Rapid transit has passed the acid test

I recently ran across a New Zealand Herald article from 2000 on the region’s plans to start building good rapid transit infrastructure. (Which, as Patrick highlighted in a recent post, is exactly what is holding Auckland back relative to its peer cities.) I noticed three things from the article:

  • We’re still having to scrimp and save and struggle to get good public transport projects built
  • This is in spite of the fact that the projects that have been built (against the odds) have been runaway successes
  • Many of the people who were urging caution back then are still around, but they haven’t acknowledged the evidence and changed their position.

On to the article:

The North Shore busway, allowing buses to travel faster than cars, will be the acid test for Auckland’s grand public transport schemes.

Planners are pinning their hopes on around $1 billion of rapid transit services running every five minutes along dedicated corridors as one answer to congestion.

The $130 million busway, a carriageway alongside the Northern Motorway, is likely to be first out of the blocks. It is being eyed to see how it fares for funding in about three months – and how many people it will coax out of their cars when it starts picking up passengers in three to five years.

Of course, the Northern Busway wasn’t actually completed until 2008, and the rest of the plan is still a glimmer in Auckland Transport’s eye.

Stephen Selwood, then of AA and now heading the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development, was quoted extensively in the story:

The region’s Passenger Transport Action Plan set targets of doubling and tripling public transport numbers in several key areas by 2011.

Yet the Automobile Association’s northern regional manager, Stephen Selwood, is not convinced they will be reached.

“The key test will be the busway, because that is the one where we know there’s congestion and thousands of people go over the bridge. If we can’t make that one work, nothing will.”

What actually happened? Although the busway was constructed late, it worked like crazy. By 2012, actual patronage on the busway was almost double what the patronage forecasts indicated:

Busway Patronage vs projections Graph

More prognostications from Mr Selwood:

The Passenger Transport Action Plan’s market-share goals for the number of commuters headed towards the central business district range from 15 to 45 per cent, and Mr Selwood claims this shows an improved public transport system would cater only for a minority.

By 2012, public transport accounted for 44% of all motorised travel to the city centre during the morning peak. (Walking and cycling weren’t included in the data, unfortunately, but they account for a significant share of overall trips.) Since then the PT mode share has increased even further. Public transport, including the successful Northern Busway, has accounted for all of the net growth in city centre access since the 1990s:

CCFAS Modeshare 1990-2012

One last comment from Mr Selwood:

Auckland, with its traffic growing at 5 per cent a year, cannot ignore the motoring majority and a need for more roads, he says.

That might have been true back then. But it’s not true now. The most recent Census data shows that road traffic is growing at an anemic pace while all other modes are booming:

Census Auckland marginal transport user analysis

In short, Auckland has faced the public transport “acid test”, and it has passed, with flying colours. This is even more impressive in light of the fact that:

  • The key projects that have been undertaken, such as the Northern Busway and rail electrification, have often been finished far behind schedule. Rail electrification was supposed to be done in 2011, for crying out loud!
  • The successful Northern Busway hasn’t been followed with investment in other essential rapid transit projects, such as the (planned but not yet built) AMETI busway to the eastern suburbs and the Northwestern Busway on SH16.
  • Successive governments have spent billions on Auckland’s motorway network even after it became apparent that demand was flatlining.

In light of the results, I look forward to hearing the NZCID’s strong advocacy to stop building motorways and put the funding towards good public transport projects.

Northern Motorway Concepts

Last week I talked about the NZTA holding some open days to their initial ideas for the Northern Motorway Projects. The projects consist of a number of components.

Northern Corridor Improvements

The NZTA have now put online the info they presented at the open days and some of their ideas are fairly horrific. I’m not entirely sure if they are deliberately so scary as part of negotiating tactic to get people to agree to some of the lesser ideas or if these are what the engineers actually want to build.

For the motorway the NZTA have four concepts which range from motorway to motorway ramps through to a replica spaghetti junction. All concepts will see Paul Matthews Rd linked in directly to Constellation Rd and the section of SH18 from Albany Highway to SH1 turned to full motorway standard. It also appears that the link from SH1 to SH18 will go under the existing motorway rather than over it. The south facing ramps would go over the top of the motorway however the NZTA are saying that will have to happen in a future project. In an email to reader Anthony O’Mera they say further work on SH1 south of the interchange (i.e. more widening), is needed before the south facing ramps could be added.

