The NZ Herald, both in the form of a general article and an opinion piece by Brian Rudman, have picked up on the proposed changes to bus routes in inner Auckland. Rudman in particular provides some useful feedback on the changes – supporting parts of them while having concerns about other bits.

In particular, he notes the need for bus lanes along Customs Street and Fanshawe Street: between Queen Street and Nelson Street.

The new Western Bay services will travel along Fanshawe St to Beaumont St then up College Hill. We’re told they will be able to “take advantage of the bus lanes” along Fanshawe St to provide a faster service.

This piece of wishful thinking was obviously written by someone who hasn’t been stuck in an 004 or 005 bus in the evening rush hour crawling along traffic-jammed Custom St and Fanshawe St to the Nelson St intersection, where the bus lanes begin.

As an expert passenger, I predict the only way this route will provide a “faster service” is if the Fanshawe St bus lane out of the city begins at the bus stop in Customs St.

Essentially, it would mean a bus lane along the following section of road:

What Rudman highlights is the need to consider route service changes and infrastructure changes in an integrated way. If we’re going to put more buses along a certain section of road that gets congested, then we need to provide a bus lane to ensure the bus can operate quickly and (perhaps more importantly) reliably. With the “Outer Loop” bus having such a long route, and therefore so many opportunities for delay, targeting congested areas with infrastructure upgrades is going to be critical in whether that route works or not.

Fortunately, we finally have a transport agency in Auckland that is responsible for both bus routes and the implementation of infrastructure upgrades like bus lanes, additional traffic lights and other potentially necessary measures to make their bus system work. In the past there have often been stupid situations where ARTA wanted to improve the bus system in a certain area but the local council was unwilling to upgrade the infrastructure – and therefore nothing happened. This is the chance for Auckland Transport to show us whether they’re really an improvement on the ‘old days’ and whether all their talk about integration actually means anything.

With that background, I have started to form some suggestions on how I think the bus changes could be tweaked – both through infrastructure improvements and through amendments to the proposed routes – to provide an even better outcome. It is worth saying right at the start that I’m generally supportive of what is being proposed here, with a few big question marks:

  • how will the outer loop stay reliable?
  • will Auckland Transport be able to provide sufficient frequencies on some of the simplified routes at peak time (like the 020 and the 030)?
  • will Auckland Transport be able to ‘integrate’ the service changes with necessary infrastructure upgrades?

If I start with a few suggested alterations to the proposed routes, in general these are fairly minor. I include the map below of what is being proposed: The first thing that comes to my mind is the question of why the 005 route continues all the way out to Pt Chevalier beach. My understanding of the 005’s point – now that it essentially duplicates part of the ‘outer loop’ – is that it adds capacity and reliability in this area during the peak times. This is potentially important, as some of the current 005 buses can get extremely busy with school children while I very much worry about the reliability of such a long, loopy, route. Personally, I think I’m likely to continue to catch the 005 unless the outer loop bus just happens to come along first. However, extending the route to Pt Chevalier Beach seems to achieve very little (most people would catch the 030 as the Great North Road bus lanes means it’s likely to be faster than the 005) but come at the cost of what the 005s entire purpose is: reliability and capacity for the Westmere to CBD corridor. So I’d probably keep the 005 as it is now.

The second matter, one that Cam Pitches raised in this comment, is the silly detour that 005 buses currently make down Jervois Road from West End Road before turning back on themselves. This silly detour doesn’t really bring the bus closer to many people at all, yet adds around 5 minutes to journey times. It is difficult to see whether this is retained – let’s hope not.

The third routing issue that I question is whether the Link Bus (not the outer loop, the current Link bus) should travel via Victoria Street rather than Wellesley Street. I understand that Wellesley is probably a bit more bus friendly and it means a simpler path up to the university, but I worry that it’s not quite central enough to the CBD. In my mind, the corner of Queen Street and Victoria Street is the real centre of Auckland’s CBD, and it just seems a bit strange to have the entire link route to the south of that centre. With the Link not travelling along Queen Street at all it may lose quite a lot of ‘visibility’ and therefore I think it’s necessary to ensure it runs right through the very heart of the CBD.

For now those are the main “route based” suggestions that I have in terms of how this could be further improved. I like many parts of the proposed routes, especially the simplified nature of the outer loop across the isthmus – always following main roads rather than the backstreet tiki-tour that the current 006 bus does.

In terms of frequencies on the 020 and 030, there was a comment identifying concern about the proposed frequencies not being enough to handle peak time passenger loadings. Well I am informed by Auckland Transport that while the map above says “every 20 minutes” for the 020, that only refers to ‘inter-peak’ and Saturday frequencies. Peak frequencies are likely to be a bus every 10-15 minutes. This is good to hear. I imagine/hope the same situation might be true for the 030 – essentially it should retain the same frequencies at the existing 045 bus (or better if resources are available).

