Sun 17 May 2015 4:56AM

Poverty and transportation

LH Lynley Hood Public Seen by 231

The New York Times headline says it all: “Transportation Emerges as Crucial to Escaping Poverty”, May 7 2015. According to two recent research reports - one from Harvard, the other from NYU - the relationship between transportation and social mobility is stronger than that between several other factors like crime, school test scores or the one-parent families. I suspect transportation is equally important in NZ, but we’ll never know unless we collect the data. This means that, as well as finding out how people travel to education and work, we need to find out whether lack of transport is a barrier to travelling to education and work. For reasons outlined below, I’m concerned that NZ’s health, education and transport planners have been let down by the NZ Deprivation Index on this point.

My bus route passes through the Dunedin state housing suburb of Corstorphine, but it wasn’t until I consulted the Corstorphine whanau play group about the bus timetable that it dawned on me: I hardly ever see these Maori and Pacifica people on the bus. That’s because they walk. A father walked six kilometres to the public hospital and six kilometres back again with his five-year-old for her pre-op appointment. A pregnant mother walked three kilometres to the nearest school dental clinic and 3 kilometres back again with her fractious three-year-old (and vowed never to do it again). When you’re struggling to pay the rent and put food on the table, you can save money by walking.

Corstorphine is a geographically isolated suburb on the top of a very steep hill. It has a poor bus service, no school, no supermarket, no health centre, few recreational facilities and only two shops (a grocery store with no fresh fruit and vegs, and a fast food outlet).

The 2013 NZ Deprivation Index (NZDep2013) mesh block data show that many Corstorphine households are as deprived as those in the poorest areas of Northland or South Auckland. But Corstorphine is colder than Northland and South Auckland, and aspects of the calculation and presentation of NZDep2013 further disguise the true extent of socio-economic deprivation in that suburb.

NZDep2013 is calculated from nine variables derived from census data and weighted in order of importance. According to the NZDep team, lack of access to a motor vehicle is the least important contributor to deprivation, and is therefore given the lowest weighting. According to Corstorphine residents, lack of access to a car is a major cause of deprivation in their suburb. Lack of transport stops them engaging in educational, sporting, cultural and leisure activities. It is a barrier attending job interviews and taking up employment opportunities. It is a barrier to seeking health care and picking up prescriptions. The list goes on.

The other problem with the NZDep2013 is that its webpage claims “The 2013 deprivation index score can be seen at suburb level through this interactive map”. But the map doesn’t show suburbs. It shows area units. And neither of the area units labelled Corstorphine include the state housing meshblocks know to locals as Corstorphine, Instead, Corstorphine’s deprived meshblocks are lost inside the otherwise wealthy area unit of St Clair.

IMO the usefulness of NZDep2013 has been seriously compromised by the low weighting given to lack of access to a motor vehicle.

I’ll copy my comments to the authors of NZDep2013. They may want to respond.


Kim Ollivier Sun 17 May 2015 9:13AM

I have sympathy for the authors of the deprivation index. Much data is only available at an area unit level that is not always a boundary that is useful. This is why there is a move to keeping source data at the household level or PDF. Then analysis can potentially be done with different area patterns. There is the danger of falling over the MAUP bias. The commentary on the calculation of the deprivation index does describe how they chose the parameters using a principle components analysis. So they think that there are other more important factors before car ownership to predict deprivation.
A statistic that must be available that I could not get was which roads are unsealed. There is a report of the total unsealed roads by TLA on the data.govt.nz site, but actual roads are needed to add to a deprivation model.


Ellen Blake Sun 17 May 2015 10:03AM

Shows the value of collecting information on all modes of travel. Walking is very important to a number of sub-populations. But as you note in your example there needs to be somewhere to walk to, so being able to correlate community services is useful as well.


Paula Warren Sun 17 May 2015 10:43PM

I agree totally about the effects of poor transport on real levels of deprivation. But I would generalise it to affordable transport, not to car access, because many of us can't safely drive a car, and cars are very expensive for the individual - ownership costs, running costs, insurance (or risk if you aren't insured), parking costs (remembering that many poor people need the garage to house their family) - and to society.