Northern Corridor NZTA reply to South Facing ramps

Concept 1 seems to be a simply adding of the motorway links and widening of the section between Greville Rd and Constellation. This would undoubtedly be the cheapest and the least disruptive of all of the options.

Northern Corridor Improvements Concept 1

Concept 2 takes concept 2 and takes it one step further by having a flying onramp from Albany Expressway to SH1 which I assume is take some of the traffic off the roundabouts.

Northern Corridor Improvements Concept 2

Concept 3 takes concept 2 and injects it with copious amounts of steroids. Added to the mix are weaved lanes so that Grevelle/Albany Expressway bound traffic doesn’t mix with traffic joining SH1 from SH18

Northern Corridor Improvements Concept 3

Concept 4 also has weaved lanes but drops the direct connection from Albany Expressway to SH1. It also drops the Greville Rd Northbound onramp.

Northern Corridor Improvements Concept 4

Of the options, concept 3 and 4 with their extra weaved lanes seem like they come from the same school of thinking that gives us four lane wide local roads that blow to 9+ lane intersections in a bid to cater for each type of movement separately. Further while the interchange designs themselves might be able to move more vehicles, would the local roads be able to cope with that extra influx of cars.

That leaves concepts 1 and 2 and concept 2 might have the upper hand once the northern busway extension is also taken into consideration. There are just two options for the extension of the busway with concept 1 likely to be the quickest and cheapest to build. It also matches with the outcome of the last study into the area where the busway should go (it suggested keeping it on the eastern side of the motorway with a bus bridge to access the station itself).

Northern Corridor Improvements Busway

 

The Busway Concept 2 might be quite useful as it also opens up the possibility of south Albany station which might come in very as the area develops over time.

The NZTA are now looking for feedback on their ideas before they progress them further however they haven’t said how long the feedback is open for so it would be best to get it in as soon as you can..

You can give us your feedback on these concepts by:

  1. Emailing us at northerncorridor@nz0ta.govt.nz
  2. Calling us on 0800 NCIPROJECT (080624 776)
  3. Writing to us at: Northern Corridor Project Team NZ Transport Agency Private bag 106602 Auckland 1143

One last thing, In all the images the NZTA refers to the Albany Expressway as SH17, perhaps they forgot they handed the road over to Auckland Transport a few years ago.

Northern Motorway consultation

The NZTA are holding open days this week to show their initial designs for their Northern Motorway projects.

People will have their first opportunity to look at the initial concepts and provide feedback for the Northern Corridor Improvements in Auckland at open days being organised by the NZ Transport Agency from next week.

The initial concepts for the important upgrades along Upper Harbour Highway (SH18) and the Northern Motorway (State Highway 1) have been identified and public feedback will help shape the next stage in the design, says the Transport Agency’s Highway Manager Brett Gliddon.

The project is one of a number of key works included in the Government’s accelerated programme to improve transport infrastructure in Auckland.

“We’re quite excited about these open days as we’re presenting concepts to the community and getting their input before we start the detailed investigation process. It’s important we get feedback when developing these significant projects so we can incorporate ideas, where possible, from the people who use these connections on a regular basis. We would really encourage the local community to come along and provide input to the Northern Corridor Improvements project,” says Mr Gliddon.

Open day information (feel free to drop-in at any time during these session times):

Wednesday 12 November, 5pm – 7pm: Northern Corridor Information Hub, 33A Apollo Drive, Rosedale

Thursday 13 November, 6.30am-8.30am & 4.30pm-6.30pm: Constellation Bus Station, Parkway Drive, Rosedale

Saturday 15 November, 10am-4pm: Westfield Albany, next to New World, Don Mckinnon Drive, Albany

Mr Gliddon says the Northern Corridor Improvements will help address the connection issues and pressures the Northern motorway is currently facing and also support the growth of businesses and population in the area and beyond.

“Most people who travel this route on a regular basis know that there are several bottlenecks getting between the Upper Harbour Highway and the Northern Motorway. This can cause significant delays for motorists and commercial vehicles. By upgrading this section of the network, we hope to help create an efficient network and provide more reliable travel times,” Mr Gliddon says.

