A key aspect of ‘the network effect’, which I have blogged about quite a lot in recent times, is the need to simplify route structures. Auckland’s current bus system looks very much like someone threw spaghetti at a map, a million different routes going all over the place – with the key thing being that because there are so many bizarre routes, they can only be run at fairly low frequencies. But there are other disadvantages of having a complicated route structure:
- It’s really confusing. One wonders how many people are put off using public transport because it’s simply “too hard”. For my local route it was damn difficult even finding where its CBD bus stops are, it bizarrely uses Hobson Street, it changes its name and route in the evenings and at weekends, some buses terminate at Herne Bay, others at Westmere, and so on.
- Having many different route numbers probably leads to unequal loadings. People flock to a particular service because perhaps it’s a bit quicker as it skips a detour, or perhaps it goes via a minor detour that gets people 50m closer to their house, but at the cost of 5 minutes of travel for everyone else.. Unequal loadings is not an efficient use of the resource.
- The legibility of the route becomes unclear. There are distinct advantages in intuitively being able to understand the public transport network without needing to research it. Why does the 007 use the Mt Albert crosstown arterial for some of its length, but the Balmoral crosstown arterial for other parts? Why does the 008 wind its way through back-streets rather than sticking to an obvious and legible arterial?
So there are two main elements to what I call “route simplification”, one is to get rid of the vast array of route numbers that are only ever-so-slightly different to each other: and the other is to make the route more easily understood by its users. If we look at the Sandringham Road bus routes, I think that both methods need to be used to simplify this route. Let’s start by looking at its map:
So we have 10 different routes that constitute the “Sandringham Road buses”. The 202, 240, 241, 243, 246, 247, 248 and 24F. Even trying to make some sense out of the difference between these routes is a challenge: at the city end the 202 goes via Bond Street and Great North Road into the CBD, the 240 and the 24F go via Ian McKinnon Drive (which means that the routing on the main map is actually wrong) and the rest go via Symonds Street.
The 24F and the 240 differ only in their stopping patterns: in that the 240 starts its run at Mt Albert Road whereas the 24F is non-stop between Mt Albert Road and K Road (I think). The 241, 246 and 247 seem to be the most obviously stupid routes of the lot, in that they’re exactly the same except for slight differences in where they end (and slight differences in the route that the 241 takes going via Owairaka Ave). The 233 goes via St Lukes, but is otherwise identical to the 243. The 248 takes the most higgledy-piggledy route imaginable through the back-streets of Blockhouse Bay before terminating there, while the 249 for some bizarre reason continues on from Blockhouse Bay to New Lynn – although you would have to be absolutely retarded to ever even consider taking the 249 between New Lynn and Midtown, as it spends half its time heading in completely the wrong direction.
If this was an isolated example of the completely unnecessary complexity of Auckland’s bus network, then perhaps I would think that it was just funny. Unfortunately, almost every single route in the city is stupidly and unnecessarily complex like this Sandringham Road example.
So what can we do about this? I think if we start at the city end and work our way outwards it should become obvious that these ten routes can be simplified down significantly. To start with, having both the 202 and the 240 as ‘alternatives to Symonds Street’ seems pretty unnecessary. Having caught the 202 a few times, it seems that it basically serves as a “bus to Auckland Girls Grammar School”. Perhaps that means it’s necessary to retain, but certainly I don’t think we need both the 202 and the 240.
Working our way further out, the next snag is the “what the heck to do about St Lukes?” problem. While the 233’s detour to St Lukes is useful if you’re visiting the mall it’s a damn pain in the neck if you’re not. Hopefully in the longer term we will be running very frequent cross-town buses along Balmoral Road so this detour won’t be necessary, but in the meanwhile probably our fundamental off-peak distinction along Sandringham Road will be between St Lukes buses and non St Lukes buses. It’s annoying, but because the mall does generate significant patronage there’s not much that can be done.
Further out, we see that the routes start to diverge like mad after the Sandringham Road/Mt Albert Road intersection. As I mentioned above, I think the 241, 246 and 247 could be completely eliminated and folded into other routes as they add nothing but complexity to the system. The 249 is similarly pointless, as the Portage Road, Bolton Street areas will (hopefully) be served by local routes feeding into the New Lynn train station from its surrounding areas.
Which leaves us with two main routes: the Tiverton/Wolverton route of the 233/243 and the higgledy-piggledy route of the 248. Now I always thought the 248 was completely necessary as it was “the Blockhouse Bay bus”, but actually it turns out there other buses go to Blockhouse Bay: most notably the 258 which uses Dominion Road. Comparing the times between Blockhouse Bay and the city along both the 248 and the 258, and it does seem the 258 is a bit quicker (and hopefully if the Dominion Road bus lanes are improved and not destroyed, that speed advantage would become even greater). So do we even need a Sandringham Road bus route that goes to Blockhouse Bay? Perhaps not, especially when the Green Bay buses provide an “along Blockhouse Bay Road” bus route (although they’re another example of a series of routes that desperately need simplification and better frequencies:
What all this effectively means is that we can have one core Sandringham Road route: from New Lynn to Britomart (I think it should go to Britomart rather than Midtown so enable connections with the rest of the network). This is shown in the map below:
During the opening hours of St Lukes Mall probably every second off-peak bus would travel via the blue detour, at least until we figure out a better way of dealing with this issue. And during peak times probably a few buses could travel via the green route rather than the red one. But otherwise pretty much every single bus would be travelling this core route, which is “anchored” at each end strongly by the CBD and New Lynn (the reason I have it terminating at New Lynn is so it’s useful for passengers wanting to travel there from along the route).
Apart from a rather annoying detour to ensure that it passes through the Owairaka shops the route is also pretty damn straight, which means relatively quick travel times. At peak hour I think you could run some of your services as “express”, meaning that they wouldn’t stop on the city side of Mt Albert Road, and complement them by running services that start at Mt Albert Road, but ultimately that is just messing with stopping patterns and the route simplicity itself is maintained.
There does remain one rather under-served “hole” around Boundary Road, but otherwise I think between this route, the existing 258, the Green Bay routes and the 009 cross-town route the area is fairly well covered, and in a far more simple way than we currently see. I think we end up with four route numbers (core route, route via St Lukes, shortened route between Mt Albert and city and route via Bond Street and Auckland Girls’ Grammar) plus an express version of the core route. That’s a lot better than what we have now I think.
Now we just need to get bus lanes along the whole thing!