The supergold card showed what a difference free use of buses makes for poor elderly people who happen to live where there are good bus services. When I was on the national LTNZ PT advisory group, we had reports of elderly people saying that they could now go out and do things when previously they have had to stay home because they couldn't afford the bus (and didn't have access to a car). And of elderly people using bus trips to provide them with social contact (I know of a homeless guy who spends much of his time at bus stops and on buses). And of elderly people using the bus in the wrong direction to get to a safe road crossing in order to ge the bus the right way - something that would cost a lot of money with our present ticketing system.

Younger low income people, particularly those with children who have to pay a fare, don't get that low cost bus use, so they have the choice of walking, not going, or waiting until they can get a ride with someone else. We have kids in Lower Hutt who have never been to the Wellington CBD because their families can't afford the train fare and they don't have a car.

I found when I was on the Regional Transport Committee that it was hard to get transport disadvantage treated as a serious driver of PT provision - it was all about reducing congestion. So low performing bus routes were cut, rather than people who needed that service given cheaper access.

Another area of deprivation relates to real and perceived safety. For example Muri Station in Wellington was closed because of a platform safety issue. Part of the station could have been kept open and used to provide off-peak services (short trains). Instead people living there now have to do an unsafe walk from Pukerua Bay station. From an overall safety point of view, closing Muri was bad. And there will be certain people who were particularly disadvantaged - the infirm for whom the walk is a difficult one, women wanting to travel at night, and kids whose parents might not want them to walk along a SH to Pukerua Bay. But we have seen no measures of effects of that decision on transport options and choices for the affected population.


Sophie Davies Mon 18 May 2015 4:05AM

@lynleyhood thanks for starting up this discussion and providing some great context. Have now moved this into the "Other" category as this is the place for any additional discussions :)


Lynley Hood Mon 18 May 2015 4:46AM

Thanks everyone for the great feedback. I'm delighted to report that I also had a phone call from Prof Peter Crampton, lead author of the Disability Index, who supported my analysis.
The challenge is to construct census questions that provide information not only on what methods of transportation people use to get to where they want to go, but also information about the people for whom lack of transportation is a barrier to employment, education, health care, cultural, recreational, social, political and religious engagement and so on.
@kimollivier - all the Dep Index data for Corstorphine is available at mesh block level, so an interactive map that goes down to mesh block level would be extremely useful. It's been a bit of a struggle for my fairly basic skills, but I've used the mesh block data in several ways: I've compared the frequency of buses and the percentage of households without access to a motor vehicle along both sides a 1k stretch of Corstorphine's main thoroughfare with the same variables along a 1k stretch of one of Dunedin's more affluent suburbs. The affluent suburb has far more cars/household, far fewer households without access to a motor vehicle, and a far better bus service. I've also compared the percentage of children under 15 and the number of Maori and Pacific people in Corstorphine with the rest of Dunedin. I've used this information in submissions to the DCC, the SDHB and the ORC, and in opinion pieces in the ODT, and have got a few improvements as a result.


Andrea(facilitator) Thu 21 May 2015 9:51PM

Hi everyone, my name is Andrea Lawson and I am facilitating the topics under 'other'. Thanks for all the thoughts on poverty and transport. Barriers to car ownership, unsealed roads, choosing to walk, affordable transport are some listed above. Do people have other thoughts on the need to collect barriers to transport to help understand NZ poverty?


Paula Warren Thu 21 May 2015 10:12PM

Possibly just an additional aspect of car ownership, but the debate about the Budget highlighted the fact that a poor household dependent on a car for essential trips (e.g. to get to work) is in serious trouble if the car breaks down. Not only does that affect their ability to do the essential trip, but if the car is their only choice then fixing it becomes a non-discretionary item in their budget that ousts things like food, or they get into debt.