School holidays cut Auckland commute times

00:18, Apr 25 2014
Auckland traffic
FREE FLOWING: Auckland commuters are enjoying some easier commutes with less on traffic on the motorways because of the school holidays.

Rejoice, Auckland commuters – you are enjoying your fastest travel times for years thanks to Easter school holidays.

An estimated 3 million fewer car journeys are clogging up Auckland's roads during the holidays as parents don't have to drop their kids at school.

And this week's Easter and Anzac holiday combination has created even greater wins for long-suffering Auckland drivers.

Many workers have taken advantage of two long weekends by taking this week off. The result was abnormally quiet conditions on the city's motorways, business consultant and traffic expert Tony Garnier said.

Some lucky commuters were managing to get to heart-racing speeds of 70 kmh on normally congested parts of Auckland's motorways at peak hours.

Garnier said school-holiday breaks usually created a dip of about 10 per cent in overall traffic levels.

However, people opting for an extended break over this three-day working week had created a "far more noticeable difference", removing cars off roads.

"A huge number of people have taken this three-day week off. So it's not only the school drop-offs that we're not seeing but also a lot of workers not travelling into the city," he said.

"It's certainly making it easier for freight and for business to get around."

About 58 per cent of students are driven to school, according to a 2013 Ministry of Transport Household Travel Survey, which quizzed 4600 New Zealand families about their modes of travel.

That equates to 151,500 Auckland students (out of 261,228) normally driven to school each day – about 303,000 car trips per day, if they were dropped off and picked up. This means over the 10-day school Easter holiday period there is a potential reduction of 3 million trips on Auckland's roads. Across New Zealand there are roughly 8.8 million car trips not required during the term break.

But it's not just school students on holiday that benefit Auckland commuters.

University students are potentially bigger culprits for clogging up the roads, research from the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development suggests.

A four-month NZCID study in 2013 highlighted the change in speeds on parts of Auckland motorways when school and university were on, compared to when students were on holiday.

It found that "at various points on the motorway network, university-associated traffic has a greater impact on traffic flows than school-related traffic".

Commuters travelling from Mt Wellington to the city recorded an average speed of 30kmh at 8am while schools and universities were running. But when both schools and universities were on holiday the average speed at 8am rose to a giddy 70kmh.

Likewise, workers driving into the central city from Takapuna, Te Atatu and Western Springs got a 20kmh boost during peak hours.

The reason is that while parents dropping children at schools generate more cars on the roads overall, in most cases these journeys are short and localised. But university students driving to lectures tended to head into the central city, on motorways and main routes.

University of Auckland professor of operations and supply chain management Tava Olsen said it took only a small change in traffic capacity to ease congestion.

"With our traffic network in Auckland we're seeing major flow-on effects from one area to the next," she said.

"A 5 per cent increase in traffic, for instance, can cause a 20 per cent increase in delays. What we're seeing in the school holidays is a relatively small number of cars going off the road, but there's much, much less congestion."

However, commuting heaven will be short-lived.

The NZ Transport Agency has warned of major delays in traffic on Sunday, due to returning holidaymakers.

National highway manager Kathryn Musgrave said many people had taken the opportunity to drive out of town for the long break.

"Back-to-back long weekends combined with the school holidays means there will be a huge increase in traffic on the roads," she said.

She warned congestion would be heaviest between mid-morning and late afternoon.

"That's the time of day to avoid if you can to reduce the risk of being caught in a long queue of slow-moving traffic and having the children in the back seat getting restless and bored."

Then it will be back to your old, grinding commute – until next school holidays starting on July 5.