Impact of last weeks bus changes

Last week saw two big changes to buses in Auckland. In the city bus routes changed avoid the area where the first of the CRL enabling works will happen and on the Hibiscus Coast the new network was launched. At the end of last week Auckland Transport provided some information on the changes.

On the Hibiscus Coast they say there was some initial issues with connections between buses but they believe those are now sorted. In even better news they say patronage is already up 10% on what it was prior to the new network. That’s not bad for the first week of a completely new network as I’ve heard that places like Brisbane the changes in the western suburbs initially saw a 20% drop before recovering and ending up 20% higher. While we will see a unique trend on the Hibiscus Coast the initial results are promising and I’d say there are much bigger increases to come as people get used to the network.

One aspect that will definitely be helping is the extension of the Northern Express to Silverdale. Unsurprisingly the park n ride is already full and I suspect many of those users are people who in the past have driven to Albany to park. There are currently only around 100 formal carparks (seems a lot are parking on the grass) however AT eventually plan to extend that to 500 spaces but were delayed in doing so due to their consent being challenged in the environment court. The photo below is from reader Bryce P.

Hibiscus Coast PnR

The other change saw bus routes mainly from the North Shore and West Auckland change in the city centre along with the introduction of new 24/7 bus lanes. AT say the changes affected around 10,000 customers and involve over 3,000 trips per day. They are claiming the changes have been a success with only a handful of inquiries from people – mainly about North Shore routes. They also claim the bus lanes are successful and that drivers have adapted to them quickly.

I’m not quite so sure the changes have been as gone as well as claimed and I suspect many people have accepted the changes but are frustrated by them. My personal experience has been mixed. Last week I tried what I described as the third of my options for getting between Britomart and Takapuna. In the mornings this meant jumping on a Northern Express bus, taking a trip along Fanshawe St before getting off at Victoria Park and catching a Takapuna direct bus. Of the three times in the morning I tried it last week one time it worked well, another the NEX was held up by someone taking an age to pay cash and I watched as the bus I needed to catch got the light ahead of us at Halsey St meaning I missed the connection and a third time the Takapuna bus was 15 minutes late. There were similar results on the return journey in the afternoons.

One thing that would be useful to improve the situation would be to increase the frequency of buses to Takapuna, of the connection that did work well the bus was packed (which is common for these services). This was likely impacted by the fact that in the past a bus going to the Hibiscus Coast via Takapuna was a few minutes ahead. Now one bus is doing the role two did with the following results. Some extra buses would both make connections easier and address the frequent crowding these services experience.

Full Takapuna Bus

It will be fascinating to see the impact the city changes have on patronage.

It’s bus change day

Two major changes occurred to the bus network yesterday – although most will be only have started to experience them today.

The first and most important change over the long term – although the one with the lesser impact – is the launch of the new bus network for the Hibiscus Coast. This sees some key changes such as introducing simpler more legible network and extending the Northern Express to Silverdale. The new and old networks are shown below.

Hibiscus Coast New Bus Network

Hibiscus Coast Old Bus Network

One issue with the new network that I’m sure reader Bryce P will mention is that the Northern Express stops in an isolated field for which the only way to access it is either by driving (a large park & ride will eventually be built here) or via one of the connecting bus route – which in the absence of integrated fares means it will cost users extra unless they are using a monthly pass. Bryce has suggested adding a set of traffic lights making it easier to connect buses to the developing town centre.

One aspect I doubt will be missed by many is the routing of buses to and from the city via Dairy Flat Hwy rather than use the motorway – only some express buses in the morning and afternoon peaks took the more direct route. Now the main service between Silverdale and the rest of Auckland is the Northern Express which will run at least every 15 minutes at peak and every 30 off peak all week.

With the shift to the NEX another detour that has been removed is to send those non-express buses via Takapuna. That’s personally a bit disappointing only because the 895 was one of the services I often used in my commute. Not that it would have mattered now anyway thanks to the other major change – the city centre bus stop changes.

In order to accommodate the upcoming City Rail Link enabling works Auckland Transport are moving buses off part of Albert St. The actual works to dig the tunnel won’t begin until about May next year however in November works starts on moving a water pipe that is in the way.

Temporary City Bus Routes

The changes mean many buses – primarily from the North Shore, West Auckland – will be affected. If you work near the middle of town the changes will probably mean a quicker journey compared to what exists now however if like me you transfer from a train to a bus or if you work in the northern parts of the city centre then the changes will not be great. As said when these changes were first announced, I see myself as having three main options

  • Walk the ~800m between Britomart and Wellesley St and then catch a bus to the Takapuna – another factor is that these buses run about every 15 minutes.
  • Catch the Northern Express from next to Britomart to Akoranga and walk about 1.6km to work from there. During the peaks the NEX runs every 10 minutes counter peak.
  • A combination of the two above, catch a Northern Express bus to Fanshawe St then transfer to a Takapuna bus. The risk here is in introducing yet another transfer to the journey.

