Just before Christmas, Auckland Transport released this cute video about the causes of congestion and how to help avoid it,

The press release focused on the holiday period but I can also see them using this campaign later in the year, especially in February and March as the roads get busier.

Congestion on our motorways is frustrating at any time of year, but during the busy holiday season it can be worse than ever.

Auckland Transport’s ‘Spread the jam’ video has been produced to simply explain how traffic congestion can start.

AT’s chief transport operations officer, Andrew Allen, says there are generally four causes of congestion. “Usually it’s drivers cutting-in, following too close to the vehicle in front, rubber-necking or being distracted like using their cell phone. A heavy dab on the brakes can cause a ripple effect right down the motorway turning free flowing traffic into a sticky jam!

“All drivers have to do is always maintain their following distance and give plenty of warning before changing lanes, so use your indicators.”

He says if people are more aware of the causes of traffic congestion and modify their own behaviour our motorways will run more smoothly.

Barney Irvine from the Automobile Association says the answer lies with motorists. “Driver behaviour makes a bad congestion situation even worse – AA members recognise it, and they want to see more done to raise awareness. ‘Spread the jam’ is definitely a step in the right direction, and we’re right behind it.”

A study in 2014 found that the annual cost of congestion in Auckland was $1.25 billion when compared with free-flow traffic conditions.

Remember, spread the jam:

  • Keep your following distance.
  • Don’t cut in.
  • Don’t rubberneck.
  • Avoid distractions like cell phones.

As cute as the video is, and it’s a decent start, there’s a couple things I wanted to point out.

  1. The primary cause of congestion is of course, too many vehicles on the road at the same time. Although getting people to drive better is certainly a good thing, especially on urban streets where more vulnerable road users (pedestrians and bikes) are around.
  2. Another way to spread the jam is to simply not participate in it. This can mean travelling at different times or by other modes, particularly those that aren’t affected by congestion such as the Northern Busway, rail network or bus routes with good levels of bus priority. This is obviously a bit harder on holiday trips like the press release was focused on but for regular commutes it may be a viable option.
  3. It is interesting that AT specifically mention the cost of congestion being $1.25 billion compared to free flow. The emphasis is important as the study (for the NZTA) that came up with that figure (actually from 2013) suggested that based on optimising the network capacity, the cost was only $250 million, considerably less. That’s because it absurd to build any transport network to be completely uncongested at all times of the day – in the absence of pricing. Particularly with roads, the financial cost of doing so would be astronomical, not to mention just how much land would be needed.

Overall a useful message but to me it’s just one part of the congestion equation.

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  1. When the roads get busier in Feb and March, I want AT to run a campaign to stop parents driving their kids to school if their kids can walk to school in 20 minutes.

  2. Surely it should be car-malade as opposed to a traffic jam?

    Cars stopped on the road shouldn’t really affect walkers, bicycles, motorbikes, bus lanes or trains.

  3. There’s sound logic in these principles.

    Unfortunately, the people who are most likely to create benefit from these behaviours are the least likely to be affected by the existence of these communication materials.

    Lane-changers, tailgaters, and gap-fillers are usually oblivious to the needs of other road users, and will remain so until they are replaced with robots.

    1. Agreed – and you gave me a fantastic idea. With road pricing, how cool would it be if the number of demerits on your license acted as a multiplier for any road charges you accumulate?

  4. I know its bad of me, but there is this this part of me that wants traffic to go really really bad in Auckland. As in gridlock traffic every peak hour. I hope that if this motorway parking does happen that NZTA and AT will finally open their eyes to the most obvious solution to traffic, mass public transport. Right now, traffic is not too bad that NZTA and AT takes public transport for granted and still encourages people to drive – They should just be firmed and say ‘Don’t Drive. Take Public Transport” rather than say “Please expect delay when driving on the Auckland Road – Add additional 30minutes to your journey”

  5. Install motorway camera and have another police car standby ahead to monitor it. Once somebody drive in those manners, the police stop the offending car with evidence of video footage, and issue warning for first offenders, and issue fine in repeated offense or serious case.

    That will scare a lot of those bad manner drivers.

  6. I despise video’s like this.

    Does anyone really think the production of this video is going to make one iota of difference to holiday traffic?

    Yet here AT is wasting public funds producing this crap. Another example of how this rudderless, leadership lacking organisation has developed a culture of waste.

    1. While I agree that the video by itself is unlikely to have a big impact on holiday traffic, I think that it is important the traffic demand management strategies are looked at, rather than trying to build more roads.

    2. Time to get rid of AT. They are the bastard child of Rodney Hide’s failed amalgamation. To think they payed some idiot to make this and put it on youtube and they thought that was a sensible use of public money.

    3. Now now children, play nice, do you really think communication with the public has no role in public organisations? Perhaps you don’t really understand or accept the role of the public sector? Well that is a point of view popular in the US right now with extremist groups currently in the ascendency there, but I think you’ll find that is very much an outlier in the NZ polity…. perhaps you would prefer a monolithic non-communicationg and unreachable Transport Agency, that just did stuff without regards for the public?, I’m sure some in AT, NZTA, etc would prefer it that way, much easier without considering pesky Joanna public…

      1. OK Patrick I will be positive about this. AT managed to stimulate the economy by providing a job to some twit to make a video that has had less than 3000 views, 3 of which were me checking it was really that stupid.

        1. “twit” “idiot” – did an animator kill your family? Lay off, man. Do you think the poor soul should have turned down the job?

      2. I’m not saying AT should totally disengage with public messaging as you seem to suggest.

        However I do believe AT should be making campaign’s like this. A campaign that was always going to have limited reach and zero effectiveness in reducing congestion.

  7. I like Ben’s approach shut it down till the constant drivers find another route or mode of travel. In my humble opinion Aucklanders are lazy buggars that wont walk anywhere or are opposed to any form of public transport at all costs. They need a stick to reduce the benefits instead of the yearly commitment to build moar roads, tunnels and bridges we already have enough going everywhere. Too many cars is the problem with too many empty seats. Good on ya BEN

    1. The ‘stick’ is the extra time in congestion. Unfortunately looking at it this way involves some degree of stick measuring; i.e. is your journey really any quicker or cheaper on PT? And making that a reality involves actually committing to expanding the PT network to offer a viable alternative to driving, both in terms of reliability and door-to-door journey time.

  8. When traffic is moving very slowly some drivers leave a large gap to the car ahead of them.
    If 10 cars leave a gap of 100 meters, as some do , then that totals to 1 km of unused road and the que will be 1km longer than it should be.

  9. If the costs of congestion are really only $250million a year, it seems like that $250million is like the loaves and fish when Jesus fed the five thousand. It really seems to go around when justifying transport projects.

  10. I love the fictional economics of congestion costs. It assumes 100% efficiency of the inconvenienced going (or trying to go) about their business.

    What rubbish.

  11. Where is a video about actually stopping at stop signs, not blocking the foot path while turning or what the orange light means. AT puts so much into these public education programs (also ring bell on shared path). They should work on having the core road rules followed.

  12. Smoothing your drive can have a huge impact on the traffic following (including accidents, fuel economy + wear & tear), this is good advice if only just some people follow it.

  13. How about the road rule of keeping left unless passing which seems never to be policed in NZ.
    Nearly every time I travel on the motorway pre peak some twit decides they will hold up traffic by hogging the ‘fast’ lanes (lanes that should be for drivers capable of driving up to the speed limit not 70km/hr) when the general flow of the motorway can achieve 100 km/hr. The road rules are very clear.

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