s) Government Policy Statement identifies “value for money” as one of its three over-arching objectives. Furthermore, there are a huge range of complex processes that exist to assess the merits of transport projects.

Given this priority that is supposedly given to value for money, how can it be that despite spending tens of billions of dollars, we have gone backwards in most key areas? I think this cuts to the heart of our broken transport planning system and requires a strong rethink about how we understand and determine “value for money”.

At the moment value for money is determined largely through a “project by project” basis, with NZTA’s complex “economic evaluation manual” (EEM) detailing the processes for assessing the benefits of a particular transport investment. This process broadly goes as follows:

  1. What will the future be like without this project?
  2. What will the future be like with this project?
  3. How does the difference between these two futures (the impact or benefit of the project) compare to its cost?

We then divide the benefits of the project by its cost and come up with what’s called a “benefit cost ratio” or BCR. If this number is above 1 then the project is considered “worth it”.  The higher the BCR, the more “value for money” that is generated.

The last government oversaw quite a substantial reduction in the average BCR for each dollar invested, as this graph from the 2011 briefing to the incoming Minister outlines pretty clearly (for reference, in the graph below low is a BCR of between 1-2, medium 2-4 and high above 4):

At first blush, you would hope that if we demanded higher BCRs for investments, we would see better overall results – better progress on congestion, a road toll that’s reducing rather than getting higher and a reduction in carbon emissions. But there are a number of reasons why I’m sceptical of whether that would actually happen:

  1. We know from endless examples around the world that you can’t build your way out of congestion through adding road capacity. However, the projects that try to do this, I’m thinking road upgrades like Lincoln Road or motorway widening, often seem to end up with pretty high BCRs.
  2. High priority safety projects, for example the upgrade of the Tamaki Drive and Ngapipi Road intersection, often struggle to get a BCR that even reaches 1. This is because monetised safety benefits of fewer deaths and serious injuries are outweighed in the EEM by travel time delays, even if those delays are only a few seconds. Yeah, crazily we do trade off lives for a bit of delay.
  3. The proportion of a project’s benefits or costs that relate to carbon emissions are generally very small. This means that whether a project increases or decreases carbon emissions will only have a very small impact on its overall BCR – in other words it’s not really taken that seriously.

So maybe we should look at value for money a bit differently, perhaps in a more holistic way? Instead of randomly coming up with projects and then “seeing what they might do”, perhaps we need to focus more on identifying and quantifying our biggest transport issues and then delving into the projects that would make the biggest difference?

One example of this approach is how we developed the Congestion Free Network. Knowing that congestion is a pretty big issue for Auckland – costing the city around $1.3 billion a year – we focused on creating an enduring solution with two main parts:

  • Creating a network that enables people to avoid congestion and to make it irrelevant to them. We know that the Northern Busway has made congestion on the Northern Motorway irrelevant to many more North Shore residents over the past decade (at least on the sections where the busway exists!)
  • Providing quality transport options to all main parts of Auckland, which will be critical for the successful roll-out of road pricing in Auckland, which time and again has been shown as the most effective way of tackling congestion.

While the Congestion Free Network is now effectively government policy, in areas like safety and reducing carbon emissions there’s no clear overall plan to achieve success – in fact it isn’t clear what the goals even are.

Overall, I think there’s a pretty clear case that we need to think about value for money differently when it comes to transport planning – in particular we need to take a much more holistic view across the whole transport sector.

What do we need to change to get better results?

Hopefully by now you agree that our current transport planning approach isn’t delivering the outcomes that we want from the huge spend we make on transport each year. Hopefully you also see how our existing ways of understanding “value for money” are fragmented, too “bottom up” and are trapping us into repeating the mistakes of the past – hoping for success when doing the very things that have not previously been successful.

So how might we change this? I’m going to run through four big changes that I think need to happen for us to achieve better results. Making all four of these changes happen is no small thing, it will need to turn the current planning system inside out to work.

  1. Shift away from fragmented “bottom up” processes for identifying projects to a far more systematic top down approach.
  2. Fundamentally change the way we predict what will happen in the future to reflect that it will not just be a continuation of the past.
  3. Close the yawning chasm between strategies and decisions that happen “on the ground”.
  4. Increase diversity among key decision-makers.
Holistic Planning

I talked a bit about shifting to a more systematic approach for identifying projects above, and how the Congestion Free Network is a fairly unusual example of this. Yet even with Auckland’s rapid transit network, which has been planned more holistically than most other transport projects, the next level of detailed planning is still fragmented. For example:

  • There’s little information available on how isthmus light-rail would integrate with the North Shore rapid transit upgrade.
  • The most recent analysis of whether Northwest Rapid Transit should be a busway or light-rail doesn’t really look at city centre bus access constraints, even though they will be the very thing that determines whether it’s worth progressing a busway before shifting to light-rail in the longer run.

Reading through the business cases of various rapid transit projects in Auckland highlights massive repetition, which adds little value while simply padding out the work done by various consultants who prepare these documents. It also means that important stuff slips through the cracks – the best example being the third main which has been critically required for years but missed out due to stupid funding policies and because it was never a clear part of any particular project.

