New report highlights congestion problems in the country’s major cities

New report highlights congestion problems in the country’s major cities

A report by Dutch-based navigation company TomTom NV looking at traffic congestion around the world has Auckland coming in second equal with Melbourne for the worst traffic congestion in Australia and Oceania.

Only Sydney fared worse in the Australia and Oceania category. The TomTom Traffic Index shows motorists in the City of Sails spent 29% more extra time in travel in 2018. This is based on the added travel time more than an average trip would take in uncongested conditions.

Auckland came in 112 overall, but it’s not all bad. The figures show the amount of time spent in congestion in Auckland is down 2% on the same period on 2017.

While in Wellington, which was 4th in the Australia and Oceania top 10, commuters spent 27% more in extra travel time in the 2018 year. The city came in 142nd overall.

Other Kiwi cities to make the Australia and Oceania top 10 were Hamilton which came in 8th place and motorist’s spent 22% more in extra travel time in 2018 and Christchurch, which came in 9th and where commuters spent 21% more time in transit.

While the report says Hobart, New Zealand came in 10th place where motorists spent 21% more time in travel. But we think there may have been an Australian statistician involved playing a joke on their Tasmanian brethren.   

The report is based on data collected in 403 cities in 56 countries around the world and looks at cities with a population of 800,000 of more. TomTom says in 75% of the cities included in the study congestion levels had either continued to grow or remained stable and 90 of the cities surveyed recorded measurable declines.

TomTom’s vice president of traffic information Ralf-Peter Schaefer says the study shows globally traffic congestion is rising, which means more drivers are wasting time daily sitting in traffic.

“We’re working towards a future where vehicles are electric, shared and autonomous so that our future really is free of congestion and emissions. We have the technology to make this future happen – but it takes a collaborative effort. From road authorities, to governments; car makers to car drivers, we all have a part to play.”

An explanation of how the company’s data is calculated states:

“We also perform the same calculations for individual hours of each day of the week, so it’s possible to see how high congestion levels are in each city during the busiest times of the day, including morning and evening peak hours. The TomTom Traffic index statistics are calculated from anonymized GPS data collected via navigation devices, in-dash systems and smartphones.”

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says the TomTom report highlights the very issues the council is trying to address.

“Am I surprised by the TomTom report? No, I’m not surprised, our city has been growing by 40-45,000 people a year,” Goff says. “You can’t keep growing a city at that rate unless you grow the infrastructure to meet those needs and that applies to housing and infrastructure.”

He says through Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) the Government and council have committed $28 billion towards funding Auckland’s transport infrastructure over the next 10 years.

“And with the Government we’ve put another $1 billion into the City Rail Link and through that we will double Auckland’s rail capacity. We’re making some progress, but sometimes it feels like we’re running just to stand still.”

Goff says Aucklanders are more than paying their way with the Regional Fuel Tax to help provide the much needed investment in the city’s public transport.

“If you want the city to keep growing and to be New Zealand’s globally competitive city we need to keep working on these things and central Government is going to have to make a bigger effort.”

He says the city’s traffic congestion is a cost to the city.

“It’s a huge source of frustration and a huge cost in terms of lost productivity."

Auckland Mayoral candidate John Tamihere says anyone who drives on the city’s roads knows how dire the traffic congestion is.

“We probably don’t need them (TomTom NV) to tell us that,” Tamihere says. “But it can be fixed.”

However, he says forcing motorist out of their cars isn’t the solution to Auckland’s gridlock, until we’ve got a viable public transport system.

Tamihere says he’s not opposed to the City Rail Link (CRL), or the proposed Auckland light rail project. Under the project proposal first outlined by Transport Minister Phil Twyford in 2017 two light rail lines would be established in Auckland. One leading from downtown Auckland out to the airport at Mangere, while a second line would run from the central city along State Highway 16 to Kumeu/Huapai. Twyford has estimated that the Auckland that project would cost about $6 billion, making it the biggest transport project in New Zealand history. But it remains up in the air until a business case for it is finalised.

“The issue is who is funding these projects and how are they being funded,” he says.

Tamihere says Auckland Council shouldn’t have been expected to pay its $500 million share of the CRL project’s cost overrun.

And he questions why Aucklanders are being forced to pay an extra fuel tax when no other region in the country does. He says Mayor Phil Goff and the council should have never agreed to it.

But Twyford has a different take on the latest TomTom Traffic Index data.

