Lots more Double Deckers on the way

Some good news today with AT and some of Auckland’s bus companies all confirming there will be 53 new double decker buses on the roads soon.

Northern Express IMG_4447

A fleet of 53 double-decker buses will be hitting Auckland roads from October. The announcement was made today by Auckland Transport Chairman Dr Lester Levy at Kiwi Bus Builders Ltd in Tauranga, where some of the buses will be manufactured.

At the same time, Transport Minister, Simon Bridges outlined new regulations which will allow the vehicles to operate on New Zealand roads.

The new buses are being introduced by three of the main operators in Auckland – NZ Bus (23 buses), Howick & Eastern (15 buses), and Ritchies (15 buses). Each can carry more than 100 passengers; conventional buses carry between 45 and 70.

With the exception of two “proto-type” vehicles built in the United Kingdom, the Howick and Eastern and NZ Bus fleets will be manufactured in Tauranga. The Ritchies Buses will be built in China and will be delivered and operational in January 2016.

Double-deckers have already been pressed into service, with great success, on the Northern Busway (between the North Shore and the CBD).

Dr Levy says an unprecedented increase in public transport patronage looks set to continue and the investment in the new fleet by companies such as these reinforces that confidence. This is one of the single biggest private investments in public transport infrastructure in Auckland ever, he says.

“There is only so much road widening we can do in some areas so we have to look at more innovative and different ways of utilising what is a limited space. Double-deckers, along with increased frequency and reliability on buses and trains are key to reducing the city’s number one problem, which is congestion.”

A separate press release from NZ Bus says that will be buying Enviro500 double decker buses from Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL) and I assume Howick and Eastern will be doing the same (seeing as Brian Souter, the owner H&E also owns part of ADL). They also say:

NZ Bus has agreed with Auckland Transport for fifteen of the buses to be introduced on Mt Eden Road, and eight buses on the 881 service on the North Shore. With both of these corridors experiencing passenger growth, due to significantly improved service performance, the introduction of double decker buses and an additional 30 percent capacity is expected to help generate even more growth.

The new buses will be assembled at the Kiwi Bus Builders plant in Tauranga and are expected to be introduced into service between April and July 2016.

This is good news for PT in Auckland – although a shame it seems that they’ll just miss the annual March Madness. Routes such as Mt Eden Rd are frequently full and I’ve heard of people waiting at stops watching up to 12 buses go past completely full. Double Deckers are also a useful interim step before considering more expensive ways to increase capacity – such as with light rail.

I’m looking forward to seeing more of these on the road.

AT Board Report Feb-15

Auckland Transport’s board meet tomorrow and I’ve scoured the board reports for any interesting information. Here’s what caught my attention.

Projects

East West Link Connections

A detailed business case for the project is being worked on and will go to the board in April. AT still haven’t officially said which option they’ve chosen from their consultation back in October however this image – from a draft version of the RLTP (page 57) in the December Board meeting and which includes a note saying the map is not to be released to public prior to January 2015 – suggests it’s either option C or D.

East-West Priorities Dec-14

South-Western Multi-Modal Airport Rapid Transit (SMART)

AT say work on the design of the Kirkbride interchange includes future proofing for either light or heavy rail. The RLTP notes that this future proofing is costing AT $30 million which seems extremely high considering the rest of the interchange costs $140 million. One reason it could be so high is I understand the the NZTA team working on the project didn’t originally include rail in their designs despite rail to the airport having been on plans for decades along with other parts of the NZTA working with AT on the route.

Wynyard Quarter – Integrated Road Programme

We should start seeing more roadworks in the Wynyard Quarter in April with AT expecting to issue a contract mid Feb. Works for stage one are Halsey Street South and Gaunt Street between Daldy and Halsey. I’m not quite sure just what changes we’re going to see yet though.

Franklin Road

AT say they will feed back analysis of the submissions in March and I’ve heard rumours the current thinking greatly improved on what we saw earlier. An email update a few weeks ago suggested they were looking at whether parking between the trees could be retained in some situations.

Westgate

AT say the new mall being built as part of the new town centre is due to open in October this year and that new bus services to the area (new network) are due in October 2016. Those bus services will also need an interchange constructed and AT are trying to work out just how they will do that. They say resource consent will be needed and almost certainly will be publicly notified for which any submission will delay the project. A temporary interchange is being planned

Penlink

Work is still going on to update and amend the designation for Penlink and consent will be notified in early 2015 however a recent press release states that due to funding constraints, construction of Penlink is not anticipated until 2025. There are two open days about it, one this afternoon.

  • Thursday 19 Feb, 2pm-7pm, The Peninsula Retirement Village (441 Whangaparapoa Road, Whangaparaoa)
  • Saturday 21 Feb, 10am-2pm, Stillwater Boat Club (70 Duck Creek Road, Stillwater)

Otahuhu Interchange

The demolition of the old foot bridge and piling for the new station happened over the Christmas shutdown and AT say the construction for the interchange itself will begin in June. It’s due to be completed in February 2016 at which time the New Network for South Auckland can finally be rolled out.

Manukau Interchange

Consent is currently being sought for the enabling works for the interchange and AT are hoping to have the project completed in the first quarter of next year.

EMUs

At the time of writing the report AT say there were 42 of the 57 trains in the country and 32 of them had provisional acceptance. They also say that services in December were affected by issues with the signalling system and there had been some door closing issues. The door issues were upgraded over the break but the signalling ones are still being worked on.

Newmarket Crossing (Sarawia St level Crossing)

AT have created three concept designs and have taken feedback from residents and Manu Whenua into them. AT are wanting to lodge resource consent for the project in February and in the past have said that this project is required before they can deliver 10 minute frequencies on the Western Line. Given the stage it’s at and that some of the residents of Cowie St are bound to go to the environment court over it, it could be years before we see any peak frequency improvements out west.

