Over the past week I’ve sat at the bus stop outside the hospital waiting for a fair few buses – either to head into town or to catch the Link bus back to Ponsonby. Park Road is part of the Central Connector and therefore forms one of the most core parts of the Auckland bus network. By my calculations 510 buses a day pass through Park Road in the inbound direction (and I assume a similar number head the other way). There seem to be a huge plethora of buses passing through the area – often with the unnecessary complexity of their route numbering and their CBD departure point that I mentioned in this previous blog post.

Using the MAXX website’s timetable tool, it’s relatively straightforward to work out the different routes that pass by the hospital on any given weekday – plus it’s also possible to work out how many times a day (and at what times) each of the routes passes that stop. Putting this altogether highlights the extreme (and unnecessary in my opinion) complexity of the bus system – or at least of the parts of it that pass by the hospital. This is put together in the table below: The excel worksheet is here if you want to play around with it. I’ve put an X next to the two express routes and a start next to routes that appear to have the same route number, same beginning and same end, yet are somehow different enough to warrant a separate entry in the MAXX system – it seems generally because they miss a particular stop.

It’s interesting to see the vast number of different bus routings through here – with many of them seeming nearly identical. For example, let’s group together all the services from Manukau to Britomart: It seems truly bizarre that we have three variations of the 328 route, we also have a 327 route which has two variations and seems pretty similar to the 328. Plus the 347, 348 and their variations. Perhaps this is a reminder about how dire Mangere’s buses are and how in need they are of a dramatic overhaul.

The 500 series bus routes also seem overly complex, with relatively few services spread out among a comparatively large number of routes. There are two main services (the 502 and the 595) but then we have four routes (or variations on routes) that only operate once a day. Does the 502 really need to be different to the 512? Does the 511 need to be distinct from the 532? While I haven’t had a good look at the route timetable maps to understand the reason behind the variations, there does seem a lot of unnecessary complication here.

We could achieve a lot by vastly simplifying the table at the beginning of this post. Clearly we’re running a lot of buses between Manukau and Britomart (as an aside, will that be necessary once the rail station is open?) but do they really need to have so many different routings, and so many small variations on their routes? If many of these services were grouped together into a single and obvious service (much like how the 625 works) then their timetables could be structured in a logical way and the system would be more intuitive and simple to use. For others, obviously some level of complexity will need to remain, but I’m sure what we see now is massive over-complexity.

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  1. This puts passengers off.

    My wife has just started using the bus to get to work as it’s closer than the train (we have just one car now).

    The other day, she caught the 249F Flyer bus from Owairaka Ave. She assumed that the same route (a 249) would take her back home – a sensible assumption you’d think, but in Auckland, wrong.

    There are a few other difficulties she’s had that highlight where many improvements can be made to the system to have it actually make sense to users who are used to overseas systems that do make sense, but they’re off-topic for this post.

    1. Yes I’ve encountered the same problem – completely illogical route numbering leaves you stranded somewhere you did not want to be.

  2. Yes you’re definitely onto something here Josh. And I think AT know about it too – it’s just a matter of finding the time/money to do a comprehensive network redesign. I do wish they’d get onto it though …

    1. The thing that’s frustrating is that if they did simplify the network and redesign it in the ways that I’ve generally described in this post and previous ones AT could probably save a massive amount of money through reducing service duplication.

      Basically we have a bus network that still assumes we have the almost non-existent rail network of 10 years ago. Fundamentally that’s the problem.

      1. The problem actually runs deeper than that I think. The first big issue is also that rail improvements have (for many years now) sucked up pretty much all the public transport money that was going around. Basically, Auckland needs to invest more high quality bus interchanges located at key points in the network – most obviously in midtown (ie Bledisloe) but also out east, south, and west. I fear that with the City Rail Link buses will only be neglected even more …

        The second big issue is that we have inherited a network designed (poorly) around point-to-point radial surfaces running into the CBD, rather than cross-town corridors that travel through the CBD on their way to somewhere else. For example, I see no effort being made to use the Central Connector, Northern Busway, Esmonde Rd infrastructure to provide a high quality service between Newmarket and Takapuna. It’s a tragedy that results in way too many buses downtown …

        Maybe there’s other historical factors at play, but I think it’s a problem caused primarily by lack of funding (the unintended consequence of Auckland’s rail at all costs approach) and also lack of comprehensive PT network planning. Remember the last PTNP was pretty much the first …

        1. Agreed entirely. We need about 10 “New Lynns”. Not ridiculously cheap, but necessary to have a well-functioning system.

  3. @ stuart. The problem isn’t rail at all costs, it’s a lack of funding for passenger transport in general at a national level. If we took just a fraction of our motorways budget and put it into buses, that would solve the problem of lack of funding. Obviously, we shouldn’t invest in projects that don’t make sense economically. But I think there is a tendency among public tranpsort advocates to put a lot of energy into arguing about whether or not to spend our scarce passenger transport resources on light rail, trains, buses. Maybe if we focussed that energy on just getting more money from the government for passenger transport in general we’d see better outcomes 🙂

    1. No, questions over funding should be answered by politically engaged citizens and their democratically elected representatives. In contrast, the job of transport people like us is to have an opinion on the best way to spend transport dollars once they have been decided as part of the political process.

      Now of course there will be some overlap between the politically engaged citizens and the transport professionals, but it’s important to remind oneself of which hat you are wearing at any particular time. I think it’s entirely appropriate for me to advocate for increased public transport funding (as a citizen) and more spending on buses (as a professional).

