Our transport agencies and media spent much of the last week working themselves up about the strike by bus drivers affecting around 70% of Auckland’s buses. Traffic would be terrible they said, it’s going to be carmageddon.
Then Friday turned up, the bus drivers went on strike and for many the opposite happened.
Auckland has survived the first hurdle of the bus drivers’ strike with commuters reporting “dream runs” and lighter than usual traffic thanks to many opting to walk or take alternative forms of transport.
Of course this immediately led to calls from some to ban buses permanently.
Ludy Colenbrander drove from Mission Bay to Albany and said he arrived in record time because it seemed there were no buses “to clog up the roads”.
Matt Hancock said it was a “wonderful day on the roads” this morning. He rides a motorbike and his wife drives a car and both noted traffic was lighter than usual.
“We didn’t use the motorway, but if a bus strike can clear the roads of Ellerslie, Remuera, Newmarket, Mt Wellington, Kohimarama, and Grafton I suggest a ‘bus free day’ once a week for Auckland?” .
This was all actually fairly predictable and I had even said to some journalists earlier in the week that this response is exactly what would happen.
The reason of course is that the whole point of talking up carmageddon was to get people to change behaviour. It’s a tactic that’s been used all around the world to manage disruption. Some of the most notable have been in LA when they’ve needed to close freeways for major works. Perhaps the aspect that surprised me the most wasn’t that we saw people calling for buses to be removed permanently but just how well our media reported it, like in the first quote making it clear that the free flow conditions were a result of people changing behaviour.
But while the bus strike was hopefully a one off, I think it probably provides some really useful information for the agencies planning and running our transport system as well as exercises like ATAP.
On Friday the NZTA were reporting that traffic built up earlier than normal and lasted for longer but was less severe. It’s not a fully fair comparison though as it appears that a lot of people took one off leave but many others worked from home. It’s not clear whether they could do this on a regular basis but in many ways the outcome is exactly what we would expect to see with a road pricing system that charged more during more congested periods to deliver behaviour change.
This is all quite interesting timing seeing as ATAP will be considering road pricing as a demand management tool (as opposed to a pure revenue gathering one).
Also on the bus strike, it was interesting to see reports of police officers enforcing bus lanes. I don’t think I’ve heard of them doing that before. Those on bikes reported it being surprisingly pleasant to ride on.
From some reports the afternoon congestion was much worse than the morning congestion. Perhaps having good runs in the morning people were lulled into a false sense of security about congestion and all tried to travel home at the same time.
Overall it seemed Auckland coped fairly well but that might not be the case if the disruption became a regular event or lasted for multiple days