Justice, the missing piece in the Labour-led government’s transport plan.


The new Labour-led Government has announced new plans for Auckland’s public transport (PT) network including a multibillion-dollar investment in light rail to the airport and West Auckland. These project has been part of Labour’s transport policies to make “Auckland a world-class city”.

In Labour’s transport manifesto, PT is about giving choices to people, having less congestion, reducing wasted time and fuel costs. The new transport services are expected to be a “cheaper, less stressful, healthier and environmentally friendly” alternative to driving. In total, there will be an extra $3.3b investment over the next 20 years. These projects are expected to make Auckland a “better” place to live.

But the question is better for who?

Fairness in Auckland PT system

Auckland Plan values fairness and equality in many contexts including PT planning. A fair PT provides good access to employment, healthcare, and education.

To realise the capability of our diverse population and communities, we must be a fair and inclusive city, and an accessible and well-connected city … Auckland to be viewed as a city of prosperity and opportunity, and an inclusive, safe, tolerant city, which promotes equality. (Auckland Plan, p 70)

Transit systems are bounded in space, therefore, they inevitably yield an uneven distribution of user benefits. The issue of justice is so intrinsic in transit planning that a better PT system simply means a more just PT system. While the more tangible environmental and economic outcomes of the new PT plans are more straightforward to measure, the less tangible social outcomes are more difficult to measure. Therefore, the political parties, as has happened for Auckland, tend to focus less on justice.

Accessibility provided by a PT system is known to be its distinct social benefit, therefore, it can be used as a useful indicator of the socioeconomic opportunities arising from PT and land use systems. This can reveal any disparity in the spatial distribution of PT services. In other words, the accessibility measure can show where PT provides a better service and where it is worse.

A technical breakthrough for analysing the distributive benefits of PT services happened with the introduction of General Transit Feed Specifications (GTFS). GTFS is the only worldwide standard format for public transit stops, routes, and schedules (for full description see Google’s GTFS Reference). GTFS can be used to measure the cumulative opportunity, or potential, approach and sums the number of essential destinations reachable within certain times by PT. This is exactly what I have done for Auckland’s PT services (the map below is also available as a web map here).


Now, the question is how the new PT plans are going to change this distribution? who benefits more from these billion-dollar investments? The Labour government needs to be able to justify the fairness in their plans otherwise the connection between what is promised in the Auckland Plan and what is happening in practice can be weakened. I have to clarify here that I expect the new PT plans to promote justice. However, when justice is not the main concern any improvement, if not a coincident, is only a random side effect and might be ignored.


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