NZ's worst traffic spots: How Aucklanders can expect to spend 20 days in jams

By Amelia Wade

Commuters battling the traffic in New Zealand's biggest city can expect to spend the equivalent of 20 working days stuck in their car a survey has found.

And while Auckland remains the country's most congested city the rate is slowing year-on-year, unlike in Wellington where it is rising.

For one hour every morning, Wellington is one of the worst cities in the world to be stuck in traffic. From 8am to 9am, overall journey time in New Zealand's capital is increased by 45 minutes for each hour travelled (75 per cent) compared to a traffic free time - on par with Shanghai and beating cities like Rio de Janiero, Istanbul and London.

Today, TomTom released its annual traffic report based on travel time information obtained from customers in cities where the company is active. The survey ranks Mexico City, Bangkok and Istanbul as the most congested cities overall.

The survey compares travel times between peak and free flowing times. The City of Sails comes in at 40th on the list of cities with a population larger than 800,000.

Aucklanders can expect to add 33 per cent or 19 minutes per hour travelled at any point in the day. Wednesday and Thursday evenings are the worst times to be travelling in Auckland when congestion levels rise to 47.5 minutes on top of every hour travelled compared with non-peak times.

And the best time to have a dream run is on a Friday morning when you'll only spend an extra half an hour in the car for every hour of driving.

Its findings also rank Wellington's morning rush hour as one of the world's worst with its morning peak on Tuesdays between 8am and 9am take almost twice as long with an increase of 50 minutes.

However, the Automobile Association's Barney Irvine said the data had limitations because it didn't take into account how long rush hour peaks are.

"For example, in Rio de Janiero traffic is heavy until 2am, however in Wellington it's only for an hour in the morning and afternoon."

But Mr Irvine said the survey did show what every Aucklander expected to be true, that the traffic is getting worse and we're spending longer stuck behind the wheel.
"It really highlights to us that we need to see a focus not just on the big projects but also on getting more out the existing network."

Officials needed to focus on how the city can reduce its bottlenecks - shown by the survey to be Hobson St and at two spots on State Highway 1 - improve incident responses and how to have smarter traffic light phasing.

But while the traffic index showed congestion was getting worse in Auckland and Wellington, it improved slightly in Hamilton and Christchurch and was unchanged in Dunedin.

In Christchurch, congestion peaked in 2011 - the year of the deadly February quake - to hit a congestion level of 17.4 minutes per hour driving, which slightly dropped to 16.2 minutes by 2015.

Manager at the Christchurch Transport Operations Centre, Ryan Cooney, said people relocating their home, work and play lives helped ease the congestion and the nature of the work on arterial routes had changed and now has less impact.

TomTom spokesman Phil Allen said everyone needs to play their part to reduce congestion.

"If even just five per cent of us changed our travel plans, we'd improve travel times on our major highways by up to thirty per cent. Collectively, we can all work together to beat traffic congestion."

NZ'S worst traffic spots

Auckland

The City of Sails remains the country's most congested city - but only just. The time Aucklanders spend stuck in peak hour traffic is just 3 per cent longer than Wellingtonians. However, all that extra time has been calculated to add up to 20 working days stuck in traffic, according to the TomTom Traffic Index 2015.

Since the international survey started in 2008, Auckland's morning peak congestion has worsened by 14 per cent and the afternoon peak by 24 per cent. The city comes in at 40th on the survey's global traffic congestion ranking from a list of 295 cities around the world and has the second highest traffic congestion in Australasia after Sydney.

During the morning rush hour, it takes more than twice as long to commute, or 63 per cent extra, and in the evenings, the time Aucklanders spend behind the wheel jump 73 per cent compared to if they did the same route when the traffic is free flowing.

AA spokesman Barney Irvine said the survey results confirmed what every Aucklander was noticing - that traffic is getting worse.

"In Auckland it's all about growth, it's a fast growing city where the infrastructure is struggling to keep up.

"This is why congestion is such a concern for our members and Aucklanders and needs to be a main focus of the city planning."

Hamilton

Hamiltonians can rejoice - congestion has improved and the time they're spending commuting is slowly dropping.

Overall, congestion eased slightly from 22 per cent to 21 per cent with morning travel times taking an extra 35 per cent compared with the same time when traffic is free flowing. However, from 2014 to 2015, afternoon congestion worsened from 38 per cent to 40 per cent.

And it appears Hamiltonians seem to all like to use their cars on a Wednesday. The most congested morning and afternoon peaks fall on hump day with 8-9am taking an extra 38 per cent compared to free flowing traffic and 5-6pm taking an additional 45 per cent.

Wellington

The amount of time it took workers to get to the office in the capital grew by 4 per cent between 2014 and 2015. And since 2008, the morning peak congestion worsened by 27 per cent and the afternoon peak congestion by 24 per cent.

The TomTom survey said congestion in Wellington at its morning peak hour was one of the worst in the world with a 75 per cent increase in travel time at rush hour compared to free flowing traffic, exceeding other big cities like Istanbul, Los Angeles, London and Sydney.

However, Mr Irvine said there were issues with comparing percentages, especially at specific times, because they didn't gage how long the peak was. For example, in Rio de Janiero traffic is heavy until 2am, however in Wellington it's only for an hour in the morning and afternoon.

But while Wellington's growth is less intense than Auckland's, it's still a major factor to the city's congestion, Mr Irvine said.

"It's more a case of increasing demand on a pretty limited number of roads into the city. There's a lot of activity in the CBD and when you increase demand it pretty quickly builds up."

Christchurch

Manager at the Christchurch Transport Operations Centre, Ryan Cooney, said the city had unique challenges in its traffic management due to the rebuild. However, the survey's findings that congestion had slightly improved by 1 per cent in travel time between 2014 and 2015 was consistent with his findings.

In the last eight years, congestion peaked in 2011 - the year of the deadly February quake - to hit a 29 per cent increase in travel times during peak hours. However, that's very slightly dropped to 27 per cent in 2015.

Mr Cooney said people relocating their home, work and play lives helped ease the congestion and the nature of the work on arterial routes had changed and now has less impact.

He was also optimistic that there would be more enhancements to come as projects were completed and infrastructure developments like cycle and bus lanes would have an effect.

Dunedin

People in Dunedin like to knock off on a Friday an hour earlier than the rest of the country.

While the rest of the country's busiest times landed mid-week, one of Dunedin's heaviest rush hours is between 3 and 4pm on a Friday while the least heavy rush hour peak is the same day but between 8 and 9am, suggesting workers get to the office early so they can make the most of their weekends.

But overall, the survey showed the morning peak congestion remained steady and the afternoon peak congestion improved slightly.

- NZ Herald

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