Stupid urban planning

As a planner by profession, I can quite honestly say that more often than not we do urban planning in Auckland utterly terribly. We focus enormously on silly details: recession planes, consistency with minutely detailed assessment criteria, road-widths, numbers of parking spaces per unit, number of units coming off driveways and so forth – but we miss the really obvious stuff. Like the following:

  • Will it actually be feasible to operate a bus service through this area?
  • Can people walk to the local shops?
  • How can we create vibrant and interesting neighbourhoods?

One particularly important part of urban planning that tends to get completely overlooked – or tossed over to the road engineers, is the fundamental question of “where will the streets go?” As I noted in Friday’s blog post, street patterns have an enormous ability to influence the viability of public transport – with a grid of arterial routes (like Vancouver has) making life far far easier when it comes to serving an area with a decent bus network.

One thing that’s extremely depressing is to see how some of the most recent parts of Auckland are actually the most utterly hopeless at providing a decent street network. In fact, there are areas of the city built in the past few years that are actually nigh on impossible to serve with any form or public transport at all.

An extreme example of planning stupidity is down Schnapper Rock Road near Albany. There are probably hundreds of houses down this road and the various streets that come off it – all developed within the past few years. Potentially well over a thousand people might live down this road – but look at how massively disconnected from the rest of the city they are: By my analysis of the aerial photographs, and a couple of visits to the area, there are no shops at all down Schnapper Rock Road, meaning that your options for doing anything without driving at almost non-existent. How about the public transport – well that’s an interesting route option to try and ask MAXX about: a peak time trip from Dove Place to town gives some interesting options: It takes me an hour and a half, costs me nearly $10 and requires a trip on a freaking school bus! Talk about designing for auto-dependency.

Just down the road things are arguably even worse – thanks to the failure to connect up the two ends of Kyle Road, which should have been an absolute requirement before any development took place around Upper Harbour Primary School: Quite bizarrely, some planner made the decision that William Gamble Drive shouldn’t connect with Huntington Park Drive – which means that the two residential areas located right next to each other are hugely isolated from one another. Furthermore, the one road connecting the William Gamble Drive area with the rest of the world doesn’t even have a footpath along most of its length – meaning that to get anywhere else without driving is pretty much a suicide mission. Fortunately there is a pedestrian connection between the two ends of Kyle Road, which means that it’s only a 1.5 kilometre walk from William Gamble Drive to the nearest bus stop.

Moving further south, the new developments on the Hingaia Peninsula near Papakura aren’t much better, once again having exceedingly poor connectivity to the rest of the road network: This is another place that has some rather amusing public transport options: So I get to walk for two and a half kilometres in order to have the pleasure of a 90 minute bus trip into town. Gee that sounds fantastic!

Even in more inner areas, new developments have often seemed to design their street networks with the expressed purpose of being as useless for public transport as possible – Stonefields near Mt Wellington is a classic example of this: While Stonefields has quite a nice grid, the fact that no effort was ever made to connect up the street network with its southern and western edges means that every future bus route through the area will need to be a pointless loop. While I obviously realise this is a former quarry site and there are some pretty big stone walls making the connection difficult, I am sure if a southern street connection had been a condition of allowing any development in the quarry, it would have happened.

The poor street connectivity means that the new residents of Stonefields need to take a 1.5 km trek to access a bus service: Now I hear there’s an entire “land-use transport integration team” at Auckland Transport these days. Let’s hope that their primary job is to ensure that nothing as stupid as the various recent subdivisions I’ve shown above ever happen again.

Bus route planning – a challenging balancing act

The significant changes proposed to buses in central Auckland, plus my recent blog posts about how to improve bus flow through the city centre have highlighted to me what a challenging balancing act it must be for people whose job it is to improve the bus route network. That said, it’s also an incredibly important job, as Auckland’s current network has a huge number of inefficiencies, areas of duplication, areas of poor service, areas of overly long routes and so forth – all put together they produce a bus network map that does look like someone’s thrown spaghetti at a wall.

