I Feel Your Pain

Now here’s a thing.

Last week there was a press release and subsequent coverage in NZ newspapers (maybe on tele too but I don’t know cos I don’t have one) about a study and its results.  Named the ‘Commuter Pain Study’ – that in itself should give you an idea of the contents and import of this piece of research – surveying 8,192 motorists in 20 cities on six continents.  Apart from telling us what we probably already knew it has gone a step further and ranked international cities according to an ‘index’.  In NZ the survey covered 937 respondents aged 18-64 years distributed between Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.  The main points for Aotearoa that the study concluded with were:

– Almost three-quarters of NZ commuters use a car alone to get to work

I don't think this is the way to the beach, man.

– Resulting traffic congestion causing significant stress impacting health and productivity

– Increasing public transportation key to reducing stress caused by commuting

When it came to other solutions the study also had some facts:

Those commuters surveyed recognise that there is significant potential to reduce travel stress by improving public transportation (45 per cent), providing accurate and timely road conditions information (28 per cent) and introducing greater flexibility to work from home (29 per cent).

Now, the study which was commissioned by IBM and is more properly known as the IBM Global Commuter Pain Study also went as far as to say in the media release:

across all New Zealand cities drivers felt that much of this stress could be reduced by the greater use of technology in the management of traffic flows, sophisticated analytics of transport systems…

They don’t offer any actual data on how many or how they reached this conclusion and it didn’t seem to be in the survey index but I wonder if IBM have one or two ideas that might help?  But that’s another story…

Do NOT miss your exit...

Vested interests aside, it seems that the survey revealed some telling information about NZers dependence on private cars for commuting.  According to the study, 80 percent of drivers find aspects of their commute frustrating.  At least a quarter of respondents believe that traffic has negatively affected their health although this number varied regionally.

In the article based on this media release published by The Press (Christchurch) they immediately went out to get some vox pops on the findings.  Even though Christchurch has a public transport system that I would rate as very good several ‘people on the street’ described the buses as ‘just gross’ or unsatisfactory in a number of ways, therefore they continued to use their car to commute.  Apparently sitting in traffic literally idling money away, pumping poisonous gases into the air, and ‘negatively affecting their health’ by being a solo occupant of a motor car is preferable.

I feel like pointing out to those ‘buses are gross’ people that by commuting on the bus I not only save money, but I don’t have to find parking, I get to read or talk to friends, or do this, or experience this.

The study pointed out that only 10 per cent of NZers car-pool regularly.  Bizarre – if we doubled that we’d significantly reduce the cars on the road during the commute rush hours as well as halve (or better) our individual fuel and parking costs.  Auckland’s traffic problems would be majorly improved overnight.  And almost everyone’s wellbeing could be improved.

 

Among those who believe that traffic has negatively affected their health, increased stress (77 per cent) and anger (41 per cent) are the primary symptoms.  As many as 28 per cent of drivers believe that traffic has negatively affected their performance at work, university or school.

Many commuters feel that if their daily commute was reduced there are many other things they would do with their time including exercise (51 per cent), spend time with family (48 per cent) or sleep (30 per cent).

All that stress and anger and lost productivity – when you’d rather be exercising (playing), spending time with family & whanau (playing) or ‘sleeping’ (playing).  And it’s self-inflicted.

You poor things.

Car pooling, car sharing, car swapping and other forms of non-monogamous car love

So winter is here. As I type, hail is battering the windows and piling up in crunchy drifts outside. It feels like it’s been raining for weeks, and the ground is so saturated it pools water around our boots, and makes sodden squelching kisses when we move. I’ve been walking out in the dank sog with the little girl everyday, which actually hasn’t been too unpleasant, in fact in between showers it is beautiful, with the scent of wood smoke, the last leaves, coloured flags tumbling down the teeming gutters and the clouds so low over the hills that they cascade down the valleys like smoke and you feel like you could reach up and touch them. But there are a few errands accumulating that are going to need a car. So I thought I’d look into the options available to us here in New Zealand.

