Whilst I have many problems with Auckland’s public transport: frequencies, reliability (especially the trains), ticketing and so forth – I think perhaps the biggest issue, and one which doesn’t seem to get the attention that it should, is simply the fact that it’s so darn slow. In most other cities around the world catching public transport is faster than driving, particularly at peak hour. This is somewhat because, contrary to popular belief, Auckland’s motorways aren’t actually particularly congested by international standards, and are actually incredibly comprehensive by international standards. While a lot of focus goes on the unreliability and lateness of many services, I think a significant deterrent for people using public transport actually happens after they’re on the bus/train.
A couple of examples. From my work in Avondale there is a bus stop just a couple of minutes walk down the road. The service is reasonably frequent during the day, at 15 minute intervals (although I’m sure there used to be a 10 minute service a few years back along New North Road). Whilst some of the routes are inevitably late (the 224 which I have a personal vendetta against), the 211 and 212 services are generally very reliable. However, it’s a minimum 40 minute bus trip into town from here. A couple of times it has stretched out to 50 minutes if I’m unlucky and end up on a 224 which goes via a slight detour to St Lukes or the bus is particularly heavily loaded. This is off-peak, and as there are no bus lanes along New North Road until you get to Kingsland (about 2/3rds of the way in along this route) I can only imagine that at peak hour the trip takes even longer. By comparison, at off-peak times I can probably drive into town from here in 15 minutes maximum. My boss and I, when we do need to take trips into the city for meetings and the like, really do want to catch the bus so that we’re acting more environmentally sustainable and supporting Auckland’s public transport, but a lot of the time it’s just a no-brainer when you compare the length of time the trip takes.
A second example comes from yesterday actually. After many attempts, I finally managed to meet up with a friend from the Skyscraper City forums. He lives out in Meadowlands, which to be fair is a heck of a long way from the city. Meadowlands forms a part of East Auckland that has grown like topsy throughout the last 10-20 years into the most horrific part of the city in my opinion (no offence to people who live there, it’s not your fault). It is the most classic example of urban sprawl you’ll ever come across – massive houses, cul-de-sacs everywhere, completely residential neighbourhoods and an utter belief that everyone will drive everywhere. I met up with my friend (Marcus) at just before 6pm yesterday afternoon, after he’d caught a bus into the city from Meadowlands. The trip down Symonds Street was so slow (although this is because they’re constructing 24 hour bus lanes, so council don’t incur my wrath for this) that he got off at the university and walked down to where I met up with him. Now the scary part is to come, he got on his bus at 4.10! That means it took almost two hours for him to get from Meadowlands to central Auckland, two hours! That’s to cover a trip which I’ve measured to be (approximately) 23km long. That’s an average speed of not much more than 10 kph – you could almost walk that distance faster!
Now perhaps that was an unusually slow trip, and it did coincide somewhat with the evening peak (even though he was going counter-flow), but to me it truly shows why that part of Auckland has the lowest levels of public transport use in the whole of Auckland. Who would be crazy enough to put themselves through that each and every day? Clearly, it’s criminal that such a large part of Auckland was developed without provision being made for a railway line. It is also criminal that there aren’t even bus lanes along the two main routes out that way: Pakuranga Road and Ti Rakau Drive. Yet there are no real plans to do much about it. ARTA does plan some sort of RTN (rapid transit network) to go up Te Irirangi Drive and then along Ti Rakau Drive, but who knows how they’d ever be able to build it? An RTN should be either a rail line or a proper busway (very different to bus lanes) so unless ARTA magically is going to end up with hundreds of millions of dollars to buy an enormous number of houses to build a proper transit line through the area, the best it seems we can ever hope for are top-quality bus lanes. Great job planners of the area in the 1970s-1990s. NOT.
But anyway, bringing this back to the main topic of this post. Why is public transport so slow and what can be done about it? I guess for a start buses are inherently a slow form of public transport, and as about 80% of Auckland’s public transport trips rely upon buses, it’s no wonder PT can’t compare with the car when it comes to the speed of trips. It’s interesting to note that along the very limited number of corridors where decent bus lanes have been constructed and there is significant traffic congestion (Onewa Road and Dominion Road), public transport is actually enormously popular. Apparently 50% of people travelling along the Dominion Road corridor in the morning peak use public transport, and I would imagine Onewa Road would be fairly similar. This clearly shows that speed is a huge issue for people commuting: make public transport faster and people will definitely use it. Other areas where public transport is probably the fastest method of getting to the city would be along the Eastern Line railway, which once again is enormously popular by Auckland standards. This situation was identified as horribly intolerable by John Banks a few years ago, who proposed to build a massive motorway along the railway route to ensure that the normal situation of ensuring the car was the fastest way to travel, was restored. Fortunately that project has been shelved.
