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“Atrocious.”
“Appalling.”
“A nightmare.”
“A disgrace.”
These are some of the words that AA Members in our biggest cities use to describe the congestion they face each day.

Our Members are telling us that congestion is not only costing them time and money, it’s causing stress and frustration, and many indicate it’s eroding their quality of life.

In Wellington and Christchurch, roughly a third of survey respondents told us they’ve seriously considered moving house or changing jobs so that they don’t have to experience as much congestion. In Auckland it’s closer to half – and some are leaving the city altogether.

It’s not surprising that AA Members consider transport issues should be the top priority for incoming mayors and councillors following this year’s local government elections.

While AA Members are aware that the congestion we experience here is nowhere near as bad as that occurring in major cities overseas, the prevailing view is clear: for cities the size of ours, congestion is much worse than it should be, and more needs to be done about it.

So, what’s thought to be exacerbating the problem? In Auckland, AA Members are telling us that transport infrastructure development is not keeping pace with population growth. Many observe new housing subdivisions popping up all over the city, but see little or nothing being done to extend and expand the transport network to provide for them.

In Wellington and Christchurch, poorly planned roadworks are seen to be a major contributor to the problem. While Members know that roadworks mean good news further ahead, there’s frustration around how they’re being delivered.

Wellingtonians describe the sheer volume of roadworks currently underway as “disastrous”, with the resulting congestion being inescapable. 

In Christchurch, AA Members acknowledge that roadworks are a necessary part of the city’s rebuild, but they are frustrated by poor sequencing, a lack of communication, and an apparent lack of co-ordination between utility companies.

And across all three cities, AA Members are of the view that driver behaviour – clumsy merging, erratic lane changing and an inability to keep left – and poor traffic light phasing are intensifying the problem.

Why don’t more people take public transport or cycle to avoid adding to congestion? The majority, close to 90%, tell us that these modes of travel are not viable options.

Roughly 80% of respondents tell us that having a car with them during the working day is a necessity. This may be due to the need to reach clients, attend meetings, or to take care of family commitments such as the school run or picking up groceries. 

In many cases, AA Members say they don’t have a direct public transport service available to them, much as they would like it, either due to where they work relative to where they live, or because of their work hours. And when it comes to cycling, safety concerns are a big deterrent.

So, what can be done? AA Members understand that congestion will never be eradicated in our cities, but they identify a range of initiatives that they consider would significantly improve the situation.

AA Members want to see better transport planning: everything from how roadworks are delivered (where and when they will take place and how the effects will be managed), through to how the city’s transport network will develop to accommodate growth over the short, medium, and long term. Responding to situations after they arise is not good enough. Foresight, our Members say,
is essential.

In all three cities, AA Members are crying out for improved traffic light phasing, better lane marking, removal of bottlenecks, and more – and better – information to help them make decisions about when, where and how to travel. They see huge scope for these relatively simple actions to make a substantial difference on the ground.

When it comes to public transport, AA Members say that if they’re going to make the switch, more needs to be done to make it work for them, and to deliver services that compete with the car in terms of cost, speed and reliability. Members also point out that more park-and-rides, particularly in Auckland, are a must.

Our Members also support sensible investment in cycling infrastructure – that is, investment in projects that make cycling safe and attractive, and that people will use.

Last, but certainly not least, AA Members are calling for more to be done to improve driver behaviour.

They describe the ‘Merge like a zip’ campaign as a good example of public education, and say we need the same approach to counter other problem areas, such as lane changing and keeping left. 

There’s no denying that congestion is an inevitable part of city life, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do everything reasonable to minimise its impact.   

Reported for our AA Directions Summer 2016 issue

More information

For live updates on traffic congestion, see AA's Roadwatch

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