If you've sat through several light changes on Hewletts Rd or crept along 15th Avenue with fellow commuters during peak travel times, you've felt Tauranga's growing pains.

Rapidly rising traffic volumes, population growth, more emissions per capita than anywhere else in the country, plus the need to meet global carbon reduction standards has local and regional officials seeking transport solutions.

Bay of Plenty Weekend Times reporter Dawn Picken delved into preliminary results of transport and cycle surveys (still in progress) and asked locals whether they're willing to make changes to help ease congestion.

Early Survey Responses

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"The problem is Tauranga is too spread out. I'd love to see safer lanes for cycling so more children could cycle and more frequent buses."

"Buses should be provided free to school students, this would reduce the morning traffic straight away."

"The transport network here in Tauranga is fragmented and unreliable. Numerous times when I have caught buses they are behind or ahead of schedule ..."

"People are going to take public transport (or alternative means) if it is cheaper, easier and quicker than taking their own car."

These are selected comments to a question on Tauranga City Council's transport survey asking about the importance of reducing the city's reliance on cars (72 per cent marked four or five for "important" or "very important" on a scale of one to five). The survey also asked how TCC was doing on the issue at the moment (nearly 82 per cent said one or two for "not well").

Ninety-one per cent of respondents reported using a car or truck as their usual method of travel to their main destination.

Residents in Tauranga and the Western Bay of Plenty are being asked about transport issues that need addressing in the next 30 years. Feedback will help shape a transport plan being led by council, SmartGrowth, Bay of Plenty Regional Council, Western Bay of Plenty District Council and the NZ Transport Agency.

Tauranga transport committee chairman Rick Curach is quoted on the council website as saying: "Many of our challenges revolve around the fact here in Tauranga we rely on cars more than any other city in New Zealand. In the next decade we're expecting to see an extra 20,000 vehicles travelling each day on our main roads."

 Connie Kost just returned to work a few months ago to her job in Tauranga's CBD. She said buses are infrequent and she needs a way to reach her infant daughter quickly if necessary.
Connie Kost just returned to work a few months ago to her job in Tauranga's CBD. She said buses are infrequent and she needs a way to reach her infant daughter quickly if necessary.

He said the city's population will reach 180,000 (up from about 130,000 this year) in three decades.

Over the phone, Curach told Bay of Plenty Times Weekend, the survey data, even after the online poll is closed and results finalised, will be of limited value.

"It's a self-selecting survey that can be captured by certain interest groups. A proper survey would be a random phone survey and a proper demographic reflection of the community. This is not scientific, but can be used to give us an indication of what's important to people."

Curach said central government compels councils to query public opinion while forming a transportation plan.

"They require that before they provide funding."

Curach said he was especially interested in nine questions asking how the council was doing on transport issues so far, with one rated "not well" and five ranked "very well".

"Nearly 28 per cent of respondents rated us a 'one'. That's worrying. So we need to probably pick up our game and probably do a more scientific survey to establish whether that's correct."

Other Findings

What's clear from these early, unscientific findings is the 1610 respondents (as of 9pm on October 18) were overwhelming in favour of ensuring the city grows in a way supporting high quality public transport, biking and walking options (85 per cent marked four or five, with five being "very important").

Respondents also said it was "very important" (55.65 per cent) or "important" (nearly 24 per cent) for freight to be able to move efficiently on main routes, though about 9 per cent of respondents said we're doing a good job on this at the moment.

One respondent wrote: "Please, please put freight back onto trains!!! It is insane, the clogging of roads with trucks plus the massive degradation of those roads that costs us millions to fix ..."

Other respondents asked for things like more parking and family friendly apartments.

One person wrote we should leave our children a city "that provides multiple opportunities for work, recreation and ease of movement. We need to preserve our natural wonders, but we also need to plan (smartly) for continued growth".

Nearly 72 per cent said they favoured a more compact, rather than expanding city.

Almost 69 per cent said it was "important" or "very important" to reduce carbon emissions, though most thought the city wasn't doing well in that area.

Roughly 79 per cent said council should put more priority on improving public transport, walking and biking options sooner rather than decades from now.

Councillor Curach said regardless of final survey results, transportation planners were committed to improving public transit and cycling.

"In terms of where money should be invested, the majority of people want council to continue investing in road capacity increases. We're not going to get a quick shift into public transport or bikes. At the same time, we need to start catering more for cyclists and public transportation and the regional council [who funds the bus system] is already doing that."

On the Street

People we informally polled in Tauranga's CBD around midday Wednesday said they'd like to use public transit, but voiced frustration with what they said was infrequent, unreliable service.

Connie Kost commuted to work each day and said she needed a car because her nearly 9-month-old daughter was in childcare.

"I come from Papamoa, going through Mangatapu roundabout, and from then on, it's just a carpark. So it's frustrating."

Kost said she's lived in the Bay nine years and the Tauranga Eastern Link has helped.

"But only until you get to all the roadworks, and then it just stops."

Kost said she hadn't yet taken public transit, but could consider it if parking near her Tauranga workplace disappears.

"I'm from Europe, so over there, buses go every five, 10 minutes. It's normal to use the bus. Whereas here ... every 30 minutes is not really good enough ... it's quite a trip if you need to change buses."

Fania Pewhairangi had just missed her bus home to Matua when we spoke with her. She said it would be another half hour before the next one.

"I had an appointment in town. It's cool, because it's not far from where I stay to get on it."

Pewhairangi said she didn't often ride the bus, partly because some routes made too many stops and took too long to reach her destination.

Carol Manion said driving into town was a hassle, as was finding a park. She commutes to Cameron Rd from Papamoa.