Fragmented planning and funding means that only parts of the much needed third main have been completed.

What would a systematic, top down approach look like? It would mean more business cases like what Auckland Transport did for cycling in Auckland, where an entire mode’s role and areas of focus are worked through. It would mean a single business case for the whole rapid transit network, rather than bits and pieces of it. It would mean a similar strategy for safety, a holistic approach across all involved organisations and all possible solutions that identifies what needs to change and where to start. It would mean doing cost-benefit analyses differently – much more of a focus on assessing the costs and benefits of these programmes rather than our current bit by bit approach.

Planning for Uncertainty

Alone though, this shift won’t be enough to really fix our transport planning system. To really get more out of our transport spending we will need to get better at predicting the future – or more to the point shift away from trying to predict an exact single future when there’s so much change happening in transport around the world. To highlight how important this is, consider the following:

  • Despite ATAP’s commitment to road pricing, I’m not aware that any of the transport modelling for project business cases actually includes consideration of road pricing as being in place in the future. However, given the huge impact road pricing had on congestion, the “need” for more roading projects will almost certainly be over-estimated by not considering pricing.
  • Despite rapidly changing transport technology, I’m not aware that any current transport modelling takes the potential impacts of driverless cars, driverless buses or any other technological development when predicting the future. Most studies into new technology confirm the ongoing need for a rapid transit system, but other impacts could be huge – especially if they allow existing roads to be used much more efficiently. Once again by ignoring this we are almost certainty over-estimating the need for more roading projects.

I understand that pricing and technology changes aren’t included in project analysis because it’s just too complicated. What pricing scheme would you use and is it applied consistently across all projects? How can we model the impacts of new transport technologies when we don’t even know theoretically what these impacts might be and when they might happen?

Because the current approach to predicting the future is reliant upon predicting a single future, it becomes essentially impossible to take these massively important changes into consideration. This means the most important future changes to our transport future are ignored. There are better ways of planning for the future than this, mainly through developing a variety of different possible futures and seeing what decisions made today will still add value across a number of these. Linking back to the examples of pricing and technology, this approach could lead us down the following process:

  • Road pricing is likely to increase demand for public transport services and reduce the number of cars on the road (after all, that’s the entire point of pricing). Therefore, decision-makers should be constantly asking questions like “what might need to be done differently if public transport demand on that corridor was higher than we project?” or “would we still need that new or widened road if pricing reduced car travel along this road?”
  • Technology is likely to increase the throughput capacity of some roads (especially motorways) and could be a more cost-effective alternative to public transport in lower density, dispersed urban areas. It’s less likely to take away demand from core public transport routes. Therefore, decision-makers should be asking questions around “would we still need this new or widened road if our existing ones could carry more people?”
Close the gap between strategy and delivery

Auckland has had a broad transport strategy that prioritises alternatives to cars since at least the 2010 Regional Land Transport Strategy. The need to get better place outcomes from the transport network was strongly emphasised in the 2012 Auckland Plan. Yet so much of what happens “on the ground” shows little sign of changing at all. For example:

  • Road renewals still put streets back exactly the way they were, missing opportunities to add better walking or cycling infrastructure or to get rid of dangerous fast corners at intersections.
  • Every small pedestrian improvement remains a huge battle, even in the city centre where Auckland Transport were happy to completely destroy the Victoria Street Linear Park despite it sitting at the heart of the Council’s City Centre Master Plan.

Big strategic changes take time, but they require a really strong link between all the fancy documents that we spend much of our time looking at, with what happens out there in the real world on a day by day basis. This requires really strong and effective organisations and a genuine “buy in” to change. Over recent years this is one area that Auckland Transport have really struggled, perhaps because of poor leadership or perhaps because the high level plans have not yet filtered down into the detailed guidance which really drives day to day decision-making. With these detailed standards now being updated, through documents like the Transport Design Manual, perhaps we will finally see change. But I’m doubtful we will see real change unless there is passionate leadership put in place within these dark depths of Auckland Transport.

Increase diversity among decision makers

Almost all of Auckland Transport’s executive lead team are middle-aged white guys, which seems pretty common across key transport decision-makers. We have a Mayor and Deputy Mayor who are not only both middle-aged white guys, but also live in very similar part of Auckland.

The people on executive teams and Boards not only make decisions themselves, but they are also part of groups that make collective decisions. If the people making these decisions only represent a very small slice of Auckland then they will very often be, even sub-consciously, biased towards people who are similar to them – both in their direct decisions and in the people they hire and subsequently make further decisions on their behalf. Given that transport decision-making has long been the domain of middle-aged white guys, they are probably the group who least need the extra focus – making this problem compound on itself again and again.

Emma’s great post on the need to design cities for women picked up on this issue very eloquently:

Of course it’s not just women that we need to design for – we need our cities to be awesome and function for everyone. But the best way to do this is by getting our priorities in the right order, and flipping the “pyramid” to focus on women, women of colour, new New Zealanders, wāhine, people with disabilities, the elderly and children first. The already perfectly comfortable men can take a back seat.

