Gridlock

Traffic congestion is having a significant impact on people's lives with new figures showing a dramatic rise in the vehicle count at 10 of our busiest intersections.

This is affecting the time people wake up, leave home for work, drop off children, and arrive home at the end of the working day. In some cases, it means they're seeing less of their family.

And the impact is being felt at schools and before-and-after-school care centres across the city, with kids being dropped off before the doors have even opened.

This is the human impact of Gridlock – Tauranga's No. 1 issue.

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Emma Bryan hates that she has to drop her son off at primary school half an hour before it opens.

She barely sees her husband during the week and worries her older children are spending more than an hour and a half on a school bus each day.

The family's working week is hectic – they leave the house early and often arrive home late.

The reason? Tauranga's worsening traffic woes.

And she's not alone.

Schools and before-and-after-school care providers say Tauranga's traffic is having a significant impact on families and their lifestyles.

Today, the Bay of Plenty Times revealed there are 767,000 more vehicle movements through 10 of the city's busiest intersections weekly, compared with six years ago.

Bryan and her three children leave their Whakamarama home before 7.45am each weekday and go their separate ways.

The 35-year-old's husband, Shane, is already long gone – he leaves home about 5.30am most days and plans his travel around the congestion on State Highway 2 and at Tauriko.

The couple's 11-year-old daughter, who goes to Otumoetai Intermediate, and 13-year-old son, who goes to Tauranga Boys' College, each catch a bus at 7.30am.

Bryan says buses now leave earlier than they used to, but more often than not there are no seats left by the time they reach their stop.

So her children stand for 45 minutes on the way to school (a trip that she says used to take about 20 minutes).

She also drives their 10-year-old son to Omokoroa No.1 School, leaving him at the bus bay at 8am – half an hour before school opens.

She then battles the traffic on State Highway 2, through Te Puna and Bethlehem, to make it to the Windermere campus of Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology by 9am, where she studies full-time during the week.

State Highway 2 traffic travelling through Bethlehem in the morning. Photo / George Novak
State Highway 2 traffic travelling through Bethlehem in the morning. Photo / George Novak

But Bryan is not the only parent dropping off her child early at school.

"A lot of people have to drop their kids there. From 8am there's probably about five, by about 8.20am there's probably about 30," she says.

It's now part of a morning routine (and in Bryan's case, is the last resort) that isn't unique to Whakamarama and Omokoroa.

Across Tauranga and the Western Bay, parents are dropping their kids at before-school care providers earlier (sometimes before opening time), and picking them up later and in the evening (sometimes after closing time).

Two before-and-after-school-care companies the Bay of Plenty Times spoke to (which together have seven centres across the city) say it is a growing trend which has become noticeably worse this year.

Bryan says she enrolled her 10-year-old son in an early-morning breakfast club at Omokoroa No.1 School, but it was costing $10 a day and was adding up and becoming unaffordable.

So she had no choice but to start dropping him early at the bus bay.

"I hate it; I absolutely hate it. Leaving your child isn't something I choose to do, but traffic delays have left me with few alternatives."

The traffic in Tauranga has changed her family's daily routine – and their lives.

"I don't see my husband. He's up and gone before we're even up," she says.

Shane Bryan is supposed to start work at 7am, but starts at 6am to avoid the traffic.

He works for a tank installation company in Tauriko and heads to the factory early to avoid the morning rush when he leaves for his first job.

In the afternoon, if he doesn't leave by 2.30pm, he will hit the traffic heading home.

"So he stays at work, which means we're not seeing him and then he can't help me with the kids' extra-curricular things," Bryan says.

Morning traffic on State Highway 29 at Tauriko. Photo / George Novak
Morning traffic on State Highway 29 at Tauriko. Photo / George Novak

She says she has to allow extra time for traffic, which sometimes means finishing work or study early. She works at a cafe in Te Puna on the weekends.

"All those sorts of things are really affecting schedules."

It also means long weekdays for everyone.

After the two older children catch the bus home, and Bryan and her 10-year-old pick them up, they arrive back home about 4.30pm.

Bryan's husband often gets in after 5.30pm – by choice, to avoid the afternoon traffic.

The family have lived at the same address in Whakamarama for nine years, and Bryan says the traffic congestion has increasingly got worse, and the commute times increasingly longer.

"It definitely affects every decision that you make in regards to leaving your home – as to whether you're prepared to sit in that traffic," she says.

