The Wellesley St Busway

One of the most exciting projects in the City East West Transport Study (CEWT) is the addition of a busway through the central section of Wellesley St – which is defined as between Kitchener St and Albert St.

The central section of Wellesley Street near the Queen Street core contains a number of key cultural facilities including the Civic and St James Theatres, Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland Central City Library and also intersects with the Elliot Street shared space and connections through to Aotea Square. The importance of providing a quality environment for pedestrians and place making within the area cannot be overstated.

While the study has confirmed that the linear park project is best located on Victoria Street and there is a need for a bus corridor along Wellesley Street, there remain considerable opportunities to also obtain the desired improvements to pedestrian and amenity provisions within Wellesley Street central.

In particular, there may be an opportunity to close the central section of Wellesley Street (between Kitchener and Albert Streets) to general traffic, which would be rerouted for example around Mayoral Drive. This would enable the carriageway width to be reduced and reallocated to the pedestrian realm and also reduce the feeling of vehicle dominance within this area. This traffic closure would have additional benefits in allowing greater signal optimisation for buses and pedestrians at the Wellesley Street / Queen Street intersection, and may also unlock opportunities for improvements on adjacent blocks of Queen Street through reduced traffic and the reduction of bus stops.

For that central section the busway would be a full four lanes wide, two lanes for movement and two lanes for buses stopping. When you include the bus stops, parking and loading zones the carriageway is actually about six lanes wide so this proposal actually represents it being narrowed down.  That in turn allows for the footpaths to be extended which is something likely to be needed considering the number of people that will be moving through the area thanks to the people fountains the buses will be.

CEWT Wellesley St Busway

The image below highlights the benefits to pedestrians showing that they go from having 30% of the space in the corridor now to 48% with a bus only road in place.

CEWT Wellesley St Central

And here’s the proposed layout vs what we have now. While the diagrams are just listed as indicative, I suspect that in reality the vehicle lanes would be closer to the northern side which would allow much more space on the south which gets more sun and out the front of the Civic Theatre.

Wellesley St Layout

In addition to the extra space on Wellesley St, the changes to the bus routes and the inability of cars to turn off Queen St would mean the carriageway on that wide section of Queen St could also be narrowed. In effect it could leave us with quite a large footpath build out of the Civic corner.

But why is a busway even needed?

Currently around 24,000 people enter the CBD by bus during the morning peak however by 2041 it’s expected that number could be up to 45,000 people while vehicle volumes are at best flat. Like we’ve seen over the last decade, all the transport growth that will occur in the CBD will happen through public transport or active modes. Even with higher capacity buses it still means we’ll need a lot more of them on the roads delivering people to and through the city centre. It’s this reason that the City Centre Future Access Study determined that a mix of both the City Rail Link and improvements to surface buses would be the best solution.

Currently buses to the CBD use a wide variety of routes with the main corridors being Fanshawe St, Albert St and Symonds St. There are a number of buses that also terminate or travel through the Civic area.

CBD Bus Routes Current

 

The New Bus Network is seeing routes overhauled and while we won’t see the official plans for the City Centre till the central are consultation (which is expected next year), one of the features of the network is that routes will be concentrated on to a few key routes. The current proposal below sees two North-South routes (Albert St and Symonds St) and two East-West routes (Fanshawe/Customs and Wellesley St. The Wellesley St corridor is home to a number of all-day frequent routes including but not limited to buses from:

  • Dominion Rd
  • Sandringham Rd
  • New North Rd
  • Remuera Rd
  • Manukau Rd
  • Pt Chev via Westmere and Herne Bay
  • Grey Lynn and Ponsonby

A quick calculation suggests that could represent over 100 buses an hour before taking into account the non frequent routes and the peak only routes that would also pass through the corridor. That would likely to be too much for single bus lanes to handle without getting horribly clogged up with a wall of buses.

CBD Bus Routes Future

So why not use either Victoria St or Mayoral Dr for the buses

As many people will know and as the first map shows, buses currently use both Wellesley and Victoria St for East-West movements and some may ask why we shouldn’t just keep doing that. There are a number of reasons but a couple of key ones are that it enables customers to transfer much easier between services but it also enable other city centre improvements to happen. In particular the plan is to have a linear park on Victoria St connecting Albert Park with Victoria Park.

Victoria St Linear Park

As the report notes a number of people have questioned whether the Linear park should be on Wellesley instead (with presumably buses on Victoria St). The report (page 234) highlights the results of some of the significant analysis that is said to have gone in to confirming that Victoria St is the best location. The other east-west street in the middle of the CBD is Mayoral Dr. Again it would require bus routes to be longer and therefore higher operational costs but it would also move the buses (which will be moving many more people to the city than cars will) further away from the centre of town where the majority of people will be living or working. The table below shows the expected CBD population and employment densities in 2041 showing the concentration north of Wellesley St.

