Auckland consistently ranks highly in lists of the world's best cities but is never number one. So what would it take to turn Auckland into a first-class city? This week the Herald continues its 10-day series examining some of the biggest hurdles Auckland faces, from housing and transport to entertainment and education. We look at what we are doing, what we need to do, and why Auckland's success matters to the rest of the country. In part six of the series we look at transport.
Trying to get around Auckland is one of the biggest nightmares for most commuters. Many people using public transport complain about unreliable buses and trains that don't come frequently enough. Some say our public transport isn't cheap enough to lure them out of their cars or there just isn't a service that's close enough to them. Those who do take their cars dread peak hour traffic - something that appears to be starting earlier in the day and lasting longer than ever before.
As part of our World Class Auckland series we've spoken to a variety of experts and groups with interests in this area to see what they think needs to be done to improve things.
Mobility and access for everyone
In Auckland, transport planning and funding is largely focused on alleviating peak hour congestion, usually through the construction of new roads, supplemented by public transport upgrades. But transport is about more than rush hour commuting: it is about mobility and access for everyone.
Auckland's emphasis on roading has not only failed to ease congestion, but makes mobility for many people -the young, the old, and the disabled - that much more difficult. It has also splintered whole neighbourhoods, and has made getting around on foot and by bike difficult, if not dangerous, in many areas of the city. This has a number of downsides for the region's residents, including many parents no longer thinking it safe for their children to walk or cycle to school, fostering car dependency.
What might a reprioritisation of transport planning away from roading look like, and what might be the impact?
A useful start would be to consider what mobility looks like for the vulnerable.
We have a model for this in the UNICEF Child Friendly City project.
In essence, if we make our cities easy, safe and pleasant for our littlest citizens to get around, then they will become easy, safe and pleasant for everyone.
A child-friendly city is also a nod to a democratic city: it implies safe and accessible public spaces that enhance our social cohesion.
Indeed, there is now a solid body of research showing that cities that prioritise walking and cycling do better economically and enjoy better quality of life.
Making Auckland the world's most liveable city necessarily means reviewing the current transport funding paradigm that focuses on peak congestion at the expense of almost everyone else. Active transport must receive a high priority in such a review, and much-needed upgrades to metro rail should be put on an equal footing with roads by being bankrolled again through the National Land Transport Fund. If nothing else, depriving children of the right to the city reduces their chance to learn and grow. I used to walk and cycle to school. Today's kids should be afforded the same privilege.
• Donna Wynd has been a researcher for the Child Poverty Action Group and was a member of an independent panel of advisers to Auckland Mayor Len Brown on alternative transport funding sources.
• Traffic hell - Is there a way out?
• Transport options across the city
• Putting a price on fares
• Vancouver's road lesson for Auckland
• Why Auckland should banish the motorways
• Asian influence may fix Auckland's traffic woes
• Highway upgrade 'has to happen sooner'
Walking the key to a world-class city
In a world-class city, you see many people walking, filling the streets, sojourning, stopping to chat, watching, resting.
The number of people on the street indicates the health of a city.
Streets cluttered with cars and stripped of people are not good places, and we don't want to be there.
Walking is a part of every journey. It is the glue that connects a public transport journey. Even if we have the best public transport system in the world, if we can't walk from our homes to pick-up points, no one will use it.
People walking do more than go from A to B. Imagine children walking. They skip, then walk on the small wall by the path, jumping from that to inspect the gardens, running to the next pole, and swinging around it.
The journey is about the feelings and experiences.
Paths need to be wide, safe and trip-free. Slips, trips and falls impose an annual cost of $1.7 billion (O'Dea and Wren 2010) to our economy, and more to our families, as one of those can end an old person's life.
Walking benefits our health, physical and mental. People walking saves society money.
Auckland's roads will become more congested, so paths will be used more for people walking and using mobility devices.
We will have more people competing to use the same public road space - walkers, people cycling, public transport, freight and people driving.
This must be managed so walking does not lose the footpaths it currently enjoys.
Great walking environments are great for economic exchange, and attract young and dynamic people to live in a city.
