One of the silliest things about Auckland’s public transport system is how 95% of bus routes simply go from somewhere in the suburbs to the CBD, and then turn around to head back out again on the same route. There are a few consequences of this which combine to greatly reduce the effectiveness of our public transport system, and also contribute to the CBD being filled with polluting diesel buses far more than what is actually necessary.

I think the structure of our bus network is in many ways a remnant of the tram network that Auckland had, before it was ripped up in the 1950s (perhaps the worst decision made in Auckland’s history?) Back then it made sense to run the trams into the city and then back out again – because most people worked in the city and also because electric trams weren’t as noisy and polluting as the diesel buses that replaced them from the 1950s onwards. Most of our higher-frequency bus routes these days follow the alignment of old tram routes – along arterials like Great North Road, New North Road, Sandringham Road, Dominion Road, Mt Eden Road, Manukau Road and Remuera Road.

However, the world has changed since the 1950s. As I outlined in a post a couple of days ago, only 11.7% of the region’s jobs are now located in the CBD – so we need to make our public transport system more useful for those commuting from suburb to suburb. For someone who lives on the North Shore, but works in Ellerslie or further south, they’re simply just never going to catch public transport – because it would take forever. A big part of the hassle is the need to change buses in the CBD, which could well involve walking a few blocks between where your North Shore bus lets you off, and the bus south picks you up. Furthermore, if you miss the bus south you’ll be waiting a while for another one (as counter-peak frequencies are pretty low generally).

Another significant problem caused by terminating buses in the CBD is that you get an awful lot of buses just hanging around – waiting to start their run, waiting between runs and so on. If you wander around the CBD at around 4pm you will see an enormous number of buses just hanging around waiting for the evening peak. This is incredibly inefficient, it clogs up the city’s streets with buses, and when they all have their engines on it is very polluting. Need I remind people that poor air quality in Auckland kills hundreds of people each year?

So what’s the solution? Well quite simply we need to link up our bus routes coming from different sides of the city, so that instead of terminating in the CBD and turning around to head back the way they came, instead the bus routes continue to travel through the city. Now obviously this can’t be done for all routes – as there are imbalances, but as the map below shows, I think that certainly for quite a lot of routes such a system could be achieved, and would have enormous benefits:

CBDStarting with the blue line, I would link up as many bus routes coming from the North Shore as possible with routes that come through Newmarket heading to the CBD (usually from the south and east). This would probably be the most useful connection to make, as it would provide an excellent north-south link through the city for people wanting to travel from Ellserlie to Takapuna, and so on. Furthermore, there are a LOT of buses each day that travel from the south and east into the CBD, and a lot of buses that come from the north – so linking them up would create a high-quality link through the city. This would definitely make it more possible for someone to use public transport even though they don’t work in the CBD.

The red line would link up buses coming from west Auckland via Great North Road with those coming from some of the isthmus routes (New North Road, Sandringham Rd, Dominion Rd etc.) There is probably a bit of an imbalance here, with more buses coming from the isthmus routes, while furthermore I don’t think as many people would catch the bus all the way through the CBD and out the other side (nearly back where they came from). However, it would still have significant advantages in reducing the number of buses hanging around in the CBD.

The green line would link buses coming from the “Western Bays” area – such as Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, Westmere and so forth with those coming from Tamaki Drive. While the number of buses using this link would be far less than either the blue line or the red line, there would still be significant benefits in enabling people who live in the eastern suburbs but work in Ponsonby to catch a bus for their whole trip. It would also be very useful for recreational purposes – linking together the Tamaki Drive waterfront area with Ponsonby. Yet again, it would have benefits of reducing the number of buses terminating in the CBD.

To be honest, the advantages of ‘through-routing’ buses seem so obvious that it’s pretty unbelievable this hasn’t been done. There wouldn’t be much, if any, additional cost in implementing this kind of routing change. It’s a no-brainer, so come on ARTA – do it!

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  1. Or course you already know why this isn’t already the case: routes (one part of Auckland to CBD) have been claimed by balkanized tinpot bus companies, and subsidised by ARTA. The Howick & Eastern buses wil never get to Pt Chev, Ritchies will never get to Howick. Unless you force them to compete, most effectively by foisting an integrated ticketing system on the whole PT network, whereby ARTA becomes the fare collector on your Orca card and pays out to bus companies you swipe your card on.
    On top of this “spokes of a wheel” radial model, there should be circuitous routes too that avoid the CBD. For example, I never understood why an extremely popular road (for cars) like Newton Road that quickly links Newmarket/East Auckland with Ponsonby/North Shore isn’t used by public transport at all at the moment

  2. I think that Newton Road isn’t used because there’s K road that runs fairly nearby, and has a lot more potential users. For example, if the Link Bus used Newton Road rather than K Road it would probably be less popular.

