Why Wellington, Auckland congestion woes will continue for years
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The steady return of workers to the office has seen commuters return to sitting in their cars for hours on end each day.
Speaking to the Front Page podcast, Wellington-based senior reporter Georgina Campbell says that for many this is simply a necessity.
"They don't have real alternatives to using their car," she says.
"That hasn't changed over these past two years and it's not going to change for a few years to come. Unfortunately, Covid-19 has probably just delayed the projects already under way, which will provide alternative transport choices for people."
The past two years of the pandemic did offer a moment for us to consider what building back better might look like, but this will take time.
Auckland is currently in the process of upgrading its transport network through the City Rail Link project, which is scheduled for completion by late 2024. And Wellington will soon get a clearer picture of how public transport might evolve in the city in the coming years.
The $7 billion Let's Get Wellington Moving project is already under way with upgrades to walking and cycling options, but the biggest changes are yet to be confirmed.
"We are expecting an announcement on the final decisions in a couple of weeks," says Campbell.
"We're talking about things like where mass rapid transit is going to run: to the east or the south. It will also answer the question of whether it will be light rail or bus rapid transit. And then, of course, we are still waiting for details on the second Mount Victoria tunnel."
These plans come after an extensive period of consultation, which has given the community opportunity to express their views.
Whatever decision is ultimately made will, however, take years to roll out – meaning that commuters will have to continue contending with congestion for the foreseeable future.
Another factor that Wellingtonians will have to contend with is the level of disruption these upgrades will cause.
Auckland's City Rail Link project offers a warning to the capital that improvements can take years to come to fruition and frustrate both residents and businesses in the region.
"Wellingtonians haven't fully grasped just how much disruption is going to come from something like light rail to Island Bay," says Campbell.
"Streets are going to be ripped up, car parks will be removed and it's likely that some properties will have to be acquired."
Decision makers do seem to be acutely aware of the concerns that Wellington could face similar levels of disruption and frustration as those experienced in Auckland.
"The Government is certainly aware of this incoming disruption and Transport Minister Michael Wood has made assurances that they have learned lessons from Auckland's City Rail Link project," says Campbell.
"He's already indicated that a business support package will be pulled together in advance of major work starting on mass rapid transit in Wellington. But I really do think this is an issue of no pain no gain."
Completing work on the improved transport systems will only be the first part of the challenge.
It will be equally important to rebuild public trust in the efficiency of what's available. An Auckland survey released earlier this year that Aucklanders felt they were waiting too long for buses – an experience that will also be familiar to Wellingtonians. Add to this concerns about the reliability of train services, and it's clear there's work to be done in showing commuters that public transport can get them to their destinations on time.
"Local authorities do have a lot of trust-building to get people on board, but I do think the introduction of light rail and mass rapid transit will show people how reliable public transport can be," says Campbell.
"Hopefully, those projects will also have a flow-on effect of freeing up roads for buses, which will improve their reliability."
For now, the wait goes one – be it at a bus stop or in bumper-to-bumper traffic along the motorway.
- NZ Herald