So why so slow? Clearly the first reason is the lack of bus lanes. Where buses have to intermingle with traffic they will always end up slower than someone driving along the same road – simply because they need to stop and pick up passengers. However, even on roads with bus lanes often the bus stops aren’t actually indented towards the footpath, which means that any bus coming up behind another bus that has already stopped has to either stop itself, or pull into the general traffic lane/lanes, thereby negating much of the advantage a bus lane creates. While Auckand City and North Shore City have done a good job over the past few years expanding their bus/transit lanes, there is still a long way to go. Why doesn’t Manukau Road have bus lanes? How about New North Road? Ellerslie-Panmure Highway? Lagoon Drive? The list goes on. And that’s not to even mention the lack of action by Manukau City and – somewhat surprisingly given their eco-city image – Waitakere City. The second reason is the often circuitous routes that many buses travel along. Sure, this is useful in terms of maximising the number of people who are close to a bus stop, but it certainly comes at a cost. Another clear reason why buses travel so slow is that they’re often forced to do right-turns at very busy intersections at peak hour, which when they’re stuck behind a line of traffic can add up to 5 minutes to a journey. There’s a classic example of this just up the road from me, where the 233, 007 & 008 bus routes are forced to make right-turns onto Mt Albert Road that I wouldn’t even consider making at any time close to peak hour. Somewhat fortunately the bus drivers take a “might is right” attitude and edge out onto the main road making the other drivers stop for them. However, that’s not much help if they’re stuck behind a slightly timid driver for 5 minutes waiting to make a right-turn. Surely, the location of traffic lights should be matched up better with bus routes, or alternatively the bus routes be modified to avoid situations like these.
Finally, and most significantly I think, buses are slow because they’re so incredibly slow to board. I have gone on about this before, but I think it’s an utterly critical point. By requiring the driver to interact with everyone getting on board a bus, it just takes forever for the bus to load if there’s more than 5 people waiting. This becomes particularly obvious on Symonds Street in the evening peak when all the university students load up the buses through a procedure that takes just as long as actually driving up this highly congested road. While I understand that some people won’t have a bus pass (which one would hope can be solved once integrated ticketing occurs – as I would personally send everyone in Auckland a transport pass to encourage usage) and therefore have to pay cash, it seems nonsensical that someone with a bus pass can’t just validate it at another machine on the bus and find their seat all while the bus driver is digging around for change to give the original person. However, at the moment no, the bus pass holder must wait in line themselves along with everyone else, while those already on the bus tear their hair out and vow to drive to work from now on.
Projects like the Northern Busway have shown that Aucklanders will most definitely catch public transport. However, it is utterly critical that everything possible is done to improve the speed of services. I strongly believe that is the only way we’re ever going to get more than 7% of the population catching public transport. Which is a rather embarrassing statistic to be honest.
A few months ago the idea was first floated to add a walking/cycling lane (or both preferably) to the sides of the Auckland Harbour Bridge. I think the idea formed out of the cycling lobby initially, but made a lot of sense as the NZTA (who own the bridge) were spending $40 million or so to upgrade the clip-ons so they didn’t fall off. It seemed that with all this work going on anyway, a few extra million to add a bit of extra width wouldn’t be too much of a problem. Furthermore, it would finally address an utterly horrific issue that I have with the Harbour Bridge, that bus and car are the only ways in which to get across it. In Sydney you can catch a train across their bridge, or walk across it, or cycle across it – but here in Auckland you were forced to jump into some sort of road vehicle in order to make your way across. I guess it shows Auckland’s attitude to transportation most clearly.
