Northern Busway Extension is back

We were rightly dismayed when the previous Transport Minister vetoed the desperately needed extension of the famously successful Northern Busway as part of the big spend up on SH1 on the North Shore. We suspect NZTA were too, as they know that the Busway the single most effective tool for reducing congestion and increasing access and human happiness for the travelling public on this route. And is a vital part of the booming Rapid Transit Network. Additionally this extension surely also helps streamline the general traffic lane design through the SH1/SH18 intersection and beyond. NZTA must be keen to not have to factor in growing numbers of merging buses from shoulder lanes etc.

So we are very pleased to find that the agency has found a way to return this logical part of the project to the programme and out of the shadow of ministerial whim [presumably the change of Minister helped?]:

Northern Corridor

Here is the full document.

Bus users report that their journeys between Constellation and Albany Stations can currently take up a disproportionately large amount of the total trip because of the absence of any Transit right of way; the buses of course are not only themselves delayed but are also delaying other road users here.

The extension will not be a minor structure but as it adjacent to commercial properties it is hard to see how the usual forces of compliant will be able get much traction against it, but it will still need public support at the consultation phase, so Busway users, let yourselves be heard.

We understand the current Busway is built to a standard to enable upgrading to rail systems, we would expect this standard to be continued on this extension, as this does look like the most logical way to next cross the Waitemata Harbour.

Finally, because this is a) spending on the Shore b) not ratepayers funds, and c) not spending on a train or a bike, even the venerable George Wood will be in favour of the proposed extension.

Letter to NZTA

 BRITOMART JULY 15_3753
After the launch of the National Land Transport Programme in Auckland last week  I wrote the following letter to NZTA with our concerns focussed on two future projects in particular. We have already received a reply confirming engagement on the issues raised:
We are all having quite a bit of trouble taking all the transport institutions seriously over RTN designations and intentions. The failure for any action to have been taken over a route through Mangere and the Airport over the last decade, and the constant reductions of any available space for a rail ROW there, or at least one not prohibitively expensive, make all the assurances we hear increasingly hard to believe.
 
Now we are expected to have no concerns at all about a process which shows every sign of just being another massive state highway with a little pretend drawing of a train in the sump of a massive road tunnel.
 
Tommy Parker confirmed today that buses on the bridge are to be the RTN solution, ie what there is now.
 
Our view is that this puts the cart before the horse. NZTA should not be starting with a solution without any clear description of the problem. We do not see why it needs a designation over a stretch of water to analyse what may be missing across here. Although it is not the designation that is the problem, but the lack of a needs focused, creative, and open minded analysis that troubles us.
 
As to us it is clear that what is missing from the existing bridges is a real RTN route [assuming SkyPath happens]. Therefore we expect to see real exploration of what delivering rail only tunnels [or bridge] would do to shape demand here. A rail system would certainly be higher capacity than road tunnels, and, well planned, would also likely be much cheaper and stageable. Adjacent rail systems do add resilience as the TransBay Tunnels did in Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 in San Francisco. And not do have all of the disbenefits of the massive increase in vehicle numbers throughout the whole city [congestion!] that more traffic lanes will.
 
We know than any additional road capacity here would be a total disaster for the city, which we are currently de-carring, and the CMJ which is already full, and the North Shore local roads. We also know, and NZTA almost brags about this [see below], the main outcome would be a traffic inducement on a massive scale:
 
AWHC - Induced Demand
This is ‘decide and provide’ in a bad way, a huge programme of traffic creation; $6 Billion to get people out of buses and into the driver’s seat. What ever we build across this route will be used; what an amazing opportunity to choose to shape both demand and the city in a wholly positive way.
 
However the fact that NZTA is not currently allowed to spend on rail capex, and anyway really is mainly a State Highway provider and then is not calling for any outside expertise to explore rail systems is also not encouraging:
AWHC -Route Protection scope
It is our view that both a driverless Light Metro system, or a continuation of AT’s proposed Light Rail network across the Harbour, to Takapuna and up the Busway, need to be properly explored as the next possible crossing over the harbour. As they are likely to achieve all of the aims NZTA and AT are charged with delivering for the city much more completely and at a lower cost than any additional traffic lanes and without any of the disbenefits.
 
– the economic benefits of true spatially efficient urban transport system linking the Shore to city and the isthmus RTN
– make a massive transformational shift to public transport
– real carbon and other pollution reductions of scale from a 100% electric system
– huge place benefits, including a real reduction in city car and bus numbers
– no additional massive costs on approach roads
– resilience of additional systems as well as route
 
We would like to meet with NZTA at the highest level to discuss this further.
 
We are extremely concerned that institutional momentum is building for a very very poor outcome for the city and country and are determined to improve this process.
 
