Earlier this year I posted about “better buses”.
The main point of that post was to advocate for a greater focus on improving Auckland’s bus system. To support the case I discussed a couple of cities, namely Brisbane (population circa 2.0 million) and Edinburgh (population circa 600,000), where sustained investment in effective bus improvements have contributed to public transport outcomes that are far superior to what is currently achieved in Auckland.
As of last year, for example, the bus networks in both these cities carried more 110 million boardings p.a., which is almost twice the patronage generated in Auckland. Edinburgh’s performance is particularly enviable: Not only does their network generate close to 200 PT trips per capita p.a. (Auckland is about 50), but it also comes close to full cost recovery (NB: I believe the primary operating subsidy is in the form of payments for concessionary fares, e.g. child discounts, which is more of a social welfare payment).
My main hypothesis (which is not new; other people have articulated the same idea previously and since) is that if Auckland Council (AC) and Auckland Transport (AT) wish to grow patronage quickly, then the most effective option available to us is to transform our bus network from what it is today. Against this context, the fact that AT has not been able to implement any new bus lanes in 3 years goes to show how much distance there is between our day-to-day actions and our strategic objectives.
Please note that I am not arguing against investment in rail; I’m simply observing that buses present a number of opportunities to quickly grow PT patronage in Auckland, primarily due to their scale and responsiveness.
In that last post I mentioned four critical elements of better buses, specifically:
- Bus infrastructure, especially in the form of priority over general traffic in the city centre. Compared to Brisbane and Edinburgh, Auckland has minimal bus priority in the city centre.
- Wider stop spacing, whereby we reinvest shorter wait times (from higher frequencies) into longer walk times. The pay-off from fewer stops the buses will run faster. So the general message is that you have to walk further but spend less time waiting and on the bus itself.
- Managing cash payment, this is one area where Edinburgh does exceptionally well. No change is given onboard, and cash handling is automated. All the passenger does is throw their money in a box, where it is automatically counted, before the driver issues the ticket.
- Vehicle configurations, this is one area where our operators need a little help methinks. Put simply, Auckland’s bus fleet is not equipped to deal with high passenger volumes, especially in a tag on/off ticketing system. There’s simply no reason why new buses should not come equipped with double entry/exit doors and nor should we accept a narrow aisle in the front section of the bus.
In this post I wanted to now focus on a smaller subset of potential improvements to Auckland’s bus network, namely “better bus stations”. Such as the one shown below from Goteborg in Sweden, which I hope to visit in a few weeks time.
I believe that high quality bus stations are hugely beneficial for several reasons, namely:
- They enable a more efficient and connected network of services – better bus stations will enable AT to operate a connected network of services with less wasteful duplication caused by overlapping routes. This underlying network design logic underpins AT’s New Network and has resulted in plans for a number of new interchanges, such as Otahuhu . The operational efficiencies from connected networks are enormous, as evidenced by the massive expansion in frequent service delivered by way of the New Network.
- They directly benefit existing passengers – in addition to their operational efficiencies, better bus stations also convey a direct benefit to existing passengers. Better bus stations provide customers with a civilised level of comfort, convenience, and legibility. The civility of bus stations (and buses for that matter) is hugely important for fostering people’s willingness to use PT.
- They help challenge wider perceptions – There is no doubt that some people who don’t use buses perceive them to be some form of “peasant wagon”, at least compared to rail. Anyone who uses the Inner/Outer/City Links and/or B-line services knows this perception is incorrect: Quality, frequent bus services successfully attracts people from of all income levels. Nonetheless, the negative perception still exists and better bus stations are the most practical way to rectify this perception (noting that the perception exists among people who may never step foot inside a bus).
- They have positive land use impacts – Now we’re playing the long term game. Better bus stations deliver a level of amenity that attracts not only more passengers (i.e. pedestrians) but also complementary land uses. Here’s a review of the evidence that suggests buses have a positive impact on land values that is of a similar magnitude to LRT.
Thus far Auckland’s efforts to develop better bus stations have focused primarily on bus-rail interchanges, such as New Lynn, Panmure, and Otahuhu. New Lynn really is an exceptional example of what can be achieved, as shown below (photo credit; design credit to Darren Davis).
There are a couple of notable examples, however, of situations where better bus stations have been developed as stand-alone projects. The recently upgraded Otara interchange is one such example, as illustrated below.
Looking forward, plans for the proposed bus stations at Panmure, Manukau, and Pakuranga are also shaping up well (NB: In saying that I have some serious concerns about the operational performance of the former, which seems slow and difficult for buses to access and uses saw-tooth platforms that face the wrong way).
So the good news is that better bus stations seem to be on the way, even if not as many as we would like.
I’d be interested in people’s ideas on where other better bus stations may be required. Wynyard Quarter is one location that springs to my mind given the structure of the New Network, as does Mangere Town Centre.
To finish, while we do have a few good local examples of “better bus stations”, I thought it was also worth expanding our consciousness and considering some lovely examples from overseas. Adieu from Amsterdam, where the weather is, well, making Auckland look pretty good right now ;).
Springfield, Oregon, U.S.
King George Square, Brisbane, Australia
Nis Ericson Terminalen, Gothenburg, Sweden
Noosa Bus Station, Queensland, Australia
 Remember that PT’s operating costs exceed its operating revenues, i.e. it is “subsidised”. For this reason we should also be looking for opportunities to save operating costs where the change disadvantages relatively few passengers. This in turn frees up funds to be reinvested elsewhere in the network where it can generate more patronage.