The final two issues: integrating infrastructure upgrades and ensuring reliability of the “outer loop” service are intricately connected. Essentially, I think that unless we have some well-targeted and necessary infrastructure upgrades along the route of the outer loop, it will not be possible for such a long, looping route to be reliable. What Auckland Transport really should be doing is driving a few buses around the route during peak times, identifying where the delay points are and investigating measures to deal with those delay points. Already in this post I’ve pointed out (along with Brian Rudman) the massive delay point along Customs Street. I would suggest that bus lanes on both sides of Customs Street, between Beach Road to the east and Nelson Street to the west, is essential in providing reliability to this service.

The second area where I think infrastructure upgrades will be necessary is at the corner of Valley Road and Mt Eden Road – near the Mt Eden Village. Here buses travelling east will be expected to right-turn out of Valley Road and into Mt Eden Road, a very tricky proposition at the best of times and a source of major delay during peak times. The situation is shown in below (the red line indicating the route of the outer loop): I’m not sure what the impact of having two sets of traffic lights in Mt Eden Village so close to each other would be, but I worry unless these lights are put in place you will have enormous delays for buses trying to get out of Valley Road (or buses sitting behind cars trying to get out of Valley Road).

Probably the final thing I think is necessary is some improvement to the Albert Street bus lanes, which at the moment are very poorly patrolled and very stop-start. While I understand it’s a tricky street to have continuous bus lanes along, if we are going to put so many buses on this particular arterial it really does need to provide better priority and faster trips. Losing buses from Queen Street does have a negative impact – in terms of their loss of visibility and the requirement that more people “climb the hill” up to Albert Street. If buses along Albert can be fast enough, then I think the benefits will outweigh the costs. If Albert Street isn’t fast enough, then I’m not so sure.

I’m keen to keep hearing what other people think. I’m also keen to learn whether Auckland Transport really is the integrated transport agency it keeps saying it is – and can make infrastructure improvements to support public transport operation changes. This will be a good test of that organisation.

Feedback should be sent to Auckland Transport here.

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  1. I get the feeling that a loop is a bad idea. It’s going to be hard to keep reliable, and if people are making connections into it, that’s going to be important and more so if it is not frequent (15 minutes or better) in the off-peak.
    I’d be leaning towards chopping it into two.

    I’ve taken the Link Bus and I think it probably was the best bus out of the network, just because it was legible and frequent and went to all these interesting places.
    One of the designs for the BUZ network in Brisbane was a common interchange point. A single place where you could transfer from any bus to any other bus.
    I’m wondering if the link bus could use Albert Street-Britomart-Queen Street? I remember having to take long walks down Queen Street and I can’t remember if there were buses going down it or not (its been a while).

    1. The reason AT are going for the outer loop is because of just how popular the current loop route of the LINK is – it’s extremely convenient and easy for getting around the innercity. Personally I think the outer loop will also be popular and I can already imagine several instances where I would take it. Additional areas where I can see a lot of delays would be along Carrington and Pt Chev Roads – they can both be pretty slow. I also feel the bus stop situation in Pt Chev needs a look at, and ideally closing Gt Nth Rd through the shops to all traffic except buses would be a great (if unlikely) means to create a handy bus transfer centre and a potentially nice little town centre.

      Whilst I like the idea of buses being removed from Queens Street to make the street quieter and more pleasent to shop/walk on – I can’t help feeling that it’s the ability to hop on a passing bus (or go into a shop quickly after checking the RTID) that will be a major loss from this change. Having to walk up to Albert Street and stand, on what isn’t a particularly pleasent street, will be a turnoff for people. Personally, I think we should still be looking at installing bus lanes on Queen Street, such that the planned Queen Street/Wynward shuttle becomes faster than walking.

  2. That right turn in Mt Eden Rd is a killer in a car and will definitely need to be signalised for a bus – it’s pretty tight too…

  3. Queen Street/Wellesley Street is surely the heart of the CBD. It’s near Aotea Square, the Town Hall, Sky City, etc etc etc. What’s at Queen St/Victoria St? Whitcoulls and that big creepy Santa, that’s what.

    1. Also, as to “visibility”, how much more visible do you want than Inner City buses slamming up there every 5 minutes? It takes positively decades for a Queen Street bus to get up to K’ Road, and most of the people on it will disembark right outside St Kevins. Rerouting all buses that want to go further up Albert or Symonds makes plain sense.

  4. The Outer Loop service is already a winner for me. I am a daily user of the 006 bus during peak. The bus travels on the easternmost part of Epsom Avenue, which has speed curves that limit the sizes of bus that travel through. At peak hour, we have to compete for a seat on the service with Auckland Normal Intermediate students, students for the College of Education, and those heading to Unitec. The outer loop realigns the service along Kipling Ave, which is a good start – the 006 could have already done this. The next logical step is to justify the longer buses by tacking the 006 into a longer run collecting pax from around the CBD.

    Yes, there will be a need to update infrastructure. I know Valley Road is going to be hell – Mt Eden Road is already a pretty bad run for our b.line services (27x) in the Village, but perhaps we need to enforce the bus lanes more in this area and provide incentives for local business to get their customers to use local PT, such as the Loop, rather than packing the street full of their parked vehicles.

