All bunged up, nowhere to go
It’s a thought that has probably passed through the minds of many frustrated commuters on Auckland roads at some time: the problem with commuting is other commuters.
Take a few cars off the road and we’d waste less time and petrol sitting in traffic and, over the long term, have a less congested, more pleasant city. According to a 2010 survey commissioned by information technology giant IBM, 80 per cent of Auckland commuters complain of travel stress. Dubbed the “Commuter-Pain Index”, the research also revealed anger and stress-related health effects of congestion on 30 percent of drivers — and that a third believe it affects their work performance.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Fresh research from the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development suggests that were “fast lanes” implemented around the city, we are ready and willing to either pay to travel in them, or carpool to drive in them for free (see All Change, Please, on following page).
Meanwhile Paul Minett, the co-founder of Trip Convergence and express carpooling system The Raspberry Express, is aiming to tackle the thousands of single occupancy vehicles currently clogging roads during rush hour. A reduction of 40,000 cars — or ten percent — across the super city would make a tangible difference, he says.
The way Minett sees it, there are 1.2 million extra empty seats plying the roads. The trick is putting them to use. He advocates a rethink at leadership level about the way transport is funded and run. “Public transport has significant subsidies – but when that bus is then held up by cars with three empty seats you have to wonder if we should be doing things differently.”
In San Francisco around 10,000 people share cars to use express high-occupancy vehicle lanes. “And if anyone is likely to share, it’s more likely to be New Zealanders than people in American cities,” he says.
The other task ahead is integrating existing transport networks with new ones – the principle behind every successful public transport story, from London Underground to the Brazilian eco-city Curitaba, which developed a comprehensive bus masterplan in 1965 now considered a model for mass transit worldwide.
Minett suggests circulator buses distributing carpoolers around the inner city from a drop-off point. For short trips during the day, there’s also City Hop, a car-share service in which members – individual people or companies – hire cars by the hour from vehicle locations dotted around the CBD.
Bicycles, which have made huge gains as a faster, cleaner and healthier mode of transport in congested cities abroad, can also be factored in. Some European cities, says Next Bike’s Julian Hull, are planning to make 15 percent of all urban trips a bike ride. Currently in Auckland, bikes only take us on only 1.5 percent of our journeys.
Is it the hilly terrain? “There are challenges equivalent to geography in many cities famous for bike riding,” he says. Unlike New York or Berlin, for example, Auckland doesn’t have snow on the ground several months of the year.
Hulls is currently working with Cycle Action Auckland on a Google map called Great Urban Rides, an interlocking series of circular routes for urban cyclists. The council has begun to name the routes and put up signs for them.
A recent paper by Cycle Action’s Max Robitzsch and Barbara Cuthbert also recommended matching up the cycle and rail routes.
They estimated that three kilometres is a comfortable distance for people to ride without specialist clothes or exertion. Integrating the two by creating cycle paths to stations, bike racks and trains that carry bikes for free could open the train network to a much larger percentage of Aucklanders, as well as getting around the issue of arriving hot and sweaty at work.
All change, please
Had one of those Falling Down moments recently while stuck in traffic? According to new research by the Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD), you’re not the only one – and a sizeable chunk of the disgruntled drivers out there are ready for change.
The ShapeNZ survey was commissioned by the Business Council to gauge public reaction to sustainable, congestion-busting solutions such as introducing “fast fee” lanes, whereby fees are charged to use a fast lane at peak times, but drivers carrying three passengers or more can use it free (and alternative free lanes would still be available).
The survey was conducted in April and May this year and weighted by age, gender, income, ethnicity, region and party vote to provide a representative sample of the New Zealand population.
Just over 11 percent of respondents said they’d pay to use the express lane, while the same number indicated they’d be happy to carpool. Nineteen percent said they’d switch to mostly using public transport. Already, that’s a hefty reduction in the volume of cars on the road – more than the ten percent less Paul Minett predicts would make a big difference.
The fast fee lanes are one of the “smart solutions” proposed to another serious challenge posed by the issue of increasing freight volumes on Auckland roads. According to the BCSD, we need to be looking at a much bigger picture. To keep the current rate of economic growth steady over the next three decades, the amount of freight needs to increase by around 75 per cent.
Oversized lorries on our roads are easy to find fault with, but the Freight Future report, released this April after two years in the making, reveals some humbling truths. The first is that New Zealand has the longest supply chain in the world. Our markets are all a long, long way away, most of them in a different hemisphere. A London or Hong Kong-based manufacturer can rely on hundreds of millions of customers within a 3000km radius – Auckland’s barely provide it with 25 million. To successfully sell our wares, we need to be super-efficient and costeffective.
The report also predicts increasing demands from northern European buyers for sustainable supply chain performance will become a driver of freight infrastructure.
Aside from fast fee lanes, suggestions that have strong public support include spreading the peak by providing initiatives for more schools to operate “walking buses” to cut down on school runs (71 percent support); a faster broadband network to make working at home more realistic (70 percent), establishing freight hubs outside inner cities (76 percent) and a network of freight priority lanes between the golden triangle of Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga that motorists can also use for a fee.