The idea of adding on a walking and/or cycling lane got a mixed reception. The Auckland Regional Council were really keen, as was the North Shore City Council. The car-lovers at Auckland City Council couldn’t understand the concept as they were probably hoping for another lane of traffic. There was a significant push for the idea from the cycling lobby, but at the same time Brian Rudman – who I usually agree with on most urban matters he writes about in the Herald – strongly opposed the idea for reasons I am still trying to get my head around. However, it still seemed to me like almost everyone was missing the point, as they became fixated on how many cyclists would use the bridge to commute to work on weekdays. Right from the start I saw the best part of the idea as simply making it possible for people to walk across the bridge, particularly on a nice sunny day at the weekend. The view from the Harbour Bridge – particularly looking east – is utterly spectacular. I’ve been across it thousands and thousands of times yet I’m still impressed. However, it is a little frustrating that you have to be driving at 80 kph to actually enjoy what is probably the best view in Auckland. A few weeks back I caught a bus up to Albany along the Northern Busway, and it was actually amazingly nice to head across the bridge for once and not have to be concentrating on driving, although once again the view did pretty much zip by.
So I think that making it possibly for people to walk and cycle across the bridge would have its biggest benefit in much broader ways than just allowing people to commute via cycling from the North Shore. It would be one hell of a good tourist attraction for the city to market, and a great way of celebrating our beautiful harbour. Furthermore, it would also be a clear sign that the city does give a damn about more than just cars and is actually concered about providing for people.
Unfortunately, it does seem like the NZTA can’t quite get their head around the wider benefits of this project, and has not included it in their list of project priorities for the next year. It is a pity that our transportation agencies continue to be so narrow minded.
Auckland’s public transport ticketing system probably annoys me more than most other things in life. In fact, there’s little good to be said about it at all. Let’s run through the problems:
- It’s slow. A lot of interaction with the bus driver or train clippie is necessary. This doesn’t hold up the operation of the train as much as it does for a bus, but can make it difficult for the clippies to collect each and every ticket on a busy train ride.
- It’s confusing. For example, a trip from the CBD to Glen Innes is 2 stages on the train, 3 stages on some bus routes and 4 stages on other bus routes. This is crazy. There are also just too many ticket-types: cash, multi-journey, stored value, monthly pass etc.
- It’s outdated. On the train the main ticketing system still involves someone wandering around the train clipping tickets, it still involves little paper tickets that a guy has to take off his collection, clip with his clipper and then hand to you – oh and that’s in addition to having to stash away the money you give him and also for him to give you change. Same for Birkenhead Transport, who still clip your 10-ride cardboard tickets.
- It’s incompatible. This is my big annoyance, and I will write more on it below.
So yes, there isn’t really much good to say about our ticketing system at all. While the slowness, confusion and outdatedness of the ticketing system are somewhat bearable most of the time, the lack of integration is what totally kills our public transport system. Train tickets aren’t valid on the bus, some bus companies tickets aren’t valid with others, nor with ferry tickets and so on. Some bus companies have unlimited travel tickets, some don’t – it’s enough to make you tear your hair out. For years our public transport agencies have gone on and on about “working towards integrated ticketing”, but apart from a horrifically overpriced Discovery Pass, there’s absolutely nothing to show for this “working towards”.
I propose a solution, which is a whole new ticketing system for the Auckland Region. It is composed of six zones, which I will show the boundaries for on maps of Auckland’s four main areas (North, West, Central and South) in a minute. There is probably a 7th zone for all other areas not covered by the original six zones, but anyway that’s not a major as it would only cover areas such as Pukekohe and Helensville which generally require a special fare in any case for the trains and buses that serve them. The idea behind this new system is that it’s completely based on the simple notion of how many zones will one be travelling in. Although it’s CBD focused, that doesn’t at all mean that zone 1 is the zone around the CBD and central area, and that each zone further out is zone 2, 3, 4 and so on. I envisage the zones as not being hierarchical at all. So, a travellers works our how many zones they want their public transport ticket to take them through, and then they buy the appropriate ticket. Tickets can be for two hours (single-trip with transfers), one day, one week or one month of travel.
By giving people more unlimited travel options with their passes, hopefully a greater proportion of users would choose to buy weekly or monthly passes. I consider this to be an important part of increasing the use of public transport in evenings and at weekends, generally on services that aren’t particularly busy at the moment. The current monthly pass system is only really useful if you travel 3 stages ten times a week, or close to that.
So my new ticketing options would be as follows:
- 2 hour pass across 1-6 zones. Fare would vary from $1.60 to $7.50, the current prices for a 1 stage ride and a 6 stage ride.
- Day pass across 1-6 zones. Fare would vary from $5 within just one zone for the day, and maybe $12 for unlimited daily travel anywhere on the network. Importantly, one would be able to buy a day-pass for travel within two or three zones, depending on necessity, allowing better value to be had (as at the moment there are relatively few day-pass options).