I’ll have to try a few options to see what works best.

Given this is the first real day I’m expecting there to be a bit of chaos and confusion as people get to grips with the changes. I’m also not convinced that AT have done enough to explain the changes and make people aware of them. I’ll obviously be keeping a close eye on them but I’m also keen to hear your thoughts and hear your experiences so fire away in the comments.

Lastly it will be interesting to see the impact both sets of changes have on patronage. One of the big advantages AT have now over a few years ago is a rich set of trip data from the HOP system so they should be able to see just what impact these changes have.

CBD bus changes from Sunday

Auckland Transport are reminding people that from this Sunday the changes to bus routes in the city centre takes place. That means changes to both bus stops and also the start of the new bus lanes that AT have been installing in recent weeks.

Maps of the new bus routes are below:

Temporary City Bus Routes

There are big changes coming to the central city from this Sunday 18 October with more bus lanes and some bus stops moving.

Auckland Transport has added more than 1.2km of new 24 hour a day, seven days a week, bus lanes to the city centre to minimise effects on bus timetables when construction starts on the City Rail Link (CRL).

In November, a new stormwater main being tunnelled under the eastern side of Albert Street between Swanson and Wellesley Streets for the City Rail Link will affect traffic lanes at these and the Victoria Street intersections.

Some bus routes and stops are being moved to new locations away from these construction works.

The new bus lanes are on:

  • Fanshawe Street between Daldy and Halsey Streets.
  • Halsey Street between Fanshawe and Victoria Street West.
  • Victoria Street West between Graham and Queen Streets.
  • Wellesley Street West between Sale and Queen Streets.
  • Mayoral Drive between Cook and Wellesley Streets.
  • Hobson Street between Wellesley and Victoria Streets.

On Street changes for CRL works

General Manager AT Metro Mark Lambert says the bus lanes separate buses from other traffic, enabling them to bypass traffic congestion so they have shorter journey times and can keep to their timetables. “This encourages more people to use buses, which in turn, means fewer cars on the road.”

The new bus lanes operate 24 hours a day and motorists who are turning left can only enter a bus lane 50 metres before the intersection.

There also changes to bus stops in Queen Street, Quay Street, Lower Albert Street, Albert Street, Victoria Street, Mayoral Street, Vincent Street, Fanshawe Street, Sturdee Street.

The InnerLink will no longer travel along Albert Street. It will use Queen Street instead.

AT has ambassadors out and about in the city to help people. Affected bus stops have posters with information detailing the changes to that particular stop.

As I’ve said before I think these changes are going to cause a lot of disruption and frustrated people – both public transport passengers and those that drive. This is will likely be the loudest over the coming weeks and be heightened by it appearing that not that much is going on as most of the works initially won’t be that visible. It’s not till around May next year that the actual physical work starts to build the tunnels.

It will be interesting to see how Auckland Transport responds to the public over it all.

Central and East New Network Consultation

Today Auckland Transport their biggest consultation yet for the new bus network covering both Central and East Auckland. Being the largest consultation it will also run the longest with submissions open till 10 December. The previous consultations have been for South Auckland, West Auckland, Hibiscus Coast – which rolls out in a few weeks, Pukekohe/Waiuku and most recently the North Shore. Like with the rest of the New Network the focus goes is on getting more out of our existing bus resource by creating a simpler, connected network that has greater frequency.

Central Auckland

Central Auckland already has some of the best bus services in the region thanks to much of the area originally being designed around trams. The New Network turns up the dial on buses in the central area really showing what a frequent connected network looks like. To put things in comparison, the confirmed or consulted on networks for the North, South, East and West have two or four frequent routes (running at least every 15 minutes, 7am-7pm, 7 days a week) whereas the central area has 15 including a few frequent crosstown routes. This is shown below.

Central Proposed New Bus Network

I’m not an expert on the bus routes in Central Auckland but a few things that are immediately noticeable:

  • There are a number of frequent crosstown routes. This will make it much easier to get locations on the other side of the city without having to go through the CBD.
  • The Outer Link – now the Crosstown 4 – has been cut open runs between the Mt Albert and Onehunga via the city.
  • I know Patrick will be happy his 020 route no longer takes odd detours around Freemans Bay so will be much more direct.
  • The 32 route appears to be an extension to one in the Southern Network and so would go from Mangere to Glen Innes via Otahuhu, Sylvia Park and Panmure.
  • Like the other new network maps, this one is considerably more legible, the current map is shown below.

Central Existing Bus Network

One big issue is how the new network will move around the central city. Over the coming years the whole area is going to be in a state of flux thanks to the construction of the City Rail Link however AT have included this map in the consultation.

Central Proposed New Bus Network - CBD

The biggest alarm bell to me the retention of buses eastbound on Victoria St. That’s because previous studies all pointed to Wellesley St being a dedicated bus corridor with Victoria St largely turned into a Linear Park. My understanding of the reason for the change is that it’s a compromise after the University strongly objected to having buses use the ramp between Wellesley St and Symonds St thereby going past their new building. I get the impression they care more about being able to show off pretty pictures to compete against other universities overseas rather than how their students actually get to their campus.

