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.
We get a lot of conversations in our comments that boil down to expressions of preference for particular Transit modes depending on people’s experiences and values. Those who are most concerned about the cost of infrastructure tend to favour buses, and those who value the qualities that rail offers feel the generally higher capital costs are justified. Often these exchanges do little to shift people from their starting positions because it’s a matter of two different issues talking passed each other; it’s all: ‘but look at the savings’ versus ‘but look at the quality’.
And as it is generally agreed that Auckland needs to upgrade its Transit capabilities substantially I thought it might be a good time to pull back from the ‘mode wars’ with a little cool headed analysis. Because, as we shall see, it really isn’t that simple. It is possible to achieve almost all of what rail fans value with a bus, but only if you are willing to spend a rail-sized amount on building the route. Or alternatively you can build a system that has many of the disadvantages of buses in traffic but with a vehicle that runs on rails.
It’s all about the corridor. Let’s see how….
Above is a chart from chapter 8 of Jarret Walker’s book Human Transit and illustrates Professor Vukan Vuchic’s classification of Transit ‘Running Ways’ or Right Of Way [ROW].
Class A ROW means that the vehicles are separate from any interruptions in their movement so are only delayed when stopping at their own stations as part of their service. In Auckland this is type of infrastructure is classified as the Rapid Transit Network [RTN], and currently is only available to the rail system plus the Northern Busway. So the speed of this service is only limited by the spacing and number of the stops, the dwell time at each stop, and the performance capabilities of the vehicle and system [especially acceleration].
Class B is a system where the vehicle is not strictly on its own ROW but does have forms of privilege compared to the other traffic, such as special lanes and priority at signals. Buses in buslanes are our local example. AT are currently building an ambitious city wide Class B network called the Frequent Transit Network FTN.
Class C is just any Transit vehicle in general traffic. In Auckland that means most buses and the Wynyard Quarter Tram. The buses on the Local Transit Network LTN are our Class C service.
And of course in terms of cost to build these classes it also goes bottom to top; lower to higher cost. And in general it costs more to lay track and buy trains than not, so also left to right, lower to higher. There can be an exception to these rules as with regard to Class A, especially if tunnels and bridges are required as rail uses a narrower corridor and require less ventilation than buses in these environments. Also it should be noted that a bigger electric vehicles on high volume routes are cheaper to operate too, so rail at higher volumes can be cheaper to run than buses over time because of lower fuel costs and fewer staff.
There are also subtleties within these classifications, some of the things that slow down Class C services provide advantages that the greater speed of Class A design doesn’t. Class C typically offers more coverage, stopping more frequently taking riders right to the front door of their destinations. Class B often tries to achieve something in between the convenience of C while still getting closer to the speed of A. Sometimes however, especially if the priority is intermittent or the route planning poor, Class B can simply achieve the worst of both worlds!
There are other considerations too, frequency is really a great asset to a service, as is provides real flexibility and freedom for the customer to arrange their affairs without ever having to fit in with the Transit provider’s plans. And as a rule the closer the classification is to the beginning of the alphabet the higher the frequency should be. Essentially a service isn’t really Class A if it doesn’t have a high frequency.
Then there are other issues of comfort, design, and culture as expressed in the vehicles but also in the whole network that are not insignificant, although will generally do little to make up for poor service design no mater how high these values may be. And these can be fairly subjective too. For example I have a preference for museum pieces to be in, well, museums, but there are plenty of others who like their trams for example to be 50 years old. Design anyway is a holistic discipline, it is not just about appearance; a brilliantly efficient and well performing system is a beautiful thing.
Other concerns include environmental factors, especially emissions and propulsion systems. On these counts currently in Auckland the trains and the buses are generally as bad as each other, both being largely old and worn out carcinogen producing diesel units. This is the one point that the little heritage tourist tram at Wynyard is a head of the pack. The newer buses are an improvement, I’m sure this fact has much to do with the success of the Link services, despite them remaining fairly poor Class C services.
We are only getting new Double Deckers because better corridors for existing buses grew the demand
So in summary the extent to which a Transit service is free from other traffic has a huge influence on its appeal whatever the kit. A highly separated service is likely to be faster than alternatives, is more able to keep to its schedule reliably, and offer a smoother ride. These factors in turn lead to higher demand so the route will be able able to justify higher frequency, upgraded stations, newer vehicles and so on. This one factor, all else being equal, will lead to positive feedbacks for the service and network as a whole.