Think of university quads, the Google work campus, the great bazaars and souqs in Turkey and Morocco.
All are vehicle-free, walking environments.
People want to watch people. We are social animals designed to walk, sojourn and watch. We are not designed to sit in steel boxes on motorways.
"A good city is like a good party - people stay for much longer than necessary, because they are enjoying themselves." (Jan Gehl, Danish urban designer, 1994)
• Andy Smith is coordinator of Walk Auckland, president of Living Streets Aotearoa, and a trustee of the Auckland Harbour Bridge Pathway Trust.
It's all about the infrastructure
World-class Auckland needs world-class infrastructure.
The good news is, we are making progress.
Water is in good care, the transmission lines are in place, ultra-fast broadband (UFB) is on its way, electric trains are on track (usually) and - 20 years too late - the Western Ring Route will finally be completed in 2018.
Yet, despite good progress, the latest 2015 PwC Cities of Opportunity report ranks Auckland third to last for transport infrastructure, just in front of Johannesburg and Nairobi. For a city of just 1.5 million people, that's unacceptable.
Of even greater concern, Auckland Transport projections show that, despite planned transport investment and because of increased density where there isn't enough transport capacity, congestion will get much worse - especially in inter-peak periods.
Without a change in direction, the proposed western-aligned harbour tunnel and the western and southern motorway corridors will all be choked by 2040. We can and must do much better.
Getting Auckland moving will require less in-fill, much more targeted intensification centred on high-frequency public transport routes, and potential development of a satellite city to the south, where demand, road and rail capacity all exist.
It will require seamless transfers between rail, bus and ferry services. It will need real-time variable pricing of the motorway system to manage demand, improve service and raise funds. It will require leveraging transport technologies, from electric and autonomous vehicles to remote working and intelligent transport networks. Finally a well-connected Auckland will need increased transport capacity through eastern Auckland and much better prioritisation of investment into projects that really make a difference. Currently, three of Auckland's city-shaping mega projects - the $2.5 billion City Rail Link, the $5 billion Harbour Crossing and the $1.5 billion Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI) - all show disappointing return on investment and can be substantially improved.
Statistics NZ projects another million people in Auckland by 2050 - just 35 years away. Auckland is a small but growing city of opportunity. We can solve congestion if we chose to but we'll need to use every tool in the box to do so.
• Stephen Selwood is the Auckland-based chief executive of the Council for Infrastructure Development.
Hop card system needs refinement
In our early teens, my friends and I would buy $6 Cityrail "Day Rover" passes and travel happily around the Auckland rail network.
I wondered why hardly anybody else used trains when, even then, the motorways were jammed at peak times.
It was simple to remedy that, I thought. Move the trains back to downtown Auckland.
During my first stint living in Switzerland in the late 90s, I was delighted to read the Britomart transport centre concept was evolving.
I remember reading in a Herald article around 2002 that planners were predicting 1,500 passengers an hour would use the station at peak times.
We all know now that those numbers were quickly surpassed (three times over) as Aucklanders flocked to rail like never before. Provide decent public transport and they will use it.
In Switzerland, public transport is the norm for everyone to use, whether you're a student, office worker, or even in senior management.
It's safe, reliable, relatively inexpensive, frequent, and a lot cheaper than driving and parking. It is common for employers to offer staff free or heavily-subsidised transport passes. Car-parks are either taxed heavily or prohibited in major centres. This is private enterprise, local and central government all working together in harmony with an effective ambition to reduce or control traffic congestion. With more commuters using public transport, greater amounts of fare revenue are received, helping to reduce operating costs. This would be a win-win for Auckland and make public transport a truly viable alternative for many.
The Hop card system needs some refinement, though. We need cards to automatically stop being debited once users reach the $16 day-pass rate, or amounts equal to monthly pass prices. I've often ended up using more public transport than initially planned, only to be penalised for it under Hop. We simply need the card to be a tool passengers can rely on for giving them the best value for money on any day or calendar month. Ultimately, that will encourage more use of public transport.
There will always be a certain segment of society for which public transport is not suitable.
However, we need to aim for the majority who do not use it now, but could do so if they can see it as an alternative to their single occupancy cars.
