While searching for some images for a previous post, I happened to come across this cartoon from February 2008.I doubt there are many today who would still suggest that the busway is a white elephant but the description of it as one back in 2008 doesn’t surprise me considering other major public transport infrastructure – like Britomart – also get similar labels but often turns out to be an outstanding successes.
With the hindsight knowledge that the busway has been extremely successful I wanted to see what caused the cartoon to be created and it was in response to this article in which herald staff compared a car trip to a bus trip on the first day of operation on a route that hardly even used the busway.
Auckland bus commuters soundly beaten to work by a Herald car on the Northern Busway’s first big morning can at least congratulate themselves on doing the right thing by the planet.
The car’s coverage of 15.8km from Campbells Bay in 37 minutes compared with a tortuous 52-minute trip suffered by a colleague in a crowded bus that turned up 10 minutes late.
This did not show the busway in a good light, even though only 2km of the bus route coincided with the new $300 million transit spine.
The 6.2km two-lane highway reserved just for buses fared somewhat better for a hybrid trip by a third Herald journalist, who used its full length while covering a more indirect route of 18.6km in 41 minutes.
That included a 4.7km leg by car to the Constellation Drive bus station, from where he caught a bus that did 13.9km in just 24 minutes down the uncluttered busway and across the harbour bridge.
Now I’m pretty sure the driver from Campbells Bay would have been none other than John Roughan who has long bemoaned public transport even as recently as May this year suggesting that intensifying the city around public transport nodes is swimming against the tide because everyone wants to live on a beach-front property and drive everywhere. Back in 2007 before the busway opened he also suggested that the Northern Busway was unlikely to work but in the end was only good because it was a road and that meant it could be changed to allow cars to use it too (because if there’s one thing he hates more than PT it’s rail based PT).
Interestingly in many of the articles and editorials I found the busway was often referred to as a bit of an experiment, perhaps the writers had little faith in the general public’s desire for real choice. While it is often mentioned how successful the busway has been, sometimes it’s hard to understand just how well it is performing.
While searching I also found this parliamentary question from the month the busway opened which helps give an indication of that success.
1239 (2008). Dr Jonathan Coleman to the Minister of Transport (27 Feb 2008): What is the predicted volume of passengers on the North Shore Busway each year for the next five years?
Hon Annette King (Minister of Transport) replied: Land Transport New Zealand advises me that the Auckland Passenger Transport Model is based on a forecast 2016 patronage growth horizon. North Shore Busway passenger numbers are expected to grow by an average of 9.89% per annum. Predicted passenger volumes for the next five years are therefore as follows: 07/08 = 832,000 08/09 = 914,280 09/10 = 1,004,708 10/11 = 1,104,073 11/12 = 1,213,266
When we put compare those figures to the ones from Auckland Transport the difference is striking – and even more so when you realise that the AT numbers are only for the Northern Express which is estimated to account for less than 50% of all patronage along the busway.
And as a graph.
While the Northern Motorway is still busy, where the busway has had a massive impact has been in making bus trips much faster and more attractive. As a result more people are heading from the North Shore to the CBD in the morning peak by bus than by car - the number is 41% when comparing the percentage of all trips across the bridge during the peak.
The one thing the busway is not is a white elephant, instead it’s a fantastic success and one we should try to replicate in other parts of the city. It does make me wonder if the Northcote Point residents ever regret opposing having a busway station in their suburb? Although with the way some of them act over the suggestion of even just a cycleway across the harbour I suspect the opposition would still be loud.