I guess one thing is that if AT build light rail it would address a lot of the problem as would get many buses off that Wellesley St route.

Victoria St Linear Park

The maps below show just how much the networks will change. For Central Auckland it is Sundays that will get a massive boost.

Central Bus Network - change

East Auckland

In East Auckland the changes are a little less dramatic and the focus of the frequent services is on trips between Panmure and Botany or Howick. What is also harder to see is that some of the routes south of Botany aren’t shown much as they were consulted on as part of the Southern Network. There are a few things that spring to mind when looking at this map.

  • There is no frequent service between Botany and Manukau.
  • I wonder if the person/people who decided on where to locate Flat Bush ever thought about how buses would run (I doubt it)

East Auckland Proposed New Bus Network

Here’s the existing map.

East Auckland Existing Bus Network

Here’s the map of the changes which also happens to show parts of the network from other areas e.g. South Auckland.

East Auckland New Bus Network changes

There are quite a few open days that will happen in both Central and East Auckland so if you’re interested make sure you check them out.

Lastly related to the new network, recently I got to have a quick look at the first double decker bus that Howick & Eastern have purchased to run one some of these routes – NZ Bus are buying some for a few of their routes too. It was pure coincidence as I noticed it parked up on my way home. These new ones are quite nice both inside and out and it will be good to see them out on the network.

H&E Double Decker

Double Deckers soon to be running in East Auckland

Northern Busway Extension is back

We were rightly dismayed when the previous Transport Minister vetoed the desperately needed extension of the famously successful Northern Busway as part of the big spend up on SH1 on the North Shore. We suspect NZTA were too, as they know that the Busway the single most effective tool for reducing congestion and increasing access and human happiness for the travelling public on this route. And is a vital part of the booming Rapid Transit Network. Additionally this extension surely also helps streamline the general traffic lane design through the SH1/SH18 intersection and beyond. NZTA must be keen to not have to factor in growing numbers of merging buses from shoulder lanes etc.

So we are very pleased to find that the agency has found a way to return this logical part of the project to the programme and out of the shadow of ministerial whim [presumably the change of Minister helped?]:

Northern Corridor

Here is the full document.

Bus users report that their journeys between Constellation and Albany Stations can currently take up a disproportionately large amount of the total trip because of the absence of any Transit right of way; the buses of course are not only themselves delayed but are also delaying other road users here.

The extension will not be a minor structure but as it adjacent to commercial properties it is hard to see how the usual forces of compliant will be able get much traction against it, but it will still need public support at the consultation phase, so Busway users, let yourselves be heard.

We understand the current Busway is built to a standard to enable upgrading to rail systems, we would expect this standard to be continued on this extension, as this does look like the most logical way to next cross the Waitemata Harbour.

Finally, because this is a) spending on the Shore b) not ratepayers funds, and c) not spending on a train or a bike, even the venerable George Wood will be in favour of the proposed extension.

Notes from Sydney: Light Rail

Last week I had some work in Sydney and while there I was able to grab a quick look at some aspects of that beautiful city. I want to start with Light Rail because Sydney has one line in operation, and is about to start another much bigger project next month, and one that is strikingly similar to what AT is proposing for Auckland. Similar in that it upgrades at capacity bus routes, links significant residential and commercial areas with the heart of the city from areas not covered by other Rapid Transit, links event locations with a major transport hub, serves some big tertiary institutions, and most importantly that it will be the catalyst for pedestrianising the main city street. For like AT’s Light Rail plan for Queen St Sydney’s also comes with the opening up of George St for pedestrians.

Below are some shots from my quick ride on the somewhat curious Dulwich Hill Line. This is mostly on the route of the old Metropolitan Goods Line, extended past the old docks of Darling Harbour for the tourist trade and terminating at the city end at at the busy Central Station. This is where I got on on a weekday morning, so heading against the flow, you’d think.


It arrives at Central on one-way loop to an elevated stop at the main concourse level of the Victorian train, Sydney’s largest. I assumed this was a built originally for Sydney’s previous trams, and so it was. The earlier system was largely about distributing into the city centre from this terminus station, but as Sydney grew a number of previously terminating lines were extended through to new underground stations in the central city and through to the bridge and across to the North Shore. The logical and very successful upgrade for a terminating city edge station, just like Britomart. In addition to the new Light Rail line they are also now planning the third underground city rail route and second rail harbour crossing: the new Sydney Metro.


The lovely CAF Urbos 3 arrived full and left full. On this evidence it looks like it could do with additional frequency.


It runs on city streets till Darling harbour then uses the impressive cuttings of the old Metropolitan Goods Line. So the route was not selected because it is necessarily the best place to run Light Rail, but because it was available. Very much like Auckland’s passenger rail network, and many new or revived urban rail systems globally [See Manchester Light Rail, and the London Overground for example].


