Follow us on Twitter

Quick progress on Fanshawe Street bus lane proposal

In early February the blog set out to once again highlight Auckland Transport’s lack of progress on implementing any bus lanes, and highest priority we thought was fixing the Fanshawe Street westbound, which consisted of a few isolated and dysfunctional sections, but mostly had nothing at all. We proposed a quick, easy fix solution, just consisting of reallocating some general traffic lanes, so the 70% of people in buses would get a faster road home.

This post gained the attraction of several councillors, and was followed up by the Campaign for Better Transport. This resulted in the proposal gaining the attention of  Auckland Transport Board chair Lester Levy, who asked for further investigation, which found the idea was feasible. This was announced in early March, and then they said the timing would be about three months.

However this afternoon Auckland Transport have sent out a new press release, showing that detailed design has been completed, and the design sounds very similar to what we proposed.

Bus commuters heading home along Fanshawe Street are to get a new predominantly kerbside bus lane.

The shore bound bus lane will start from Albert St and connect to the existing bus lane beside Victoria Park to keep buses moving to the northern motorway through this key traffic corridor.

Auckland Transport public transport group manager Mark Lambert says Auckland Transport has weighed up options for implementing a bus lane and believes that a kerbside lane after Hobson Street is the optimal solution. Between Albert and Hobson Streets the bus lane will be in the second lane from the kerb to allow for the heavy volume of traffic that turns left to access the southern and western motorway entrances.

“Further along the route, there is a significant traffic movement left into Halsey St which requires additional queuing space to operate effectively,” says Mr Lambert.

Seventy per cent of the people who travel on Fanshawe St at peak are in a bus and there’s a bus about every 40 seconds.

Mr Lambert says Auckland Transport has given priority to installing a new interim bus lane for shore bound commuters while longer term plans continue to extend the Northern Busway to and from the city centre.

 

P1050701

Multiple buses stuck behind a few cars will soon be a thing of the past here

What is really exciting is that a follow up email to their communications people revealed that the bus lane would be implemented between Easter and Anzac weekend, less than 2 weeks away! This is only just over 2 months since our blog post, and only one month since they agreed it was a feasible option. This is a very exciting development, as many of our frustrations with Auckland Transport relate to the speed at which they are able to implement their plans, and they do have plenty of decent plans around public transport improvements. Lets hope this is a sign of change within the organisation, and ensures they keep moving on implementing quick win projects, notably bus lanes, but also opportunities around walking and cycling infrastructure as well.

 

No more buses in the City Centre? Is light rail an answer?

An idea that crops up quite often is whether we can get rid of all the buses in the city centre. This idea is normally backed up with the suggestion that buses are dirty, smelly, noise loathesome things that have no place in a civilised city.

Now right up front I don’t agree with that suggestion. Modern buses are actually pretty clean and quiet, especially new hybrid and battery electric models. If we design our bus routes and infrastructure properly they can be very low impact and contribute nicely to the urban environment, but where we treat them like poor cousins or try and “paint the bus routes on afterwards” they can be horrendous.

But let’s ignore that reality for now and run with the premise: what would it take to get rid of buses from the city centre. I can see four general options:

  1. Stop all buses at the edge of town and make everyone walk in. I think this is a non starter, Auckland Central is just too big for this to work. Some people would be happy to walk a kilometre or two to get where they are going, but most want to get a lot closer than that. This idea also kills off any chance of connecting between buses to get across town.
  2. Stop all buses at the edge of town and transfer everyone to a light rail shuttle, tram loop or monorail circulator, etc. This I think is also a non starter. It overcomes the walk issue above but simply trades it for the inconvenience of a forced transfer on every trip. That’s not just unnecessarily inconvenient, it also requires some pretty massive terminus infrastructure to turn around hundreds of buses an hour at various points on the city fringe and get everyone over to some sort of shuttle thing. It also makes transfers across town awkward, although not impossible.
  3. Feed all buses into rail or busway tunnels and only have underground train/bus stations in the city. This is feasible, but would be very expensive. Given the current and projected bus patronage we would require two or three city rail links, or bus equivalents, to move the numbers. It also means you lose the easy street level access for more local trips, and would need to divert lots of local isthmus buses quite out of the way to link to connecting stations or bus tunnel portals. So without building something comprehensive, and expensive, like an underground metro network it’s hard to see how this could work, and indeed all the cities with the busiest metros still have masses of buses and trams running at street level.
  4. Convert all city bus routes to light rail, and only have light rail trams on city streets. This is the question I want to explore today, is it feasible to reinstall the Auckland isthmus tram system and only have light rail vehicles running on city streets?