- Weekly pass across 1-6 zones. These give unlimited travel for one week within the specified number of zones. The pricing would probably give a 15% discount on 10 two-hour passes for that number of zones (eg. $14 approx for a 1 zone weekly pass). I would probably cap the cost of a weekly pass at around $40, a quarter the price of the current all zones monthly pass, so that people are no worse off under the proposed system than they are under the existing system.
- Monthly pass across 1-6 zones. These give unlimited travel for a whole month within the specified number of zones. The price might be a slightly discount on the equivalent number of weekly passes to encourage people to use a monthly pass. Price would be capped at around the current price of an all-zones pass ($160).
I envisage using a smart-card system to allow this ticketing to be introduced. A stored-value pay-as-you-go system would also be included, generally giving 10% off the price of a 2 hour pass for irregular users. Potentially there could also be a similar system to what London’s Oyster Card uses, whereby they get charged at pay-as-you-go rates until they reach the amount of a day-pass, and then each subsequent trip is free. That system ensures that Oyster Card users are always getting the best value, and is a great idea. Cards could also be topped up online, avoiding the horrific queues that many university bus users face, and the annoyance of having to find a ticket agency that many other users face (plus avoid bus drivers having to sell the passes too).
If this all sounds a bit confusing, it starts to make sense once we have a few maps up. Here’s a map of Auckland City, where I would have three zones.
The current Auckland City area is split into three zones, with each of them kind of radiating out from the CBD. As explained earlier, anyone travelling within this area would purchase a 2 hour, day, week or monthly pass relating to the number of zones they want to travel across. In my case, I live within the Green Zone, work in the Blue zone and often travel into the Red Zone. If all my trips originated from home then I’d probably be OK with a two zone pass, as I’d never be catching a trip that took me across three zones. However, as it happens I do often catch buses from work into town, so at times a three zone trip would be necessary. Pay-as-you-go would possibly work best for me as my trips vary in length and are a bit all over the place. It would mean that a trip to Parnell or Ponsonby would be greatly simplified, as the Link bus would become a free-transfer under the “2 hour trip” window. A ticket would be printed off that would show the zone I entered and the number of zones that my pass covers – so either a ticket inspector or a suspicious bus driver could tell if I had over-travelled.
Below are my zone boundaries for North Shore City, Waitakere City and Manukau/Papakura. I imagine that the Whangaparaoa Peninsula would be in Zone 6, like Papakura is.
North Shore City:
I have a strange combination of methods by which I get myself to and from work during the week. In fact, I don’t think any two days of the week are exactly the same, which is quite interesting. I suppose that the down-side of this is that there isn’t a nice comfortable pattern to sink myself into, although at the same time I could think that the up-side is that there isn’t a comfy pattern to get bored by.
There are bits of my commuting cycle that I find nicer than others, unsurprisingly I suppose. I always quite enjoy the way that Leila and I catch a bus into town together on Monday mornings. It’s nice having the opportunity to chat with her on the bus, and I think that I enjoy catching a bus during the morning commute because the public transport system actually feels half-decent for once. The buses come every 2-3 minutes, they actually travel faster than the cars (when they’re not picking up passengers) because there are bus lanes and so on. On the down-side, we often find ourselves on the same bus as a million Auckland Girls Grammar students, who can make one hell of a loud racket when they really try to. Or at other times we’re worrying about how long the bus will take and whether there will be time for a coffee in town before Leila needs to catch the Link bus over to her work – generally we are fine though. Perhaps I am interested in morning-peak bus trips because generally I haven’t taken too many over my years of bus catching. Especially not when I compare it with the number of later-morning buses that I’ve caught, or even with the number of evening peak buses that I’ve caught. I guess it’s a novelty factor that will probably wear off once I get a job working in the CBD and find myself catching morning peak buses to work each and every day.
Another aspect of my commuting habits that I enjoy is the local 008 bus which I catch directly to my normal work (ie. if I’m not heading into town on this particular day). This usually ends up being Tuesday and Thursday mornings. While it’s super-annoying that this bus is operated by Urban Express and not NZ Bus, which means that I have to pay cash each time as my GoRider card isn’t accepted (gah bring on integrated ticketing), because this is a fairly infrequent bus route I find myself on the bus with the same people just about every morning I catch it. There are the two kids that get off the bus at a particular stop each day so they can wander down to their school, the other two kids who get on at the same stop – sometimes puffing like crazy after sprinting along Richardson Road to catch up to the bus, and so on. I guess I kind of enjoy the familiarity of it all, even if I feel like a bit of an outsider still (as I only catch that bus 2 mornings a week).
