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What Next

By almost any measure, Aucklands public transport system leaves a lot to be desired. Among other things it is often seen as slow, expensive, difficult to use and pretty unreliable but thankfully things are starting to improve and that is already starting to show through in our patronage stats. Over about the last 10 years we have finally started to reinvest back into PT and while the results have been ok so far, I feel that it is the changes over the next 3 to 4 years that will have a far greater impact on the PT landscape than what has happened so far. The reason for this is that we will be finishing of a number of projects that address some of the fundamental issues with our system. Each project on its own is really good but it is the fact that they will all be happening at about the same time that will make the change so dramatic. These fundamental projects are:

Electrification:

This will change our rail network perhaps more than anything else that has happened so far. For the first time probably ever, we will have brand new, purpose built trains that will of course be electric and that will be running on a substantially upgraded network. The trains will faster, quieter, more reliable and have significantly more capacity. I suspect that they will be so popular that part of the problem will making it easy to get to them and that leads to …..

Redesigned bus network

The entire PT network is being rethought at the moment with the intention of getting better use out the same resources we have now. Perhaps the most visible part of this will be a redesigned bus network that will see a decent number of high frequency routes that run at frequencies of at least every 15 minutes for most of the day on every day of the week. These routes will be supported by other routes to form a network across the urban area and will among other things, be much better at feeding passengers to the rail network. Overall transfers are meant to be much more common and so we need to make them as easy as possible, one of the key ways to do that is …..

Integrated Ticketing and Fares

The ticketing systems on public transport in Auckland seem to have been around since the stone age, on trains we still have up to four staff members walking through the train collecting cash and clipping tickets while the buses have not been much better. We should hopefully be able to get this Snapper debacle sorted out within this time frame and and with the new PT network we should also a new fare structure that makes transfers easy. Of course this will significantly change things for operators, especially how they get paid their money which leads to …..

PTOM

The Public Transport Operating Model is a new way of contracting out services, in short Auckland Transport will contract one or more routes that are grouped together into a unit that have a fully developed unit. Operators can register a unit as a commercial service where they take any profits only if they run every single service set out in the timetable and they will not receive a subsidy for it. If they don’t want to run it as commercial they will enter into a contract with AT that will include certain performance criteria but also a revenue sharing agreement to act among other things as an incentive to provide good service and increase patronage. What this should do is bring much more control to the current mess which has saw subsidies increase faster than patronage over the last decade with it only coming back a little bit in recent years. PTOM contracts will be rolled out in conjunction with the new bus network and should lead to us getting better efficiency which means less subsidies have to be spent to get a better level of service.

As I said, these projects are really fixing some of the fundamental issues that we have within out PT network right now and combined should lead to some pretty spectacular growth in PT usage. One question I have is, what are the next group of things that we need to be thinking about to take our PT system to the next level? There are obviously some big projects in this list which includes things like the CRL but there are probably a huge number of smaller things like rolling out more bus lanes, improvements to walking/cycling access in general but also combined with better access to busway/train stations and bus stops. So what do you think are the next batch of projects we should focus on from a PT perspective?

Either way the next three years are going to be huge for us in Auckland with so many improvements and changes about to take place, I just wish I had my time machine to see it now.

15 comments to What Next

  • Josh

    I would like to see a lot more bus lanes in the very near future on major roads. How they could do this troubles me as many of Auckland’s roads are either not wide enough to accommodate bus lanes or there is simply no more space to widen them. It is absolutely essential that we improve bus travel times which will make taking the bus a much more attractive option as a form of transport than the comfort of a private car that takes the same amount of time as a bus trip during peak traffic. I think this is also particularly important with the redesigned bus network, which, from my understanding will involve more transfers. There is no point in taking a bus if I am stuck on Bus #1 in traffic, get off at a transfer stop, wait for 10 minutes, then I’m on Bus #2 stuck in traffic again when a car could get me to my destination a lot faster (and without waiting in these damn Auckland bus shelters that don’t shelter you from anything!).

    • I would have to disagree with your comment that Auckland’s roads are either not wide enough to accommodate bus lanes Josh. Auckland’s main roads are usually at a minimum one chain in width (about 20m), with other up to 30m wide or more. Given that a bus lane is about 3.5 to 4m wide we could accommodate four or six of them on any road in Auckland.

      …but ok, I’m being facetious. Obviously what you are suggesting is that Auckland’s roads aren’t big enough to add bus lanes while maintaining the existing number of traffic lanes and roadside parking at the same time. That is a fair comment and it leads to a simple question we have to ask more often. What is the better use of the roadspace on our arterials: a traffic lane that could carry 2,000 people an hour, a place to store empty cars, or a bus lane that could move 8,000 people an hour?

