The Wellesley Street corridor

One interesting part of the Central Flagship bus changes that were finalised earlier this week is the use of Wellesley Street as a major crosstown bus route corridor in the city centre. The “Outer Link” route will use Wellesley Street to get across the city, between Victoria Park in the west and the University in the east. Here’s the relevant part of the route map (the Outer Link is shown in orange):

 It’s not exactly obvious when you’re in town, but looking at the map above clearly shows Wellesley Street to be the most direct and shortest east-west link through the CBD. With the westbound Mayoral Drive to Queen Street section of the road already bus-only, it would seem an obvious candidate to become a prime crosstown bus route in Auckland’s city centre (along with Customs Street which obviously has the advantage of being located next to Britomart and the Ferry Terminal).

As I’ve explained in previous posts, one of the best ways to take advantage of Wellesley Street would be as the primary street for carrying North Shore buses (aside from the Northern Express, which needs to connect to Britomart as it’s part of the Rapid Transit Network). You would end up with the main bus routes in the city centre following the streets shown below (the purple route is a possible light-rail corridor):

Before we get into a big debate over whether so many buses should travel along Alfred Street in the heart of the University, that’s an issue that obviously requires further consideration and there are some obvious alternatives such as turning the buses around (and even storing them) on Stanley Street and the vacant land adjacent to it. There are some obvious advantages to sending all North Shore buses this way:

  • Improved access between the university and the North Shore. This should remove the need for some of the special routes that travel via the University.
  • Removal of conflict between West Auckland and North Shore buses on Albert Street.
  • Opportunity to connect to Aotea Station in the future via its proposed entrance at the corner of Albert and Wellesley streets.
  • With good bus priority this would be a really fast way for buses to get through the city centre (especially those that continue to the Hospital and Newmarket).

The last issue, that of bus priority measures, is what I find potentially quite interesting. With around 70 non-NEX buses travelling over the Harbour Bridge an hour during the AM peak, we would certainly need good priority measures. It seems to me that Wellesley Street has an almost unprecedented ability to handle high-quality bus priority measures – be they median bus lanes, curbside bus lanes with “station-style” bus stops or whatever else is chosen. There are a few reasons for this:

  • It’s a relatively quiet street at the moment (at least compared to other crosstown roads like Victoria and Customs streets).
  • There’s already an important bus priority measure between Queen Street and Mayoral Drive.
  • It’s a pretty wide street in areas – meaning that on-street parking could probably be retained even in areas where median bus lanes were provided.

Obviously bus lanes would need to be provided along Halsey Street and one of the two right-turn lanes from Fanshawe into Halsey Street would need to be made bus only (plus some improvements to the Halsey-Fanshawe left turn). But from looking at aerial photos, and knowing the area pretty well, it would seem that these changes would be relatively easy to make.

Even with the City Rail Link project constructed, we are going to need to find a way of handling a pretty large number of buses from the North Shore in the future – until such a time as we build a railway line to the North Shore. A study from NZTA suggested that there’d be close to 250 buses an hour from the North Shore in 2041, with the City Rail Link project constructed. That’s around one every 15 seconds.

I think it’s time we started taking advantage of Wellesley Street’s potential as an excellent east-west bus corridor.

Central bus changes finalised

Auckland Transport have today released the final version of the bus changes to many central buses that was consulted on a few months back. Here’s the final version (click here for a PDF version): Below we have the original version that was put out for consultation: There seem to be a number of changes:

  • The Link and the Outer Loop (called the Inner and Outer Link in the new system respectively) have swapped their path through the northern part of the city centre. This has the result of the Inner Link now serving Britomart, but not the University; while the Outer Link no longer serves Britomart, but does serve the University. I think this is a good change, as it brings a lot of people along that Outer Link within a one-trip ride of the University and also mean the Inner Link is more balanced in how it serves the city centre.
  • There have been some minor changes around the 011 route and how Selwyn Village is served – basically meaning that the status quo bus routes are kept. I don’t really have much of an opinion on this.
  • The 020 route has inexplicably been lengthened to now operate the most indirect and complex route imaginable between Grey Lynn and the city centre. I look forward to the masses of complaints from people about how long it takes for the route to get from the Ponsonby end of Richmond Road to Albert Street. I think the basic service should be supplemented by a peak time 020X route that travels via Hopetoun Street, to give people a fast trip.
  • The Outer Link route now stupidly doubles back on itself in Epsom, going all the way down to Greenlane West rather than via Stokes Road and Epsom Ave. Apparently this is because the left turn from Mt Eden Road to Stokes Road couldn’t be made easily.

