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The New Bus Network: a step change for Auckland

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!

31 comments to The New Bus Network: a step change for Auckland

  • David O

    The thing that I can’t get straight about this is how the timing will work relative to integrated fares. The fares MUST come before the network. Because make no mistake: a transfer-based network will fail if it arrives before integrated fares.

    Even in well-served areas (I live in the New North Road ‘catchment’) if the new cost of getting into the CBD involves a transfer, accompanying nuisance and delay, AND extra cost because there is no provision for free (not 50c off) transfers (instead of one fare whether bus or train and no transfers) then a lot of users of PT will be mightily annoyed and even if they stay on board, that count as a fail.

    • Peter M

      It is easy to overplay the need for transfers and I may have done that a bit. For example it looks like there is still a frequent along New North Rd.

    • The new bus network won’t start rolling out till the middle of next year and won’t be rolled out completely until 2016 as some of it relies on the introduction of EMUs to give enough capacity to the rail network. From what I have seen it appears that integrated fares are being slated to come in some time in 2013/2014.

    • Peter M

      I think we all agree that integrated fares are vital for the new network to be a success.

      • Not just vital for it to be a success, they’re vital to not turn people away from the new network in droves. If we start removing routes that people have been using for years (some of the Redhill-CBD buses, for example) in favour of a transfer-required network design but it costs them more to use the mandatory transfer there will be nasty (and entirely justified) letters-to-the-editor, complaints to Brewer and Quax, and desertion of a system that will be seen as uncaring, overly-expensive (which it already is!), and not fulfilling the needs of its users.

        Make no mistake, if long-distance routes are pulled before there are integrated fares to remove the transfer penalty it will be a huge mistake with massive fallout. AT needs to be cognisant of just how fragile things are right now, especially if we see bus strikes in the near future. People already grumble about buses that never run on time (yes, yes, I know that the operators say they’re totally punctual) and the inexorable increase in fares for no improvement in quality, and the Western Line is running out of goodwill for the endless broken promises of 10-minute frequencies. Imposing mandatory transfers that increase the monetary cost (never mind the time cost) of a journey has not a single upside.

        • Stu Donovan

          Matt you simply can’t draw that conclusion from the information we currently have.

          The map above is marked as the “Frequent network”; that suggests to me that there’s likely to be coverage and peak only layers that sit below this network. These layers may in turn provide the direct services you are talking about – but they just do not qualify as part of the “frequent” network.

          I can also see several places where the all-day network removes the need for passengers to connect, e.g. the cross-town and through routed services. That means these services actually remove transfers from the current network.

          So yes integrated fares is important, but not having them would not necessarily mean that the network was a catastrophe. Indeed, the frequency/legibility benefits may well overcome the negative impacts of some people having to pay to transfer.

          Anyway, this is all hypothetical pissing into the wind stuff at the moment, so I’d suggest everyone calm down a little bit until the full story unfolds – as I’m sure it will in the next few weeks/months/years.

          • Actually, Stu, I think I can draw that conclusion. The plan explicitly talks about ditching bus routes that duplicate the rail corridor, and that precisely covers the buses that run Redhill-CBD. Dropping that route would be an easy win for freeing up resources, too, because it’s so freaking long, and turning it into a circuit that covers between Papakura train station and the back of Redhill would probably release at least two buses (more likely four or five) to be redeployed to other services. Keeping them as even an hourly service is still tying up three buses (the journey is over an hour one-way) on a route that largely duplicates the rail corridor, which is unquestionably contrary to this plan’s letter and spirit. Those services will not be continued as this plan is written, which means mandatory transfers for people who currently have an option to travel right to the CBD.

            And that’s just a single service that I can think of right off the top of my head. There will be quite a few others.

        • SPT

          I agree that this is going to be tricky to sell as a “win” to some (many?) commuters. My other half for example refuses to use the NEX because it would cost more in $ as well as time ( yes I know about the northern pass. For people only using the NEX one way, it is marginally economic. Plus it is a long wait at the bus station if you miss the half-hourly “feeder” bus )
          Personally I love the idea of a more flexible and frequent bus service but can see that if commuters do the maths and find they are paying more for a slower (with waiting/ reboarding time) and even less comfortable service, they are unlikely to be able to appreciate the “improvements”. I really hope AT thinks hard about making the customer experience an excellent one and that they succeed. Past experience does not seem to bode well though.

