As New Zealand adjusts to moving from a Covid-19 alert level 4 to level 3, Kiri Gillespie investigates just how Tauranga residents adhered to the level 4 lockdown restrictions.Pig hunters, pensioners and people driving their dogs from Tauranga to Mount Maunganui have been blamed for contributing to a "crazy" increase in traffic volumes on city roads during Covid-19 level 4 restrictions.
Data obtained by the Bay of Plenty Times reveals a regular and marked increase in the city's traffic volumes each week of the lockdown, despite lockdown restrictions. That traffic is expected to increase more now that we are in lifted to level 3.
The Tauranga City Council figures tracked the number of traffic movements at five of the city's busiest intersections in the week before and weeks after March 25, the day the level 4 lockdown came into effect.
On March 12, 225,498 vehicles were recorded as travelling through 15th Ave and Fraser St; Hewletts Rd and Totara St; 15th Ave and Cameron Rd; Hewletts Rd and Jean Batten Drive; and Elizabeth St and Cameron Rd.
The day after the lockdown, March 26, just 48,963 traffic movements were recorded.
Under level 4 restrictions, only essential workers travelling to or from jobs were allowed out, except for people going to the supermarket or pharmacy for essentials.
However, within four weeks the number of cars on the roads ballooned to 69,668.
The increases in traffic at the intersections in those four weeks ranged from 35 per cent at 15th Ave and Fraser St to 62 per cent at Hewletts Rd and Totara St. In total, the average volume of traffic on Tauranga's streets was 31 per cent of what it usually would be pre-lockdown.
Ben Walmsley uses Totara St often in his line of work for the Port of Tauranga, travelling between Tauranga and Mount Maunganui shipping yards.
He is working long shifts and long weeks due to Covid-19 pressures and has become frustrated and angry at the increasing number of people he sees driving who he doubts are also essential workers.
"I've seen so many families out going for drives, older people in their 70s and 80s. You can't tell me they're essential workers," he said.
"The other day I saw someone drive across [the Harbour Bridge] with a pig on the back, they've clearly been out hunting, and heaps of parents taking kids for a drive - so many people out for a drive. Then you see people driving over the bridge to the Mount with a dog in the back, clearly going to take their dog to the beach.
"The way I see it, is you don't need to cross the Harbour Bridge unless you're an essential worker."
Walmsley said the amount of traffic had increased so much during lockdown that by Friday last weekit had practically become a regular day.
"On the first week I would see hardly any cars but it's just progressively gotten worse."
He said people ignoring the restrictions were "selfish" and the amount of traffic was "crazy".
"It's not that hard to stay at home."
The data revealed an increase in traffic at each intersection for each week since the lockdown, except for a small drop in week three.
Council general manager of infrastructure Nic Johansson said traffic volume dropped to 22 per cent at the start of the lockdown but picked up to 31 per cent of normal during the last four weeks.
"Most of that increase seems to be courier and delivery trips," he said.
"There are five ships in the port with another 11 expected. Major ship movements like this generate traffic around the port and out to the many supporting businesses."
Western Bay of Plenty road policing acting senior sergeant Wayne Hunter said most people officers stopped during level 4 were essential workers, with letters to prove it.
Within the past week, many people said they were business owners travelling to their businesses to prepare for level 3, "which they're allowed to do".
Last week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced this week's lifting at 11.59pm on Monday to level 3 restrictions, allowing business owners to travel to their work to help prepare.
While there had been a noted increase of traffic on the road during lockdown, it still was not as much as normal, which had its benefits, Hunter said.
The number of crashes the road policing unit was typically called to had dropped from about 30 a week to 10 in the first week of lockdown, eight in the next, five after that and about two as of Friday last week.
Hunter said most people he and his team encountered had been abiding by the rules.