This business of running services where there happens to be an existing route can of course lead to poor results if there isn’t a match with the surrounding land use, and this line at first did not perform as well as hoped. But that all changed with a the extension to a good anchor; Dulwich Hill rail station [opening 2014], and intensification along the route. It is now booming.


John Street Square Station with apartments and very urban open space above.



Heading back, and full again; mid morning on a week day.


Approaching Central on Hay St, crossing Pitt. Smart bit of kit.


There are obvious parallels with Auckland everywhere you look in Sydney, it is after all, pretty much just a bigger better version of a similar urban typology: a new world anglophone Pacific harbour city. It can be argued that Auckland is at a comparable point of development that Sydney was at decades ago, and while that doesn’t for a moment mean we should slavishly follow what happened there, there is much that can be learned from this city. There are a number of interesting projects underway in Sydney now, like the new Metro, which is introducing a new separate and fully automated rail system to complement the existing network. This is certainly an option for Auckland in the future, especially for upgrading Rapid Transit to our North Shore. The same universal urban forces are in play here as there, as can be seen with Light Rail in Sydney now: It is is working well simply because it delivers on the classic necessary conditions for this mode:

  • Good land-use match: intensification around stations
  • High quality right-of-way: mostly grade separate or has signal priority
  • Strong anchors at each end of the route: train stations in each case, and destinations along the way.
  • High standard of vehicle and service [sufficient frequency yet?]

The key lesson here is that if any of these conditions are missing steps must be taken to change them, as they did here. And that it is possible to exploit existing rights of way so long as there aren’t other barriers to change, especially to more intense urban land use around stations. Now that in Auckland we are well on the way to fixing the major vehicle and frequency standards on the rail network it is the development around stations that needs work. Especially as we only need to look at the improved performance of stations like Manukau City and Sylvia Park to see, yet again, how closely linked landuse and transport always are.

Looking ahead to the next Light Rail route in Sydney it is pretty certain that this will perform even better because it is designed around need not just route availability. It is hard to disagree with Alan Davies here when he writes:

There are literally hundreds of existing light rail systems in the world. The value of some is questionable, but Sydney’s proposed CBD and South East Light Rail line looks like it’ll be among the best.

And Davies, the Melburbanist, is often skeptical about high capex Transit systems, often questioning the value of ones in his own city.

I reckon that this is probably true for the proposed Auckland Light Rail programme too, with two provisos: That land around the stops is zoned for more intense use, and like in Sydney, that the through-routing of the current terminus station is at least funded and underway first. That’s the first fix.

More on the National Land Transport Programme

Last week the latest iteration of the National Land Transport Programme was announced. This is largely a business as usual plan, dominated by the big spend on a few massive state highways projects. However there are a few things to be celebrated, especially for cycling, and even more in the language and thinking in the supporting documents. This was repeated at the launch too, especially in the words of NZTA CEO and AT Board representative Geoff Dangerfield, and NZTA Auckland/Northland Regional Director Ernst Zöllner.


The high level aims are all strong and commendable. The focus on ‘economic growth and productivity, safety, and value for money’ are incontestably valuable. If they were to add ‘resilience, energy security, and environmental performance’  it would probably be a perfect list. But of course this is really set by the Government Policy Statement.

Dangerfield was his usual clear and persuasive self, setting a high level context and skilfully bating away questions. Zöllner was particularly articulate about both the dynamic nature of the situation in Auckland and the unformed quality of Auckland’s PT networks; especially the incomplete nature of the core Rapid Transit Network. Both noted the strong growth of PT ridership numbers, which will see a rise in the PT opex spend.

Here’s what the agency says about the Transit and Active modes, in the Providing Transport Choices document:

NZTA The role of PT.
NZTA Economic Growth through PT

All incontestable good sense, and exactly the sort of points regular readers here would recognise, especially the emphasis on the value of the high quality own-right-of-way Congestion Free networks of rail and dedicated busways.

People using public transport on high-quality public transport services with a dedicated right of way, like the Auckland Northern Busway or metropolitan rail networks, can now enjoy fast, efficient journeys on comfortable modern buses and electric trains, while freeing up road space for other people and freight.

There remains, however, some considerable daylight between this analysis and the actual projects being funded. This is especially the case with the comparatively tiny sum of $176m for Public Transport Capital Works in Auckland out of a total $4.2 billion spend over the three year period in the region [~4%] and $13.9 billion nationally. This sum [half of which is from the Council’s Transport Levy] will bring much vital kit, like the Otahuhu, Manukau City, and Te Atatu bus interchanges. But is a long way from fixing those big gaps in the RTN network. In response to my questions on this they quite reasonably countered that some funding for bus capex is in other budgets, notably under the AMETI programme, as part of the North Western massive highway works, and the Northern Busway extensions.

