Round, round, get around: how Aucklanders commute

A fascinating article in the Herald today looks at all the different ways Aucklanders get where they’re going. It’s part of the paper’s series on what would make for a “World Class Auckland”.

Travel reporter Mathew Dearnaley spoke to eight people who travel during peak hours, covering distances ranging from 4.3km to an amazing 57km. Pretty much every mode of transport gets a look-in – foot, bike, car (including carpool), bus, train, and ferry… even a scooter!

Aucklanders are a resourceful bunch, and we’re impressed with the careful calculations and accommodations they make to get where they need to go. They’re also smart about what would make life easier: building the CRL, electrifying all the trains, more frequent buses, more bus priority lanes, better bus feeder services, simplified fare plans, faster and more frequent ferry services, more park-and-rides, street design that’s kinder to pedestrians – plus, of course, Skypath.

Although the active commuters are happy they get to combine exercise with their travel, they don’t rush to judge those who find themselves stuck behind the wheel of a car. As Josephine Stanton, the intrepid scooter commuter, says: “Everybody does what they can, don’t they.”

Naturally our eyes were drawn to the three interviewees who use bikes as part of their commute. What strikes us about their stories is the flexibility and reach that a bike adds to the picture. Also, the way proper bike infrastructure can turn a bike commute from unthinkable and scary, to not just achievable but desirable.

Pic by Regan Schoultz, via the NZ Herald

1. Alice Pritchard is a pretty much a poster gal for bike-friendly streets. She rides from Narrowneck to Devonport, jumps on the ferry, then it’s a quick flat ride from Britomart to Stanley St where she works at an advertising firm. All up: 8.8km in 35 minutes. The alternative is sitting in traffic on Lake Rd, and braving the bridge traffic in the morning. What Alice likes best is the reliability of her bike/ferry commute:

Cycling and ferry rides make Alice Pritchard’s journey to work not only more pleasurable than driving, but also more predictable.

Predictability is an important consideration for her, as the mother of a two-year-old daughter needing to be collected from child-care each evening.

[Our hearts go out to another respondent who, for exactly the same reason, chooses to drive: new mum Elaine Brown can make it to the city from Tuakau in an hour – but only if she sets off before 6 a.m. and then leaves again before 4 p.m. She’s tried the train and knows it’s “far cheaper than driving, but … can’t risk being held up from collecting her son from child-care after work.”]

Also worth noting about Alice’s bike commute: what makes it so pleasurable and easily doable is the safety of the routes she rides: through quiet greenways, parks, and back streets at the Devonport end, and the protected cycleway along Beach Road at the city end. But note too, that she gets off her bike and walks when the protection abruptly terminates at the notorious intersection of Beach Rd and Stanley St. This is why we need a joined-up bike network: it makes all the difference.

Her partner also bikes to work. He’s a sportier cyclist, who often takes the long way round as part of training for big races, while Alice happily rides in work clothes:

“It’s a good thing to show people that even if you are not a super serious cyclist, it’s still a good mode of transport,” she says.

“Hopefully it shows people it’s kind of achievable for everyone. It’s attainable – you can get a bike and be comfortable on your bike.”

“I think it really aids in the work-life balance scenario. If your commute from A to B provides a little bit of exercise, it’s a win-win for everyone.”

Pic courtesy of Mat Collins.

2. Mat Collins, who recently blogged for us about tactical urbanism, commutes from Chatswood on the shore to Pitt St in the city, a distance of 10.8km that takes him an average of 40 minutes. Some days he carpools (in a company car, in the mass transit lane) and then catches a bus home; other days he jumps on the ferry with his distinctive electric bike.

Carpooling is faster than the return bus; but both average out to about the same as the ferry plus bike, so it’s all much of a muchness. Mat enjoys the exercise of going by bike, and has an electric bike which helps with the hills at both ends.

As a strong supporter of “active transport”, he applies discretion over that use.

“It depends where I am. When I’m around cars, I use the battery more, but when I’m around pedestrians I turn it off so I’m going slower.”

Like the rest of us, Mat is thinking about how dramatically things will change once the missing link is built:

[He] can’t wait for the SkyPath cycling and pedestrian link to be built across the harbour bridge next year, subject to the resolution of appeals to Environment Court against a decision of planning commissioners to approve the project.

Even though that is likely to come with a toll of up to $3 each way, it will still be cheaper than catching ferries.

“The intention is, once SkyPath gets built, I’ll be [biking to work] the majority of the time,” he says.

And he shares a vision of a city centre that’s relatively free of cars – Queen St “teeming with pedestrians”, for example:

“If you asked me seven years ago, I would have said absolutely not, that cars are essential for getting around.”

But there’s been a paradigm shift. When you actually stop and look around at what cars are doing to our city and environment, they make it a really unattractive place to be, and we allocate so much space to them.”

Pic of Matt on Campbell Live, via The Standard

3. And the third bike-commuter in the article, Matt Lowrie, whom you might know from TransportBlog, surely wins the prize for most planet-friendly and exercise-intensive commute. Four days a week, he takes the train and the bus from Henderson, via downtown, to Takapuna. But once a week he rides “over the top”, via Upper Harbour Drive.

Amazingly, the bike ride takes him an hour and fifteen minutes each way – which is still five minutes faster than doing it by public transport. Epic effort, Matt!



Join us

Bike Auckland is the non-profit organisation working to improve things for people on bikes. We’re a people-powered movement for a better region. We speak up for you – and the more of us there are, the stronger our voice!

Suggest a new ride