A crash, a traffic jam, a breakdown ... the all-seeing watchers from far away can sort it
The morning sun glints off the Sentinel building towering above Takapuna and the citybound traffic is starting to thicken on the harbour bridge as I start up the southern span.
I'm heading for a faceless building in an office estate near North Shore Hospital, where the chances are that somebody is at that moment watching me change lanes.
JTOC (for the Joint Transport Operations Centre; the "joint" refers to the fact that it's operated by the NZ Transport Agency and the Auckland Council CCO, Auckland Transport) is the biggest surveillance operation in the country.
Its banks of screens monitor video feeds from almost 500 cameras covering 220km of regional motorway, as well as Auckland City's arterial roads. What's happening on 11,000km of state highways is only a mouse-click away.
The folks at JTOC suggested I turn up at 5.30am when I called to arrange a visit. If they were testing to see if I had the right stuff, they proved I didn't. I figured there wouldn't be much to see while it was still dark but I was there by 7.
Working from home and getting about the place on a motor scooter, I am spared the daily grind of rush hour. But I know the truth of the axiom that New Zealanders talk about the weather and Aucklanders talk about the traffic.
Up in the JTOC control room, they don't spend a lot of time wondering about the wisdom of a second harbour crossing or the relative merits of public and private transport, road and rail. In this place, they deal with what's in front of them.
It's a tech-heavy operation. The control room is dominated by a wall of screens - nine across, three down which can give you a sense of being in the situation room at the White House or at Nasa Mission Control - but the real work is happening at the desks where operators sit peering at computer monitors, usually two at a time.
From the corner just inside the door, where I stand - the last thing they need is a curious visitor - the room is a sea of heads and shining screens. The purposeful background chatter is almost eerily quiet, and there's something odd, too, about the streams of silent traffic, stripped of the blare of angry horns and the thump of on-board music.
The image on the screen of the operator nearest me changes as he manipulates a motorway camera 30km away to zoom in on a car that has been pushed off to the shoulder after breaking down.
"We're just keeping an eye on them," he says, "to make sure that the police arrive and the tow truck can get here. We can guide them in so they don't have to look for where it is."
About 60 people work in this centre, keeping Auckland moving. One team is in charge of processing information coming in from official sources such as emergency services, and from social media platforms, which can provide valuable early warning.
In turn they feed it out to users (the AA, for example, or truckies) or type in the text on the motorway signs that warn of an "incident ahead".
The frequency with which these information feeds are updated makes the radio and television reports seem lumberingly slow, and it helps explain why I've heard radio reports of accidents or breakdowns at locations I am driving through, when the trouble has long since been cleared.
From this electronic eyrie, nothing in the mayhem that is Auckland's roads escapes attention. And at times, we drivers must seem like a lot of lab rats, only not quite as rational.
Murphy's keenest advice is for us to be patient when nothing appears to be happening to solve a jam.
"A lot of work is going on behind the scenes. The guys on the road in orange often get abused, particularly after an incident, because people think they were the cause of the problem.
"And if people check the information that we are constantly updating, it may be that they decide to have another cup of coffee before they go to work."
I can't help suggesting that Murphy and his colleagues must sometimes wonder at the stupidity of Auckland drivers.
Murphy hesitates as he thinks for the right turn of phrase, but a shift supervisor beats him to the punch.
"Never," he bellows in mock horror, before turning back to his screen.
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