When asked what aspect of modern life most adversely affects them on a day-to-day basis, many people will say “getting from A to B”.
Inner-city and inter-city travel is becoming increasingly difficult, inconvenient, expensive and environmentally concerning. It is also having a negative effect on business, with long delays and increasing dollar and time costs.
During every local and national election cycle, poorly thought out solutions are put forward by candidates, more in hope (of being re-elected) than in expectation of solving the transport problem.
Some are just plain silly — light rail is great, convenient, environmentally friendly, modern and looks good, so let’s use it for getting people to and from our airports, they say.
Electrified light rail is a fine solution for inner-city transport, but doesn’t work for taking heavily laden travellers between the city centre and an airport.
However, this doesn’t deter a clutch of hopeful politicians using it as their battle cry, even if not one medium-sized city in the world, including those having light rail for urban transport, use light rail in this fashion.
Most alternate travel solutions tend to ignore the fact that New Zealanders have a love affair with cars. It will require compelling solutions, or a massive increase in car purchase and running costs, to drag people away from the perceived convenience and economy of car use.
And for many people, the shape of our country and our cities and towns make car travel the only practical, affordable answer.
Car ownership in New Zealand (2016 statistics) is just under 780 per 1000 people. That’s more than 3 million cars at any time on the road, parked on the street, or in the garage or car park.
Compare this to Australia, with just 14.1 million cars for a population of 24.2 million people, or 585 per 1000.
Driving this high number in New Zealand is that 50% of these cars are cheap, used imports, giving our car fleet an average age of 14 years. In Australia the average age is 10 years.
This is a concern, both environmentally and in encouraging any significant shift to alternative vehicle types, such as electric powered cars.
Just do the maths. Changing 10% to electric each year — that’s 30,000 cars — wouldn’t even keep pace with the current increase in car numbers.
During the 20 years up to the end of the 20th Century, the total distance travelled by motor vehicles doubled, partly caused by the increase in car numbers.
It also reflected our modern lifestyle — living further from work, travelling to malls and big barn retailing, and for pleasure and holiday trips. And, in many cases, a car was the only practical mode of transport available.
Without a change in attitude, the private car will remain the primary means of daily transport. Any transport solution has to include making car travel cleaner and more convenient, while keeping cars out of areas with good public transport options.
A very short history lesson
In the early days of European settlement there were few if any adequate roads for anything other than bullock or horse-drawn vehicles, so water remained a key transport solution.
The introduction of steam led first to steamships and, progressively, a national rail network. Other than in Wellington, trains were not initially used for urban transport.
Motor vehicles became common mode of transport in the 1920s when the road network had improved.
Urban development in Auckland
Electric trams arrived in Auckland around 1900 to help alleviate overcrowding in the central city. Auckland’s first tram line was from the CBD to Ponsonby via the Karangahape Road ridge. The tram system was progressively expanded to other developing suburban centres.
Trolley buses replaced trams after the Second World War, with diesel buses progressively taking over and now remaining the main form of urban transport.
Ferry services were used extensively prior to the opening of the Harbour Bridge in the mid-1950s, including connections to the eastern suburbs. Tamaki Drive, connecting the growing eastern suburbs to the central city, was not completed until 1932.
The 1950s and 60s saw a major expansion of regional roads and motorways, including the contentious but, ultimately sensible, decision of a North/South motorway link through the central city.
This encouraged more commuters to use their cars rather than the less convenient public transport system.
The motorway system later expanded to western and south-western corridors, with the new Waterview tunnel improving airport and cross-city links.
The current motorway system now suffers from peak hold-ups due to heavy reliance on cars rather than the less convenient buses and heavy rail.
Recent and current solutions for inner-city travel in Auckland include:
• The central, inner and outer link bus routes, offering mostly reliable and frequent access around the city and inner suburbs.
• The North Shore busway to and from Silverdale in the north, together with a number of dedicated bus lanes on inner-city streets.
• Electrification and other improvements to the existing rail system, centred on the Britomart downtown terminal.
• Development of the Inner City Rail Link. Time will tell whether the $3 million to $5 million cost is justified for servicing such a small part of Auckland’s suburbs.
• Extensive cycleways throughout Auckland, together with a political push to encourage more cycling (including electric bikes) and walking.
• Slowly improving ferry services, with some early failures due to under-use.
I will look at possible solutions to current and future urban transport needs next month.