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Using the volume of traffic on state highways as an indicator of the momentum of our economy

Who: ANZ Bank New Zealand
What: A monthly economic report available to ANZ customers and the public; based on a Light Traffic index and Heavy Traffic index generated from open data and mapped to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth
Wherehttp://www.anz.co.nz/about-us/economic-markets-research/truckometer/
Why: The public release of NZ Transport Agency state highway data allowed ANZ Bank to explore a new, timely source of activity data to aid its understanding of the economy.
When: 2012 –

The data

Data: State Highway traffic volumes monthly reports 2008–15
Source: NZ Transport Agency
Formats: .XLS tables, PDF
Licence: © NZ Transport Agency. May be reproduced for personal or inhouse use without formal permission or charge. Requests for other purposes should go to info@nzta.govt.nz.

Data: GDP quarterly reports
Source: Statistics NZ
Formats: Zipped CSV tables, .XLS tables, PDF
Licence: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

When the New Zealand Transport Agency began releasing its national traffic volume data in 2012, the ANZ Bank took a close look.

The bank focused on key traffic routes and applied statistical techniques to smooth out anomalies and address gaps in the data.

It then looked at light traffic (cars and vans) and heavy traffic (the trucks that carry goods around the country) and mapped each to the quarterly GDP reports published by Statistics NZ.

The ANZ found that heavy traffic volumes showed a strong contemporaneous relationship with GDP – that is, when heavy traffic volume grew in a three-month period, GDP also grew in those three months.

This was not entirely unexpected for the bank, which says in its reports, 'Road user charges revenue data have long been used as an economic indicator. Trucks are moving produce, after all.'

What did come as a surprise, however, was that current light traffic volumes serve as an indicator of what GDP will be doing in six months' time. 'It would appear that willingness to buy and drive a car is the ultimate measure of money-where-your-mouth is consumer confidence.'

Impacts include the insights from the Truckometer analysis supporting businesses, individuals, the Reserve Bank, the NZ Transport Agency and other organisations to make better planning decisions. Understanding where the economy is headed over the coming six months helps businesses plan ahead if they’re considering investing in more retail space, for example, or taking on more staff. Members of the public can better understand when to spend with confidence and when to buckle down and save.

 

This case study was last updated in June 2015.


You’re welcome to re-use this case study under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 New Zealand Licence

Photo credit: Robert Sarkisian