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.

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WORLD CLASS AUCKLAND - SERIES OVERVIEW

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.

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As part of our World Class Auckland series we spoke to a variety of commuters about how they get to and from work each day, and what they are doing to try and avoid the peak hour madness.

Walker - Eden Terrace to western Ponsonby

Regular walking commuter Eleanor Stanton walking back to her home in Eden Terrace. Photo / Dean Purcell
Regular walking commuter Eleanor Stanton walking back to her home in Eden Terrace. Photo / Dean Purcell

Time = 50 minutes

Eleanor Stanton, 56, software developer - walks to work - Alexander St, Eden Terrace, to Kelmarna Ave, Ponsonby - 4.3km

Eleanor Stanton loves her daily "rain or shine" walk to work from Eden Terrace to western Ponsonby and back, but has a gripe in common with motorists.

"It sounds silly, but with walking, one of the things that really slows me down is traffic lights," she says.

"Most traffic signals have a really tiny pedestrian crossing phase - they give pedestrians 10 seconds, then it goes on for 30 to 40 seconds for cars."

Other irritations are cars blocking footpaths, or coming out of driveways without regard to anyone walking by.

"I stood in front of one and made him [the driver] stop, and he was really angry with me."

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Ms Stanton has walked to work for more years than she can recall, wearing a pedometer to monitor her earnest strides and sophisticated headphones to tune to her favourite radio programmes.

"I'm a bit of a walking freak," she confesses.

"I have a very good raincoat and walk in all weather - I almost always get 300,000 steps a month."

She tried catching buses once in the rain, but says that took longer than her 50-minute walk to work, as she had to go into the city on one service and and take another to Ponsonby.

But she is not sanctimonious, accepting that not everyone can do without a car, especially parents of young children.

And she admits to a high carbon footprint, having to travel overseas at least once a month on business.

Her main purpose in walking is to keep in good health, physically and mentally, a recipe which also worked well for her late mother.

"My mother took part in a study of post-menopausal woman and the doctors found that her bone density went up," she recalls.

"They were measuring calcium supplements for osteoporosis, and her density went up despite her being post-menopausal - and it turned out she was on a placebo!"

Ms Stanton says there is no getting away from the fact that exercise takes time, but she has found walking to work to be the best way to incorporate that into her life.

"And if I have a bad day and walk home, by the time I get home, instead of desperately needing a brandy, what I desperately need is a glass of water."

Kick scooter - Westmere to Grafton

Dr. Josephine Stanton regularly commutes to work on her scooter. Photo / Regan Schoultz
Dr. Josephine Stanton regularly commutes to work on her scooter. Photo / Regan Schoultz

Time = 30 minutes.

Josephine Stanton, 60, child and adolescent psychiatrist - kick-scooters to work - Westmere to Grafton - 5km

She takes her nickname "granny on a scooter" in her stride and is amused at the open-jaw amazement of young boys as she cruises past.

Josephine Stanton says she has yet to become a grandmother, "but I am old and I have grey hair."

The consultant psychiatrist first tried getting to work at Starship Hospital about 10 years ago on one of her three children's scooters, but found it too uncomfortable.

It was a few years later that she noticed a Swedish colleague using a more upmarket kick-scooter and buses to get from Takapuna to work, and decided to review her commuting options.

"When I decided I was going to scooter, I looked all around the world on the internet for one that I thought was the best-engineered," she said of the model she eventually imported from the United States.

"It goes much faster than a child's scooter, has a handbrake and a footbrake, and a bag on the front."

"It cost close to $700 or something, but I think when you get them from Australia, they are more like $300 or $400 - still very expensive, but they're nicely engineered."

That compares with about $100 for a serviceable metal children's scooter the Herald found in an Auckland bike shop, or more than $1500 for an electric version advertised on Trade Me.

Dr Stanton says it takes her about 30 minutes to scoot along footpaths from West End Rd in Westmere to Grafton, via Richmond Rd, not much longer than if she were to drive or catch a bus to work.

Google Maps estimates it would take twice that time to walk the five-kilometre route.
And she feels safer on her scooter than on a bike.

"I just don't feel safe on the road and it's nice connecting with the ground."

The small size scooters allows her to ride along footpaths, as can children on bikes with wheel diameters of not more than 355mm, but she says she is careful not to disturb pedestrians.

"I try really hard not to give walkers a fright, going slowly around them, but occasionally I give them a scare," she says.