But this is not just an Auckland problem. Large parts of Sydney’s bus network are pretty difficult to make sense out of too:

That red route – the 473 – could hardly take a more indirect and slow route through Bardwell Park and Turrella if it tried. This is an example of a somewhat unbalanced approach to bus network planning, where all the emphasis is on getting the most people within a few minutes walk of the bus route – at the sacrifice of the speed and attractiveness of the route for people who have a choice between catching the bus and driving.

I suppose this is the most obvious balancing act when it comes to planning bus networks: the trade-off between speed and accessibility. You obviously want as many people to have access to the bus as possible, but at the same time you also obviously want to ensure the bus ride is not painfully slow. An example of something at the other end of the scale might be the Northern Express bus route in Auckland – it’s about as direct and fast as possible, but aside from around Sunnynook station, relatively few people live in close proximity to the route – meaning that there’s a reliance on park and ride stations, plus feeder buses.

A second trade-off is between network complexity and simplicity. How many different routes and route variations do you want? On the positive side of complexity is the ability to offer targeted products to what the demand might be: a slower and less direct route serving more places in the off-peak, express routes, peak direction only routes and so forth. But on the down side of that, the map and system can become very difficult to make sense out of – and public transport just becomes “too hard” to bother with. Not that I have much experience of it, but the bus network to Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs does seem to have a particularly high level of complexity to it:
You have a bunch of normal routes, some routes beginning with X, some routes highlighted as pre-pay only, some routes beginning with L. And even then within the “normal routes” you have a bunch of very similar routes (for example the 372, 373, 374, 376 and 377) that by in large follow the same route – except for slight variations near their terminus.

That’s not to say you can’t go too far in the other direction as well – over-simplifying the network. While I would generally consider Auckland’s bus network to be over-complicated, some of that complexity has a useful purpose – like express and short-running buses on Dominion Road, or peak services that do extend to parts of the city (for example, Chatswood on the North Shore) that wouldn’t have the ridership to justify an all-day service. While I generally support the simplification process proposed in the changes to buses in the central city – I do wonder whether there’s the opportunity to overlay some peak-time express services (particularly on the 020 route) to give people what they really want at peak times: a fast and reliable service. I’m not quite sure that the 020 will provide that with its detour through Freemans Bay:

A good bus network is largely dependent upon the street network that it has to work around. Possibly the best bus and most effective bus network that I’ve seen is that in Vancouver – enormously aided by its gridded street pattern:

The gridded system enables so many “win-win” outcomes. By running buses along the major corridors (both north-south and east-west) all the routes generally operate in the fastest possible way, but they’re close enough together to ensure that everyone’s within a few minutes walk of a bus stop. So we solve that speed versus accessibility issue. We also solve the complexity issue because the routes are simple and easy to understand – they go along a particular road for most of their journey. Even if there are variations (express services or some variation from branching close to the route’s terminus) these are fairly easy to understand because the vast majority of the route is simple.

It’s not surprising that Auckland’s bus system seems most successful and effective in parts of the city with a street pattern that most clearly follows what’s in Vancouver. By contrast, the street pattern in the eastern isthmus makes a legible bus network nigh on impossible (although I’m sure we can improve on the incomprehensible mess that’s currently there.

There are of course many other issues to balance. Do we have stops further apart (faster journeys) or closer together (shorter walk to the bus stop)? Do we have long routes (allowing a lot of trip possibilities on the one route), or shorter routes (probably improved reliability)? And of course the big question – do we design a system that seeks to avoid transfers, or do we design a system that takes advantage of the benefits offered by transfers? Each has their pros and cons.

Clearly there’s no single best way to design a bus network in my opinion. But that doesn’t mean we can’t significantly improve on what we’ve got in Auckland. If you look at Auckland’s bus network it generally doesn’t seem to have got the balance right: it’s overly and unnecessarily complex – seemingly a relic of 1970s thinking which was “the more routes the better”. Furthermore, I tend to think that Auckland’s bus network doesn’t get the balance right when it comes to speed versus accessibility either – with a few exceptions such as the Northern Express route, it seems as though the bus network has been designed with the assumption that it’s only there to serve people who can’t afford to drive or aren’t able to. It puts accessibility too far ahead of speed – meaning that we end up with a huge number of very very slow and windy bus routes.