    The Loop will indeed contribute to delivering a network of services in the isthmus district rather than an approach of “all roads lead to Queen St”.

  5. The Mt Eden Rd/Stokes Rd intersection is a bit of a mess going west as well, in the evening rush hour at least. There is usually traffic queued along Stokes Rd past the intersection with Epsom Ave, and the right-turn (into Mt Eden Rd) at the lights seems to often only let 5-6 cars through at a time.

  6. I agree with this comment that neglecting Bond St is a shame as it connects areas that are similar in spirit. Same with Newton gully. These are the shortest and fastest routes for a lot of trips for people living in the Grey Lynn/Ponsonby areas but apparently have no bus services at all on them. The quickest Grey Lynn-Kingsland trip looks set to remain walking.

    And putting all those Richmond rd services via Freemans Bay probably slows things down for a lot of people — I’d be interested to see how much this detour adds, maybe it isn’t that much.

  7. Hmmm, only a few days ago we were discussing how Fanshawe St is the weakest link on the busway, and likely to hit capacity in the nearish future…. and these route changes add eighteen buses an hour each way to the same stretch.

    1. Good point Nick – however it is IMO one of the easiest streets to take road space from cars and give it to buses – it’s huge and almost wholly dedicated to cars.

  8. One of the big advantages for the Superloop and the 005 being routed via Fanshawe is that it would make transfers to the Northern Express feasible, without having to go all the way into Britomart. I wonder if this has been thought of in terms of passenger handling? It could potentially become quite a transfer point outside of Air New Zealand, for passengers travelling North Shore -> Ponsonby and vice versa.

    For a while last year I commuted to the North Shore from the Western Bays… I had to get off at Vic Park, walk across the park and get the NEX at Fanshawe.

    1. They’d have to make sure buses actually stop there then, it seems most Shore drivers do their darnedest to avoid picking anyone up on Fanshawe.

  9. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the Link bus and the new Queen St shuttles to be integrated – i.e. a Newmarket Loop and a Ponsonby loop both running up and down Queen St, where the highest demand is ? Passengers wanting to go from Newmarket to Ponsonby could interchange at Queen St or Karangahape Rd; for passengers from Parnell to Three Lamps the interchange would be near Britomart (A more legible route would come down Parnell Rise and go straight on around Beach Rd, Customs and Fanshawe. The university is now well- served by the Central Connector, though a cross-town link could use both Wellesley and Victoria to meet the Ponsonby Loop at Victoria Park Market). The key thing for a non-commuter service like the Link is legibility and the current route (and bus signage) is appalling. How many stories do you hear of people who catch the Link only to realise gradually that it is going the opposite way to where they want to go ?

  10. Badger, there are a multitude of routes people can use to get from Ponsonby to Queen St or Newmarket to Queen St, the value of the Link comes from making those crosstown journeys possible, things like Grafton to Parnell or Newmarket to Ponsonby, etc.

    One thing they could do is paint half the fleet one colour and half another, so say green in clockwise and orange is anticlockwise.

  11. I think it is crazy to remove Link service from the Lower Queen-Victoria Street. It would appear that no regular service is going to replace this. As someone who uses this service every day to get from Customs Street to Les Mills area in Victoria Street my alternatives now would appear to be nil. By removing the City Circuit bus (free) and replacing it with a City Wynyard Quarter service (paid) which was an alternative to Link the only gain is that Auckland will not run a free service. What is the story with Wynyard anyway. It seems to be flavour of the month presumably to help sell the large number of buildings going up down there

    1. As someone who rides the Link from Parnell daily, your usage of the bus is outside the most regular patterns of use that I generally observe.
      Coming in from Parnell way, people go three places on the Link: Britomart, Victoria street (To walk further up town) and straight through (Intending to go to Ponsonby).
      Looking at the new system, Britomart will still be served by the outer loop, Downtown will be served by Wellesly Street (and will be higher up) and Lower Ponsonby will be quicker on the Outer loop and Higher Ponsonby will be (hopefully) quicker on the Link loop.

      1. outer loop really needs to run at 10mins not 15mins for this to work properly. 15mins you need a timetable, but that timetables are useless for loops like this. 10mins you don’t need a timetable.

  12. Painting the fleet different colours depending on their direction might cause differential tyre wear, Nick R. A simple legible route will probably do the trick. And getting rid of those ridiculous scrolling bus signs that can tell you the bus is going to Ponsonby when in fact it has just come from there would help too.

  13. Auckland Transport is pleased to see so much interest in the review. Based on some of your comments and questions and the feedback received to date, Auckland Transport has created some Frequently Asked Questions in response to common questions. These can be found on the Maxx website.

  14. I have received over 50 identical letters in regard to the changes to Route 1A on Waiheke Island.
    I await the reason and a refund on my rates. did every address receive 50 or was my postie the lucky one???

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