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Auckland’s secret bus route

Now hands up – who’s heard of Macarthur Busline Limited? Who here knows that there’s a bus route that runs from Point Chevalier to Newmarket all day weekends and during peak hour on weekdays? Not many, yeah didn’t think so. Which is a pity actually.

I first came across this bus route very late on a Saturday night back in March, just a week or so before it began operating. I must say I wasn’t fully sober when I stumbled across a sign for the route – somewhere along New North Road near Kingsland. So the next morning, when I was thinking about the events of the night before I wondered whether I had just dreamed it all up – it’s the kind of thing my subconscious would think up of actually: a strange bus route that isn’t on the MAXX Website, that hasn’t had any fanfare at all… However, after a few enquiries I discovered that I hadn’t been dreaming and the service was going to commence – rather oddly initially only at weekends.

There was a bit of discussion on the Campaign for Better Transport forums about the route, which rather interestingly included the guy who had started this whole thing up: Scott Macarthur. My general feedback was that I thought the route followed back-streets too much, was very unlikely to succeed in the longer-term without ARTA involvement and should offer peak-hour weekday services (they’ve come later). Well apparently the issue with ARTA involvement was down to them, rather than this guy Scott Macarthur who had taken the initiative to provide a service that he thought was necessary, while his argument was that people may well appreciate the offering of a bus service within close proximity of where they live (rather than having to walk to a main road). I still think that the route lacks “legibility” – the ability for people to easily make sense out of it – but perhaps I’ll just have to agree to disagree on that matter with him.

Now that peak hour weekday services have started, I can actually see some potential for this bus route in the longer term – particularly if ARTA come on board to even offer the simplest of assistance – like putting his services into their MAXX Journey Planner system, providing standardised ARTA timetables of the service and maybe even offering some subsidies, I mean heck they shower tens of millions of dollars a year on Infratil, what would be a few thousand for this service? (I really don’t seem to like Infratil much at the moment do I?) One of the main reasons that I think this service could be a success in the longer term is because Newmarket is poorly served by buses for people who don’t live in the south or east of Auckland – although the trains on the Western Line do compensate for that matter to some extent. Anyway, let’s have a look at the route this service takes, and the timetable that is offered:w2bus

The eastbound timetable (Pt Chevalier to Newmarket):e2-eastbound The westbound timetable:w2-westbound While I still think that the route taken by this service could be improved, I must say I am pretty impressed with what Scott Macarthur is trying to do here. All I do to improve Auckland’s public transport is sit at my computer moaning about it, dreaming up ideas and writing emails to people – while here’s an example of someone who has put their money where their mouth is and started up bus company, I suspect not because he thinks he can make a tonne of money out of it, but because he really really does want to improve Auckland’s public transport system.

I think that attitude deserves a lot of praise and support. So come on ARTA, give this guy a hand.

19 comments to Auckland’s secret bus route

  • Jeremy Harris

    I like that route about half the time on arterials… The part of Auckland this runs along the back streets is “old” and has alright densities, if I worked in Newmarket and lived along it, I’d catch it…

  • Ian

    Good on this entrepreneur (amazing, I actually managed to spell “entrepreneur” right first time, left an “a” out of “amazing” though). When I was going to high school about 500 years ago a couple of pupils used to use a little known bus company (can’t recall the name now) that provided a service from Pt Chev to Penrose (possibly beyond) via Mt Albert Rd, Campbell Rd and Great South Rd. I don’t know if such a run is still made.

  • Ian, that sounds like about half of the 007 route and half of the 008 route. 007 is run bu NZ Bus and 008 by Urban Express.

    Generally suburb-to-suburb routes haven’t been that successful, hopefully this route won’t fail.

  • Central leader had a story about him in August http://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/local-news/central-leader/2763892/Peak-time-bus-link in which he said: Buslines director Scott MacArthur says he wanted to revive a transport route reminiscent of days when trams commuted from Pt Chevalier and Newmarket more than 50 years ago.

  • Scott Macarthur

    Hi Jarbury,

    Thanks for putting this up. I love the title “secret bus route”. Sad but true unfortunately.