Puhinui

AT are planning to upgrade Puhinui station with most of the works completed in March and April and with a new canopy installed in June

Swanson Station Park and Ride

The extended park & ride is expected to be completed by the end of April.

Onewa Rd

Also to be completed by the end of April are the works to deliver the westbound transit lane and shared path.

Other stuff

Parking

One piece of good news is that parking officers are experiencing the lowest recorded volumes of aggression towards them and there have been no serious harm injuries since October

AT also say the removal of earlybird parking has meant lease revenue is ahead of forecast and in addition casual occupancy and revenue in the downtown carpark is increasing. The latter part is particularly good as it means the carpark is being used by more people throughout the day which was exactly one of the aims of removing the earlybird prices.

Taxi’s on Grafton Bridge

A 12 month trial allowing taxi’s on to Grafton Bridge will start in late March and AT will be monitoring bus travel times, cyclist safety and amenity along with how many infringements get issued. If any significant issues arise during the trial it can be stopped. AT say the Taxi Federation and Cycle Action Auckland have been involved in the development of the proposal.

Personally I don’t think AT should have even entertained the idea of allowing Taxi’s on the bridge and should have actually gone the other way and making it bus only 24/7.

Double Decker Bus Mitigation Project

To get double deckers on the streets AT need to complete a whole lot of mitigation works to ensure the buses don’t damage things or get damaged themselves. This includes moving power poles, veranda modifications, kerb build-outs and tree pruning. They plan to have this work done by June to enable double deckers from Howick and Eastern to start running. Mt Eden is the next route planned for mitigation works which is meant to happen in the next financial year however AT are awaiting the outcome of the LRT proposal before making any changes.

On the Howick and Eastern Double Deckers, a press release yesterday announced the company was spending $12 million on buying 15 double deckers – most of which would be built in Tauranga. They will operate between Botany and the City Centre. The most interesting aspect of these buses is that they will also include free WiFi, power points and USB ports. Those are great additions and hopefully something we start to see become standard on all PT vehicles and I certainly think they should be on our new trains. The buses are from Alexander Dennis – the same maker as the small NZ Bus buses.

A ride on our first Double Decker

This morning I managed to drag myself out of bed a bit earlier than usual to make my way to town. The reason for this was to ride on the first double decker bus that is going to be used in Auckland and I was very impressed by it. The bus looks and feels superb, both inside and out.

NEX Double Decker 1

NEX Double Decker 2

The bus definitely turned a few heads as we drove past.

A view outside the upstairs window with the single level NEX bus off to the right. I bet there will a lot of people wanting these seats on a nice day like today.

NEX Double Decker 3

From about the middle of the top level, looking back. One of the great things is that the seats are more spaced out than other buses giving passengers more room. It was much more like you get on a train. The great thing is that this is apparently now a requirement in the NZTA spec so we should be seeing it in other new buses in the future. All up the bus has 86 seats compared to the 51 on other NEX buses.

NEX Double Decker 4

The stairs to get to the top level, to the right there is even a little luggage area.

NEX Double Decker 5

And looking in the other direction on the downstairs level of the bus.

NEX Double Decker 6

Another great feature is that both of the doors are wide enough for two people to board or alight at the same time which will definitely be useful once HOP starts rolling out next month.

NEX Double Decker 7

Lastly from the upper level you get a stunning, unobstructed view across the harbour on the journey.

NEX Double Decker 8

All up, a very welcome addition to Auckland.  The first normal run will happen next Monday.

Double Deckers are almost here

The Herald reports that the first double decker bus arrives in Auckland this weekend.

Northern Express service operator Ritchies Transport expects the 88-seater vehicle to arrive by sea from Malaysia at the weekend, before being painted in Auckland Transport livery for trips to start between Albany and Britomart by mid-March.

Rival operators NZ Bus and the Howick and Eastern Buses are also involved in “infrastructure trials” with the council transport body to select other potential routes for double-deckers.

Its been almost a year since we  first heard that bus companies were considering them.  In the interim I understand that the bus companies had to address various technical issues like size and weight restrictions which is also likely to be why Ritchies are only bringing in one at this stage. Once they are comfortable that it is working well they say they will order more.

It hoped to order 15 to 20 more once the pioneering vehicle had proven successful in clearing peak-time passenger loads on the busway.

“I don’t think there will be any issues, but just to make sure it is all okay, it is better to just get one and then if we want to make changes [for future buses], to make those off the first one.”

Mr Ritchie said the bus had been purpose-built over a European Scania chassis, and would be about 4.3m high.

Although it would not have a conductor to supervise passengers reaching the top deck, he expected the roll-out of Auckland Transport’s electronic Hop card to buses from April to improve loading times.

He understood the council organisation did some tree-trimming along Fanshawe St so double-deckers could get close enough to bus stops, but not any major pruning.

And as mentioned briefly above, some of the other bus companies are looking at double deckers too.

Howick and Eastern general manager Sheryll Otway said her company was keen to select a main arterial route from its home base to the city before ordering several double-decker buses for delivery next year.

It wanted to reduce its “geographical footprint” with double-deckers about a metre shorter than its existing 13.5m vehicles.

It has attached a metal frame on one of its existing buses to a height of 4.2m, ready to start infrastructure trials next week, but Ms Otway does not expect any major obstacles.

NZ Bus conducted a similar trial along Mt Eden Rd this week, but has yet to disclose its findings.

For some reason, having double deckers for PT seems to give the impression that the city is growing up and like with other changes coming over the next few years, it will hopefully help to give Aucklanders a new appreciation of our PT network.