2041 Forecast CBD population and employment density

In my view the Wellesley St busway would be a welcome addition to the city centre and along with the other improvements to the area represent a huge step forward for the CBD.

New Network Consultation for the Hibiscus Coast

On Monday Auckland Transport are launching the next consultation for the New Network and this time it’s the turn of Hibiscus Coast. AT say the changes to the network are planned to go in early mid 2015 which could make the area the first to change to the New Network as the South Auckland changes aren’t due till later in 2015. As a reminder about the changes being made with new network watch this video from Auckland Transport

The first and perhaps most significant change to the network is that AT will extend the Northern Express (NEX) to a new busway station. AT have already started on this and built some of the Park n Ride planned however I believe it has been halted due to another challenge to the Environment court by a local land owner. It’s proposing NEX services running at 30 minute frequencies off peak and with 15 minute frequencies during the peak which it is describing as 6am-8am and 4:30pm – 7pm. They say services will be timetabled to ensure reliable connections with local services.

Hibiscus Coast Consultation - Busway Station

Where the Hibiscus Coast differs from other parts of the region is that there are no all-day frequent services and services that are a minimum of half hourly are made up of a two lower frequency for part of their journey. The full map of proposed services is below (click to enlarge).

Hibiscus Coast Consultation - Map Combined

At first glance one area that seems less than ideal is how buses are treated in relation to the Silverdale Town Centre. Going to the busway station some buses enter the town centre before doubling back and then going to the station while other buses skip it inbound and only go through outbound. All of this is because vehicles aren’t allowed to turn right out of Silverdale St or Wainui Rd. AT say that if a proposed new road gets built it will allow them to send all buses though the centre in both directions however as an interim measure perhaps they should just signalise one of the problem intersections and then have all buses run a logical route through it.

Hibiscus Coast Consultation - Silverdale Town Centre

The consultation will open Monday for a month.

Here’s the press release

More buses more often, new bus routes and extending the Northern Express to Silverdale, these are some of Auckland Transport’s proposals to boost public transport options for the Hibiscus Coast.

Anthony Cross, Public Transport Network Manager says the Hibiscus Coast is getting some notable service improvements. “Extending the Northern Express to Silverdale is huge, outside peak hours that will cut 30 minutes off the journey time to Auckland’s city centre”.

There will also be a new bus service for the growing area at Millwater plus buses every 30 minutes between Orewa, Silverdale and Manly, seven days a week.

More frequent local services, and a number of new or trial bus routes are also some of the benefits residents can look forward to under the New Network.

“We’re also building a new busway station at Silverdale which will become a key interchange for the Coast. We are increasing the Park and Ride car parks too,” says Mr Cross.

“The New Network will change the way people travel – it is a fundamental shift in the principles behind how we plan the public transport network. There will be a few challenging years ahead of us as we consult and implement, but in the long term it will make a very positive difference to Auckland’s public transport system.”

Consultation on the New Network for the Hibiscus Coast runs from Monday 14 July to Thursday 14 August.

Following consultation, changes are planned to take effect in early-to-mid 2015. There will be an extensive information campaign ahead of the changes, and the new timetables will be available ahead of time so that passengers can plan their journeys.

In coming weeks, Auckland Transport will have people in local markets, shopping centres, and transport hubs and on the streets on the Hibiscus Coast talking to customers about these changes and getting their views. A series of information events have also been planned.

For more information on the New Network for the Hibiscus Coast go to www.AT.govt.nz/newnetwork

The New Network is a region wide public transport network which is proposed to deliver bus services at least every 15 minutes throughout the day, seven days a week on major routes between the hours of 7am to 7pm. Services will connect better with train services for those customers who require connections.

South Auckland was the first region to be consulted on the New Network in 2013.

Bring on the New Network

The new bus network aims to revolutionise the bus network in Auckland turning it from a network that resembles spaghetti thrown on a map to a more legible and customer focused one. It provides a lot more routes that run with decent frequencies all day and is able to do so in a revenue neutral way by stopping stupid stuff like bus routes that duplicate and compete with the rail network and by having a greater use of transfers. Below is a map of the frequent network that will have services at least every 15 minutes between 7am and 7pm 7 days a week. It is supported by a secondary network that provides greater coverage with 30 minute frequencies as well as peak only and other localised services.

newnetwork

To me the full roll out of the new bus network can’t come soon enough and that was highlighted again last night with the problems that occurred on the rail network. A water main burst at Fruitvale Station and apparently undermined the tracks. As a result the network was closed for a large portion of the day including the evening rush hour. There were a number of services cancelled outright and those that did run on the western line terminated at New Lynn with a shuttle bus taking passengers between there and Henderson.