A lot of the problems with Auckland’s network are historic – based on assumptions that buses are only there to serve those with no choice, based on extremely poor integration with the rail system and generally based on a desire to avoid transfers at all costs. While we must be careful not to go the other way too far – and I think many routes could handle increased stopping pattern complexity (i.e. more express services and short-runners rather than all buses having the same stopping pattern) – overall to give the network a better balance we should be aiming to simplify and to speed things up.

Improving buses in Auckland’s city centre – part II

There was so much interesting discussion on my blog post a couple of days ago about how to make Auckland’s bus network operate better in the city centre that I thought it was necessary to do a secondary blog post to discuss some of the issues raised. In particular, there were two matters that probably require a bit of extra thought:

  1. Where and how to turn around the North Shore services that I propose should go via Wellesley Street to the university.
  2. Whether North Shore buses should use the Fanshawe/Customs street corridor instead of Wellesley Street.

There was also some discussion about whether there might be sense in having some buses bypass the city centre completely – particularly once the Victoria Park Tunnel project means that spaghetti junction is not quite so clogged up with cars. That’s probably a separate issue to discuss in a future post – as I really don’t know as much as I should about the impacts of the Victoria Park Tunnel project on traffic flows in and around the city centre.

With regards to where the buses should go around the university, I agree we don’t want to stuff Alfred Street up with too many buses as in an ideal world it should be closed off completely an absorbed into the University as a general area of open space. But on the other hand it is a really really handy spot for students to get on and off the bus: being right in the heart of the university. Possibly some routes could go via Alfred Street with others disgorging passengers down on Wellesley Street – it’s something that could be worked out in more detail at a later stage.

In terms of analysing the bigger question, whether North Shore buses should go via Wellesley Street or Fanshawe/Customs Street, one thing that’s probably useful to look at before we go too much further into drawing lines on maps (which I love doing) is to analyse what the current situation is – in particular looking at the morning peak bus flows into the city. This work was kindly compiled as part of NZTA’s analysis of North Shore rail options:

The big flows into the city come from three locations – down Symonds Street (fed by southern buses and isthmus buses), northwards along Albert Street (generally fed by west Auckland buses) and in along Fanshawe Street for North Shore buses. You can see the potential for problems along Albert Street with heavy bus flows in each direction – a particularly severe problem as the bus lanes along Albert Street are very stop-start and generally inadequate in my opinion.

By 2041, even with the CBD Rail Tunnel built, the study showed significant increases in the number of buses entering the CBD – though the impact of the rail tunnel is evident in the reduction of buses from the south (64 current reduced to 50): Indeed, without the tunnel the result is completely mental.

Along with the Albert Street problem, I see real problems with providing sufficient bus capacity along Customs Street and past Britomart in the future. Especially if we are going to continue to run buses down Symonds Street and Anzac Ave towards Britomart, we’re going to end up in the situation where just about every bus in the city descends on this spot in Lower Queen Street. While that’s handy from an interchange point of view, in terms of its sheer practicality I can see massive problems in concentrating so many buses through that part of the city centre. Sure, we could build something along the lines of the Sturdee Street busway that I proposed a few months ago, but even then I worry we’re concentrating too many bus services in one part of the CBD.