The need to increase diversity among decision-makers in transport isn’t just about gender and ethnicity – as important as these are. It’s also about ensuring a good spread of decision makers across different parts of Auckland, a good spread of ages, cultures, incomes, skillsets and experience.

In a piece about the woes at Fletcher Building, Brian Gaynor wrote this of the company’s board that seems to equally apply to ATs situation.

Hassall, and many other individuals seeking board seats, emphasise their wide range of experience when shareholders would prefer more directors with specific industry expertise. This emphasis on wide experience, rather than specific industry expertise, means that our boards are dominated by accountants, lawyers, financiers, management consultants and technology specialists rather than experts in cement, steel, construction, building products and large-scale distribution.

Consultants who have presented to the Fletcher Board relate that the company’s directors don’t seem to have deep industry knowledge, their expertise is more one metre deep and a kilometre wide, rather than the other way around.

With the exception of the Deputy Chair, Wayne Donnelly who is a former CEO of Land Transport NZ (a predecessor to the NZTA), none of the board have worked in the industry before. I wonder how many truly understand the impacts of the decisions they make or when was the last time they caught a bus or train, or rode a bike in the city.

I’m confident that we would see far better decision-making with more diversity and experience among our decision-makers. I think there would be less of a focus on park and ride and more of a focus on interpeak public transport service frequencies; less of a focus on silly Devonport shuttle vans and more of a focus on safe cycleways.


Given the tens of billions of dollars the country has spent on transport over the past decade, we should have achieved more. Seeing congestion worsen, the road toll spike upwards and carbon emissions only grow is a major failure that demands fundamental change to our transport planning system. We have surely not achieved value for money, I think largely because the way we assess value for money is broken.

Fixing this mess will require big change and I have suggested four key areas to start:

  • More holistic planning
  • Planning better for future uncertainty
  • Closing the gap between strategy and delivery
  • Increasing the diversity of our decision makers

These changes won’t fix everything, but they will go a long way towards ensuring we don’t repeat the failings of the past decade.

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  1. Good synopsis Matt – clearly a lot to do isn’t there… Leadership is key, but changing the way that transport is funded is also key – to give a different style of leadership the confidence that by “doing things differently”, they won’t just see the funding tap turned off. Projects for different modes of transport are funded from different buckets by NZTA – State Highways, Local Roads, Cycling, PT Improvements and so on. Within each bucket, projects are then ranked by how well they perform – the old BCR thing again. You’ve described this all above, but what it means is that AT’s staffing structures are constructed around the way in which funding secured. Never do you see a cross discipline group of staff sit down with a blank sheet of paper and start to work out how different ways of travelling can be accommodated within the fabric of our city – which might produce an early view of the trade-offs and conflicts to arrive at a better balance of projects. What you see is one team produce its plan, then develop its projects and then, and only then, ask other teams “what do you think”. Often the response is that “you’re doing the wrong project”, but by then it’s too late – the project’s in the Long Term Plan, it’s in the calculator and it’s really hard to go back to the beginning. ATAP was meant to do this “blank sheet of paper” thinking at the very highest level, but then the project funding and appraisal framework – which is the next step – immediately plunges us back into traditional ways of thinking. It’s my mode against your mode. More holistic planning needs to be supported by funding structures that don’t penalise you for thinking differently about problems and their solutions.

    1. Yes. Competing modes might cobble together some sort of adequate transport system if they also followed the written plans, which they don’t. However, for efficient use of resources, and a truly liveable city, we need cross-discipline approaches that consider natural resources, infrastructure, opportunities and challenges in parallel. Amazing in this day and age that we’re stuck with these competing silos, and especially amazing that many of the staff actively deny the problems in the AT culture.

    2. Following the Board of Inquiry rejection of the proposed “Basin Flyover” in Wellington, LGWM (“Let’s Get Wellington Moving”) was supposed to be a cross-disciplined group starting with a blank sheet of paper to work out how different ways of travelling could be accommodated within the fabric of the city.

      But what policy-suggestions have they come up with so far? Basically just more roads for more traffic, including the possible resurrection of the already-rejected Basin flyover.

      So much for the cross-disciplined, blank-sheet-of-paper exercise.

    3. Rightly said Fred! That BCR calculator is missing a few buttons, such as equity, CO2 emissions, safety, accessibility, and secondary costs. Worse than that, it makes our planning project-based rather than holistic, which means we miss outcomes and encourage pet projects.

      A top-down approach with clear goals is missing. Which goals are important? To me it’s universal and equal access to frequent public transport, zero fatalities on the transport network, carbon emissions reducing towards zero by 2040, and access to travel for all regardless of age and mobility.

      It needs to be affordable too, so we should increase the cheapest modes of travel (walking and cycling) and reduce the most expensive which is private vehicles. The calculator approach ignores the economy of active travel, and conceals the wider cost of private vehicle usage by pushing the financial burden of car ownership back onto households.

      The BCR models calculate the price of public transport, not the value. They are not useful.

