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Our CEO's take on current transport woes and possible solutions

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Our CEO Mark Knoff-Thomas, offers his take on traffic – the future of how things could be, the current state, and some solutions.

Imagine a time where an autonomous vehicle (AV) shuttle picks you up from within 100m of your front door and drops you off at a nearby bus stop or train station, where you will connect with another service that will take you to work or to your shopping/ dining destination of choice. All the while you will have access to WIFI, and the ability to read, listen to music, relax, meditate, recite ancient Greek literature, sleep, swipe endlessly through social media apps, or just “be”. Once you reach your work or shopping destination (incidentally any shopping you purchase will be delivered to your front door by the time you return home) you can walk, scooter, or pick up another AV to get you around. This is a peek at what could be in store for Auckland’s future according to transport boffins. International design gurus Frog Design, recently stated:

“As autonomous mobility becomes increasingly more viable, the cost savings of removing a human driver will mean that passengers likely won’t be the ones paying for their ride. Rather, their hotel, restaurant or employer will be footing the bill. This is because brands will soon realize the benefits of making the trip part of the experience. Retail will use transportation to draw in customers to brick and mortar shops. Real estate holders will offer autonomous vehicles (AVs) to make their buildings more viable options. For employers, mobility or transportation can be treated as an additional benefit: the company could provide an AV shuttle or smart car that allows employees to use their commute time more productively, without having to worry about safety. By taking an AV to the office, employees could use their commute as work time in order to optimize their personal time.”

It seems a millennium away from our current reality. Traffic chaos ensues on a daily basis. There is no rush “hour” anymore and the weekends often feel like a Monday morning in March. Auckland Transport (AT) are working through a programme to roll out upgrades and improvements across the network and the various modes they operate – including “active transport” – cycling and walking. We are in a bit of a chicken and egg situation, as people are reluctant to give up their cars, until the entire network is proven to be reliable, fast, efficient and cheap (noting that AT just scored a massive own-goal with their recent fare hikes), on the egg-side AT need more people on buses and trains to see serious gains in travel times, so the bus routes and train schedules can reach optimum performance. Having said this many Aucklanders have proven sceptics wrong and have made the leap from car to bus or train. Patronage is rising. But here’s the rub, Auckland is fast approaching fully-fledged-international-city status. We’re desirable, people are flocking here – and although there may be peaks and troughs in the immigration numbers year to year, the long-term trend is only going one way – and that is up, and sharply. We’re a pretty special place to be, so the days of Auckland of old where you jump in the car to go everywhere and do everything, are numbered. Like in other international cities, we are going to have to be more discerning in our use of private vehicles. However, I can’t imagine not owning a car. A car means freedom, convenience, flexibility, a joyful experience, weekends away to explore, and for some the venue of first experiences, of the loving kind...

300,000 cars arrive at the port in Parnell every year. Obviously not all of them will call Auckland a home, nevertheless the number of vehicles shows no major signs of declining. If we want to keep using our cars, we’re going to need to rationalise when and what we use them for. Sitting in traffic in a gridlocked Remuera Road, Gillies Ave, Greenlane West or Great North Road does no one’s life any favours.

I have had over a dozen conversations this year with people concerned about traffic. Interestingly very few of us seem to see ourselves as part of the problem. These same people won’t give up their cars, they won’t try alternative means of getting to work. Until we all take a look at our own habits, we have to be prepared for more waiting, more traffic jams, and more stress.

If you have never tried public transport to get to work, give it a try, even just one day, see what you think. Let someone else worry about the driving, while you can catch up on sleep, read a decent book, or listen to your favourite 80’s music - I swear you will feel better and more relaxed by the time you arrive at work. If you try it and it fails, so be it, just at least give it a go.

Mark Knoff-Thomas Chief Executive |