Auckland Transport's recently announced parking price increases are a step in the right direction. But compared to parking charges in Zurich, Basel or Geneva, where one can expect to pay up to $100 dollars per day, they are still too low to seriously entice people out of cars.
Auckland Council needs to reduce parking requirements in all commercial buildings and shopping centres, thus making public transport a more attractive option.
There are many clever ideas the Swiss have which, if implemented in Auckland, would help contain or reduce congestion on our roads. This cannot be achieved by Auckland
Council alone and requires input from an open- minded government and private enterprise.
We will all win if we have significantly higher levels of public transport usage across our city, but we need action now. Not in ten years.
• Jon Reeves, who has spent 12 years on and off living and working in Switzerland, is coordinator of Auckland's recently-formed Public Transport Users' Association
Motorways the problem and the solution
"I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail."
In 1966, psychologist Abraham Maslow undoubtedly wasn't thinking about future transport problems in Auckland, but his quotation is certainly apt.
In Auckland's case, motorways have been the dominant solution in response to the problem of ever-increasing congestion. Costing billions, recent motorway projects such as Grafton Gully, the Newmarket Viaduct, the Manukau Harbour Crossing, the Victoria Park Tunnel and the Western Ring Route have been hammered through - a hundred per cent-funded through Government fuel taxes and road user charges.
The perception is that increasing the capacity of the motorway network has enabled more people to travel more often and further than ever before.
It is tempting, therefore, for Auckland Council and ratepayers alike to acquiesce and simply accept these multi-billion dollar gift horses.
But congestion relief through motorway building is only ever temporary, and the business cases for new urban motorway projects in Auckland are poor or even non-existent.
For example, at an eye-watering cost of between four and six billion dollars, the proposed tolled tunnels across the Waitemata for six lanes of general traffic have been forecast by consultants to the Transport Agency to return just 40c to the wider economy for every dollar spent. Even so, route protection work starts this month.
Transport is fundamentally about moving people and freight, but transport planning for Auckland largely takes the short-term, unthinking approach of increasing road capacity for single occupant cars, instead of creating mass rapid transit capacity for people.
Where Auckland has tried different tools, for instance the new electric trains or the Northern Busway, the results have been nothing short of phenomenal.
World-class cities know that what transport infrastructure is built is more important than where the money comes from.
Auckland should know that too.
• Cameron Pitches, an Auckland IT consultant, is convenor of the Campaign for Better Transport.
Make it a real alternative
When I ask Aucklanders - from students to professionals - how to make the city's public transport successful, I get only one reply: Make public transport a real alternative to the car.
Then, when I ask how they think we should achieve that goal, they tell me public transport should adopt the same principles that make cars successful.
What are those principles?
Time convenience means public transport should be quicker than cars for people to travel from A to B. If cars take 30 minutes, buses should take 20 minutes.
How can this be achieved?
By providing direct routes and road priority such as dedicated bus lanes.
Convenience also means that public transport should be readily available, like cars. Whenever you want to travel, you should be able to get a ride.
Many cities around the world have adopted a 'forget the timetable' approach.
This means that when you arrive at the bus stop, a bus will be due. Of course, it is difficult to adopt this concept across all of Auckland. But at least it can be achieved on major routes, with coordinated timetabling used to design feeder buses in the suburbs. Auckland's Northern Busway provides a fascinating example of offering time savings and convenience through ready availability.
Driving a car is so easy to understand. With one driving licence, we can drive a car almost anywhere in the whole world, relying on similar road signs and regulations.
On the other hand, public transport networks are complex and extremely city-specific. One Massey University student half-jokingly suggested adding a compulsory paper at each university teaching an understanding of timetables and travel planning websites!
Public transport can be made simple and understandable by developing a network of straight and direct routes, similar to the way many choose to drive their cars.
Public transport should be more economical than cars. No business can become successful if it is not competitive.
But how can this be achieved? Integrated and simple fare structures help more people to use public transport.
More passengers mean more profits or fewer subsidies, making public transport financially viable.