"If what you're doing isn't extremely necessary then you wouldn't bother doing it. You'd just stay at home. If I need to go and grab groceries or something, I won't even bother. I will just wait."

Before-and-after-school care company Coast Kids has three centres in Tauranga.

It is run by brother and sister Rion Lawrence and Anthony Tuhoro.

Lawrence oversees all three centres but provided feedback about the Papamoa Centre, which looks after between 130 and 140 children a day.

She says there has been a noticeable increase in late pick-ups this year.

"And most of them are due to traffic. They'll call and say look I'm stuck here or I'm stuck there and I'm not going to make it at 6pm."

The centre is as busy as it has ever been and now has a waitlist.

The Greerton centre, currently run by Tuhoro, looks after about 30 children in the morning and about 100 in the afternoon.

He has also noticed significant changes this year.

Usually, his staff arrive at 6.45am each morning, to set up and open at 7am.

"But there's already parents waiting at the door," he says.

Coast Kids' brother and sister team, Rion Lawrence (left) and Anthony Tuhoro. Photo / Supplied
Coast Kids' brother and sister team, Rion Lawrence (left) and Anthony Tuhoro. Photo / Supplied

Tuhoro says a lot of parents start work before 7.30am and now want to drop off the kids earlier, so they can beat the morning traffic.

"We've never opened up earlier than 7am, but the first time ever this year, we have opened up (at 6.30am) for a few parents because they just couldn't get to work on time.

He says the same thing is happening in the afternoons as well.

Coast Kids' 6pm closing time has always been seen as generous.

"Now we're seeing that the 6pm time isn't enough.

"We've had quite a few parents come through either 6.15pm, 6.10pm – just can't get here. Just can't get here before the traffic. It's insane."

Tuhoro believes the traffic pressures are having an effect on the children too.

"The kids seem unsettled. When they arrive here before school, because of whatever's happened on the way to us, they sometimes turn up here quite ruffled."

Some children get dropped off at 7am, and are picked up at 6pm.

"The ones we see the biggest effect on [with] these long hours are the juniors – between 5 and 8 years old. It doesn't work well, they're too young, but I guess parents don't have a choice."

Another before-and-after-school care provider in Tauranga, sKids (Safe Kids in Daily Supervision), is also experiencing an increase in early drop-offs and late pick-ups.

Patrice Carmignani owns four sKids centres – Te Puna, Welcome Bay, Te Puke and Maungatapu – which look after more than 100 children in total each day, on-site at schools.

He says he has also had requests from parents to open at 6.30am, instead of 7am.

"We arrive at 6.50am, and there's already some kids that have been dropped off at the school."

Patrice Carmignani owns four sKids centres (Safe Kids in Daily Supervision) and has noticed an increase in early drop-offs and late pick-ups.

His centres have two pick-up options in the afternoon – before 4pm or by 6pm.

This year there have been few before-4pm pick-ups, but also a lot of pick-ups after 6pm, some as late as 6.30pm.

"It's traffic, it's traffic, it's traffic," Carmignani says.

"We've got some kids where the parents obviously have to work, and during the term, they're being dropped at us at 7am, then they go to school at 8.30am, then they come back to us at 3pm, and they stay here until 6pm.

"And then through the holiday programmes, they're with us from 7am to 6pm."

Carmignani says those are long, "full-on" days for the kids.

"We become their second parent."

Evelyn Probert, a counsellor from the Bay of Plenty Therapy Foundation, who works with children and teenagers, says the congestion in Tauranga means parents and children are spending longer sitting in cars – early in the mornings, and in the afternoon.

"Increasingly each parent in the family can be working in different areas of the city and taking the children to many different after-school activities two to three times per week."

Evelyn Probert, a counsellor from the Bay of Plenty Therapy Foundation. Photo / File
Evelyn Probert, a counsellor from the Bay of Plenty Therapy Foundation. Photo / File

Probert says children need downtime, especially non-structured play, "to reset their brain and body back to the relaxed, healthy growth mode".

"These long days mean families are exhausted and stressed – in fight or flight mode – and also compounding the traffic issue."

The traffic congestion is also affecting schools in the city.

Robert Mangan, principal of Tauranga Boys' College on Cameron Rd, says there has been a significant increase in the number of students arriving late because of congestion, "which is impacting upon their learning".

