The NZ Herald, both in the form of a general article and an opinion piece by Brian Rudman, have picked up on the proposed changes to bus routes in inner Auckland. Rudman in particular provides some useful feedback on the changes – supporting parts of them while having concerns about other bits.
In particular, he notes the need for bus lanes along Customs Street and Fanshawe Street: between Queen Street and Nelson Street.
The new Western Bay services will travel along Fanshawe St to Beaumont St then up College Hill. We’re told they will be able to “take advantage of the bus lanes” along Fanshawe St to provide a faster service.
This piece of wishful thinking was obviously written by someone who hasn’t been stuck in an 004 or 005 bus in the evening rush hour crawling along traffic-jammed Custom St and Fanshawe St to the Nelson St intersection, where the bus lanes begin.
As an expert passenger, I predict the only way this route will provide a “faster service” is if the Fanshawe St bus lane out of the city begins at the bus stop in Customs St.
Essentially, it would mean a bus lane along the following section of road:
What Rudman highlights is the need to consider route service changes and infrastructure changes in an integrated way. If we’re going to put more buses along a certain section of road that gets congested, then we need to provide a bus lane to ensure the bus can operate quickly and (perhaps more importantly) reliably. With the “Outer Loop” bus having such a long route, and therefore so many opportunities for delay, targeting congested areas with infrastructure upgrades is going to be critical in whether that route works or not.
Fortunately, we finally have a transport agency in Auckland that is responsible for both bus routes and the implementation of infrastructure upgrades like bus lanes, additional traffic lights and other potentially necessary measures to make their bus system work. In the past there have often been stupid situations where ARTA wanted to improve the bus system in a certain area but the local council was unwilling to upgrade the infrastructure – and therefore nothing happened. This is the chance for Auckland Transport to show us whether they’re really an improvement on the ‘old days’ and whether all their talk about integration actually means anything.
With that background, I have started to form some suggestions on how I think the bus changes could be tweaked – both through infrastructure improvements and through amendments to the proposed routes – to provide an even better outcome. It is worth saying right at the start that I’m generally supportive of what is being proposed here, with a few big question marks:
- how will the outer loop stay reliable?
- will Auckland Transport be able to provide sufficient frequencies on some of the simplified routes at peak time (like the 020 and the 030)?
- will Auckland Transport be able to ‘integrate’ the service changes with necessary infrastructure upgrades?
If I start with a few suggested alterations to the proposed routes, in general these are fairly minor. I include the map below of what is being proposed: The first thing that comes to my mind is the question of why the 005 route continues all the way out to Pt Chevalier beach. My understanding of the 005′s point – now that it essentially duplicates part of the ‘outer loop’ – is that it adds capacity and reliability in this area during the peak times. This is potentially important, as some of the current 005 buses can get extremely busy with school children while I very much worry about the reliability of such a long, loopy, route. Personally, I think I’m likely to continue to catch the 005 unless the outer loop bus just happens to come along first. However, extending the route to Pt Chevalier Beach seems to achieve very little (most people would catch the 030 as the Great North Road bus lanes means it’s likely to be faster than the 005) but come at the cost of what the 005s entire purpose is: reliability and capacity for the Westmere to CBD corridor. So I’d probably keep the 005 as it is now.
The second matter, one that Cam Pitches raised in this comment, is the silly detour that 005 buses currently make down Jervois Road from West End Road before turning back on themselves. This silly detour doesn’t really bring the bus closer to many people at all, yet adds around 5 minutes to journey times. It is difficult to see whether this is retained – let’s hope not.
The third routing issue that I question is whether the Link Bus (not the outer loop, the current Link bus) should travel via Victoria Street rather than Wellesley Street. I understand that Wellesley is probably a bit more bus friendly and it means a simpler path up to the university, but I worry that it’s not quite central enough to the CBD. In my mind, the corner of Queen Street and Victoria Street is the real centre of Auckland’s CBD, and it just seems a bit strange to have the entire link route to the south of that centre. With the Link not travelling along Queen Street at all it may lose quite a lot of ‘visibility’ and therefore I think it’s necessary to ensure it runs right through the very heart of the CBD.
For now those are the main “route based” suggestions that I have in terms of how this could be further improved. I like many parts of the proposed routes, especially the simplified nature of the outer loop across the isthmus – always following main roads rather than the backstreet tiki-tour that the current 006 bus does.
In terms of frequencies on the 020 and 030, there was a comment identifying concern about the proposed frequencies not being enough to handle peak time passenger loadings. Well I am informed by Auckland Transport that while the map above says “every 20 minutes” for the 020, that only refers to ‘inter-peak’ and Saturday frequencies. Peak frequencies are likely to be a bus every 10-15 minutes. This is good to hear. I imagine/hope the same situation might be true for the 030 – essentially it should retain the same frequencies at the existing 045 bus (or better if resources are available).
The final two issues: integrating infrastructure upgrades and ensuring reliability of the “outer loop” service are intricately connected. Essentially, I think that unless we have some well-targeted and necessary infrastructure upgrades along the route of the outer loop, it will not be possible for such a long, looping route to be reliable. What Auckland Transport really should be doing is driving a few buses around the route during peak times, identifying where the delay points are and investigating measures to deal with those delay points. Already in this post I’ve pointed out (along with Brian Rudman) the massive delay point along Customs Street. I would suggest that bus lanes on both sides of Customs Street, between Beach Road to the east and Nelson Street to the west, is essential in providing reliability to this service.
The second area where I think infrastructure upgrades will be necessary is at the corner of Valley Road and Mt Eden Road – near the Mt Eden Village. Here buses travelling east will be expected to right-turn out of Valley Road and into Mt Eden Road, a very tricky proposition at the best of times and a source of major delay during peak times. The situation is shown in below (the red line indicating the route of the outer loop): I’m not sure what the impact of having two sets of traffic lights in Mt Eden Village so close to each other would be, but I worry unless these lights are put in place you will have enormous delays for buses trying to get out of Valley Road (or buses sitting behind cars trying to get out of Valley Road).
Probably the final thing I think is necessary is some improvement to the Albert Street bus lanes, which at the moment are very poorly patrolled and very stop-start. While I understand it’s a tricky street to have continuous bus lanes along, if we are going to put so many buses on this particular arterial it really does need to provide better priority and faster trips. Losing buses from Queen Street does have a negative impact – in terms of their loss of visibility and the requirement that more people “climb the hill” up to Albert Street. If buses along Albert can be fast enough, then I think the benefits will outweigh the costs. If Albert Street isn’t fast enough, then I’m not so sure.
I’m keen to keep hearing what other people think. I’m also keen to learn whether Auckland Transport really is the integrated transport agency it keeps saying it is – and can make infrastructure improvements to support public transport operation changes. This will be a good test of that organisation.
Feedback should be sent to Auckland Transport here.