Rites of passage: announcing Commute Week on The Spinoff

All this week on The Spinoff, we pick up the NZ commute, shake it and peer at it from every direction.

As the tote-bag wisdom teaches, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Or to be more specific, for our immediate purposes, it’s about the journey to work and the journey back home. For about half of New Zealand’s population, it’s something we do a lot, baked into the daily grind, a mainstay of routine and rhythm and superstition. All this week we’re going to be looking at and talking about it: welcome to Commute Week.

As NZ cities grow, the argument for investing in public transport infrastructure is largely won. Even the most motor-loyal commuters inching their way day after day along the southern motorway now accept that the solution to Auckland’s problem can’t be Add Another Lane – or at least can’t be Add Another Lane alone.

But the motor car nevertheless remains the commute monster. In the latest census figures, from 2013, more than four in five commuters were using a car, truck or van as their main means of getting to work, with just under 10% walking or cycling or jogging (jogging!), and only 5.7% relying on public transport. Oh well, we are a nation of success stories at least by the axiom accorded (almost certainly wrongly) to Margaret Thatcher: anyone over the age of 26 who finds themselves on a bus should consider themselves a failure.

Those numbers are five years old, over which time public transport has become discernibly better, certainly in New Zealand’s biggest city. The Auckland rail link is full electric ahead, burrowing its way under Albert Street. With the Auckland council, the new government is promising a step change in public transport, in the form of a $30 billion plan across a decade. The cost of that, in part, will be borne by motorists in a regional fuel tax, which some have called a regressive tax that unfairly burdens the poor.

We’ll look at all that, along with the issues in different cities and among various modes of transport, including the impact of the sharing economy. We’ve gone the extra mile to ask the burning questions like: how far can one reporter cycle out of Auckland on an Onzo bike before it (or she) stops working? And we’ll explore the experiential side. For some the commute is an enemy, but for others it’s an oasis, or, as one of our writers will explain, the centre of a social life.

We’ve very keen to hear from you, too. Can you help us find New Zealand’s longest or most arduous or most picturesque commute? Do you have any nagging questions about your commute? Any tips or hacks for making a commute faster or easier or generally better? Tell us your stories – good or bad – about commuting in NZ: a particularly magnificent driver? A formative experience? And let us know if there’s anything else you think we should cover: info@thespinoff.co.nz is open 24 hours a day.

Oh, and please snap a pic of the view from your commute and send it to us. We’ll collect the best in a post.


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