Key components of the Northern Corridor programme focus on creating a seamless motorway to motorway connection along the Western Ring Route – the Hobsonville, Northwestern and Southwestern Motorways (SHs18, 16 and 20) – between Albany and Manukau to the south, upgrading the Upper Harbour Highway to a motorway, and investigation and consenting to extend the successful Northern Busway from Constellation to the Albany park and ride station. The Transport Agency is also investigating walking and cycling connections as part of the project

The northern motorway projects include these components however crucially the extension of the busway is only being consented after the government pulled funding for it’s construction (supposedly against the NZTA’s advice). It also ignores the massive success the busway has been.

Northern Corridor Improvements

 

In the governments budget announcement last year they said the Northern Corridor improvements would cost $450 million.

Budget-2014-Auckland-Transport-package

A new graphic on the NZTA’s page for the project includes the claim that traffic heading northbound (presumably from SH18) will save 11 minutes in 12 years-time.

NZTA Northern Corridor map

Of all the projects the SH1 to SH18 motorway to motorway link is going to have a huge impact on the area as it will require large ramps to connect the motorways, like what is currently going in at Waterview. The image below was from an earlier strategic study into the project and highlights one of the potential options

package3-sh18

And as a reminder this is an image from August showing the motorway ramps under construction.

Waterview Ramps Aug 14

Northern Busway Success

The Northern Busway has been one of Auckland’s biggest success stories. Opened in February 2008 it’s helped transform transport on the North Shore with perhaps the most stunning statistic being this quote from a NZTA report on extending the busway to Albany and Silverdale – something that government cut from the package of works to widen the Northern Motorway.

Over the past few years investment in the Northern Busway, and efforts to improve bus and transit lanes in other parts of the North Shore, have resulted in a significant increase in the proportion of trips made by bus. Not only has the number of bus users across the Harbour Bridge improved significantly during this time, but there has been a decline in the number of cars crossing the bridge: freeing up space so everyone’s trip is faster and more reliable.

Recent figures indicate that almost 12,000 out of the 29,000 people crossing the bridge in the morning peak period are now travelling by bus (i.e. almost 41 percent of all people use the bus). This figure represents a significant increase in bus mode split compared to 2004 (which had roughly 5,000 out of 27,000 (18.5 percent)) of people crossing the bridge at peak times by bus.

The primary service that uses the busway is the Northern Express (NEX) who’s growth has been a direct result of the congestion free route the busway provides – although it uses the busway for just 41% of its journey. As of September over 2.5 million trips were taken on the NEX over the previous 12 months which us up from about 700,000 before the busway opened (NEX services started in late 2005 as a precursor to the busway).

14 - Sep NEX Patronage

The NEX is only one of a number of services that use the busway for some or all of their journey and many more people benefit from the infrastructure. With HOP it’s made it even easier to catch non NEX services that use the busway e.g. the 881. We don’t know the actual number of people using the busway however I’ve heard estimates that it’s in the range of 5-8 million trips a year. Another important feature of the busway is that buses using it travel at about twice the average speed of buses elsewhere in Auckland. That means the same number of buses and staff can run more services for no extra cost compared to other routes making them much more efficient. Because of all of the positive aspects mentioned we’ve also heard that services run at or close to full cost recovery so little or no subsidy is needed for them. In other words it’s a success on many measures.

NEX buses run every 3 minutes in the peak direction while counter peak – away from the city in the morning and towards the city in the evening – and off peak during the day they run every 10 minutes.

NEX Timetable

As many know I work in Takapuna and normally commute using PT. Recently instead of catching a bus direct to Takapuna I’ve taken to catching the NEX to the Akoranga station and walking from there (15-20 mins) as part of increasing the amount of walking I do. In addition due to the timing of the direct buses and transfers it often works out not much longer to get to work. It means I’m travelling counter peak and one thing that’s surprised me, as it does with buses direct to Takapuna, has been just how busy they are. In the case of the NEX this is particularly surprising considering just how poor the land use is around the busway stations.

This image was taken a few days ago while heading over the bridge in the morning with the bus full of people both sitting and standing. This is now a common sight at many times of the day in both directions.

Full NEX

The mornings are often busy however the afternoons have been seen buses packed, often to the point that people at Akoranga are missing out and having to wait for another 10 minutes for the next bus. While it is a sign of the popularity of the service it leaves those having to wait angry and frustrated. Those who get on and are standing on the bus don’t feel that much better either due to how packed it is. In addition buses extremely packed quickly fall behind schedule as they have to dwell at stops for a lot longer which can have knock on effects for future services. To make matters worse, those waiting on the platform for a bus will often see 2 -3 NEX buses plus up to half a dozen non NEX buses race past towards the city not in service so they can ferry people from the city back to the shore.