That said, I think there are some smart suggestions that came out of the comments (in particular this one by Stu Donovan). It does make sense to have more through-running buses, as long as we can ensure they remain reliable and median bus lanes (or some other form of very high quality bus priority) would be a good idea along Customs Street and Fanshawe Street. But would it alleviate the need to shift more buses away from the Fanshawe/Customs corridor onto the Wellesley corridor? I don’t necessarily agree. Furthermore, when comparing the two corridors as possible “through-town” options, the Wellesley corridor is both shorter (1.52 km km compared to 2.53 km between the Fanshawe/Halsey intersection and the Symonds/Wellesley intersection) and has fewer signalised intersections. A comparison of the two is shown below: Of course the Customs Street option has advantages of linking with Britomart and the Ferry terminal, but then in the future the Wellesley corridor will run right past Aotea train station. Furthermore, if Quay Street is ever pedestrianised then that’s going to put a huge amount of extra pressure on Customs Street as the only crosstown route in the northern part of the city centre. And we must think about whether we really do want a massive number of buses clogging up QEII square and its surrounding streets.

In the shorter term though, I think getting most of the North Shore buses out of Albert Street and away from the mess that is Customs Street and some parts of Fanshawe Street (it’s fine between Nelson and Beaumont Streets but gets snarled in the evening peak before that point) will have huge benefits to the efficiency of how buses work in central Auckland. It will require more bus lanes to implement, but Wellesley Street seems like a road that can handle that – as from my experience it never seems to be one of the busier cross-town arterials.

Improving buses in Auckland’s city centre

It is becoming increasingly obvious to me that as the number of public transport users increases in Auckland there’s a growing need to sort out how we handle buses in the CBD. The Auckland city centre contains approximately 81,000 employees, 21,000 residents and 50,000 students. Around 71,000 people enter Auckland’s city centre between 7am and 9am each weekday morning. Over 23,000 of those do so on the bus. By 2026, approximately 100,000 people are anticipated to enter the city centre during the weekday peak. Those are all pretty big numbers.

Over the past few years there has been a pretty dramatic increase in the number of people using public transport to access the city centre during peak times – meaning that the number of private vehicles (which is effectively capped due to road capacity constraints) has held steady or even declined – as shown in the graph below:

It’s reasonable to assume that these trends have continued over the past couple of years, with more people using public transport to get into the CBD than there are vehicles entering during peak times. But with significant growth for the city centre likely over the next 10-20 years, and our road capacity pretty impossible to increase, even with the CBD rail tunnel built I think it will be necessary to significantly increase the number of buses the city can handle. In the short term, as Britomart’s capacity is maxed out it will be essential to get more out of the bus system to support and enable the CBD to grow.

Auckland City Council looked at a number of ideas for improving CBD buses not long before the Super City came along, but aside from Auckland Transport’s current proposal to change around the Link route, introduce an “Outer Loop” and shift many Western Bays bus routes from Queen Street onto Albert Street it seems that little has come from the work they did. This is a huge opportunity as buses in central Auckland are currently highly inefficient, very slow, damaging to the image of the CBD through their noise and pollution and are generally confusing for people trying to use them. The changes currently underway will improve things to an extent – although in other ways they may just make things worse. An example of where the changes are likely to make things worse is by putting more buses onto Albert Street, which already has bus lanes that can’t cope with what’s being asked of them (largely because they’re pathetically incomplete).

A few weeks back I talked a bit about one of the main ways in which I think we can operate buses in the CBD better: by re-routing many of the North Shore buses (in fact, all of them except for the Northern Express) away from Albert and Fanshawe streets (which handle far too many buses at the moment) and onto Wellesley Street. Combined with having buses from the west using Albert Street and Vincent Street, and buses from the south (including the isthmus) using the Central Connector corridor along Symonds Street, the fundamental structure of the bus network could look a bit like this: Obviously there will be additional services like the Link bus, buses from the Western Bays, buses from Tamaki Drive and so forth – but at least theoretically the majority of buses in Auckland could run along the routes highlighted above in the city. This removes the conflict between North Shore and West Auckland buses along Albert Street, it provides direct university (and potentially onto the Hospital and Newmarket for some services) access for almost all North Shore buses and it creates a legible bus network that’s relatively easy to understand.

