Lessons from Europe and Singapore: Tourism – Part 2


Continued from Part 1.

Generally the old town quarters of Ghent, Brugge and Ypres was cleaner than you would expect to find cities in New Zealand. I do not know what litter ordinances any of these places had in place, but little evidence of litter was found around them. This is important for all three, as tourism is a significant part of their economy.

Belgium towns have a lot of bars and cafes with a different culture to New Zealand. Namely if anyone drinks alcohol – and I did see a lot of people doing so – they would generally order something to eat as well. It could be something simple such as fries or a proper meal. All of them are bike friendly, and one could hire scooters for several hours or a day. Canal tours of various descriptions existed and seem to be well patronized.

The Hop on/Hop off bus is a well developed concept in all of the big cities – London, Stockholm, Goteburg, Brussels, Amsterdam and Singapore all have their own versions. The number of routes varied from one location to the next – Brussels had two lines – the No. 1 and No. 2 lines; Singapore has the Red, Brown, Yellow and Blue lines. All operated a pass system where one purchased a pass that would give them access to the network for 2-3 days or 5 days. It was an easy way to get around the city. The European cities also have a “_______” (enter name of city) City Pass that gives you access to the major attractions. Like the Hop on/Hop off passes they were set to last 2-3 days or 5 days.

I do not know if such passes exist in New Zealand, but it would be an easy way to ensure tourists used the public transport networks if it was too difficult for them to hire a rental car. In Auckland for example an “Auckland City Pass”, might include the Sky Tower, Auckland Museum, Auckland Zoo, Kelly Tarlton Sea Life Aquarium and so forth. The Hop on/Hop off route would have no trouble covering all of those in a reasonably quick time.

One thing that was notable in European cities was their charge for using the toilet. Many public places charged and I assume it was just their way of funding the up keep. Given – even if it was not necessarily said so – that it was polite to purchase something in the bars, cafes and restaurants that one would find themselves ducking into to relieve themselves, it did result in some otherwise unintended beverage and food purchases. On the other hand the bars, restaurants and cafes that I/we ducked into were not so fussy but we repaid them by having a round, a small bite or something whilst on the premises.

Given in some districts there is a small rate payer base, but high tourist numbers, such as the Mackenzie District in the South Island, a 0.50c fee for using the toilets would not be out of place. It would enable the charging council to keep a tighter rein on council rates as user pays would be a fairer model than simply making the whole district pay. With the summer tourist season coming up and local government elections due again next year, it will be interesting to see whether councils think about such approaches or elect to make the rate payers cough up more money.

Lessons from Europe and Singapore: Transport – Part 3


Ship passing through lock, Brugge, Belgium. (R. GLENNIE)

This is the third part in my Lessons from Europe and Singapore series, and the last from the transport segment.

One of the great revelations in terms of transport during my trip to Europe was the canal and lock system in the Netherlands and Belgium. Centuries old, it first began to form when towns such as Ghent and Brugge were reliant on two modes of transport for goods: the horse pulled cart and the barge. Even hundreds of years later one can still see significant ships plying these canals.

In New Zealand obviously, we do not have the appropriate geography for canals that can take ships. Few, if any, rivers are likely to be deep enough to take ships and those that are often have hazardous features such as hidden shoals that would make navigation tricky.

Another mode of transport that I think we should take greater note of is railways. The large cities in Europe all have modern railway stations that at any given time whilst I was there might have had 500 people or more in my immediate or near vicinity, all either coming to or going from a train at the station. The trains were a mix of faster ones that were normally express trains to places like Schipol Airport or cross border ones that ran into neighbouring countries like Germany/Belgium or France. In Sweden for example, there is an express train running between Stockholm Centralen and Stockholm Arlanda (Airport), which reaches speeds of up to 180km/h. Processing tickets was easy – they were purchased at the counter or an automatic teller where one entered the destination, indicated how many tickets they were purchasing and whom they were for (children/adults/seniors, etc).

All I can say is that all of the trains were on time, clean inside and a pleasure to ride. The only problem was the announcements were sometimes not always in English, but a digital display on board saying where ones train was next stopping made things easier. Railway stations are sited in generally central areas with good car, bicycle and foot access. Light railway stops would often be just outside, so that if one needed to transit to something going within a city’s limits they could do that easily.