After this happened a few times and no response from Auckland Transport on social media about it (although they have been better lately), I went to AT directly about the issue. They pulled the data for the stop in the direction I was travelling for October and provided this graph which shows that around 5pm in particular many of the services are very very full.

NEX counter peak afternoons Oct 14

As a result they are now working with Ritchies to put on an additional service which they say will likely be at 5:05 to help cater for the demand. They will also closely monitor some of the other service s that look quite full such as the 4:30pm service.

This is a good outcome and should hopefully really help address some of the issues although I would have thought a 4:55 might be useful too. I think ideally AT should be looking to move to 5 minute frequencies in the afternoon peak which shouldn’t be too difficult seeing as the buses are having to get to the CBD anyway. In addition this information was only pulled because I highlighted it, I hope to see AT getting to the point that services are regularly full are automatically highlighted to them so these issues can be addressed sooner.

Extending the Northern Busway

Monday’s NZ Herald finally picked up on the Northern Busway extension from Constellation to Albany being left out of the government’s accelerated transport package that was announced as part of the Budget.

Auckland’s successful Northern Busway has been set back by a Government decision to exclude an extension to Albany from an $815 million package of accelerated roading projects.

A Treasury paper shows the Government considered a Transport Agency plan to extend the dedicated bus highway from Constellation Drive, but backed off after being told it would cost an extra $250 million.

But it is pressing ahead with northern corridor roading improvements costing $460 million, including a full motorway-to-motorway “elbow” link extending four kilometres from State Highway 18 to Greville Rd on SH1 – parallel to the first part of the busway extension route of similar length.

As I mentioned last week the busway extension was originally an integral part of the “Northern Corridor” package of projects:

Northern Corridor Improvements

This went back to the Prime Minister’s speech in June last year, where he also made reference to improving the busway as part of the Northern Corridor package:

Deliver a complete motorway-to-motorway link between the Upper Harbour Highway and the Northern Motorway at Constellation Drive, upgrade the Greville road interchange and improve the Northern Busway

Plans to extend the busway from its current northern end at Constellation Station on to Albany have been around for a number of years – which I looked at in quite some detail last year, drawing from an OIA response on the busway extension’s route and business case which had been prepared for NZTA. Within that report there’s a good summary of how successful the existing busway has been:

Over the past few years investment in the Northern Busway, and efforts to improve bus and transit lanes in other parts of the North Shore, have resulted in a significant increase in the proportion of trips made by bus. Not only has the number of bus users across the Harbour Bridge improved significantly during this time, but there has been a decline in the number of cars crossing the bridge: freeing up space so everyone’s trip is faster and more reliable.

Recent figures indicate that almost 12,000 out of the 29,000 people crossing the bridge in the morning peak period are now travelling by bus (i.e. almost 41 percent of all people use the bus). This figure represents a significant increase in bus mode split compared to 2004 (which had roughly 5,000 out of 27,000 (18.5 percent)) of people crossing the bridge at peak times by bus.

The argument for extending the busway from Constellation to Albany is not only about the success of the current busway, but also about fixing some of the problems faced by buses along this section and supporting the growth of Albany into a true metropolitan centre. The current Northern Express bus gets a great ride between Constellation and Akoranga, but further north the only infrastructure available are some pretty stop-start shoulder lanes, the main consequences of which are that buses get stuck in general congestion on the motorway and also that (particularly northbound) buses waste a lot of time getting through the interchanges. Let’s just look at what a northbound bus needs to do at Constellation Station when going north (in red) compared to the much more direct route it could take with the busway extension (in green):

nex-northbound-detour

That might not look like much but getting from Parkway Dr on to Constellation Dr then turning right from Constellation Dr on to the motorway can easily take 5 minutes or more. Multiply that over hundreds of passengers a day and you have some substantial delays.

Further north at Greville Road, my understanding is that in the morning peak the buses get stuck around the interchange for ages as they exit it and then enter again to make use of the bus lanes and shoulder that exist. Yet again many minutes are lost for the huge number of people who use the Northern busway every day.

As a final point, it was interesting that when asked by the Herald, Gerry Brownlee seemed to leave his options open:

A spokesman for Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said last night that although a $350 million Government loan to the agency for motorway improvements did not provide for the busway extension, the project “has not been dropped from the list of projects that may be considered for acceleration in the future”.

