Thursday, 18th July, 2019

“Auckland’s congestion isn’t getting worse.” The number of cars on the roads is “perfectly stable,” despite the population growing by 116,915 since 2015.

That’s how Auckland Transport CEO Shane Ellison responded to a question: “Why is congestion getting worse?” (NZ Herald, July 13).

His comment is nonsense, even allowing for the fact that many of the 189,700 cars registered in Auckland 2015-18 are used elsewhere. But more telling is that NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) numbers show that the vehicle kilometres travelled on Auckland roads increased by 695 million kilometres in the years 2016 to 2017 (the latest that NZTA has data on). In the last decade, Auckland State Highway Traffic has increased 880 million kilometres per annum or 21% from 2008 to 2017.

Auckland’s public transport (PT) is now at 100 million trips a year, for the first time since 1951, but we are still stuck in traffic. True, we’re not going to build our way out of congestion.

We’re not going to address congestion JUST by building roads, but nor are we going to address it by JUST investing in public transport or JUST managing demand.

It’s going to take an effort in all areas. Cars carry the vast bulk of Auckland’s transport load, and while we’ll inevitably (and rightly) see a significant switch to PT, the primary role of the car isn’t going to change. With our spread-out city geography, and the growth Auckland is facing, we cannot afford NOT to add capacity to the core component of the transport network that keeps us moving.

The fragility of our network is experienced every day by commuters. There is nose-to-tail congestion now extending through the whole working day on some parts of the network. And when something goes wrong, our inability to address it quickly shows up basic weaknesses in our system.

I agree with Mr Ellison there’s a basic difference between AT not listening and not agreeing. Lots of Aucklanders have for years urged faster action on decongesting roads in Silverdale-Whangapararoa Peninsula, Lake Road to Devonport, and around Mill Road in Manukau. But most are scheduled for construction in the second half of the 2020s.

Instead, in Whangaparaoa, for example, 18 months ago a “dynamic lanes” system was introduced, to change the status of lanes depending on traffic demand. But its safety record is poor and has been (temporarily) closed, despite his claim in last Saturday’s Herald that “they (i.e. the community) wouldn’t live without it”.

 What Auckland badly needs is a change of behaviour if it is to fix our fragile transport system, and this starts with speed of action from transport authorities to apply proven big ideas from other cities:

  • Use private sector finance to build ‘ready to go’ new roads and multi-storey park-and-ride stations, with proper security; and adding more PT peak hour services;
  • Introduce a  practical congestion pricing trial on the motorway network – to manage demand and raise the big money needed to improve the network; and,
  • Talk to business about variable working hours or Council considering free PT after 9.30 am.

There is no short cut to Auckland lifting its game. We will only prosper with a proper, modern transport system, and for this to happen government and council must be bold.

For more information contact Michael Barnett, mobile: 0275 631 150.
Michael Barnett, Chief Executive, Auckland Business Chamber.