The railway station at Amsterdam, Netherlands. (R. GLENNIE)

Investing like this would be very expensive and not necessarily worth the cost. A more realistic investment might be to electrify the main trunk line in the South Island and upgrade the rolling stock. I do see a time in the near future with the hikes in petroleum prices when trains might be required to move petroleum in bulk instead of putting it into a fleet of tankers. As for passenger trains, restoring The Southerner in the South Island is perhaps the best bet – there are too few people in the southern half of New Zealand’s land mass to make large scale passenger services economic – Christchurch for example would need by my guess another 100-150,000 people to even get close to considering light rail.

In conclusion, I think it is fair to say whilst numerous lessons can be taken from what I saw and experienced in Europe, not all are applicable. We can learn from their integration of different modules and invest more in non vehicular alternatives, but others such as the canals will not be workable.

Lessons from Europe and Singapore: Transport – Part 1


This article and the next few following it, is based on my experiences from a recent holiday in Europe.

One of the first things I did upon arrival into London was be shown how to ride their transport system. My mate Dave who has been living in London with his wife met me at Heathrow Airport. He made sure I had an Oyster card, which would enable me to ride on the buses. Each day Dave and I got a ticket from Maidenhead into London Paddington railway station. From there we either went walking or used the Oyster card to get on the bus network. Both seemed to be well used no matter which direction we went.

Integrated light right/bus platform at Skansen, Stockholm. (R. GLENNIE)

But it was in Sweden, in Stockholm and Gothenburg that I was able to see a well organized rail and bus system at work. I was able to experience the fast train from Stockholm Arlanda, which travelled into the central city at 180km/h and took about 20 minutes. It was also amazingly quiet inside. From central station it was just a short walk to get onto light rail going in all directions or the buses, which shared platforms with the light rail (see photo). Again, all seemed to be well patronized. I could buy a pass for several days which expired shortly after I left.

Could such systems work here? In Auckland I think the population is big enough that a scaled down system could, but there would need to be a change in the mindset. It would also need to overcome reliability and supply (capacity)problems that still need work done on them. It would need to look at Gothenburg whose population is around 1.5 million, rather than Stockholm.

Wellington has a well used railway system as it is. I am not sure that other than improving what already exists, and being a city of 400,000 people I am not sure that the demand for a larger more comprehensive network already exists. It would be challenging given the city’s geography essentially confines development to two distinct corridors.

What of the South Island cities?

Neither Dunedin or Christchurch are big enough for this sort of planning. Where Christchurch’s strength lies is in its bus network, which is a work in progress. Badly damaged in the earthquakes and let down by some poor planning decisions a spoke and rim network similar to what already exists, but with wider reaching bus services, is the way to go.

Dunedin is further compromised. Its population of 120,000 might be strengthened by a core bus system with an exchange along its one way street system. Its hilly terrain, which includes the steepest street in the world (Baldwin Street) means limitations exist in terms of geographical layout options.

The rise of petrol prices, caused both by taxes being introduced and high international tensions is not likely to bring any relief at the petrol pump any time soon. Whilst biofuel has potential, it is likely to be a complementary source instead of a replacement for petroleum and political reluctance to invest in such sources is slowing its introduction down. That only serves to prolong the pain in peoples wallets.

Lessons from Europe and Singapore


Over the next few articles, I am going to share with you a few things I learnt whilst overseas. I had experiences that helped to enrich my understanding of the world around me and realize that whilst New Zealand does very well in many aspects of life, there are some we can learn from – and can teach others about.

I have just returned from four weeks in Europe, during which time I visited the U.K., Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands and had a brief foray into northern France. Aside from having a nice holiday and test driving some very nice Belgian beer and comparing our drinking habits with theirs (another article) and seeing all sorts of fascinating tourist attractions.

On the way back to New Zealand I stopped for a few days in Singapore for my first visit there. It was a chance to see how an island city state of 5 million people – all of New Zealand’s population and about another 900,000 people on top of that – get on. I will focus on  tourism, which is the core of Singapore’s economy and examine the challenges and opportunities that such a small nation faces.

Over the course of the articles I will cover public transport in major cities, as I stayed in several large European cities. They included London, Brussels, Amsterdam, Stockholm and Gothenburg. I will explore the tourism industries in these locations, where tourism has been a thing for periods of time longer than European knowledge of New Zealand’s existence. I will also explore living, as time was also spent staying in rented apartments in Brugge and Ypres.