Hamilton drivers reluctant to share rides

SIENA YATES AND AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 05:00 27/08/2012
COMMUTER CRUSH: While Hamilton experiences congestion only during short morning and afternoon times those peaks are likely to stretch.
BEN CURRAN/Fairfax NZ
COMMUTER CRUSH: While Hamilton experiences congestion only during short morning and afternoon times those peaks are likely to stretch.
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Despite surging petrol prices and peak-time traffic gridlock, Hamilton motorists are unwilling to save themselves from the commuter crush.

A Waikato Times stake-out of a major city intersection at rush hour revealed more than eight out of 10 cars had a single occupant - despite efforts to get people car-pooling.

A new batch of road works kicks off along Hamilton's Wairere Dr this week and is expected to cause more traffic gridlock in the city's north.

Westbound traffic between Pukete Bridge and Pukete Rd will be reduced to a single lane for up to eight weeks and city council bosses are urging drivers to stagger their travel times, use alternative routes or carpool.

But recent figures from website "Let's Carpool" show Hamilton drivers are reluctant to share their rides, with 57 out of 91 (62.6 per cent) registered Waikato car poolers from outside the city.

The majority of car poolers are travelling into Hamilton.

Last week, the Times observed 5pm rush hour traffic travelling west on Fairfield Bridge and found that more than 80 per cent of cars were carrying only the driver.

That was despite record petrol prices hitting a high of up to $2.33 per litre on Thursday.

City councillor Daphne Bell, who has championed the "Let's Carpool" website, promoted by Hamilton City Council, said money may yet become more persuasive for many potential car poolers.

"I think times are changing [and] I think this will prompt more people to look at the costs of commuting to work," she said.

"It will become less affordable, and particularly if it's a big chunk of your weekly budget, and you have to get to work to earn your living.

"From council's point of view, we want to make better use of the roads we have so we don't keep building bigger roads, it's hugely expensive and you can't build your way out of congestion."

Tracy Morrow has carpooled between Hamilton and Te Awamutu for the past year and saves about $100 a fortnight.

While she started car-pooling of her own accord with a family friend, she recommends the car-pooling website to others, saying common concerns of waiting and the awkwardness of riding in cars with strangers, are more than worth it.

"Waiting isn't a problem. Even if I had to wait an hour, if it saves you $100 per week then it's worth it [and] you get a bit of extra money to spend on other things.

"I can see how it would be awkward but when you think about it, you'd get to know them pretty fast, and you meet strangers every day anyway," she said.

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Another car-pooling fan, Louise Quinn started car-pooling 18 months ago to and from Raglan and said it was "way more cost effective" than each of them taking a car in every day.

"It was quite costly each day so it was way more cost effective. We're probably saving $100 a week.

"It's also quite enjoyable spending the drive in and out with other people, and on the way home it's good to have a chat with people and de-stress and unwind a bit," she said.

While Hamilton currently experiences congestion only during short morning and afternoon peaks, Mrs Bell said "the peaks will stretch".

Data from the council show the impact of congestion on vehicle speeds - and therefore journey times - along five key internal routes in Hamilton.

Last year vehicles' average speed during the morning peak was 23.4 km/h and 27.9km/h during the afternoon peak, this, compared to 32km/h during non-peak. Car-pooling therefore, not only saves money but time and as ever, the environmental benefit is a drawpoint.

"Beyond the peak period congestion, we see car-pooling having benefits for clean air, reducing emissions and making the city pleasant.

"The fewer cars on the road, the better," Mrs Bell said.

What would it take for you to carpool? Share your comments below.

- Waikato Times

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