Given how poorly these types of impromptu shuttle services have run in the past I didn’t hold out much hope that they would be any better this time. As such I decided to catch a bus home. The experience highlighted two things

1. AT need to have plans in place to make better use of the bus network when events like yesterday’s happen.

I don’t mind using an alternative service – even if it takes a little longer than the train does – if it means I don’t have to worry about mucking around with an hastily organised shuttle service. However while I’m someone who catches PT frequently I don’t have much idea about which bus alternatives I can catch.  AT could make it easier for people by having some prepared information telling people alternative options. For example some posters they can quickly pull out of a storage room telling people their options without having to wade through little pamphlets.

Fixing their journey planner would also help with this. When I looked on it half the services I could have caught didn’t show. It also might not be practical for a lot of people. Further it’s not just about which services but the myriad of potential bus stop locations around Britomart which makes everything confusing, something that will hopefully be addressed as the new network is rolled out.

2. Get the New Network Rolled out.

After fumbling around I found a service that would at least get me home – the 079 to Sturges Rd. I knew the route would be convoluted but that turns out to be an understatement. The map below shows the route the bus takes to get to Sturges Rd. The red part indicates the part of the route where most of the 20-30 people on the bus hopped off. The handful of people who remained on the bus in the blue part were mostly the rail refugees.

079 Route

By comparison if the new network was in place it would have been super easy to find a different way home. I could have jumped on a frequent bus along SH16 and transferred (at a Lincoln Rd interchange) to a bus down Lincoln Rd and had a short walk to Sturges Rd, an excellent alternative.

So bring on the new network with its more frequent and legible services along with the added resilience it provides.

Note: AT are starting consultation on the Hibiscus Coast services in just over a week and Warkworth services a week after that. They are also expecting to consult on West Auckland later this year.

More bus lanes required – Mt Eden Road

Mount Eden Road is one of our premier isthmus bus corridors, now having a very high frequency. Between 7am and 9am 36 buses depart Three Kings, or nearly one every 3 minutes. Half of all Airbuses also use this corridor giving an extra 3 per hour each way. During the busiest hour there are 22 buses along the corridor, while latest traffic count figures (2006) show there were 1600 cars. With about 50 seats a bus, that means buses carry at least 1100 people, so buses are carrying about 40% of the people in the northern part of Mt Eden Road. Generally in the peak hour these buses are packed with standees, so buses maybe well be carrying half the people in the corridor. Then north of Esplanade Road, Dominion Road buses (except expresses) join Mt Eden Road too, giving an extra 23 buses between 7am and 9am. This suggests the corridor should have full bus lanes the whole way from Three Kings into town. I have already covered the big issues with bus congestion at Newton in a previous post, so I will now focus on the corridor between Mount Albert Road and Newton.

Below is a map of the current bus lanes (green lines), and as you can see they are very erratic (zoom in on the map to see more detail).


View Mt Eden Bus Lanes in a larger map

While the corridor is 5km long, the sections going northbound only have bus lanes for 2km, while southbound there is only 1km of bus lanes. Therefore only 30% of the corridor has bus lanes, which is hopeless considering the frequency of buses along the corridor. Heading southbound there are none south of Balmoral Road, while northbound none south of Duke Street.

Work to move the corridor towards full bus lanes can be separated into quick wins, short term fixes and medium term fixes as in some areas capital works are required.

There are 2 obvious quick wins.

Mt Eden useless bus lane

Common sight around 6pm. Bus lane finished well before rush hour does.


The first quick win is the ridiculously short timing of the southbound buslane leading to Mt Eden shops. This a roughly 200m section starting at Batgar Road, and finishing where the shops start. It is only a buslane from 4.30pm to 5.30pm, then reverts to parking! This means that a bus leaving Britomart at one of the busiest times of 5.10pm would struggle to make it to Mt Eden before the bus lanes finishes! This should immediately be standardised to the usual time of 4pm to 6pm. However for bus lanes in general I would rather see at least 3.30pm to 6.30pm for evening lanes but that’s another discussion. The short operating hours result in crazy situations like this one taken around 6pm, with one car parked the brief bus-lane.

The second quick-win is regarding the clearways that exist through Mt Eden village (black lines in the map below). There is no reason why these should not be buslanes. The southbound clearway also has silly short hours of operation (4.30pm to 5.30pm again) so this should be extended as well. The northbound clearway is the standard 7am to 9am which is fine for the shorter morning peak. This change would help buses get through Mt Eden faster, and in and out of bus stops much easier.