Finally, public transport needs the strong political and funding support that cars and car-related infrastructure have received over the past 50 years. Alongside this support, transport professionals have to develop a range of 'little' tools to develop convenient, simple and affordable public transport networks instead of mega projects.
I am confident that public transport has the potential to win over the community and make Auckland as liveable as other fast-growing cities.
• Dr Imran Muhammad is a researcher in urban transport planning at Massey University's School of People, Environment and Planning.
More smart mobility needed
One of the biggest beefs about Auckland is the traffic. Auckland's mobility sucks. More smart mobility is needed - but also less dumb mobility. Reverse tolls should be considered as an alternative to infrastructure expansion.
'Smart mobility' is about using apps to make it easier for people to get around.
Dumb mobility is what happens when people make a rational choice for themselves (driving alone) that is collectively irrational (dumb) because it creates a highly-predictable traffic jam.
Auckland has a whole lot of dumb mobility. Each day, about 400,000 people drive alone to work, making peak-period travel a mind-numbing hell for those who cannot avoid it.
To make Auckland more liveable, more 'smart mobility' is needed, and less 'dumb mobility'. But these are not two sides of the same coin.
Smart mobility can make it easier to get around.
People can now use an app to find: - how many stops away their bus is; a carpool to ride in; a car or bike to rent by the hour; a taxi of the conventional or Uber kind; whether a route is walkable or could be cycled; how congested the route is; and a way around congestion.
There are even apps that show all these choices in a single app, so that people can choose between the modal options on the basis of cost, time, emissions, or calories burned.
If people trust the system to get them home, they are more likely to set out from there without their cars.
But for people to change, there has to be a compelling reason. It is not enough that there is an alternative - the alternative has to be significantly better.
There are a lot of factors encouraging the dumb mobility status quo. The car is comfortable and automakers put in lots of features that make it seem less of a drudge.
People hate to have to coordinate their travel with others. And Auckland Transport, Auckland Council, and the Government can all be blamed for not making it better.
The reality is that not enough people are using the smart mobility options, and that might be because the 'deal' is not good enough. The smart mobility features are nice to have, but the rational choice still appears to be to drive.
However, for less than the cost of the interest on the money for expanded infrastructure, Auckland could improve the deal and encourage more use of smart mobility options.
The way to improve the deal is to use cash. It could be called 'reverse tolls', and it would be a lot less controversial to implement than tolls, involving far fewer transactions.
For using options that reduce traffic in peak periods, Aucklanders could be rewarded with cash.
The amount could be different for different roads at different times of day - there must be an app for that - and the overall cost would be far less than the interest on the expanded infrastructure alternative. The goal would be less congestion on all urban roads.
It could be funded from the debt servicing costs foregone by not expanding the infrastructure.
• Paul Minett, of Auckland, is chairman of the Ridesharing Institute and chief executive of Trip Convergence Ltd.
Auckland's love affair with cars
It's said that Aucklanders have a love affair with cars. For many it's more of an unwelcome arranged marriage - the by-product of decades focused on improving only one aspect of our transport system.
Yet we're at an interesting crossroads. Despite a rapidly-growing population and over $8 billion of investment in Auckland's roads over the last decade, the stats show Aucklanders are driving less than they used to.
What has been growing quickly on the back of comparatively modest investment has been the use of public transport, walking and cycling. Investments like the Northern Busway and upgrading the rail network have shown that, when offered frequent and reliable services that are free of congestion, people will flock to use them. In the morning peak 40 per cent of the people crossing the harbour bridge now do so on buses, more than double the pre-busway figure while traffic volumes have actually fallen. On the trains at Britomart, passenger volumes are already 66% ahead of what they were predicted to be by 2021.
Auckland Transport's new electric trains, new bus network and integrated fares will bring the city's PT system up to a more modern standard. To keep up with demand, the next wave of projects already needs to be getting underway. This includes the City Rail Link, extending the Northern Busway, a Northwestern Busway, the AMETI (Southwestern) busway, and potentially light rail. Combined, these would give Auckland a PT network on par or better than many of our comparator cities and all are possible within the next decade if prioritised properly.
