Auckland Transport’s board papers highlight that the high level principles of the new bus network will be consulted upon in the Regional Public Transpor Plan: which will be open for public submission in the next month or two. The huge number of comments on Matt’s previous post about the network highlights that this will be a very interesting process.
Having recently completed the excellent book, Human Transit, which is basically the bible for PT network design, I can see a lot of the principles of that book coming through in the new network (not surprising as the author, Jarrett Walker, was involved in its formulation). Things like “frequency is freedom”, “embracing connections” and the importance of a “grid” are quite obvious when you look at the crowning glory of the new network – its huge extension of the “frequent network”, services operating no worse than once every 15 minutes, seven days a week. Through some careful analysis of the existing route system, we will be able to (approximately, these maps are from April and may have been updated since then) go from the frequent network on the left to the one on the right for no extra money.
Of course everything comes at a cost though, and it seems there will be a number of things the new network won’t do – in order to reallocate bus resources to creating this extremely extensive network of high frequency routes. It seems that long bus routes which parallel the train lines will be turned into rail feeder services: stripping out pointless duplication that only exists because our rail system used to be truly rubbish. Furthermore, from staring closely at some of the maps produced, some of the lower frequency buses won’t continue to run all the way into the city and back – but rather they will feed passengers into the frequent network or the rapid transit network before returning to do the same thing again. It seems pretty dumb, off-peak in particular, that we have a whole heap of mostly empty buses chugging along some of the arterials in Auckland just because they eventually split off to serving different areas.
Implementing this new network will inevitably have its challenges for Auckland Transport. Very little of the existing network looks like it will be completely untouched by the changes. People might find that the 5.13pm Flyer bus that they’ve caught from the city out to somewhere in South Auckland for years, which operates just once a day, no longer runs and they need to catch the train or a different bus route before transferring to their local service. Some of the changes will require infrastructure improvements that, for one reason or another, lag behind implementation of the route changes. The devil will most certainly be in the detail – and this is where an extended public consultation process (which seems to already have commenced, according to the board reports) will add a lot of value.
In some places it might be necessary to apply a little bit of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” logic – but this can probably only go so far before it results in a lot of resources being used unnecessarily. There’s a great little section in Human Transit about a bus route somewhere in North America that basically turns down a rural cul-se-sac for a few hundred metres before doing a “u-turn” and heading back to the main road. When the relevant transit planner is asked about the detour, they respond something along the lines of “oh, Mrs Smith lives down there and kept going on about having a bus”. That was many years ago and they didn’t know if Mrs Smith (or whatever her name was) still lived there. Yet the extra kilometres were travelled, all the other passengers were inconvenienced, a lot of money was spent.
In short, I just hope that the rollout of the network and any compromises that end up being made do not lose sight of the big picture. As shown in the schematic below, we have the opportunity for an absolutely revolutionary improvement to that often neglected, yet still utterly dominant, part of our public transport system – the buses:
This new network also says a couple of absolutely vital things:
- Public transport is not just for those travelling to the city centre
- Public transport is not just for those travelling at peak times
For so long Auckland’s bus system has been tremendously close to useless for all trips except those to the city centre and at peak times. At the moment you can’t even catch a bus from Onehunga to the Airport, your buses to Te Atatu Peninsula struggle to come hourly outside peak times, a bus trip from Mangere to the Otara markets would probably take a couple of hours, including waiting for low frequency services. With the new network all these places and all these trips finally get properly ‘connected’ by Auckland’s PT network. Heck, at 4pm on a Sunday there’ll be a bus from Manukau to Botany or Manukau to the Airport or Mangere to Sylvia Park or Mangere to St Lukes with a transfer – all running once every 15 minutes at worst.
I hugely look forward to seeing this network implemented. I look forward to seeing the diagram above on every bus stop and train station in Auckland so people can see what an interconnected public transport network they can now enjoy. I look forward to people having the confidence to try public transport for trips they’d only ever considered driving before (Howick to Cornwall Park on a summery Sunday afternoon? Frequent services all the way, just change buses at Ellerslie!) If that comes at the cost of removing some duplicative routes, making a few trips transfer where they currently do not (though even this looks like it’s counterbalanced by increasing through-running, like that Orange Line linking Jervois Road services with Remuera Road services), then it’s still so completely and utterly worth it.
Bring it on, I say!