    Regarding how to remove the “balkanisation” of bus companies. Simple: the Public Transport Management Act. Get ARTA to fully contract all the routes and force the change on the bus companies. This is fully possible with the PTMA – as long as Steven Joyce doesn’t screw with it.

  3. You’ll also get buses running late being twice as late by the time they get to their destination. For that reason alone I oppose this.

  4. Not necessarily George. Buses run late for two main reasons: they get caught in traffic and it takes a long time for people to get onto them.

    In the near future we will have full bus lanes along Albert Street and Symonds Street, and hopefully in the longer-term along Queen Street too. Smart-card ticketing will reduce the length of time it takes for people to get onto buses – so that will cut down on their lateness too. Perhaps buses would have a set departure time from their CBD stop, which could provide a bit of a buffer to lateness, although you wouldn’t want this to be too significant as otherwise you’d have people sitting on a bus going nowhere for quite some time.

  5. Once again, Auckland proves itself to be behind the times…Wellington brought in through routing in the early 1990s not long after the Wellington Regional Council had carried out a huge month-long survey of bus usage/users in 1989. Of course Wellington does the advantage too that it is possible to change buses between non-through routes at just about any point along the CBD’s “Golden Mile” rather than getting off and walking some distance to a completely different route and stop.

    I remember having to change buses in Courtenay Place prior to the through routes, and gosh what a PITA that was…
    Here’s hoping someone influential at ARTA is reading your blog, and that something is done before Stephen Joyce guts the PTMA on some random principle he came with to cover up “more money for more mates”.

  6. I know that a few people from the ARC read this blog (a site tracker has its uses). So yes, this was specifically written for them.

    (And the Wellington situation did provide me with some inspiration on this matter).

    The thing I find staggering is that it’s taken this long for us to even consider tinkering with bus routes. We effectively run the same bus routes as we did 80 years ago (although they were trams then) even though so much has changed. Even though public transport has become way less popular. What were we doing for all those decades???

  7. I wonder would the drivers like it as is doubles the usual scenery or would they be pissed off at having to memorise twice the routes..?

    Also I can think of issues around services terminating twice as far away from depots at the end of the shift as currently, adding to lost time buses could be on-route and unneccessary traffic…

    That blue line would have the advantage of giving a future indication of the popularity of a future N-S rail line, good for lobbying I guess…

    I sometimes get stuck in what I call “all roads lead to Rome” thinking, Rome being Britomart in this case, I guess ARTA do too…

    1. Speaking on behalf of the Eden Terrace Business Association, the bus routes along the blue line do not work. These circumvent Eden Terrace which has a lot of high density housing servicing the Uni students, but it is almost impossible to get a bus to the Uni as the retail strip and housing are bypassed. Employers are finding their staff are having trouble getting to work on public transport so are bringing their vehicles in with the associated parking problems. There are no longer cross country routes linking Eden Terrace to the neigbouring Ponsonby, and one of the worst problems is the congestion on Khyber Pass with buses turning right into Park Road. Wouldn’t Grafton Bridge be better suited to light vehicular traffic freeing up the Khyber pass arterial route for the heavier buses and trucks ensuring that the bridge could be safely used by pedestrian traffic not breathing diesel fumes, and that the newly reinforced bridge would last longer with lessor weight loadings.

      For myself as a public transport user I find it is easier and quicker to get to Eden Terrace by foot taking 45 minutes each way from Remuera than to catch a bus. Surely this is a failed experiment on ARTA and the Council.

      1. The Central Connector shifted a number of buses from Khyber Pass Road to Park Road – so that they passed by the hospital and took advantage of the bus lanes along Park Road. While I can see how this potentially adversely affects Eden Terrace, ultimately it would help bus catchers more than hinder them.

        There’s still a huge number of buses through Eden Terrace though, such as all the buses from New North, Sandringham, Dominion and Mt Eden Roads.