Decades of decisions made by looking out the front windscreen hasn't worked in reducing congestion. By investing in our missing modes we can give people realistic choices in how they get around. That will benefit everyone, taking off the road those who don't want to drive, and leaving more space for others.
• Matt Lowrie, an Auckland insurance data analyst, is editor of the Transportblog.
Providing world-class rail services
Last week, I took a new electric train to Henderson to attend a council meeting.
Riding the brand new EMU as it powered smoothly along a corridor now amazingly free of graffiti and weeds, past attractive modern stations - the openings of each of which I recalled attending over the past 10 years - I mused on the long struggle to get where we are today. I confess to having felt a momentary glow of pride.
But enough of that. A competing recollection that 90% of the complaints I receive about Auckland's public transport are about rail services soon brought me back to earth.
There is still much to do before we achieve world-class rail services in Auckland.
Despite the brand new EMUs, on-time performance is definitely non-world class (punctuality on the eastern line in June was 60.9%! - and with new electric trains!!!), and there are unacceptable levels of anti-social behaviour and fare evasion (the two go hand-in-hand) due to a lack of gates to go with the 'Hop' smart cards.
Disconcertingly, after recent timetabling changes, rail services on the western line are running slower than they did back when Britomart first opened in 2003. We didn't really spend $1 billion on electrification to have slower services, did we?
And despite strenuous public objections, passenger services to Waitakere have been withdrawn - for the first time in over 100 years - and planned extensions to Kumeu put on the never-never. I was recently told by a disgruntled Pukekohe train commuter of a widespread belief among her fellow passengers that their services have become so unreliable that Auckland Transport management must be trying to drive away customers, à la Waitakere, thus removing the need to extend electrification to their town. The conspiracy theory is baseless but sadly, that's what these customers believe.
Even more serious for the long term financial sustainability and expansion of Auckland's rail services is the disproportionately high operating costs of running the network.
This year ended June, it was a staggering $159 million. For the previous 2013-14 year, when Auckland and Wellington rail services carried an almost identical amount of people amounting to about 11.5 million passenger trips, our ratepayers coughed up $43.3m for train services whereas those in the capital paid only $18.8m for theirs.
That was without counting a large Transport Agency subsidy. At the same time, Wellington Metro collected $43.26m in fares, whereas AT managed to recover only $30.63m. This year to June 30, Auckland ratepayers' contribution rose to $52m and, while patronage went up 22% to 13.9 million trips, revenue increased by only 16%.
Auckland Council members under pressure from a public fed up with rates increases have called for an investigation, which is now underway.
Auckland's rail management system is an unwieldy 'too many cooks' arrangement - involving Transdev, KiwiRail, and of course Auckland Transport - which is demonstrably too expensive, inefficient, and allows too much room for dodging accountability.
Auckland's long-suffering rail passengers and ratepayers deserve better. Along with the brand new electric trains, which AT promotes as 'quieter, better, smarter', we need a similar level of improvement to the way we manage our rail services, if Aucklanders are indeed to get world-class public transport.
• Mike Lee is an Auckland Council member who chairs its infrastructure committee. He is also a council-appointed director of Auckland Transport. He writes in his role as infrastructure committee chairman.
On your bike
A constant flow of people on bikes stream across the Auckland Harbour Bridge, over the spectacular SkyPath and along the waterfront. More people on bikes in city clothes join the flow from apartments in Wynyard Quarter, and the torrent continues on to the new Quay St shared path and cycleways.
From the east, as the sun sparkles on Hobson Bay, people walk and bike along the new wide boardwalk across the waterway. From the west and south, a colourful mix of workers and students travel by scooters, skateboards, foot and bikes, taking a shortcut through Spaghetti Junction on the old Nelson St off-ramp, waving at some earlybird tourists, then heading into the city down Nelson St's protected bike lane.
At Glen Innes, Albany, Te Atatu and New Lynn, commuters arrive via dedicated pathways, park their bikes and hop on buses and trains. Meanwhile, in Waterview, Northcote, Howick and Mangere, clusters of students chat as they safely scoot, skate, pedal and pace to schools.
This is not dreamland. This is coming to the Auckland where you live, work and travel.