  2. Wow great read. Highlights a mess of a system that needs fundamental change.

    Hopefully the new government will make these changes. Good that Twyford and Center know transport pretty well and therefore will push to make change.

  3. Hi, excellent post. I’d go further than identifying the limited representativeness of decision-makers – not only are all the decisions seemingly made by middle-class middle-aged white guys, those people also have little personal experience of using any other form of transport than the private vehicle in their day-to-day lives. At the risk of generalising, how many of these decision-makers drive to work in their BMWs and park in their private carparks? How many of them even know what it’s like to commute using PT transfers or cycle lanes? As long as the Congestion Free Network is conceptually something that ‘other people’ will use, we’ll never unlock its full potential.

    Also, and trivially, as a Wellingtonian I’m pleased but mildly confused to see Petone interchange designs as the header image for this piece.

    1. Regarding your header picture, it is particularly relevant to show the Petone interchange, as it is apparent it is one of the more royally screwed up pieces of infrastructure planning in NZ right now. It is next to Belmont Park, but accessed through an industrial estate – so they have to buy and then destroy all the buildings on the industrial estate in order to build it. It is nearby to Horokiwi Quarry, which has been excavating rocks for over 40 years, but they plan to excavate their own route which will end up excavating more rock, via taller cuttings, than the entire quarry, and then possibly throwing all the rock in the sea in order to get rid of it. Or maybe they could store the new rock in the old quarry and fill it back up again.

      It’s now on hold as they have realised, rather belatedly, that it will be twice as expensive as planned, and that they really can’t afford it, despite already starting construction on the interchange at the other end in Porirua. Oh, and there is a massive earthquake fault line right through the middle of the picture as well.

      Seems like some actual transport planning would have been useful in this case, starting from quite some time ago.

  4. We have always compared statistical lives against travel time. Unless you think time is worthless and statistical lives are valuable beyond all cost then it makes sense to do so. The fact is that there will always be a limit on what we have to spend on transport and the people paying that money have an expectation of some of it being used to reduce delay.

    Safety improvement projects like everything else have diminishing returns. The objective question is how much are you prepared to pay to reduce the number of lives lost according to a statistical model by one? It is not a matter of how much to save your own life or a member of your family but how much to reduce a modelled outcome of likely death for someone who exists now but you probably don’t know. They might be speeding or drunk or just some poor person walking along a footpath. How much is that worth? You need to know an answer to that hard question before you get very far with this stuff.

    We probably spend too much on high cost travel time savings projects and too little on safety, but as I see it we will always need to compare them with each other if we want to know which to fund.

    1. You are possibly right Miffy but then how do we end up in a situation where the economic cost of road crashes is higher than the cost of congestion, but most money goes to congestion rather than safety?

      1. If that is true it is not because somebody compared safety and travel time and reached a rational choice. It is because the last two governments moved to a system where that comparison process can be ignored and projects were chosen for political reasons.
        I will also add that I don’t really know what people mean by the cost of congestion, I mean compared to what? Certainly the cost of travel time is higher than the cost of crashes.

      2. Projected time savings are never achieved, right? Same number of vehicles at a higher average speed just doesn’t happen in practice. So the assumptions in the evaluation models are clearly wrong (and not in a way that is a useful proxy for something else). In these circumstances, perverse outcomes are hardly surprising.

        1. Travel time savings do occur for some projects, Errol. You can look at the Post-Implementation Reviews. The incorrect assumption in the models, that traffic simply increases, regardless of the project, affects some projects more than others – it’s more true for roads on the outskirts, for example, and travel time savings there can be even better than “modelled” if the anticipated development didn’t happen as fast as expected.

          You’re right that the assumptions are wrong.

          I think what Auckland needs is to stop bothering with models for a while, and collect data while we invest in PT, active modes and safety improvements. Once data is collected on, say, a 10-year programme like this, we can start to build a completely new model.

    2. Nah, mfwic, proof’s in the pudding. Give it all away, and let’s start counting other beans. Like carbon and opportunities for teenagers.

  5. In case anyone isn’t clear on the current process, it is something like this:
    1) set wooly mission statement to improve PT and cycling to appease the public
    2) choose a set of favourite road projects based on personal preference / lobbying / kickbacks / anecdotes from your local bowls club
    3) fudge a high BCR for you favourite projects by overestimating benefits and excluding most of the costs
    4) if a multi billion dollar project doesn’t stack up no matter how much you fudge it, call it a road of national significance
    5) if a project is unpopular with public, add a cheap bus lane or cycle track and call it multi modal
    6) pretend to start a few PT and cycling projects to make people feel better. Run some consultations with businesses, old or entitled people to delay and water down project. Make sure the delivery date is at least 3 years after the projected date.
    7) pat yourself on the back when the ribbons are cut knowing that you will never have your performance assessed and your cushy salary is safe for life
    8) rinse and repeat

      1. Jimbo, I like it. My only frustration was that I couldn’t make the Ronwood car park fit anywhere. A project that had a cost of about $25 million and has a return of assets of about 0.4%. And it seems deemed so successful that Takapuna is going to get two. But why only two if they are such an outstanding success.