Currently Auckland has a core RTN service of the Rail Network and the Northern Busway forming our only Class A services. So how do they stack up? The trains only run at RTN frequency on the week day peaks, and even then aspects of the route, especially on the Western Line undermine this classification. The Newmarket deviation and the closeness of the stations out West make this route a very dubious candidate for Class A. At least like all rail services is doesn’t ever give way to other traffic. The Onehunga line needs doubling or at least a passing section to improve frequencies.
Unlike the Northern Busway services, which are as we know only on Class A ROW 41% of the time. So while the frequency is much better on the busway than the trains they drop right down to Class C on the bridge and in the city.
Of course over the next couple of years the trains are going to improve in an enormous leap and importantly not just in appearance, comfort, noise and fumes [plus lower running cost], but importantly in frequency and reliability. A real Class A service pattern of 10 min frequencies all day all week is planned [except the O-Line].
Hand won improvements to the network and service were built on the back of the brave plan to run second hand old trains on the existing network and have led directly to AK getting these beauties soon.
But how about the rest of the RTN; the Northern Busway? Shouldn’t it be a matter of urgency to extend Class A properties to the rest of this already highly successful service?
-permanent buslanes on Fanshaw and Customs Streets- this is being worked on I believe
-permanent buslanes on the bridge- NZTA won’t consider this
-extend the busway north with new stations- that’s planned.
-improve the vehicles in order to up the capacity, appeal, and efficiency- that’s happening too with double deckers.
I will turn to looking at where we can most effectively expand the Class A RTN network to in a following post.
But now I just want to return briefly to look at what these classifications help us understand about other things we may want for our city. Below is an image produced by the Council of a possible future for Queen St. Much reaction to this image, positive and negative, has been focussed on the vehicle in the middle. The Tram, or Light Rail Transit. Beautiful thing or frightening cost; either way the improvement to the place is not dependant on this bit of kit.
My view is that we should focus on the corridor instead, work towards making Queen St work first as a dedicated Transit and pedestrian place with our existing technology, buses, which will then build the need, or desirability, of upgrading the machines to something better. Why? because it is the quality of the corridor that provides the greater movement benefit, and with that benefit banked we will then have the demand to focus more urgently on other choices for this route. Furthermore, because of the significantly higher cost of adding a new transit system by postponing that option we able be able to get the first part done sooner or at all.
And because we are now getting auto-dependency proponents claiming to support more investment in buses [yes Cameron Brewer* that's you] we have an opportunity to call their bluff and get funding for some great Transit corridors by using their disingenuous mode focus. And thereby greatly improve the city.
So it is best that we don’t focus so much on the number of humps on the beast, but rather on the route it will use. The flasher animal will follow.
* These types don’t really support buses at all; they just pretend to support buses because when they say bus they mean road and when they mean road they mean car. How can we know this? Because they attack bus priority measures. But it is very encouraging that they now find themselves having to even pretend to see the need for Transit in Auckland. This is new.
Brian Rudman has hit the nail on the head with his piece this morning and raised many of the same points we frequently do:
But let’s not allow the authorities to persuade us that last Thursday’s logjam was a one-off event, and to pin the blame on the drivers involved in the motorway pile-up.
When I read of motorists woes in Friday’s paper, my first thought was, well, welcome to the club. On Monday, I had waited in Albert St for my 5.05pm bus, and when it failed to show, caught an Inner Link at 5.20pm, which then took 45 minutes to crawl up the short trip to Three Lamps, Ponsonby.
The journey wasn’t helped, by a New Zealand Bus car, parked illegally as usual, by a clipboard wielding “inspector”, slap bang in the middle of the bus lane outside the Victoria Park Markets. By week’s end, someone must have talked to her. I last spotted it parked illegally on the footpath in front of the bus shelters instead.
My planning guru, one of the “seen it all before” school, assures me everything will settle down in a week or so, as students start either sharing cars, find the parking problems are too great, or sleep in and start missing early lectures, that sort of thing. Here’s hoping.
