There’s a new posse of mayors, councilors and local board members in town. Some are fresh blood, some are returning to office; all will be reflecting on the challenges they face over the next three years and on how best to repay the faith of their constituents.

What does the AA want to see from them? In Auckland, and increasingly in other parts of the country, the message is simple: take steps to address congestion. A survey of Auckland AA Members in May this year, which garnered 2,500 responses, showed that congestion was by far the number one transport concern.

When asked how much priority the incoming Mayor of Auckland should place on addressing traffic congestion, 60% of respondents rated it 10 out of 10, while another 25% rated it 8-9 out of 10. 

Other transport issues like road safety and providing transport alternatives ranked well behind, while non-transport issues (increasing housing supply, making urban spaces more attractive) were even further back.

With commuting times likely to get a lot worse before they get any better, tackling congestion is going to become more and more of a priority for Aucklanders.

Each year, the AA releases a congestion report for Auckland, based on Google travel time data. The data for 2018 shows that, even though congestion was largely kept at bay across the region thanks in part to the Waterview tunnel, the average motorway user still spent an extra 85 hours in traffic due to congestion over the course of the year, compared to an extra 79 hours the previous year.

But the real concern isn’t what’s happening now; it’s what’s going to happen in the next five to ten years.

Auckland’s growth will continue to surge over that period, with the population expected to increase by 300,000 by 2028, and the car fleet by up to 250,000.

To make matters worse, much of the growth is going to happen in suburbs a long way from the centre of town, where there are limited work and study options and limited public transport coverage.

What it all adds up to is more driving – much more. And that means much more congestion.

The total distance travelled by vehicles is forecast to jump by up to 20% by 2028, with cars accounting for the vast majority of it. Billions of dollars is earmarked for public transport, and that investment will see it carry more of the load, but it is still expected to make up only 7% of all travel in 2028.

Meanwhile, help is slow to arrive. The Government’s transport infrastructure programme for Auckland is mired in uncertainty around planning and funding; there seems no hope of major projects like rapid transit to the airport or the Northwest or East West Link meeting the 2028 completion target. The congestion outlook isn’t as bleak in other centres but it’s a growing concern. In Wellington, congestion turns a 10-minute trip from Lower Hutt into the CBD into nearly a 30-minute trip each morning, and the numbers are similar for Tauranga commuters travelling into town via SH2. In Christchurch, a trip from the airport to the CBD can take almost twice as long in the morning peak compared with off-peak.

In each case, figures are trending up, year on year. The fact that the delays are still well below what we see in Auckland is no reason for us to sit on our hands – quite the opposite. We need to act now to ensure that high-growth centres like Hamilton, Tauranga and Queenstown don’t suffer the same fate as Auckland further ahead.

In a growing, prosperous city, there will always be at least some congestion – it’s a fact of life – but that doesn’t mean we should give up trying.

For local government officials, that means doing all they can with the resources available to keep congestion’s impacts to a minimum, and being accountable for what’s actually delivered.

Now is the time for them to show they care about this as much as their voters do.

What needs to happen?
Alongside the existing Auckland transport programme and its strong public transport focus, the AA is calling for urgent action in five areas:

1 Set firm congestion targets for Auckland and measure progress against them.

2 Get moving with the public discussion around congestion charging.

3 Bring forward road projects in greenfields growth areas and look at widening specific sections of the motorway core.

Invest in smart traffic lights, dynamic lanes (including on motorways) and peak-period clearways to de-congest existing roads.

5 Change zoning rules to allow more density in high-growth outer suburbs. The idea is to develop apartment blocks around bus and train stations and localised work and study options, thus removing the need to drive for more Auckland commuters.

Reported by Barney Irvine for our AA Directions Summer 2019 issue

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