Across Auckland, ferries, buses and trains are crowded at peak hours and increasingly full at other times. Buoyed by reports from Auckland Transport that a majority of Aucklanders want to cycle more, the Government is partnering with the council to build the missing network: safe and easy bike routes that link central city suburbs and connect people to transport hubs - within the next three years.
SkyPath, funded by those who use it, will be the highest profile of these planned cycling projects. It will transform cycling in the way Britomart revolutionised trains, and do what the Northern Expressway did for buses. It will show the world we're a smart city, connected by all transport forms across our sparkling harbour, open to all for business and tourism and fun.
Welcome to Auckland, global city of the Pacific.
• Barbara Cuthbert, a planning consultant, is chair of Cycle Action Auckland.
Learning from our Sister City
It's early in the morning as I board an Expo Line train at the Metro Centre underground station in Los Angeles.
Just a few years old, the line has become a pivotal system in the regeneration of central Los Angeles. And it provides the perfect platform for sharing some of the knowledge discovered as part of recent business mission to Auckland's sister city.
Like Auckland, Los Angeles is a city defined by its roads.
Or it was until recently.
Metro Centre is being revitalised by public transport.
Anchored by the department store chain Macy's, the buildings above the station are being transformed into 'the Bloc' - a mixed-use project targeted at revitalising 7th Street, Downtown LA.
Office workers are encouraged to live within the precinct, but can commute by rail from all four corners of the wider city. At the heart of it all, inspiring public urban spaces provide destinations for eating, the arts, and connecting with friends.
As my train leaves its tunnels, we enter University Park.
The University of Southern California is located proudly in the heart of LA, and the new Expo stations now provide it with public transport connections right across the surrounding county.
Three modern stations are individually customised to provide local identity and historical references. They've become important hubs, their location and design carefully considered to maximise community use and social engagement.
The train itself is now light rail. It fits neatly in the centre of the road corridor, with its spacious carriages in which passengers read books and chat to mates, comparing their progress with those sitting in the adjacent traffic. We continue through a short tunnel beneath a congested traffic intersection - a design intervention that allows us to bypass angst.
As my train speeds along the road corridor, the fully-integrated system lets traffic lights across minor road intersections change in our favour. Vehicles dutifully give way - clearly everyone knows the laws of physics. The man next to me remarks how he used to be a traffic dweller.
At La Brea, the line elevates. The separation from ground level lets it squeeze between buildings, leaving only a light footprint on existing land-use operations. Suddenly, views of the city abound.
Los Angeles is light on its connection to the natural landscape. As a flat, sprawling city, it's difficult to become orientated.
But the train's elevation enhances the experience of the underlying landform, the Hollywood Hills providing a sense of direction and identity.
From the train this is easily experienced, and its existence helps tame it. I feel I'm able to cross it quickly - get to where I need to be, without losing the magic of being a part of it.
The romance of train travel exists, even at a city scale.
As we pull into Culver City (the full extent of the line to Santa Monica won't be open for another couple of years), I spot the bus station. My electronic TAP card includes my next transfer, and there's a bus waiting - onward connections have clearly been considered.
My new friend waves good-bye and retrieves his bike from a locker on the platform.
As I reflect on my journey, my mind turns to home. There's much we can learn from LA, and this has been my experience of the trip. It's easy to focus on our own innovations, and be critical of a city that sprawls some 88,000 square kilometres (Auckland is relatively compact at mere 5,000). But they're innovating too.
To successfully intensify our city, we need to embrace public transport.
Like Los Angeles, we need to find ways to retrofit light rail, to integrate it with our existing infrastructure, and seamlessly connect it to other transport connections. But that's a given.
For me, the Expo line provided more than that. The stations have become important social hubs. They've facilitated cohesive urban regeneration that encourages inner-city working and living, and they are extensions of stimulating public spaces that help people to engage with their city and community. Transport is not just a function, but is treated as an integral part of the city's fabric. At our delegation meetings, local property developers talked to me about how they worked with the public organisations to find successful, holistic solutions.
At the same time, LA people are reconnecting with their natural landscape. The trains, and the adjacent public spaces, are re-establishing an environmental heart. Through unified private and public investment, the landscape is being used to provide a sense of place.