What it does involve is the concentration of buses in the city centre onto fewer roads than we see at the moment – which obviously means there’s increased potential for bus congestion. Furthermore, I don’t know where we will find room for all the stops around Britomart. So there would obviously be greater complexity when it comes to the exact details of where to turn around many of the buses. One thing that the above plan would clearly require is the complete bus laning of all the roads highlighted as bus routes above, and the systematic changing of traffic signals to give greater priority to buses (for example at the corner of Pitt Street and Vincent Street). Particularly important would be putting bus lanes along Halsey Street, Customs Street, Wellesley Street and Vincent Street (outbound).

If we look a bit further into the future, we could easily overlay onto this map a light-rail line running from Dominion Road, through Upper Queen Street, then down Queen Street and out to Wynyard Quarter: Once the CBD Rail Tunnel is in place then we have the opportunity to fundamentally rethink the operation of the bus network through the city centre. Would we still really want all our buses to travel right down to Britomart from the west and south, or could we transfer them onto the rail system at the K Road station? Could we link up our North Shore buses with those serving the southern isthmus area, while giving people the opportunity to transfer onto the rail system at Aotea/Midtown station? The opportunities are pretty endless: Those are obviously longer term ideas, but what’s outlined in the first map could be achieved pretty quickly: just re-route some buses, paint in some bus lanes, change around a few stop locations and you’d be done. A massive improvement for public transport users in the CBD at next to no cost.

Better bus signs

A good post on Human Transit highlights the usefulness of improving bus signage – and in particular the importance of naming routes by the main road they pass along, rather than by their destiation. A good example of an effective bus sign (by that I mean the signage on the front of the bus) is the 38 Geary Boulevard service in San Francisco:

As Jarrett says in his post, this signage is great because it lets you know the bus runs along Geary Boulevard, while also saying that somewhere near the end of the route is V.A. Hospital. This compared to in many other cities (like Auckland) where it seems most of the signage relates to the place where the bus ends up:

Many other cities, including Sydney and Seattle, habitually turn it upside down, so on the 38 above they might have said “38 VA HOSPITAL via Geary.”  A Sydney sign might read “380 DOVER BCH via Oxford St.”  I find that less intuitive, because the path the bus follows is usually more useful than the final destination in determining if the service is useful to you.  Still, it’s understandable in Sydney where street names change so frequently that it’s hard to associate bus routes with them, as “38 GEARY” does.

Auckland is a classic example of the latter situation. The 267 bus has “Lynfield” all over its signs, while the 258 says “Blockhouse Bay” loud and clear. If you didn’t know Auckland’s bus system well, you might be somewhat unlikely to think that they predominantly follow the same route – as they pass along Dominion Road. Same with New North Road buses - we have buses that say “Rosebank Road”, “Patiki Road” and “Henderson” – even though for all these services they actually only spend a tiny fraction of their time along the parts highlighted in big bold letters on the front of the bus.

One of the biggest complaints I have about Auckland’s bus system is that it’s overly complex and difficult to understand. Changing the way we name routes, so that we sell all the New North Road buses as “New North Road – to Rosebank” (for the 211) or “New North Road – to Patiki Rd” (for the 212) seems like an obvious way to at least make the system seem a lot simpler and easier to understand. It wouldn’t cost a thing to do either – just a bit of reprogramming on the buses and on the real time information signs.

What is Auckland’s silliest bus route?

The Auckland bus network is best described as resembling what happens when you throw spaghetti at a wall. Complex, confusing, counter-intuitive and very difficult to understand. Furthermore, there are some incredibly bizarre anomalies in the bus system that I simply can’t make sense out of.

Like what’s up with the 018 bus?

It runs just once a day, from Herne Bay of all places to Otahuhu – of all places. It only runs in the morning – at the lovely hour of 5.45am and there’s no return trip, so too bad if you wanted to get home! I wonder if anyone ever uses this bus, maybe I should do a LGOIMA request of Auckland Transport to find out.

Another candidate must surely be the 550 bus. It must be Auckland’s shortest route – running from Otahuhu to Otahuhu in about five minutes. The map below shows its route: It doesn’t even connect to the train station, and at weekends operates at the brilliant frequencies of around one bus every two hours!

