As New Zealand heads out of Level 3 into Level 2, this gives us an opportunity to reflect on how this has affected our road networks at both Level 4 and Level 3. This follows up on our previous blog and is based on an assessment of a selection of Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency traffic count data.
The advice given to the public was to stay at home and only to go out for essential needs or exercise around your local area under Level 4. For Level 3 the advice has been similar with food and construction businesses opening and extension of bubbles by 1 or 2 more people.
Did New Zealand behave (from a transport perspective) under the entire period of the Level 4 lockdown?
New Zealand did a fantastic job over the Level 4 lockdown, with every location investigated showing a massive reduction in traffic during this period. Some places had more consistent patterns during the lockdown period than others, especially Tauranga and Queenstown, with huge drops in traffic throughout.
While some places showed traffic increasing slightly towards the end of the lockdown, the most significant were Hamilton and Dunedin, with traffic increasing towards the last week Level 4. Having said that, the increase is nowhere near the usual amount of traffic meaning New Zealanders did change their travel behaviour during the lockdown.
How much more traffic did Level 3 induce?
To answer the second question, traffic has increased in every place we have investigated, however not every town or city saw the same increase. Places that showed the biggest jump in traffic were Auckland, Hamilton, Dunedin and Gisborne, while the smallest increase was seen in Tauranga and Queenstown.
Some of these are shown below:
Auckland and Hamilton have seen a large increase in traffic in Level 3, potentially due in part to the significant level of construction and manufacturing in these regions. Gisborne as a region saw one of the lowest levels of COVID cases, so this result may be due to people moving more confidently within Gisborne than other regions, as well as reflecting a recovering primary sector.
Queenstown has not “bounced back” like other regions. With international travel restrictions still in place, the return to typical traffic volumes will be protracted, however domestic tourism may provide a much needed boost over winter. Tauranga’s low traffic volumes since the return to Level 3 could be a result of the government's advice to “stay home if you are older than 70” during both Levels 3 or 4. Approximately 20% of the population in Tauranga are residents over 65 years old, compared to the national average of 14.3% (based on the 2018 Statistics New Zealand census).
Acknowledging that this assessment has been based on a limited number of traffic counts, New Zealand has shown a high level of conformance with Level 3 and Level 4 travel restrictions.
Blog written by Shendi Mani, Transportation Engineer