Of course all my public transport experiences in Auckland aren’t positive. I particularly find myself getting annoyed by things that could fairly easily be fixed up. Like bus drivers paying a bit more attention to when you’re trying to signal them, or not going through red lights when you’re trying to walk across the road, or ARTA actually replacing bus timetables, or buses actually showing up on time. OK, so I guess that the whole “late bus syndrome” has probably been around for just as long as buses have been. Generally in Auckland it’s a result of having stupidly windy and overly long bus routes. The 224 route is a classic example, and I have developed a person vendetta against that route because whenever I need to catch a bus along it into town, the bus is inevitably about 15 minutes late. This solely happens because the route is stupidly long, originating in Henderson (even though a million other routes serve Henderson to New Lynn). I’ve written a letter to ARTA about cutting it back to the route of the old 223 (which started at New Lynn) so that the 224’s punctuality can be improved. I wonder if that’ll have an effect.
I really want to actually commute by train. It’s so much nicer than on the bus. Perhaps after 2013 when we have electric trains I’ll make sure where I live is close to a train station.
There has been a reasonably large bundle of transportation news in the last week or so to come out. I definitely don’t see this blog as being a news source, as personally I find that a little boring, but I probably should at least keep somewhat up to date with what’s going on.
Probably the big piece of news in the last couple of days has been confirmation that Auckland City Council is slashing projects left, right and centre in order to keep rate increases under control. Whilst this was rather inevitable, subsequent to John Banks’ election as mayor last year and his accompanying Citizens and Ratepayers council, it’s still a rather major kick in the guts for Auckland’s future. It’s pretty much universally accepted that transportation is a huge issue in Auckland, and that our transport system is horrifically lop-sided in its dependence upon the private vehicle. A few days ago John Banks seemed in agreement with this view, arguing like crazy for the incoming government to invest heavily in Auckland’s infrastructure. Yet when it comes to Auckland City doing its bit, he’s off running in the opposite direction like crazy. Having the cycling and walkway budget being slashed from $27 million to $4 million over the next 10 years is utter insanity, when most of our transportation policies commit to further encouraging walking and cycling – not only for their important effect on reducing traffic flows, but also for their health benefits. $4 million over 10 years is practically little more than paying council staff members, so we certainly won’t see any improvements over that time. Even some of the cuts to roading projects are nonsensical, with an upgrade to Tiverton Road and Wolverton Street getting the boot, even though a motorway (due to open in April next year) is about to feed a significant amount of traffic onto an arterial route that already struggles big time at peak hour. $400 million has also been sliced off the AMETI project (which is a huge roadsfest, so I have no problems there).
So much, it seems, for trying to drag Auckland into the 21st century. So much for trying to make us a world class city. While I do understand that councils are in a pretty unenviable situation with regards to having to be funded by rates dollars alone, the prioritisation of funding is certainly annoying. In the end I think the big hope is that Auckland City Council won’t actually survive as an entity for the next 10 years. The Royal Commission for reorganising Auckland’s local government is due to report back in March next year, and will hopefully lead to a significant revamp of how local government operates in Auckland. I would hope that we’ll end up with a significantly more powerful regional council supported by about 20 small community councils. Issues such as planning and transportation will end up in the hands of the regional council, which will hopefully lead to far better integration and consistency across the region. With the extra power hopefully Auckland will have a better chance at ensuring it gets it fair share of the ‘pie’, and has a bit more money to spend on important projects such as public transportation, walking and cycle routes.
Another interesting news story that emerged this week was the possiblity of extending the Northern Busway from its current terminus at Constellation Drive all the way up to Orewa. This would be a very significant extension, potentially quadrupling the length of the current busway, at a significant cost of $700 million to $1.2 billion. I have kind of mixed feelings about this proposal. To start with the positive, I can see the point of extending the busway at least to Albany. Although I’ve never been on the busway at peak hour, I imagine that the trip is fairly severely slowed down between Constellation Drive and Greville Road in particular by the need for buses to share motorway space with general traffic along what is actually a fairly congested stretch of road. Having to cut across Constellation Drive when heading northbound also is probably non-ideal, especially at evening peak. So this stretch of the busway would be particularly useful in my opinion. Unfortunately, this bit of the busway would also be fairly difficult to construct, as the Constellation Station and the existing busway is on the eastern side of State Highway 1, while the Albany Station (and the easier gradients for construction) are on the western side of the motorway. Cue expensive bridges and tunnels. Regarding what happens further north than Albany, in reality that bit of motorway doesn’t really get congested particularly badly and I don’t see what advantage a busway would have over buses running along existing lanes of the motorway. Perhaps as a long term project where the alignment could become a railway it would make more sense.