        How many times can the political process produce rubbish results?

  6. Great summary Matt. It is worth noting that the calculated annual cost of road deaths and serious injuries in AKL is roughly the same as that for congestion, around $1.3b, and growing. Yet the trade off between travel delay and safety has never reflected that. This is especially shocking as we know the travel time savings of road expansions are temporary at best, but the harm grows with every new vehicle journey.

    In contrast very little harm comes to anyone on a bus, train, or ferry. Traffic is the killer.

    The Congestion Free Network, should really be called the the Congestion and Harm Free Network. And its economic value doubled.

    (Then there is the environmental and public health outcomes which are so savagely undervalued in economic evaluations too).

    1. +1 too
      What stands out for me is $1000 a year ratepayer contribution towards transport. Mostly roads? That is a big subsidy of favoured transport projects/modes.
      A conversation on the big picture consequences of this spend is important. Well done Matt for so clearly initiating this conversation.

      1. Patrick, I would go so far as to say that the money spent in the city on “safety projects” might be better spent on public transport.
        The other day I quoted the London example where they introduced the congestion charge. Bus ridership increased by 37% and at the same time road harm injuries decreased by between 40 and 70%. As you say, people on buses and trains largely don’t get harmed.

      2. A very large portion of deaths and serious injuries in Auckland are those walking and cycling. I’d be very reluctant to take anything off the pitiful budgets for these modes.

  7. This is great within the detail.

    At a slightly higher level, the Minister could do worse than to alter the nature and importance of the Transport GPS. This is due out soon.

    But Matt, what you are describing is a set of decision-making criteria whose personnel inside NZTA have been devastated by top-down changes under their Chief Executive. There is almost no remaining expertise on clear decision-making left within NZTA. There are very few left who understand anything of what you are describing. There is also no sign that they can seriously see that the government has changed.

    Neither the Chief Executive nor the NZTA Board are doing anything to stabilise such decision-making frameworks as you describe. Quite the opposite: they are ruled more by fiat than by traceable algorhythm or defendable decision-making processes.

    Related, AT itself has made such a poor start to the RLTP that their own Board rejected it. This has put Auckland Council’s RLTP processes in a very difficult position, in terms of their statutory timeframe to consult.

    So central and local government have started the year very poorly, and will take months to recover.

    Which brings me to my main criticism of your piece: you forgot the role of democracy. The LTP and RLTP processes changes the transport priorities about 25% in my experience. How is this managed?

    And then after that is the role of politics, which is also sadly neglected in your piece.
    Neither Alpurt B nor Vic Part SH1 trenching, for example, would have occurred if Minister Annette King hadn’t specifically put her finger on the scales in favour of the environment. Algorhythms have their limits.

    What I suspect will happen is that the Minister won’t have time to deal with this.

    His task is to re-form transport and housing delivery together into a single framework and set of structures. He must deliver housing, integrated with transport, not the other way around. That will be costly to him in parliament, and across the industry – where its net effect will be to slow the entire national delivery pipeline while structures are inevitably restructured yet again. But that is the top-down task he is on record to be accountable for.

  8. I have very little understanding of where BCR numbers are sourced, but I imagine they are largely around economic estimates based on reducing travel delays. This assumes that getting to work more quickly will mean a more productive day, which is assuming a lot. Most people arrive to work to fulfill the hours they are required to work, as very few companies can adequately measure actual efficiency. Perpetual Guardian is having a trial of this, which may be fruitful in indicating how to better manage the worker’s life. If a BCR was to take into account pollution (ie by improving highways, more people are encouraged to drive a car upon such highway, thus producing more carbon), hospitalisation costs (from accidents, including those from inadequate cycling and walking infrastructure), policing costs, and as you mention, more holistic aspects (reading on the train etc.), then public transport and cycling would produce better BCRs (although they might not be able to be called BCR, so maybe LIFs? Life Improvement Factor? Who does the B in BCR benefit anyway?

    1. +1 And there’s a lot to be said for Bhutan’s approach. Replace GDP with GHI too. Seriously, temporarily low travel times dictating our decisions around transport? Mad! Worse than mad, I’d call it criminal: comparing summations of these temporary travel time improvements with people’s actual lives, the ‘cost’ of which are calculated way, way too low (the cost of each life lost to traffic accidents in my family has been far, far higher than any estimate I’ve ever seen.) Why criminal? Because NZTA know these travel times are temporary, but won’t acknowledge it. People’s death becomes a game, not because we shouldn’t try to estimate relative costs, but because the people making the calculations know the scales are rigged.

  9. In LTP workshops, AT can bring in their algorhythms and show how tweaking the weighting of each criteria forms a demonstrable outcome for the overall programme, and just as importantly for the condition, maintenance, subsidy, and maintenance of the entire network.

    I haven’t seen them do it live before a studio audience,so to speak, because AT are the Transport Committee charged with putting up a single plan.

    However, while AT’s Board are certainly charged with that, they have to demonstrate how they are giving effect to the Letter of Expectation, AT strategy, and SOI.

