Traffic Congestion

Stuff runs a story today about the “time we lose stuck in peak time traffic”. This reports on Tom Tom data that compares the time for journeys made in rush hour compared to the same journey made in free flowing traffic. For Wellington commuters the result is an extra 72%. That amounts to an extra 20 working days a year – a 4 per cent increase from last year

So much, so normal. It was the response from the “Wellington City Council transport strategy and operations portfolio leader Chris Calvi-Freeman” that caught my eye.

He is quoted as saying “The 72 per cent extra time means that traffic is flowing fine in the middle of the day. If people have no choice to commute in peak hours, or are foolish enough to drive in that time, they are going to be stuck in traffic, because they are traffic.”

I cannot imagine the responsible councillor in a major UK city offering this response. In the UK we have always tried to build road capacity to cope with peak-time demand, only to find that demand rises to fill the available capacity.

This difference derives in significant part from New Zealand having to fund infrastructure for a land mass the size of the UK with 7% of the population / tax base. In New Zealand the concept of “we cannot afford it” is politically acceptable. The fact that it is not in the UK is a major reason why, after seven years of “austerity” the UK is still running a budget deficit of around 5% of GDP, whilst New Zealand runs a surplus. The New Zealand approach seems entirely sensible and actually more grown up to me.