Of course in a city with better separated public transport pathways, gridlock on the roads would be manna from heaven. What better promotion for the merits of public transport than a stalled and steamy motorist, trapped in their car, while a bus or train speeds past in their dedicated bus way or rail track.
In a year or three, when the new electric train service finally arrives, a part of this dream will become reality, and start luring commuters out of their cars. But for buses – the main form of public transport here – a network of separated bus lanes remains a pipe dream. Especially when even the bus operators treat what fragments of bus lanes that do exist – such as the one outside the Victoria Park Market – as a joke.
While Thursdays traffic problems were certainly larger than normal, they were by no means the only day that there are issues. The NZTA reports of accidents happening across the motorway network almost daily on their twitter stream, like this one from today.
Not all incidents create major problems but invariably there can be significant local congestion, this is especially the case when roads are near capacity. When that happens it doesn’t take much for traffic jams to form and even someone braking or changing lanes can send a shockwave of congestion back down the the roading network, as this video made by Japanese researchers shows.
The reality is we simply can’t build our way out of congestion, and no city has been able to do so. As Patrick described the other day, one of the big benefits of investing in better public transport is that it can take the edge off the roading network. Its not about each mode competing against each other but them working together to get the best outcome for everyone. But for PT to do its share and help take that edge off, it needs to be a better option in all situations, not just in the peak but also off peak, weekends and for events. One of the biggest things needed is much more extensive priority measures to at least keep the higher capacity PT network flowing.
He comes to the conclusion:
After several years of steady growth, public transport usage is starting to decline. At the last Auckland Transport board meeting, the bureaucrats presented plans for a marketing programme, complete with billboards telling us to “get training” and “get moving”.
Now I’m no marketing whizz kid, but I am a frequent passenger, and my instant response to being told to “get moving” is, chance would be a fine thing. I would, if I could find a regular bus service to move me.
Before fancy double decker buses, we need buses that turn up on time – or at all. We need electronic indicator boards that don’t lie and frustrate. And we need dedicated bus lanes in and out of the city so that be it Mad March or the depth of winter, buses can actually flow.
I agree, the best way to market PT services is not fancy marketing campaigns, or double decker buses but to get services working as people expect them to and having them run on dedicated bus lanes, especially on the parts through the centre of the city. I’m not aware of a single metre of new bus lane that has been added in the last few years, although some of the existing lanes have definitely been downgraded. So come on AT, lets get serious about getting these bus priority measures sorted.
The following is a guest post by regular reader and tram and heritage aficionado; the always analogue Geoff Houtman.
Last February, the Western Bays Community Group was asked to come with a “Ponsonby Road Plan”. We have received hundreds of suggestions to the deliberately open questions,- “What would you like more of?”, “Less of?”, and “None of?”. This is the first in a series of posts based on the answers received.
Ponsonby Rd Lane Uses
Three options are presented below, incorporating those ideas relating to the Roadway. Firstly though, let’s look at what we currently have.
Ponsonby Rd is a little over a mile long (1724m) running basically North-South. The Roadway is generally 18-19 metres wide and divided into 6 or 7 lanes; the two outermost being parallel street parking, with two general traffic lanes each North and South bound and a central median designed to facilitate right hand turning at nearly every side street and intersection. There is no cycling priority at any point. And very scant bus privilege at the southern end plus the mostly mid block bus stops. Clearways operates to speed peak traffic on the section between Williamson and Crummer Rds. At its northern Three Lamps end Ponsonby Rd is one-way, just before it meets Jervois and Crummer Rds. Redmond St and the top of Pompallier Tce have also been one-wayed to handle all of Ponsonby road’s north bound traffic movements for this section.
Can we make it better? Here are three possibilities based on community suggestions.
Traffic cut to one lane each way, Cycleway runs beside the footpath with vehicle parking between it and the traffic lane, Light Rail or buses use dedicated centre lanes.
Footpaths are pushed out a lane on each side, bike lane, then parking and one lane general traffic each way, PT lanes removed, painted median/turning lanes retained.
Parking lanes contain spaced trees, one general traffic lane each way, Cycleway brackets PT lanes.
Do any of these choices seem like an improvement? Do you have any better ideas?
