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Eco-mobility

What ifs: a future with eco-mobility.

Auckland, New Zealand, may be a small-scale city compared to others around the world but it has its share of mobility issues. It certainly isn't ‘eco-mobile’. Give us the slightest drizzle of rain and suddenly traffic jams up. Our public transport system? A prime target for casual hate sentiment. On a bad day it even has its own hashtag on Twitter.


Our lingering problem is that Auckland grew out generally unplanned. A few centres formed then the rest was haphazard 'fill the gaps' development. An extensive coast-to-coast tram network was removed in the modernist 1950s in favour of cars, cars and more cars. That unfortunate mentality remains today – it is our symbol of freedom, a part of the Kiwi dream.


But now in the 21st century, we have the knowledge and, hopefully, the drive to create more sustainable transport options for the future of our cities. In an attempt to experience the local day-to-day of Melbourne, Australia, I chose to travel everyday by train in from the suburbs. The transport card reminded me of similar systems I used around London and China – the hallmark of an integrated transport network. Of course, there are the things to be expected: an occasional late train, thinking "why did I ever resort to public transport?" But all in all, the robust infrastructure allows you to go anywhere around Melbourne without a car.


There is always a rivalry between New Zealand and our neighbour Australia. Auckland, like many cities around the world, is going through some growth pains. Transport infrastructure, such as the City Rail Link, aimed at a future Auckland is being introduced, sparking great debate. Although we may beat many Australian cities on the ubiquitous liveability scales, this won’t continue if Auckland grows at its current rate without further thought and action.
"We know there is still a lot of work to be done. Our transport infrastructure puts us behind other cities on the international indices, and handicaps our people and our economy."
- Mayor Len Brown, Mayor of Auckland 

It’s just so hard for people operating in a car-centric city like Auckland to even imagine what it would be like to be in an eco-mobile city. We don’t know what it is like to live in a cycling city such as Amsterdam or drive around in an eco-mobile vehicle.  We don't know how it feels to be in a city without a desperate need for cars and smelly diesel buses! Connecting with other cities with different technologies and new ideas on eco-mobility gives us more insight to improve our city's transport.



The Eco-mobility World Festival 2013 happening later in the year calls upon the ‘global village’ to explore these ideas. The Korean city of Suwon takes on a very practical challenge to prove the merits of eco-mobility. Using technologies and approaches from across the world, the Haenggung-dong neighbourhood is going without cars for an entire month during the festival. Is this an incredible feat? Or will be it effortless? We shall see! This is where some people will get to experience eco-mobility in the flesh. For the rest of us who aren’t at the festival, this knowledge will be shared over oceans to start changing our thinking around daily transport; a different philosophy in getting from A to B. 

Personally, I can’t wait to see what comes out of it!

6 comments:

  1. Lovely to say that Melbourne has it all together, but there's a lot written about it as lacking radial connections - easy to come in and out of the city, but difficult to traverse across suburbs, unless you have a car. Similarly to Auckland, I'm sure, Melbourne grew during the post war era, fuelled with an increase in car ownership.

    Also, much debate on where govt funding should go - rail linkages or new freeways? http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-03-14/eastern-freeway-best-route-for-doncaster-rail-line3a-report/4573286 or http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/the-eastwest-vision-for-a-city-on-the-move-20120330-1w3vq.html

    Anecdotally, there is a widening social divide between inner and outer suburban Melbourne - how we commute, who we associate with, how we vote, where we shop, where we work, what colour collar our jobs are - and transport certainly plays a part in this. We all have to WANT sustainable transport options over our convenient transport options (i.e. jump in a car); perhaps the tipping point is when sustainable transport methods become MORE convenient AND cheaper than the car. And when culture tells you that NOT having a car doesn't lower your social status. Sad but true.

    On a more optimistic note - I'm pleased to see the number of cyclists on Melbourne roads in the middle of winter. There is cycle-jams and cycle-rage in the same way there are traffic jams and road rage - a good problem to have! As much as we love to hate hipsters and lycra clad clip-in folk, they're doing their bit to reduce the amount of cars on the road :-) Melbourne has cultivated an excellent bike culture and acceptance of PT (at least on the tram network = you're an inner city dweller), prioritising bikes with good bike parking, better bike lanes, traffic light bike signals, etc.

    Lots to say! :-)

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    1. Thanks Esther! Very true, only just skimmed the surface in my post! I've experienced the lack of radial connections, for Auckland it is not so much lacking radial, but our buses seem to meander like an organic beings.. very confusing.

      Transport definitely plays a part in all this - I read the segregation urbanism comes through from modernist times and now we are trying to promote 'diverse neighbourhoods', patching things together, etc. A real challenge.

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  2. Great post, Bobby. It's refreshing to be reminded that evolutions in transport are something every city experiences - I remember reading that a new transport mode is adopted every fifty years or so, which would imply that the time is ripe for Auckland to make a step-change in the way we do transport.

    The media-driven public transport vs private transport debate in Auckland has been dominated by cost comparisons, but (while cost benefit analysis certainly has its place) where the numbers start to fall down (in my estimation) is their inability to adequately reflect the true balance of social, environmental and economic benefits and costs of bringing high quality public transport to a range of community centres - central and satellite. Fact is that in the case of transport, any one benefit, cost or community is so interrelated/integrated/conditional/compromised that dollar value certainty is impossible (though it doesn't stop us trying our darndest to make it work).

    The discussion so far has been inadequate in addressing the scepticism and naked fear of those who live on Auckland's socio-economic and geographic borderlines. Auckland is complex, with many different situations and aspirations represented, and transport issues directly impact housing affordability, decision-making and choice. Where a single system is overwhelmingly dominant (in this case private vehicle use, but this applies to any situation of significant disparity), it affects the choices available to others, and cripples self-determined communities and the co-existence of ideals that happen to go against the grain.

    I wonder if the major step-change that's really needed is for Aucklanders to start viewing (social, economic environmental) diversity as a resource rather than an obligation - and if the 'how' to get there naturally follows (though I suspect it involves well-serviced public transport!). The most vibrant, enjoyable places tend to be characterful, richly textured, with a variety of experiences. All of this is created by the people inhabiting those places - which they can only do if it's easy for them to get there!

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    1. Sometimes I feel we rely too much on numbers for a 'logical/rational' solution to things rather than something visionary which will last - will be sustainable. Thanks Steph!

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  3. The transport network and its effective and efficient operation is truly the make-or-break city-building for Auckland.

    Transforming Auckland with eco-mobility requires a multi-pronged strategy for change, including:
    1. A bold local government vision and political appetite for risk-taking and legacy-leaving;
    2. The Auckland public supports change and acceptance of bold eco-mobility visions;
    3. Bottom-up advocacy for change from local communities of interest;
    4. Central government support through enabling legislative changes and funding;
    5. Private sector partnerships with local government that enable public good.

    Ultimately these changes are not just about money or politics, but also attitude shifts within individuals and communities towards eco-mobility modes such as walking, cycling and public transport.

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  4. It's good to see us moving away from that 60s city planning! To progress!

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