New Zealand has one of the highest rates of car ownership in the world. Improving walkability and therefore reducing the need to use a car for travel has numerous economic benefits.

At 0.77 vehicles per capita  (double the car ownership rate of some European countries), with most of the South Island having a car ownership above 0.9 vehicles per capita.[1] This is in part due to urban patterns that favour or require access to a car and limits transport accessibility for the one in eight households with no access to a motor vehicle.[2]

Improving walkability and therefore reducing the need to use a car for travel has numerous economic benefits:

  • For individuals and households, transport costs are the third-largest part (15%) of household budgets (after housing and food). The majority of these costs are for vehicle ownership ($70 per week) and fuel ($42 a week).[3] The burden is particularly acute for lower income households, for whom car-related transport costs take up a higher proportion of overall household spending. Families with multiple cars per household may use one car infrequently, but still pay a lot to own this asset. Walking helps keep money in the pocket and available to be spent locally. It also insulates people from the budgeting uncertainty of fluctuating fuel prices.[4]
  • Local businesses benefit, improving community cohesion: when services and amenities are available locally, walking trips often replace a longer (and more costly) motorised trip to a shopping centre further away.[5]
  • Businesses can be more productive: for example, a study of pedestrian connectivity and economic activity in Auckland concludes that ‘there is a positive and statistically significant association between walking, EJD (job density) and estimated labour productivity within the Auckland city centre’.[6] Note that it can be difficult to disentangle the effects of location choice, density and productivity – but proximity to other workplaces facilitates the exchange of knowledge and ideas. If that proximity is walkable, then impromptu meetings for such exchange are more likely as it is easier to stop and talk on foot than it is in a car.
  • Business activity increases: surveys of pedestrians using shared space streets in Auckland show a median perception rating of economic impetus increase from -1.00 to 1.68, which was the most significant improvement amongst five performance measures.[7]
  • A summary of several evaluations of the Auckland shared spaces showed increases in retail spending from +27% to +439%, and over 75% of property owners determined that it was valuable being sited near or adjacent to a shared space.[8]
  • An economic survey of nine shopping areas in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington found that pedestrians ‘contribute a higher economic spend’ in proportion to their mode share and thus ‘are important to the economic viability of local shopping areas’.[9] In contrast to what many shopkeepers believe, people walking and cycling spend $34 per trip on average and shop more often than drivers. The study also identified that shoppers value high quality pedestrian environments and good crossing facilities in shopping areas more than they value parking.

The tourism economy can also benefit:

  • Walkable communities attract tourism[10] [11] as tourists often prefer walking as a transport mode when on holiday.[12]
  • The redevelopment of the Third Street Pedestrian Mall in Santa Monica, California in the late 1980s was the seminal project showing that a tourist destination could stimulate business activity by having a pedestrian focus (wide footpaths, lighting, rubbish bins, plazas, and 24-hour land-use activities) while retaining motor vehicle traffic.[13]
  • Around the world, ‘car-free’ central city streets such as the 1.1 km long pedestrian street of Strøget in Copenhagen have become major tourism destinations. Strøget and nearby pedestrianised streets support a walking mode share of 80% and feature festivals, cultural activities, ice-skating that help attract and retain tourists.[14]
  • In Dunedin, surveys indicate that over 60% of visitors participate in a ‘walk in the city’ and the enhancement of various walking activities is a key focus area for the city.[15]

For information relating to economic assessment of improving walking facilities,see
PNG: Planning and funding


[1] Ministry of Transport. (September 2018). 2017 New Zealand Vehicle Fleet Annual Spreadsheet (version 4)(external link)

[2] Ministry of Transport. (September 2018). Households with access to motor vehicles (external link)

[3] Statistics NZ. (2016). Household expenditure statistics: Year ended June 2016(external link)

[4] Mackie Research. (n.d.). Healthy Future Mobility Solutions(external link)

[5] Litman, T., (2018). Evaluating Active Transport Benefits and Costs(external link). Victoria Transport Policy Institute, Victoria, BC.

[6] Rohani, Mehrnaz & Lawrence, Grant. (2017). The relationship between pedestrian connectivity and economic productivity in Auckland’s city centre.(external link) Second edition. Network scenarios analysis. Auckland Council technical report, TR2017/007-2.

[7] Karnadacharuk, A., Vasisht, P., & Prasad, M., (2015). Shared Space Evaluation: O’Connell Street, Auckland.(external link) Australasian Transport Research Forum 2015 Proceedings, Sydney.

[8] Davis, D. (2015). A Tale of Two Cities: Auckland’s Shared Space programme turns streets into places(external link)

[9] Fleming (Allatt), T., Turner, S. & Tarjomi, L., (2013). Reallocation of road space. Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency Research Report 530.

[10] Clavé, S., (2019). Urban Tourism and Walkability, in The Future of Tourism, pp 195-211.

[11] UN World Tourism Organization. (2019). Walking Tourism – Promoting Regional Development(external link)

[12] Hall, M. & Ram, Y., (2019). Measuring the relationship between tourism and walkability? Walk Score and English tourist attractions. Journal of Sustainable Tourism(external link)

[13] Scmidt, J. (n.d.). Revisiting Pedestrian Malls(external link). NACTO

[14] European Commission. (n.d.). Reclaiming city streets for people: Chaos or quality of life?(external link)

[15] Dunedin Visitor Strategy Steering Group. (July 2008). Dunedin Visitor Strategy 2008–2015(external link)