In the giant battle that seems to be emerging over bus priority measures – particularly on the North Shore – one big question seems to have been ignored so far. And that, of course, is “where do we need better bus priority?” I was under the impression that Auckland Council wanted to make a step change in public transport use in this city, with the Mayor pushing for 150 million public transport trips by 2021 earlier this year.

If that is our goal, then a pretty big chunk of those trips (probably around 100 million, if not more by my calculations) will need to be on the bus. Indeed, even with our significantly increasing rail patronage, around 78% of PT users over the past year have been on the bus. Looking back over the past decade, fluctuations in bus patronage have certainly had the biggest impact on total PT patronage numbers – with this graph showing the increase or decrease in numbers for each mode compared to the year before: And while the decongestion benefits of each rail trip is more valuable than the benefits from each bus trip, the vast number of bus trips in Auckland means that the bulk of the decongestion benefits our PT system generates for road users come from people catching the bus: So we’ve established that Auckland’s bus system is pretty crucial to making the place tick, and also that if we want to boost public transport patronage, we really need to keep working on encouraging more people to catch the bus. But how can we do that? This is where better bus priority measures come in – primarily because unless you have bus priority measures it is technically impossible for a bus to be faster than taking the same trip by car: because the bus needs to stop to pick up and drop off passengers.

And we know from looking at the Northern Busway, Onewa Road and other routes like Dominion Road, providing bus priority measures like bus lanes, T3 lanes or a fully fledged busway makes a big difference to the popularity of catching the bus – and ultimately uses the road space much more efficiently (with the busway carrying 2.5 lanes of traffic). So where might we look to extend bus priority measures next? This is a question that Auckland Transport’s bus and transit lane review document looked at in quite a bit of detail – highlighting the QTN routes where some level of bus priority will be needed at some point in the future: While obviously it will take time for the Quality Transit Network to develop, and that’s fair enough as many of these routes don’t require bus priority measures, it’s worth having a think about which of these routes might need to be prioritised. The whole QTN is shown as the green lines in this map: There are a few ways that Auckland Transport proposed the assessment of when routes should have bus priority measures applied. One major criteria is frequency: at 15 buses an hour bus lanes should be considered, at 20 an hour they’re highly likely to be justifiable and at 25 or above an hour, they’re likely to be a necessity. A few other criteria are also to be considered: I have a few ideas about where I think bus lanes might be needed in the shorter term, but I’m pretty keen to hear what routes others think should be fast-tracked for bus priority measures – both out in the suburbs but also streets in the city centre. Doing a bit of digging through MAXX timetables I’ve found a couple of streets in the city centre that have well over 100 buses during the peak period, but without any bus lanes.

Certainly if we’re serious about boosting public transport patronage quickly and in a way that’s pretty cheap, I think we must focus on expanding our bus priority network – in a smart, well justified way that’s cleverly sold to the public, so drivers start to see why it’s so necessary to set aside the roadspace for buses, or in some cases for vehicles with two or three people in them.

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  1. I haven’t looked at any figures so this is just completely speculative but maybe Great North Road from say Point Chev into town would be a good idea? Although that might be covered by some of the West Auckland routes. It doesn’t really make sense (in a way) to do New North Road close to town because you are almost creating a competitor to the rail system (since they follow the same route almost for some way).

    1. The Western line and New North Road buses mostly serve different markets. The train is much more convenient to Newmarket, and the buses to the universities for example.

      Also, if peak frequencies on the Western line are not going to be increased from next year until the CBD rail link opens, then improved bus service will be needed in that area to cope with increases in demand.

  2. I have to confess, I was slightly skeptical about the Central Connector. I couldn’t quite see how putting in the bus lanes and closing off Grafton bridge to traffic would help buses move faster. However, having had to catch a bus to Newmarket from the city a few times I’m very impressed at the speed which I got to Newmarket. We simply whipped up Symonds St, over the bridge (that’s a real time saver), then hit bottle necks up to and past the hospital before hitting the bus lane just past Carlton Gore Rd, then whipped down Khyber pass. Very fast. Very attractive. I’m a fan.

    1. The really big gain from the central connector is the Symonds St bus lanes & Grafton Bridge. There are a huge number of buses that have benefited significantly from the project.

      Whether we should have so many buses from the south running all the way into town, competing with the rail network, is an interesting question to ponder.

  3. Is a connection from Onehunga to Otahuhu really higher priority than improved bus priority measures on Sandringham Road? I’m surprised Highbrook is not mentioned in the Manukau section either.

  4. Does anyone have a copy of the RTN/QTN map with the incomplete QTN in another colour?
    It would be interesting to see where the big gaps are.

  5. Ponsonby Rd, through Newmarket itself, Customs St, Queen St, K Rd, Tamaki Drive, westbound Onewa Rd, Harbour Bridge and possibly Kepa Rd. Thats just off the top of my head – I am not sure about congestion/existing priority measures for most of Auckland.

  6. Here’s my attempt to map all the current bus and transit lanes. Feel free to edit and add ones I don’t know about (West and South most likely)…

    1. This depends if you’re including T2’s, but Tamaki Dr between Kelly Tarltons and Ngapipi Road.

      Quay St- from Stanley St to Queen St.
      There are some on Mt Albert Rd but I’m not sure exactly where.
      Remuera Rd – from Waiatarua Rd to Upland Rd.
      Pretty sure there are some further south than Main Highway in Penrose

      Those are the ones that I can think of off the top of my head.

      1. I can see bike lanes on Great South Road south of Main Highway but no bus lanes. I added the Remuera Road one, all the rest you mention are actually already on the map, you just need to click through to the next page because Google only allows you to show a certain number of lines at a time. If you want to see all of them at once paste this link into the Google Maps search box:

  7. I think its also important to think about areas where bus priority could be provided without having to create whole lanes. A perfect example of where this works is on Lincoln Rd at the intersection with Triangle Rd/Central Park Dr. In both the peak and off peak the cars on Lincoln Rd are often backed up back to Universal Dr 600m away however this is only in the lane that goes over the motorway. The other lane is generally pretty clear allowing free flow travel all the way to the intersection. A short bus lane with a priority light means a bus heading towards town can skip the traffic while those cars heading to Triangle Rd or north west on the motorway aren’t impacted (of course this situation will change once the new interchange is built).

    There are probably quite a few places where priority like this could make a big difference.

    1. That’s an excellent point Matt. Are there any other examples of this that you can think of? I’m putting together a bit of a presentation that might go to the Council’s Transport Committee at some point in the future.

      1. This has been implemented at some intersections along Pakuranga Road, in the city-bound direction. There are also some short intersection bypasses around Northcote Road and Smales Farm station.

  8. Manukau Rd definitely needs longer lanes, and better enforcement. I’d also like some better bus priority around Onehunga.

      1. They’re peak-hour lanes. I don’t know if that counts, but they’re definitely a decent priority measure. Unfortunately, cars are parked in them well into those hours.

        I don’t use buses at all around Otahuhu, but I know that congestion there can be a major issue. Similarly, it would be worth investigating whether there is cause for them in Papatoetoe, Manurewa, or any of the other forgotten southern suburbs.

  9. Onewa road needs bus or transit lanes in the opposite direction so that buses can zoom past the afternoon traffic

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