Overall, the result is a mixture. I like the changes to the routes that the Inner and Outer Link will take through the city centre. I also like the fact that we’re going to see three branded Link Bus routes now – playing off the reputation that the “Green Link” has created (although personally I hate the Link Bus and its endless delays at Victoria Park).

However, the other two big changes are really stupid in my opinion. The 020 route is now going to be horribly slow and indirect for people, and we have lost the bus connection between Westmere/Grey Lynn and Karangahape Road. The latter was probably unavoidable, but as I said above the new 020 route is going to be so slow at peak times that I really think it needs to be supplemented by an “020X” express route that would work something like what’s shown below: The route change to the Outer Link service is equally stupid, with the route being lengthened enormously as a result of the decision from Auckland Transport that the buses supposedly can’t turn left from Mt Eden Road into Stokes Road. Now I can understand that’s a pretty sharp left turn, but I doubt it’s sharper than the left turn from Symonds Street into Grafton Bridge – and issue that was solved quite simply by pushing back the ‘limit line’ for vehicles on Grafton Bridge so that there was adequate room for the buses to swing around while making the left turn. It seems like we end up with a big chunk of the Outer Link ruined just because Auckland Transport couldn’t be bothered changing a few road markings.

Other questions I had about the initial proposal still seem to be unanswered. Will there be traffic lights at the corner of Valley Road and Mt Eden Road, to ensure buses making a right turn out of Valley Road aren’t stuck there forever waiting? What measures will be put in place to ensure that Outer Link buses don’t bunch? My ‘normal link’ bus this morning waited at Victoria Park for around seven minutes while it ‘caught up’ to its timetable. Let’s hope Auckland Transport come up with a slightly better idea for keeping their buses to time than this. On a brighter note, it was confirmed that all of Pt Chevalier will now be within the “two stage” fare boundary, and that the maximum fare for a trip on the Outer Link will be two stages (although shorter trips will obviously just be one stage).

I the reason why I’m so frustrated about the 020 issue and the Stokes Road issue is because the rest of the changes are generally very good (presuming that the Outer Link is reliable and the Valley Road intersection is signalised). It’s just annoying when Auckland Transport do 90% of the job exceptionally well, but then stuff things up in a couple of areas to really take the gloss off things. Let’s hope that they review these two matters pretty quickly after implementation so that the changes can be a completely good thing for Auckland’s bus network.

Marketing PT better

Generally I feel that Auckland Transport (and ARTA before them) does a pretty poor job of marketing public transport in Auckland. They’re obviously not helped by key factors such as the vast variety of different bus companies, or the general lack of funding and neglect for the PT system up until recently, but there are clearly ways in which we could do things better. This article on “The Dirt” highlights the need for PT to be marketed better, if it’s to compete effectively against the vast amount of marketing undertaken by car manufacturers:

Worldwide advertising and marketing efforts among the automobile sector as a whole total $21 billion. General Motors alone spent $3.2 billion in one year. All these investments aimed at attracting new customers help increase car sales, but also boost congestion, carbon dioxide emissions, and air pollution, while working against broader public transportation use and more sustainable urban transportation systems. This is especially true in developing countries: Growing middle classes in these countries are increasingly drawn to car ownership. In Brazil, the number of privately-owned vehicles doubled to 2.6 million in 2010, and in India, there’s been a 20-fold increase.

To fight these trends, …public transportation systems must not forget about branding, marketing, and advertising and using smart, creative, cost-efficient campaigns targeted at increasing and maintaining ridership. Transit agencies must focus their efforts on how to “attract new users that currently use private transport, such as cars and motorcycles; retain existing public transport users who might feel compelled to buy a private vehicle; and secure political and financial support from government officials.”

The article is based around an excellent report prepared by EMBARQ, a transportation think tank. It makes some suggestions for how PT can be marketed better:

Transit agencies must focus their efforts on how to “attract new users that currently use private transport, such as cars and motorcycles; retain existing public transport users who might feel compelled to buy a private vehicle; and secure political and financial support from government officials.” EMBARQ’s report covers how to use tactics widely used in the private and non-profit sectors to focus on brand and identity; user education, information systems, and feedback tools, including online engagement; marketing campaigns; public relations; and internal and external communications. While public transport users determine whether to use a system based on its “reliability, frequent service, safety and cleanliness, service hours, and costs and structures,” public transport systems still need to do branding, marketing, and communications to increase and maintain ridership.

