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Analysis shows how Covid-19 changed Wellington’s travel habits

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Fridays are the quietest weekday morning on Wellington’s transport network, the busiest time to drive into the city is just after 7am on a Tuesday, and traffic volumes are back to pre-Covid levels despite more people working from home, according to a Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency analysis.

To help prepare commuters and the Wellington transport network for the opening of Transmission Gully, Waka Kotahi has analysed the travel habits of motorists on State Highways 1 and 2, in and out of the city.

After a typical start to 2020, the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown in March and April saw traffic volumes in the greater Wellington region plummet to approximately 20 per cent of normal levels.

Following the move to Level 3 in April, traffic volumes were roughly half the normal levels before returning to pre-Covid levels by June.

“We can see that there are now the same numbers of cars on the road as in 2019, with some people moving from public transport to private vehicle. It was a pattern we noticed as we came out of lockdown when the roads were a bit quieter,” says Waka Kotahi Senior Journey Manager Neil Walker.

Despite the return to Level 1 and relative normality, there have been some unexpected changes to daily traffic patterns since the national Covid-19 lockdown.

The increase in people working from home means that the region’s state highways are now considerably quieter on Mondays and Friday mornings compared to Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Friday evenings continue to be very busy with people heading out of the city for the weekend on both State Highway 1 and State Highway 2.

Public transport patronage throughout the week was also down in late 2020 from the same time in 2019, as more people choose to work from home or use a private vehicle for their journeys. Over the last three months of 2020, public transport patronage levels in Wellington were approximately 80 per cent of 2019 levels.

“By letting people know what is happening on the network, it will hopefully help them make good and informed decisions about what is best for their own travel habits,” Mr Walker says.

Something that hasn’t changed much are the times of the day that people are travelling into Wellington.

Figures from November 2020 show southbound vehicles at Ngauranga Gorge peak at approximately 900 vehicles per lane between 7am and 7.15am. This is followed by a second spike (post-school drop-off) of approximately 660 vehicles per lane between 8.30 and 9am. Traffic volumes drop to consistent levels of between 300-400 vehicles per lane between 10am and 4pm.

“This data suggests that leaving earlier to beat the rush isn’t the only option available to people who can be flexible. Leaving later in the morning may be an option for some people, while for many others, a return to public transport may now be a better option,” Mr Walker says.

Metlink general manager Scott Gallacher says, “Taking public transport is a great way to reduce congestion on our roads, reduce your carbon footprint and get around our region in a new way.

“To make the most of your journey, check on the Metlink website or app to plan your trip and remember to scan the QR codes displayed,” Mr Gallacher says.

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