Modernization and the Public

February 9th, 2018

Re: Yes, Auckland is congested

As a student and recorder of Auckland’s transport history, I am rarely surprised by the many topics and concepts, often referred to by the contributors to Greater Auckland, that are repeats of the observations and concerns of past commentators. The final sentence of Matt L’s post: “Getting the communications right on this might be half the battle…” reminded me of a lengthy article published by New Zealand Engineering on 15 June 1954. It was written by J W F Welch who was then the Chief Engineer of the Auckland Transport Board:

“Modernization and the Public

“The importance of establishing a good public relations service should not be overlooked when embarking upon any modernization plan which alters the travel habits of the public. It is a curious but nevertheless well-known fact in transport circles that no other industry is so sensitive to or subject to such adverse criticism of any changes as the transportation of the public. These observations apply to the industry as a whole, but the criticism seems to become more intensified when the transport system is municipally or state-controlled. There is considerable conservatism to be found among users of transport, and they do abhor any change.

“Every time methods of transport are altered there appears the usual spate of criticism, whether it be conveyed by letter or in person, and the only comfort a transport manager can derive in this regard is to read the newspaper files of happenings which occurred about the turn of the century and to note that the fathers and mothers of those who are now so loud in their protestations also had similar things to say when horse trams were replaced by the new-fangled electric trams for which a very gloomy future was prophesied.

“Before the motor car became an important factor in the problem of street congestion, public transport could proceed through city streets almost without hindrance, and passengers could alight from, or board, public transport almost at their place of business. Today, however, almost half of the travelling time to a distant suburb is occupied in traversing the city section, where congestion and delays at intersections account for the prolonged overall time of the journey…”

Re: Garbage In/Garbage Out

November 8th, 2017

It is interesting to note how little the numbers game has changed since 1955 when the Railways Commission reported to the then Minister of Railways, Mr Goosman, on August 27 of that year, that it was unable to recommend that the Morningside deviation, as proposed, be proceeded with. This recommendation was forwarded to the Technical Advisory Committee of the Auckland Regional Planning Authority, the body responsible for the production of the Master Transportation Plan for Metropolitan Auckland – the grand plan that overwhelmingly recommended roads, roads, and more roads as the only solution to Auckland’s growing traffic congestion.

The Railways Commission reported: “The Morningside deviation with electrification of the suburban railway system between Henderson and Papakura was estimated to cost £10,876,000…was estimated to take five and a half years to complete.”

But, “To ensure a reasonable financial return on the high capital cost involved it is essential that this modern form of rail transport receive the maximum possible public patronage, having full regard to the necessity for other forms of public transport in the City of Auckland…If these conditions can be fulfilled it is considered that 25 million passenger journeys per annum will accrue to rail in the early years of operation (say 1960-1963), increasing to 35 million passenger journeys by 1980.”

“With this patronage it is estimated that during the first years of electric operation the existing steam operating loss of £189,000 (excluding interest charges) will be reduced to £97,000. In other words, the railways will earn an additional operating profit of £92,000 per annum, which represents a return of 0.85 per cent on the net capital investment of £10,876,000. If interest at 3½ per cent on a reducing balance is taken into account, the capital expenditure involves an increase of £297,000 in interest charges, and the present aggregate annual loss of £202,000 is increased to £407,000 – an increase of £205,000.”


“By 1980 it is estimated that the operating annual loss (excluding interest charges) will be reduced to £25,000, as compared with £189,000 at present and £97,000 in 1960. The improved operating position will then represent a return of 1.4 per cent on the capital investment. Taking interest at 3½ per cent into account, the aggregate annual loss will be £353,000 in 1980 as compared with £202,000 at present and £407,000 in 1960.”

Then, after the disgorging of numbers which must have confused even the most awake of forensic accountants, the Commission’s report abruptly changed tack with:

“The commission is not satisfied that an effective co-ordinating transport authority for the Auckland metropolitan area can be readily established. Without essential control and co-ordination of public transport there can be no assurance that an electrified suburban rail system will attract adequate patronage, and for this reason the project cannot be considered as other than a doubtful proposition at the present time. In these circumstances the commission is unable to recommend that the project be proceeded with.”

Auckland Smarter Transport Pricing Project

June 10th, 2017

While the fundamental purpose of the recently-announced, joint initiative of the Government and the Auckland City Council by way of the Auckland Smarter Transport Pricing Project is somewhat different, it is nevertheless similar in many ways to the Roading Investigation undertaken in March 1952. Instigated by then Minister of Works, William Stanley Goosman, the eventual report of the Roading Investigation Committee was completed in February 1953.

