Friday, October 28, 2011

What's Worse Than Auckland's Public Transport? Auckland Traffic

Where I live is entangled by motorways leading South and to the port. To add to that, I live near the intersection of two busy roads between Mt Eden and Parnell, and between Newmarket and the city, which is also one of the busiest bus routes in New Zealand. I see, hear, and often smell the constant traffic from all of these transport routes, and the worst time for all of them seems to be a Friday afternoon.


Traffic clogs up well before 5, usually at 3, and continues until 7 or 8 in the evening. Regardless of the weather, they'll be clogged and crawling. Clever people who take the bus are caught up in the chaos too, as bus services using the motorway are slowed behind all the cars. Pathetic measures like a 250 meter truck lane that bypasses two lanes on an on-ramp only to be whittled down to one lane before joining the motorway. As a planning student, of course I ask myself "who designs this shit?!" At the end of the 2011 Rugby World Cup, we were still left with a crap transport system. 

News of the Victoria Park Tunnel project nearing completion says that we have the capacity to build impressive transport infrastructure quickly, but still have the stupidity to only alleviate problems rather than fix them. Another symptom of Kiwi short-term thinking and inability to take risks. Transport in Auckland needs some decent investment; while everyone blames the lack of capital, the real issues lie in the tangle of red tape and political ignorance. Fixing Auckland is permanently in the 'too hard' basket. The National government's favoring of roads is simply short sighted. More roads might seem like a quick fix and a popular one, but so is giving out the benefit like a cashed-up Father Christmas - the real costs come later, and they'll be big and hard to undo. 

Roads - Worse Than Trains

That topic headline is an overstatement. Roads aren't all bad, and trains are far from rosy. From some observation as to how motorways work over time, traffic congestion is simply another case of a Tragedy of the Commons. Roads are a public good, and the users are private individuals and companies, who only benefit themselves when they add more vehicles to the road. The more cars that are added to the road impact everyone else driving, whether they be other private cars and trucks, or passengers in a bus. Either way, road capacity is scarce, and people treat motorways like they'll work no matter what. Not only does adding more cars to the road create more congestion, but other costs this incurs are large and numerous. Clogged roads are more dangerous, road rage and dangerous driving is more prevalent, deterioration of resources as cars still burn fuel while idle, lost productivity as people and goods do not reach their destinations soon enough, air pollution skyrockets, noise and dirt affects the surrounding houses and environment, and essential services such as ambulances are rendered useless.

Traffic is a massive problem for Auckland's social and economic wellbeing, one of the huge hindrances to the local economy is the pain in the neck moving goods around creates. While the left wants more public transport because they're attracted to anything with the word 'public' in it, or they're physically attracted to railways and railway paraphernalia. Either way, their arguments are often weak and unconvincing to the general public and the powers that be. Auckland Transport Blog has mentioned that road users should be subsidizing railway users, since road users will benefit from the fewer cars on the road. This argument makes some, but not a lot of economic sense, since roads and railways currently compete as transport options. For railways to work, they need to outcompete roads, starting with what railways can do better than roads when given the chance. Other uses and expansion can be added later, but the road system wasn't built in a day either.

Public-Private Partnership Transport

Railways and buses obviously take up far less space than cars, making them more efficient and sharply reduces traffic congestion. In my interest of devolved power, private management of public transport makes more sense, since services can compete with each other, and we do not leave all our eggs in one basket, should one service fail for any reason. The problem with Auckland's public transport fans is an avoidance of 'duplication' of services, where two lines or modes serve the same route or direction, such as trains between Britomart (Auckland Central) to Newmarket, when there is already (more than one) bus service between the two points. These modes can compete, and often where there is a fault with the railways, passengers are thankful that they could take either a Metrolink, Waka Pacific, or Howick & Eastern bus to the same destination. Private companies working in the same model can work too. Private companies have the interest of providing the best (most reliable) service to their customers to gain market share. They too have an interest in transport efficiency.

From previously living in North London and many visits to Los Angeles, Hongkong, Sinagpore, Brisbane, Vancouver, and others - public transport can work well, and it doesn't even need to have the word 'public' in it. The MTR in Hongkong is a public-private partnership where the system is managed by a private company, much of the revenue coming from the operation of train stations rather than the railways themselves. Auckland's public transport makes for a small market at present, but that's only because we have a shit public transport system. Many more Aucklanders would use public transport if it ran on time, had frequent services, the buses/trains were kept clean and tidy, and the stations were very near to where they want to get on and get off. These are all possible with the right economic environment for these demands to be met, not that I don't trust Len Brown or the Auckland council, but that private companies work like special interest groups in that they deal with these more specific demands. 

Auckland traffic is notorious all over the country, since the rest of the country sniggers at the poor planning, decision making, investment, infrastructure, and motivation that goes on. Wellington sits nice and smug on its more efficient transport system and nearly congestion-free motorways. Why Auckland sucks at these sort of things is the fault of Aucklanders. Of course I'd like to see a CBD rail link and systemwide electrification, as much as I'd like to see it all privatized when  it's done! Roads being clogged up in Auckland is a serious problem, and another attributed to a Tragedy of Commons, another that can be solved with more privatization.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I am looking for images to use in a Greenpeace document advocating clean energy technology benefits in NZ. Your images of Auckland traffic are great and we'd love to use them with credit to you if you allow.
    Naturally this is a non-profit non-commercial organisation. Time is of the essence as we want to produce for the current Rainbow Warrior tour of NZ, please advise asap +64 21 439 545 - - thanks


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