Mt Eden clearways

The short term fixes (3 months to 1 year) are simple extensions of green paint along existing traffic and parking lanes.

Some of the issues encountered with current lengths of bus lanes were highlighted by commentator Steve N in my general bus lane post from February.

 “Mount Eden Road/Three Kings route: install inbound bus lane from Three Kings Terminus to Duke Street, to meet existing bus lane. After 0720ish, traffic backs up past Duke Street, including buses – completely negating 5 min frequency.”

So this suggests a northbound bus lane would really aide reliability and speed of the services the whole way north to the city. There is enough width within the kerbs for bus lanes to be added on both sides of the road from Mt Eden village to Three Kings. This bus lane would be very easy to install, as could be done with morning and afternoon parking restrictions and a coat of paint. In some areas the median may need to be narrowed or removed to fit bus lanes on both sides of the road. The only complication is the zebra crossing near Duke Street which may need to be removed. Zebra crossings are not seen to be safe roads with 2 lanes of traffic in one direction. So the only cost would be signalization of these pedestrian crossing, which AT have indicated costs around $100,000. 

Mt Eden bus congestion2

Common sight in the morning. Buses stuck in traffic as no bus lanes.

North of Mt Eden village things are a little trickier as the road is more windy and there are more intersections and pedestrian crossings to deal with. This means lanes need to be wider to accommodate vehicles. Northbound bus lanes can be easily added at least as far as Percy St (where southbound bus lanes start), just by narrowing the median. This looks to be the same for the section between Normamby Road and Mt Eden station. However some areas will require more complex works over the medium term.

The Normanby Road intersection is likely to require the biggest work. There are various islands and turning bays that narrow the road width here, so some capital works are inevitable. I suggest this intersection is in need of major upgrades for pedestrians too. Depsite this being opposite a playground (top right) and the northern entrance to Mt Eden, there are no pedestrian crossings at all. Coupled with the turning lanes, wide curving road and high speeds, this is a very dangerous spot for people crossing the road. I can see it being very difficult for cars to turn in and out Normanby Road at peak times too. Fixing the safety issues is likely to require signalization to add a safe pedestrian crossing point, so signalizing the whole intersection in conjunction with other work and kerbs and islands is likely to be the solution. Careful phasing to give limited priority to Normanby Road will ensure this intersection does not congest Mt Eden Road.

Normanby Road intersection

Intersection of Mt Eden Road with Normanby Road and Puka St

On closer inspection some other areas will also require capital works, such as kerb realignment, especially at intersections such as Boston Road and Esplanade Road. When capital works are done this is a great time to add cycling infrastructure to the corridor as well. Unfortunately like Dominion Road it appears to be difficult to fit quality separated lanes in the corridor as well as bus lanes without major rebuilding works.

So to sum up the volume of buses on Mt Eden Road means it is in need of full length bus priority. Some of the improvements can be done very quickly, however others will need varying levels of capital works. Either way improvements on this corridor can be done for a fraction of the $66 million being spent on the parallel Dominion Road corridor. Auckland Transport needs to come up with a staged implementation plan, showing how Mt Eden Road can move from 30% bus lanes to full length bus lanes over the next 5 years. I would suggest we could could see a big improvement in under a year, and more expensive parts programmed in after that.

More City Link buses to Wynyard

Some good news from Auckland Transport who quietly as of yesterday made changes to the city link services. Now all City Link services (the red buses) will now go to Wynyard. In the past only every second bus did so. This should hopefully make the service more useful to people, especially as Wynyard grows.

City Link changes

Now all we need is the upgraded bus lanes on Fanshawe and Customs St to take place so the buses don’t get caught in congestion.

Bus route frustration

Now that I’m working in Takapuna I thought I would try out a few different options for getting to/from work via public transport and will write about some of my experiences over the coming days.

To start with I’m going to talk about the 130 bus which travels between New Lynn and Takapuna via Upper Harbour. I only tried this bus going home due to the timetable not exactly being friendly on the way to work in the morning. 

In theory this service should be ideal as 

  • It provides basically a single seat journey between Takapuna and Henderson (where I live)
  • Constellation Dr to Henderson has long been identified as being on the future Rapid Transit Network

But the reality is a far different story. PT services are always a balancing act between speed and connectivity and the 130 is a services that clearly doesn’t get that balance right.

Leaving the office at 5pm getting to the bus was easy and only a few minutes walk from work with the bus due to leave Takapuna at 5:10 so the timing was perfect. There were approximately a dozen people on the bus from Takapuna. From there it made its way to the Smales Farm busway station which took about 10 minutes with the bus getting caught in traffic along Taharoto Rd as well as picking up another ~6 passengers. The road is so wide that a bus lane should be easy along here however in the grand scheme of things it’s not the end of the world that it doesn’t exist.

