One of the silliest things about Auckland’s public transport system is how 95% of bus routes simply go from somewhere in the suburbs to the CBD, and then turn around to head back out again on the same route. There are a few consequences of this which combine to greatly reduce the effectiveness of our public transport system, and also contribute to the CBD being filled with polluting diesel buses far more than what is actually necessary.
I think the structure of our bus network is in many ways a remnant of the tram network that Auckland had, before it was ripped up in the 1950s (perhaps the worst decision made in Auckland’s history?) Back then it made sense to run the trams into the city and then back out again – because most people worked in the city and also because electric trams weren’t as noisy and polluting as the diesel buses that replaced them from the 1950s onwards. Most of our higher-frequency bus routes these days follow the alignment of old tram routes – along arterials like Great North Road, New North Road, Sandringham Road, Dominion Road, Mt Eden Road, Manukau Road and Remuera Road.
However, the world has changed since the 1950s. As I outlined in a post a couple of days ago, only 11.7% of the region’s jobs are now located in the CBD – so we need to make our public transport system more useful for those commuting from suburb to suburb. For someone who lives on the North Shore, but works in Ellerslie or further south, they’re simply just never going to catch public transport – because it would take forever. A big part of the hassle is the need to change buses in the CBD, which could well involve walking a few blocks between where your North Shore bus lets you off, and the bus south picks you up. Furthermore, if you miss the bus south you’ll be waiting a while for another one (as counter-peak frequencies are pretty low generally).
Another significant problem caused by terminating buses in the CBD is that you get an awful lot of buses just hanging around – waiting to start their run, waiting between runs and so on. If you wander around the CBD at around 4pm you will see an enormous number of buses just hanging around waiting for the evening peak. This is incredibly inefficient, it clogs up the city’s streets with buses, and when they all have their engines on it is very polluting. Need I remind people that poor air quality in Auckland kills hundreds of people each year?
So what’s the solution? Well quite simply we need to link up our bus routes coming from different sides of the city, so that instead of terminating in the CBD and turning around to head back the way they came, instead the bus routes continue to travel through the city. Now obviously this can’t be done for all routes – as there are imbalances, but as the map below shows, I think that certainly for quite a lot of routes such a system could be achieved, and would have enormous benefits:
Starting with the blue line, I would link up as many bus routes coming from the North Shore as possible with routes that come through Newmarket heading to the CBD (usually from the south and east). This would probably be the most useful connection to make, as it would provide an excellent north-south link through the city for people wanting to travel from Ellserlie to Takapuna, and so on. Furthermore, there are a LOT of buses each day that travel from the south and east into the CBD, and a lot of buses that come from the north – so linking them up would create a high-quality link through the city. This would definitely make it more possible for someone to use public transport even though they don’t work in the CBD.
The red line would link up buses coming from west Auckland via Great North Road with those coming from some of the isthmus routes (New North Road, Sandringham Rd, Dominion Rd etc.) There is probably a bit of an imbalance here, with more buses coming from the isthmus routes, while furthermore I don’t think as many people would catch the bus all the way through the CBD and out the other side (nearly back where they came from). However, it would still have significant advantages in reducing the number of buses hanging around in the CBD.
The green line would link buses coming from the “Western Bays” area – such as Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, Westmere and so forth with those coming from Tamaki Drive. While the number of buses using this link would be far less than either the blue line or the red line, there would still be significant benefits in enabling people who live in the eastern suburbs but work in Ponsonby to catch a bus for their whole trip. It would also be very useful for recreational purposes – linking together the Tamaki Drive waterfront area with Ponsonby. Yet again, it would have benefits of reducing the number of buses terminating in the CBD.
To be honest, the advantages of ‘through-routing’ buses seem so obvious that it’s pretty unbelievable this hasn’t been done. There wouldn’t be much, if any, additional cost in implementing this kind of routing change. It’s a no-brainer, so come on ARTA – do it!