On branding, EMBARQ says “to create a successful brand, then, a public transport system should start by defining its core values. Most public transport systems strive for a brand that clearly presents their services as modern, efficient, rapid, reliable, convenient, comfortable and safe.” The report further differentiates between different types of branding issues, from creating a new service to remedying issues with a highly unpopular service to unifying disparate services under one banner. They also advise against using some loaded, unpopular words: “Another way of avoiding the stigma often associated with traditional bus transport is to not use the term ‘bus’ in the new system’s name.”

It is extremely difficult to create an effective brand for public transport in Auckland. This is predominantly because all the buses are painted different colours – according to the company that operates them. It does not have to be this way, even if the buses are privately owned and operated. In London all the buses are red, even though a variety of different companies operate them and I think this is something that should be looked at once we have integrated ticketing up and running, when it no longer matters which company operates your bus. The branding of b.line bus services seemed to work quite well – promoting the service as ‘superior’ to your normal bus route – in terms of frequency, reliability and speed. That’s why it’s so surprising Auckland Transport hasn’t bothered to unroll any further b.line services since Mt Eden and Dominion Road routes went live this time last year.

Perhaps one of the most important elements of marketing a PT system is showing how easy it is to use. Our current bus maps scream “the system is too complicated for you to even consider using unless you’re a poor sucker without a car”. Compare that to the simple network map of Wellington – which helpfully distinguishes between all-day routes and peak-only ones and creates the look of a system that makes sense. Similarly, in Los Angeles there has been a real effort to highlight that the bus rapid transit service is more like a rail service than a typical bus route: It seems like a missed opportunity to not have the Northern Express service combined with the rail system in a “Rapid Transit Network” map – much as what’s shown in LA’s map above.

So, here are my ideas for ways in which Auckland could market its PT better:

  • Simplify the bus route maps so that infrequent services are shown as dotted lines, to distinguish them from ‘core services’.
  • Create a uniform look for all buses and trains in the region, with the only distinction being whether it’s part of the Rapid Transit Network (trains and Northern Busway), Quality Transit Network (b.line and Link bus route) or other services.
  • Put the Northern Busway on the rail map and call it an RTN map.
  • Highlight the speed of various bus/rail options where they are faster than driving (Eastern Line, Northern Busway, Dominion Road etc.) and market that.
  • Use the HOP brand more – could it potentially be a replacement for MAXX?

What other ways could we market PT better in Auckland?

Sylvia Park: PT success or missed opportunity?

When I think of the Sylvia Park shopping centre in Auckland, from a transport perspective, it seems to tick a lot more boxes than many other shopping centres around Auckland (particularly St Lukes). The primary reason for this is that Sylvia Park has a train station right next to it – a station that seems fairly popular, especially on weekends. An interesting research piece into the integration of land-use and transport at Sylvia Park delves a bit deeper into analysing the effectiveness of the various transport modes accessing the mall. A lot of the research article focuses on things like parking policies – pointing out the absolutely giant cost of building carparks – but it also provides some useful figures for further analysis when it comes to malls.

Starting off by looking at the mode-split for people accessing Sylvia Park, the figures for public transport are actually surprisingly low: What really stands out here is how low the mode share for buses is. From memory St Lukes – hardly a model of a public transport friendly mall – attracts between 5 and 10% of its visitors by bus.

I’ve often had debates with people over whether we really should be focusing on improving PT modeshare to shopping centres or not. The argument that is most often presented against focusing too much on shopping centres is that they seem particularly difficult ‘nuts to crack’. In fact, the decision on the St Lukes plan change made particular reference to the difficulty of attracting people to shopping centres via public transport:

While the reference to Sylvia Park is interesting, given the context of this post, what I think is most revealing is the “second” reason traffic issues were a major consideration – the assumption of the commissioners that public transport by nature is unlikely to be attractive to shoppers.

Strange how the same rule doesn’t seem to apply to Australian malls – particularly a series of shopping centres in Brisbane that the Sylvia Park study examined: The article explains that the Brisbane shopping centres tend to act as sub-regional hubs for the bus network – much in the same way as happens around New Lynn (and it would be interesting to see a modeshare for Lynn Mall shoppers). It seems to me that while Sylvia Park is doing reasonably well in terms of having a train station next to it, a lot of that good work has been completely undone by having it so poorly served by buses.

