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.