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-
||2 hour volume
|Mount Eden Road
|New North Road
|Manukau Road (joins at Khyber Pass)
|Gillies Ave (joins at Khyber Pass)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 along Fanshawe Street
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
While all of the physical works for AMETI are happening in Panmure at the moment, it’s the future stages that will be the most interesting as that is when a new busway is built that will connect the Panmure Train Station to the Eastern Suburbs. Auckland Transport are still working though many of the finer details however the overall idea seems to be fairly similar to what we have seen before. With that in mind I thought I would have a look at some of the new details that have come out which are primarily the result of an open day held two weeks ago. This primarily relates to what is known as Phase 2 which is the section from Panmure to Pakuranga and is shown below.
AT expect that by the end of the year they will have their preferred scheme sorted out allowing them to start the process of lodging the notice of requirement with construction likely to begin in 2015. For this post I will move south from Panmure to Pakuranga.
As you may have seen, the plan is for a busway to start at the Panmure station and head south on the Northern side of the road through a signalised intersection which would replace the Panmure Roundabout. It will then head down Lagoon Dr, still on the Northern side but one thing I wasn’t aware of is that while Lagoon Dr will be widened to accommodate the busway and a shared path, the plan is to narrow the general traffic lanes down to one each way.
Moving south there will be a new bridge built over the Tamaki River to carry the busway as well as a much improved walking and cycling path. It will remain on the northern side of the road all the way until Ti Rakau Dr and a number of the intersections from local streets will be closed. All up it should hopefully mean that buses will be able to get from Panmure to Ti Rakau Dr fairly quickly with little disruption. Further my understanding is that the council are already looking at what can be done with the left over land parcels after Auckland Transport have finished their work and that it is likely there will actually end up with more dwellings along the route than there are currently.
But it is at Pakuranga where things get interesting. Buses will have to cross Pakuranga Rd to access a new major bus station being planned for the town centre. On Campbell Live the other night we saw a design for the bus station that hadn’t been seen before. Since then Auckland Transport have uploaded the video which is below.
The station seems a fairly bit step up from what was previously suggested and one of the reasons for that is it is intended to that all buses in the area would use it whereas previously buses heading to Howick would still use stops on Pakuranga Rd forcing people transferring to cross the road. Based on the current road layout a single bus station would introduce a detour for buses heading up Pakuranga Rd towards Howick so to address that, a new bus-only link road is planned through what is currently the Pakuranga Mall carpark. In addition to the bus-only link road, a public plaza is also proposed and to compensate the owners for the lost surface parking, AT are planning on building a multi storey parking building. I’m guessing that is primarily aimed at stopping the mall owners from fighting the changes otherwise the arguments would likely drag on for years. In addition to all of this, Pakuranga Rd will be narrowed down to four lanes where it passes the town centre. Here are some maps and artists impressions of what is planned.
Of course no discussion of Pakuranga can be complete without the major piece of roading being planned in the form of the Reeves Rd Flyover. The intention is to get through traffic from the North East off Pakuranga Rd and whisked straight onto the Pakuranga Highway also avoiding the Pakruanga Highway/Reeves Rd/Ti Rakau intersection. I have also heard AT say that the grade separation is needed to get enough cars off the previously mentioned intersection to enable the busway not be substantially held up on its way south towards Botany. While the intent is understandable this flyover is going to have a massive impact the areas of the town centre surrounding it. Auckland Transport say the design could:
- potentially be a visual landmark and gateway to Pakuranga
- be an expression of art or architecture that reflects the area
However as we have seen in Wellington with the Basin Reserve Flyover, that is pretty much impossible to do (also the Basin Reserve Flyover is only two lanes whereas the Reeves Rd Flyover would be four)
All up this section is quite a mixed bag. There are some really really good aspects like the busway, much improved walking and cycling connections as well as even some reductions in the number of road lanes in places but then much of it is being used to justify the need of the flyover.
Once again when it comes to building an infrastructure project it is the public transport priority that is the first to suffer.
Government road-builders stand accused of undermining Auckland’s public transport effort by closing bus priority lanes for the Transport Agency’s $220 million upgrade of the Northwestern Motorway causeway.
Bus passengers complaining of delays between Pt Chevalier and Te Atatu are in for 2 years of misery while shoulder lanes on both sides of the motorway are closed for its marine causeway to be raised and widened.
“It’s atrocious,” said Te Atatu resident Carol Shannon while waiting to travel home from work in central Auckland, a trip she estimates is taking 50 per cent longer than scheduled. “I used to get home by 6.40pm but for the last month it has been taking until 7pm.”
Commuter Cedric Suifua said he suffered a “close to half-hour” delay getting home on Thursday, despite lighter traffic in the school holidays.
The immediate problem is the closure of a priority lane for buses and cars carrying two or more occupants along the on-ramp to the Northwestern Motorway from Great North Rd at Waterview, forcing traffic to queue along Great North Rd to Pt Chevalier.
