As we come out of lockdown new research suggests a fresh approach to start times could make a big difference to congestion on our roads.

Hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders have spent the last seven weeks working from home. Research using location data shows that leveraging that new business setup to change start and finish times by just 30 minutes would make a big difference to how long we spend stuck in traffic.

Location data platform, HERE Technologies "Where to from HERE: Mapping New Zealand's traffic attitudes" report - released exclusively to the New Zealand Herald - shows, that before lockdown, 70 per cent of New Zealand commutes were by car and more than a third of New Zealanders were resigned to traffic congestion as a "fact of life".

But despite the congestion in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch the report shows that commuting by car remains the fastest option. In contrast a similar report for Australian cities showed two-thirds of the commutes examined had commuting options that were comparable or even faster than driving.

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Daniel Antonello, HERE Technologies director of Australia and New Zealand says they have found that flexible working hours had a "massive" impact on road congestion.

Daniel Antonello, director of Australia and New Zealand, HERE Technologies. Photo / Supplied
Daniel Antonello, director of Australia and New Zealand, HERE Technologies. Photo / Supplied

Responding to Covid-19 has sped up discussions around flexible working says Business New Zealand, chief executive Kirk Hope, but these discussions had already been well under way. Businesses have been working with their employees to enable them to work flexibly for reasons ranging from school dropoffs to employees wanting to reduce their carbon footprints.

AA principal adviser, Barney Irvine says, if there's one positive to come out of the Covid-19 situation, it's that it's fast-forwarded the cultural and technological change needed to make flexible working much more commonplace.

If we see a widespread move towards flexible work hours, Irvine has no doubt that it would put a meaningful dent in congestion. Although he cautions that, of course, it would never solve all our congestion problems on its own, but as one of the tools in the toolkit, it could play a really important role – you only need to look at the reductions in congestion we're seeing in Auckland at the moment to get a sense of that.

But Irvine added, it's worth bearing in mind that school holiday traffic often only represents a 7 or 8 per cent drop traffic volumes, so we don't necessarily have to shift a massive proportion of trips to achieve gains.

Hope noted that discussions about flexibility working are best managed between the employer and employee and the outcome needs to work within the workplace.

While we're all still waiting to see how the changes in workplace culture shake out, Irvine says it's safe to say that there'll be a lot more employees expecting more flexibility around work hours, and a lot more employers that are happy to provide it – and that can only be a good thing.

Irivne believes, giving staff the option to work the first or the last part of the day from home in order to avoid the worst of the traffic wouldn't be massive step for a lot of businesses – especially after the adjustments that have been made over the last couple of months – and hopes to see it become more widespread.

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Location data can be used to understand the impact of making decisions about when employee needs too be physically present at work. Antonello points out that a large company knows where their employees live and could easily model how their employees travel time would change under various scenarios.

In Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch HERE Technologies looked at the commute times from a range of different suburbs. They calculated the average commute time to the city centre by driving, taking public transport, biking, biking and using public transports, and - where it was reasonable - walking.

Of the locations examined only two, Aro Valley and Thorndon, both Wellington inner city suburbs, had an alternative commute time that was comparable to driving. Biking from these locations took about as long as driving, but in both places taking public transport was significantly slower option.

Commuters in Auckland are the most likely to be resigned to congestion, 46 per cent of Aucklanders surveyed accept traffic as "part of life". But almost half of Aucklanders have increased their use of public transport. Twelve per cent of Aucklanders already leave for work earlier to avoid traffic and a further 16 per cent are willing to try working flexible hours.


Wellington commutters appear to be the most open to commuting alternatives. Sixty per cent of Wellington respondents would consider selling their car in favour of a rideshare and ten per cent are already working flexible hours to avoid the traffic.

Six per cent of Christhchurch commutters cycle, the highest proportion in the country. But public transport use is lower than in Auckland or Wellington.

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