Poverty and transportation
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.