If the government did accelerate progress on the busway extension it would become the very first new public transport project in Auckland from them.

Updates on the Northern and Northwest busways

This post is an update on two of the three key busway projects in Auckland at the moment, the extension of the Northern Busway to Albany and a busway along SH16 (the third one is the AMETI busway).

Northern Busway Extension

The Northern Busway has been an outstanding success since opening fully in 2008. Despite only being grade separated for 41% of the route it has managed to exceed patronage projections and defy the doubters who claimed it would be a waste of money. It’s even had the remarkable success of significantly changing mode share with the number of people crossing at peak times on a bus increasing from 18.5% in 2004 to 41% in 2012.

Northern Busway White Elephant

NZ Herald Cartoon 14 Feb 2008 – The day after the busway opened

One of the most crucial projects we need to be getting on with is the extension of the Northern Busway from Constellation to Albany. When the government announced it’s package of motorway projects in June last year the associated map included “Northern Busway Improvements”

sh18-sh1-link

It’s also mentioned on the NZTA page for the Northern Corridor improvements as component 5.

Northern Corridor Improvements

In July we found out that the plan to extend the busway was estimated to cost about $250 million and that the busway would actually stay on the Eastern side of the motorway to make it easier for a future extension to Silverdale (which would cost an additional $300 million. It would be connected to the Albany busway station by a dedicated bridge across the motorway.

Northern Busway Extension - Eastern access to Albany

So it should be about to be constructed right? Unfortunately not.

Papers released by The Treasury show the project isn’t part of the government funding package anymore.

The Northern Busway

25. An extension to the Northern Busway was previously included as part of the Northern Corridor package of projects.
26. The NZ Transport Agency has advised it would need $250 million to deliver this project on accelerated timeframes but that investigations and route protection for the project can continue without additional financial assistance from the Crown.
27. [7]

The point 27 which has been withheld is “to maintain the current constitutional conventions protecting the confidentiality of advice tendered by ministers and officials

From conversations I’ve had it appears the NZTA were quite keen to get on with the busway extension and had expected to get the go ahead to do so but were stopped by The Treasury who pulled the funding for it at the last minute. I suspect that’s what point 27 refers to. My understanding is now all the NZTA can do is to make sure that the motorway plans they do proceed with leave enough space so that they don’t stop the busway from happening at some point in the future.

I guess we won’t know exactly why funding was pulled and I notice none of the other motorway projects have had parts stripped out of them. It appears to me that this is just a continuation of the single mode focus that has dominated the transport discussion for so many decades and it’s both hugely frustrating and disappointing. It’s also an insult to anyone who lives on the upper North Shore or up by Orewa/Whangaparaoa and who wants better choices in how they get around.

Northwest Busway

We’ve called for a busway along SH16 for a long time and it is a key part to the Congestion Free Network.

NW Busway on CFN

It’s also an idea that seems to continue to gain some traction. In my view it’s a project that will become increasingly important as large greenfield land gets developed in the North West. The area already contains ~40,000 dwellings and it’s been estimated there will be additional 80,000 over the next 30 years. To put it another way it will grow by about the size of the North Shore.

In March last year Auckland Transport proposed a bus interchange station at Te Atatu between the motorway and Titoki St however it seemed to have a couple of major flaws like requiring all westbound buses to cross the motorway twice just to access the station. There was also significant community opposition to the proposal and in the end AT dropped the idea and went back to the drawing board. In a response to an OIA request initially to the NZTA but passed to Auckland Transport they say:

NW Busway AT OIA request

There’s no information about what that new interchange station may look like but it’s positive to hear that they are now looking at full busway along the route – although I suspect only from Te Atatu west. My guess is we might hear more about the project later this year when the consultation for the new network in West Auckland happens.

Of course even with a full busway is chosen who knows if or when it would be funded. In my mind it should be an NZTA project like the Northern Busway however considering how difficult it appears to be to get the extension to that funded we could be waiting a long time for a Northwest busway.

CFN and budget transport announcements

In the May budget the Government announced they would fastrack yet another $800 million of motorway projects, partially financed by a $375 million loan. These were projects that had been identified in the Prime Minister’s Auckland speech in 2013. There were 3 main projects as outlined below.

Budget-2014-Auckland-Transport-package

 

Two of these projects have major potential to impact on 2 key elements of the Congestion Free Network.

