One of the main differences between the calculated benefits of the Ministry of Transport’s review of the City Rail Link project and the revised analysis undertaken by Auckland Council and Auckland Transport of the project depends on the extent to which many of the current “long-haul” bus services are turned into rail feeder buses. There’s a clear logic behind this: the more bus routes you curtail into feeding the rail system the more rail passengers you generate and therefore the greater pressure you put on the rail system (hence the greater need for the rail tunnel). This is not rocket science, or a unique proposition: around 70% of riders on the Toronto Subway arrive at their station on the bus.
However, historically we have been utterly pathetic at co-ordinating buses with trains: not only in terms of ticketing (which is finally being sorted out) but also in terms of timing, the physical ease of transfering between the two and so forth. This has led to multiple stupid situations where we’re subsidising buses and trains to complete basically the same journey – the public purse paying for parallel routes. Incredibly stupid, incredibly inefficient. Furthermore, by making it nigh on impossible to transfer, we actually leave many in the outer suburbs with stupidly long bus trips to take.
Let’s take a comparison of peak time train and bus trips between four obvious transfer points around Auckland – New Lynn, Panmure, Onehunga and Manukau City (well, Manukau from February next year when the station opens): You can see for many of these trips the train is enormously faster than the bus – taking less than half the time in the case of an Onehunga to Britomart trip (no wonder the Onehunga Line’s so popular!) Now while we will obviously need to continue to run buses between downtown and these various points – to pick people up in between and deliver them to intermediary locations, it seems utterly crazy that (for example) we run buses from Howick to town, which pass right by Panmure station. Surely if every bus from east of the Tamaki River terminated at either Panmure or Ellerslie, with their passengers transfering onto the train we would be able to vastly improve frequencies of buses using the same resources (shorter trips means more trips per hour), while at the same time giving people a much faster trip to where they’re going. It just seems so obvious. Cut every bus serving the Mangere area at Onehunga so people transfer onto the train there for the much faster ride. The shorter bus trips mean that the same resources can go into much higher frequency feeder services, so people don’t have to wait as long for the bus. Do the same with all buses west of New Lynn – and possibly for buses west of Henderson you could have a further transfer point. Some of the more recent changes to Green Bay buses incorporated elements of this – although until we have integrated ticketing there will probably be a relatively limited market for it: You can do the same south of Manukau (as well as having either Otahuhu or Westfield being a further transfer station for areas around the Southern Line north of Manukau). Through this process not only do we end up with a far more efficient transport system, much faster trips for passengers, but the booming rail patronage will make it more and more obvious to Central Government how essential the City Rail Link project is. It’s a win-win all around.
But what’s the bet Auckland Transport’s too scared and disorganised to actually implement any of this?