Knowing the efficiency (or lack thereof) of Auckland’s bus system, I can almost imagine that the bus operating this route would do its five minute run, then sit in the same place for almost two hours before doing another five minute run.

What other silly bus routes are out there? And how can we eliminate much of the stupidity of Auckland’s bus network so it operates more efficiently? Surely that second question must be at the top of Auckland Transport’s mind, as they’re in a situation of rising patronage without rising funding.

Upcoming PT improvements

The Business Report from Auckland Transport’s April Board Meeting contains quite a lot of interesting information – in terms of hinting at a number of upcoming PT improvements, highlighting some real funding squeezes thanks to NZTA funding being largely dedicated to motorway building and providing some updates on infrastructure projects. This blog even gets a mention at one point.

For this post, I’m going to focus on the upcoming improvements to public transport services that are noted in the Business Report and this attachment to it. Many of the recent, and upcoming, service improvements relate to what was announced a few weeks back. Short-term service improvements that have either been implemented in the last month or two, or will be implemented very soon, are summarised below: One thing that’s slightly frustrating is to see many of these capacity boosts only happening after the busiest month of the year – March. Patronage trends show that year after year, March is by far the busiest month for public transport patronage, so a few of the proposed improvements do seem a bit “after the horse has bolted”. Perhaps Auckland Transport might try to time their capacity increases next year so they come just before the March demand spike.

Some of the proposed rail improvements over the next year or so are interesting: Once we have ten minute peak frequencies on the Western Line early next year not only will we not have any additional rolling stock until late 2013/early 2014, Britomart’s capacity will also be completely maxed out – so the electric trains can only really replace existing train paths into Britomart, rather than add extra train capacity. We’ll need the CBD Tunnel for that.

The suggestions of fare differentiation for peak and off-peak travel, or service patterns that avoid Britomart (although I can’t see where the rolling stock is to run such services) seem like sensible and necessary options to handle continued patronage growth in the future. I caught a Western Line train into the city this morning and it seemed close to 40% of passengers disembarked at Grafton and Newmarket stations – so west to south trains could be helpful in providing supplementary capacity for those trips.

Finally, the report provides an update on how the integrated ticketing project is progressing: This month’s business report seems a whole heap more detailed and interesting than what we saw in previous months. That’s a good sign as it means we have a better understanding about what Auckland Transport is up to.

Central bus changes – an alternative option

Submissions closed last week on the proposed changes to bus routes in inner Auckland. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of the consultation and whether Auckland Transport still proceed with the proposed changes – I do hope so, as long as the changes are accompanied by necessary infrastructure works to ensure the “Outer Loop” route is reliable. In the comments thread of one of the posts I made on the changes, a representative of the Eden Terrace business association suggested an interesting alternative to the routes – that I think is worth sharing and discussing: For a comparison, this is what’s being proposed by Auckland Transport: As far as I can see, the ETBA propose three changes:

  • Extending the Inner City service southwards from Karangahape Road to Newton Road in Eden Terrace.
  • Re-routing the northern part of the Link Route so that instead of travelling along Wellesley Street and through the University it would go along Victoria Street, Albert Street and then Customs Street and Beach Road before making its way to Parnell.
  • Re-routing the “Outer Loop” bus between Newmarket and Britomart to travel via Khyber Pass Road and Symonds Street, rather than via Parnell.

While obviously the proposed changes are intended to improve bus access to Eden Terrace, and one wouldn’t expect anything different from an business organisation representing that area, they also potentially have some merit and I think are worth having a bit of a think about one by one.

  • Inner City Service Extension:

This proposed change is most obviously for the benefit of the Eden Terrace area, linking them in with the city centre to a greater extent. The route extension is likely to mean that it’s necessary to either have an extra bus or two running the route, or to operate it at lower frequencies.

I think that ultimately when deciding about this extension we need to make a call on whether the Newton/Eden Terrace area is part of the city centre or not. With the proposed Newton train station as part of the CBD, plus the enormous potential of the area for intensification and greater development, I think that in the longer term it could be part of an extended city centre – perhaps including some sort of ‘capping’ of the motorway between the Symonds Street and Upper Queen Street bridges.