The first is the State Highway 20A upgrade, which involves extending the motorway about 2 extra kilometres towards the airport.

Airport Access Map

 

NZTA says the main features are:

Grade separation of SH20A and Kirkbride Rd intersection

Upgrading of SH20A to motorway standards: two lanes in each direction plus dedicated bus priority lanes

Reprioritisation of Ascot Rd / Kirkbride Rd intersection

Installation of truck priority lanes and ramp signalling

Relocation and integration of cycle lanes in local road network

Note there is no mention at all of rail to the airport, which would follow the motorway corridor from Onehunga most of the way to the airport. It is of upmost importance that a rail corridor is reserved by NZTA when they are planning and building the project. They have done this on the SH20 extensions through Mt Roskill, however there was a designation already in place so the situation is somewhat different. Auckland Transport has been investigating rapid transit along this route since 2011. Initially they said the route protection was to begin in late 2011, however 3 years later we have learned little. The latest we have is an April 2014 update which suggests that a preferred alignment will be identified in 2014. While the Airport’s Masterplan may be causing issues at the southern end of the route, work should still be moving ahead in the northern area. It is essential that NZTA and AT work together to speed up alignment identification in this area, something which has been highlighted by the Campaign for Better Transport. If the upgrade is built without an alignment for the rail corridor it will add huge extra cost to the airport rail project. For one thing all the new overbridges would have to be rebuilt, which would be a huge waste of money. Auckland Council need to send a strong message to the government that this would be unacceptable, and ensure the rail corridor is allowed for in the design.

 

The second project is the suite of Northern Corridor projects, which largely revolve around the State Highway 1 to State Highway 18 grade-separation and associated widening. In December 2013 NZTA claimed there were 5 main components to the Northern Corridor projects.

Northern Corridor Improvements

Component 1 is already under construction (costing $19.5 million). Component 2 seems to be the smart low-cost improvements. The announcement above seems to refer to Components 1 to 4, totally leaving out the much needed Northern Busway extension to Albany. Currently the Northern Express speeds the 15km from Britomart to Constellation Station in just over 20 minutes. However the last 4km to Albany can take 15 minutes as there is no bus priority. This busway extension is another project that NZTA and AT have been working on for years, and seems have got bogged down somehow. In 2011 NZTA were saying that the route needed to be designated soon due to the development taking place. Last year we found out a little more about the route investigations, which suggested it would cost $249 million.

package3-sh18

planned SH1/SH18 motorway upgrade

The planned motorway interchange upgrade is quoted as costing an astonishing $450 million. For that cost the project is totally unnecessary for something that just replaces a few at grade intersections with ramps. The focus should be much more on cost-effective targeted upgrades, then we could have the busway extension to Albany and plenty of spare change. The result would be lots more people using the busway, and reduced traffic congestion along the entire Northern Motorway and CBD.

The third set of projects around the Southern Motorway don’t have any components of the Congestion Free Network linked with them. However the upgrades should be a good chance to make Great South Road better for pedestrians, cyclists and buses. The one positive of this project is this means the current expensive plans to turn Mill Road into a 4 lane highway should disappear, and be replaced by a much cheaper safety upgrade. This would be a great way to free up over $200 million to help with Auckland Transport’s stretched budget.

Reflections on Constellation Station

I’ve been a user of the busway on and off since it opened, and recently I’ve been passing through Constellation station on a daily basis. This post is just a collection of my thoughts on how the station stacks up in my mind, particularly with regard to access to and from the station itself. I’d like to know what other people think.

Constellation

Pedestrian access: What pedestrian access? Well there is some, admittedly. If you walk across the bus access roads, and down through the Park and Ride lot you eventually get to a footpath where you can make a ninety degree turn next to a retaining wall and gradually make your way to Constellation Drive. So it’s there, but not necessarily legible or at all easy to find out where to go. Clearly people walking any further than the carpark were the last thing on the designers’ minds, despite the fact it is actually pretty close to a fair number of houses and jobs.

Pick up and drop off: Every time I get off at Constellation, which is just about every day, I see more people waiting to get picked up than those who walk down to cars in the parking lot. I’d love to see a proper survey, but from my observation far more people get dropped off and collected than use the Park and Ride.