Car sharing

Here I’m talking about organisations that offer car sharing. The key ways in which car share companies differ from more conventional car hire companies is that they tend to have multiple pick up/drop off points in urban locations, and you can hire the car for as little as an hour. In a fully realised incarnation, with widely located depots, a good car share company offers pretty much the same flexibility as owning your own car, for far less money. Obviously you have to be a little more organised and save up your errands to do all at once, and you have to go pick up the car, but it’s still pretty damn handy.

Sadly, to date, New Zealand is served poorly in this way.  I am aware only of one car share company in the country, Cityhop and they have only one depot in Chistchurch, out by the airport (which is miles from Lyttelton, so of no use to us at present). However cityhop seem to have big plans, and their founder Victoria Carter runs a blog on the cityhop site, which offers inspiration on sustainable living, as well as updates on the progress of the cityhop network.

Victoria writes in a recent post “Most car share cars around the world are low energy fuel efficient vehicles that can be used by sometimes more than 7 different people in one day. Every car share vehicle is reported to take 20 privately owned cars off the road so that is a lot of energy being saved.”

Those are some pretty impressive claims right there. We await eagerly a central Christchurch cityhop pick up point.

Carpooling

This is an arrangement where several passengers share a car trip and also share the cost of that trip. This isn’t so handy for running errands, as you are dependent on someone else’s schedule and plans, but it’s great for commuting to and from work and could be used equally well for a weekly grocery shop, or similar.

You can set up your own carpool with your friends, or if you are lucky to live in a close community like Lyttelton, you can ask for help through the Time Bank or the weekly community newsletters; but if neither of these options is open to you there are also some more formal organisations that exist to make car pooling easier. If you Google “car pooling in NZ” several options come up.  Jayride is the most polished of the set ups, with a good user friendly interface. Gum Tree particularly caters to backpackers, but could be handy if you are planning a longer trip between cities. Here in Lyttelton we have our own dedicated carpooling forum Lyttelrides. I have to note though that all the carpooling organisations I checked out were quiet, with few offers of rides. Gum Tree was the most active, but that’s probably because there is a strong tradition in the backpacker culture of sharing rides. I’d like to think that the other sites were quiet because everyone is furiously carpooling independently among their friends. However, I suspect that the truth is really that not many people are car pooling. That’s a pity, because it’s a great way to cut costs, go a bit easier on the environment, make new friends and help people out by sharing the burden of personal transport.

In 2009, Auckland held its first carpool day in an attempt to get people to have a go at car pooling, which is a particularly smart idea in slow moving, car congested Auckland. The event website has some great advice for wannabe carpoolers.

Co-owning a car with friends

One thing we’ve considered is co-owning a car with some friends. We have a number of friends in the area who aren’t heavy car users and we could see this working quite nicely. It has obvious benefits in terms of cost and environmental impact. It would be more local than a car share depot, and more flexible than a carpooling arrangement.

More than one family putting money into the pot could also mean that we could afford to buy a more environmentally friendly (but more expensive) car.  We’d have to find some sensible way of sharing the car, which was organised, permanently accessible and didn’t involve one person doing a whole heap of admin.

It’s all good food for thought, but not a lot of people seem to be doing this, as I found out when I tried to research the topic further. I’d love to hear from any people that are doing this already or are planning to do this. From our personal perspective, we want to try and be completely car free for a while and re-boot our car using habits, before we embark on purchasing another vehicle, whether alone, or with others.

For example

Here’s one of the tricky things.

Sport.  I play football (the kind with the round ball) and of course sometimes we have away games.  Usually conveniently located on the other side of the city.  Today is such a game.

It’s not that I’m too shy to ask for a ride, but…

It’s a guy thing.

However, since I co-manage the team I’m conscious of making sure people car pool.  So it’s part of the job really.

And besides, no-one seriously thinks it’s OK to take an empty car places these days, right?

So what happens to this good sense on work days?