In any case, just because a project isn’t justifiable at the moment it shouldn’t mean that future planning for it disappears. The Transport Agency should proceed with designating all the necessary space for the whole future busway as soon as possible, so that it is at the very least future proofed. The last thing they want is for someone to go and build a new apartment building right in the way of where the busway would eventually end up going. But as for construction, I definitely think additional busways out east should happen before this project. That’s where the real problems are.
I have had this idea for a while now. It seems a strange one at first, a kind of weird overkill that originally doesn’t seem particularly feasible, but I reckon it could work. The idea takes a lot from San Francisco, where the F-Line has operated enormously successfully for the last 15 or so years. Basically, it involves bringing trams back to Auckland. In particular, for them to run along Queen Street and Tamaki Drive, providing both a commuter service for people living in the eastern suburbs (which is a reasonably popular series of bus routes, although I’ve never caught any because it’s not that obvious where the route starts and finishes) and also a great tourist attraction.
Now there’s actually nothing particularly new about the idea of running trams along Queen Street. In fact, Auckland’s suburban development was largely dependent on the tram system – which first opened in 1900. Most of the bus routes that link the CBD with parts of the isthmus are the remnants of tram routes that used to run throughout the city. While we never had a system approaching the complexity and vastness of American cities such as Boston and New York, for Auckland’s size the tram system was fairly significant. It reached as far as Onehunga, Avondale and Ellerslie. The layout of streets in areas served by trams was largely a result of their presence, with a semi-grid format allowing quick access to the main arterial routes for as many people as possible. Most of these routes fed into Queen Street, which truly was the tram hub of the city, as a photo from 1919 below shows:
Auckland’s transportation heritage isn’t particularly well celebrated. Sure, we have MOTAT (the Museum of Transport and Technology), and a tourist tram line running between the two halves of this museum, but apart from that our general attitude towards transportation has been ‘out with the old, in with the new’. Classic examples of this include having an incredibly grand railway station which has been neglected to the point where it can’t even be used as student accommodation any longer as it was pretty much falling apart, the removal of the whole tram system in the 1950s, and the way the Newmarket train station building has been ‘hidden somewhere’. Bringing back trams to Auckland’s CBD would be a great way to celebrate our transportation heritage in my opinion. MOTAT continues to have a large number of old heritage trams, while I am sure there are many others out there somewhere just awaiting a reason to be restored to their former glory. San Francisco uses restored trams from all around the USA, and also some that have been imported from Milan in Italy, to fulfil its demand. I’m sure that Auckland could pull off something similar.
However, although the heritage reasons for this idea are important, in the end it should be mainly looked at as a way to improve transportation access in and around the parts of Auckland where it would travel. In my opinion, Queen Street does suffer from having too many buses run along it. Until we have all our buses being quiet and non-polluting, they are somewhat of a blight on what should be a predominantly pedestrian focused street. Whilst it is obvious that many buses will need to continue to use Queen Street, hopefully a tram route which travels along its entire length would mean that routes which begin and end on Queen Street might not have to run along its entire length. Secondly, the route along Tamaki Drive out to Mission Bay and St Heliers is one of Auckland’s most scenic. Driving along there certainly makes me happy to live in this city, particularly on a nice sunny day. On weekends there is significant congestion trying to get through Mission Bay, simply because there are so many people there. I haven’t yet caught a bus along Tamaki Drive on the weekend, but I am guessing that they would be pretty popular. During the week I also imagine that it’s a fairly popular bus route for commuters, and also for tourists visiting Kelly Tarlton’s, Mission Bay or St Helier’s Beach.
The map below shows the route of my proposed tram line:
But why a tram? Isn’t it going to be super-expensive? Yes I certainly agree there will be a reasonably significant cost in establishing this line. Tracks would need to be laid, the roads might need widening in areas (particularly along Tamaki Drive) and there would need to be overhead wires too. However, in my opinion the success of this route is dependent on it being a tram and not just another bus route. Riding the tram would be part of the experience, and therefore it would capture a LOT of tourists, and also Aucklanders travelling around their city for play on weekends, or to get to work during the week. Because a tram has fixed infrastructure, people have some faith in knowing where the tram they get on is going to go – the simplicity of the single route would attract a lot of people who would normally not be bothered with public transport and just take their car. In fact, if there has been a problem with the F Line in San Francisco, it is that the line has been FAR too popular. The operators of the line, MUNI, are scrambling to ensure they have enough streetcars, as the line has been enormously popular with tourists and local alike.
