Covid 19 coronavirus: Traffic congestion report 2020 – Find out which Auckland highway got worse in the year of the pandemic

It’s hard to believe given the working from home trend of 2020, but traffic on one Auckland highway has actually gotten worse compared to pre-Covid-19 levels.

The Automobile Association have released their 2020 Auckland congestion report and it finds traffic across the city has essentially gotten back to pre-Covid 19 levels after a predictable easing in mid-2020.

However, the Southern Motorway has inexplicably bucked the status quo by substantially increasing its travel time over 2020.

Experts believe reasons for this are to be found in the employment hardships that have hit Auckland’s southern communities particularly hard.

The Southern Motorway from the CBD to Papakura has increased by seven minutes – from 43 minutes in November 2019 to 50 minutes in November 2020.

What’s even more striking is the Northern Motorway from the CBD to Albany which has reduced by eight minutes – from 39 minutes in November 2019 to 31 minutes in November 2020.

AA principal advisor Barney Irvine believes this contrast is due to the capacity of both communities to work from home.

“It’s still too early to know exactly why this is happening, but it could reflect the impact working from home has had,” says Barney.

“It may well be that a higher proportion of people on the Shore are in jobs that are set up for remote working.”

Auckland Councillor from the Manukau Ward Alf Filipaina said from talking to people in his South Auckland communities, he believed congestion increase was due to Covid-19 job losses.

“People who have lost their jobs will have to travel further to look for jobs or if they get one they have to travel further,” Filipaina said.

“That’s because I know there are people who have lost their jobs as a result of Covid because the work’s not there, they’ve had to downsize.

“I can do the work I do with council because of Skype. But family that don’t have that, that have lost their jobs, they have to go out further.”

Filipaina pointed out Auckland Airport as one massive employer of people in the south that had been impacted badly for job losses.

Transport consultant Richard Paling said another possibility in the Southern Motorway’s congestion increase was due to a greater aversion to public transport during the pandemic.

Paling cited Auckland Transport statistics that showed between 2019 and 2020 patronage on the Northern Busway decreased substantially less than on train lines to South Auckland.

Busway patronage only dropped by 25 per cent during 2020, whereas train patronage on the Onehunga line dropped 53 per cent, the Southern line dropped 48 per cent and the Pukekohe line dropped 64 per cent.

“My sense is the people in that part of Auckland don’t particularly like public transport, they don’t use it very much,” Paling said.

“Probably with Covid they became even more reluctant to use public transport because of all the issues with possibly mixing with people. This is just conjecture, rather than definitive.”

Paling agreed communities in the south also likely had a greater responsibility to physically turn up to work than those in the north.

He also pointed out the south is the site of large housing development growth.

According to the 2018 census, areas bordering the Southern Motorway were also the only areas of Auckland where the “car modal share” going to work was going up also – which is the percentage of the population using cars for transport.

In the North Shore car modal use was 50-65 per cent in 2018 and in South Auckland it was 80 per cent plus.

“So you’ve got a series of trends there and then you’ve got Covid sitting on top of this and the changes in journey pattern,” Paling said.

Other significant findings of the AA’s congestion report were that traffic had significantly dropped on Friday across the city.

For example the typical Friday travel time at 8am on the Northwestern motorway in November 2019 was 34 minutes. In November 2020 that had dropped to 25 minutes at 8am on a Friday.

But hours lost in traffic across the entirety of 2020 were predictably less than 2019 with the impact of lockdowns. The average Auckland motorway user lost just 62 hours to congestion last year.

“The average motorway user lost 77 hours to congestion in 2017, 85 hours in 2018, and 95 hours in 2019 – no doubt that number would have gone past 100 hours in 2020 had it not been for Covid-19,” Irvine said.

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