Cars instead of buses in Hamilton

Published on 11/09/2021 at 8:06 am.

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Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency has been accused of ignoring Hamiltonians’ love of cars and possibly giving too much priority to buses says Hamilton City deputy mayor. Geoff Taylor’s ire was sparked during a report to Hamilton City Council’s strategic growth committee on the future Southern Links roading network.

Taylor was particularly irked by news of a forthcoming review by the government transport agency of the “form and function” of the massive transport network, long planned for the city’s south.

Addressing the committee members on Tuesday, regional system design manager Jessica Andrew said part of the review would investigate “whether there should be priority given to public transport and freight, over providing priority to single-occupancy vehicles”. “None of this is pre-determined. It’s looking at those opportunities, and whether [the current plan is] still fit-for-purpose,” she said.

But Taylor said he suspected a degree of pre-determination was in play. “There may be 10,000 [to] 12,000 houses planned in that area ... are you planning that they are all going to be bus users?

“The reality we’re finding in Hamilton is people aren’t using the bus, no matter how much you people want them to. People still want to drive cars. Business needs cars as well. So I’m really quite concerned to hear this.

“I kind of think you owe us a bit more of an explanation than you are giving us, given we have waited this long. And now you are telling us you are reviewing form and function.

“I’m finding this explanation totally unsatisfactory.”

Responding to the deputy mayor’s concerns, Waka Kotahi New Zealand’s relationships director David Speirs said the forthcoming review would not delay the project.

“We’re not the only ones who want transport to change. You guys do too, as far as I remember. It’s critical for us that we deliver a ... transport system that is sympathetic to a functioning city.”

Taylor interjected: “Realistic would be nice.”

Speirs continued: “If we don’t get that right, we will end up with congestion ... [and] lost productivity in terms of commercial and industrial transport. We’ve seen that in plenty of other places.

“The form and function [review] is about what is the most efficient and effective system we can deliver for everybody. I get a bit uncomfortable when we start talking about cars versus buses versus pedestrians. It’s not that. It’s about a network that works to deliver the whole – including cars.

“You are right, people will continue to use their cars and unfortunately in New Zealand, and in Hamilton particularly, we seem to love our cars more than anything. But if we want to induce more public transport use, we have to produce a system that works.”

Once completed, the 31-kilometre Southern Links network will include 18km of state highway straddling the Waipa district, Hamilton city and Waikato district boundaries, and 13km of urban arterial roads in the new Peacocke neighbourhood.

It should take the pressure off other transport corridors such as Cobham Drive, Ohaupo Road and Kahikatea Drive, which could eventually be augmented with special purpose lanes for freight and public transport.

According to information contained in an agenda for last month’s meeting of Waikato Regional Council’s regional connections committee, bus patronage in Hamilton has not quite recovered to pre-Covid levels.

There were 612,868 bus trips made in Hamilton in the second quarter of 2021 – a dip from the 716,000 recorded in the second quarter of 2019.

Figures from the same period in 2020 are deemed an unreliable comparison, as they were skewed by the sudden drop in patronage due to the initial Covid-19 lockdown.

This article was originally published on 7 September 2021 in the Waikato Times.

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