  • David O

    Of course… the new network plan is a great idea – absolutely vital for progress on public transport in Auckland – but all change is hard, and confusion and negative outcomes on fares will make it harder. But just wanted to make clear that I am enthusiastic about the network, just less than impressed with the current confused introduction of the rail (but not bus?) HOP cards, and can foresee mayhem if these far-reaching changes are mishandled in a similar way.

  • Chris Randal

    ” because our rail system used to be truly rubbish.”

    It still is and will continue to be so until the EMUs arrive and/or Veolia is replaced.

    • bbc

      It’s gone from completely rubbish to on the road to improvement, trains run more frequently, later and outside of peak you no longer have to wait an hour for the next train.

      The network looks fantastic, I wish they could roll it all out next week! I think any hostility to the changes has to be tempered with the fact that whilst some existing users may not like it, it’ll allow many more people who currently can’t use the bus to actually start leaving the car at home.

    • Well the EMUs will make a huge difference, but the running pattern may still be old school and the management needs to lift its game as you say. But really its the CRL that will be the revolution in AK.

      Oh and how it’s misunderstood.

  • I think it is hard to overstate how difficult it is going to be for AT to handle these three revolutions simultaneously, and as David points out they have to be done together. Added to that is the growing pressure on the whole system from greater demand and a very tight financial context; increased farebox recovery policies, lower capex funds from NZTA, and government reaching back into the PT till and taking money out [while claiming to be boosting funding] with track access charges, loan repayments etc.

    Yes in an ideal world integrated ticketing and fares would precede the bus and train revolutions and this would have been the case if that process had not been so delayed by the interventions of Snapper with the support of various ministers. That can’t be help but at least now it does seem to be moving froward. And the EMUs are if anything arriving earlier than planned.

    But the main point is that there will be delays, inconsistencies, clumsy stuff, and outrages so i think we will have to judge our role as keenly interested parties with some care… yes we should keep up our pressure for all parties, local, national, private companies, individuals to lift the quality of PT and therefore the city but we need to also keep the big picture in mind as everything is going to be shaken up…. exciting times; with lots of frustration along the way no doubt.

  • Stu Donovan

    Note that if you read Jarrett’s book you get a slightly more nuanced perspective on connections than simply “embracing” them.

    That is, PT planner should “embrace connections” because they allow you to 1) deliver a simple, legible network and 2) avoid redundancy that can be reinvested in higher frequency. So it’s not “connections” per se that are being embraced, but more the benefits of a simple, legible, and frequent network. And frequency itself actually makes connections easier – so there’s a sort of feedback loop between delivering this type of network and reducing the hassle associated with connections. To lay it out clearly: embracing connections –> simpler and higher frequency network –> connections less of a hassle.

    But that does not mean introducing connections into short trips where they can be avoided. Hence the focus on through routes (pendulum lines), cross-towns etc. In the network above, you see this tension at play around Mt Albert, where the orange and green lines run in parrallel down Carrington Rd. Here it seems that some redundancy in the Auckland network has been accepted in order to a) avoid the need to connect and b) provide additional frequency between Pt Chevalier and Mt Albert.

    There’s other places in the network where this occurs from what I can tell …

    • Yeah there’s some crazy-good new one seat rides in there:
      Westgate, through the city to GI
      Four different one seaters form New Lynn to the city, including the train
      Mt Albert to Pakuranga
      Howick and Botany still go all the way to the city without having to transfer at Panmure, though of course you can….
      Constellation to Hendo
      etc

  • David O

    Oh yeah, couldn’t ignore this: ‘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”’

    Anyone else perplexed as I am by the Outer Loop’s little detour down the away-from-town stretch of Jervois Road where it meets West End Road? It catches me by surprise every time: http://www.aktnz.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/bus-routes.jpg

    I’m a fan of quirky in general, but this is bad-quirky and sidling up to plain weird. I’ve never seen anyone get on or off at that stop. I’d be all for it if the buses did dougnuts instead of u-turns, of course.