He says the fact the figures are down on previous year's shows there has been an improvement. The 2017 TomTom Traffic Index showed Aucklanders spent 31% more extra time in travel in 2017 and was ranked 77th overall.

"We know the only lasting solution to congestion to take a balanced approach and that’s why we’re investing in roads, motorways, rail, public transport and walking and cycling. This is in comparison to the last government who invested 40 percent of the transport budget in a few handpicked motorways that only carry 4 percent of vehicle journeys. 

"Our Government is investing nearly $2.2 billion on public transport in Auckland over this three-year period and the growing trip numbers are evidence that if you invest in more and better public transport, people will use it. We know that there is more work to done and that’s why we’re investing more than ever before in public transport throughout New Zealand to help free up the roads for those that have to drive by giving people real options.

He says transport infrastructure is vital to enabling good growth and that is why it has partnered with the Auckland Council to invest in the 10 year Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP).

"ATAP is creating a congestion-free rapid transit to help free up the roads, enable growth, and improve safety for drivers."

Twyford says the City Rail Link will carry the equivalent of 16 extra traffic lanes into the city at peak times and the proposed Auckland light rail project will carry to carry 11,000 commuters per hour.

"Both will make a massive difference and help ease congestion when completed.”


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I just had an idea on how to solve traffic congestion in Auckland (and anywhere else actually). MAKE IT ILLEGAL TO HAVE ONLY 1 PERSON IN A CAR. Sounds a bit crazy at first but we'll have to agree that it would solve congestion as most cars have only 1 occupier (do we have any data?). But it can't be done you say, just think about the people using a car for work… true. We do live in an age of Uber, Airbnb, Parkables etc it's probably not that far reached to conceive a ride sharing app that would actually work. Those that are absolutely unwilling to share rides can still use motorbikes or scooters which also frees up space on the roads.
Given the immense cost of upgrading roads, rail etc, is it not reasonable to explore such an outlandish idea?

This would also very significantly reduce CO2 emissions

.. and create a new profession of "passenger for hire " that already exists in some large Asian cities with similar ( route-based ) restrictions.

hmmm interesting, which cities? How is that going?

The one I have seen it happen in is Jakarta ; they have certain motorway lanes reserved for cars with passengers ; there are always groups of people standing at the on ramps - the will ride with you , for a fee .

Interesting, has it relieved congestion?

And the ability of tradies, couriers, builders, cleaners and other itinerant sole-charge vendors to - er - Trade.....

How about instead we just introduce smart tolling.
Reduce fuel tax, reduce registration fees, and simply make each vehicle pay for each marginal km traveled.
Allocate the toll revenue wrt to patronage.

Seems like a simple solution to all the common gripes with the transport infrastructure - fuel taxes, congestion, road quality, etc.

We will need some sort of GPS based tolling once e-vehicles become mainstream because fuel tax revenue will plummet. So may as make it smart tolling.....

I can hear Mike Hosking moaning now.

The tolling gathers revenue, my proposition aims at reducing cars on the road. Tolling, taxing or whatever you want to call it favours the wealthy who can afford it and disadvantages the poor. Why not reduce traffic by forcing more passengers per car?

If you are advocating a minimum number of passengers per vehicle, I don't think you really care about disadvantaging anyone.

Why do you say that?

...and charge more in areas where there are plenty of transport alternatives, like the North Shore, as opposed to North West Auckland? Sounds great.

How would Uber drivers get to work?

…by giving a paid lift to passengers duh, (or are you kidding?)

We could tie it in with a way to solve the housing shortage in Auckland (and anywhere else actually). MAKE IT ILLEGAL TO HAVE ONLY 1 FAMILY IN A HOUSE.

Yes and we could call these houses "apartments" maybe we could even stack several of them on top of each other, lol

Not in my back yard ;)

Make it illegal to have only one family living in a car

Autonomous cars will add to congestion not decrease it. There will be zero occupancy autonomous cars cruising the streets waiting to pick up rides. Congestion pricing will be a necessity to keep the streets from clogging up.

Absolutely right. Autonomous vehicles are not the answer to all our transport woes as several people around the world believe it to be.
Such technologies cannot make up for poor urban planning (or lack thereof) or the outdated transit systems in our major urban centres.

Brendon: we should develop congestion charging software now - if they wait until it is critically needed NZ will have to buy it from overseas and risk another Novopay debacle.

I'm sure EROAD already have stunning capability in this area.
But you're right. It'd be much more the NZ bureaucracy MO to develop something from scratch not knowing what they want, who is best to achieve it, or to have any intention to stay under budget.