Having only light rail on the streets is an appealing idea, people seem very fond of trams and the idea of an extensive tram network has little push back from architects and urban designers who are concerned with the look, feel and experience of the city. It’s hard to argue that trams aren’t nice to ride on, or that they don’t look cool. If done properly it would mean dedicated lanes for every transit route reaching the city, nice station style stops and permanent and legible ‘proper transit’ for a proper big city.

Light rail on street would have a few unique advantages too. One is that the corridors can be quite narrow given that the vehicles are stuck to their rails. The trams they use in Adelaide and Madrid, for example, are only 2.4m wide. This means a double tramway can fit in only 5m of road width, between stops at least. That could be very useful for our fairly narrow arterial roads, streets like Dominion Rd or Mt Eden Rd which are only 20m wide in total and where even basic bus lanes are difficult. Putting narrow trams in the middle might buy us enough space for cycle lanes, or a row of parking.

Skinny but capacious tram from Madrid.

So if we put aside the fact you can actually do much the same with buses, if you give them the same level of investment and attention, why wouldn’t we want this?

Well the simple answer is that it would cost a lot of money, money that might be better spent improving frequencies and adding new services rather than changing the existing ones from rubber tyres to steel wheels. So the question is how much would it actually cost, so let’s see. To work out this cost, I have taken the bus network published in the Regional Public Transport Plan and identified all of the routes that end in or pass through the city centre. I then grouped those together into bunches that run on the same corridor in town, giving six groups:

  1. Quay St: Tamaki Dr to Jervois Rd/Pt Chevalier, plus the Inner Link loop
  2. Symonds St: routes from Remuera Rd, Great South Rd and Manukau Rd
  3. Queen St: Mt Eden Rd, Dominion Rd, Sandringham Rd, New North Rd
  4. Albert St: Great North Rd, and Richmond Rd
  5. The Northwestern Motorway
  6. The Northern Busway

 

Indicative light rail corridors and groupings.

Indicative light rail corridors and groupings.

One thing to note here, I tried to be conservative with the track and make stuff as small as possible. To that end I’ve not replace some of the smaller bus routes that enter the city at all, I guess the idea is they would terminate at somewhere like Newmarket, Ponsonby or Parnell and people would have to swap to the trams.  This might not be the best way to run things for the network, but it seems to be a simple way to do it.

Adding these corridors up, we arrive at the following figures for the total track required (the total route length is longer because the routes share tracks near the City Centre).

Estimated cost of converting all routes reaching the Auckland City Centre to light rail.

Estimated cost of converting all routes reaching the Auckland City Centre to light rail.

For the city routes I’ve applied a cost of $12m per kilometre for track, power and roadway reconstruction. That’s a mid range estimate taken from review of recent light rail projects in Australia. I’ve also allowed for one pair of platform style stops for every 500m of track, costed at $500k each. On the Northern and Northwestern routes I’ve allowed for the addition of tracks to busway and motorway shoulders, and in the case of the Northwestern, some new stations at $10m each. This does assume that we can simply run light rail tracks on the busway, motorway shoulders and over the general lanes of the harbour bridge, probably in mixed traffic. Again that might not be the best way to do it, but it’s the cheapest. In addition, we’d need a maintenance depot and some stabling yards, total of $100m allowed there.

Finally, I worked out what would be required for a peak frequency of one tram every five minutes on each street level route (giving better frequency where they overlap), while I allowed for one every three minutes on the Northern and Northwestern corridors. Overall that requires 94 light rail vehicles, each costed at $5m.

All together that adds up to 152 route-kilometres operating on 119.7 kilometres of double track electrified tramway, with 119 stations served by 94 vehicles running every five minutes at peak times. That would leave Auckland in a sort of Melbourne like position. Heavy rail for the main trunk routes from most of the region, light rail filling in some other radial corridors, the inner suburbs covered in street level tram lines and buses relegated to feeder and crosstown routes well away from the City Centre.

So, what is the magic number to get rid of buses by building a light rail network covering all routes entering the City Centre? Add it all up and we get an estimate of $2.36 billion dollars (I actually think that is a bit light, not for the street level stuff but I fear the Northern and Northwestern motorway based ones could in practice get very expensive indeed).

The question is, is it worth it? Could we do better with that money?

Well at a service level it’s really no better than what we will have with the New Network buses, at least in terms of frequency and accessibility. Spending that money would buy us a lot of reliability, assuming that the tram tracks would be closed to traffic for the most part and the trams could run without interference at any time of day. However we could do the same with an aggressive programme of bus lanes for a lot cheaper. Likewise with the new station style stops, the corresponding street upgrades, the modern cool looking and comfortable vehicles. We’d get all that, but the question remains could we not do the same with our bus stops and save a whole lot of money in the process. Another point is this would deliver a multi-billion dollar transit boost to the isthmus and the North Shore… which are, excluding the CBD and parts of Glen Innes, precisely those areas that see the least allowance for development in the Unitary Plan.

