An opinion piece in the Herald by David Aitken, Chief Executive of the National Road Carriers caught my attention yesterday.
He starts by talking about how Auckland is growing rapidly, that addressing congestion needs to be a priority and then the role that trucks play in the economy. Most relevant is this about the impact to truck productivity.
Trucks moving about the city are less productive than they were five or 10 years ago. Sometimes by up to 50 per cent if a truck can only complete two round trips a day instead of three.
That results in higher transport costs being added to the final cost of any item you or anybody else might buy.
Getting trucks moving more freely means keeping costs under control for everybody, whether you are buying toothpaste or timber; cauliflower or concrete.
The comment about fewer round trips being made corresponds with other comments I’ve heard from the trucking industry about their declining productivity. So on to his his solutions
This starts with a weird contradiction.
Freeing up existing roads means getting more single occupant cars off the roads. Auckland Transport needs to make greater efforts to encourage the use of public transport with better park-and-ride facilities for both bus and rail users and allow more priority vehicles into bus lanes or create lanes to be shared by trucks and buses. The Northern Busway alongside the northern motorway, is the most under-utilised piece of road in Auckland, even during rush hour.
His comments about needing to get more people on public transport are certainly welcome. However, if the goal is to get more single occupant vehicles off the roads allowing trucks to use bus lanes is one of the most bizarre way of going about it.
Auckland has experienced extraordinary growth in public transport use in recent years with the Northern Busway one of the most outstanding examples. An abundantly clear driver of that growth has been the increasing quality of our PT system. The busway, bus lanes, double deckers, improved frequencies, and many other improvements have all contributed to improving the PT experience, thereby making PT a more viable option for a lot more people. Allowing large trucks belching out fumes to blast down bus lanes, in close proximity to waiting passengers would only serve to dissuade existing and potential passengers from using services.
Not only would this put people off directly from using buses, it would also have the doubly negative impact of making buses less reliable and efficient from other vehicles getting in their way. Busways and bus lanes may look empty but that’s because they’re working at moving buses efficiently. Even a handful of trucks or cars in a bus lane can be enough to result in buses being slowed down, missing traffic lights and becoming a general nuisance. Thousands of passengers slowed down, even by a little bit, quickly adds up. Not to mention that many of our bus lanes, especially in the city centre are already at or rapidly approaching capacity for buses, hence why light rail is now needed.
While far from ideal let’s not also forget that bus lanes in many parts of the city are the closest thing that exists for bike lanes too. Trucks and bikes don’t have a great history of mixing well
Before dismissing his idea completely though, it’s worth remembering that the ultimate goal of our transport system is to most efficiently move people and freight. Busways and lanes work by giving priority to high capacity people moving machines. Outside of a few motorway onramps we don’t have anything similar for other users who don’t have an option but to use our roads. Let’s say that hypothetically we did just what the truckies want. Here are a few questions
- Where do we draw the line? Is it just the big trucks (3,500t+) that should get access to priority lanes? They’re certainly not the only commercial vehicles making deliveries and who would benefit from greater priority. In many areas, small trucks and even courier vans are essential the flow of commerce. In fact, it’s quite possible that document or package delayed by a courier may have a greater impact on the nation’s economy that a truck full of toilet paper or gravel. Given it’s the economy we’re supposedly doing this for, shouldn’t we consider that?
- We also mustn’t forget that trucks aren’t just for deliveries. They and other light vehicles are used by tradespeople who also often get caught in Auckland’s congestion and with similar impacts of making them less productive. We’ve got a housing crisis right now and making tradespeople more productive on our roads might free some resource up to build a few more houses. Should they get priority too?
- And what about those that support other parts of economy, sales people, home carers and others, not to mention CEOs of large companies whizzing between important meetings, or even politicians.
Basically, where does it end. I suspect it’s possible to make a case for almost any industry to have justification for needing access to those bus lanes but we have to draw the line somewhere.
Instead of putting trucks in bus lanes, perhaps we should consider special lanes on some roads just for trucks. We could take lanes off some of the motorways and other very wide roads to make them truck only lanes.
Of course, the ultimate solution to this isn’t compromising bus lanes but to actually reduce single occupant vehicles. How about we just get on quickly with implementing a road pricing scheme which will help better manage our transport network. Perhaps as an interim, a regional fuel tax might help to shift some demand.
Aitken also had a second suggestion for improvements, better clearways.
Creating extra lanes of traffic on existing roads is not difficult. All the major arterial roads should have no parking 24/7. Get rid of the parked cars – just one parked vehicle can make a lane unusable and create a bottleneck – and you create another lane for traffic to flow along.
Clearways should also ban parking 24/7.
I’m certainly not opposed to the idea of better clearways on arterial roads but one aspect of the suggestion puzzled me. That is, how delivery trucks would be impacted by that. At present, it’s not uncommon to see trucks filling up on-street spaces in town centres to make deliveries. Where will those drivers park their trucks so they can unload, or will it be not too different to now with footpaths sacrificed?