One afternoon late last year I had a meeting with a man in downtown Auckland. He was late. Then he rang to ask, where was he supposed to park? He said he had been driving round and round and there weren't any parks anywhere.

Where did you come from? I asked him. The answer was Ponsonby.

It's true, Aucklanders don't want to get out of their cars. Well, many of them. My friend could have got on the Link bus, and kept working all the way to the meeting. He gets a gazillion emails a day, he could have used the time, and done his blood pressure a favour.

He could have called a cab or an Uber and done the same thing. He could have grabbed a yellow and black Onzo bike and ridden down the hill. Done his heart a favour that way, and enjoyed the day. It hadn't occurred to him to do any of those things.


But the thing that stuffed up the transport choice he did make wasn't bike lanes or buses, the things some critics like to blame. It was other private motor vehicles. There were too many cars downtown, as there always are, because too many people like him had driven in when they didn't need to.

It doesn't take much to recognise that the solution – the only solution, for a growing population with limited space in which to grow – is to make the alternatives to private motor vehicles more attractive. Public transport that's frequent, reliable, pleasant, safe and affordable; cycling that's safe; walking that's prioritised. And at the same time, ratcheting up the disincentives to driving: higher parking fees, perhaps a congestion charge.

Some of these things are well underway now. Pedestrians on Queen St never have to wait longer than 65 seconds for a cross signal; the average is 27 seconds. The big painted dots on Shortland St and lower Federal St carry a powerful message to all road users: something new's going on here, so take care. Nobody should assume they have right of way. There are more bike lanes, more shared spaces, lower driving speeds. Public transport has got vastly better. And there's lots more to come.

The strategy is not to ban cars. It is to keep the carriageways at least moderately functional for the many people who, for all sorts of reasons, really do need to drive. And to make the alternatives a good choice, not a miserable necessity.

This isn't happening because our politicians and council bureaucrats have gone mad. It is, now, nothing more than the orthodox transport strategy for cities all over the world. It has economic benefits, health benefits and climate benefits, but apart from all that, there is no other option.

You can add more motorway lanes, but that won't help my Ponsonby friend or anyone else wanting to get all the way into town. Space for urban transport is relatively finite, and private motor vehicles are by far the least efficient way to use it. Auckland has close to 1000 more cars a week, and there is nowhere for them to go. Change is essential and inevitable.

The consequences of growing inner-city congestion are not limited to the central city. They include better public transport and less reliance on cars coming in from the suburbs.

Which brings us to Mt Eden, where many of the local retailers are upset at Auckland Transport's plans to double the bus stop capacity in their village.


That village boasts a remarkably strong lineup of shops. Butcher, greengrocer, bookshop, bakery, cake shop, gift shops, wine store, pharmacies, cafes, bars and restaurants – you name it, the chances are the Mt Eden versions will be among the best in the city.

The buildings are historic, the suburb is extremely leafy, and everyone involved is, rightly, very proud of the character of their village. They cherish it. And they believe that having two buses stop where currently only one can, with the loss of three car parks on each side of the street, will destroy all that.

Yet that stretch of Mt Eden Rd also has substantial traffic problems. It's a difficult arterial route, with another commuter road joining it right in the middle of the village. There is also a busy carpark on a side street, but to get to that you need to drive right into the village, thus compounding the street congestion.

During the commuter peaks and after school, drivers sit in a queue for several cycles of the traffic lights before they even get into the village, let alone through it. Buses compound the problem: when two arrive in close succession the second has to wait, holding up traffic behind it.

Already 1800 commuters get on or off the bus in the village every weekday. Mt Eden locals are now doing what locals all over the city are doing when good public transport is on offer: in fast-growing numbers, they are leaving the car at home.

This will change the shopping village. But does it need to change it in a bad way? The business association fears the village will become a nasty bus terminal. And it's true, busy transport hubs can be barren places.

But they don't have to be. They can become busier and better retail hubs instead.

The retailers complain that only 30 per cent of those passengers shop in the village on their way to or from work. Why do they say only? The percentage of car-drivers who shop there during their commute is approximately zero.

Besides, isn't 1800 people a day and growing an opportunity? One you can exploit with window displays, special offers and other enticements; opening hours geared to the peaks; village-wide promotions and events, and so much more. Disruption, after all, is opportunity.

Why are they so afraid of this? Is it because the local retailers don't believe their customers are locals? At least, not the sort of locals who would catch a bus. Are the customers they value the ones who drive to Mt Eden from other parts of town?

If that is what they think, doesn't it undermine their right to speak for the community? They do not perceive their interests in the same way as the people who actually live there.

So what do the residents think? Auckland Transport has been consulting the whole local community on its proposals since late 2016, in many different ways, and has received 700 submissions. That's quite a lot. An AT spokesperson told me those submissions came from "public transport users, pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, residents and business owners". He said the majority supported the AT proposal. I'm not surprised.

Retailers are often the people who complain the loudest about change. But the thing is, if they get their selling strategies right, they are also among those who stand to benefit the most.