"A large number are due to buses being delayed but some due to parents being held up."

Tauranga Boys' College principal Robert Mangan. Photo / File
Tauranga Boys' College principal Robert Mangan. Photo / File

Richard Inder, principal of Gate Pa School, also on Cameron Rd, says traffic congestion is "most definitely" getting worse and is having a "huge effect" on staff arrival times at school.

To avoid the traffic and arrive at around 7.30am, Inder says his staff have been leaving their own homes at 6.30am.

"Even worse after school and trying to avoid the 5 o'clock time – which often means a very long day for teachers," he says.

"There are some days when parents get caught in traffic and are delayed picking their children up and if there are road works in the area, it jams up even more."

'Everything's sort of dependent on the traffic now'

Stacey Tomsett (left) and Lucille Thomas commute to work in the Tauranga CBD each morning. Both have had to make changes to their morning routine because of the increased traffic congestion. Photo / Andrew Warner
Stacey Tomsett (left) and Lucille Thomas commute to work in the Tauranga CBD each morning. Both have had to make changes to their morning routine because of the increased traffic congestion. Photo / Andrew Warner

Stacey Tomsett and Lucille Thomas are colleagues, they work on Devonport Rd in the Tauranga CBD and start each morning at 8am.

Both women have had to make changes to their morning routine because of the increased traffic congestion in Tauranga.

Tomsett, 22, lives by Bayfair in Mount Maunganui and used to leave her house about 7.45am to get to work on time. Now she has to leave at 7.15am.

"And that change really started this year; after the Christmas break is when it started getting really bad."

She drives along Hewletts Rd to get into the city and says some of the worst congestion is on Links Ave, which she has to go through to get to Hewletts Rd.

She has also tried Maunganui Rd but says that's just as bad.

Traffic congestion on Hewletts Rd in Mount Maunganui. Photo / Andrew Warner
Traffic congestion on Hewletts Rd in Mount Maunganui. Photo / Andrew Warner

Leaving half an hour earlier in the morning means Tomsett doesn't have time for breakfast at home any more.

After work, she used to sometimes visit her family in the lower Kaimais but now has to leave that to the weekends, "because the traffic going that way is just as bad".

"Everything's sort of dependent on the traffic now."

Her colleague Thomas has made even bigger changes.

The 51-year-old and her husband, who also works in the Tauranga CBD, moved from Welcome Bay to McLaren Falls a few weeks ago looking for a lifestyle change.

Traffic was a major factor in the move.

They were living on Osprey Dr in Welcome Bay and it was taking Thomas about 45 minutes to travel the roughly 8km to work each morning.

She says there was a time when she used to leave home about 7.40am, but it got to the point where she was having to leave before 7.15am.

Stacey Tomsett and Lucille Thomas talk about what changes they have had to make because of traffic issues in Tauranga.

Thomas says it started getting worse when the Hairini St bus lane was established last year.

"Everybody is complaining about Welcome Bay Rd but what they don't realise, is that it goes further than just Welcome Bay Rd."

She says all the outlying streets are congested and backed-up too.

"Coming in was just a nightmare – I mean, it was literally stationary."

Cars from Welcome Bay Rd join the traffic crawling towards the city from State Highway 29A. Photo / File
Cars from Welcome Bay Rd join the traffic crawling towards the city from State Highway 29A. Photo / File

Thomas started drinking her coffee and doing her makeup in the car.

"I just eventually made peace with it, because it used to make me really tense."

Going home was a little bit quicker in the afternoons, she says, maybe about 25 minutes, but she was performing a "zigzag" through the back roads to achieve that.

Now she commutes from McLaren Falls Rd and uses the Route K toll road.

The distance between home and work has more than doubled, but her commute time is about 20-25 minutes.

Thomas is travelling further, but can leave about 15 minutes later in the morning.

Tauranga has grown hugely over the past 20 years – but it has come at a considerable cost.
New figures confirm what many frustrated motorists already suspect – thousands of additional cars on our roads are causing gridlock most weekday mornings and afternoons, placing an enormous strain on lives, businesses and the wider city.
Read here to discover the true scale of Tauranga's traffic woes.
Read here to see what the mayor has to say in a special guest editorial.
Read here for Dylan Thorne's editorial, launching this five-part series.
Tomorrow, we reveal how traffic congestion is affecting businesses, and why it could have a devastating impact on the housing sector and wider economy.