"Sometimes people will jump off the footpath in front of me. I feel sorry about that but they don't need to - I can fit around them."

She also has a small light low on the scooter to illuminate the ground in front of her on her rides home from work.

As for reactions of passers-by, she said those who appear most astounded by her conveyance tend to be boys of around 10.

"Lots of people are very positive, they blow their horns and wave and smile and call me granny on a scooter."

Like her sister Eleanor Stanton, who she sometimes meets walking to work in the opposite direction, she is non-judgmental about the vast majority of Aucklanders who drive.

"Everybody does what they can, don't they."

Car - Silverdale to Swanson St, Central Auckland

Time = 40 minutes

Chris Street, 21 insurance underwriter - drives to work, but is considering returning to buses - Manga Rd, Silverdale to Swannson St, Central Auckland - 31.6km.

He drives to work now, but will consider giving buses another go once Auckland Transport extends the Northern Express main-trunk service to Silverdale in October.

Chris Street tried catching buses at the beginning of this year, after moving to Silverdale for cheaper housing than available in Auckland, but found them too costly to justify the time they took to get him to work.

Petrol costs him marginally less than the $15.20c return bus fare for Hop card users (compared with $19 for cash transactions), but he has since lost a free car park, meaning he has to factor in an extra $12 a day for a paid spot.

Mr Street is thrilled Northern Express buses will start chugging up and down the motorway to Silverdale and back in October, under the first stage of Auckland Transport's region-wide network redesign by which passengers will be delivered to main transit hubs by feeder services from outlying areas.

The Hibiscus Coast has been chosen as the guinea pig, ahead of larger tracts of the Super City which will follow from the middle of next year, in conjunction with a new simplified zonal fares scheme.

"That will be fantastic," Mr. Street said of the Northern Express plan, while indicating he would still need to assess the service's performance before making the leap back to public transport.

"As bad as it sounds, we have become creatures of habit," he said.

"To really change that, you need a good reason to, and a cheaper and faster way in to work is definitely a much more attractive deal."

Auckland Transport says Northern Express buses will run between Silverdale and the city at least every half an hour, seven days a week, and every 15 minutes at peak time.

Although fares will remain unchanged to start with, they are expected to reduce to between $12 and $13 return for Hop card users once the new zonal scheme rolls out across the region next year.

A park and ride station at Silverdale will be expanded to about 500 spaces over summer, from less than 100 now, to cater for commuters reluctant to travel there on feeder bus services.

Mr Street said the existing parks were usually full by the time he drove past, but a larger facility could suit him, as it takes him 10 to 15 minutes to walk to a suburban bus stop at the Silverdale shops.

When he tried catching buses early this year, it took them 75 to 90 minutes to reach the city, starting with a circuitous route around Silverdale.

Although it sometimes used to take him that long to drive to the city as well, he has more than halved the time to about 40 minutes by arranging to start work outside peak hours, at about 10 am.

"But previously, when starting at 8.30 am, I was leaving home about 7 each morning."

Mr Street is critical of the way the city is expanding to new suburbs where little thought is given to creating new jobs to keep people closer to home, forcing him and others to put extra pressure on its motorways by having to commute long distances.

Auckland Council members John Watson and Wayne Walker, representing the ALbany ward, are pleased with the network redesign but frustrated there is no money in the city's 10-year transport budget to widen the western end of Whangaparoa Road to provide a bus priority lane for commuters on Whangaparaoa Peninsula to reach the Silverdale station faster.

Car - Tuakau to Cook St, central Auckland

Auckland commuter Elaine Brown drives between Tuakau and Cook Street in Auckland's CBD in about an hour, everyday. Photo / Nick Reed
Auckland commuter Elaine Brown drives between Tuakau and Cook Street in Auckland's CBD in about an hour, everyday. Photo / Nick Reed

Time = 60 minutes

Elaine Brown, 32, IT support desk analyst, drives to work after found trains too unreliable - Tuakau to Cook St, central Auckland - 57km

She knows catching trains would be far cheaper than driving, but new mother Elaine Brown can't risk being held up from collecting her son from child-care after work.

"The train is a lot cheaper, but I can't chance it," says Ms Brown, who is usually able to drive home to Tuakau from central Auckland in an hour - as long as she leaves work around 4pm.

Rail trips from Britomart to Pukekohe are timetabled to take about an hour and 16 minutes, but she would have to add walking and driving at each end of the journey, and says her previous experiences with trains left much to be desired.