I would probably lean away from this particular service extension at this point of time, mainly because there is a huge number of buses already connecting the city with Eden Terrace (all the New North, Sandringham, Dominion and Mt Eden Road buses) so I don’t see too much gain for the extra resources expended. However, in the longer term if we are to bring Newton/Eden Terrace into the city centre properly then the route extension really starts to make sense.

  • Link Bus Changes:

The change proposed pushes the Link to service the northern part of the city centre to a greater extent, travelling via Britomart rather than the University. While there’s obviously a bit of a loss in not having the Link pass by the University anymore (this is compensated by having the Outer Loop pass by the Uni) there’s an argument that having the Link in the northern part of the city centre more than compensates for this.

In my submission I noted some concern about the Link having poor coverage of the central city,with both of its east-west crossings of Queen Street being to the south of where most employment activity is. The EBTA proposal would certainly fix that, by running the Link along Customs Street instead of Wellesley Street. Overall I quite like the change – although potential bottlenecks along Albert Street and Customs Street probably need to be addressed, while it also requires the re-routing of the Outer Loop service to ensure the University is properly served.

  • Outer Loop Changes:

The main change is pulls the Outer Loop out of Parnell and sends it via Khyber Pass Road and Symonds Street to Britomart instead. It’s hard to know whether that would result in a slower trip or a faster trip to cover the Newmarket to Britomart journey (via Parnell is probably shorter, but with less bus priority). One big advantage of this option is that it puts the university on the Outer Loop bus – thereby providing good connectivity to the university for anyone along this quite extensive route.

While I realise the EBTA want more buses to travel via Eden Terrace, I do wonder whether this Outer Loop change might work a bit better if the bus followed the Central Connector route past the Hospital and over Grafton Bridge – as the extensive bus priority measures through here might speed things up a bit.

Overall, the suggested changes are quite interesting and I think they’re well worth some serious consideration. For me, looking at the alterations holistically there seems some benefit in sending the Outer Loop bus via the university and some benefit from having the Link bus serve the northern part of the city centre. Whether that’s worth the negative aspect of not having the Link bus pass by the university, or the longer travel time the Link bus and potentially the Outer Loop bus might have, is something that I probably can’t really answer – but would certainly consider with interest what others think.

Northern Express service improvements coming

The first step of implementing the public transport service improvements mentioned a week or so ago are about to be implemented – with a significant increase to the number of Northern Express buses proposed. Here’s the media release from Auckland Transport:

Auckland Transport extends Northern Express bus services

As public transport continues to grow in popularity, in addition to other public transport initiatives announced recently to manage increasing demand, Auckland Transport, with its operator Ritchies, is boosting the Northern Express bus service with additional buses,

More buses will run during peak hours and night time services have been extended.

From May 2, buses will leave Albany Station every five minutes between 6.30am to 9.30am and from Britomart every five minutes between 3pm and 6.30pm. Additional services will operate at peak times.

Friday and Saturday night time schedules have also been extended to give late night workers and revellers more options to get home.

Auckland Transport’s Manager Transport Public Operations Mark Lambert says increasing bus patronage and rising petrol prices have taken passenger numbers to record levels.

“Customers are happy with the service and we are pleased more people are taking the bus, however patronage has grown faster than we anticipated, putting pressure on existing bus services.”

Passenger numbers on the Northern Express bus service on the North Shore were 20.7 per cent up in just one year, with 1.99 million passenger trips for the year.

“The improvements and increased frequency of buses will alleviate overcrowding allowing people to get to their destination faster, easier and in more comfort.

“This is a great response from Ritchies in a short amount of time arranging more buses and we expect our customers to be very pleased with the good news,” said Mr Lambert.

