Sam Judd

Comment on the environment from nzherald.co.nz columnist Sam Judd

Sam Judd: Road rage remedies

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We've all seen it (and some of us have been it): the disgruntled motorist waving the shaky fist at someone who has cut in front during rush hour. Traffic congestion is a bane for many and heavy car use significantly impacts our environment.

Aside from the obvious air pollution and carbon emissions associated with using vehicles, more cars mean more heavy metals (brake dust for example) that poison our environment.

Much has been said, written and haggled about the woes of commuters in Auckland. With thousands of cars maneuvered by stressed solo drivers, I for one didn't enjoy the traffic or the road rage I encountered when I arrived to live here and I avoid rush hour like the plague.

We Kiwis love our cars. We love the freedom it brings, but as the cost to commute increases (both financial and environmental), we need to look for alternatives.

I am not saying we need to get rid of cars - I enjoy the Nissan Safari 4WD that we use to winch and haul rubbish at clean-up events, but I rarely drive it by myself.

A new light rail system in Auckland City has been a long time coming. It's going to cost ratepayers a bomb and will only service a handful of suburbs, but it is a far better approach than John Banks' idea of simply building more motorway lanes: Matthew Turner, A University of Toronto economist found that building more roads simply creates more traffic.

Could we remove a motorway lane and replace it with rail or a decent sized cycle lane?

Though it sounds strange, Turner's study suggests that increasing public transport does not necessarily improve traffic, so we must look elsewhere.

How many of you out there are not happy for New Zealand central government money to go towards fixing Auckland's traffic issues?

Perhaps a user-pays system would be more fair and effective at the same time.

Congestion charges have worked overseas - Stockholm introduced a tax that varied according to time of the day. The early bird gets in cheap, but if you want to commute at rush hour: you pay. The system has halved queuing times on access roads to the city in the mornings, cut traffic by 18% and CO2 emissions have dropped between 14 and 18 percent.

This could be a traffic-improving system that would actually raise money for Auckland Council, rather than continue to be an endless pit of expensive tunnels and bridges.

If you drive an environmentally friendly car in Stockholm, you don't have to pay the tax - an incentive that almost tripled the use of green cars in only three years.

Carpooling is one way that will easily and immediately reduce the amount of lonely commuters on city motorways, who battle their way through a bumper-to-bumper circus every morning.

After successful results in the capital, Auckland Transport worked with The Greater Wellington Regional Council to provide existing and potential carpoolers with an excellent website: www.letscarpool.govt.nz where they can easily connect with each other and make it happen.

The initiative was given a shove along with a video from awesome Wellington band The Nudge - a clever way to show that carpooling is for everyone - not just people who analyse carbon emissions in their spare time.

Jayride has been another success story for ride-sharing- a very good idea if you are planning a longer trip alone and want to split the gas.

I wonder whether carpooling initiatives would get an extra boost if councils gave registered users free car parking in the city? This was one of the incentives that worked well for the University of Wollongong when they started their carpooling system.

Sharing rides simply makes sense. You save money, you get to use priority lanes (where they exist), employers reduce costs of maintaining carparks and likely have happier staff who don't have to spend their scratchy hours of the day alone, getting more and more irritable about traffic.

Most people who carpool find they enjoy it, so why not start now? You will probably end up meeting new friends and enjoying it rather than imploding with the stress of traffic into a fit of road rage.

I would love to hear any suggestions you might have for road rage remedies. Please post a comment or email me to share.

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