Auckland motorists who drive their car to the city daily will have “the worst experience” of transport changes planned for the next four to five years.

Auckland Council’s chief executive, Stephen Town, told Newsroom people driving alone in their vehicles would face tough conditions as the city pressed on with projects to pedestrianise and advance public transport.

Those projects, such as the two-laning of Quay St in downtown Auckland, would keep happening while the Central Rail Link underground project was being finished in the years to 2024.

In the meantime, people needed to know they faced tough years ahead if they had to take their car into or through the city daily.

“We can see the challenge. Anybody who has got a daily commute where they feel or are compelled to bring their car and they are the only person in it, they are going to have the worst experience, if you can put it into the order of magnitude of frustration.

“People who have not got an alternative mode or public transport option and they have to bring their car over the next four to five years – that’s going to be tough. It is just sheer hard work.”

The city – through the council and Auckland Transport – is trying to manage traffic upheaval like that caused by pedestrianising projects such as squeezing traffic numbers on Quay St at the same time as the CRL route has disrupted Albert and Customs streets. 

And it makes no apologies for doing more than one major transport change at once.

Town said 2017 was the first year Auckland had seen more people entering the CBD daily by means other than a private car. “I think we have got to keep going because we’ve got to keep building the commitment from people not to keep bringing cars if they’ve got an option.”

But he acknowledged the frustrations for, say, those from the eastern suburbs facing long queues on both Tamaki Drive into Quay St and along The Strand and Grafton Rd.

“I think the bit we’ve not cracked is ride-sharing. For example, from St Heliers, thousands of people are coming and going three or four days a week at the same time. Ride sharing might just be the business opportunity.”

Town said that was not about an Uber-type answer necessarily, as Uber had added more cars to the city roads rather than helped reduce congestion. 

St Heliers is, coincidentally, the focus of another public gripe with Auckland Transport changes. Some residents are objecting to a plan to create a series of ‘raised’ pedestrian crossings and remove car parking. The raised crossings are becoming common, with workers blocking lanes or closing lanes altogether in some areas as they build the structures.

Those works, added to ongoing long-term replacements of footpaths and kerb and channeling which also close lanes and roads causing detours, were adding to elongated commutes.

In the St Heliers case, residents are arguing an “ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ response to their crossings and parking. Auckland Transport claims the changes will make the suburb safer.

Town said pedestrian, cycle and scooter safety projects had to keep going, despite other road traffic changes.

Major public transport initiatives also have to press ahead. Soon, construction of the AMETI bus expressway from Panmure alongside the Pakuranga Highway and then on to Botany will begin affecting car traffic from Howick and Pakuranga. Auckland Transport has a substantial advertising campaign underway encouraging people to ‘make a plan’ to avoid the expected congestion.

Town said Auckland Council had hosted a major workshop on ‘mode shift acceleration’ this month involving Mayor Phil Goff, councillors and officials from the council, Auckland Transport, the Ministry of Transport and the NZ Transport Agency.

“What can we do? There’s a lot of great ideas, but what can we do faster?” Town said.

“Auckland Transport have been given some encouragement to have a crack, to see if we can make the city more bearable during these next few years.”

This could involve trying some traffic measures to see if they might work, such as traffic cones temporarily rather than new roundabouts and the like. “Don’t build expensive infrastructure – try things out … then pull it out , and try something else.”

* Tomorrow, Newsroom has a further interview with Stephen Town on Auckland’s development and the Auckland Council’s performance in managing it: Auckland’s growth pressure cooker cools

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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