"I used to catch the train to Parnell every day, before I had my son," she says.

"That was fine, but if it got delayed - and it happened a lot - I'd get home at 9 at night."

Ms Brown says she spends at least $100 a week for petrol, and $70 to $100 for parking.

Train fares paid by Hop card would amount to $74, although she would still have to drive between Tuakau and Pukekohe.

It also takes her about about an hour to drive to work, if she leaves home before 6am, after which she risks getting caught in motorway congestion starting as far south as Ramarama.

That compares with about 45 minutes, before she went on parental leave, which ended in December.

"It used to start backing up around Papakura, but now there is much more traffic at Ramarama - because of the Pokeno and Karaka developments, it's ten times worse," she says.

"The traffic is more congested in the Bombay, Ramarama area, but at Drury and Papakura, it comes to a stop."

Her husband also drives to work in Highbrook, but his hours are different from hers so he travels separately in a company car, for which his firm pays for the petrol.

The couple used to live in Papakura, but moved to Tuakau for more affordable housing, and a quieter home life.

Although Auckland Transport hopes its new electric trains will become more reliable than the diesels they have replaced north of Papakura, after ironing out teething problems such as over-sensitive electronic speed controls, there are no immediate plans to extend electrification to Pukekohe.

That means passengers from Pukekohe have to travel on a half-hourly diesel shuttle service to Papakura, to transfer to electric trains.

But the new system has had plenty of glitches, prompting some passengers to drive to Papakura instead.

Car and ferry - Whangaparaoa to central Auckland

Andy McCowan commutes to work daily on the ferry. Photo / Regan Schoultz
Andy McCowan commutes to work daily on the ferry. Photo / Regan Schoultz

Time = 60 minutes

Andy McCowan, 46, global payments company regional director - catches ferries to work whenever he can, but sometimes has to drive - Army Bay, Whangaparaoa Peninsula to downtown Auckland - 34km by ferry (includes 4km drive to Gulf Harbour wharf), 46km by road.

Dedicated ferry user Andy McCowan believes Auckland has an "untapped highway" at its disposal which transport planners are not doing nearly enough to exploit.

Having used ferries to commute to work during extended postings in Sydney and London, Mr McCowan says Auckland Transport should pour far more resources into our harbour and coastal waterways to get more people off the roads.

He has spent six or seven years travelling several times a week by ferry from Gulf Harbour on Whangaparaoa Peninsula to his office just across Quay St from the waterfront, which he much prefers to long and frustrating car journeys he often has to endure to meet clients or attend business functions.

His car commuting has dwindled since the ferry service was boosted in July last year to six daily trips a day in each direction, from just two previously.

Auckland Transport says average daily patronage has more doubled to more than 600 passengers since then.

But Mr McCowan says faster ferries, better shelter and more parking spaces at Gulf Harbour are needed to funnel far more people off Whangaparaoa Peninsula and its constricted main feeder road to the Northern Motorway.

"There are more than 28,000 people living on the Hibiscus Coast - plenty of ferries go to Waiheke where there are only 8000 permanent residents."

He says that although he and his fellow passengers don't mind when their "always cheerful" crew slow down occasionally for a few minutes to cruise with dolphins and orca whales, they are envious of those on Pine Harbour ferries who take just 40 minutes to reach Auckland from Beachlands compared with their 50-minute run.

That still beats driving to work, which usually takes him about an hour and 10 minutes even if he leaves before 6.30am or after 8.30am to avoid the worst of the traffic.

"But if we can have faster ferries which would do the trip in 35 minutes, that would make a huge difference."

Auckland Transport hopes to increase annual ferry patronage across the region from 5.5 million passenger trips now to 7.5m by 2026, but intends giving priority to improving the frequency and capacity of existing routes rather than expanding its network.

Mr McCowan is disappointed that has put potential new services to Te Atatu, Browns Bay and Takapuna on the back burner for the foreseeable future.

He is enamoured of Sydney's ferries, on which about 16 million trips are taken each year, and on which he used to travel to work from that city's lower north shore.

"I think we have just as good an argument [for more ferries] for Auckland, because it will take a while to build the road and train systems, but with the waterfront we've got here, we have an untapped highway," he says.

"It wouldn't take that many millions of dollars to buy a new set of ferries - quicker ferries to solve part of the problem. It's not going to solve everything but it will take some congestion off the roads."