To make matters worse, the layout of Sylvia Park means that it’s pretty difficult to serve the centre well with buses. There’s an obvious north-south corridor serving the centre along Mt Wellington Highway – so why is the mall set back hugely from the highway creating a barren pedestrian wasteland between the bus route and the shopping centre (which forces buses to waste huge amounts of time by diving into the carpark). In terms of serving east-west flows, why doesn’t the road-bridge from Carbine Road connect all the way through to Mt Wellington Highway? This would allow east-west bus flows and could potentially create a fairly nice street for shops to line (general traffic may have to be excluded from through-movements to ensure it’s not a massive rat-run, but that’s easy enough).

What we really needed is shown in the map below (in terms of the two obvious bus routes to pass through the area):

Interestingly, a table in the research article shows that improving buses would be one of the most cost-efficient ways of the mall attracting more customers, largely because its capital costs and operating costs are pretty damn low compared to other modes . It’s pretty incredible that over $136 million was spent on  spending related to getting cars in and out of the mall. If we compare the costs with the revenue generated per user, we find that buses actually have a vastly higher “revenue cost ratio” than any other mode: So if I’m to go back to the original question of whether Sylvia Park is a public transport success story or a missed opportunity I would probably lean towards the latter: simply because its bus services are so terrible and its design makes improving bus services pretty damn difficult. While the train station is certainly good (and really every shopping mall should have to be within 400m of a rapid transit station, it’s just logical) it can distract us from how poorly served the mall is in other ways.

Interestingly though, it seems that the biggest loser out of this has been Sylvia Park itself. Because it’s so poorly served by bus-based public transport and because it was designed in such a way as to make it almost impossible for buses to serve the place well, the developers of the shopping centre had to spend an incredibly huge amount of money on making it easy for cars to get in and out of the place – most obviously through providing an insanely massive number of parking spaces. I guess this is why I can never understand shopping centres not being huge fans of efforts to improve public transport infrastructure to encourage more of their shoppers to arrive on the bus, rather than to have to build them an incredibly expensive parking space. Overseas cities get it, why don’t we?

Auckland’s stupidly complex bus system

Over the past week I’ve sat at the bus stop outside the hospital waiting for a fair few buses – either to head into town or to catch the Link bus back to Ponsonby. Park Road is part of the Central Connector and therefore forms one of the most core parts of the Auckland bus network. By my calculations 510 buses a day pass through Park Road in the inbound direction (and I assume a similar number head the other way). There seem to be a huge plethora of buses passing through the area – often with the unnecessary complexity of their route numbering and their CBD departure point that I mentioned in this previous blog post.

Using the MAXX website’s timetable tool, it’s relatively straightforward to work out the different routes that pass by the hospital on any given weekday – plus it’s also possible to work out how many times a day (and at what times) each of the routes passes that stop. Putting this altogether highlights the extreme (and unnecessary in my opinion) complexity of the bus system – or at least of the parts of it that pass by the hospital. This is put together in the table below: The excel worksheet is here if you want to play around with it. I’ve put an X next to the two express routes and a start next to routes that appear to have the same route number, same beginning and same end, yet are somehow different enough to warrant a separate entry in the MAXX system – it seems generally because they miss a particular stop.

It’s interesting to see the vast number of different bus routings through here – with many of them seeming nearly identical. For example, let’s group together all the services from Manukau to Britomart: It seems truly bizarre that we have three variations of the 328 route, we also have a 327 route which has two variations and seems pretty similar to the 328. Plus the 347, 348 and their variations. Perhaps this is a reminder about how dire Mangere’s buses are and how in need they are of a dramatic overhaul.

The 500 series bus routes also seem overly complex, with relatively few services spread out among a comparatively large number of routes. There are two main services (the 502 and the 595) but then we have four routes (or variations on routes) that only operate once a day. Does the 502 really need to be different to the 512? Does the 511 need to be distinct from the 532? While I haven’t had a good look at the route timetable maps to understand the reason behind the variations, there does seem a lot of unnecessary complication here.

We could achieve a lot by vastly simplifying the table at the beginning of this post. Clearly we’re running a lot of buses between Manukau and Britomart (as an aside, will that be necessary once the rail station is open?) but do they really need to have so many different routings, and so many small variations on their routes? If many of these services were grouped together into a single and obvious service (much like how the 625 works) then their timetables could be structured in a logical way and the system would be more intuitive and simple to use. For others, obviously some level of complexity will need to remain, but I’m sure what we see now is massive over-complexity.

