The weekend election results confirmed that money will be tight for public transport over the next three years. The proposed Government Policy Statement cuts PT infrastructure funding quite dramatically and while PT services (subsidies) funding increases, this will largely be eaten up by repayment for Auckland’s electric trains and the increased track access fee. With patronage continuing to grow, and therefore putting pressure on the need for more services in some areas, we are going to need to look really carefully at places where we can find efficiencies in the PT network.
The most obvious candidates are where our bus network currently duplicates the rail network. Somewhat unsurprisingly, given the historic ineptness of the rail network, our bus system pretty much ignores the fact that we now have trains. Even where buses go past train stations the timing of their services typically fails to align. More commonly we have situations like at Onehunga – where the bus station is hidden behind the shops (horrible public transport must be hidden!) rather than being next to the new train station.
There are a few obvious examples of rail/bus duplication – with the 135 bus service and the Western Rail line being a classic case: The red line shows the Western Line, the blue line indicates the route of the 135 bus between Swanson and Britomart. At peak times, while it takes the train around an hour to make this journey (and it should be a lot faster than that!), the 135 route takes a lot longer: I can’t imagine many passengers willingly choosing to take the bus for the whole length of their journey if they’re in the outer parts of the route – unless it’s because of something like a lack of integrated ticketing or the lack of a feeder bus to get them to the nearest station. Surely most routes serving the Ranui/Swanson/Sunnyvale area should be feeder buses into Henderson and/or New Lynn stations? Most of their trip length is to get between New Lynn and downtown, something a train can obviously do much quicker.
Another classic example of pointless duplication can be found for bus services between Papakura and the city centre. Consider the map below – with once again blue being the bus route and red being the railway line:Added to this, there are a number of express buses from Papakura that travel up the motorway at peak times – although even they struggle to do the Papakura-town trip quicker than the train, which has a similar length of journey to Swanson-Britomart at around 50 minutes.
Here are all the Papakura buses in the morning peak:The time it takes some of these buses to make their trips is simply extraordinary. The 473 bus leave Red Hill at the eye-wateringly early time of 6.10am but doesn’t make it into town until after 8.00. The 471 leaves Pahurehure at 6.45 and takes almost two hours to make it into town. Even the express buses are timed to do their trip at around an hour and a quarter – 25 minutes slower than the train.
Now obviously everyone catching these buses (assuming people catch them) isn’t travelling the whole length of the route – many might simply be travelling to Manukau City for work or between stops along Great South Road – but having these buses do such incredibly long routes means that the vehicle and driver are basically occupied for the entire peak period within a single trip. In the three hours or so it might take to do a return trip between Papakura and the city (and I’m guessing most of the express buses run back empty and not in service), you could run that same bus on a feeder route three or four times at least. The “80” route already serves this purpose throughout Papakura, although it runs at stupidly low frequencies – presumably to discourage people from using it: I’m sure that with the resources currently wasted on long-haul bus services out to Swanson and Papakura we could have a far more attractive feeder bus system and probably still have a heap of money left over to plough into areas where we actually need to boost frequencies to cope with increasing patronage. The people of Papakura and Swanson would end up with a better, more frequent and faster service. The rest of the city would save money and be able to reallocate those funds to where it’s most needed.
It’s a clear win-win for everyone except the bus operator – who is currently making a tonne of money for operating empty buses all over Auckland.