Sustainable transport should be simple. Walking, biking, running, skating, swimming and sprouting wings and flying are probably the most sustainable options, as they don’t involve fossil fuels or an engine.
But these options aren’t always possible, especially in a city as huge as Auckland. Even driving can take hours without traffic from one end of the super-city to the other. For those that live outside of the central suburbs—which is most of us—driving is the most practical and efficient (if expensive) solution. But what about public transport? It’s one of the more sustainable ways to get around, as it’s essentially one big carpool. This saves on fuel, but often comes with a big time cost. And it can be expensive.
As the congestion on our roads attests to, transport in Auckland can be a shitshow. A single drop of rain adds half an hour to any commute, regardless of whether you’re taking public transport, and for a sub-tropical city, it doesn’t bode well.
It’s no secret that Auckland and New Zealand in general has a culture skewed towards private vehicles. Just think of how many car guys you’ve met. It’s been a hot topic in recent years, especially in the conversations around sustainability. Aucklanders have been vocal about their desire for efficient public transport, with Mee and Dodson’s 2007 paper noting that “sustainable transport plans [are] desired by [Auckland’s] residents.” So what’s stopping us from ditching cars entirely?
Like most of the Auckland population, students are time-poor. The fact that public transport in Auckland can be incredibly inefficient is one of the most cited reasons that students avoided taking the bus. Sophie, our Visual Arts Editor, noted that “public transport makes [my commute to uni] 45 minutes regardless of traffic,” even though she only lives a 12 minute drive away. Additionally, she says that the NX1 to Britomart from Smales Farm is often empty, but the NX2 to University doesn’t stop because it’s full. The combined two hour commute means “it’s sometimes just not worth coming in.”
Arts Editor, Maddy, who lives a 35 minute drive from the city, says that it took her an hour and twenty minutes to get to University by public transport. Additionally, she had to take two buses and a train, which meant she was “tagging on and off six times a day.” It hiked her costs up, even with the student discount. Now, she drives halfway and takes one bus so she can avoid paying for parking—but it doesn’t eliminate her reliance on her car. She says her “decision to avoid public transport is due to the time factor. If it was more streamlined and cheaper, then I would do the full trip into town to try to decrease my carbon footprint.”
Co-editor Brian said that he would “rely on a first-year Biomed lab partner more than [he] would Auckland Transport,” as the commute from East Auckland doesn’t have bus lanes for most of the journey. This means that travelling at peak times on public transport significantly increases the time of his commute. Luckily, his schedule means he doesn’t have to travel at peak times, but the price hikes still deter him from public transport. Brian notes that paying for parking is still more appealing than taking the bus if the price of public transport remains high.
It’s not all negative though. Devika has lived in central city suburbs for most of her time in Auckland, so she finds the commute to University less time-consuming. She is a fan of the live-departure feature, as it makes coordinating her journey easy, so increases her incentive to take public transport. She does note that “costs are kinda expenny,” and they’ve gone up while she’s been in the city. Going through one zone now costs $1.70 for a student. In comparison, other cities like Dunedin have instituted a flat fare of $2, regardless of how many zones one goes through. Masters of Planning student Nicholas notes that a similar flat fare would be relatively easy to implement in Auckland, as AT is supported by the council and the NZTA.
Maddy noted that taking public transport gives her time to decompress and unwind, and it’s a good opportunity to check out some hunnies. She notes that she generally feels safe, which is a plus. As someone who has often had to do long commutes on public transport, I can also attest to the fact that it’s a good time to listen to a podcast, or do some meditating, or even just straight up take a nap.
However, it’s not just time and money that constitute barriers to taking public transport—the 24 hour delay between online top ups and card balance updates means that I’ve been stranded several times while trying to take public transport. On the North Shore, where my parents live, the buses often run on half-hour schedules, but they can come up to 10 minutes early, or 10 minutes late. It makes coordinating my schedule with the public transport route a verifiable nightmare.
That’s not to say that Auckland Transport isn’t trying their best, given the sprawling rat’s nest that is Auckland streets. It just speaks to the lack of integration between transport and urban planners in the city. Some areas of Auckland aren’t even accessible by public transport. Asia, who lives in Dairy Flat, notes that the closest bus stop to her place still requires a ten minute car ride.
Of course, we’d all like to be more sustainable. And with Auckland Transport rolling out their electric and hydrogen fueled buses, public transport is likely to be more sustainable than ever, with an 85% reduction in emissions by 2040.
But until it becomes more cost- and time- effective, it seems unlikely that many students—or the Auckland population in general—will realistically be able to give up their cars.
In the end, to meet the sustainability targets and emissions reductions that our government has committed to, we have to make the sustainable option the easy one. Although steps are being taken in the CBD to make this a reality, like the light-rail project and the many bike-lane road works, it seems that the efficient Auckland of the future is a far off dream. It’s counterintuitive—anyone who owns a car knows that paying for petrol, parking, road-user taxes, maintenance etc. etc. is a pain in the ass. In comparison, buying a HOP card and bussing around Auckland sounds like a simpler alternative. But it’s not. There are many disincentives to owning a car, but it seems that none outweigh the convenience of using a private vehicle, even with +2 hour times in traffic at peak hours.
So why don’t more of us take public transport? Because as it stands, it’s still a pretty shit system. So, on behalf of students and eco-conscious citizens everywhere, here’s an open plea to Auckland Transport.
Make. It. Easy.