At Smales Farm probably about another 10 people got on the bus before it blasted up the wonderful Northern Busway arriving at Constellation only a few minutes later. At Constellation another 10 or so people got on the bus bringing the total to 35-40 people all up which is a fairly decent load for a bus not going to/from the CBD.

Leaving Constellation the bus encountered what I thought was the first real problem that needed solving. To get to Upper Harbour Hwy the bus has to battle traffic on Constellation Dr trying to get on the motorway and it took almost 10 minutes just getting from the station to past the motorway interchange, a distance of about 500m. I’m interested to know if Northern Express buses to Albany also get caught in this traffic because if so it’s something that AT and the NZTA need to address (and quickly).

130 - Constellation congestion

From Upper Harbour Hwy it diverts to Upper Harbour Dr and then Greenhithe Dr to serve Greenhithe. I can kind of understand the latter diversion but Upper Harbour Dr is odd as it is very lightly populated. As there are some other buses that do run that route (the 956), perhaps it would be better to keep the bus on to the motorway till Greenhithe Dr giving a faster journey will still retaining the connectivity at Greenhithe. The suggested change is shown in red in the image below.

130 - Greenhithe

But for the problems that the service has on the Shore are dwarfed by those at once it crosses the harbour. It starts when the bus comes off the motorway and then off Hobsonville Rd and travels along Wisely Rd. That looks good on a map as it bisects the houses in the area but Wisely Rd has a fatal flaw for buses as it contains speed bumps every 100 or so metres. This makes the bus incredibly slow along the road. It also then takes further detours to try and provide greater coverage which is really the opposite of what a more regional route like this should be doing. In saying this West Harbour and Greenhithe were the locations where the majority of passengers disembarked (perhaps 2/3rds) and for them it’s clearly acting more like a local feeder service. Keeping the buses on Hobsonville Rd would lose some, but not all, connectivity but would greatly speed up this part of the journey.

130 - West Harbour

Perhaps the most mind numbing section was between Westgate and Lincoln Rd. The bus takes one of the most convoluted paths possible though roads barely big enough to fit a bus through undulating terrain. It’s clear that whoever designed this route only thought of trying to get as many houses on the route as possible and never considered actually making the service usable or attractive. This is of course on of the big downsides to a bus network focused on coverage rather than serving the most people. To me the bus should be run down the new Westgate Dr and then down Triangle Rd which like the Hobsonville example, would still provide some local connectivity but would reduce some of the worst parts of the journey.

130 - Massey

All up I get the feeling that the 130 is trying to provide a long distance service but ends up getting bogged down trying to provide local connectivity. For a bit of a comparison it took about 20 minutes to get from Takapuna to Constellation station then another 40 minutes to get to Royal Rd though an area that doesn’t suffer from congestion.

All up from door to door (including a lengthy walk at the end) my trip took over an hour and a half which is probably almost twice as long as it would take to drive at the peak. Suffice to say I won’t be catching that bus again.

To me this is a good example of why we have such a high mode-share for driving. The PT options are simply not realistic except for people who don’t care about how long their trip will take. In many cases around Auckland the new network will help with issues like those described above (although not so much in this specific case). It’s definitely an issue I’ll be raising when consultation on the new network comes up for West Auckland later this year.

More bus lanes required – Newton

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newton Existing Bus Lanes

current bus lanes along Upper Symonds Street

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

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

Newton Clearways

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

 Symonds Alex Evans

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

Symonds K Road

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

Will people walk further for higher frequency bus services?

To me the new bus network presents Auckland Transport with many opportunities to improve transport in Auckland. These include:

  • It simplifies the bus network and removes unnecessary duplication and inefficiency.
  • It allows for greatly improved frequencies across much of the city.
  • The simpler network structure means that it will be much easier to market the PT network as a whole rather than only being able to focus on individual parts.
  • The network structure encourages AT to put effort into improving bus stops and interchanges around the network further improving its quality – an example is the proposed Otahuhu Interchange.
  • The network provides a ready-made plan for what roads will need better bus priority built (e.g. bus lanes, bus priority at intersections etc.)
Frequent Bus Network 2016

The 2016 frequent network (although missing the changes made to the southern area)

With this post I want to look at another opportunity that AT will hopefully make as part of the roll out of the new network – changes to bus stop spacing. The problem is that along many routes the spacing of bus stops is extremely close, sometimes less than 200m apart. I only checked a few routes but on them stops appear to only average about 300m apart.  While that might be good for those living nearby meaning they don’t need to walk far to get a bus, it can make the bus slow by stopping frequently.

What kind of impact could changing the stop spacing have?