So what’s being proposed? Let’s have a look:

Monday to Friday:

Service commences 5.30am ex Albany (currently 5.45am).
Service commences 6.00am ex Britomart (currently 6.30am).
Service frequency increase ex Albany to 3 minutes 7.00am to 8.00am School term only (currently 4-5 minutes).
Service frequency increase ex Albany to 5 minutes from 6.30am to 7.00am (currently 10 minutes).
Service frequency increase ex Britomart to 5 minutes 3.00pm to 4.00pm (currently 10 minutes).
Service frequency increase ex Britomart to 3 minutes 5.00pm to 5.45pm School term only (currently 4-5 minutes).
Service span increase Monday to Thursday – last service 12.00am ex Britomart. Service will operate every 15 minutes with last service 12 midnight from Britomart (1130 Albany).

Friday and Saturday evenings:
Increase in service span – last service 3.00 am ex Britomart (2.30am ex Albany).
Friday night – 15 minute frequency until 12.00am midnight ex Britomart then every 30 minutes until 3.00am (2.30am ex Albany).
Saturday night – 30 minute frequency until 3.00am ex Britomart (currently ends 11.00pm) (2.30am ex Albany).

While it’s not exactly how I might have looked to improve the Northern Express (I would have really focused on extending the time that the NEX operates at 5 minute frequencies to 6.30-10.30am and 2.30-7.30pm – to encourage a ‘spreading of the load’) there are some really great improvements here. We will see more buses on the road during the times of maximum demand, we will see better frequencies just before peak demand times (both in the morning and in the afternoon) and we will see later buses at night. I particularly like having a normal (as opposed to night-rider) bus service operating until 3am on a Friday and Saturday night. I wonder whether there might be justification in having the NEX operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the not too distant future.

Auckland Transport and Ritchies are to be congratulated at responding so quickly to the need for improvements. They kick in the day that university returns from its two-week break, so there should be significant demand for the increased capacity. Time to order some bendy-buses I wonder?

AT responds quickly to bus overcrowding

I do spend a reasonable amount of my time on this blog hassling Auckland Transport for not doing better at improving Auckland’s transport system, so it’s nice to see a situation where they have responded quickly to issues of bus and train overcrowding in the past few months.

Bus and Train Service Upgrades Announced

The Mayor has announced a variety of upgrades of bus and train services across Auckland.

Len Brown has been working with Auckland Transport on the issue in the wake of figures showing public transport patronage at its highest level in 60 years.

The Mayor says when demand for public transport is increasing at the rate it is at the moment, providing enough trains and buses is obviously an issue.

“I’m pleased with the speed at which Auckland Transport and the operators have responded to the issue, and I encourage people to continue to let us know when they see potential issues.”

Transport Committee chair Mike Lee says, “Aucklanders are using public transport in record numbers. It’s no longer correct to say people will only take their car to work.

“We need to cater for more people using buses and trains and that is why we need projects like the inner-city rail loop to increase services to the west and south, unclog our roads and deliver economic growth.”

So what do the improvements entail?

• On Hibiscus Coast bus routes including 893, 895 and 897 buses are reaching capacity at peak. Larger vehicles have been moved to areas of greatest need. Phase One of the Silverdale Park and Ride will be complete by the middle of the year. Increased frequency is also being considered.

• On route 881 from Long Bay to Newmarket, two additional services will be added to cope with peak hour capacity issues.

• On East Coast Bays and Sunnynook Express routes 863x and 874x and on Sandringham Road, complaints about peak hour capacity issues are being investigated in association with NZ Bus.

• On the Northern Express route peak capacity issues will be dealt with by increasing frequency and sourcing extra buses.

• On Onewa Road and on the route to Botany, extra capacity has been provided on a temporary basis while a permanent solution is investigated.

• On Mt Eden Road and Dominion Road, extras buses are being brought on to those routes to deal with capacity issues in the morning and afternoon peaks.

• On the Southern and Eastern train lines, four additional carriages are being brought on and five car trains will operate from the end of next month.

These seem like very clever and well thought out improvements, targeted to the routes most in need of service improvements. It’s good to really be able to say “great work Auckland Transport”.