Monday 30 May 2016


Auckland's bar closing times, as part of its Local Alcohol Policy, are up for review. The police, unsurprisingly, want closing times to be earlier - 3am. Council wants it to stay at 4am.

I had had a look at the evidence around bar closing times and harms for the Hospitality Association in 2014 for the Wellington LAP hearings. It seemed pretty heroic to conclude that much of anything with respect to harms would change with a one-hour change. One of the better studies I'd then seen on it found that changes in regulated hours of operation shifted the timing of harms with no particular effect on their severity.

So, first off, what's precipitating things here?

The latest NZ Health Survey found:
  • The proportion of the population that drank any alcohol in the past 12 months dropped from 83.6% in 2006/2007 to 79.5 in 2011/2012, and has been pretty flat since then (it's again 79.5% in 2014/2015)
  • The proportion of 15-17 year olds who drank in the last 12 months dropped from 74.5% in 2006/2007 to 57.1% in 2014/2015. Again, most of the change was from 2006/2007 to 2011/2012, with things being pretty flat since then.
  • The population proportion of hazardous drinkers dropped from 2006/2007 to 2011/2012 but has edged up a bit since - though still lower than 2006/2007. The increase is due entirely to increases in hazardous drinking among those older than 35. 
  • 19.5% of youths in 2006/2007 met the threshold for hazardous drinking. In 2014/2015, that rate was 10.8%. 
Here's Auckland's crime rate, through 2014.

Statistics since 2014 aren't comparable with the prior time series. But here are the total offence numbers for Auckland from July 2014 to present. I've divided each month's total number of offences by that month's population for the district, then multiplied by 12 to get a rough annualisation figure.

There's a blip up in March 2016, but otherwise things are looking pretty flat. Remember that this is monthly data: it will always look flatter than annual data.

It's hard to make the case for that there's some big upswing in crime or alcohol use necessitating crackdowns.

I was on with Paul Henry this morning talking about this stuff. I suggested that:

  • Changes of an hour or two either way really won't do anything on harms. Evidence:
    • First, the shift to 24-hour licensing in the UK didn't increase harrms:
    • Second, Hahn et al's metastudy finds no evidence that changes less than 2 hours do much. They do suggest that changes greater than 2 hours may have effects, but the evidence base there is weak: the papers forming the basis for that call were very mixed, with 2 showing decreases in harms with increases in bar opening hours, 3 showing increases in harms, and 3 showing a statistically insignificant increase in harm - but all 8 were classed by Hahn as having the least valid design quality.
    • I surveyed this more broadly when I reported on bar closing times for the Hospitality Association in Wellington's Local Alcohol Policy hearings in 2014. I'm not sure if my submission from that is available online. 
  • Policies like 24/7 in the US seem to reduce harm and are targeted at those who cause harm rather than hitting everybody.
    • See RAND's evaluation here. The basic programme has repeat alcohol-related offenders go onto a 24/7 sobriety scheme, where alcohol use is monitored transdermally by a bracelet. Parole is revoked if the parolee drinks. Some people argue for drinking licences, where you'd have to have a licence to be able to consume alcohol. This is that except in reverse: if you prove that you're unable to have a healthy relationship with alcohol and are harming others, you get a mandatory sobriety treatment. I've even heard reports that some parolees graduating from the programme request to stay on it, to help them stay sober. 
We didn't get into another aspect of this.

The Herald on Sunday says that the police this time are pushing for one-way door policies in Auckland. And it looks like the police are also pushing for it in Wellington. The police here have seen what's happened in Sydney, and they like it.

Here's what's happened in Sydney:
The cultural effect of the lockout has been clear for a while, but a February article by CEO Matt Barrie [see here] seemed to speak directly for those tired of having their party pooped. A detailed account of closed venues and empty streets, it received close to a million views. One statistic highlighted is so singular that it hardly needs elaboration: pedestrian traffic in Kings Cross is down by up to 84% compared with 2012 levels. “Every week, another venue or restaurant closes. The soul of the city has been destroyed,” Barrie wrote.
I can totally understand why the New Zealand police, and their Australian cousins, would like this. If there's nobody out at night, it's way easier to roster officers. Fewer night shifts to worry about. But if any reduction in crime is just from having something close to a curfew, that's not all that hot of a policy.

When you run a one-way door policy, folks have to rush to get into the late night venues. You can't shop around based on the music coming out the door: if the band finishes, you can't go find music elsewhere. And people milling around outside because they can't get back into the bars aren't happy people.

Richard Cooke's piece, linked above, blames it in part on the coming gerontocracy. Basically, old people have pushed for housing regulations that ban anybody from building new housing, so the price of housing is too high for young people to live downtown. Then, downtown oldies start pushing for noise policies and other regulations to kill night-life, to keep the young people out of downtown.

Melbourne trialled one-way door policies in 2008. Bar patrons surveyed at the end of it strongly agreed it did nothing to improve safety but did harm the city's reputation as a 24/7 place to be.

The data KPMG put up in its evaluation was a pretty mixed bag. Bad stuff declined during the trial relative to the prior 3 months, but that's mostly a seasonal effect: June-August is always a lull. So just comparing to the prior 3 months is no good. But comparing to the prior year's same-period stats isn't great either if the prior year were better or worse than 2008 on any of the measures.

Ideally you'd want to run a fixed effects regression controlling for year and month effects, but they had a 3 month trial at the end of three years' worth of data. I can't see any effects in there either way, really. And where KPMG did find effects, like a 6.9% increase in assaults during the trial as compared to prior months (where it's typically down in June-August), they noted that the police had more officers on the street during the trial than they did previously - so everything will be contaminated by that.

I hope Wellington Council maintains the liberal approach for which it pushed during the 2014 Local Alcohol Policy hearings.

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