For the purposes of this exercise I’m going to assume that on average a bus loses about one minute of journey time per bus stop. That includes time to brake, dwell at the stop while passengers get on and off and then accelerate again. As a comparison, over a distance of 12 km (many bus routes will be longer than this) a bus that stops on average every 300m will make 40 stops, a bus stopping every 400m will stop 30 times and a bus stopping every 500m will stop just 24 times. Based on that one minute average stop time above then stopping every 400m could save 10 minutes per run while it could be 16 minutes saved with a 500m stop spacing. It’s also worth pointing out that in the situation above all stops are treated equal as in reality a larger stop where lots of people get on will likely be more efficient on a per passenger basis during the dwell time phase.

What are the benefits to increasing stop spacing?

The first one is that passengers get a faster trip whilst they are on the bus but that would have be partly offset by a longer walk to the bus stop. From an operations point of view, depending on the route that time saved might just be enough to allow an extra bus to be run without needing to buy another bus and hire more drivers. In effect it means that can either reduce how much we spend to get the same level of service or get more service (and therefore patronage) without having to spend more. Both options are positive.

The risk with increasing station spacing is that it the service becomes less attractive due to being harder to access stops. Bringing this back to the new network, the question is whether the increased frequencies on the new frequent bus network could be enough to offset the extra walking that would be required due to wider stop spacing. A research paper from Australia last year has attempted to answer exactly this question by surveying people in the major Australian cities. The abstract from the paper is below

Network planning of bus services requires addressing the trade off between frequency and coverage. Planning for good coverage of bus services using the rule of thumb that people will walk four hundred meters to access bus based public transport services means sharing the available budget between many services. For the same budget, the alternative approach of concentrating frequency on core corridors implies lower coverage and that some travellers would need to walk further to access bus based services. An understanding of to which extent people are willing to walk to a bus stop with higher frequency would provide empirical information for bus network planning.

The research question addressed by this paper is whether travellers are willing to walk further to a more frequent bus service in the context of Australian cities. A Stated Choice Experiment approach is used to elicit the trade off between walking further to access more frequent bus services. In doing so the paper investigates the potential success of reorientating a coverage approach to network planning, prevalent in many Australian cities to one predicated on concentrating frequency in corridors. The results show travellers in Australian capital cities are willing to walk around 206m to 327m further for a ten-minute reduction in bus headways. These research outcomes provide valuable Australian evidence confirming travellers are prepared to walk further to a more frequent bus service.

And just expanding on the conclusions they say

The major contribution of this paper is the quantification of the trade-off between walk distance and bus frequency as identified by the MRS. The results suggest that the travellers are willing to walk further to a more frequent bus service in all Australian capital cities. Travellers in Australian capital cities are prepared to walk further by between 206m and 327m for a ten-minute reduction in bus headways. The policy implications for network planning are that increasing frequency, even if it means travellers have to walk further to bus stops, will attract higher patronage. If budgets are fixed, this suggests that moving from a policy of coverage to the ‘European’ approach of concentrating frequency in corridors is likely to be a good policy if increasing public transport patronage is desired. Of course, concentrating frequency in corridors will require some travellers to walk further to access bus based public transport and will require policy-makers to consider and implement complementary policies to ensure accessibility is not reduced for those travellers unable to walk the additional distance. This could take the form of lower frequency access services or more flexible services to provide on-demand access to high frequency corridors.

In other words if we assume that we are at least a little bit similar to our cousins across the ditch then we are likely to see similar results too. It suggests that not only is the new bus network the right thing for Auckland Transport to be doing but that people will be prepared to walk further for higher frequency services without it compromising patronage (which would be boosted by the higher frequencies being provided). Implementing changes to bus stops spacing at the same time as the new network rolls out is something AT really should be doing.

2013: A year in review – Part 1

Over the next few days I’ll be doing a series of posts recapping the year before beginning the new year by looking at what we can expect in the year ahead. For me when it comes to transport, 2013 was always going to be a bit of an “in progress” year. By that I mean that a heap of projects (both PT and road) would be advanced throughout the year however there would be nothing major completed that would fundamentally change transport in Auckland – that will change in 2014. For this post, I’m just going to be recapping public transport.

Electrification

Infrastructure

Wires are now a familiar sight across much of the rail network with primarily just the Eastern Line and the inner parts of the Western Line still to be completed however this was originally meant to have been completed by September. Back in May we revealed that the project was running late and is unlikely to be fully completed till March/April with Kiwirail saying it will be all done by the time the first electric trains are running in April. Britomart and the Eastern line are the focus over the Christmas shutdown and as I was in town yesterday I popped into Britomart which was a hive of activity and flashing lights with crews and vehicles working on each track.