I’d love it if some minister turned up with two and half billion for such a project, and I do believe Auckland would be an amazing place if this were done. But is it really something to aim for, or can we do better with our money?

Curiously the cost of an isthmus tram network is about the same as the CRL, so should we do that instead? I’m not sure if that’s a good idea, the CRL would need to come first, or at least at the same time, before we look at anything like this. I can see two reasons for that stance.
Firstly a light rail system wouldn’t actually add that much capacity, because it is simply replacing the buses we already have. There would probably be some boost to speed, capacity and reliability, but not that much if it is a case of just changing vehicles and guideway on the same corridors. By most estimates the CRL gives us the ability to run about 48 trains an hour in total, or an extra 28 over current capacity. Twenty-eight full size EMUs is equivalent to about eighty-four light rail trams an hour, or 420 buses!… and that’s new capacity.
The second point is that the CRL really supercharges the regional rail network, which focuses on the suburbs outside the isthmus more than anything. As noted above it’s the rail served suburbs of the west and south that really have the potential to grow under the unitary plan, not the isthmus, so we should build the transport they need first.

Let us know what you think, I hope to see lots of juicy debate on this one!

Why bus lanes are so important

This morning we received the excellent news from Lester Levy that within the next three months, for the first time in Auckland Transports history it will have created a new bus lane. The purpose of this post is a bit of a reminder as to why investing in bus lanes is so critical for us to do as a city. 

This issue has been one we have focused on for some time and when there is such a huge focus on improving public transport, increasing patronage and investing in alternatives to driving everywhere – the complete lack of progress on bus lanes is utterly bizarre. The other part of the reason why we focus so much on bus lanes is that they’re just so fantastic. With the use of just a bit of green paint and a few signs, a fast, reliable, high quality and attractive public transport route can be created. In many situations this can vastly increase the capacity of the roading corridor as people take up a whole lot less room when on a bus than they do one person to a car. There are many different versions of this image around but it is a good way of highlighting the efficiency that buses provide.

car-bus-bike

Locally we can see just how much of an impact buses have on roads into the CBD from the annual screenline studies that take place. Take a look at how many more people travel along Karangahape Road, Symonds Street and Fanshawe Street by bus than do by car:

Given that all three streets mentioned above are pretty packed out for cars at peak times, if it wasn’t for the buses carrying so many people each street would need to have twice the number of lanes it currently has. This has also been seen on the Harbour Bridge where the number of people crossing at peak times has continued to rise while the number of vehicles hasn’t, in large part due to the improvements in bus infrastructure on the North Shore making buses more attractive. Before the Northern Busway only 18% of those crossing the bridge in the peak did so on a bus, now that number is up over 40%. The image below is a bit old now but highlights the trend that has been occurring and that has continued to occur.

bus-trips

But maximising capacity is not the only reason why we should consider putting in bus lanes. Even where less than 50% of people moving along a corridor are on the bus, there’s still a big benefit of bus lanes providing a fast, reliable congestion free travel option. We haven’t shown all streets that should have bus lanes on the congestion free network maps, but in a way we should – because as long as the bus lanes are continuous (often they aren’t), have sufficient hours of operation (which often they don’t) and are supported by traffic signal phasing tuned to maximise public transport efficiency (something that happens overseas but generally not here), bus lanes can often provide a really good level of service for low-to-medium demand routes.

No congestion in this lane!

Furthermore, bus lanes should help improve operational efficiency of the bus network. The longer a bus takes to get from A to B, the more buses that are needed on that route to keep frequencies at the same level. During peak hours not only are more buses often required because of increased demand, but as buses get stuck in congestion and take much longer to complete their routes, even more buses are needed on the network to limit the gaps between services. And a whole pile of buses used only at peak times means a very expensive system to run. By taking the buses out of the congestion, not only will the service attract many more people (and their fares), fewer buses will be required to maintain the desired frequencies because the buses will be travelling so much faster.

So why aren’t we seeing more bus lanes? Of course the real beauty of bus lanes is also their greatest challenge: because they don’t need to require building more road space, they do involve taking that space away from other uses. Usually either peak hour private vehicle capacity (if there’s a clearway or other parking restriction) or on-street parking. Both of these uses are notoriously difficult to reallocate to bus lanes – even when there’s an utterly compelling argument. Over the past few years – while we haven’t been building any bus lanes – there certainly have been numerous arguments over the ones we have. This has led to things like a farcical number of signs around Grafton Bridge and the winding back of the Remuera Road bus lanes to T3 lanes.

