Regular readers of this blog may recall that I’m no particular fan of the Outer Link bus. While I think the concept is really nice, and the regular off-peak frequencies also are a great step up from what most of Auckland gets, the service has a number of significant flaws that have actually put me right off from catching it in recent months.
I was thinking about what has put me off catching the Outer Link in a bit more detail the other day, and I realised that perhaps its biggest flaw is that we simply never know how long the trip is going to take. There are a few reasons for this:
- The lack of a timetable not only means that it’s difficult to plan when to turn up at the bus stop, but also we lose the other useful piece of information from a timetable: the likely arrival time. The MAXX website journey planner is worse than useless so this is quite a problem.
- Even if the Outer Link buses are scheduled to operate at 15 minute frequencies, almost more often than not this turns into having “two buses every half hour” as they follow each other around the circuit.
- Perhaps as an attempt to minimise the bus bunching (although it never seems to work) sometimes a bus will continually stop at all these hold points along the journey. Waiting on Meola Road for 5 minutes while a stream of cars zip past you is about the most demoralising feeling one can get as a bus user. It’s almost like NZ Bus and Auckland Transport are trying to tell us to get back in our cars.
- On other occasions, the bus will just zip along its whole route – completing the trip incredibly quickly. While this is nice, it’s also completely impossible to predict and therefore I’ve usually budgeted for the worst case scenario and find myself a whole heap early (which isn’t necessarily a problem, unless it means I could have slept in a bit longer).
I think that most of these problems arise from the Outer Link being a circuit/loop route. Most bus routes have recovery times at the ends of their journeys which means that if a bus does run a bit late it’s still able to start its next journey on time. Furthermore, if the bus runs on time or early, then the passengers don’t need to sit around going absolutely nowhere so the timetable can “catch up”. I think the other problem with the Outer Link is that along its route there are hardly any bus lanes and hardly any infrastructure improvements were undertaken when the route was introduced. So there are many points where you can get significant delays from tricky right-turns or where occasionally the traffic is incredibly slow (but not always), leading to significant reliability problems.
While there are things that probably could be done to the Outer Link in the short-term to improve how it works (bus lanes, new traffic signals, more services on to reduce the chance of giant timetable gaps, better management of frequencies and perhaps even a published timetable), ultimately I think that the route needs to go. The Inner Link really is about the maximum length for a “loop route”.
At the end of the day, I want to know how long my bus trip will take – door to door. And using the Outer Link is utterly hopeless in performing this task.