    Certainly I have seen Watercare go through dozens of scenarios for AC Council before the LTP is formed, so that their pricing can as perfectly as possible reflect political and democratic concerns as well as sustain their strategic direction and their Asset Management Plans.

    I’m not sure if NZTA do that for their Minister. But it would be good if someone asked.

    The instruments that will really change allocations around in the programme across whole classes are already pretty clear:
    – Transport GPS
    – NLTP
    – Government budget

    All of those are coming down the pipeline in a hurry.

  10. A satisfying post – at least it is if you believe asking the right big picture questions is essential.

    Clearly Matt knows far more about what he is talking about than I do but I suspect we could enjoy a pleasant few days discussing some of the issues raised. These are some of the points I would like discussed
    1. isn’t there a danger that ‘holistic’ solutions devolve into ‘gut feel’ and therefore end up as politics and vested interests?
    2. diversity is a serious issue in itself. Democracy is the essential first step to achieving it. Then for AT Transport obviously learning best practise from other countries makes sense but it is often achieved by visiting and learning rather than employing foreigners (many virtues are invisible to the society that has them but will stand out to the stranger – or don’t expect fish to be experts in the theory of water). The diversity that is significantly lacking in transport decisions is not colour, not gender, not age (Matt’s ‘middle aged white guys’ is repeated three times for emphasis) but class. In the past a council with Labour party councilors would have representatives who knew poverty and manual labour and the value of work (The UK’s greatest foreign minister started life pushing a barrow at 14). Phil Goff did start work at 16 in the freezer works and as a cleaner but rapidly ended up as a senior scholar with 1st class honours 45 years ago. How much does he remember from 50 years ago and what aspects of public transport from the sixties would be relevent now? A man or woman in a wheelchair on the AT board would focus minds far more than a disability focus group. Diversity by all means but you mean diversity in thinking – honestly colour really does make no difference. BTW I do like our mayor being called middle-aged because that means I only became ‘elderly’ fairly recently. Age equates to wisdom but that lets say that is debatable.
    3. Planning for alternative futures – yes please. We could have drastic sea-level changes or a volcano and Auckland’s population shrink or then again cheap artificial milk and meat are expected in the next five years which might decimate rural NZ with farmers moving to our cities and Auckland’s population growth accelerate as would say a couple of million climate change refugees. So planners should be planning for say an Auckland with 2.5 million and then just adjust their projects priorities according to when that is expected. For example a new harbour crossing; it has been talked about ever since I arrived in 2002. What would happen if the bridge was found to be too dangerous to use tomorrow? Surely a detailed plan should be in place now. When we start work on a new crossing is another issue dependent on funding and politics and Matt’s holistic planning but a detailed project plan should exist now.

    1. Bob, I agree regarding diversity of thought. Much more important than superficial diversity like age/race/sexuality/gender/wealth/education which can be pretty irrelevant. You can get a pretty diverse group of people that all think the same.

      The problem is that people of the same age/race/sexuality/gender/wealth/education are much more likely to think the same than a more diverse group of people in general. This is well known from qualitative studies. Until there is some quantitative test that can measure a person/groups’ diversity of thought, then the best alternative is to try and get a good spread of society represented. Especially the more vulnerable segments who tend to be under-represented among decision makers.

      1. The problem with a technocracy is that you need technical skills. If you sacrifice ability for diversity, you won’t improve decision making. Diversity can be introduced during the consulting process, but for process and design you need the highest technical ability, regardless of background.

      2. Ari: ideally a confident board will be looking for new members who will challenge their ideas. Having Maori, Indian, Chinese, African etc will do little good to solve our transport woes. What would be useful in a board is having old and young, male and female, left and right wing, introverted and extroverted, technical and financial knowledge. Maybe the best attribute is broad use of all forms of transport.

  11. Good post, Matt. You’ve avoided talking about how AT is controlled, or not. Is that because you think the current structure can work?

  12. Great article and very succinctly put!! Something that has actually been talked about for years in the corridors of NZTA and local authorities (yes it is true) but relies on the Ministry and political will be change!
    One area of discussion that you have missed or maybe just not discussed as it equally huge is land use decisions. Transport Planning 101 talks by the intrinsic link between land use and transport – they influence each other as demand for access is determined by the land use and land use is determined by accessible it is – also a chicken and egg situation and hence latent demand. If we better planned our cities we might improve congestion but for our current cities it seems to be viewed as crazy to relocate major land uses but acceptable to spend billions on build a road right through the middle! Why is that? An example of this could be – relocate Wellington airport to north of Wellington (not claiming it’s totally feasible) – the Levin to Airport study would look quite different and the Basin Reserve flyover would never have existed. Let’s hope any RMA review will take more consideration of this argument – at least for our major cities!

  13. I’d go higher in my top down approach. I think the AT board, council and senior engineers should decide on a set of well defined high level publicised goals. For example:
    – Increase number of residents within 5 minute walk of high speed PT by 20% by 2023
    – Decrease road deaths by 20% by 2022
    – Increase cycle mode share to Auckland city to 10% by 2020
    Then all projects can be measured on how they will help achieve a goal rather than their BCR. A 6 monthly or yearly review will assess how well the goals are being met.
    I know it is open to political interference – but at the end of the day this is a democracy so maybe it should be.