However the two Busway sums do not result in the construction of even one metre of additional RTN. For the Northern Busway the previous minister deleted construction of the proposed extension from the accelerated motorway package [a loan to be met from future NLTF], so all we are left with is ‘future proofing’ and no one can ride on a busway that has only been future proofed for. On the Northwestern we do get the improvement of bus shoulder lanes and a station at Te Atatu; but no RTN. AMETI is the best of the bunch, but that’s only if the proposed BRT does happen instead of the place-ruining flyover that appeals more to some entitled voices there.

Then we come to the great problem that the National Land Transport Fund is barred from investing in rail infrastructure yet Auckland is now showing the huge value of using this separate network for moving increasing numbers of people completely outside of traffic congestion. And some RTN routes are clearly best served by rail. Just as well the Council has the courage to just get on with the CRL first stage by itself so at least this vital gap at the heart of the RTN is getting a start.

The case for near term investment in PT and especially for completing the RTN can be summarised thus:

  • current demand growth of 20+% on Auckland’s Rapid Transit Network,
  • the RTN is showing improved operating cost effectiveness as it grows,
  • the strongly voiced value the agency sees in quality PT networks especially their positive effects on traffic congestion and economic growth,
  • the well known relationship between what is invested in and what then grows in use plus the positive externalities of increased PT use,
  • and the observed sub-optimal nature of the city’s current PT networks in both quality and extent, ie the clear opportunities for improvement.
So despite the good work being undertaken by many in all our transport agencies: NZTA, AT, and MoT, there seem to be structural problems that are leading to important opportunities being missed in our only city of scale. It is this context that I wrote to NZTA Auckland and Northland Director Ernst Zöllner with concerns about two specific projects that embody these issues. As this post is already quite long I will run the letter tomorrow morning in a follow-up post…

North Shore New Network Consultation

The next round of consultation for the New Network starts today and this time it’s the turn of the North Shore. This follows the consultations for South Auckland, West Auckland, Hibiscus Coast and Pukekohe/Waiuku.

Like pretty much every other area of Auckland, the existing bus network on the North Shore is a confusing mess – akin to spaghetti that’s been thrown at a map. There are a huge number of services that often do only minor variations. There are also a lot of situations where services overlap to provide frequency to some areas but at the expense of legibility for customers. An example of this is Takapuna where there is a frequent all day service already but it is made up by a plethora of different routes, many of which also serve other parts of the North Shore. If you’re standing on Albert St wanting to get there you catch the bus destined for Takapuna then catch one of the buses to the East Coast Bays, Forrest Hill or to Waiwera but whatever you do don’t get on the bus marked Takapuna (922) which reaches its destination only after an arduous detour through Northcote and Hillcrest.

North Shore Existing Bus Network

The map for the proposed new network is below which is proposed to be rolled out in 2017.

North Shore Proposed New Bus Network

As with all of the proposed new networks, the first thing you notice is that the map is considerably cleaner and easier to read and that in itself is an improvement however there are a couple of improvements I think could make things even better – some easier than others.

Transfers vs direct services – We’ve talked a lot before about how the focus on being able to transfer easily to expand the usefulness of the network is the right approach however I wonder if there aren’t still too many long routes that go all the way to town, especially at the peak. Those resources could perhaps instead go to providing more localised services that visit busway stations or hook into the very frequent Onewa Rd services.

Onewa Busway Station – The network really highlights how useful the originally proposed busway station at Onewa Rd would be. With this network someone from say Northcote to get to Constellation or Albany is quite difficult and the fastest option would probably be to go to Fanshawe St then transfer on to a Northern Express service. With a busway station just south of Onewa Rd it would allow people to transfer easily between very frequent services and open up those two parts of the network much better. Note: this busway station was opposed by many of same people that have opposed Skypath out of fear their streets will be full of parked cars.

There is more to the new network though. You may have noticed from the image above that there are three different Northern Express services planned. This is because AT say they are also changing where buses go on the south side of the harbour. All North Shore buses will eventually take one the three routes are shown below:

North Shore New Network Shore to City Schematic

They say there will be three different routes which they say:

The benefit of operating buses on these 3 separate paths is that we can better match the number of buses with the number of passengers. In this way, services will be less likely to be overcrowded for people travelling to end destinations such as Newmarket.

However I’m not convinced that’s a good idea. Why not just use those extra services to make things less crowded for everyone while at the same time extending either of the other two services to Newmarket. Those wanting to go to Ponsonby would transfer like they’ll be required too on weekends not to mention those other routes generally have better bus priority. Due to the City Rail Link works that start early next year, AT will be changing existing routes in the city to one of the three above by the end of this year.

In every New Network consultation that’s taken place so far there’ve been a few changes in the way it’s handled and in this one there are a few new aspects that AT have added that I quite like. One is this before and after map highlighting just how much the service is improving. Red is Frequent routes with a minimum of 15 minutes during the day, Blue is Connector routes which have a minimum of 30 minutes during the day and most are much higher in the peak while Green are other services.

North Shore Proposed New Bus Network before and after

There’s also this table which highlights what kind of frequencies and span of service can be expected from each route.