The usefulness of stop grouping

Spending most of my days at Auckland hospital in recent times (and the likelihood of continuing to do so for a few more days) has provided me with a fairly interesting insight into the operations of public transport in another corner of the city. First things first, I really wish the proposed changes to the Link Bus route were operational already so my bus trip from Ponsonby to Grafton (and back) didn’t include an enormous detour. But that’s not the main point of this post – which relates to the Central Connector bus corridor between Newmarket and the city centre via Grafton and Symonds Street.

I had to zip into town from the hospital today to briefly catch up with what had been going on, and to check that I hadn’t missed anything coming in to my emails or in the post over the past few days. Heading into town this was an incredibly easy task – no more than 30 seconds after I arrived at the bus stop outside the hospital there was a bus ready to take me down into town. I didn’t even have to check the route number, as I knew that pretty much every bus would end up taking me to roughly the same area. It was easy.

However, in the reverse direction (coming out of the city) many of the advantages of the Central Connector are lost – simply because the departure points for services using the Central Connector are spread out all over the place. A further annoyance is obviously the fact that Howick and Eastern buses do not yet accept HOP cards, so my options are further reduced. The map below shows the varying departure points for services using the Central Connector as far as Newmarket (the ones with red boxes around them): Most of the south Auckland buses depart from stop 7019 (which is where I made the gamble of waiting at because I thought the most buses would leave from there). Most Mt Wellington buses depart from stop 7012, most Remuera Road buses from stop 7018 and most Howick & Eastern buses from stop 7026.

What this means is that someone travelling on the bus from the CBD to anywhere along the Central Connector, or potentially further afield (like along Great South Road between Newmarket and Greenlane) needs to pick a stop where only a portion of their potential buses will leave from. Chances are they will unnecessarily have to wait a longer time than would happen if all those buses were grouped together to leave from one or two stops.

While I certainly recognise that we can’t have every bus leaving from the same bus stop (particularly during the PM peak when we have a LOT of buses) it seems obvious to me that we could do this smarter. Why not make the northern (left in the above diagram) side of Customs Street the real focus for buses heading to the southern and eastern parts of Auckland? Shift the Mt Eden Road services from stop 7020 to being outside Britomart and free that stop up to handle the services that currently use stop 7019 across the road. Then perhaps shift the routes that use stop 7012 (Mt Wellington buses, of which there aren’t a huge number) to share with the Remuera Road buses on stop 7018. By doing that you would pretty much have most regular bus routes that service the Central Connector beginning very close to each other – enabling people to simply wander along that side of Customs Street and work out from the real-time signs which bus is due to depart next. That’d make their life a whole heap easier and make bus catching more attractive at almost no cost.

Dead running – and how to reduce it

The Human Transit blog has a good post about “dead running”, which effectively is the time buses spend not in service. Jarrett notes the two general circumstances that create dead running:

All transit vehicles must travel between their operating bases, where they are stored and maintained, and the beginning and endpoints of service. Rail services usually have bases directly on the rail line, but may still have to dead-run through the rail system to reach their trip’s starting point. Bus bases can be anywhere. The location of bases (called depots in Britain/Australia, often divisions in the US) is a major issue. It’s often worth spending capital money to save operating money, and careful investments in bases, reducing dead running, can do that.

Transit agencies that run extensive one-way express incur massive amounts of dead running. Brisbane, for example, is a very, very centralized city, with a downtown far out of scale to anything else. That means a huge demand for one-way trips into downtown in the morning and out in the evening. All those services that are needed in only one direction usually have to get back in the other direction so that the driver’s shift can end where it began. (The other alternative is to pay the driver to hang around downtown all day, which is even more expensive.)

The first of these causes is pretty unavoidable. The clever location of bus (or train) depots can reduce the percentage of time the vehicles spend getting from the depot to the start of their run. For example, the investment in stabling facilities for trains at Henderson, central Auckland and Papakura is likely to pay off incredibly quickly – as all Auckland’s trains no longer need to be stored centrally at Otahuhu and then driven ages each morning to start their runs at Waitakere, Swanson, Papakura or Pukekohe.