"We need hourly services at least.....likely to mean a combination of smaller and larger ferries in order to better manage the peaks and troughs of usage throughout the day.

" The recent success of the new [Whangaparaoa] services proves that Auckland is splitting at the seams.

"Ferry services are quick fix solutions compared to waiting for tunnels [under Waitemata Harbour] or Penlink [proposed toll bridge from Whangaparaoa Peninsula]."

Bike and ferry - Hemi St, Narrowneck to Stanley St

Cycling commuter Alice Pritchard. Photo / Regan Schoultz
Cycling commuter Alice Pritchard. Photo / Regan Schoultz

Time = 35 minutes

Alice Pritchard, 35, advertising agency photographic production manager - cycles and catches a ferry to work - Narrowneck, Devonport to Stanley St, Parnell - 8.8km

Cycling and ferry rides make Alice Pritchard's journey to work not only more pleasurable than driving, but also more predictable.

Predictability is an important consideration for her, as the mother of a two-year-old daughter needing to be collected from child-care each evening.

Unlike the hordes of Aucklanders regularly stuck in morning traffic, Ms Pritchard takes the scenic route on her classic white bike, pedalling through a park and back-streets of Devonport to reach the ferry wharf for a pleasant cruise across the harbour.

Then it's more off-road riding along the waterfront to Tapora St near Vector Arena, where she has recently found the start of a shared pedestrian-cycling path to deliver her safely to Auckland Transport's new protected two-way bikeway along Beach Rd.

The only slight dampener is that the bikeway turns right to join the Transport Agency's Grafton Gully cycle path just before she reaches the busy intersection of Beach Rd and Stanley St near her work, where heavy trucks thunder past and a novice cyclist was killed after turning in front of one early last year.

Ms Pritchard, who found Beach Rd a "really scary place" before the bikeway opened later in the year, takes no chances and dismounts to become a pedestrian while crossing the intersection.

She is among a growing number of Aucklanders who prefer to bike in business clothes, rather than lycra, although the dazzling white outfit she wore when photographed by the Herald would have been no less visible to other road users and she adds fluorescent material and bright lights when riding home on winter nights.

"It's a good thing to show people that even if you are not a super serious cyclist, it's still a good mode of transport," she says.

"Hopefully it shows people it's kind of achievable for everyone. It's attainable - you can get a bike and be comfortable on your bike."

"I think it really aids in the work-life balance scenario. If your commute from A to B provides a little bit of exercise, it's a win-win for everyone."

Although she occasionally drives to Devonport's ferry wharf in "absolutely torrential rain", other traffic makes her trip times less predictable and she has to vie for a scarce waterfront parking spot.

Then it's a walk to work from Auckland's Downtown ferry terminal after her harbour crossing, rain or shine.

Ms Pritchard reckons it takes her about 35 minutes to get to work when cycling, compared with at least an hour she needs to allow for the even rarer occasions when she has to drive over the harbour bridge.

"It's unpredictable in a car - sitting in traffic in Lake Rd is pretty notorious."

Her partner also bikes to work, often with her, but sometimes via Upper Harbour as a keen sports cyclist.

"He's a bit more serious than me - he trains for Lake Taupo."

Although they meet a number of other regular pedallers on the ferry, cyclists still accounted for only 1.5 per cent of trips to work in Auckland on Census Day in 2013 - a slight increase from 1.25 per cent in 2006.

Bike and ferry - Chatswood to Pitt St, central city

Mat Collins uses a mash-up of car-pooling, buses, ferries and cycling. Photo / Greg Bowker
Mat Collins uses a mash-up of car-pooling, buses, ferries and cycling. Photo / Greg Bowker

Time = 40 minutes

Mat Collins, 39, project manager - mash-up of car-pooling, buses, ferries and cycling - Balmain Rd, Chatswood, to Pitt St, central Auckland - 10.8km

It's swings and roundabouts for Mat Collins on his daily trips to work and back - or rather, car-pooling, buses, ferries and an electric bicycle.

Mr Collins prefers using his new electric-assisted bike to get to work.

But the $4.40c ferry fare each way between Birkenhead and central Auckland in the middle of his trip, even with a Hop card discount, means that costs him more than catching a free ride in company cars to the office and taking a bus home for $4.

The father of a blended family of five children can't wait for the SkyPath cycling and pedestrian link to be built across the harbour bridge next year, subject to the resolution of appeals to Environment Court against a decision of planning commissioners to approve the project.