The whole pick up / drop off access is something greatly missing in the station design. There are a handful of parking spots with five minute time limits for “Kiss and Ride”, but to get near them you have to stand in the middle of the carpark to get near them. Every day I see a dozen or so people milling around on an exposed section of kerbside footpath waiting where they can be seen by their drivers coming in to the carpark to collect them. In the wind and rain there is little to do but stand in the elements with an umbrella or coat. There is a series of canopies that provide a sheltered path from the station down into the parking lot , yet crucially there is nothing at the point where the Kiss and Ride access is. No shelter, let alone a bench or anything else to make life easy. I think that is a big design flaw and something that needs to be addressed.

A further issue is the route drivers must take in and out of the station to pick someone up, in through the same cattle run lanes as Park n Riders, and out via a circuitous tour of the carpark itself. Quite frankly it seems that such movements were simply not considered in the design. Nevertheless there are two bus only roads accessing the station from which you can’t get to the carpark, and vice versa. These come together just between the station and the carpark which I would say is the perfect place to have pick up and drop of bays, it would just be a case of allowing drivers to use those two bus only roads. Given that you can’t actually get anywhere else on those bus roads there is little chance of them becoming congested or cars getting in the way of buses, so why not open them up for non-parkers? There is even room to add some shelters for people waiting.

Park and Ride: This is full before 8am, which suggests that it needs to be priced to manage access and use. On the surface that sounds a little draconian, why slug bus users to park at the station, aren’t we trying to encourage people onto the busway? Well yes and no. For a start we don’t know how many people would otherwise just catch a connector bus, something that is fairly easy (at peak times at least) now Hop is in place. Is free parking at Constellation station just a subsidy to some drivers? Does it just encourage more driving? I’ve seen surveys that show that most parkers at Constellation are simply coming from nearby suburbs like Unsworth and Mairangi Bay, places that have good bus feeders already. The sorts of residents who really need Park and Ride, say those who live out the back of Albany of Schnapper Rock that are never going to get good bus connections, are a small minority. How do we prioritise these people over those who live in nearby suburbs with good bus links? Well the simplest way I can see is pricing. Set the price a bit too high to be good value compared to catching a quick feeder bus from nearby suburbs, but still low enough that it is better value that driving the whole way if you are commuting from Paremoremo or Kaukapakapa.

Another issue is that a full parking lot is one that nobody else can use, which is a stickler if you’ve got an urgent meeting or last minute appointment. I’m sure there are plenty of people who would be willing to pay quite a bit to park there, if there were some still available during the day.

It is obviously designed for boom gates to be added, so let’s do it already. For fairness we should charge at least the same as a single stage bus trip to the station to park at the station, or really just charge it as high as you can until it hits about 95% utilised. That way the people who really need to Park and Ride can do so when they need to, and for everyone else that last minute convenience is available… at a fair price.

There have recently been some ludicrous suggestions that 70% of busway users are park n riders. But if you use the station yourself you’ll quickly realise that is a physical impossibility given the numbers of people moving through. There are about 1,500 parking spaces on the Busway, all gone before the morning peak really kicks off. All day there are some 7,000 trips a day on the Northern Express alone and about 20,000 across the whole busway system. So you do the math on that one. I don’t know how anyone could calculate that actually, perhaps they surveyed people arriving at the station entrance from the carpark during one peak hour, and divided that by the patronage of just the Northern Express? Who knows?

Taxis: A simple question, why are there not taxis lined up at Constellation Station, particularly later in the evening? The NEX runs till about three in the morning on weekends but all it does is drop you at a station in the middle of nowhere. There would be plenty of folks who would be happy to spend ten bucks to get dropped home from the station by taxi, it would make a good alternative to the $60 or $70 taxi all the way from town to the East Coast Bays (or stumbling down back streets for an hour, which is my usual tactic). Taxis could meet each arrival of the NEX and shuttle people a few minutes home and be back to meet the next. They might do three or four runs an hour. That has to be more profitable than taxis waiting around for hours to get a single fare out of town, then dead running all the way back in.

The funny thing is that North Harbour Taxis have their depot a few hundred metres away just off Constellation Drive. Why not base some of their drivers at the station carpark instead? How about it AT, wouldn’t take much more than a phone call and a chat to set it up.

