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This post from Jesse Prendergast, a Transport Planner and Analyst at MRCagney, was originally published on Linkedin.
Predicting the future isn’t easy. Modelling complex systems isn’t quick. Yet tackling the climate emergency requires decisive action based on an uncertain future. How can we resolve this paradox together?
In the summer of 2019, Paul Winton from the 1PointFive project stood in our O’Connell St offices with some gloomy news. If Auckland carried out all the transport projects and policies currently in the pipeline, it still wouldn’t be enough to meet the targets we needed to help keep global warming below 1.5 degrees. In fact, even with the planned expansion of our rapid transit network, it would barely make a dent. What’s more, Auckland (as the largest city in New Zealand, and with the most capacity for high quality public transport and cycling) will most likely need to do more than meet the target if New Zealand as a whole is to achieve its goals.
In a room full of sustainable transport planners, this was somewhat of a shock. If this was true, then people needed to know. Over the next two months, Beth Schuck set to work building an alternative model to Paul and came to the same conclusion: we simply weren’t doing enough. And so, Transport2030 was born – an interactive tool where users could select transport projects and see how it affects emissions in Auckland. Since then we have developed similar tools for Christchurch, Waikato, and Victoria (Australia).
Shortly before the infamous Auckland Lockdown of 2021, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency commissioned a nation-wide version of Transport2030 to look at emissions in the year 2035. In a stroke of genius, we called the tool Transport2035 (T2035 for short).
At its core, T2035 is designed to help bring the transport industry and decision makers together, with a common evidence base, to discuss the future of transport in New Zealand.
Transport planners love information. Data, statistics, and models – I know I could look at them all day (and many people do). Across New Zealand there are many transport models that serve a vital role in the detailed planning of our future. However, when taking these models to decision makers, there are a few key issues:
To get us all on the same page quickly T2035 needs to be simple, easy to interpret, fast, and available to the whole country.
T2035 is the start of a suite of works that Waka Kotahi has planned in the Emissions Modelling space, designed to help guide the country to a low carbon future. As such, it needs to be a good entry point for new councillors and the public, while also scratching the itch for transport planners who want to jump into the details of future transport projects and their impacts on transport emissions.
This means T2035 needs to meet some key criteria, a few of which I’ve outlined here.
Some of these criteria are directly at odds with each other:
These tensions exist in so many data science applications, and there is no one right way to solve them. The answer is: it depends. What is the key purpose or your tool? For T2035, we had that defined:
T2035 needs to be simple, easy to interpret, fast, and available to the whole country.
The Solution – Transport2035
Using the purpose of the tool as a guide, we made decisions on the user inputs, background data, design, business logic, and outputs to arrive at the final product. Some key decisions included:
Try Transport2035 for yourself and see if you think that the design and the tool meet the goals I’ve described!
The Aftermath: What Have I Learned?
The development of Transport2035 has been valuable, not only to the creation of what I hope to be a useful tool, but in teaching me how I can build the next one better.
Transport2035 was a lot of fun to develop, and I’ve learned a bunch about emissions modelling, emissions reduction, and data communication. I’ve learned that Aotearoa has a long was to go to meet our targets, and to do this we’ll need to pull every lever we have. Most importantly, I’ve learned we won’t get there unless we’re on the same page, and we’re on that page soon.