        If I were you, I’d be pushing really hard for the CBD Rail Tunnel and its proposed station underneath the intersection of Khyber Pass, Symonds and Newton Roads. That will revolutionise the area.

        1. Having a book shop we get a broad range of
          discussions and complaints from the public, and as the secretary of the
          ETBA I get the local business feed back.

          While we are excited about the train station being situated at the Symonds
          St-Kyber Pass-Newton Road junction, this project is 5 years away minimum.
          In the meantime we have lost somewhere in the region of 1200 bus movements
          per week in Eden Terrace mainly those going to downtown Auckland.

          We have 900 plus businesses in our area and 2,000 plus inhabitants. The
          feedback I am getting from bosses is their staff are having problems
          getting to work, businesses in Khyber Pass are complaining about the
          traffic backlogs caused by buses in peak hours. Students are complaining
          about issues around getting to university, whilst residents want a cross
          town route to Ponsonby which we used to have, or down to Newmarket for
          their weekly grocery shopping, and daytime retail trade has dropped by 50

          For our area to have a sustainable community we need adequate public
          transport which we no longer have as the majority of our buses go past the
          domain and the hospital bypassing the main residential and working areas in
          our neighbourhood. Surely a bus service should take people from where they
          reside to where they need to go, whether it be for work, study,
          entertainment, or for their shopping requirements.

          We are at a designated transfer point for buses but have lost most of the cross town connections from East Auckland and the North Shore. It is difficult to get to and from Newmarket, the North Shore, Howick, the University, and very few to Britomart. Whilst the rail loop is an exciting step forward bus transfer connections will be needed to take the load off Britomart which is one of the main justifications for the the CBD loop.

  8. It’s just narrow-minded thinking on behalf of ARTA that this is the way things have to be. Yes the system is built around the idea of buses doing a route into the city, then out again, then in again and so on – but the point of my post is to fundamentally question whether that’s the best way to operate?

    Surely in a city where most employment is outside the CBD, where people need to make trips from suburb to suburb, where the number of buses hanging around in the CBD is a significant problem, we should look at a solution that doesn’t require any more buses or any more investment in infrastructure. It simply requires a change in mindset.

  9. It sounds great you should post this the CBT forum and see what John-ston thinks but i think he’ll most likely say something along the line of “The CBD is the center of my universe therefore this won’t work”

  10. I think the golden mile works very well in Wellington because the CBD is a more elongated shape. This is not true of the Auckland CBD though. The problem I see in Ak CBD is that if a bus route terminates in one part of the CBD it is difficult to make it to another part of the CBD. I see the solution as having several buses routes working in loops around the CBD. However for these to be successful they will need to be free and very high frequency – ie every 3mins or so.

  11. The problem I see in Ak CBD is that if a bus route terminates in one part of the CBD it is difficult to make it to another part of the CBD. I see the solution as having several buses routes working in loops around the CBD. However for these to be successful they will need to be free and very high frequency – ie every 3mins or so.

    That’s also some of the problem that I’m trying to fix with this proposal Luke. Not only do buses pass through the CBD making it easy to “come out the other side” on the same bus, we also end up in a situation where different parts of the CBD are well served by most bus routes.

  12. I think the through-routing will only work with high-frequency services(ie less than 10mins = no timetable needed). If the bus has to idle in the city centre for 5mins to keep to its timetable then no-one will stay on who wants to get to the opposite side of the CBD. I do remember reading somewhere that once the Central Connector is open at least some Northern busway services will use the route. Can anyone confirm this?

  13. I think that it was mentioned the Northern Express might terminate at Newmarket instead of Britomart.

    I agree that high-frequency services would be best for through-routing, but if you lump together ALL services coming from the south and south-east, all services from the North Shore, all services rolling in from West Auckland along Great North Road and all services from upper Symonds Street then they’re all high frequency.

  14. Further to what I was saying on the CBT boards I think this is a good idea for the reason that it will open up the wider central area to each bus route, rather than the possiblity of catching a bus from one far flung suburb to another.

    Jarbs you say that 11% of jobs are in the CBD, but I assume that is the old definition of the CBD bounded by the motorways? If we take a wider view of the central employment zone, say from Ponsonby to Parnell and back to Eden Terrace and Newmarket it might be double that. Pairing routes would give each route much greater access across this area rather than just to downtown.

    Plus the network effects and connectivity would be greatly enhanced by exponentially increasing the potential transfer locations.

