Ride sharing and getting students out of cars and into buses have been promoted as quick-fix solutions to ease the "staggering growth" taking place on Tauranga roads.

With traffic flows jumping 11 per cent in one year, the city council's transport chairman Rick Curach wants to take advantage of the latest technologies to make a dent in the huge number of cars that had only one occupant, the driver.

"Eleven per cent transport growth in 12 months is staggering and everyone realises it."

Bay of Plenty Regional Council transport committee chairman Stuart Crosby said big gains could be achieved by getting more students into buses.


The transport leaders were asked how the new Government elected after next month's General Election could help reduce Tauranga's roading woes.

Mr Curach wanted the Government to introduce a nationwide ride-sharing app along the lines of Uber, but free. Drivers taking part in the scheme would be incentivised to pick up two or more ride-sharing buddies by offers such as a guaranteed subsidised parking space in town.

A person wanting a ride to work would press the app on their mobile phone and enter the destination. It would bring up all the cars travelling in their neighbourhood, allowing a message to be sent to the selected driver.

However, he believed a Government-funded ride-sharing app was needed to achieve the market dominance necessary to ensure the scheme succeeded.

There were privately run ride-sharing apps, but they charged the users, whereas Mr Curach said it needed to be free to make a real difference to Tauranga's peak-time road congestion.

Asked whether a free ride-sharing app would hit usage of Bay Hopper buses, he said the regional council understood it could not hold back progress.

Most users of the app would be commuters. "That is the time when we want to get people off the road."

Mr Crosby said big gains could be achieved by getting more students on to buses, but the regional council would need more support from central government through the Ministry of Education or the New Zealand Transport Agency.

"Student buses are a quick win to reduce congestion," he said reflecting on how Tauranga's roads improved dramatically in holidays.

Getting more people to use Hopper buses was the other way to ease congestion but it took longer to change travel habits.

Mr Crosby said the last two years had seen the number of vehicle trips by private and commercial motorists increase dramatically over population growth. He blamed lower fuel prices and relatively cheap cars, with the commercial side of the equation driven by strong economic growth putting more pressure on roads leading to the port.

Both men highlighted frustrations with the ''cumbersome'' processes needed to deliver new transport infrastructure.

"It is taking far too long," Mr Crosby said.

He said the Treasury models used by the New Zealand Transport Agency to justify investments were long-winded. "They take a year and it should take two weeks. It is blindingly obvious what should be done."

Roading projects also had to fight their way through three major pieces of legislation, the Land Transport Act, the Local Government Act and the Resource Management Act.

"There are huge delays because of that, sometimes years. To make a decision and then execute it takes far too long."

Another top priority for Mr Curach was for the National Government to stick to the pre-election pledge it made in 2008 to fully fund the four-laning of 15th Ave and Turret Rd, including a new bridge.

Last month, Transport Minister and Tauranga MP Simon Bridges raised hopes that the Government would substantially reduce the looming $30 million burden on ratepayers to complete the central roading corridor upgrade.

"That would be an ideal outcome," Mr Curach said.

And in the same way that Welcome Bay commuters feared that the underpass due to open next April would shift all the morning rush hour bottleneck to the Turret Rd bridge, he said completion of the Baypark to Bayfair link would shift all the morning bottleneck to the Hewletts Rd flyover.

Mr Curach said there will be a desperate need to improve Hewletts Rd once the Baypark to Bayfair link was finished. "There will be no time advantage for commuters unless Hewletts Rd was addressed."

He advocated the construction of a dedicated city-bound bus lane from Bayfair to link into the existing lane on Hewletts Rd. "Buses will be quicker and avoid the gridlock."

Mr Curach said he was open to the Auckland City Council's idea of a regional fuel tax to fund major roading infrastructure projects, provided it did not offset money from the national roading account. "I'd always be a bit nervous."

Ken Shirley, the chief executive of the heavy transport industry's Road Transport Forum, said Tauranga was booming and the key point was to combat congestion around the port.

"Access to the port and servicing the port are critical."

Deepening the shipping channels meant the port could take bigger ships and it was becoming a hub for consolidating cargoes, he said.

The city's growth also meant the transportation of building materials was adding massively to the freight load on roads.

Mr Shirley said improvements in tunnelling technologies meant building a road tunnel under the Kaimai Range was on the long-term radar of the transport agency.

He said the tunnel would be an absolute game changer. It could sustain a substantial toll and still be viable for heavy transport operators.

Planning for the new highway from Karapiro to Matamata anticipated a link road from Tauranga under the Kaimai Range, Mr Shirley said.

What Tauranga candidates say

Jan Tinetti, Labour

Increasing traffic congestion has been a big issue with a large number of constituents I have spoken with over recent months. Labour will be making transport announcements that affect Tauranga in the very near future. We have been clear that we are committed to improving regional transport networks and to make use of all modes of transport, including rail, roads and coastal shipping. Labour has no plans for a regional fuel tax anywhere outside of Auckland.

Stuart Pedersen, Act Party
The Te Puna works are taking far too long, and Totara St needs either a third lane or a flyover. These are just two examples I have noticed. Act will push for 50 per cent of the GST collected on new building construction to go to local councils to fund infrastructure. This will generate huge revenue in Tauranga and the Western Bay. Councils will no longer fall behind in infrastructure, add long-term debt or burden new subdivisions with the costs.

Clayton Mitchell, New Zealand First
New Zealand First is calling for a full investigation into the future mobility of Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty, looking at a balanced approach to all inter-modal transport options, including rail. New Zealand First will take the tolls off Route K in order to reduce heavy traffic on Cameron Rd and Cambridge Rd. We will hold National to their promises to fully fund the four-laning of Turret Rd and 15th Ave.

Vanessa Lee, The Opportunities Party
Tauranga drivers should be paying to drive on Tauranga roads, and the same applies in Auckland and Wellington. This burden shouldn't be on the shoulders of the taxpayer. A congestion charge to manage traffic jams will generate revenue to invest in a more reliable and efficient public transport system. The question is: Are we over-investing on roads and under-investing on public transport? Our transportation issues can only be solved on evidence available, not by politicians trying to woo voters.

Rusty Kane, Independent
Future technology will have the biggest impact in reducing traffic congestion. Until then, the reliance and dominance of private vehicles in Tauranga, the highest in the country, will continue. The Government's $520 million earmarked for roading projects over the next decade needs to be brought forward and doubled. Tauranga City Council needs to implement other multi-modal transport options, like Mark Wassung's Transport Network ideas. The first thing is to remove the tolls on Takitimu Drive to ease congestion on other non-tolled arterial routes.

Emma-Leigh Hodge, Green Party
We must diversify our transport options and move away from such a reliance on private vehicles. Tauranga's layout makes this a difficult task but for too long we have had a Government not interested in taking up that necessary challenge. The Green Party will encourage local authorities to develop safe and direct walking and cycling routes, require public services to ensure pedestrian and cycle access, and work with our regional council to improve bus priority measures on all main roads.

Simon Bridges, National
Tauranga is experiencing strong growth which is fantastic for our region. There are more jobs, more people moving here and our economy is doing great. Our growing region needs continued investment in infrastructure. We've invested in more infrastructure than any other time in NZ's history and we plan to keep doing so. We're investing over $520m to build the Tauranga Northern Link and improve SH2 from Waihi to Tauranga, and we've started work on the $120m Baypark to Bayfair Link - to name just two of the projects we are delivering for Tauranga.