Have you any industry analysis that supports that claim?

Every analysis I've seen (including from automotive manufacturers) suggests completely the opposite. Manufacturers are looking at the prospect of a much smaller fleet of cars overall, thus the need to look to other business models.

I think it’s really hard to know what will happen (and when). Assuming we all still want to get to work at 8am or so then the fleet will still need to be quite large. And then what happens with all those cars for the rest of the day - surely it doesn’t make financial sense to have them idle. May as well send them on a parcel pickup etc.
My gut feeling is that most people will ditch the personal car and use a combination of public transport and automated taxis depending on time, price and speed. But I don’t think anyone knows for sure.

You don't need a European study to tell you that trying to continuously grow a city on a very finite land mass such as an Isthmus could be a problem.

The problem is not that the city is growing. The problem is that it's growing in 2 dimensions. When will kiwis realise that houses can have multiple levels?

When will people realise that building upwards is horrendously expensive.

I still do not get this obsession with growth, it doesn't seem to be benefiting anyone.

40 years ago average wage $35k (2019 dollars) you paid (equivalent of) $15k for a 21inch TV with two channels, $60k+ for a car with optional heater and radio, your average life expectancy was 70ish, you had maybe 1 overseas trip ($15k flights) in your life, your (average) house was cold and damp, you had meat and 2-3 seasonal vege for dinner, and decent wine was a rarity and there were kids who genuinely came to school hungry with no shoes and inadequate clothes because their parents were poor (not negligent!). Then more growth happened.

One big thing about European motorway is that trucks aren't allowed to be on the outer most lane and also illegal for cars to stay on that lane below speed limit!

If we forced each car to carry at least 2 passengers, the right lane on the photo above, would look like the left lane

Ride a bike and the increased travel time doesn't change. More congestion is essential to pushing people out of cars - see it as a positive!

I ride a bike but do not share your vindictive attitude towards car users.

Smart ride-sharing apps are the future. Especially if there's incentives involved. Reward people for co-operating especially in the working week, same trip, commuting. This has got to be a local government revenue stream if ever there was one, surely?

We need to start Congestion charging. This is an outline of a stage 1 idea for Wellington:

What is needed is for the government and non-profits to build a lot more apartments in central locations. Lots of countries have done this over the years, through Asia and Europe. Switzerland is a very good example.
The free market won't deliver moderate priced apartments in urban locations, the government needs to step in.

Look, immigration into Switzerland will be tiny. Whereas we have unprecedentedly high immigration.

Building apartments is very very expensive. If it was cheap and easy don't you think everyone would be doing it?

Do the sums. 'Affordable rentals' (market rate less say 25%), built and managed by the government - the build costs would be paid off within 15-20 years.

If you have a non-discresionary trip to make from A to B and there is someone else who wants to travel at the same time from close to your A and be dropped off close to your B. How much would you accept in $$ for the inconvenience of transporting that other person ? How much would you pay if you were that other person ?
There is technolgy available that can be installed on the computer in your pocket that makes this transaction easy and affordable. A few thousand people a day doing this would make a huge difference to traffic in Auckland.

ONe of the major problems with our road system is the obsession the keep ceasing the left hand most lane. Its no wonder kiwis just take the path of least resistance and sit in the middle or outer lane because youre constantly having to merge into the lane on your right when the left lane just ends...
Planning should be you can only cease a right hand lane - then people would gravitate to the left most lanes for a path of least resistance, its like a person from a right hand lane driving country has designed the road system here..... such a simple improvement


Boring Company recently demonstrated autonomous electric car driving through a tunnel at 200km/hr. One of their $10million/km tunnels can transport 4 lanes worth of motorway traffic (10000cars/hour). 1-200km ($1-2billion) worth of these tunnels in Auckland, ~$50/year per resident if borrowed, would fix traffic problems forever, and most people could get to work in 15minutes. And commuters would be happy to buy/rent the autonomous cars to make use of the system and save public expenditure on trains trams and other white elephants.

We simply do not have the money to fix the problem. There should have been a 4 lane or even a 5 lane motorway from Wellington to Whangerei years ago. Personally I'm just thankfull the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway is being built. The "problem" will get sorted one day however with a new Tax that forces people into public transport. I'm surprised people can afford to drive into the Auckland CBD as it is, parking costs are more than catching the bus each week.One thing that could be done immediately is for trucks and heavy transport to be banned from using the outside lane.