North Shore Proposed New Bus Network Times

Lastly here are some figures on how the changes to the network will impact people. Within 500m of a frequent route:

  • the number of people living will improve from 6.2% to 32.3%
  • the number of jobs will improve from 18.5% to 50.3%

There are more stats here.

It will be interesting to see how the consultation goes. Go to AT’s site for more information including public events and to give feedback.

‘Thanks, but no I really don’t need a lift’

The Public Transport offer in Auckland has a long way to go, but on some routes, especially in the inner city, it can be not only the quicker but also more pleasant option than driving, particularly once the hassle and costs of parking are considered. We look forward to this advantage being spread out to more areas and for more people as the Electric Trains, the New Bus Network, Proper Buslanes, and Integrated Fares roll out over the next couple of years.

Yet there is still the issue of people’s mindset. I understand this well as it wasn’t until I returned from living in Europe that I just didn’t unthinkingly reach for my car keys to undertake even the shortest or most ill-suited of journeys in Auckland. But also over that time PT services have improved from almost completely useless to on many occasions pretty handy. The Rapid Transit system is at last reaching utility as can be clearly seen by consistent rise in uptake, but there are also bus services like the Inner Link that I now use regularly because, once armed with a HOP card, it is often the best option for many journeys. Frequent enough, and a great place to check my messages between commitments, or just stare out into the city sailing by, perhaps even thoughtfully. It can also be pretty social:


Ride Social: On the Inner Link

My partner and I have recently had two instances that are deeply illustrative of how far many Aucklanders have to go with their car addiction. An addiction born of the environment; as for so long only one means of movement was well supported.

Both times we were happily bussing it, only to be dragged off into relatively unpleasant and time wasting car experiences by people determined to do us a favour and generously save us from perfectly efficient and enjoyable Transit trips.
The first, after a dinner out we were dragged, past our bus stop, into the limitless helllhole that is the SkyCity car dungeon, our hosts struggling to find their car on the bizarre sloping and labyrinthine parking floors, paying an absolute fortune to release it once found, seriously taking way longer and much less pleasantly than hanging on Albert St on a clear evening, even for the relatively roundabout 020. 
It was very kind of our friends but I really really would have rather had the bus trip home. The conversation, thereafter, became all about how vile SkyCity is as an experience and how expensive the parking was; which was an order of magnitude higher than our combined busfares.
The second, Maria was on Ponsonby Rd buying flowers en route to the hospital (Bhana Bros; what will we do without you?), only to bump into a mutual friend who insisted on driving her to Grafton. What ensued was a longwinded driving/parking hopeless nightmare. Compared to taking the Link, as she’d intended [directly point to point; unlike the drive], or riding, as I usually do to get to the hosp. and there’s been a lot of that over last few years, what a stupid way to cover that route! Yet this person wouldn’t have a bar of it, absolutely full of how she’d saved Maria from some kind of malady and done her a great favour…. But it actually made her late for her next appointment and robbed her of a contemplative moment on the bus.
Nick adds:

I had a similar experience not too long ago. Drinking near Britomart late at night, group decides to go to a bar in Ponsonby. They start the inevitable horse trading of who is driving what and where and whose car I have to go in the boot of.  I say bugger that and announce I’m catching a bus, the rest look at me like I’m insane. Basically begging me to cram into their car which is parked in some building like they are saving me from some huge hardship. Me and one other get the Link up no worries, and are well onto our second drink before the rest arrive complaining about nowhere to park etc. All absolutely flabbergasted we got there faster on a bus. One person didn’t believe us and said we must have run straight to a taxi. Anyway, who wants to be driving when bar-hopping?
I get this totally because if you don’t use PT at all you sort of don’t see it, except as that thing blocking your way when driving, also you don’t know how it works, where to catch a service or how long it might take, or what the hell a HOP card is. And it also means you pretty much always have your car with you piling up parking charges or nagging you about the wisdom of having that drink. I really do feel much freer in the city without my car, free to change plans, free to socialise. In the city the car is a burden.
And continued improvements to services are baked into the pie, especially now the the Transport Levy is in place. Although it is extension to the Rapid Transit Network that would be truly transformative. Here is the coming spread of the Frequent Network:
RPTP Current Network
RPTP Proposed 2018 Network
RPTP Proposed 2025 Network
Those that still only ever think of driving are clearly the majority in Auckland but there is a considerable upside to this observation because as the kinds of improvements that are available in only some places become more widespread it means that there are many more Aucklanders who will discover this advantage and add using these services to their options for movement. When and where it makes sense to.
The data supports the idea that this is already happening as the transit trips per capita figure keeps steadily advancing despite the rising poulation. It is now at 50.5 PT trips per capita from 44 in 2011, still very low compared to similar cities, and reason enough to expect ridership to keep climbing. As long as Auckland Transport keep improving services measurable.
But also thinks of new ways of getting HOP cards into more new hands. Events where PT journeys are part of the ticket price are currently the main way that AT are doing this. But with Fare Integration I think its time they started approaching major employers near good services to include HOP cards in renumeration packages. And for the government to revisit Fringe Benefit Tax rules for both PT and car parks.