"It certainly has gotten a lot more challenging, but the roads have improved, so that's good. Hewletts Rd is a bit of a nightmare. And school holidays are always a bit easier, but today it was backed up from before I got to Bayfair all the way to Hewletts Rd."

She said she hadn't considered public transit because her work hours were irregular.

"I've got a diesel car, so it doesn't cost much to run."

Bill Wilson, from Merivale, was parking his minivan in the CBD just before we spoke.

The 80-year-old retired trucker uses a cane and said boarding the bus would be awkward. He said building more roads is probably necessary.

"There's a lot of traffic all right. It sure has changed a lot."

In fact, a report earlier this year commissioned by Priority One showed Tauranga traffic jumped 11 per cent in one year.

The increase to March 2017 was more than double New Zealand's rate of 4.6 per cent and higher than 7.9 per cent for the Bay of Plenty.

Business leaders and others said they were concerned the Bay was becoming a "mini-Auckland".

Priority One chief executive Nigel Tutt said congestion was starting to impact the local economy and could dent the region's appeal.

"I can't think of another city of similar size in New Zealand where the transport challenge is so fraught," he told the Bay of Plenty Times in June.

Bill Wilson uses a cane and said riding a bus doesn't work for him or his wife. The Merivale couple prefer using a minivan to get around. Photo / John Borren
Bill Wilson uses a cane and said riding a bus doesn't work for him or his wife. The Merivale couple prefer using a minivan to get around. Photo / John Borren

Transport Woes

A report late last month stating transport pollution in Tauranga is higher per capita than main centres such as Auckland and Wellington is another driver for those seeking to solutions to our already-crowded highways.

Early findings from a report commissioned by TCC revealed the city's transport emissions in 2015/16 per capita were higher than Dunedin, Wellington, Auckland and the national average.

It said Tauranga transportation contributed 63 per cent of the city's overall emissions - meaning transport was the biggest cause of local greenhouse gas emissions.

Another report earlier this year stated Tauranga was the most car-reliant city in New Zealand, with 91 per cent of people using private vehicles to get around.

Councillors and others say all signs point to a need to get people out of cars.

Sustainable Business Network Bay of Plenty regional manager Glen Crowther is consulting with local and central government officials on transport issues.

Crowther told Bay of Plenty Times Weekend his group doesn't expect most people in Tauranga will abandon car trips in favour of buses and bikes, "... but we do think we should aspire to get a large number of people who live in Tauranga to actually start using the bus or a bike or walk for some of their trips".

Crowther said that would lead to improvements for drivers, too, who wouldn't be competing with as much traffic.

"It's better for us ratepayers and taxpayers, because we don't have to fund extra-wide roads to fit all these cars in."

Crowther sympathised with councils, who were caught in a "tight situation".

He said regional councils fund a significant portion of transport not funded by central government or user-pays.

"They're looking at upping spending on bussing in Tauranga significantly ahead of the rate of inflation to make buses better. I'd be the last person to say I don't want to see that, but it comes down to whether that kind of incremental approach will make a big difference."

A report out of Auckland earlier this week said that city's public transport users made 90 million trips on buses, trains and ferries the past year, making this the biggest year for public transport in the Big Smoke since 1956.

Crowther said Tauranga could follow in Auckland's footsteps by building on existing bus infrastructure.

"The model here would be more like buses on the North Shore ... everyone using the bus flies along the busway and scoots over the bridge and into town."

He said Tauranga could have that model without forking out for expensive train service.

"Though you wouldn't want to discount it [passenger rail] for the future."

Curach said the transport committee was not considering passenger rail or light rail for the near-term.

"We've been advised it is outside the ball park. We've got a bus service there, and the most prudent investment is improving that before spending a huge amount of money on a regional network of trains."

Prime Minister-designate Jacinda Ardern's Labour Party has pledged an initial $20 million for a high-speed passenger train linking Auckland with Tauranga and Hamilton. National Party MP Simon Bridges in late August said the plan would be too expensive, and existing rail lines were too busy with freight to handle a passenger service.

Crowther said local, regional and central government transport officials and others trying to untangle the traffic web had a similar goal - ideally, fewer people alone in cars.

"I don't hear anyone saying it would be great to have more people driving everywhere. You don't hear anyone saying they want less safe cycleways. No health professional is saying people need to exercise less. Public transport equals more exercise and fewer health costs. The challenge is always the short-term funding issues."


Cycle Survey - Early Findings

"I am in Welcome Bay, so how do I ride a bike to Bayfair without getting killed?"

Tauranga City Council's Safer Cycle Routes survey garnered several comments about the danger of cycling in town. Question three asked, "What puts you off riding a bike?"

A respondent said "We cycle for fun as a family but I'm anxious about my kids cycling to school because of traffic and how fast the cars go in residential areas".

As of 9pm October 18, 563 people submitted answers to an online questionnaire designed to help formulate a plan to get more people on bikes.

The TCC cycle plan page also asks for feedback on cycling routes.

One respondent, when asked for feedback about the council's goal to get more people cycling to their destinations, wrote, "Wasting your time; Tauranga is so spread out it is faster to go by car and you have to carry all your gear with you."

Another respondent commented "Excellent and about time TCC showed more courage in being effective and leading on creating a better, safer cycling environment".

Take the surveys:

Access the transport survey
www.tauranga.govt.nz/transportplan
(until October 27)
Cycle survey
https://haveyoursay.taurangagovt.nz
(until November 5)

Tauranga Drivers Poll
A Tauranga City Council survey released last month showed 64 per cent of motorists contributed to peak-time congestion. The phone poll of 451 residents showed 29 per cent of respondents did not work or worked from home. Thirty-four per cent said they cycled in Tauranga.