  • I wonder if your route went via St Lukes it would pretty much render the 006 pointless. Maybe mention that to ARTA ;)

  • Ian

    There is some interesting psychology here. Pro rail lobby wishing a possibly competing road service well. When NZR Road Services eventually dispatched the last of the railcar runs to history I swore a sacred oath never to forgive them. Years later with the demise of Road Services imminent I became quite nostalgic and made a point of traveling on some of the wee small hours services out of Auckland to the provinces. Strange thing human nature and yes, I should stop swearing sacred oaths.

  • Louis

    I think this route would allow for the cancellation of the 006 which is good if they want to start winding down NZ Bus in Auckland

  • Route 006 was originally Urban Express’ baby – I think that might have been their first route.

  • Scott Macarthur

    Andrew, I’ve heard similar things.

  • Yes I remember Urban Express running their funny little mini buses on that route. As far as I know it has never been a very successful route, I suspect because it follows too many back streets and is not known widely.

  • njh

    Is it possible that by competing with the publicly run service both services will drop below the minimum sustainable levels of service and die out? It’s believed that a significant killer of public transport around the world was in fact private services taking the cream off the top (front running?) and externalising the costs (such as late night service, stop maintenance and promotion). Of course in the long run this is counterproductive, but it seems good in the short term and bows to the holy cow of competition.

  • Well the thing is that there are no publicly run services. NZ bus is just subsidised while this service is not (yet).

  • Scott M

    Well as many might know I unfortunately had to cancel this service in April 2010, having run it for over a year. Patronage appeared to have plateau’d at unprofitable levels, and with no subsidy support from ARTA, I was in a “rock and a hard place” of being able to afford the operational costs of the service, but being unable to advertise the service further.

    To their credit ARTA finally put the service on the MAXX website in January 2010, albeit only after 8 months of lobbying. They wouldn’t provide timetable help and I was left to purchase bus timetable holders and produce my own timetables at bus stops along the route. This despite ARTA providing the same support to other existing commercial services.

    I think it is interesting to reflect on why this route didn’t work. I believe the reasons were:

    – Not considering the existing western rail line. How did I forget that? This meant the service only really presented a new option for users in View Road going to Newmarket.
    – Being too close to other bus routes (averaged about 800m). I believe in the Auckland context bus routes need to be double this – 1 every 1.6km to have sufficient density/customers.
    – Being relegated to “ugly duckling” status by ARTA. This meant my bus didn’t show up on electronic display boards, widely on the ARTA website etc. It therefore had an image of being a private service, outside of the main system.
    – Choice of bus, in this case a 20 seater. In hindsight I believe the bus looked too much like a private charter bus. Public transport users obviously have an idea of what a public bus “should look like”. There were examples where two girls wanted to catch the bus to Newmarket and were heard complaining that the bus “never came”. Ofcourse it did, they just didn’t see it.

    The route had a faithful following and a number of regulars who appreciated the services. Unfortunately in the end, the number just weren’t there.

  • Interesting insights Scott, and it is a shame that things didn’t work out for your route. It’s good to see somehow “put their money where their mouth is” and actually made a real personal effort to improve public transport.

    I think in the end the system is so geared against ventures like what you came up with. There’s an expectation that bus companies will be really big, that ARTA should be suspicious of them because they’re only out to make money and don’t care about improving PT and so forth. I think you surprised them to an extent that they weren’t able to get their heads around it.

    Hopefully the lessons you learned have been useful, and that you didn’t lose too much money.

  • Scott M

    Well I think that the current bus companies are really running rough shod over ARTA. Ofcourse we don’t know the details of the contracts they sign up to, but I would bet that these shiny new buses we are seeing NZ Bus buy are really being bought with extra subsidy money they have conned out of ARTA.

    For example, they recieved $88.2 million in subsidies and made a $9.9 million profit last year (both Wellington and Auckland operations).

  • I remember wondering how your service would have fared if it were a Pt Chev to Mt Albert rail feeder or something similar – you could have had 3 or 4x the frequency and a connection to Newmarket with the same one bus. Would it have been enough to work?

  • The 007 already does that though.

  • Jeremy Harris

    @Scott, I of course don’t resent subsidies for bus services but I do resent the almost criminal manner they get paid out subsidies on unprofitable runs of a route and get to keep all proceeds of a profitable one… A better case of corporate welfare I cannot think of…

    Have you ever thought of setting up a true integrated network on the isthmus..? I have some ideas and would love to meet up and talk about them if you’d like..?

    My e-mail is: jeremymichaelharris@gmail.com

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