In summary, we know that often there are compelling arguments for bus lanes based on logic – whether that’s maximising the capacity of the road corridor, significantly improving the quality of public transport along a route or improving operational efficiency. Or all three. However, we also know that implementing bus lanes can be tough due to petty politics and intense local debates over things like on-street parking. This situation reminds me of quite a bit of discussion in the past couple of weeks around the Council’s upcoming review of the Council-Controlled Organisations – of which Auckland Transport is the largest. Quite a lot of the arguments in favour of CCOs is that they’re able to operate a ‘step away’ from day-to-day politicking that can hold back progress. That they’re able to make the right decisions based on the greater good, rather than be held back by the vocal few. This is something that Lester touched on in his letter this morning.

One of the most salient messages that I took from Jarrett’s work is that bold initiatives, require courage and commitment (and perseverance) to ensure the benefits are in fact delivered. I was very interested in Jarrett’s point of view that what is in the greater public interest is not going to be in everyone’s interest. I happen to agree with Jarett and it is very important for Auckland Transport now and into the future not to jump and react to every issue raised, but rather to clearly define its direction and priorities, hold true to them and then focus on excellent and rapid implementation.

Progressing bus lanes is a great way for Auckland Transport to prove its worth.

A note from Lester Levy

Lester Levy has asked me to publish this note from him in full.

Hello Matt

I want to take this opportunity to thank the Transport Blog, Generation Zero and Cycle Action Auckland for taking up my invitation to present the Congestion Free Network concept to our recent Auckland Transport Board meeting. The Congestion Free Network is a thoughtful and constructive concept and I thought it important that the Auckland Transport Board and Senior Executives had the opportunity to engage with your group directly, on this concept. The presentation was very clear and perfectly articulated by Patrick Reynolds.

It will be interesting for Auckland Transport to now examine the Congestion Free Network in more detail with you, but without a doubt this is a concept that helps create an environment of both more contestable ideas and generative thinking.

I believe that Auckland Transport needs to be more open to examining ideas from outside the organisation, a good example is the suggestion from Luke Christensen regarding bus lanes on Fanshawe Street, westbound from Albert Street to Nelson Street and on to Halsey Street. As many of your readers may know, there is currently a more comprehensive piece of work being undertaken to develop a potential busway from Beaumont Street, along Fanshawe Street to the downtown area, with a bus station on Fanshawe Street – but this solution is certainly some time away from delivery, so any interim and pragmatic relief is very sensible.

I asked Auckland Transport management to examine Luke’s suggestion (which was supported by the advocacy of Cameron Pitches from The Campaign for Better Transport) and management have concluded that it is possible to provide bus lanes over this section suggested, and that these could remain in place until an ultimate solution is provided. The City Centre Integration Group will coordinate this work with Auckland Transport and look to put it in place as soon as practicable. As always, there is a process around designating bus lanes, but I understand this can happen reasonably quickly.

Auckland Transport management had themselves been progressing a number of opportunities in respect of pragmatic interim solutions, but Luke’s suggestion was not on that early programme. I am very pleased with management’s response in that they quickly reviewed their programme and concluded that there would be value in doing the Fanshawe Street westbound bus lane improvements as soon as practicable. Once the planning regulatory processes have been resolved it is possible that we could have a solution in place within three months.

I have also noted that there is a subsequent transport blog item proposing more bus lanes on the Symonds Street corridor. Interestingly our team have been considering this already and there are some fairly significant infrastructure issues to overcome before we implement the solution there, but we are programming work to achieve this.

Increasingly we need to have pragmatic, interim solutions in place whilst we work towards the more time consuming, ideal and more complete solutions – this response is an exemplar of this type of approach. Thanks to Luke and Cameron and Auckland Transport’s management – an excellent virtual team.

You may recall that late last year I invited Jarett Walker (“Human Transit – How Clearer Thinking About Public Transit Can Enrich our Communities And our Lives”) to make a presentation to the Auckland Transport Board. Like the proponents of the Congestion Free Network, Jarett is a clear thinker and an articulate advocate for public transport. I was pleased with his positive view of what we are doing, in particular with the roll-out of the new, high frequency bus network (starting in South Auckland).

One of the most salient messages that I took from Jarrett’s work is that bold initiatives, require courage and commitment (and perseverance) to ensure the benefits are in fact delivered. I was very interested in Jarrett’s point of view that what is in the greater public interest is not going to be in everyones interest. I happen to agree with Jarett and it is very important for Auckland Transport now and into the future not to jump and react to every issue raised, but rather to clearly define its direction and priorities, hold true to them and then focus on excellent and rapid implementation.

Finally, I take this opportunity to thank and acknowledge the Transport Blog and all its contributors for adding – mostly constructively – to the vitality of discussion around how we are taking transport in Auckland forward.

Kind regards

Lester

Dr Lester Levy
Chairman
Auckland Transport

 

 

Our presentation is here.