Bus connectivity: For the most part the busway currently runs like our train lines. Some buses come near the station, but basically you have to get yourself to or from the station some other way to connect the ‘mainline’ service. Despite always having an excellent paper integrated ticketing product and now with Hop fully rolled out, the network design just didn’t allow it to happen particularly easily. The main feeder route to Constellation is the 880, a two way loop that runs direct to Mairangi Bay, Rothesay Bay and Browns Bay on one side, and over to Unsworth and Rosedale on the other. The route is about as direct as possible between these suburbs and the station. It’s perfect, except for the fact it comes once every half hour at best, and hourly off peak and all weekend.

The very worst thing however is that it runs half hourly on weekday evenings, I’m frequently not back at the station by 7pm and if you miss that bus there is a thirty minute wait until the next with no other options for getting to the East Coast Bays. How many commuters could rely on such a service to get home? What good is the busway rapid transit running every five or ten minutes at that time, if you might have to wait 29 minutes to leave the station? Because of that, people are mostly stuck either taking a direct express bus, or driving or walking to the station.

My guess is that the focus on Park and Ride has meant that connecting buses were not a priority. Perhaps if we cared less about storing cars and more about moving people, they could have run the collector loops twice as frequently? Fifteen minute feeders would work wonders.

Personally I prefer to take the 86X express through the station from downtown straight to my neighbourhood, and most evenings more people get on at Constellation than get off. Yes, people get on an outbound afternoon express in the suburbs to head further out. This is actually a good sign for the value of Hop and the likely success of the New Network. Not long ago I would catch the 86X from Constellation outbound in the afternoons, and the driver and other passengers would look at me like I was insane. These days there are usually half a dozen other people doing the same (normal people too, not just transit nerds whose idea of fun is making funny connections).

Given the lack of frequency on the 880 feeder route it seems some folks have learned that they 86X follows the same route, so you can simply wait at the one stop and take whichever arrives first. A beautiful efficiency of hop. Bring on the New Network where every single route works this way.

This leads me to one other gripe. Of all the reviews of patronage and how people use the busway, they all seem to exclude all the patrons that arrive and depart on the same direct bus. They appear to count Park n Ride, Kiss n Ride and walk up (but how well?), and the few passengers transferring from a true feeder service to the NEX. But they seem to ignore all the patronage on through buses when assessing the relative use of the station. That’s a problem, because it overstates the proportion of Park n Ride users to total passenger numbers, and greatly downplays the value of connector buses.  If you simply ignore most of the passengers that catch the bus to Constellation because they happen to leave on the same bus again, then you have a very poor picture of how willing people are to catch a bus to the station.

So in summary all of these points indicate a clear picture: people are absolutely drawn to the frequent, fast and reliable service of the Northern Express on the busway. However, there is currently a big lack of effective connecting and feeding services. Now I’m not too concerned here because the New Network will change all of that and make the busway a leading example of how to do it right. Nonetheless, a little attention to walking, cycling, kiss and ride and taxi access would be a good thing. It looks like the gold plated the stations in terms of their amenity for waiting passengers and park and riders, but overlooked some pretty fundamental aspects of station accessibility. It wouldn’t take too much to fix that.

Northern Express free this weekend

Auckland Transport are running a free weekend for Northern Express services this weekend.

NEX Free Weekend

An excellent initiative by AT. I hope it’s something that becomes a regular feature along with other parts of the PT network (oh and I like the graphic too, shame the footer floated over part of it).

Bike the bridge this Sunday

I remember this from the past but didn’t realise it was on again so if you want to ride over the harbour bridge then here’s your chance. Of course at some point in the future Skypath will allow people to cross the harbour by bike every day of the year. In addition to cycling over the bridge you also get to cycle up the northern busway.

 

The 2013 edition of MS Bike The Bridge promises to be bigger and better than its predecessor. But entry is strictly limited. We have a maximum number of participants allowed to cycle over the Harbour Bridge. Once that number is reached the event is closed. The Auckland Marathon (that enjoys more than twice our limit) sold out within 3 weeks – so you must get in early to avoid disappointment! Enter Now and secure your place.

There is no excuse not to get into it! This year MS Bike The Bridge offers the following event options. These events all include the iconic Auckland Harbour Bridge and Northern Busway.

– 115km
– 50km
– Harcourts Cooper & Co. 20km

Each of these distance options above include a division for Secondary School pupils. See our Event Information for more Details.

In keeping with the community ethos of MS Bike the Bridge our new finish line at North Harbour Stadium enables us to keep your whole family engaged and entertained with specific event options for Primary School kids, pre-schoolers and those who like to do their cycling a little on the edge!