Ritchies Transport chief Andrew Ritchie said that was causing delays of between 10 and 25 minutes in the evening travel peak.
Although the only westbound closure so far is that of the Waterview on-ramp priority lane, the agency intends shutting 640m of the bus shoulder lane on that side of the motorway from August 11. That is expected to stay closed for 2 years, although the agency hopes to open a wider and longer citybound bus lane in two years.
The onramp has been closed for a while now but it appears that in a few weeks the rest of the bus lane on the southern side of the motorway will close too. Of course this will mean that buses will be forced to travel along the motorway with the rest of the traffic, losing all time advantages it previously had. As you can see from this (blurry) webcam image taken not long ago, it means buses will be stuck in with a lot of cars and will likely be disastrous for patronage on bus routes that use the busway. Note: you can just make out two buses enjoying the bus lane to sail past the traffic.
Te Atatu MP Phil Tywford has suggested turning one existing lane into a HOV lane so buses and vehicles with multiple people can all use it to avoid some of the queues but the NZTA have dismissed this while Auckland Transports response is simply to add time to the bus timetables.
Labour’s spokesman on Auckland issues, Te Atatu MP Phil Twyford, cannot understand why the Transport Agency is not allocating one of the motorway’s three general traffic lanes in each direction to high-occupancy vehicles.
Transport Agency acting Auckland highways manager Steve Mutton said various options were being investigated, including Mr Twyford’s suggestion.
Auckland Transport spokesman Mark Hannan said western bus timetables were being reviewed to take account of “running time issues across the day – not just at peak times”.
This is really unacceptable and both agencies need to do more to ensure that bus users are not being treated like the least important users. If both agencies were smart they would take Phil’s suggestion and go a step further by putting some temporary changes in place to put more bus services along the motorway until the new network is rolled out to try and encourage people to use them. That might just get enough people off the road to avoid the motorway becoming even more of a parking lot in mornings and afternoons.
This isn’t the first time we have seen PT users treated badly by agencies. Last year we saw Transpower close a lane on the busway at certain points to enable them to drag cables through pipes that were installed when the busway was built while this year we saw them close the city-bound buslane on Fanshawe St to do the same. This forced buses to have to fight for spots with motorists even though 80% of the people travelling along Fanshawe St are doing so in a bus.
It seems it is sacrilege to even consider closing a vehicle lane yet if there is bus priority, it is the first to get the chop.
An interesting press release came out from the NZTA today.
NZTA funds support upgrade of busy Auckland commuter route
The NZ Transport Agency has approved $1.14m in funding to help in the design of a significant upgrade of one of Auckland’s busiest commuters routes to improve travel for bus passengers to and from the CBD.
The $1.14m is a 53 percent share of a $2.16m design project led by Auckland Transport to improve a 4.2 kilometre-long public transport corridor along Dominion Road, a key section of the bus route between Auckland International Airport and the central city.
The Regional Manager of the NZTA’s Planning and Investment group, Peter Casey, says the NZTA has identified the Dominion Road upgrade as a strategic project to help improve Auckland’s public transport system.
“Supporting Auckland Transport and Auckland Council deliver key projects like this has winning advantages for people. They get more choices about how they travel, and improvements in public transport will help reduce the number of cars on roads and motorways and ease congestion,” Mr Casey says.
The design phase of the project will take about a year. In that time, plans and costs for the upgrade will be finalised. The key feature of the project will be an extension of dedicated bus lanes already in place along Dominion Road. The upgrade is planned to deliver several benefits for people:-
- More frequent buses and a two minute reduction in journey times along the road
- Increase the number of people using buses during peak hours by 82%
- reduce the number of people travelling by car during peak hours by 20%
- provide parallel cycle routes to make cycling safer
Auckland Transport chairman Dr Lester Levy welcomes the NZTA’s funding announcement.
“Dominion Road is one of Auckland’s iconic roads and Auckland Transport is delighted to have received NZTA funding to enable us to move into the detailed design stage of the project. Once complete, the Dominion Road upgrade will see bus services improved, village centres upgraded and through the parallel cycle routes, improved safety for cyclists travelling to and from the City,” Dr Levy says.
Mr Casey says support for this first stage of the upgrade complements other public transport projects the NZTA helps fund like the improvements to the city’s rail system and the introduction of integrated ticketing.
In the three years between 2012/15, $3.4b will be invested in the Auckland region’s transport systems through the National Land Transport Programme. The NLTP is a funding partnership between the NZTA and local authorities like Auckland Transport and Auckland Council. The region’s committed and recommended investment includes $1.6b for state highways, $968m for local roads and $890m for public transport. The investment includes funding for Dominion Road when re-construction of the route starts.