What’s with ‘The Void’?

Could Auckland have something like this running on a couple of major city routes before this decade is out? The AT board is to decide later this month how to proceed with its Light Rail plan and with what sort of pace. Everybody it seems loves trams, but why now and why there? What problem are they addressing? In a follow-up post I will discuss the financial side of the proposal.

CAF Urbos Light Rail for Utrecht

CAF Urbos Tram recently ordered by Utrecht

First of all lets have a look at Auckland’s situation in general terms. Auckland is at a particular but quite standard point in its urban development: 1.5 million people is a city. The fifth biggest in Australasia; behind Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth. But on the location with the tightest natural constraints of the group; squeezed by harbours, coasts, ranges, and productive and/or swampy farmland, it shares the highest density of the group with Sydney in its built up area. And is growing strongly. It also has the poorest Transit network of the group and consequently the lowest per capita Transit modeshare [although the fastest improving one].

So these three factors scale, growth, and density are all combining to create some serious pressure points that require fresh solutions especially on existing transport routes, and particularly on the harbour constrained city isthmus.

This pressure is on all transport infrastructure, at every scale from footpaths [eg Central City, Ponsonby Road]; the desire for safe cycling routes; on the buses, trains, and ferries; to road space for trucks and tradies, and of course road and street space for private vehicle users. Transit demand in particular is going through the roof and this is way ahead of population growth and traffic demand growth, especially at the higher quality Rapid Transit type of service where growth over the last year has been at an atsonishing 20%.

This is to be expected in a city of Auckland’s current state as Transit demand typically accelerates in advance of population in cities of a certain size, because of the universal laws of urban spatial geometry, as explained here by Jarrett Walker;

This problem is mathematically inevitable.  

As cities grow, and especially as they grow denser, the need for transit generally rises faster than population, at least in the range of densities that is common in North America.  This is completely obvious if you think about it, and I stepped through it in more detail in Chapter 10 of Human Transit.  In brief: Suppose a particular square mile of the city doubles in population.  Transit demand would double because there are twice as many people for whom transit is competing.  But independently of that, if density is higher, each person is likely to find transit more useful, because (a) density creates more disincentives to driving and car ownership while (b) density makes it easier for transit agencies to provide abundant and useful service.   Those two separate impacts of density on transit, multiplied together, mean that transit demand is rising faster than population. Again, go to my book for a more extended and thorough argument.

And that this means that the infrastructure needs of our growing city is likely to be ‘lumpy’. Big long lasting kit that is costly and disruptive to build become suddenly urgent:

As transit demand grows in a growing city, it hits crisis points where the current infrastructure is no longer adequate to serve the number of people who want to travel.  Several major subway projects now in development are the result of transit’s overwhelming success using buses.  I’m thinking, for example, of Second Avenue in New York, Eglinton in Toronto, Wilshire in Los Angeles,  Broadway in Vancouver, and Stockton-Columbus in San Francisco.

Broadway, for example, has local buses running alongside express buses, coming as often as every 3 minutes peak hours, and they are all packed.  In that situation, you’ve done just about everything you can with buses, so the case for a rail project is pretty airtight.   In all of the cases I mention, the rail project usually has to be a subway, because once an area is that dense, it is difficult to commandeer enough surface street space, and we tend to have strong aesthetic objections to elevated lines in these contexts.

As driving amenity is very mature in Auckland there is very little opportunity to add significant driving capacity to streets and roads to much of the city at any kind of cost, and certainly not without a great deal of destruction of the built environment. This has long been the case so in a desire to solve capacity and access issues with a driving only solution we did spend the second half of the last century bulldozing large swathes of the Victorian inner suburbs into to make room for this spatially very hungry mode. This solution is no longer desirable nor workable. Below is an image showing the scar of the Dominion Rd extension citywards and the still extant Dom/New North Rd flyover. These were to be the beginning of a motorway parallel to Dominion rd to ‘open up’ or ‘access’ the old isthmus suburbs.

1963, Dominion Rd flyover in the foreground

1963, Dominion Rd flyover in the foreground

Where we can’t nor want to build ever wider roads we can of course add that needed capacity though the higher capacity and spatial efficiency of Transit. Most easily with buses and bus lanes. There are also potential significant gains to made at the margins by incentivising the Active modes with safe routes especially to Transit stations and schools and other local amenity.

However as Jarrett Walker describes above there comes a point where buses, through their own success, cannot handle the demand as the number of vehicles required start to become both less efficient and more disruptive than is desirable. At this point demand can only be met with higher capacity systems with clearer right of ways. Such systems require expensive permanent infrastructure and are never undertaken lightly.  The CRL, being underground, clearly fits this definition and is due to begin in earnest in the new year. And although the physical work and all of the disruption of the CRL build occurs in the Centre City, the capacity and frequency improvements are to the entire rail network, and therefore much of the city: West, East, and South.

But not everywhere. Not the North Shore, not the North West, and not in ‘the Void’, as AT call it, the isthmus area between the Western and Southern Lines. Shown below in purple with the post CRL Rapid Transit Network. This area has a fairly solid and quite consistent density, housing about the same number of people as West Auckland, around 150,000. Note also the South Eastern Busway [AMETI] plugging directly into Panmure is very much a kind of rail extension for the Transit-less South-East, as is the Manukau spur further south.

RTN Void

The Void

These three major areas will still be relying on buses. The CRL, New Bus Network, and Integrated Fares will enable and incentivise more bus-to-train transfers that expand the reach of the core rail network and that this will help limit the numbers of buses going on all the way to the city. But this is primarily for the South, South-East, and West of New Lynn, there will still be an ever increasing number of  buses with from the remaining areas converging on the City Centre. AT calculates that we need to act now to cut the bus numbers from at least one of these major sources to leave room for growth from the others, and all the other users and uses of city streets. [More detail on this in Matt’s previous post, here].

The North Western is currently getting more bus priority with the motorway widening, and hopefully proper stations at Pt Chevalier, Te Atatu, and Lincoln Rd [although NZTA and/or the government are showing little urgency with this aspect of the route]. Also priority improvements to Great North Rd and further west too. The North Shore is the only one of the three with a Rapid Transit system [which also should be being extended now], and while there is still plenty of capacity on the Busway itself, like the other routes these buses are constrained once in the city. This leaves the very full and frequent ‘Void’ bus routes as the ones to address with another solution first.

So essentially LRT for this area has been selected because of the need:

  • for higher capacity and efficiency on core Isthmus bus routes
  • to reduce bus numbers on these routes and especially in the central city
  • adds Queen St as an additional high capacity North-South city route
  • for extra capacity both before and after CRL is operational
  • to address Auckland Plan air quality, carbon emissions, and resilience aims
  • to enable major public realm improvements along routes, especially Queen St

and possibly because:

  • it may be able to be financed as a PPP so helps smooth out the capital cost of building both projects [more on this in a follow up post]
Above is a schematic from AT showing the two proposed LRT branches. The western one leading to Queen St via Ian Mackinnon Drive from Dominion and Sandringham Roads, the eastern one down Symonds St from Manukau and Mt Eden Roads, some or all routes connecting through to Wynyard Quarter. More description in this post by Matt.
It is worth noting that this area, The Void, gets its very successful and desirable urban form from this very technology; these are our premier ‘tram-built’ suburbs. With all the key features; an efficient grid street pattern, mixed use higher density on the tram corridors, excellent walking shortcuts and desire lines. So what the old tram made the new tram can serve well too.
Auckland Isthmus tramlines

Auckland Isthmus tramlines

With all door boarding and greater capacity LRT will speed more people along these routes with fewer vehicles and lower staffing numbers. Frequency will actually drop from the current peak every 3 minutes down to 5 or 7 minutes [I’m guessing]. This along with the narrower footprint required by LRT is a big plus for other users of the corridor. But the huge gain in travel time comes from improvement to the right of way and intersection priority that can be delivered with the system. Stops are presumably to be at intersections, instead of midblock as buses are, so the passenger pick-ups are coordinated with traffic lights.
But best of all for this writer is that LRT is a tool to drive enormous and permanent place uplift. The removal of cars and buses from Queen St, improvements to New North and Dominion Rds, hopefully including that intersection itself, a fantastic new Dominion road with the potential for real uplift to premier status.  It will spur the redevelopment of the mixed uses zone all along Dominion Rd. This is real place quality transport investment. And all of course while moving thousands and thousands of people totally pollution free and with our own mostly renewably generated electrons. Breathing in the Queen St valley will become a fresh new experience.
Light Rail in Queen St 1 - Nilut
We all look forward to hearing the proposed details of the routes and of course the financials. I will follow up this post with my understanding of the thinking on this next.
Light Rail in Queen St 2 - Nilut
Finally it is very good to see that there is no dispute over the necessary solutions to Auckland’s access and place quality issues, just the details and timing. Auckland Transport’s map above is pretty much the same as our solution in the CFN. We are delighted that AT are planning for four light rail routes were we proposed one.
There are of course plenty of debates to had about further extensions to the Transit networks that this proposal invites; LRT in a tunnel from Wynyard to Onewa, Akoranga, and Takapuna? Then up the Busway? From Onehunga to through Mangere to the Airport? Along Grey Lynn’s apartment lined Great North Road, to Pt Chevalier, and the North Western? Panmure, Pakuranga, Botany, Manukau City Airport? Which of these need to be true grade separate Rapid Transit and for which are bus lanes or busways a more cost effective option? Are their others that would be better suited to extending the rail network? Is there enough density elsewhere in the city to justify other LRT routes?
CFN 2030 + Light Metro