Of course, priorities were somewhat different sixty-five years ago. One of the main concerns then was not the building of new roads but the strengthening of existing roads and streets so they could withstand the inundation of larger and faster motor vehicles. As the Committee observed, “A comparison of registration figures between those of 1932 and 1952 shows that while the number of cars increased during the twenty-year period from 148,159 to 293,236, the number of trucks increased from 31,319 to 98,668. This means that while the number of cars almost doubled, the number of trucks more than trebled…The growing relative importance of trucks to cars in 1952…indicates a fundamental change in the character of motor transport.”

[Ironically, one of the heavier vehicles to cause a problem was the trolley-bus, so much so that it received special mention by the Roading Investigation Committee: “These vehicles have created special major problems of road construction and maintenance for some of our cities…Contrary to popular belief, trolley-buses, which appear to be the smoothest of vehicles in operation, are in fact excessively severe on road maintenance…Recent developments in Auckland afford even more striking evidence of the effects of these vehicles…In all, twelve streets, mostly with considerable thickness of road formation, have been seriously damaged by trolley-bus traffic and now require extensive reconstruction.”]

Where the two investigations naturally correspond is of course with the issue of local and Government funding. One of the recommendations of the Roading Investigation Committee resulted in the replacement of the Main Highways Board with the National Roads Board and the establishment of a National Roads Fund to finance all road building and maintenance. The Committee recommended that the Fund should receive all road-user taxation as well as a Central Government contribution of approximately 12½ per cent of the nation’s road bill but, of course, that was not to be.

The stated purpose of the Auckland Smarter Transport Pricing Project specifically rules out the raising of extra revenue. Nevertheless, as in 1953, the question of who ultimately pays for this latest roading problem, in terms of proportionality between the road user, local Government, and Central Government, is likely to remain as imponderable as ever.

This imponderability is explored in greater detail in the soon-to-be-published, second volume of Auckland transport history, Gas Pedal to Back-Pedal – The Second Century of Auckland Transport. In the meantime, the scene is set by Waka Paddle to Gas Pedal – The First Century of Auckland Transport, now available as a paperback and EBook from Amazon or as an EBook from Kobo Books.

Farewell 2016

January 2nd, 2017

During the last days of 2016, various commentators reflecting on the events of that year have recently spoken of the apparent neglect of citizens’ basic concerns by their country’s politicians. For instance, the unemployed in the USA and Europe have felt disenfranchised by the globalisation of trade which has led to the closure of factories and the disappearance of many traditional jobs in their home countries. At the same time, tens of thousands of refugees from the Middle East and Africa have been allowed to enter and encumber the social and political infrastructure of much of Europe. No wonder a majority of British citizens voted to exit the European Union and Donald Trump was elected U.S. President during that tumultuous year. But, for whatever reasons these events did occur, the fundamental motive of those voters seems to have been their desire to regain control from politicians who they felt no longer represented their views; who they felt no longer knew of, or sympathised with, their local needs.

This is not a new phenomenon. The need for local control of community affairs existed long before national politics and ideologies assumed command and influenced so much of everyday life; long before party politics transformed local representatives to national lapdogs.

In New Zealand, during the 1930s, there were some 700 local authorities serving the needs of a population of about 1.5 million. Long before the amalgamation of its many local bodies, infrastructure, and services to form the present ‘super-city’, Auckland consisted of as many as 17 local authorities, each with their own ideas as to how their districts and responsibilities could best be served. While the implementation of those ideas might directly benefit a borough’s comparatively small number of citizens, more often than not, they prejudiced the aspirations of the city as a whole.

But there have been exceptions. Newmarket’s Olympic Pool, envisaged and financed through the Local Government Loans Board in 1938 and opened on 17 February 1940, was a prime example of just such a local body initiative that provided an immense asset to Auckland. As the Auckland Star reported on opening day, “…the new Olympic swimming pool…is considered the finest of its kind in either Australia or New Zealand…the first of its kind in this Dominion.”

It is doubtful that a larger authority, and certainly not a national government, would have proceeded at the time with such a public amenity. The administrators of the day were too intent on planning roads and motorways that would never fully cope with the inundation of motor vehicles to come. Even the far-sighted Newmarket Borough Council, in line with the national aspirations of the time, borrowed £3500 more than the £15,500 it needed to build the Olympic Pool.

The additional finance was used to provide municipal parking areas in the borough. Even swimmers had to park somewhere.


Keith Mexsom

June 18th, 2012

Investigative Journalist and Transport Writer – please refer to my Profile and Portfolio pages for more information.

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