Well what a great day yesterday was. I feel like I’m still buzzing from the excitement of it actually. The morning seemed to take forever, waiting until 1pm when the results from the US presidential election would start rolling in. Unlike our New Zealand election, I actually felt reasonably confident of a good outcome in the USA. However, I was probably also a bit more nervous about that result as I had expected Obama to win, and any other result would have been a huge disappointment. In contrast, while I give Labour/Greens a better chance on Saturday than they seem to be getting in the media I’ve certainly got lower expectations.
So after 1pm the results did start rolling in from the USA, and they were reasonably good. The first few states went as expected: Kentucky for the republicans, Vermont for the democrats. No real surprises there. I had about three different election pages running, with a good live feed from BBC world being the most useful. When Obama was confirmed to have won Pennsylvania I felt pretty damn confident things weren’t going to go wrong from then on. Florida and Ohio looked good for him as well, even Indiana where Bush had won by 20% or so back in 2004 was extremely close. Obama was winning his safe states easily, and challenging McCain in a lot of states that had been pretty safely republican for decades. Once Ohio had been confirmed for Obama everyone knew it was only a matter of time before he hit the magic 270 electoral college votes. At 5pm New Zealand time the results for California and Washington State were confirmed, which pushed Obama over the threshold. Cue wild celebrations.
I got home in time to watch a decent chunk of his acceptance speech. Whilst I’ve heard a number of amazing speeches by Obama before, I think this one really topped the lot. The moment felt historic, like we were all witnessing history. Which I guess makes perfect sense as indeed we were. The happiness on the faces of so many people was truly moving, while the messages of hope and change that Obama stated may have been mainly directed at people within the USA, but his standing internationally makes me truly confident that this is a giant step in the right direction for the world as a whole. Whilst the challenges facing Obama are clearly huge, and seemingly impossible, I really strongly believe that he can make a huge difference simply by his inclusive attitude, the huge support that he’s received, the way that so many previously alienated people can now truly believe in their president, and because he is just awesome.
So I would very much like to thank America for finally coming to its senses again. I would like to thank the American people for putting racial insecurities behind them, for finally rejecting the divisiveness of the republican party and for electing an incredibly charismatic, intelligent president.
This is the day of the American election, although because of the time difference results won’t start rolling in until tomorrow New Zealand time. It is rather exciting actually, with the USA on the brink of a momentous shift in their history. I first heard of Barack Obama early last year, largely because he came out so clearly in opposition to the Iraq war – whereas everyone else was either mumbling about some sort of honourable withdrawal or saying that they needed to stick there right through. That impressed me right away, that he’s someone with their eye on the most important job in the world who isn’t afraid to stick up for what he really believed in, and then had the ability to back it up as well. Someone able to go “we shouldn’t have gone in there, we need to get out as soon as possible” really impressed me.
Over the last year or so his momentum has grown enormously, heading off a pretty strong opponent to even become the Democrat candidate. His message of change has been so strong and delivered in such an awesome manner that it really does give me hope that our days of thinking of the USA as a pariah of the international community could be nearing an end. Imagine a situation where the USA is actively involved in extending the Kyoto Protocol and its successors. Imagine a situation where a US president is greeted enthusiastically overseas, where people go out to cheer him rather than protest against him. Obama has continued to impress me – I’ve read through his detailed energy and environmental policies and found them to be realistic yet also involving significant change for the better. His plans to actually address poverty in the USA and to improve their horrific health system are terribly overdue, but obviously necessary.
It is exciting though, as Obama seems to be well ahead in the polls. It really feels like nothing can stop him now (touch wood). Are we one day away from an absolutely critical moment in American history? Sure, everyone’s avoided the race issue in the lead-up to the election, but if indeed we end up with him being elected tomorrow it will surely be a great moment of racial conciliation for that country.
Continuing our rather recent tradition of exploring random parts of Auckland’s public transport system, Leila and I resolved to check out the northern busway on Sunday. The busway has been open since February I think, allowing buses to bypass the traffic nightmare of the Northern Motorway, and get from Albany into the city in about 20-25 minutes. Often by car it takes twice as long if the traffic is bad, so unsurprisingly the busway has been pretty popular. A whole selection of North Shore bus routes use at least part of the busway, while the Northern Express service offers a “core spine” service to the whole network, only stopping at the busway stations between Britomart in the city, and Albany.