    1. +1, that would be a good way to make a process to compare projects to be objective, while allowing the value placed on the inputs to be subjective.

      1. What about a high level statement like this?

        A sustainable future
        Wiener Linien operates Vienna’s entire local public transport network, thereby contributing to the city’s excellent quality of life. The focus here is on striking a sustainable balance between social responsibility, commercial success and environmental interests.

        Conserving resources, reducing energy consumption, cutting CO2 emissions – the less energy we use for transport, the more energy we have to put into developing new ideas. After all, it is the combination of many small steps that makes a sustainable future possible. However, no matter what, there is no doubt in Wiener Linien’s mind that environmentally-friendly urban mobility is the key to future quality of life in the city – and this is on track(s).

        Every journey on public transport pays dividends
        This why we continually invest in the network, shorten intervals, extend existing lines and create new connections. This pays dividends – for passengers and for the environment. Individuals who switch to public transport save up to 1,500 kg of CO2 emissions every year.

        Specifically, the rising number of passengers using public transport has already translated into 130 gigawatt-hours of fossil energy from road traffic being saved every year. This corresponds to the energy needs of a small town such as Judenburg or Kitzbühel.

        Wouldn’t all the details just flow from here?

        I have never seen this system, but every time I talk to people from that city I can’t believe the passion that they have for it. I was listening just last week to my son talking to a young woman from there. Do you have a car? he said. “Why would I she replied? I can go anywhere that I want in the city by PT and much faster.”

        The world’s most livable city for seven of the last eight years. It’s a useful starting point I suggest.

      2. That’s a pretty good vision statement. I think the previous government had an allergic dislike of things like vision, strategies and other such words. It all got turned into “fixing problems”.

        My take away from the post is that our transport planning system has got into a bind where we think that by trying to solve little problems it will all add up to solving our big problems. But this just hasn’t turned out to be true.

        Probably because we’ve been terrible at working out which issues are the most significant… which has happened because of a lack of vision and strategy.

  14. Some thoughts.

    1) Free up the land use planning system by removing zoning and going effects based only so that it can better respond to transport.

    2) Congestion tolls are needed at least in Auckland for a start. The Government should commit to their introduction “at some stage” & indicate through the GPS that they should included in transport modellling to the planning horizon for project evaluation purposes.

    3) Remove the transport funding from rates and add it onto the fuel tax. Ratepayers are subsidizing road users. Same for freight trucks, as far as I understand they still underpay relative to the road damage they cause.

    4) PT as the main alternate mode when congestion tolls are implemented, two things are needed:
    a) a full coverage all stops network with min 30 min headways (use on-demand services where fixed routes are not economic) This is true “public transport”
    b) Otherwise provide rapid transit overlaying the full coverage network. There is no point providing additional expensive PT that isn’t at least as fast & if not faster than car if there is a full coverage network underneath.

    5) As far as I am aware the NZ Transport Economic Manual procedures only include health benefits for the active modes. This is incorrect. Roading schemes have a health disbenefit (mode shift to road & longer trips via reduced generalized costs) which should be included. This biases the analysis towards roading.

    6) As far as I am aware the NZ Transport Economic Manual procedures only use base year real costs. Where I am we include future real costs as well. This would allow future real (estimated) carbon costs to be built into the modelling. Given the carbon price is likely to rise substantially in the future this would further correct some the existing bias towards roading projects. (as a simplification one could use an average real cost over the planning period a a base year cost & remain using base year real costs)

    7) The value of life NZ uses for safety analysis could potentially be higher. Some other jurisdictions use higher values. This would improve the economics for safety works.

    8) NZ could do with a single nationwide transport infrastructure concept design / design manual aligned with vision zero. New works would have to meet this standard and the worst existing sites retrofitted to it.

    9) I disagree with the statement “we cant build our way out of congestion” as it lacks context. Congestion “mainly” only reoccurs through population growth and increased demand. Induced trips from the existing population only marginally add to existing traffic flows. However the statement is true in respect that there is never enough funding to build our way out and we don’t apply congestion tolls which would manage peak demand.

    10) A holistic approach would include ensuring there are cycle and walk bridges/tunnels every 500m to 1km across urban motorways & local road connection about every 2.5km, or that the motorways are buried or elevated. Motorways are a necessary evil (unless you have true grid network – many paths) but destroy the urban fabric for all other transport modes.

    1. Some good suggestions here. Especially around changing the economic evaluation manual to truly consider long run health and environmental impacts.

    2. I agree with most of what you say, but what are you basing this on? “Induced trips from the existing population only marginally add to existing traffic flows.” Do you disagree with Duranton and Turner’s findings that road capacity is what induces traffic? They say specifically:

      “Individuals drive more when the stock of roads in their city increases.”And:

      “To sum up, of four possible sources for the new traffic following an increase in lane kilometers of interstates, changes to individual behavior and changes in commercial driving are the most important. Migration and traffic diversion are significantly less important.”