Wires about to go up at Britomart

While the case for extending electrification to Pukekohe came out in 2012, the new development that is now expected to occur along the rail corridor thanks to the Unitary Plan is likely to help bring forward the need and justification for it. At the other extreme of the network Auckland Transport announced this year that the Waitakere station would close due to a combination of stubbornly low patronage and high costs to run a diesel shuttle service. The outcomes of two more stations – Westfield and Te Mahia – are still under review after it was suggested they would be closed too.

At Wiri the new state of the art depot to maintain our new electric trains was completed in time for the arrival of the first train.

Electric trains

The first of our new electric trains arrived at the end of August and staff have been busy testing it. Since then it has been joined by three others with more due to arrive soon. The trains are arriving at a rate of two every month till December when they increase to four per month. From my personal experiences of riding on them, I think they’re fantastic and people will be surprised when they first get to try the out next year.

SECOND EMU_7047

City Rail Link

The City Rail Link perhaps provided the biggest surprise of the year when in June the government suddenly turned around and agreed that it was needed and said they would help fund half of it. This was quite a change from the position they had previously taken, especially their earlier responses including to the City Centre Future Access Study which even Ministry of Transport officials had been a part of. It is believed a large part of the reason the government had such a change of heart was that their polling was showing a lot of unhappiness amongst Aucklanders about the lack of support towards the regions preferred transport and housing solutions.

While the announcement saw the government finally support the project it doesn’t mean they agree with everything about it as the government don’t want to start the project till 2020, roughly the time the council want it finished. They have set some aggressive but potentially achievable targets for starting early. Regardless some parts of the project will actually start next year (or in 2015) following an agreement between the council and Precinct Properties (who now own the Downtown Mall) for part of the tunnel to be built when they redevelop their site. That removed potentially one of the biggest issues from the consenting process which has been proceeding fairly quietly in the background. We should hear the results of that in the new year.

We here at the blog had been getting pretty frustrated with the way the project was being sold by AT (and others). Finally in November we saw a decent effort by AT with this video.

Integrated Ticketing and Fares

Integrated ticketing has one of those projects where if something can go wrong it will, frequently stumbling from one issue to the next with deadlines frequently missed as a result. The project had already been delayed multiple times in the lead up to 2013 and this year showed no sign of that changing with more deadlines missed. This year we were told the roll-out of AT HOP to buses would be completed by the end of the year however issues with the change overs pushed that back again. Birkenhead, Urban express and NZ Bus buses have now all been converted to AT HOP and fingers crossed the rest will be complete within the first few months of 2014. It will mean that for the first time people will be able to get around the city on PT with a single ticket (which is different to a single fare).

While getting integrated ticketing is a good step, integrating fares will be one of the keys to unlocking the system and making it more usable. While it has always been mentioned that integrated fares would come sometime after integrated ticketing, many at AT had previously given off the impression that it was more of a nice to have and there had been no real push. From what I have heard there has be finally been a shift and realisation within AT that integrated fares are desperately needed, especially to support the new bus network and as such work has been going on behind the scenes on this so it should become a reality.

New Bus Network

Early in the year we saw that there was a hugely positive response to the Regional Public Transport Plan of which one of the key features was the new bus network. This enabled AT to go out to the first detailed consultation which was in South Auckland. Once again there was a overwhelmingly positive response to the proposed changes. Auckland Transport deserve a lot of credit for this result as wasn’t just that the new network was good but that AT took their time to explain the reasoning behind it. Despite consultation now being complete in the South, we won’t actually see the changes made till 2015 as AT still need to work though significant issues like contracting with the bus companies. The video below is one AT put together to help accompany the consultation and explained excellently much of what is happening.

Patronage

Patronage growth was fairly stubborn throughout 2013 after a poor few years partially exaggerated by the Rugby World Cup. However there have finally been signs of improvement in the last few months, especially on the rail network. I suspect we will start to see some decent growth occurring once again in 2014.

Dec 13 Total Patronage

Other

Along with some of the big projects mentioned above, below are some of the other important things that have happened over the year:

Anything major PT wise I’ve missed? Upcoming posts will look at and recap what’s happened with road network, walking/cycling, development/planning and finally the blog itself.

New South Auckland Bus Network Confirmed

Some good news, Auckland Transport has now confirmed what the new bus network for South Auckland will look like following on from the consultation a few months ago. Here is the press release.

Auckland Transport has released its final New Network for bus services in South Auckland.

This follows public consultation earlier this year which resulted in more than 1100 submissions and three petitions. Overall, 56 per cent of submitters supported the proposed New Network and 22 per cent were opposed.

By far the most commonly mentioned positive attribute of the New Network was the proposed increase in service frequencies. Participants felt this would mean less waiting at bus stops, and faster journey times, especially during the weekend.