More bus lanes required – Newton

A few weeks ago I asked readers where in Auckland was in urgent need of more bus lanes.My first post regarding quick wins on Fanshawe Street has been quite successful so far, with several Councillors asking questions of the Auckland Transport chair. This resulted in Auckland Transport finally acknowledging that they were aiming to build a proper busway along here in the next few years, as well as a promise to see if the quick win idea was feasible.

Another area that came up regularly in the comments section of the first article was the area around Upper Symonds Street and Newton. This is especially topical this week with university starting back this week. I heard from several people that there were big delays here on Monday morning, and total jams here are not uncommon.

This area has very high bus volumes, with several of the highest frequency bus routes in Auckland converging at this spot. Looking up the timetables between 7am and 9am I found the bus volumes were as follows-

BUS ROUTE 2 hour volume
Dominion Road 45
Mount Eden Road 36
New North Road 30
Sandringham Road 40
Manukau Road (joins at Khyber Pass) 23
Gillies Ave (joins at Khyber Pass) 8

This gives a total of 182 buses in the 2 hour morning peak, or one about every 40 seconds. The 2013 screenline survey (undertaken last March) showed that buses carried 6734 people into the city along this corridor between 7am and 9am. In comparison the latest vehicle count data for the area (from 2006) only found 984 cars in the busiest morning peak hour. While we can only guess at car occupancy rates (often estimated at 1.5), buses will certainly be carrying at least 2/3 of the people along this corridor. This is a strong case for continuous bus lanes along here.

So here is the map of the current bus lanes in Symonds St from Karangahape Road south to the intersection with Mount Eden and New North Roads.

Newton Existing Bus Lanes

current bus lanes along Upper Symonds Street

Bizzarely there are no northbound buslanes at all, while the southbound lanes stop at Khyber Pass, despite 83% of buses continuing to the New North/Mt Eden intersection.

However there is a very easy fix for most of this corridor. This area is lined with Clearways (seen in dark blue). These are parking during off-peak times, but general traffic lanes from 7am to 9am, and 4pm to 6pm. These could very simply be converted to bus lanes following the same time periods. Considering the statistics above this would result in a better outcome for most users of this corridor. These Clearways also continue down New North Road almost to the Dominion Road flyover so these should become bus lanes too.

Newton Clearways

The only issue comes near Alex Evans Street where the it narrows to 2 lanes, and there is a left turn into Alex Evans. This could either be a joint left turn/bus lane or the left turn into Alex Evans could be removed as there are plenty of other easy routes for left turning traffic.

 Symonds Alex Evans

At the intersection with Karangahape Road, general traffic gets 2 northbound lanes, despite them merging straight away into 1, while buses get a tiny advance stop box, which gets blocked by left turning traffic. So the easy solution is to make one of the straight through lanes into a bus lane, which matches what happens straight after the lights anyway. This can extend back to Alex Evans St, with a gap to let cars cross over into the ridiculously long left turn lane.

Symonds K Road

Again these are just short term fixes. In the longer term a more complicated solution will need to be devised, potentially a centreline busway with full stations. This could fit in with a major regeneration of the area in tandem with the Newton City Rail Link station (located directly opposite where Mt Eden Road ends). However it will be complicated to design an appropriate solution that matches the needs of increasing numbers of buses, much increased volumes of pedestrians and the need for separated cycleways.

More bus lanes – Fanshawe Street

Last week I asked our readers what roads in Auckland would benefit from new or improved buslanes. One that came up a few times was Fanshawe Street, and as I walk along here everyday I see many buses being held up in general traffic where there are no bus lanes.

P1050703

Note the 5 buses in this picture, each carrying more all the cars visible. However only 1 bus will probably get through on this green.

Fanshawe Street is one of the busiest bus corridors in the CBD, carrying all of the buses to and from the North Shore. A 2011 Auckland Transport study found that buses carry an impressive 78% of people in the AM peak and 72% of people in the PM peak. This surely suggests that it should have a full length buslanes on both sides of the road, however there are only a smattering, with the big issue being buses heading out of the city. However amazingly the 2011 Auckland Transport study hasn’t led to any improvements in nearly 2.5 years. Eastbound there are buslanes from Beaumont Street to Market Place, and along Sturdee St as far as Hobson St. However westbound is really lacking with lanes only from Halsey to Beaumont St, and a pathetic little bypass leading up to Halsey St where buses can use the clogged left hand turn lane.

Existing bus lanes

Existing bus lanes along Fanshawe Street

P1050699

Lack of provision of bus lanes results in big delays

So I thought I should have a look at how easy it would be to get a quick win with improved painted lanes along here, and the answer came to very easy. Starting from Albert Street, the first section is probably the trickiest. Because the first intersection is with Hobson St, the way one street south, there is not much point adding bus lanes along the southern most lane. However the next lane is a joint straight and left turn lane, usually used by traffic heading straight. So this is the obvious lane to be converted to be a bus lane. For the 3 lane section at the start some lane rearrangement is required, however again this is just paint.

Fanshawe bus lane 1

The next section between Hobson and Nelson is a real no brainer, as is probably the scene of the worst congestion, with buses bunching at the bus stop just before Nelson Street. Very easy to add a painted bus lane to the southern most lane. With no left turning traffic the bus lane will work really well here, as buses do not have to merge with left turning traffic, as usually happens at intersections.

Fanshawe buslane 2

 The next section from Nelson to Halsey Street is notionally supposed to be shared between buses and left turning traffic. Though only tiny signs indicate this. In reality traffic waiting to turn left into Halsey Street backs up, and stops buses getting to the token lane by the traffic lights. When the section does flow freely, quickly is clogged by queue jumpers. So the solution should be to make this a full bus lane, with right turning traffic only able to access the lane in the usual final 50 metres.

All these could be achieved in a few months at very low cost (paint and signage only) but deliver major benefits to to the thousands of people who travel by bus down this corridor every day. So why not Auckland Transport?

More bus lanes required

 

more bus lanes soon

Yeah right! Note the Auckland City Council logo

We have regularly been critical of Auckland Transport’s failure to implement any new bus lanes since their inception. The creation of Auckland Transport should have been an excellent opportunity for creation of new bus lanes, with the coordination of bus services and roads put in the hands of one body, instead of being divided between Regional and City councils. However the lack of integration between transport modes has sadly been a defining feature of Auckland Transport. While Auckland Transport has been great at moving forward large scale projects like the City Rail Link and EMU’s, small scale projects that can deliver quick benefits seem to have become caught up in a bureaucracy where engineers interested in moving vehicles not people have the final say.

As to the reason why we should implement bus lanes, the best people to ask are clearly Auckland Transport. On the page of their website that talk about fines for people who illegally drive in bus lanes there is this very persuasive piece.

AT Why bus lanes

While the Congestion Free Network provides for a large network of busways throughout the region an expanded bus lane network is essential to provide short term benefits, and will always provide a long term solution along many urban corridors. To be fair there are some good projects in the pipeline, such as the South-Eastern busway from Panmure to Pakuranga and the Dominion Road upgrade. However once again these are large scale and quite expensive road rebuilding projects. However across the city we could get huge benefits just from paint and an occasional kerb realignment.

So to help Auckland Transport along we thought it would be great if people suggest little areas where cheap and easy bus lanes could make a noticeable difference to their journey. Many of the existing lanes seem to have short gaps that delay buses unnecessarily, and of course many major frequent routes have no priority whatsoever. We have a few ideas up our sleeve but will let readers have a say first, and then can have a more detailed looks at some of the best areas for improvement.

Thousands pay Voluntary Bus Lane Tax

About 3-4 years ago a herald staff member was caught driving in a bus lane kicking off a campaign enforcement of them. Now at least every year the Herald publishes a story looking at how many have been fined and that appeared in the herald yesterday.

Motorists have paid $5.3 million in fines over three years for driving illegally in Auckland’s bus and car-pooling lanes – and owe a lot more.

Auckland Transport has issued more than 62,000 tickets for abuse of lanes reserved for high-occupancy vehicles since becoming a council body in November 2010.

But it has waived about 16,000 of those for technical or legal reasons, or in acknowledgment of special circumstances such as medical emergencies, and collected $150 fines from more than 35,000 vehicle owners or drivers.

That leaves about 11,000 fines outstanding, and in the hands of debt-collectors.

As the post title says, this is a voluntary tax. Bus lanes and transit lanes are marked and if you’re driving in a bus lane then you should expect a fine. I do find it interesting though that the herald are now aggregating the figures over three years, perhaps the number of tickets issued in 2013 was lower than in the past and it wouldn’t have made as good a story. That thought is reinforced by the comments about bus lane infringment on the North Shore.

The number of tickets issued on North Shore roads jumped more than sixfold from 131 in July to 826 in August. It almost doubled again to 1598 in October, before falling to 970 in November.

Auckland Transport says that followed warnings to motorists in suburban newspaper advertising in early August that it was about to resume enforcement in lanes after improving what it found to have been deficient signs inherited from the former North Shore City Council.

The previous surge in tickets has alarmed Auckland Council member George Wood, even though he was a strong advocate of transit lanes while serving as a North Shore mayor.

Mr Wood, who chairs the council’s regional strategy and policy committee, suspected Auckland Transport might be picking on North Shore motorists “to make sure they can make up their budget requirements”.

“This smacks of a revenue-gathering performance,” he said of the North Shore blitz.

I remember seeing people on social media complaining that there wasn’t any enforcement being done and that lots of people were abusing the transit lanes. So it seems AT did the right thing, fixed signage and started enforcing the lanes again based on the article went above and beyond by advertising that they would be doing it. Enforcing bus/transit lanes is exactly what I would expect them to be doing as without enforcement they quickly become a joke and abused by many who see it as a way to leapfrog the other drivers who are obeying the rules. That the number of tickets issued went down again in November suggests that perhaps the message started getting through.

Far from accusing Auckland Transport of revenue gathering he should be praising them collecting the money from people who clearly are donating extra money to the city thereby helping keep rates low.

The article also points out that Grafton Bridge no longer seems to be a hot point for tickets with the number issued dropping although we don’t know if part of that was due to less enforcement as a staff focused on the North Shore.

Clearer signs declaring Grafton Bridge off-limits to general traffic on week days have led to a marked reduction in tickets issued for lane breaches in the CBD.

In November, 192 tickets were issued, against 1443 given 12 months earlier, according to figures given to the Herald by Auckland Transport.

My understanding is that AT spent millions on the new signs to stop people driving over Grafton Bridge when they shouldn’t be, probably more than they collected in fines. Some images of what the electronic signs look like are below. The first one (blue sign) is on the approach to the bridge while the second one is at the intersection itself.

Grafton Bridge Bus Signs

That 192 tickets were still issued despite this level of signage shows that some people will continue to ignore the road rules or need to be paying a lot more attention when they’re driving. As I say, it’s a voluntary tax and there’s an easy way to avoid it.

Bus access to SH16 to improve

We have been fairly critical of the NZTA for choosing to close the bus lanes along SH16, slowing buses considerably which not only makes the bus services less attractive but results in increased operational costs due to needing to run more buses to maintain the same level of service. However it wasn’t just the motorway bus lanes that have closed as the Bus/Truck/T2 lane at the Gt North Rd on-ramp had also been closed meaning that buses have had to struggle just to get on the motorway.

Well the NZTA have announced that they will be doing something about it the interchange at least. Here is the press release.

The NZ Transport Agency is opening a new westbound priority lane to improve access for Aucklanders from the Great North Road intersection with the Northwestern Motorway (State Highway 16) this Sunday, 20 October.

The dedicated lane at the intersection can be used only by buses, trucks and T2 vehicles which carry two or more people. The lane will join the new bus, truck and T2 lane on the westbound on-ramp to improve access to the motorway.

The Transport Agency’s State Highway Manager, Tommy Parker, says it is the latest initiative the Transport Agency and its Auckland Transport partner are implementing to help keep people moving as work accelerates to complete the Western Ring Route.

“It is one of a number that have already been introduced or are planned to keep disruption to a minimum, and they will all be monitored to ensure that they are effective. This Sunday’s initiative will benefit people who carpool, or who rely on public transport. It is expected that the priority lane will return bus travel times through this section to what they were before our Western Ring Route construction work began,” Mr Parker says.

The Transport Agency say introduction of the priority lane this Sunday is weather dependent.

“All going well we will have it operational in time. This change is being made amongst some comprehensive construction work and it will take some time for people to get used to the new driving layout. For everyone’s safety, we ask them to drive with care and to be patient.,” says Mr Parker.

Completing the Western Ring Route is one of the Government’s roads of national significance to provide better city and regional transport options. There are five separate projects underway or planned to join the Northwestern and Southwestern Motorways.

The Transport Agency says that the projects will cause disruption and it advises people to use its www.nzta.govt.nz/stayconnected web site to stay informed about changes so that they can better plan their journeys.

My understanding is that the Bus/Truck/T2 lane that going in a case of the agency re-marking one of the lanes on Gt North Rd on the downhill stretch of Gt North Rd to the motorway onramp. That should hopefully allow buses to bypass any congestion caused by cars queuing to get on the motorway. Buses will still have to battle it out with general traffic once on the motorway however the NZTA has also reduced the number of westbound lanes through the Gt North Rd intersection to two so that may help keep the causeway flowing better. It’s good to see the NZTA are starting to work through these issues, perhaps there is hope for them yet.

Bus-Truck-T2 lane

One question is, does turning one lane into Bus/Truck/T2 lane also count as the first new priority lane in Auckland for over three years? I guess it probably does and it will hopefully be retained once the motorway works have been completed. It does raise the question though, if the NZTA is prepared to use a bit of paint to install a priority lane, why can’t Auckland Transport do the same elsewhere?

No new bus lanes for 3 years

One area that we have been particularly unimpressed on over the last three years has been the complete lack of any new bus lanes – or even just bus priority measures – over the last three years. In fact bus lanes have actually been removed as the Remuera Rd bus lane was downgraded to a T3 lane.

