Almost a third of Auckland drivers believe traffic congestion is harming their health and performance at work or in class, according to an international survey out today.

A "commuter-pain index" commissioned by information technology giant IBM in 23 global cities found 80 per cent of Auckland drivers complaining of travel stress.

Of 402 Auckland drivers surveyed in October, compared with 500 others in Wellington and Christchurch, 74 per cent said they regularly travelled to work in single-occupancy cars and 30 per cent complained of negative health effects, particularly higher stress and anger levels.

Even more worrying for employers and educational institutions will be that 33 per cent of drivers believe congestion is harming their work or academic performance.

The survey put the average commute in Auckland at 26 minutes, and covering 17 kilometres at a speed of 39km/h.

Almost half of the surveyed Aucklanders said they had been stuck in a traffic jam for an hour or longer in the past three years - and 27 per cent had found congestion so bad they returned home.

The findings follow estimates that up to $1 billion is lost to Auckland's economy each year through congestion.

IBM managing consultant Suzi Shaw Lyons said yesterday that the cost of congestion appeared to range from 2 per cent to 4 per cent of the region's contribution to gross domestic product.

Business Council for Sustainable Development chief executive Peter Neilsen said that although one response might be that "this isn't as bad as other parts of the world", projected population and freight growth in Auckland meant congestion would only get worse in the absence of a co-ordinated plan to beat it.

Potential remedies that include organised car-pooling, spreading travel peaks over longer periods and charging motorists to use roads at times of greatest congestion would rely on technological advances to provide effective "real-time" traffic information.

If Auckland drivers feel hard off, they should spare a thought for those in some of the world's most teeming metropolises.

On a "commuter-pain index" scale of 100, Auckland scored a relatively modest 28, compared with 99 each for Beijing and Mexico City, 97 for Johannesburg and 84 for Moscow.

London and Paris were each rated with a pain level of 36 on the index - which weighs up 10 factors including commuting time, start-stop traffic and high petrol prices.

But driving to work in Auckland is more of hassle than in Los Angeles, New York, Melbourne and Stockholm.

Wellington drew level with Melbourne, reflecting what Ms Shaw Lyons said was a greater reliance on a more developed public transport system, which left just 50 per cent of survey participants driving themselves to work or classes in single-occupancy cars.

That compared with 76 per cent of Christchurch drivers, who suffered a "pain" rating of 22.

Ms Shaw Lyons said about 70 per cent of people would be living in cities with 100,000 or more residents by 2030, "so the world is becoming more and more urbanised.

"As cities compete for the skills and innovation that take talented and skilled people to drive that, we're competing for a pool of about 30 million global migrants - people who go to where the job is but who will make their assessment on where they go based on the attractiveness of a city."

She said transport was the most important factor for most people, followed by public safety and Government services such as education.

"Those systems work with each other to drive a cycle of attracting people, creating new skills and innovation, enabling new economic opportunities and retaining the human capital required to keep the economic engine of a city growing."

Ms Shaw Lyons said Auckland had a particularly concentrated afternoon travel peak, with just 11 per cent of commuters staying at work until after 6pm - a very low figure by world standards.