March Mad­ness

Are we re­ally ready?

The New Zealand Herald - - FRONT PAGE - SI­MON WIL­SON

What’s the big­gest pre­dic­tor of bad traf­fic con­ges­tion in Auck­land? Weather. When it rains, we take the car.

Flood­ing closed Ta­maki Drive a cou­ple of weeks ago and the traf­fic on Kepa Rd, the al­ter­na­tive route, was so bad peo­ple were in de­spair. And rage. Buses got trapped in traf­fic and com­muters com­plained they’d waited for them in vain, so they’d gone home and got their cars, and then got trapped in traf­fic them­selves. Any­body spot the prob­lem there? Mean­while, on Onewa Rd lead­ing from Birken­head to the mo­tor­way, driv­ers are rou­tinely trapped in traf­fic, but most com­muters travel smoothly into town any­way. That’s be­cause they’re in dou­ble-decker buses us­ing the ded­i­cated bus lane. And yes, I mean most: 70 per cent.

Mean­while, peak-time driv­ers ev­ery­where take on av­er­age 55 per cent longer than just a few years ago to reach their des­ti­na­tions. There are 800 more cars a week, over 40,000 more peo­ple a year. The con­ges­tion cri­sis is grow­ing fast.

So what are we go­ing to do? Keep widen­ing the mo­tor­ways?

Maybe we could build sec­ond tiers, like you see in some parts of Asia. A mo­tor­way with an­other on top. There’s quite a lot of sky so that could be done in­def­i­nitely, I sup­pose.

We could bull­doze new ar­te­rial roads par­al­lel to the ex­ist­ing ones — along be­hind the shops on Do­min­ion Rd, say. On Lake Rd or Ta­maki Drive, maybe that sec­ond tier op­tion would work bet­ter.

Maybe we should just go for it and build some snaky new fly­overs: Mt Welling­ton to Mis­sion Bay and across the water to Queen St. Same from Devon­port, an­other from Browns Bay? Think of the views.

I hope you don’t think this is get­ting silly. Be­cause it’s no more silly than think­ing we’ll be able to keep us­ing cars the way we do now. In fact, it’s the in­evitable con­se­quence of think­ing that.

So what are we re­ally go­ing to do? The good news is that things can change. Over 50 per cent of com­muters on the har­bour bridge these days are on a bus, which ev­ery­one said would never hap­pen. Auck­lan­ders won’t aban­don their cars, or some­thing.

Pa­tron­age of trains was up 12 per cent last year and 19 per cent the year be­fore. The num­bers on the buses and fer­ries, and cy­cling and walk­ing too, all keep ris­ing. But de­spite that, the cur­rent ap­proach to trans­port plan­ning is not re­solv­ing the prob­lem. It’s mak­ing it worse.

The of­fi­cial term for what we do is “multi-mo­dal ex­pan­sion”. It means we build more of ev­ery­thing. But while we need more bus routes, light rail, more trains and more cy­cle­ways and walk­ways, we also need to stop build­ing more roads for cars.

There’s a rule in eco­nomics about this: it’s called in­duced de­mand. The more of a ser­vice you cre­ate, the more it will be used. If you add one mo­tor­way lane more peo­ple will drive, and then you have to add an­other, and an­other. See above.

The Water­view tun­nel will fill up, faster than you might think. Then what? To get peo­ple out of cars you have to make other op­tions more at­trac­tive.

It’s not about ban­ning cars. There will al­ways be peo­ple who need to drive, for busi­ness and/or per­sonal rea­sons, and we all want the roads to work for them.

The al­ter­na­tives to driv­ing need to be more at­trac­tive. It’s no good if you have to wait for ex­pen­sive buses that never come, or risk your life rid­ing a bike, or al­ways go home be­fore mide­vening be­cause the trains and fer­ries don’t run later at night.

Public trans­port has to be cheap, re­li­able and pleas­ant. And safe, which means good se­cu­rity at sta­tions and on trains. Memo to Auck­land Trans­port (AT): you can’t be lay­ing off staff — for the sake of your pas­sen­gers, we need them.

Mean­while, Mad March is al­most upon us: around 100,000 univer­sity stu­dents are about to join the com­muter shuf­fle.

In March two years ago the sys­tem al­most col­lapsed. So last year AT added 5400 ex­tra spa­ces on the buses and it made a big dif­fer­ence. Since then they’ve im­proved the bus net­works to east and west and this March are adding 4600 more places on the north­ern bus routes. There will be 99 dou­ble decker buses work­ing the city.

Is it enough? AT’s chief trans­port ser­vices of­fi­cer Mark Lam­bert says, “We are con­fi­dent our cus­tomers will be able to get on ser­vices but there may be some queue­ing, some peo­ple will have to stand and in some cases the first bus might be full.”

I would say Mark Lam­bert does not catch Auck­land buses, be­cause if he did, he’d know that’s a de­scrip­tion of many nor­mal ser­vices now.

March might or might not turn out to be mad, but this is a lost op­por­tu­nity. While AT is try­ing to meet ex­ist­ing de­mand it’s not do­ing much to trans­form our ap­proach — to make public trans­port the bet­ter op­tion. Onewa Rd’s proven so­lu­tion is not be­ing rolled out across the city.

In fact, last year it added a mere 2.6km of new bus lanes.

Why doesn’t it use Mad March to get in front of this prob­lem, for com­muters and for the big events? March brings us the Lantern Fes­ti­val, Pasi­fika, Su­per Rugby, the Auck­land Arts Fes­ti­val and Polyfest. Close to 200,000 peo­ple at each of the first two, 90,000 for Polyfest as well.

Pic­ture / Brett Phibbs

Peak-time driv­ers in Auck­land are tak­ing on av­er­age 55 per cent longer than just a few years ago to reach their des­ti­na­tions.

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