Even though that is likely to come with a toll of up to $3 each way, it will still be cheaper than catching ferries.

"The intention is, once SkyPath gets built, I'll be doing it the majority of the time," he says.

Although car-pooling is a faster way to reach work, taking about 25 minutes via the Onewa Rd priority lane for high-occupancy vehicles, the combined ferry and bike trip of around 40 minutes is faster than walking 800m from his office to Albert and then catching a bus home.

Mr Collins also values the exercise involved in pedalling, even though he uses his bike's battery power to help him up hills.

As a strong supporter of "active transport", he applies discretion over that use.

"It depends where I am. When I'm around cars, I use the battery more, but when I'm around pedestrians I turn it off so I'm going slower."

That includes the waterfront and shared pedestrian-traffic spaces in several parts of the CBD, including Elliott St, along which he rides to work.

"If you look at the streets where cars are either removed or put at a low priority, what much nicer places they are to be in," he says.

"Just look how many more people use those spaces."

The former firefighter, who returned to university to become a civil engineer, says he would dearly love to see Queen St teeming with more pedestrians - unimpeded by motor traffic apart from trams.

"If you asked me seven years ago, I would have said absolutely not, that cars are essential for getting around."

But there's been a paradigm shift. When you actually stop and look around at what cars are doing to our city and environment, they make it a really unattractive place to be, and we allocate so much space to them."

Train and bus - Henderson to Takapuna

Auckland bus and train commuter Matt Lowrie at Britomart Train Station. Photo / Greg Bowker
Auckland bus and train commuter Matt Lowrie at Britomart Train Station. Photo / Greg Bowker

Time = 80 minutes

Matt Lowrie, 32, insurance data analyst - catches trains and buses to work, occasionally cycles - Henderson to Takapuna - 27.9-28.5km

As editor of the authoritative Transportblog, Matt Lowrie walks his talk - or in his case catches trains and buses most days, interspersed with two long bike rides each week over the top of Waitemata Harbour.

The young insurance analyst, who seems to spend much of his spare time focussing his magpie research skills on transport trends, made sure to choose a home within walking distance of a railway station when he and his wife moved out from central Auckland several years ago.

It takes them less than 10 minutes to walk to Sturges Road Station, although his rail trip to Britomart is a 50-minute run on a good day, while Auckland Transport and KiwiRail work on ways to speed up the new electric trains.

Although his wife's trip is shorter, ending at Grafton Station near her work, Mr Lowrie must travel through the Newmarket rail bottleneck before reaching Britomart and making a bus connection for the rest of his journey to Takapuna.

That means he is looking forward to what Auckland Transport estimates will be a seven-minute time saving to Britomart for western commuters once the $2.5 billion City Rail Link is completed, and shorter trips than that for passengers getting off trains at underground stations near Karangahape Rd and Aotea Square, as he expects to do.

Mr Lowrie says that although well-patronised buses take him from Albert St to Takapuna in about 15 minutes, his overall journey to work takes about an hour and 20 minutes.

That is slightly longer than the hour and 15 minutes it takes to cycle to or from work via Upper Harbour, trips he makes twice a week compared with eight by public transport.

"It's a bit sad that it takes longer by public transport, but cycling over the top is probably more direct."

An estimate of trip distances using Google Maps shows only a marginal difference between the two routes, the public transport trip covering 28.5km from the Lowrie home to his office in Huron St in Takapuna, compared with the bike ride's 27.9km.

He doesn't save money by cycling, which he does for enjoyment and health, as he has a $190 monthly pass for unlimited rail and bus trips across two zones.

But if he were paying for each trip with a Hop card, it would cost him $18 a day to get to work and back.

Although that cost for daily passengers will be reduced to between $12 and $13 once Auckland Transport introduces a new simplified zonal scheme next year, when just one fare will buy up to three legs for any journey taken within two hours, Mr Lowrie is irked that his monthly pass will rise by $10 or $20.

"It seems a bit odd putting it up," he says.

"They should be encouraging the use of monthly passes, which I use to travel to meetings during the working day - they should be encouraging as many people as possible to use them for public transport."

Exact prices within the various ranges Auckland Transport has flagged for the new system have yet to be announced, although monthly passes for some longer-distance commuters such as from Pukekohe will be reduced from $250 to between $210 and $220 - the same rate that Mr Lowrie faces paying.