We started our adventure in Ponsonby, after a very nice breakfast at Cezanne Cafe. Our link bus into the city was quite an adventure in itself. The link buses do feel like the one ‘world class’ bit of Auckland’s public transport system, with nice new buses, information screens showing snippets about the areas the bus passes through and so on. However, apparently our bus way running late so we all got turfed onto another bus. The next bus hung around for a while itself until the driver helped a drunk old man off the previous bus. I think he’d fallen asleep, as he promptly fell asleep once again on the new bus. But anyway, it was more amusing than annoying as we weren’t in any particular hurry. The bus eventually made it to Britomart, and we hopped off and waited for our Northern Express bus. After a bit longer than should have been the case, the bus showed up. I had seen the Northern Express buses many times driving over the Harbour Bridge (they’re quite distinctive) but had never actually been on one before. It seemed as though ARTA had been quite careful in the selection of the Northern Express bus, as they’re pretty damn huge – with the ability to cope with what is (hopefully) at peak hour pretty heavy loads.
It was actually quite nice to head across the Harbour Bridge and check out the view properly for once. Although I make my way across the harbour bridge around four times a week, I’m always driving so don’t get much of a chance to admire the awesome view for more than a few seconds at a time (to avoid crashing the car!) However, of course the busway doesn’t actually get going until a reasonable distance north of the harbour bridge itself. Perhaps this is a bit of a weakness, but my general experience is that traffic congestion in the evening doesn’t really get too bad until after the Onewa Road off-ramp, so perhaps it’ll be OK. After getting off the motorway at Akoranga Drive, we slipped into the Akoranga Station quickly. I was impressed. The station looked much more like a modern train station that one would find in a European country than a typical Auckland bus stop. You could even wait inside, buy your ticket at an electronic machine and so on. We didn’t get off there though, but continued further up the busway proper – passing through Westlake, Sunnynook and Constellation Stations on the way. The busway itself gave an interesting perspective at cars on the motorway, as they zipped past on your left rather than on the right as per usual. The grade of the road itself made it pretty obvious to me that if/when the decision is eventually made to turn it into a railway line there will need to be some pretty serious earthworks to smooth out the ups and downs.
In pretty short-time was arrived at Albany Station. The station itself was just as flash as all the others, and with quite a few different platforms clearly has room to grow in the future. Perhaps this is what the New Lynn bus depot looked like when it was brand new back in the 70s or 80s? However, the station’s biggest disadvantage became immediately clear as soon as we left it and embarked on the final leg of our journey to the Albany Westfield – it’s basically in the middle of nowhere. I suppose that’s not really the fault of ARTA, the council or anyone else involved in the construction of the station. Albany Town Centre is planned to grow like topsy over the next decade, but at the moment it still feels strangely ghostly. There are big four-lane roads with traffic lights, roundabouts and everything else, but no buildings, no people and hardly any vehicles either. Just the most expensive grassy fields in Auckland I imagine. To be fair, it is a work in progress, and I certainly hope that eventually there is either a good pedestrian connection from the busway to the future Albany Town Centre or (even better) buses actually continue through the bus station before terminating bang in the middle of the town centre. After all, not many people want to catch a bus to a grassy field, but a lot would want to catch one to a shopping mall.
Leila and I had a pleasant enough afternoon reading books at Borders and generally checking out the Albany Mall. In many ways it does feel quite similar to Sylvia Park – Auckland’s other fairly recently opened Megamall. I was impressed by how it interacts better with its surroundings – particularly to the north with a row of cafes and restaurants looking out over what will be a nice lake and park area in the not-too-distant future. Sylvia Park does have a train station located almost inside the mall though, so that’s hard to beat.
The trip back was fairly non-eventful. Once again the walk to the bus station was a tad annoying – more because of how bare and exposed it all felt, rather than its distance. I do hope that the economic downturn doesn’t put any further development on the back-burner forever, because the whole ‘half-built’ feeling is a bit spooky. Southbound on the busway works better than northbound, as the busway stretches significantly further south. This is particularly useful as it bypasses pretty much all the congestion on the Northern Motorway (not that there was much on a Sunday).
Wow the weather has been really nice the last couple of days, it almost feels like summer!