Thursday, 23 March 2017

Faster by elephant

Back in the early Nineties I went on a short business visit to Bangkok, which was infamous at the time for its traffic gridlock. Sure enough, our taxi got stuck: nothing moving in any direction, other than an elephant (with rider) which ambled past us. Elephants only go about 7 kilometres an hour, but even so it was going to get where it was headed faster than we were.

Since then, Bangkok has got its airport act together. There's the toll road - TripAdvisor says "The most direct route is via the raised freeway between [the airport and the CBD], which incurs toll of 70 Baht and airport tax of 50 Baht - total 120 Baht (approx [US]$4)" - plus "The much-awaited Airport Rail Link (06:00-midnight) that connects downtown Bangkok with Suvarnabhumi International Airport is a smart alternative to the airport’s express buses or taxis. The City Line makes six stops between downtown (Phayathai Station) and the airport, completing each run in 30 minutes, making this a quick and convenient transport option for getting in and out of Bangkok" (as you can read here).

The rest of the traffic is pretty much as bad as ever - TripAdvisor says "the Bangkok traffic...can sometimes appear to be a permanent traffic jam as there are about 13 million vehicles in Bangkok" - but the airport link, at least, is sussed.

Meanwhile we're on our way to become the Old Bangkok of the South Pacific. For traffic times to Auckland Airport, we're now worse than Bangkok: there's no new elevated highway, there's no rail link, and you now need to leave at least 90 minutes ahead of check-in time if you're trying to get to the airport from where we are on the North Shore. And while Auckland's overall traffic (not just the airport route) isn't as horrendous as it is in some places, it's still poor, and getting worse.

TomTom's recent global Traffic Index, for example, ranked us 40th out of 189 cities (of 800,000 population or more) for our traffic congestion. TomTom uses a colour coding system: red is awful (four cities, including Bangkok), and browny-orange is pretty bad. We're in the bad basket, ranking 36th out of 106, which means we're up there as bad goes. There's a decent sized limey-yellow group of 60 where things are meh, and then there are a green 18 where the traffic is okay (though they're all in the US).

Meanwhile I read in our local community newspaper, the North Shore Times, that "Trains are on track for Shore", because the Northern Busway "will reach its capacity in 2026 - 20 years earlier than originally expected". Jolly good - and then at the bottom of the article you read that an Auckland Transport spokesman "stresses any rail upgrade to the Northern Busway can not occur before the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing is built, which is projected anywhere from 2030 to 2048".

When you see timeframes like that, you're tempted to conclude that this isn't planning to build infrastructure: it's planning not to build.

I wonder if that elephant is still available?

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