If there is any part of Auckland that should appreciate what investing in bus priority infrastructure can achieve, it is the North Shore. Over the past few years investment in the Northern Busway, and efforts to improve bus and transit lanes in other parts of the North Shore, have resulted in some pretty impressive results. You can see this in the graph below: Not only has the number of bus users across the Harbour Bridge improved significantly during this time, but we have actually seen a decline in the number of cars crossing the bridge: freeing up space so everyone’s trip is faster and more reliable. Even more recent figures show a continuation, and acceleration, of this trend: So almost 12,000 out of the 29,000 people crossing the bridge in the morning peak are now travelling by bus. That’s 40.7% of all people for those not so great at maths – up from 2004 figures which show roughly 5,000 out of 27,000 (18.5%) of people coming across the bridge at peak times being on the bus. As someone who drives across the harbour bridge at peak times once or twice a week, I have absolutely noticed a decline in congestion on the Northern Motorway (particularly north of Onewa Road) over the past few years – something that seems directly attributable to the busway. Clearly the busway has been a huge success with the public, I imagine both for people who catch the bus and also for those who now enjoy a less congested Northern Motorway.
The busway isn’t the only bus success story on the North Shore though. The Onewa Road T3 lane has been a massive success over the years and now carries the vast majority of people travelling down this congested corridor: Even though bus priority measures on the North Shore, such as the Northern Busway and the Onewa Road T3 lane, have been so successful, for some bizarre reason they continue to come under attack from local politicians. At today’s Auckland Council Transport Committee meeting we saw bus priority on the North Shore come under wide ranging attack.
First, from the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board, whose chair Chris Darby argued for a resolution the board made back in February:
Then we saw a slightly less dramatic, but all-the-same undermining of bus priority from Lindsay Waugh, Chair of the Kaipatiki Local Board, who argued in favour of one of their earlier resolutions: Councillor George Wood spent a good chunk of the discussion on the agenda item moaning about the lack of progress allowing cars on the whole of the busway (something that, to his credit, Chris Darby reiterated the local board was not pushing for). Then just to put icing on the cake, Orakei Local Board member Ken Baguley made a plea to see Remuera Road’s bus lanes turned into T2 lanes, even though the study sitting before him clearly indicated that bus lanes was the most efficient solution for this road.
While in some respect the constant undermining of bus priority measures is to be expected from certain local politicians, I think what annoys me most is that many of these very same politicians will put themselves forward as huge public transport advocates. Councillor Wood was dismayed back in November last year at missing out on becoming chair of the Transport Committee, because he saw himself as such a strong advocate for improving public transport:
Mr Wood said that in the three years he had been out of office, he had taken a real interest in public transport.
“What I have seen in particular areas, especially in the southern suburbs isn’t a pretty sight,” he said.
He believed his institutional knowledge built up as Mayor of North Shore for nine years should be used to look at how public transport was organised and funded.
“My highest priority is to find out where the $143.5 million ratepayer and road-user subsidy to public transport for this year is spent.”…
…His emphasis on improving existing public transport is different to that of Mr Brown, who has made a central city rail loop, rail to the airport and rail to the North Shore his top transport priorities.
As another member of the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board, Jan O’Connor, said – if Auckland Council is actually serious about trying to improve the city’s public transport system it needs to stop with this constant undermining of the bus priority measures we have in place. While the City Rail Link, which has pretty much the entire council’s support (except for Councillor Wood, oddly enough), is clearly a priority the little things that can be done to improve Auckland’s bus system, like keeping cars out of the busway and keeping bus lanes as bus lanes, are arguably of equal importance in their cumulative effect.
What I would actually like to see is some local politicians starting to propose where we should have additional bus priority measures. Like asking NZTA to fix the stupid new Fanshawe Street onramp, which forces buses to merge awkwardly with general traffic instead of giving them a clear run through to the Harbour Bridge.
(Oh and don’t even get me started on Jonathan Coleman).