Let's play a game I call Tauranga Traffic Roulette. Spin the wheel of your car – leave home in Te Puna, Papamoa, Mount Maunganui, Welcome Bay or elsewhere and drive to the CBD.
What happens if you leave at 7.30am? How about 8.30am? Misery. Cars and trucks form a slow metal snake that barely slithers ... Now try leaving after peak traffic times, say, 10am. Better? Sometimes, much better.
Other times one wonders where all these people came from and since when did we have to crawl Hewletts Rd mid-morning on a Tuesday, or creep over the Harbour Bridge towards the Mount at 3.30pm Wednesday?
We're growing up, Tauranga. Getting big, busy and where traffic's concerned, more unpredictable each month. Sometimes, it takes me 15 minutes to drive from Papamoa to the CBD. Other days, it could take 40 minutes.
Roadworks are under way around the $120 million projects designed to curb congestion at two of the city's busiest roundabouts: Baypark and Bayfair. I visualise two flyovers (set for completion by 2020), then envision what will happen once I reach Hewletts: lights. Stop. Go. Stop. Go.
We know congestion eases during school holidays when parents aren't trying to save the $1.60 one-way bus fare by driving the darlings to school. Sadly, the idea floated by a Bay of Plenty regional councillor to provide free school buses seems to have burst before it ever left the ground.
Other solutions to our traffic woes? Take the bus. You betcha. I see legions beating a path to their neighbourhood stop. They're mostly schoolchildren whose parents subsidise the trip.
Cycle? Some of us will, if only on occasion. For others, the idea of riding a bicycle is equivalent to parading around town wearing a lycra mankini. They'll have none of it.
Light rail? Absolutely. We can start laying track after we build the museum.
Where does this leave us? Sitting. In traffic.
This is where radical solutions are born. My idea, formulated while sitting on Hewletts, staring at a licence plate holder stating, "If you can read this, I've lost the boat!" is let's stay home.
Before you tell me I'm crazy and/or locals are already working remotely, consider a couple of points: a) a substantial (a fancy way of saying I've no clue what percentage this might be) portion of us are knowledge workers, aka computer jockeys, aka people who sit on their bums staring at a screen. Are you one of them? Can you do your job somewhere besides an office one day a week? Then do that. Stay off the highways, especially during peak travel times. b) While some companies and independent business owners are already working remotely, it would take a mass, concerted effort to achieve a reduction in congestion.
How to orchestrate that massive collaboration? A brainy 18-year-old could devise an app we opt into and register for non-driving days or shifts. Participating businesses could provide incentives (ie, prizes) which would garner them kudos for being good community stewards and act as a carrot to keep us on track. Tauranga has 360 cameras across the city, many of which have an eye on traffic flows. The app could piggyback on already-available technology.
Other communities have tried variations of this theme dating back to at least the 80s. A four-week pilot programme in Honolulu in 1988 where 3500 employees working in a particular area shifted working hours by 45 minutes resulted in a "significant overall effect on travel conditions", though average estimated time savings were in the range of three to four minutes.
The study's authors say staggered work hours can improve travel conditions, but a permanent project should be as voluntary as possible to minimise problems of equity and inconvenience. Another 1990 study in Los Angeles found a compressed, four-day workweek resulted in fewer trips and fewer miles driven than when working a traditional 5/40 schedule (five eight-hour days per week). The average reduction in vehicle miles equalled $850 in annual savings in user costs and an average decrease of 2300 pounds of carbon dioxide and pollutants.
Here in Aotearoa, a report earlier this year said Auckland commuters spend an extra 45 minutes a day – or 20 additional working days a year stuck in traffic.
Tauranga's traffic flows jumped 11 per cent this year from last. Yes, we'll build the Northern Link, yes, the TEL is swell, and our new roundabouts will be, too. Bus routes will change, and hopefully, ridership will increase.
But if the population growth predicted – 1.4 per cent per year - lengthens the tails of our traffic queues, we'll need more roads. Wider ones, too.
Is it impossible to orchestrate tens of thousands of drivers so they can alternate commute days? Our species sequenced the human genome nearly 15 years ago. Today, I can order a DNA kit, spit in a tube and trace my ancestry. Surely we can solve our traffic troubles in a way far cheaper and greener than continuing to build roads.