An odd NZ Herald article

There is a rather strange article in the New Zealand Herald today, entitled “Aucklanders stick with cars as best way to travel”. I’m not quite sure how most popular equates to “best”, but that’s not really the issue here. The article is based around a media release by Statistics NZ on the ways in which people get to and from work:

A new analysis of commuting patterns, published yesterday by Statistics NZ, shows that the proportion taking the car to work in the Auckland region rose from 78.4 per cent in 1996 to 78.6 per cent in 2001 and 78.8 per cent in the last Census, in 2006.

Public transport’s share rose in the same period from 6.1 per cent to 6.3 per cent and then 6.4 per cent.

There were slight reductions in the numbers riding bikes and motorbikes, and the number walking to work fell and then rose slightly to end the decade slightly below where they started.

Auckland’s public transport share was puny compared with 13.4 per cent in Wellington, although still slightly better than Christchurch’s 4 per cent.

Well, so what do we really have here? Some three year old statistics that someone at Stats NZ has randomly decided to release to the media gets thrown in as  something new. Of course, this kind of data is pretty depressing from the perspective of a public transport advocate, although it’s not really surprising as Auckland’s public transport rennaisance has been particularly significant in the three years since 2006.

Maybe the Herald could undertake some research to see if things have change since 2006? ARTA public transport patronage data certainly suggests there has been a significant change – with public transport ridership  at its highest level in decades. Meanwhile, NZTA data suggests that the number of people driving along our state highways has been significantly declining in recent years too. I guess that would be too much work though, it’s easier to write up an article from a media release based on statistics that are three years out of date.

Fortunately, the article actually does go on to provide us with some meaningful information – about the important relationship between employment density and public transport use. The general rule is that the more your employment is centralised (either in the CBD or in various activity nodes) the easier it is for people to use public transport.  This is further detailed:

Transport consultant Barry Mein said the dominance of the car reflected a continued dispersal of Auckland’s new jobs. The traditional central business district (CBD) still accounts for a big and growing share of all jobs in the Wellington region, up from 35 per cent in 1996 to 36.5 per cent a decade later.

“Areas with good public transport do have strong CBDs internationally, because traditionally the transport systems were centred on their CBDs.”

In Christchurch the CBD’s share fell from 25.3 per cent to 22 per cent, but remained strong.

But in Auckland, even in 1996, only 12.6 per cent of the region’s jobs were in the CBD, defined as the area between the central motorway loop and the harbour. By 2006, that proportion was down to 11.7 per cent.

“The number of employees in the CBD was about 50,000 in the 1950s and it’s still only about 70,000 now. For a number of years it didn’t grow much at all, whereas the total regional employment was growing substantially,” Mr Mein said.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of saying “oh well Auckland’s employment is decentralised, public transport will never work here (which seems to be what the general tone of the article is hinting at). However, I interpret this as actually meaning that there is a very strong link between land-use policy and public transport outcomes – so if we want to get more people using public transport then our land-use policies need to focus on concentrating employment into the CBD and other ‘hubs’ around the city. There are many identified employment hubs around Auckland: the CBD, North Harbour/Albany, East Tamaki, Mt Wellington/Penrose, Manukau City/Wiri, Newmarket/Grafton and Takapuna/Westlake. However, two-thirds of the jobs in the Auckland region are not located in any of these employment hubs – a quite incredible figure!

Clearly, if Auckland is to move away from its severe auto-dependency then we will need to focus employment around hubs that can be easily accessed by public transport – in particular the CBD. Fortunately, the regional council is heading in the right direction on that front.

Leave a comment