    3. 2) congestion charges are a horrible regressive flat tax on the working poor aimed at reserving publicly owned and subsidised roads for the rich. I sure hope labour don’t go down that route.

      1. If our toll system is all setup based on online accounts etc it would be easy to implement a discounted system to those with a Community Services Card. I think they used to have a 2 tier system with the card for extra low income families which they could always re-introduce.
        Besides there are many other ways to off set this which perhaps are already part of our tax system. eg Working for Families Tax Credits (poorer larger families receive more). Fuel tax could be reduced/not increased. No system is perfect but I’m not convinced this is a valid argument against it. Goods at the supermarket or “The Warehouse” will be cheaper because the delivery trucks can get around quicker (these delivery vehicles are currently having to run more vehicles around the roads to get the same amount delivered in the day due to congestion).

      2. The existing fuel taxes are a ‘horrible regressive flat tax’ that a number of Labour governments have supported, why would they look at congestion charging any differently.

      3. Jimbo, I think we need to note that the minimum wage will increase by $3.25 over the next three years and a congestion charge will only be a small proportion of that.

        I struggle to see that a congestion charge in the city will be a major issue. Everyone who currently drives and parks in the city is paying parking charges of about $24 a day. Respectfully, poor people and many not so so poor don’t drive anyway.

        Most of all I think that you have completely lost sight of the issue. The purpose of a congestion charge is to remove people from the roads. To enable poor people to drive because of some concept of social justice just just seems counter intuitive.

        I would have thought that making available very cheap public transport is the best alternative for poor people and rich people alike. If people still choose to drive then it seems reasonable that they should pay for it.

  15. @ kiwi_overseas. “Induced trips from the existing population only marginally add to existing traffic flows.”

    Can you point to some significant research that validates this very generalised statement? My own observation is that new and improved roading infrastructure that makes it quicker or easier to drive has a big effect on the travel-patterns of the existing population. People will often make major decisions regarding location or employment as well as myriad minor ones such as “shall I make this trip or not”, based on the perceived ease and speed of the journey.

    Adding a new and improved public transport service is well-documented for its ability to generate new PT trips as well as attracting them from other modes. Why do you claim this would not apply to new and improved roading as well?

    I agree that it *may* be possible to “build our way out of congestion” by altering the entire fabric of the city and its transport infrastructure. Some mid-sized American cities seem to have achieved this, but generally these were designed from scratch with auto-dependence in mind.

  16. Dave B – I don’t have any research at hand, but its an interesting question.

    You are right. When I stated induced traffic I was thinking only of the short term effects of additional trip making not the rerouting or longer term O & D shifts.

    Empirically it is the cities with high population grow that have the majority of road network improvements in their books vs low growth/no growth cities that have a small number.
    But yes, the existing population benefits significantly from the improvements and will shift origins and destinations, reroute & make some additional discretionary trips.

    It would be interesting to compare the effects.
    – existing population with/without an improvement
    – effect of the population growth only with the improvement (the existing population travel pattern would have to be fixed as the no improvement case)
    Much would depend on the relative sizes of the existing population vs growth & also the spatial location of the improvement.

    1. You might find some of your answers here.

      There’s not much more to it than roading capacity. Auckland’s increase in traffic is coming from the road expansion of the last few decades; those effects are ongoing. If there was no immigration, and no further road building, the traffic increases would still continue for 10 -20 years or so. We can only reverse it or even halt it now by road contraction.

      Also, specifically, “metropolitan areas with less traffic experience a stronger increase in travel” which presumably means that even the small increase in traffic from population growth is even smaller in cities like Auckland that are already congested.

      Leave population growth out of it. The causes of traffic increase are sprawl and road widening. We can accommodate more people throughout the isthmus and have no increase in traffic as a result. If we take the initiative to reallocate road space to PT and active modes, that reduction in road capacity will reduce traffic.

  17. I think all of us including the paper miss a couple of important points.

    A population will not drive further than they can financially afford to (bounded by their time constraints)
    The increase in motorised travel is occurring on the back of the long term reduction in the real cost of motoring (real vehicle prices & real oil prices) & reflected by vehicle ownership per capita.
    Only the very rich could afford a car when they were first invented. Now some older vehicles are as cheap as latest mobile phones (no one could afford those either when they first came out).
    Also people tend to treat the purchase cost as a sunk cost and only have to worry about petrol & maybe maintenance when they drive.
    Thus the real price point at which demand and supply intersect has shifted hugely.

    Another important point is that congestion is mainly the morning peak home to work + (non home to work (mainly ex home) + home to education with fewer discretionary trips (most are all doing the HBW, NHBW & HBEd) & its traffic concentration towards the CBD rather than dispersion.
    Off peak there is generally little congestion (relative to peak) & mainly in areas such as CBDs.
    For a static population the number of work trips will be relatively static.
    The biggest increase in congestion then relates to the HBEd.
    Kids used to walk and bike to school, they all now get driven both because the real cost has dropped and the perceived/real social dangers.

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