The second reason for dead running is less unavoidable – or at least with a more clever running of services it could probably be reduced. Human transit says this about ways of potentially reducing the time services spend ‘dead running:

Can dead running be better addressed by a rigorous review of whether these one-way peak services can be combined, replaced by links to rail, or otherwise made more efficient? Given the higher cost of dead running for one-way peaked service, could some of it be converted into two-way, all-day service at less expense than it would first appear?

One big advantage of the kind of feeder bus based service pattern that I discussed in this recent blog post is that the amount of dead running should be avoided, because in general the buses would be operating much shorter routes. Generally this is likely to mean that they’re closer to their depot for most of their run (as depots are generally located in outer parts of the city), plus the time taken for peak time services to ‘return to base’ would also be greatly reduced.

Another way you can reduce dead running is by operating services with patronage attractors at each end, so that you have good two-way flows at peak times and therefore can keep your buses (or trains) in service for a greater proportion of the time. My hope is that the Manukau Station could potentially operate in this manner – with the shopping area and the tertiary education centre acting as big patronage attractions for southbound rail passengers during the morning peak – utilising the existing resources more effectively. It’s also why many of my suggested routes for improving bus services to Mangere didn’t end in random places – they all terminated at Onehunga, Otahuhu or Manukau City.

There are many ways we can improve the efficiency of Auckland’s public transport network. Structuring the routes so that the amount of dead running is minimised is an important part of that process.

Auckland v Toronto: comparing networks

As I noted in this post a couple of days ago, there are some really useful pieces of technology that are starting to be developed that can aid us in understanding how our PT networks work, and where their strengths and weaknesses are. Let’s compare this video of Auckland’s public transport network, with a similar one of Toronto’s network:

Toronto’s video has the useful addition of distinguishing between the subway lines and the surface level transit (buses and trams). It also shows us how many vehicles are on the road at any particular hour of the day – interesting to see the pretty high level of all-night service that’s offered, and also the fact that there remains well over 1000 vehicles in operation until after 7pm in the evenings. It’s also a lot less CBD-focused – meaning that the PT system is useful for people other than those working downtown, while also operating efficiently by avoiding expensive long-haul services.

But perhaps the most obvious thing that comes through is the logic you can see with Toronto’s network. It’s not a bunch of ants crawling all over the place – as the Auckland network looks like. Instead, there’s a clear gridded network – something easy to understand, easy to intuitively know where your bus is going to take you and easy to connect to both other bus routes, and also to the subway system. This just reinforces the importance of getting our street patterns right when designing new urban areas.

How can we improve Mangere buses?

My post a few days ago on feeder buses highlighted a really interesting issue – how terribly slow buses are from Onehunga to the city centre, and therefore what a massive difference the Onehunga railway line has made to the trip times of people within walking distance of Onehunga and Te Papapa stations. The fact that the train is more than twice as fast as the bus really stood out in a comparison with other potential transfer points around Auckland: While we will obviously still have buses between Onehunga and downtown, because Manukau Road is a very important bus route (bus lanes along it might be a good idea too), the opportunity of having many more buses that pass through Onehunga from the south to become feeder buses seems like a possibility too good to ignore. The current timetable indicates that not only are there very few buses from Mangere to the city centre, but that they take an extraordinarily long time to get there – up to an hour and 20 minutes (update: they are supplemented by these buses so it’s not quite as bad as I had originally thought): Not only are the buses exceptionally slow, the bus network is also incredibly complicated and difficult to understand:
Now I don’t know the way these routes work in practice, because I think I’ve only ever caught one bus in this corner of Auckland, but it would seem that we could quite easily both simplify and significantly improve the speed of trips. Looking at the area in general, it would seem as though there are a number of obvious node points that we could build the bus network around: Mangere town centre, Onehunga (and its train station), the Airport, Otahuhu (and its train station), Papatoetoe and Manukau City. These are shown in the map below: Two routes seem pretty obvious as forming the backbone of the network in this area – as Manukau to Onehunga routes via the Airport and via Papatoetoe: The green route would be a useful precursor to Airport rail, slowly building patronage over time and offering good options for airport employees and for travellers who can transfer onto the rail system at Onehunga or Manukau. It might be worthwhile to send the route via Mangere Town Centre, although that’s something to be balanced against the additional time such a detour would add. The blue route acts as probably the core route for people living within the parts of Mangere it travels through who want access to employment areas on the isthmus (through a transfer at Onehunga) or at Manukau. Transfers to the rail system as possible in a number of locations: Onehunga, Papatoetoe and at the future Manukau station.

