I was going to put much of this in a comment on Matt’s post of a few days ago asking how people get to work, but I think it raises issues that will be of general interesting to quite a few readers, so I’m making a post out of it. I catch the bus to work, from Pt Chevalier to the university – which means that my logical route is that of the Outer Link: it’s not too far away from offering me a ‘door-to-door’ service, at regular frequencies, across a vast span of service. About as good as I could ask for right? Well, in theory yes. But in practice unfortunately the Outer Link doesn’t seem to work as well as it should. Let’s run through the issues briefly:
- It’s painfully slow. Especially outside the peak hours (when you’d think it would be faster) the trip can take almost an hour from door to door, which really drives you nuts and has pushed me back onto other Great North Road buses in recent times (even though they leave me with a much longer walk)
- Related to the above, but it’s incredibly annoying that the buses keep stopping to “keep to their timetable” over and over and over again. I’ve been on a bus that took stopped along Meola Road to catch up to its timetable, then stopped in Westmere, then stopped in Ponsonby, then stopped at Queen Street for an age. There’s nothing more frustrating than sitting on a bus going nowhere when there’s really no reason for it to go nowhere. (I know this helps avoid bunching, but there surely must be better ways of doing this than having your bus stand still for half its trip continually needing to wait for the timetable to catch up to it.)
- The service span in the evening is actually fairly poor, with the last bus leaving the city to Pt Chev at 11pm. This is at least half an hour earlier than most other “last buses”, without any particularly logical reason for such an early finish.
So those are the issues with my regular trip. I think most of the issue is with the regular stopping to catch up to its timetable – as this along with a lack of bus lanes along key parts of the route (going up College Hill towards the Ponsonby Rd intersection, going along Jervois Road between Ponsonby Rd & Curran Street) contributes to the slowness.
The other ways in which I think the Outer Link needs further refinement is on the section I don’t use as frequently: between Pt Chev and Newmarket along the ‘southern leg’. I’ve done this a few times (although not all the way) and once again it is a pretty painfully slow trip – largely due to those annoying stops, but also due to the bizarre route the bus takes. In particular, the section of the route highlighted in orange below is just plain daft: A route that’s meant to be going ‘east-west’ is pretty dumb if it spends most of its time traveling north, then south and then north again (or the reverse). The Mt Eden Road section is particularly counter-intuitive as if you want to head towards Newmarket and Parnell you actually need to be catching a bus heading in the complete opposite direction away from them. All this slow running must also add a huge amount on to the operating costs of the route – particularly pointlessly as the Balmoral Road section just duplicates the 007 route.
There seem to be two possible ways of fixing this issue – the first is pretty simple and from memory is what was originally meant to happen: a simple ‘cut through’ by the College of Education. This is shown below and makes pretty good sense: The bus spends much more of its time going east-west and much less of its time going north-south, which means more efficient operation, a more logical route and, most importantly, much faster travel times for passengers. We could take this one step further though: We make a few tradeoffs here. We serve Kingsland instead of Balmoral and we put the bus along Sandringham Road instead of Dominion Road. It also travels along Walters Road instead of Balmoral Road. Advantages are servicing Eden Park, a connection to rail at Kingsland (so potentially a useful rail feeder service from the Walters Rd/Valley Rd area) and less duplication of the 007 route along Balmoral Road. There’s also a fairly logical east-west route all the way from Kingsland to Manukau Road that the service would take.
Don’t get me wrong, the Outer Link route is definitely a step in the right direction and it seems like its model of a bus every 15 minutes, any time, is catching on. But that’s not to say it’s perfect as I think the route could and should be improved further in a number of ways – as suggested by this post.