      Anyway, I’m not arguing that one mode is better than another, because they’re not. I am, however, trying to make an objective assessment if priorities. And IMO given the dosh available Auckland has over-invested in rail at the expense of buses. In 15 years from 2000 to 2015 about $350 million will be spent on buses and about $2 billion spent on rail.

      And now Len Brown has promised only Elvis knows how many more billions dollars worth of rail projects. Rail everywhere, even places where buses are working just fine, e.g. Northern Busway.

      1. Furthermore, even within the current bus funding envelope we could create a far better system (which is my main argument). The current system has so many utterly stupid inefficiencies. Same could be said for the rail system (ie. trains waiting half an hour to turn around at Waitakere station when they could turn around immediately at Swanson and achieve the same frequencies with one less train).

    2. Sorry if that response was not clear Lucy – should of said upfront that I agree with you general comment that funding needs to be diverted from state highways and into PT.

  4. The Manukau bus issue won’t be resolved until we’ve got integrated fares. I would be livid, as a passenger, if I were forced to change modes and incur a financial penalty because of network redesign.

    Once one can change modes without cost, many things will become possible with feeding trains using buses. Until then, however, nothing’s going to happen because passengers will, rightly IMO, throw their toys.

    1. completely agree. No point in forcing transfers – you have to make people want them through the network infrastructure and payment technologies that you deliver.

      1. Agree. The only way people will take a bus is if it goes where they want to go. There’s an economic disincentive to change buses given a greatly simplified bus route network so we end up with way too many different routes and a way too complex system. People won’t mind too much taking a second bus iff i) the route timetables are adequately synchronised, and ii) they don’t have to pay again, so they would tag on at getting on the first bus, and tag off when exiting the second bus.
        This can’t happen soon enough, ie integrating fares, and a complete redesign of bus routes.

        1. I should also have mentioned frequency is also important, because it greatly reduces waiting time when you do need to make a transfer.

  5. P.s. For an example of how Auckland’s bus network could be simplified by running routes through the city centre have a look at Edinburgh’s network: http://lothianbuses.com/images/stories/pdf_downloads/RM110403.pdf

    While this may at first look complicated it’s actually a route map of all the buses in the city. You’ll see that the vast majority run through and are timed to run every ten minutes during the day. Along key corridors they overlap to provide much higher frequencies.

    Brisbane’s Buz map also provides a rather beautiful “core” bus network map here: http://translink.com.au/resources/travel-information/maps/network/100801-buz.pdf Most of these routes don’t run all the way through the city, mainly because Brisbane’s quite large and so there is possibly less need for complete “cross town” services.

    1. Glad you like it!

      Edinburgh is the same physical size as Christchurch – to give the map a scale, the airport (to the west) is about five miles west of the city centre. In a city with a population of less than half a million, the bus system carries over 110m passengers per year, giving the city’s bus system a trip rate (trips/person/year) over five times as high as that of Christchurch (240 trips/person/year v 45 trips/person/year).

      The system also works because there is one dominant operator; two other companies serve the regional hinterlands. It doesn’t have don’t use unlimited transfers, but it does have a sort-of smartcard system which encourages use of the system – think of it as a permanent monthly pass, which you can top up at local shops. Also, a lot of use is made of paper day tickets, which serve as a de facto transfer ticket as well (if you need to take two buses to get somewhere, you will probably need to take two buses to come back).

  6. Through routing on all modes is a big part of the answer, Stu is so right there.

    How much does the current mixed public private business model complicate strategic and tactical change to bus routes? It would be natural for private providers to fight to keep any profitable services [and I mean profitable to them after subsidy] and/or to fight to gain more subsidy if forced to change… What is the process?

    Lucy is right, it is a starved sector forced to squabble for any improvements anywhere and get into destructive either/or conflicts between what should be complimentary services. Transport investment is tragically imbalanced towards highways however you look at it, for the whole county’s good.

    And admin is so right, there is clearly a whole lot of waste in the way the buses are currently organised, this needs a wholescale review, great work admin. I hope AT have the people, resources and the power over the service providers to achieve this.

    1. Yes and Brisbane has a nice system where routes run part-way though the centre, stopping at major down town stops but not turning around to make the return journey until they are out of the busy downtown areas.

  7. If many of these services were grouped together into a single and obvious service (much like how the 625 works)

    I assume you’re not familiar with the 605 (and 603/606 variants), 635, 645, or 655 buses, then? They take a different route into the city from Newmarket, though, so they don’t go past the hospital.

  8. I suspect that the privately run buses attempt to achieve maximum overall catchment rather than a best service.

  9. All interesting stuff! Simplication is definitely the way to go for PT users to make a quick decision. Currently they are expected to be a PT boffin, rocket scientist or have hours to spend strolling through the MAXX website to cover the multitude of options they may have. Removing the variations that only happen a few times a day looks like an obvious place to start.

    Interesting, A.T. look like they might have started doing a little bit of this with the changes to Dominion Rd and Sandringham Rd earlier this year. I think they have at least halved the number of routes and variations. Good to see only 3 or 4 main routes running on these major corridors.

    Apparently the Auckland bus system was historically set up on the premise that people would only need to walk a maximum of 300 metres to catch a bus. If this is the case this seems to be seriously outdated. By having 30-40 main routes with higher frequency would seem like a better idea.

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