There were two things that caught my attention. Firstly let me say that this is a positive thing but I found it odd as I can’t recall ever seeing a press release from the NZTA about funding the design stage of a local project before. The funding agreement usually goes on behind the scenes and the agency doesn’t make a song and dance about it. In fact for a local project, it is normally Auckland Transport that makes the announcement and a brief mention is made of the funding arrangement. This makes me worry that perhaps this announcement is just a PT washing exercise. Of course it could be the start of the agency communicating more but time will tell.
The second and perhaps more important thing that caught my attention was impact that this project is likely to have on public transport. When the current incarnation of the project was announced last year, some of the key features were that the bus lanes would be extended through intersections rather than stopping short like they currently do.
This release suggests that those extended bus lanes will take two minutes off the journey time along the road which is according to the current timetables, a reduction of around 7% (current trip time is listed as 30 minutes). Even more impressive is the suggested increase in peak bus patronage of 82%. I’m not sure what time period that is over but it is a fairly massive increase. Dominion Rd is without a doubt already our best bus corridor outside of the Northern Busway. At peak times the bus lanes are moving far more people than the general traffic lanes do and that will obviously only continue to increase. To put things in perspective, Dominion Rd buses move about the same amount of people as the Northern Express does.
This upgrade will likely only continue to cement Dominion Rd as one of the most prominent PT routes in the city.
Rodney Hide’s opinion piece in the Herald on Sunday highlighted an issue that’s been bugging me for some time – whether those opposing the City Rail Link on the grounds that “buses can do the job fine” are really interested in improving Auckland’s bus system or not. Here’s what he says about his preference for buses:
It’s not obvious to me that a heavy train having to stop and start and be confined to tracks is the best way to ferry people around Auckland. Buses along roads strike me intuitively as a cheaper and more flexible form of public transport.
Many more people live closer to a bus stop than a train station. That’s because buses go along roads that people live on. Buses can also pass one another. Trains can’t do that.
Because of the flexibility and convenience, more people travel into the city centre by bus than train. That will stay true even if Auckland spends billions on trains at the expense of better roads and better bus services.
John Roughan made a similar cry in favour of buses in the Saturday Herald:
The crossing would have to be under water and probably it would be connected to the northern busway that one day conceivably could be converted to a railway, but that, too, is a solution looking for a problem.
The busway, like the bridge, is fine.
The problem lies in roads closer to home. By car it can take as long to get on to the motorway as it takes for the rest of the journey. By bus it takes too long to get to a busway station. Once on the busway, you can be in the city in eight minutes.
In fact, the North Shore is probably better served by the busway than the rest of Auckland is by its railways, which also have to be reached by bus or car from most people’s homes.
The only reason the mayor invokes rail for the Shore is to answer its ratepayers when they ask why they should help pay for a project that isn’t coming their way. It’s a silly answer to a silly question but this is election year.
Russell Brown from Public Address notes the great irony of John Roughan now being a huge fan of the busway when he absolutely hated the idea back in 2007. I guess we chalk that up as someone won over – or should we?
The simple fact is that all these supposed bus fans have done diddly squat to actually encourage the improvement of Auckland’s bus system. I can’t exactly remember Rodney Hide out there campaigning to save the Remuera Road bus lane from turning back into a T3 lane. Or John Roughan supporting the implementation of the HOP Card – he pumped for Snapper back in 2009 and didn’t that end well?
As for the cabal of local councillors, Cameron Brewer, Dick Quax and George Wood. They frequently like to grandstand against the CRL claiming it is sucking up all of the money for PT, like in this article from 6 months ago.
Mr Quax said the rail project made little sense because it would gobble up 80 per cent of the public transport capital budget over the next 10 years when much-needed bus lanes and ferry terminals received a “paltry” 20 per cent.
They use this line quite frequently these days, despite their numbers actually being wrong – the PT capex budget for the next decade is ~$4b and the inflated CRL price is $2.86b, or 72% of the budget. Despite this, I haven’t exactly seen George Wood talking much about the stalled progress of extending the Northern Busway to Albany, or Dick Quax wanting to see the AMETI busway’s construction schedule sped up. In fact I don’t think I have seen any one of them suggest where a single metre of bus lane should be added or where they think new ferry services should operate from. Yesterday in response to the alternative funding proposals, they once again made vague comments without giving any detail.
I have a nasty feeling that when rail opponents say they support buses they’re actually not quite telling the truth. They realise it’s not viable for them politically (or practically) to dismiss public transport out of hand anymore – so they pretend to support buses on the spurious grounds of “buses need roads too” – when in actual fact they’re just mainly interested in spending as little as possible on public transport so all the money can go back into roads.
So next time someone plays the “buses are better than trains” card, I suggest asking them “so what have YOU specifically done to try and improve Auckland’s bus system recently?” Or “I look forward to your support for introducing bus lanes along desperately needed routes like Great North Road in Waterview, Manukau Road, Pakuranga Road, Onewa Road (uphill) and in many other places”. Then let’s see how deep their love affair with the bus really is.