We look forward to your reply,
 
kind regards
 

An Alternative AWHC

Two weeks ago the government once again talked about an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC). There are a number of reasons why another road based crossing is not a great idea – and even the Herald has been sceptical about it – but perhaps the biggest issue of all is the sheer cost of it. It’s been estimated to cost a whopping $4 billion to $6 billion. That’s considerably larger than what we spend on transport for the entire nation each year and about 5 years’ worth of the entire transport budget for Auckland. However the announcement once again got me thinking about what else we could do if we had $4-$6 billion to spend.

Anyone who has read this blog for long enough will know that our preference is for the money to go towards advancing projects on the Congestion Free Network.

Of course even by the time-frame the government suggest of 2025-30 we’d hope that much of the CFN would have been completed or at least already well under way. So I thought, what could we do if we were to spend that $4-$6 billion to further enhance the CFN. As a basis I was reminded of this old post by Nick R looking at something similar to Vancouver’s Skytrain – something sometimes referred to as Light Metro.

One of the useful aspects is that from Vancouver we have a couple of good recent examples of how much such a system may cost.

  • The Canada line was built in 2009 for a cost of just over $2 billion Canadian dollars (about NZ $2.5 billion once you account for exchange rates and inflation etc.). For that price they got 16 stations (8 underground, 6 elevated) on 19.2km of double track (including 9.1km in tunnels, 7.3km elevated and a 614m long bridge). It also includes 20 two-car driverless trains to run on it plus a maintenance facility. All up it cost them about $130 million per km.
  • The Evergreen Line is an extension currently under construction for a cost of $1.4 billion Canadian dollars (NZ$1.5 billion). It will be 10.9km of double track of which 2km is underground and much of the rest is elevated. It also includes six new and one redeveloped station and the existing Skytrain fleet will be boosted by 28 new Skytrain cars (14 two-car trains?). All up the cost is about $137 million per km.

Using a figure of $140 million per km it might deliver us somewhere between 28 and 43km of light metro network which is quite a lot. So what could we get with that?

One potential option is a two line light metro network linking up parts of the North Shore and also the Northwest. Something like below which features both a North Shore and Northwest line. Both pass through the City Centre and under the harbour in a shared tunnel then have short spur off to the Metropolitan Centres of Newmarket and Takapuna. Both lines could be extended further in the future towards Silverdale in the North and Kumeu in the Northwest. In the City Centre it would provide good rapid transit access to areas not covered directly by the CRL.

Light Metro North & Northwest

With automatic trains the shared sections could see trains every two minutes. That’s 30 trains an hour or up to 15 trains an hour on each line. Combine that trains carrying 500-600 people each and we’d have the capacity to easily move 15-20 thousand of people direction every hour free of traffic congestion. As a comparison a road crossing with three lanes each way might carry 6,000 people per hour in each direction.

By now some of you may be concerned about thinking too much along the line of using Light Metro in case it delays the already needed Northwest Busway. It’s definitely a legitimate concern however I feel there’s no reason the busway couldn’t be built sooner but designed to be easily upgradeable later on.

This also raises another key point in favour of a solution like this compared to the AWHC. With the AWHC the entire $4-$6 billion project has to be done in one big burst whereas with a network like this it could easily be broken up into smaller stages. For example we could do something like this:

  • Stage 1 – Takapuna to Aotea with bus/train interchanges at Akoranga and Onewa Rd.
  • Stage 2 – Akoranga to Albany replacing the busway.
  • Stage 3 – Aotea to Newmarket
  • Stage 4 – Northwest

Tying it all in with the other parts of the Congestion Free Network plus Auckland Transport’s Light Rail plans for the central Isthmus might look something this.

CFN 2030 + Light Metro

Given the option of a road tunnel under the harbour or an automated, high frequency rapid light metro system covering the North Shore and the Northwest I know which option I’d choose.

How would you spend the $4-$6 billion expected cost of an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Northern Express delays on the way?

The NZTA have announced works that should result in an improved experience for bus users from north of Constellation Busway Station but that while it’s constructed is likely to cause delays to both bus users and car/truck drivers.

North Shore commuters are advised to allow additional journey time as work starts on the upgrade of the citybound shoulder lane on State Highway 1 leading to the Upper Harbour Highway (Constellation Drive) exit.

The temporary motorway shoulder lane closure, citybound between Greville Road and the Upper Harbour Highway, will be in place for 10 weeks, while the shoulder is widened to take buses continuously between the two interchanges.

Providing a continuous bus shoulder between Greville Road and the Upper Harbour Highway off-ramp will mean citybound buses no longer have to merge in and out of traffic lanes heading to the Constellation Park and Ride,” says NZ Transport Agency’s Acting Auckland and Northland Highway Manager Mieszko Iwaskow.