UPDATE: Thanks to all the commenters, based on your helpful advice an Option D has been created. The cycles lanes are now buffered from moving traffic by footpaths and combined parking/ tree lanes. A bus has been added in the PT lanes to indicate their continued viability until the next oil price rise and the possible return of light rail/ trams. On a technical note the parking lanes are now only 2m wide instead of the previous 2.5.
It’s now almost two and a half years since Auckland Transport came into existence: joining together the transport functions of ARTA and all the old Councils into one organisation. There was a lot of angst around Auckland Transport’s creation – why should something as political and as debated as transport be pushed away into a separate organisation from the Council? Would Auckland Transport follow the direction of the Council or that of Central Government? What benefits of having an operationally focused organisation that’s independent from the day to day politics of Council really bring?
While it hasn’t been an easy first couple of years (the mess of Rugby World Cup opening night being the absolute low-point for the organisation in my opinion) it seems that most people are reasonably happy with how Auckland Transport has gone over this time. However, with the next local government elections happening later this year and public transport patronage seeming to be in a fairly lengthy stalling phase, I think the next few months will really become a true test for the whole concept of having Auckland Transport as a separate organisation to the Council.
It’s clear that the patronage issue is starting to filter through to Auckland Transport, with the new Chair Lester Levy laying down the law pretty harshly at the December board meeting:
The Chairman noted this is not a new problem and simply restating the problem will not solve it. In his view, the rail patronage had not effectively grown since October 2011 and overall public transport patronage has not really increased since January 2012. More understanding about the root causes of this is needed and must be addressed in management’s comprehensive plan due to be present to the Board in February next year. The paper needs to address not only what will be done but most importantly how actions will be undertaken and why it is believed they will work. He re-emphasised that AT needs to be a customer led organisation which will require a mindset change within the organisation. Increasing public transport patronage needs to be elevated to the number one issue for AT.
Rail patronage not growing since October 2011. Gee I wonder what might have put people off.
The response to these comments, going to the Board today, sounds a bit like 25 pages of excuses and most of the ideas around improving patronage seem to be related to marketing (not that I’m opposed to marketing) instead of actually trying to make the system better. Some quick wins like better weekend rail frequencies still seem to be ignored yet again – for example, need I remind Auckland Transport that Saturday rail frequencies on the Western Line remain unchanged from 1994?
I’m genuinely hopeful that things will improved under the new Chair, who seems to have an extremely low tolerance of the normal excuses dished out by Auckland Transport management and who seems much more interested in telling a “genuine” story about how things are, rather than the typical Auckland Transport PR strategy of pretending everything’s hunky-dory no matter how bad they’re going. I guess I’m impatient for change though.
Another Board Paper reminded me of an issue that I think cuts to the heart of testing whether it’s worth having Auckland Transport as a separate organisation or not – the issue of bus lanes. Seeing a paper on bus and transit lanes going to the Board I was excited that there might be some discussion around future additional bus lanes – what are useful trigger points for them being necessary, which routes would benefit from bus lanes, what’s the timetable for the widespread expansion of Auckland’s bus lane system over the next few years and so forth. Instead, the paper discusses just about every other possible element of bus lanes except for the most important issue – where the next ones will be.
As well as bus lanes being something of a pet issue for me, I think they’re a good test of Auckland Transport’s usefulness for a number of reasons:
- They make a lot of logical sense and provide significant benefit for low cost – but can be unpopular. Separating operation of the transport network from day to day politics through having a CCO is designed to enable sensible but potentially unpopular projects to occur where they contribute to the strategic direction the Council wants to go (i.e. improving public transport).
- They assist other parts of Auckland Transport’s responsibility – most obviously in managing the public transport network. Before amalgamation it was ARTA who benefitted from the bus lanes but the city councils that needed to put them in, so there was little incentive to see bus lanes go in and probably a lot of arguing was necessary. I would have thought having a single organisation would increase the likelihood of bus lanes for this reason – but seemingly not.
There’s a lot that the public gives up in having Auckland Transport as a CCO – less direct oversight through elected members, probably less democracy in decision-making, certainly less information made publicly available. For that loss to be worth it, Auckland Transport needs to start delivering – delivering public transport patronage growth and delivering necessary but politically challenging improvements, like bus lanes. Otherwise we might as well just fold them back into the Council so at least we know what they’re doing.