  15. “from Ponsonby to Parnell and back to Eden Terrace and Newmarket it might be double that.”
    The Link bus should do a proper circle route College Hill, Quay Street, Parnell, Newmarket, Khyber Pass, Newton Road, Ponsonby Road to get from those areas to the other much faster instead of having to go through the back streets of the CBD which makes the Link bus actually quite an inconvenient route if you don’t want to go to the CBD

  16. That Austin link you provided was interesting, more of a grid pattern there… I had a look at the soon to be opening rail service too, 50 kms and only 9 stops… I can’t believe they’ve had three unused rail lines there and as congestion has got worse they are only opening them now..!

  17. The problem is the city congestion as much as the through traffic. I live in Kingsland and work in Takapuna. I do try and get the bus but the journey is between 60 and 90 minutes, and for some parts of it, walking is actually faster.
    From Takapuna to Fanshawe street by bus is quick and easy thanks to the bus lanes. From Fanshawe St to Mayoral Drive at 5pm, it takes longer to grind up Albert St than it takes to get from Takapuna.It is quicker for me to get off the bus at Fanshawe street and walk up to Ponsonby Road and over Newton Road to Mostyn Street, than it is to get the bus from Victoria St or the train from Downtown.
    This is fine in the summer, but no fun at all in the winter and no incentive not to take the car.

  18. Well if most buses in the city used the bus lanes along Symonds Street (nearly completed), Albert Street (already completed), Fanshawe Street (already completed) and Queen Street (surely we’ll get them eventually) then times through the city would be reduced a LOT. Most of the routes I show in the map above through the city either already are bus lanes, or would be by the time I would propose doing this kind of thing.

  19. Thats a great idea, pick four of the main streets in the city, bus lane them and the connections between them and then run say 60 – 70% of the routes as through routes at regular intervals on and off peak…

  20. Jarbury says “The thing I find staggering is that it’s taken this long for us to even consider tinkering with bus routes”

    Well, I know the Wellington situation was changed by the Wellington Regional Council after it was established in 1989, so it could have been part of the WRC being all new and keen as a new organisation (since the ARC/ARA had been around for years already). Their survey (which I worked on) was a pen and paper month-long survey of all users on all routes as to where they got on and off, where they had come from, where they intended going to, and for what purpose(s). It was done well before computerised ticketing, so I imagine that a lot of the information it gained would much more easily avaliable these days. Are the Auckland bus companies obliged to share this kind of ticketing info with ARTA?

  21. At the moment the bus companies can keep secret the details of their commercial routes – even to the point that they don’t have to prove to ARTA when the route is no longer commercially viable and therefore requires a subsidy. The Public Transport Management Act, passed last year although it hasn’t had much effect yet (and Steven Joyce is looking at killing it off) will change this and give ARTA much more power.

    To be fair towards ARTA, they do have some sort of current study looking at ways to improve the “CBD situation” for buses. Hopefully they come to a similar conclusion as what I have proposed above.

  22. I think a few trial through route services could be tried. What about Birkenhead and Howick getting together and running a few daily trips from say Albany to Howick via Newmarket. Better still the companies involved could run from Long Bay via Takapuna and Newmarket or the waterfront Mission Bay, St Heliers to the eastern suburbs say Howick. Not every run but a few per day.

  23. I suggest Albany to Howick is too far, probably 2 hours all up, whichs means even small delays will add up to destroy the timetable, something like Devonport to Newmarket is what I’d recommend…

  24. Yes but there is some back tracking out of Devonport. However that is probably better than using the ferry as at least passengers stay on the same vehicle all the way. Are there bus lanes out of Devonport? If the bus could say have an extra 10 mins built into the timetable (a coffee break stop or if running late no break)it could then run on to say another destination say Penrose, Onehunga, Mangere etc with timetable OK.
    If a run was started in Long Bay or Albany one similar break could be built into the schedule say at Symonds Street, Parnell waterfront (Kohi?) depending on the route. This could mean a break in the service but at least there would be no change of vehicle. There are many options.

  25. Though routing of buses has been done before – from the late 1950’s and 1960’s. Owairaka to Ponsonby, Avondale to Three Kings etc. If it worked then why would it not work now?

  26. Adelaide has a system called BNC (Bus Number Change). It runs into the ciy, changes it’s number and goes out of the city as a different route, sometimes alternating. This could be an interesting concept to try.

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