Public Transport Network Manager, Anthony Cross says he is pleased with the level of support and public interest in the New Network.

“Overall people got what the New Network is all about. Many submitters raised some valid concerns and made suggestions about our proposals. Of the 28 original proposed routes within the south Auckland area, we are making changes to 20 of those routes.

“In addition we are creating one new route and retaining a limited express service from Papakura to the CBD. As a result of consultation feedback there are 30 routes under the final South Auckland New Network.

Along with analysing the public submissions a team of public transport planners went out driving the routes in buses to clarify issues raised.

“On such a large scale as this we understand the final routes will not please everyone but we believe we have genuinely listened to what people said. We have had to make some trade-offs, we took things on board and where necessary or possible we made changes to improve the network to suit people’s needs, says Mr Cross.

Implementation of the routes is currently planned for mid-2015, subject to their affordability as determined by the tendering of bus services, and completion of the Otahuhu bus-train Interchange and other important infrastructure. New Network timetables will be available approximately two months prior to implementation to allow people time to plan their travel. A comprehensive public information campaign will also be carried out prior to any services changing.

For a copy of the final summary consultation report go to www.aucklandtransport.govt.nz/newnetwork

Under the New Network, Auckland Transport is moving to a simpler and more integrated public transport network. This will deliver a network of buses and trains that will change the way people travel – including the need for some passengers to transfer at key interchanges. In return it will allow more passengers to simply ‘turn up and go’ rather than planning trips around a timetable. It will offer flexible travel options over large parts of the city, making public transport more useful for a range of travel purposes.

The current bus network is considered complex, mostly infrequent and in many places, duplicates what trains do. It is inefficient to operate and does not always provide a suitable alternative to the car, or give ratepayers, taxpayers and customers the best value for money.

This new frequent network will have trains and buses timetabled at least every 15 minutes from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week. They will be supported by a network of connector routes and local and peak services.

Due to the large scale of change; consultation and implementation for Auckland’s New Network has been broken into several phases, starting with South Auckland, which was the focus of this consultation. Other parts of Auckland will be consulted over the next few years.

To get 56% of people support the proposal is fairly impressive when you consider how much change was being proposed and these types of consultations often only bring out people who like things the way they are, especially when it involves how they get around the city. I think it is a credit to Auckland Transport as to how well they conducted the consultation, not only explaining what was changing but why things needed to change. By comparison recent consultation in Brisbane consisted largely of just saying what routes were changing without any real explanation as to why and as such it saw a lot of negative submissions leading to the changes not going ahead. In saying that I’m sure there were things that AT could have done better but I’m sure they will learn from that for next round that they do.

Almost all routes from the original proposal have had changes of some sort. Most appear to be fairly minor consisting of small diversions which will add some travel time in return for more coverage. An example of this is below with the original proposal on the left and the final version on the right. In this case the 325 will now take a loop around Tennessee Ave and Blake Rd instead of the faster and more direct Farmer St.

South example change

Thankfully these little loop additions have only been made to the secondary or local network routes with the Frequent networks remaining more direct. Two of the frequent routes have seen changes though. In the original proposal two of the routes, the 31 and 33 split into lower frequency routes for part of their journey. Following the consultation they have both had one leg of their route upgraded to frequent status with the other leg being run as a separate service.  AT are also retaining a peak only express bus service from Papakura, this is something we saw a few people commenting on here about – although the current service runs all the way from Pukekohe. However AT does say that the retention of the service is transitional and will be reviewed again in the future once the new network, electrification and integrated fares have all been in for a reasonable amount of time.

Here is the map of what was originally consulted on:

South Network Proposal Before

And here is the final version:

South Network Proposal Final - 1

It’s really great to finally have this stage of the process finished however if I have one concern it is that we won’t be seeing any changes till mid-2015, over 1½ years away and is subject to infrastructure like the new Otahuhu interchange which is just being consulted on now. Slippages in that infrastructure and/or funding constraints could have the risk of further delaying the roll-out of these key changes.

Lastly there is the report analysing the feedback AT received. I won’t delve into it too much as this post is already long enough however I found the following two charts really interesting. 31% of all respondents said the new network would encourage them to use PT more compared to 36% saying it would make no difference and 22% saying they would use it less with 11% unsure. Of the 31% who would use it more the following reasons were given.

South Feedback - use PT more

This is unsurprising and as Jarrett Walker says, Frequency is Freedom. People are obviously responding to this. On the other side are those that said they won’t use the new network more often with transfers highlighted as the biggest concern.

South Feedback - use PT less

All up I think the new network is a really positive development and I can’t wait for it to be implemented, not just in the south but across the entire city.