  • Martin

    Does anybody know if buses are planned for the Western Ring Route? The nearest parallel I can see is on Mt Albert Road, although several of the radial routes cross the new motorway too.

    • Stu Donovan

      Interesting question Martin.

      From what I can see the frequent services does not use the WRR – but there may well be other peak services that do so. If not then I’d suggest you make that comment when it comes out for consultation. Was there a particular route that you had in mind?

      I see this as being a grand way of testing the viability of the Avondale-Southdown rail line, but providing a high quality bus service along the same alignment.

  • KLK

    Stu: “I see this as being a grand way of testing the viability of the Avondale-Southdown rail line, but providing a high quality bus service along the same alignment.”

    What’s the attraction of the Avondale-Southdown line? Freight?

    Its mentioned all the time in lists of “wants” for the rail network, but I’m not familiar with the area.

  • Icebird

    I think there’s a blog post on the Avondale-Southdown line somewhere in the archives. The attraction appears to be not so much that its a crucial route by itself, but the fact that a protected right of way already exists for most of the route – so it would be less troublesome to build than some other rail projects.

  • Despite the limitations of branch lines i see the cheaper flat bit of of this route that connects to the Western Line, and already has the bridges built over it etc, as a useful way of adding balance to the rail network and serving the top end of the Dom rd catchment, Hillsborough etc post CRL. And Ice is right, because of an historic designation space has been made for it. Certainly prefer this to ‘interchange stations’ on the Western. Stations at Richardson rd, Dominion Rd, and Hillsborough Rd… there is even land owned and ready to go for these. Only one road crossing to sort: New North west of the Pak ‘n’ Save as well as charging gleefully through its at grade carpark.

    I see this as politically possible once the CRL has made train use so useful and wildly popular [I's tellin' ya they goin' be bayin' for lines all over town!]. Only fly in this ointment is that by then people will have got used to a park along the route next to and above the vast Waterview Mass Private Transport facility.

    Additionally were sense to break out about transport links to Northland and the NAL upgraded and the designated link to Marsden Pt wharf built then there could be an argument for building the full line from Onehunga to the Western line… but that’s a bunch of ifs that certainly require a new government among other things….

  • Exaucklanderinsydney

    When making such monumental changes such as these, it’s going to be IMPOSSIBLE to please everyone and meet every single person’s needs. There WILL be some people who will be disadvantaged by these changes let’s not kidd ourselves, but it’s important to look at these kinda things on the whole in that it will serve in the advantages of ‘most’, which I sincerely believe it will. It’s a very positive step for Auckland.
    One minor thing I have been wondering tho is, will they be changing the current route numbering pattern for these high frequency services so people can tell them apart, or keep the same numbering pattern as at present? A good idea IMO would be to have all these routes starting with a letter, ie F (for frequent) or B (to keep with the bline thing), but the letter isn’t too important. So for example, the Manukau to Onehunga via Airport might be route F20 and Henderson to Constellation might be F38 etc etc. Keep the current numbering pattern for the less frequent routes, with the area 3 digit numbers they currently have (obviously the numbers themselves might change), ie a local Onehunga route would still be 3xx.

  • exaucklanderinsydney

    Also these high frequency buses should have a completely different livery to all other buses, but unifrom in design for all them no matter where in Auckland they are. For example, in Sydney all metro buses are Red and have the route numbering Mxx (although the metro bus network is nowhere near as good as Auckland’s looks).

  • swan

    I still think having Bhead and Takapuna (as 2 of the 3 largest centres on the North Shore) completely disconnected is a major omission. Also 15 min frequency is really not enough for “throw away the timetable” networks. I would have thought 10-12 min max.

  • Get the feeling that the Shore is a work in progress, bus company patch wars probably, but also the 15 mins thing is a max period; busy routes and times will def be more frequent than this. And I agree 10 minutes is more like it but to be really good 5/6 mins is the thing. The CRL will provide that, both the capacity and the demand to justify it.

  • George Lane

    Ah, I see your blog does not accept html embedding…

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