Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Auckland's $1.25b gridlock bill

It is commuters and businesses who pick up most of the tab, through wasted petrol, wasted time and delayed shipments. Photo / NZ Herald
It is commuters and businesses who pick up most of the tab, through wasted petrol, wasted time and delayed shipments. Photo / NZ Herald

Snarled-up Auckland roads are costing the country $1.25 billion a year, new Government-commissioned research reveals.

It is commuters and businesses who pick up most of the tab, through wasted petrol, wasted time and delayed shipments.

Consultants Ian Wallis and David Lupton say getting the city's roads flowing freely is now "uneconomical, if not impossible", and the Government should instead aim to run the road network at capacity: moving relatively slowly, but still moving.

The report, commissioned by the New Zealand Transport Agency, indicates the cost of congestion has increased $550 million since the last study in 2004, though the two studies' methodologies differed.

Takapuna's Craig Holmes was one of eight commuters to measure his travel time for the Herald on Sunday. He and his daughter Tracy Chubb spent 73 minutes on the road to and from Auckland's CBD - about 41 minutes longer than the return trip took him on a Sunday.

The pair spend about $25 a week on fuel. And, given the 62-year-old investment manager earns about $61 per hour, the cost of his wasted time is even greater. He values those 41 minutes at $40; his daughter values them at $20. It doesn't sound like much, but over a year their time and petrol adds up to $15,000.

The NZTA study does not value commuters' time so highly: by its calculations, congestion costs $834 for each man, woman and child in Auckland.

Ellerslie Business Association manager Sally Eustace commutes from Kohimarama to Ellerslie three days a week. The 7km journey takes 12 minutes on a Sunday; 35 minutes on a weekday. "It is driving me absolutely crazy," she said. "I feel like we're trapped in."

Tina Lepou has to drive home to Weymouth from Parnell four days a week, making sure she is at her kids' daycare before it closes its doors at 5.30pm. That is important, because the daycare charges $10 for every five minutes a parent is late. "It's been a very expensive experience for some," she said.

Labour transport spokesman Phil Twyford said everyone knew congestion was getting worse. "We've had this kind of Los Angeles-style vision for the city, with motorways and sprawl. It can't go on."

But Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee denied the cost of congestion had almost doubled since 2004.

"Over the past nine years, despite increased population of some 190,000 people, there is less congestion than in 2004 and people's journeys are quicker."

The cost of Auckland's gridlock

The cost of delays on Auckland's roads is $1.25 billion, compared to free-flowing traffic, according to new NZTA research. Costs include lost productivity, delayed shipments, more petrol, and more damage to the environment. On the flip side, gridlock saves us $100m in the costs of high-speed crashes.

Time costs (peak periods) - $766m
Schedule delay costs - $522m
Vehicle operating costs - $58m
Environmental costs - $5m
Crash costs - $100m
TOTAL - $1.251b

But the cost of building enough roads to ensure traffic flows freely is prohibitive - and so the report recommends authorities lower the bar to a more "achievable target": We should aim for roads that are full to capacity at peak times, but are not "hyper-congested".

The difference between slow and gridlocked traffic is $250m - which means the government need not spend so much to fix the problem.

69.9 km/h - Average speed on free-flowing Auckland roads and motorways
45.7 km/h - Average speed on Auckland roads and motorways at capacity
44.4 km/h - Average speed on congested Auckland roads and motorways

- Herald on Sunday

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