      • Matt Clouds

        I’ll point you to one seriously problematic road: Main Highway northwest of Kalmia Street. The on-street parking is in recessed bays and there’s only a single traffic lane in each direction. Bus priority measures on this stretch are desperately needed, especially through the GSR/Campbell Rd/Main Highway intersections, but to do this will require quite extensive re-roading. This also applies south-east, but the bridge is a challenge.

        Fairly recently we were driving home down GSR in the evening peak, immediately behind an H&E bus outbound towards Howick. As it turned down Main Highway I saw the queue and we continued down to Kalmia, turned up there and came back up Main Highway from the south. In the time it took us to do that, the bus was only just passing Walpole St. That’s diabolical, and shouldn’t be possible on a main bus route, but it is and there’s no easy way to address it with the road’s current configuration.

        • That’s an interesting one Matt, for some reason that section of road has 6m wide footpaths either side (with indented parking bays), but I can’t see any reason for such huge pedestrain provision except for the school nearby, but even then. It could be as simple as making that a 3.5m bus lane and a 2.5m footpath.

          They’ll have to do something like that for AMETI,there are going to be plenty of buses coming off it and the EP highway headed to Great South Rd.

          • Matt Clouds

            Oh, there’s absolutely space within the corridor between opposite properties, but actually creating a bus lane in the corridor will be pretty expensive. It’s not just a matter of changing road markings. And it needs to happen, as demonstrated, but making it happen is an entirely different story.

          • Luckily most roads in Auckland aren’t like that, and creating bus lanes usually involves little more than repainting the road markings. I do wonder if it will happen as part of AMETI though.

            I hope that over time it will be easier to get these sorts of things done, and bus travel goes from strength to strength.

      • Josh

        I am not saying it is impossible for bus lanes to be added. I want it to happen, but it is up to the ‘experts’ to figure out how to do it, taking into account all the good points you’ve made!

  • Stu Donovan

    I would suggest that further improvements in Auckland’s public transport system will be most easily achieved from improvements to pedestrian/cycle infrastructure and general urban/street environments.

    In my experience, Auckland is a particularly unfriendly city to walk/cycle and this directly affects people’s willingness to use active modes, which in turn detracts from their willingness to use PT.

    Sometimes the best way to get more people onto PT is to make it easier/more pleasant to get to the stop. Examples of potential improvements:
    - Ped friendly modifications to phasing at traffic signals (traffic engineers in Auckland are diabolical IMO).
    - Better connections, as per new ped link at Sunnynook Busway Station
    - Improved street lighting around stops

    I think improving the permanence and quality of stops would also greatly improve the legibility of the system. One of the reason people like trams, IMO, is because the stops are so much more visible than most bus stops. By making the latter a more visible/important part of our urban areas we can reinforce/remind people of the importance of PT.

  • Malcolm M

    A 60 second traffic light cycle time was implemented in the Melbourne CBD, much against the wishes of the traffic engineers. It’s great for pedestrians, buses and trams, but reduces vehicle throughput (the only thing that motivates traffic engineers). If there is a “green wave” in the traffic lights, and a tram or bus stops to pick up passengers, it misses the wave and is in the next cycle. A typical tram or bus stop might take 30-60 seconds to load passengers, so it’s only a 0-30 second wait at the traffic lights for the next green wave. However with a 2-minute cycle time preferred by traffic engineers, the tram or bus waits at the lights 30-180 seconds for each passenger loading stop.

    How could the Council get this through the opposition of their own traffic engineers ? They would need to outsource advice from overseas traffic engineers with a track record of delivering better outcomes from buses and pedestrians. The “think tram” project in Melbourne has led to really good tram priority in some places, so there should be some experienced people from this project.

  • The Trickster

    On less positive news, looks like Transmission Gully is go.

  • Draco T Bastard

    These routes will be supported by other routes to form a network across the urban area and will among other things, be much better at feeding passengers to the rail network.

    I hope so. I should not be able to catch a bus from Glen Eden all the way to Britomart when there’s a perfectly good train going the same way at the same time.

    PTOM contracts will be rolled out in conjunction with the new bus network and should lead to us getting better efficiency which means less subsidies have to be spent to get a better level of service.

    Would get even better efficiency if they dropped the private contractors.

    One question I have is, what are the next group of things that we need to be thinking about to take our PT system to the next level?

    Digging up the centre two lanes of some motorways and running light rail down them. The North-Western out to Whenuapai would be a good example.

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