There’s something of an ongoing debate in public transport circles over whether improvements should be ‘service led’ or ‘infrastructure led’. What I mean by that is whether we focus on improving service levels to a level where infrastructure investment becomes justified, or whether we look at infrastructure investment as happening first, with service levels being adapted to fit in with that infrastructure.
A good example of the debate is looking at the proposed Pakuranga to Botany busway. It’s clear, as I have explained many times before, that southeast Auckland needs some significant PT investment because it’s the most car dependent part of the city – leading to massive congestion problems and incredibly slow bus journeys. It’s crazy that someone making a trip from Howick to the CBD takes longer than from Pukekohe.
Yet if you look at service levels, nothing would really tell you that this part of the city has a need for priority bus lanes, let alone a busway. Taking a point along Ti Rakau Drive quite near Edgewater Drive, we see the following current service levels:
- 680 – 20 min peak, 30 min off-peak, hourly after 8pm
- 681 – 20 min peak (offset by 10 min with 680), nothing else. Only northbound in AM peak, southbound in PM peak
- 561 – four peak services each way only (though southbound in AM peak, northbound in PM peak)
Compared to the huge number of services along a route like Dominion Road, a service-led approach to infrastructure investment would be unlikely to mean that we’d invest in an RTN quality busway along Ti Rakau Drive.You could say that in order to justify a busway along Ti Rakau Drive we need to first significantly boost bus frequency to grow patronage, but on the other hand perhaps the real problem here is that people are being put off catching the bus because it gets stuck in traffic and therefore ends up being so slow and unattractive to everyone who owns a car. So we end up in a bit of a “chicken and egg” situation, if we focus too much on service-led improvements in my opinion.
That said, I think the proposed AMETI busway potentially falls into the trap of focusing a bit too much on infrastructure led improvement, and (as yet) too little on the service side of the debate. Existing bus services in relation to the proposed busway (in its full proposed extent, from Panmure to Botany) are shown in the map below:From Panmure, the buses then take around 35-40 minutes to get into town (according to the timetable, this seems optimistic?)
With the busway in place, I think you’d want to significantly change the way buses operate in this part of Auckland, focusing much more on having routes feed into Botany from the south, southeast and northeast, before continuing along the busway to Panmure. I’d then probably turn those buses around and send them back the way they came – getting people to transfer onto the train or onto a b.line service to town along Ellerslie-Panmure highway and Great South Road. (Alternatively you could continue the southeast services to Ellerslie and have people transfer onto either southern line trains or Great South Road buses). The shorter trips would allow us to run much higher frequencies than we have now, really starting to take advantage of our significant investment in the AMETI busway.
Ultimately, I don’t necessarily think that either a sole focus on ‘service led improvement’ or ‘infrastructure led improvement’ is going to serve us ideally. We need to integrate the two of them. In the case of the AMETI busway proposal, I think the greater than normal focus on infrastructure improvement is probably justified – simply because the current situation is so bad for people in southeast Auckland, that you really do need a ‘game-changer’ to make their trips significantly faster. Nevertheless, if the busway is built without a comprehensive overhaul of how routes in that area are structured, then it’s likely to be an incredibly expensive failure. Particularly if we continue to run our buses from the southeast all the way into Britomart and back: forcing low frequencies and very slow trips.
Of course, another matter that will need a lot of thought when it comes to the AMETI busway is how our land-use plans integrate with it. At the moment I don’t see its path as being particularly PT friendly (it travels through low-density residential and horrifically road-centric commercial development). With some clever thinking, it could become a pretty useful high-density corridor of development, but without that land-use integration once again the busway appears likely to under-deliver.