It's forming identity and a degree of belonging. Architects, landscape architects and engineers are working together, understanding that the best results are coming from collaboration. It's a method of working that the city's mayor, Eric Garcetti, fully supports. Indeed, his council is providing the meeting table.
For Auckland, these are the things I take away. Let us not just build transport solutions, let's integrate transport with our urban spaces and our regeneration projects. Let the stations and stops become our new social hubs, and let them connect us with our unique natural and cultural landscape.
We can, and should, learn from our sister cities. That's what they're there for.
• Shannon Bray is the president of the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects. He travelled to Los Angeles with the sister city business delegation led by Auckland Mayor Len Brown, and participated in workshops and meetings, facilitated by the Auckland, LA and Guangzhou councils to explore urban regeneration ideas.
Daily delays unacceptable
Freeing up congestion is the key to getting Auckland moving, and is the most important issue facing the Auckland's freight transport sector.
It's unacceptable that in New Zealand's largest city we have daily delays that are costing Auckland and the New Zealand economy so much. It costs around $100 an hour or $1.66 a minute to operate a large truck, but the impact is felt far further than freight companies.
What's required is a transport strategy and supporting package of projects that reduces congestion, rather than making it worse. The Government needs to work closely with Auckland Council to fix congestion and come up with a single agreed transport strategy that tackles Auckland's congestion head on.
The Government has sent a clear message that it wants to improve New Zealand's productivity and efficiency. Keeping goods and services moving is key, as freight is the backbone of the economy.
Each working day there are around 8000 heavy vehicles on Auckland roads delivering much-needed goods. Most seek to avoid peak periods where they can. Motorways are now often clogged from midday. City streets between the industrial suburbs of south Auckland and the motorway are heavily congested for large parts of the working day, as they are on routes serving Auckland's sea, air and rail ports.
Conservatively, each Auckland truck operator experiences an average of around 30 minutes of congestion delay every working day. The estimated loss to the freight sector along is about $400,000 a day - or $2 million a week.
Six years ago, it was estimated that Auckland's congestion drag on the wider economy was around 1-2% of GDP, meaning an annual loss of up to $1.5 billion. It is now probably far higher. Six years ago, trucks could manage 5-6 delivery trips per work day, now they are lucky to complete 2-3.
For the freight sector, the Government's and Auckland Council's single agreed transport strategy needs a package of short and long-term projects to:
• Reduce congestion, especially outside peak hours, so that road freight can operate efficiently, and safely;
• Improve access to areas experiencing rapid urban growth and development. Many of Auckland's recent housing and retail centre developments have been planned and designed with little thought to the configuration of the roading system required for efficient and safe freight delivery and public transport.
• Acknowledge that Auckland can't continue indefinitely to build its way out of our increasing congestion.
At the same time there are some critical 'catch-up' capital investments required to support Auckland's economic growth.
Top of the list is the East-West corridor linking the SH20 Western Ring Route at Onehunga with the SH1 Southern Motorway at Mt Wellington, along which many of New Zealand's largest freight distribution companies and warehouses are located. This connection has sat on Auckland's transport plan since the 1960s. Meanwhile, as Auckland's population has tripled, the area has become New Zealand's largest industrial and distribution hub and the city's second biggest area of employment (after the CBD).
Little wonder it is also where Auckland's worst road congestion occurs.
• David Aitken is the Auckland-based chief executive of the National Road Carriers' Association.
Five steps to get Auckland moving
The Automobile Association's five priorities for getting Auckland moving are:
1. Get the plan right: - Auckland needs a long-term transport strategy that's co-owned by local and central government, and that's based on what's best for the network, not politics. It needs to deliver the best possible results when it comes to congestion relief, joining up land use planning and transport planning, and providing a clear way forward on funding.
2. Put the customer at the centre: - The development of the network needs to be guided by the users themselves. More needs to be done to listen to the 'quiet majority' of Aucklanders, and to understand how and why they make the trips they do. This is essential if the network is to deliver the choices that people need, and strike the right balance between private vehicles, public transport, walking and cycling.