“These improvements, along with the upgrade of the Greville Road interchange, and the additional northbound lane between Upper Harbour Highway and Greville Road, will provide better journey time reliability for those travelling along the Northern Motorway.”

Due to be completed in June, the shoulder widening is the final stage of the Upper Harbour Highway to Greville Road Northbound Three-Laning Project, which is part of the Northern Corridor Improvements Programme.

For further information please visit www.nzta.govt.nz/UHH-Greville, or call 0800 72 74 74.

For Northern Corridor Improvements, please visit www.nzta.govt.nz/projects/auckland-northern-corridor/ or the Project Information Hub located at 33A Apollo Drive, Rosedale.

image002

While the outcome should certainly be an improvement I do worry about the impact this work will have on bus reliability, especially with it starting in the middle of March.

Now if only they’d build a full busway instead of our at least as part of the massive interchange they have planned.

Time to give some feedback

There are a number of consultations which end soon that if you haven’t already, you may want to put a few minutes aside this weekend to have your say on

West Auckland New Network

Auckland Transport are consulting on the new network for West Auckland which will streamline the current spaghetti like group of bus routes into a more streamlined and legible network. The new proposed network is below.

West Auckland Proposed Routes 1

The main issue with the proposal is the lack of interchanges at Lincoln Rd and Te Atatu like was initially planned. It turns out they had to be dropped off due to a lack of funding with AT saying:

AT is redesigning the bus network across all of Auckland. Within each area, there are opportunities to improve public transport. However, the reality is that all changes will take time to implement, especially where major new infrastructure needs to be built, or where the cost of operating services will increase substantially. Both will require more ratepayer (Auckland Council) and taxpayer (New Zealand Transport Agency) funding than is currently budgeted.

For West Auckland, AT has taken the view that it is better to make as many improvements as we can afford to make in the next 2 years, to take advantage of the benefits electric trains will bring, rather than wait until all of the desirable infrastructure is in place.

The current proposal which is out for consultation is shown on the left-hand diagram below. On the right-hand diagram is the network we want to implement as soon as we have the necessary funding and consents to build interchanges at Te Atatu and Lincoln Rd, in anticipation of the long-term proposal to build a Northwestern Busway. We hope this clearly illustrates the benefits of the more frequent and better connected network that will be possible once the required infrastructure is funded and built.

West Auckland With and Without Interchanges

If you make a submission I would suggest you comment on the urgent need for these interchanges to be built (and in advance of the NW Busway) so a more legible and useful network can be put in place.

Northern Corridor Concepts

The NZTA are consulting on a number of potential options for super sizing the motorway from Upper Harbour to Greville Rd.  The NZTA say consultation is only open till the end of November so get your submissions as some of the options are horrific looking – although I’m not sure if that is a ploy to get people to accept the lesser options. Option 3 is perhaps the worst creating a mini spaghetti junction on the North Shore.

Northern Corridor Improvements Concept 3

The NZTA is also working out where a future busway extension will go. It seems that busway Concept 2 would only happen if motorway Concept 2 or 3 was chosen. The presence of the busway in the consultation plans seems to have had some thinking that the busway is once again going ahead after the government cut it from the funding package. However my understanding is the NZTA are just working out where they will put it and that it will remain unfunded.

In my submission I’ll be saying that regardless of what option is chosen the NZTA should build the busway first to see what impact that has and to give people a proper alternative.

Northern Corridor Improvements Busway

Shaping the Downtown public spaces

We’ve talked before about the Downtown Framework which is a document that is meant to bridge the various higher level plans and strategies the council have dreamed up and looks at what projects are needed to enable those along with how they could actually be implemented. The Downtown area covers the map below which has been divided up into 8 areas of opportunity.

Downtown Framework - Areas of Opportunity

The framework would see a number of new public spaces created or redeveloped and the council are wanting feedback on how that may happen and what features the spaces should provide.

You are invited to have your say on what you want from public spaces in Auckland’s downtown.

Lower Queen Street, outside the Britomart building, is earmarked for a new civic space, which will be created as part of early work on the City Rail Link. New downtown bus interchanges will make it possible to remove traffic from most of this area.

Two public spaces will also be developed on the waterfront near the ferry building. They will be funded by the sale of Queen Elizabeth Square, which means they will not draw on ratepayer funding.

Although these public spaces are still some years away, this is your chance to shape planning and tell Auckland Council what you want to see in them and what services you want them to provide.

“Aucklanders want and deserve world-class design, with places designed for people,” says Auckland Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse.

“Quality space is essential for residents, businesses, employees, visitors, shoppers and students.”

Lower Queen St

Feedback closes December 12

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.