Overlaid on this map you could add a crosstown link between Onehunga and Otahuhu via Mangere – giving people along the route the option of going to either place for further transfers onto either the rail network or onto other bus services. Mangere Bridge and Mangere East probably need some bus services, so a further route could be added – although it does have some level of duplication with the blue route – so some further work might be necessary there: There are still holes in the network, around Montgomerie Road, Favona Road and parts of Mangere East – though once again of course there’s always a tension between making the route get closer to where people live and making the route quicker and therefore more attractive. Another frustratingly disconnected road network doesn’t help here.

What do other people think? Is there huge potential to improve the buses in this part of Auckland? Should we run buses from here right into the city or is it OK for people to transfer at Onehunga and Otahuhu? Have I gone too far in terms of simplification (leaving holes without a particularly nearby service) or have I not gone far enough in the simplification process?

I really don’t know the right answer here – other than it’s certainly not what we have now.


I think we’re only just beginning to recognise the useful ways in which technology can be combined with public transport to both make the trip nicer and to also analyse the PT system and work out ways in which to improve it. Much of this work is going on outside official agencies – which seem stuck in the dark age when it comes to such matters (try using the MAXX journey planner on a mobile phone, a painful process!)

Back in January we saw Auckland’s entire PT network simulated over the course of a day, in this fantastic video put together by Sciblogs.

An animated map of Auckland’s public transport network from Chris McDowall on Vimeo.

Now there’s a new piece of software, known as “Mapnificent“, that provides an incredibly useful resource: the extent of a city that’s accessible within a certain timeframe via public transport at various different hours of the day. This video explains how it works:

Mapnificent from Stefan Wehrmeyer on Vimeo.

Some of the functions are incredibly useful, I suspect particularly for those searching for houses or working out whether a particular job will be accessible for them via public transport in a feasible way or not. It would be interesting to see, over time, whether real estate agents reckon this is a helpful tool in trying to sell places – it’ll be particularly obvious the parts of the city within say a half-hour PT commute from downtown. If you worked across the road from Britomart train station, and accepted up to a 15 minute walk, you can see in the image below how much of the city would be within 30 minutes of travel time: It’s a surprisingly small portion of the city really, although I guess that’s because of walking times to and from the bus stop or train station. Interesting how effective the Northern Busway is at creating points on the North Shore that are dramatically more accessible than what’s around them. It’s crazy that most of the catchment of Akoranga Station is a golf driving range, and most of Smales Farm’s catchment is a golf course and a massive parking building. If there were ever parts of the city appropriate and attractive for intensification, these are those point. The fantastic speed of trains on the Eastern Line, and I assume the good speed of buses along Remuera Road and Tamaki Drive give that part of the city a surprisingly good score.

Push the time limit out to 60 minutes, and we start to see which parts of the city have particularly bad public transport – in that they can’t even get a peak time trip to Britomart in less than an hour: If you ever wanted a visual representation of why it’s stupid to have focused so much of Auckland’s urban development in Flat Bush, Botany Downs, Dannemora and so forth – then this is that proof. Heck even Beachlands and parts of Waiheke Island are more accessible to the CBD than a vast swathe of southeast Auckland. But there are interesting holes too – Te Atatu Peninsula and Massey are suprisingly excluded, a good argument for the Northwest Busway perhaps?

But Britomart is a really accessible point of downtown. How about if we shifted the focus point to somewhere outside easy walking distance of the current rail network – like the Auckland Town Hall. What impact does that have on what’s accessible in an hour long PT trip or less: Accessibility from the south and west is reduced quite significantly, while that southeast area is now well outside the 60 minute accessibility area (indicating that it would probably take people a lot longer than an hour to get to the town hall from these places. One big advantage of the City Rail Link project is that it will bring much more of the city within a reasonable commute of all the CBD, not just the area around Britomart.

However, if we think public transport to the CBD is bad, remember that only 13% of Auckland’s jobs are in the CBD. Other large employment hubs include around Greenlane/Ellerslie, in East Tamaki, Albany and at the Airport. The 60 minute accessibility zones for these are are pretty terrible (and remember that this is for an hour each way, probably the very limit of acceptability):

I wonder if such maps might make our planner reconsider the merits of decentralising employment. I would also think twice about shifting to Flat Bush any time soon – remembering that the map shows areas within a one hour commute:

The potential uses for this tool are endless. What a fantastic resource!