There are a couple of key reasons for us to be annoyed at this lack of action. Bus lanes can perform an incredibly important function as they can:

  • Speed up trips by allowing buses to avoid congestion and thus make PT more attractive (increases PT patronage).
  • Increase the amount of people able to move through a specific road corridor thus making better use of our roading infrastructure.
  • Reduce ongoing operating costs and therefore reduce the amount of subsidy needed to run services.

I suspect the first two points should be fairly straightforward so I just want to expand on the last one a little bit. My understanding is that most buses in Auckland have an average travel speed of about 20 km per hour. I say most because buses that can use good bus infrastructure (Northern busway buses & roads with existing bus lanes) are able to travel considerably faster – perhaps up to twice as fast – thanks to the infrastructure. What that means is that where in the past a bus might have only been able to do one run during the morning peak they could now do two so. That means we can get one of the following outcomes:

  1. Less buses and therefore expenditure is needed to maintain the same level of service meaning we can reduce the amount of funding needed and therefore improve cost recovery.
  2. Use the freed up budget to run more buses, increasing the attractiveness of services and therefore improving cost recovery.

The key point is that the investment in the infrastructure can have huge impacts on operational expenditure. This is similar to what Stu talked about earlier this week. The one downside to bus lanes is that they are often unpopular with motorists, especially those who feel they have an entitlement to as much asphalt as possible (and then some). Those noisy motorists tend to quickly gain the attention of councillors meaning we often see any proposed projects quickly killed off to appease the road gods. The separation of the political aspects of transport  from the operational ones was meant to be one of the key reasons for setting up  Auckland Transport however more and more it appears they are simply too scared to make the changes necessary.

It is this situation that led us to the tweet below.

The tweet was quickly picked up on by the herald who seem desperate to find anything to beat up the council up over

Len Brown has not built a single metre of bus lane in his first term as mayor of the Super City.

Mr Brown, who says fixing public transport, including better bus services, is his top priority, has splurged $770 million on public transport and $1.2 billion on roads and footpaths in the past three years.

But not a cent has gone on new lanes to improve bus services, which have drawn criticism and seen a fall of 2.9 per cent in patronage over the past year, from 55.1 million bus trips to 53.5 million.

Auckland Transport yesterday confirmed a tweet on the Auckland Transport Blog that after the “stupid” 2010 election distraction of bus-lane enforcement, not one had been built.

An Auckland Transport spokesman said the main change on bus lanes was allowing cars with three or more passengers to use the 5km Remuera Rd bus lane.

He said a lot of work had been done on signage and marking of bus lanes to make things clearer for motorists after the 2010 issues.

Bus priority work continued on major projects such as Dominion Rd and Ameti in southeast Auckland and a major revamp of bus services, the spokesman said.

Yes work is progressing on Dominion Rd which should upgrade the existing bus lanes to a near busway status and the first tentative parts of AMETI have started but most of the bus lanes on that project aren’t going to come into use for many many years. Working on signage appears to have been the only really visible change on this list of completed tasks from this AT board paper at the beginning of the year on the topic.

Following the release of The Bus and Transit Lane Review: Planning and Implementation Model for Auckland, July 2011, AT has made significant advances in implementing the associated action plan. This report provides an update on the work streams outlined in the action plan.

The following key milestones have been completed:

  • Formation of the bus and transit lane steering group;
  • Region wide review of effectiveness of priority bus and transit lanes;
  • Change of Remuera Road bus lane to a T3 lane;
  • Completion of a productivity analysis for all bus and transit lanes in the region;
  • Development of an on-going productivity analysis programme;
  • Implementation of trial bus and transit lane signage and marking improvement measures;
  • Completion of Grafton Bridge bus lane upgrade measures – signage and road markings
  • Audit of Onewa Road T3 lane and implementation of measures to allow enforcement.

The following tasks are still outstanding:

  • Audit of all existing bus and transit lanes;
  • Roll out of education campaigns in support of new bus and transit lane signage;
  • Including bus and transit lane changes in the New Zealand Road Code.

The planning and implementation model mentioned can be found here and it looked at how AT would assess potential bus lanes in the future. It also considered that on some routes where there are less buses but where we want to provide improvements that T2/3 lanes might be more appropriate and I agree. While I’m not always a huge fan of T2/3 I do think it creates a useful stepping stone on the way to a full bus lanes and so can provide many of the benefits of a dedicated lane without as much negative reaction from drivers.

Bus Lane assessment criteria

So which routes should AT really rolling T2/3 lanes or bus lanes out to? Well really they should be on roads with a frequent bus route and the proposed new bus network provides a blueprint for just that.

Frequent Bus Network 2016

So come on AT, you need to get some more bus lanes, or at least some T2/3 rolled out to help support the bus network.

Note: Mayoral Candiatate John Palino predictably picked up on the herald article and used it to complain about Len Brown however was silent when asked if he would actually do anything about it.