3. Embrace technology: - Ultimately, transformational changes in the Auckland network will be led by technology, not just physical infrastructure. We need an operating environment that's as welcoming as possible to new ways of doing things, whether it's in-car technology, parking services, or ride-sharing.
4. Optimise the network: - While Auckland needs 'hero' projects, we also need to make sure we're getting the most out of the infrastructure we've already got. Whether it's variable lane directions at peak periods or removing missing links from walking and cycling routes, numerous smaller-scale initiatives can deliver important 'bang for buck'. Further ahead, steps to manage demand on the network - like an efficient, future-proofed tolling scheme - need to be considered, and could cut down the extra investment required.
5. Deliver value for money: - When it comes to public support for the transport programme, cost is king. Aucklanders seem ready to wear a certain amount of extra cost to improve transport, but they'll reject the programme if they don't feel the costs are justified. Transparency and accountability about what people are going to have to pay - including hidden costs like public transport subsidies and the benefits they'll get in return - are vital.
• Barney Irvine is the AA's Auckland-based principal infrastructure adviser.
Ridesharing the key to Auckland's transportation woes
Here at Uber, we know that ridesharing can go a long way towards revolutionising cities that suffer from impaired mobility due to congestion and inefficient public transport. Two of Auckland's major transportation issues.
Take car ownership for example. More than 90% of Kiwis have access to a car, but without a credible alternative, car ownership is simply the most convenient and cost-effective method of transportation. Especially when taxis are as expensive as they are in New Zealand, and public transport is neither reliable nor convenient unless you live near the city centre.
While the Government's solution is to spend billions on improving Auckland's heavily congested transport network, ridesharing services could be a more cost effective complement to alleviating congestion and infrastructure strain.
In Chicago, Uber is now an affordable alternative not just to taxis but also to car ownership. Those who've embraced ridesharing avoid the costs of parking, insurance, fuel, maintenance and vehicle depreciation, without losing any of the benefits of owning a car. The result - car ownership is now more expensive than using Uber, with the annual cost of owning a car at USD$11,150, compared to riding with Uber at USD$8,741.
Ridesharing also complements existing public transit services. It can boost public transport use by providing the option to share a ride to or from the nearest public transport hub, with the remaining leg of the journey completed by bus, boat or rail. In Sydney we've already seen ridesharing have a real impact on the lives of those underserved by public transport, with 64.4% of Uber rides beginning or ending in a public transport desert.
Add our carpooling service to the mix, uberPOOL, and you're looking at not just reducing the number of cars on the road, but also a heap of environmental benefits too. A 2013 MIT study of New York City taxi data indicates that carpooling in cities could reduce the number of vehicles on the road by up to 30 per cent, while in San Francisco uberPOOL reduced CO2 emissions by about 120 metric tonnes in a single month - equivalent to burning 58 tonnes of coal.
These are just some of the ways that the application of technology applied to the provision of transport has revolutionised the simple task of getting from A to B in cities around the world.
Unfortunately, in New Zealand ridesharing is not yet set up to flourish in the same way as other places. If you want to earn a flexible income giving someone a ride from A to B, the current licensing framework requires that you pay nearly $2,000 for three different licenses that can take more than 10 weeks to get.
Only a small part of this cost and time is devoted to making sure a driver-partner is safe, the rest act as unrelated barriers to the provision of rides. For people who want to offer rides in their spare time to earn an extra buck, these unnecessary barriers are simply too high. This leads to less availability and reliability of cars for riders, and drives up the cost for driver-partners.
The real benefits of ridesharing will only be realised in New Zealand when prohibitive barriers are removed and ridesharing becomes a real possibility for more private car owners. Like the stay-at-home mum or dad who wants to offer rides in their spare time or the underemployed professional who wants to supplement their income on the weekend.
Technology affords us the opportunity to revolutionise transport in Auckland, reduce congestion and emissions, provide flexible income for thousands of Kiwis and improve the reliability and affordability of point-to-point transport. We just need reform which says yes to safe, reliable and affordable rides and no to the status quo.
Oscar Peppitt is the New Zealand General Manager at Uber.