The Auckland Regional Transportation Authority (ARTA) have some interesting transportation policy documents on their website if you look hard enough. In particular, the Passenger Transport Network Plan details how our public transport system is likely to look in 2016 and beyond. The plan cleverly looks to develop a hierarchy of transport options, crucially linked by integrated ticketing, which will hopefully happen some time before the end of the world (although judging by how it has progressed so far I wouldn’t be too hopeful). But anyway, I’m not going to moan constantly about the lack of integrated ticketing, as I’ve already done that a million times before.

So looking at the positive side of our transportation future, ARTA has divided how public transport will operate into four categories. The fourth, Targeted Services, is not particularly relevant to most of us, as it focused on the (very necessary I might add) need to provide on-call services for those who are unable to utilise normal public transport. It also includes school buses, which hopefully will be used in greater numbers in the future, rather than parents driving their kiddies to school all the time. But anyway, leaving Targeted Services aside, we are left with three levels of public transport provision: The Rapid Transit Network, the Quality Transit Network and the Local Connector Network. Instead of having all our bus, train and ferry services competing against each other to provide one-size-fits-all long-haul services, the idea of a transport hierarchy is to maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of our future public transport network. My focus for today’s post is not the Rapid Transit Network (RTN), which is the train system and the Northern Busway, or the Local Connector Network (LCN), which is probably feeder buses and so forth, but rather that important one that fits between the two – the Quality Transit Network (QTN). The QTN is defined by ARTA as follows:

Fast, high frequency, and high quality transit services operating between key centres and over major corridors, providing extensive transit priority. In conjunction with the RTN it will facilitate high speed reliable access around the region through the integration of radial and cross-town services

A helpful map is included showing proposed QTN routes. It’s not that obvious in the key, but the QTN routes are shown as the green lines in the map below:


Each QTN is supposed to provide what ARTA describes as a ‘superior bus service’, whatever that actually means. Frequencies are meant to be high enough that a timetable is not needed (which to me means at worst 10 minute off-peak frequencies during the week and on Saturdays, 15 min on Sundays), the vehicles are meant to be ‘branded’, while the routes are designed to have ‘on-street running with extensive priority including bus lanes and signal priority in congested areas’. Unfortunately, page 18 of the Passenger Transport Network Plan defines frequencies high enough to not need a timetable as 10 minutes during peak hour, 20 minutes inter-peak and 30 minutes for evenings and weekends. Furthermore, there’s even a bracketed possibility that we might have 60 minute frequencies for new services and ferry services. Heck, I’m struggling to think of many bus routes that have services that BAD at the moment.

So anyway, assuming that those proposed service frequencies from ARTA are just a bad joke – and I’m possibly right in that assumption as the only ‘superior bus service’ that has been implemented so far is the successful Northern Express (which is technically an RTN, but whatever) has 10-15 minute frequencies at worst – even on a Sunday – where are the QTN services going to run, what will they be like, how will they be ‘superior’ to normal bus services? All damn good questions that I would dearly love to pose to ARTA. Anyhow, in the meanwhile here are my thoughts on what could work. I’ll focus on Central Auckland for now, as that’s the area I know best.

The above map shows seven or eight possible QTN routes, although it’s not particularly clear what happens around the Mt Wellington area. These routes are (I think) as follows:

  1. Great North Road. Follows the route of most West Auckland buses at the moment, but interestingly includes Great North Road to New Lynn and also the Northwest Motorway.
  2. Dominion Road. Possibly the most obvious QTN to implement in Auckland. Seems to end at Mt Albert Road.
  3. Mt Eden Road. Once again terminates at Mt Albert Road to the south.
  4. Manukau Road. The traditional link between the city and Onehunga.
  5. Mt Albert Road. The main cross-town route on the western part of the isthmus.
  6. Remuera Road. The main link to the eastern part of the isthmus.
  7. Great South Road. Interesting route as it seems to split off onto Ellerslie Panmure Highway (for east Auckland routes) but also continues further south (for south Auckland routes I presume).
  8. Mt Wellington Highway/Neilson Street/SE Highway. Routes that seem to be shown but it’s unclear how they’d work.

Now at the moment all of these routes are served by pretty frequent buses, except for Mt Albert Road and perhaps the variety of roads I’ve classified as “Route 8”. In particular, Great North Road and Great South Road have a very significant number of buses travelling along their inner-parts – although this is only really because there’s an enormous bunching of routes the end up fanning out throughout Waitakere and Manukau cities respectively.

I’m assuming that creating a QTN along these routes would involve simplifying the way in which bus services run – to form more of a spoke-and-hub type system. Each QTN would have an obvious ‘terminus’ at the non-CBD end of its route. Local Connector Network buses would operate from these termini, providing a wide variety of routes to service areas further out, but instead of continuing their run all the way into the city (as currently happens), passengers would transfer onto the QTN bus as the termini, and their trip would continue on this ‘superior bus service’ all the way into the city. Unlike the Local Connector Network buses, QTNs would run at higher speeds due to bus lanes and other priority measures. I’m assuming that there would be a mix of express and all-stops QTN buses, and that they would have higher than normal capacities, possibly through using modern-equivalents of the good old bendy bus.

Of course there are QTNs that operate outside the isthmus, so this would reduce the number of people needing to transfer from an LCN to a QTN. However, I still think that in order for people to not be turned off using the system by the need to transfer, high frequencies are pretty essential. If people have to wait 10 minutes for their LCN bus, then put up with 15 minutes of a windy route through the suburbs to the QTN station, they’re just not going to stand for another 10 minute wait before their QTN bus shows up. Hence further proof that the frequencies suggested by ARTA are total nonsense.

So, amid all this confusion there is an obvious conclusion to be made. The hierarchical bus network idea is a good one no doubt. The current system really doesn’t work, as the routes are too long, too indirect, too unreliable and too slow. The QTN is a critical part of fixing these problems, however it certainly seems as though a lot more thought needs to be put into ensuring that the QTN does, in fact, produce a ‘superior bus service’ as it should. If I were ARTA I would model the QTN system on Vancouver’s B-Line services, which provide a high-capacity and extremely frequent service along a few of Vancouver’s busiest routes. As I mentioned above, if users of QTN services are truly supposed to not need a timetable, then it needs to be made sure that frequencies are kept very high 24/7, not just during peak hours. Furthermore, I really like the idea of ‘branding’ a QTN route. Perhaps reserve the 100, 200, 300 etc. bus route numbers for QTN routes solely, have specific rolling stock for each of the routes (like is done for the Northern Express) and link the rolling stock clearly to the way the route is branded (for example matching the colour the buses are painted with the colour the bus shelters are painted).

In the end it must be remembered that most QTN routes are already fairly well-served by public transport – at least on the Auckland isthmus. There must be an advantage to users of the change, especially if it comes through the (potentially slight) disadvantage of requiring more people to transfer buses. Good branding and high-quality rolling stock will help, but in the end I am sure the success of failure of the QTN idea will come down to two issues: how frequent the buses are and how fast they will be able to go. I think it goes without saying that high-frequencies and bus lanes along most (ideally all) the QTN routes are essential for the plan to be successful.

Share this

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *