This will be my last blog post about bus route changes, as the blog transitions towards being run by Matt, Stuart, Patrick, Nick and whoever appears out of the woodwork in the future. I still have a few more posts to write over the next week, but they will focus on other matters – including a look back at my involvement in this blog.

Anyway, there is one last bus route idea that I want to post about, because I think it’s potentially a really important next step for our bus system in the southern part of Auckland. I’ve touched on this matter a bit before to an extent, when looking at suggested bus changes for Mangere – but this post focuses on proposing one particular bus route, which I’ve called the “Southern Link”.

Aside from the strong north-south connection across much of southern Auckland, provided by the railway line and Great South Road, most of the rest of the area has relatively poor public transport. The bus routes in Mangere are so confusing as to be almost incomprehensible, the public transport in Auckland’s southeast is notoriously horrible and much of the system seems to still be based on the incorrect assumption that everyone’s trying to get downtown. I have heard (although it’d be great to see data confirming it) that fewer than 5% of people living in Mangere actually work in the CBD, with the Airport, East Tamaki, Manukau, Wiri and Penrose being much more common employment locations.

Compounding the issue of poor public transport throughout much of this part of Auckland is, inevitably, the socio-economic situation that many residents in South Auckland face. Compared to most of the rest of the country, Auckland is an increasingly polarised city – with an increasing number of very well off people, an increasing number of very poor people and a decreasing number of those in the middle. For southern parts of Auckland, poor public transport means they need to rely on driving to work – which can mean the cost of feeding the car competes directly against the cost of feeding the kids; or leads to them being trapped in an ugly cycle of high-interest debt to buy/fix the car that is considered so essential for getting them to work.

It is for this reason that improving public transport is seen as a key part of the Auckland Plan’s “Southern Initiative”. If improved public transport in this part of the city can reduce the reliance of its residents on that expensive second car or on increasingly costly petrol, then the socio-economic benefits may be immense. Of course in order to achieve this, a system needs to exist that is of sufficient quality (convenience, speed and price) for residents to trust it enough to use on a daily basis. Looking at the very low modeshare of PT in many parts of southern Auckland suggests to me that we’re quite a long way from achieving this goal.

For this post, I’m mainly going to be looking at parts of South Auckland that are generally to the north of Manukau and aren’t particularly close to the current railway line (except where it’s possible for a route to cross the line and enable transfers). This creates the following major centres that we probably need to base our thinking around: Onehunga and Botany are clear connections to more CBD-focused parts of the public transport network. Botany will be connected to Panmure through a busway in the future, while Onehunga has rail links to the city and also high-frequency routes along Manukau Road. Otara, Otahuhu and Papatoetoe aren’t identified because they’re relatively close to the existing rail corridor or Great South Road and can probably be predominantly served by routes focused on there. East Tamaki is just a horrific place to try and serve with high-quality public transport – something that needs resolving in other ways to this proposal.

In addition to the locations above, you can add in secondary centres and you start to get an idea of a general ‘swathe’ along which we may be looking to put our route: A really critical element here is connecting the airport – as a major employment hub – with other parts of the city where its workers are likely to live, as well as other employment hubs. Another critical point is to ensure that we can run the route at a high enough frequency to encourage people to simply “turn up and use it”. Therefore, it needs to be a single route and needs to serve enough places to generate a level of demand that can justify something like the Outer Link’s existing timetable: a bus every 15 minutes at all times on all days of the week.

My most likely route follows the course outlined below: In general, the route is a fairly simply “U” shape, with as few “higgledy piggledy” sections to it as possible. To serve Mangere Town Centre it needs to veer off the ideal route to an extent, but this is a fairly minor detour. Around Flat Bush it might also need to veer off Chapel Road – depending on how public transport is structured in the yet to be developed town centre. Aside from that, the route generally follows main roads along a fairly logical path to make it easy to understand for users. At the Onehunga end it should connect to buses along Manukau Road (hopefully in a timed fashion, but frequencies should be good enough for that to be a bonus rather than critical) while at Botany it will also connect to buses heading into the city or to other parts of southeast Auckland.

The other major hub is Manukau, where the route could connect to rail, a high frequency bus along Great South Road and all the buses further south that should feed into Manukau in the future. The route is intended to provide relatively quick service between points that are relatively far apart – so bus lanes would be advantageous where this can easily be done, or where it’s found to be necessary to avoid traffic delays. Bus stops might also be spaced a bit further apart than normal to facilitate faster travel – although this is helped by the big gap between the airport and Puhinui, as well as (to a lesser extent) gaps to the north of the airport.

If we branded the service as the “Southern Link”, gave it new and dedicated buses and put it on a “15 minute anytime” timetable I’m pretty sure it would be successful – and a good forerunner to build demand for Airport Rail and future rail between Botany and Manukau. Of course we will need a lot of other routes in this part of Auckland, but I think this could form our high frequency backbone of the network to supplement the north-south corridor – with most of our other routes feeding off either of the two.

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  1. You’d think it would be easy to extend the 380 at both ends and rationalise the spaghetti of other routes and have better service with less buses and more frequent service.

    On Monday I caught the 380 from the International terminal which ends up at Manukau. I got off at Papatoetoe (not the more direct Puhinui). I was surprised by 4 things: the reasonably undeveloped Papatoetoe station and surrounds, the dreadful tailgating (and near rear-ending of a car) by the bus driver, the Air NZ staff lady who came and smoked in uniform less than a metre from a giant no smoking sign near the bus stop (She wouldn’t move away when asked politely and I had to resort to telling her to f**k off, and I’ve written to AirNZ to call for her dismissal) and how no one else caught the bus. I was avoiding the high price of the Britomart-Airport buses and shuttles and I’d not been on the Eastern line before.

  2. I’ve taken the 380 a couple of times to avoid the airbus into the city. I got caught out that even though its a service that listed on the MAXX website, you couldn’t purchase an Auckland wide ticket on the service. That was a bit of a Fail to say the least.

    On getting a decent service into Onehunga, its a great idea. As at present you have to take the airbus to the end of Mount Eden road and back track back into Onehunga which takes some time.

  3. The “Southern Link” route hightlighted in this post makes lots of sense and is roughly the route a future High Freq/High Capacity service should should take. In my books thats a future rail link, but other options may work.

    With this proposal the Manukau stop needs to be at the new Manukau Train station to link into that key destination. And something clever needs to be done to get buses trhough from the Manukau stattion to Te irirangi Drv, perhaps bus priority up GSR adn across the motorway?

    In general I really like the idea as PT in SW and SE Auckland can do with major imporvements. Try getting from clendon to the airport for work. 10km drive but takes over 1 hour on buses! The 375 should be half hourly or better all day long, not just hourly service as its the only regular bus connecting the airport to the north.

  4. I agree that something needs to be done in this area, but don’t agree that this necessarily means that all the destinations need to be connected via one route. Doing so would suggest that there “end to end” travel demands. If you compared the travel time from the start of the “U” to the end then what you will find is that it’s quite a slow way to travel between Onehunga and Botany. So few people are likely to use it from end-to-end, IMO.

    I think a better network structure would emerge if you split the U in two, with both routes terminating at the airport. The Botany-Airport (via Manukau) segment would be a natural extension to the existing 380, whereas the Onehunga-Airport segment would be a new route. In terms of the latter, I’m not sure it should not terminate at Onehunga but would instead consider continuing to New Lynn in the West to connect with the western rail line.

    In two foul swoops you have greatly improved PT access in the south-west from the west and the east, and provided some alternative options for peeps accessing the airport. And by reducing the length of the route you would improve reliability. Just an idea – what do others think?

  5. I agree there is likely to be little end-to-end travel on this route, but perhaps the greater benefit of having a single route would be with mid-to-mid trips. In this context I could imagine a fairly high demand for travel between the largely residential Mangere section and Manukau Central for work, shopping and entertainment (not to mention study once the new campus is up and running).

    Now naturally these mid-to-mid trips could be easily achieve with a transfer, although a max 15 minute wait isn’t really ideal (especially just to continue the way you were going already, that sort of thing frustrates people more than it should). But if such a long service could be operated reliably as one route then why bother splitting it? I guess it would come down to how much operational gain there would be from terminating at the airport as two routes, vs. the passenger benefit of having a direct service.

    As an example, in Melbourne they have recently introduced the 901 orbital ‘Smartbus’ (more or less the same concept as the b-line) from Frankston to the international airport, a circular distance of some 80km. Now no one in their right mind is going to sit on this bus for four hours and ten minutes to get from the Frankston end to the airport end, but it offers innumerable options for trips between mid points along the way. I can’t remember the blog address but I read a good account of one guy’s journey along the full length of this route one weekday and the various people who used it. For example it started off with commuters using it as a feeder to get to the train station, a little while later it was mostly folks going to one of the shopping centres along the way, then it was high school kids leaving their school, then more shoppers, then more people making the connection with the rail lines on the other side of town etc until the last half hour when it was mostly travellers and workers going to the airport. Effectively the route isn’t just anchored at each end, but it also has a dozen anchors along the way.

    Extending this to New Lynn via Three Kings and Mt Roskill is a good idea. Not only would this route provide access to the airport precinct and provide for innumerable short orbital trips along the way, it would also cut across the current b-lines and similar b-line-able routes on Manukau Rd and Sandringham Rd. With a frequent all day headway we’d have ourselves a nice little integrated grid network on the southern ithsmus, linked to three rapid transit routes and various trip generators.

    1. Very good point – yes, any analysis should consider the demand for travel across the airport, rather than just end-to-end like I suggested.

    2. I’m probably with Nick on this one – the Mangere to Manukau trips could be taken a bit more directly by going SH20 or via Papatoetoe, but that’s unlikely to generate enough patronage to justify the high-frequency service that this post seems to be proposing.

      The problem I have with really long routes though is reliability. The longer a route is the more chances of the buses hitting various things that could delay them. The Outer Link seems to get around this by having numerous infuriating hold-points which don’t exactly make bus passengers feel like they’re being well catered for as their bus sits there going nowhere while cars speed past.

  6. I guess the other option is to complete the loop with a section from Onehunga to Botany via Sylvia Park. It would also take in Mt Smart stadium, perfect for game day. Although you have that pesky loop problem to deal with.

  7. Google suggests that the route above is about 33km and would take about an hour but that doesn’t include stopping at bus stops or peak traffic so the actual time could be closer to 2 hours from start to finish. If you extended the route to New Lynn you would easily add another 30mins+ to that time which is making a seriously long bus route.

    1. Melbourne has bigger routes, the problem here is? Nobody in their right mind would use it to travel from New Lynn to Botany, but there will be a shedload of smaller trips in between…

  8. Make it a rail route with stations roughly at each of the centres, and feeder buses to the stations from the surrounding areas

    1. The Onehunga-Airport-Manukau link is on the radar of our elected officials, which means it’ll happen at some point; especially since there’s a pretty easy path that doesn’t involve buying up and bulldozing hundreds of houses.

      The Manukau-Botany link, not so much. Improving the woeful state of public transport connectivity through the south-east of Auckland ought to be a very high priority, given the area’s status as a massive dormitory with sprinklings of heavy industry in East Tamaki, but it’s just not there.

    2. Buses are they way forward now right? I mean it is much easier and cheaper to establish demand with a bus and then implement a rail connection when it maxs capacity.

      1. The problem is that suburban-transit buses are a much lower-quality service option, so demand may not be as high as it would be for a proper rapid transit option. If you’re going to build a full rapid transit bus option you may as well go the whole hog and build a rail corridor, because the cost is not much different and the rail option has a heap more capacity.
        There’s also a long lead-time from deciding that there’s enough demand to justify rail and getting the rail constructed. If you wait until the buses are at maximum capacity, you’re going to start losing patrons in the intervening years that it’ll take to get the rail corridor constructed.

        For the link via the airport, it just makes sense. Most major cities have a direct rail connection with their airport. Even Los Angeles has a metro terminal near LAX (local long-term parking operators objected to the initial proposal to have a terminal right in LAX. What a surprise), and that’s the home of homage to the automobile.
        Given that Airport Oaks and surrounds is the second-densest employment concentration in the region, after the CBD, and the south-west is poorly connected with the rest of Auckland, a rail connection through Onehunga, Airport, Manukau is completely logical and there’s no real doubt that it would have sufficient demand to justify construction. The new Mangere Bridge has sufficient strength to support a rail corridor, and there’s a lot of mostly-empty land on the way that would make construction now a relatively low-cost exercise. There’s also a designated corridor for Avondale-Southdown, which would connect the Western Line directly through to the South-Western and allow direct services between Manukau and Henderson via the Airport.

        1. That may well be true Matt, but you’re probably looking at close to $2-3 billion to build a railway line along this alignment between Onehunga and Botany – for something that doesn’t have established demand patterns. I just think that’s not going to happen anytime soon. We’re probably 20 years away from being able to seriously justify the whole project as a railway line.

          In the meanwhile, something like this can build demand, influence land-use patterns and get people in the area used to using public transport. All bus routes aren’t created equal either: we could ensure we have bus lanes, we could ensure stops aren’t located too close together to further speed things up. We can ensure the buses are of a high quality and are frequent – to do away with the poor reputation typical buses can have.

          This may not be the ideal long-term option, but it’s something we could have in place pretty quickly and pretty cheaply and is a step in the right direction.

        2. I wasn’t talking about anything east of the Southern Motorway, only the Onehunga-Airport-Manukau section. I know that the eastern link will be extremely expensive, or require some very creative application of attitude-readjustment to allow repurposing of the massively wasted space along T.I. Drive.

          Buses on the Botany side is better than nothing, but there’s also road space to give them a lot of priority measures. Measures that don’t currently exist.

        3. Certainly the route isn’t a replacement for our need for a southwest railway line. But as we know, such a line can’t really be built before the CRL, which is 2021 at best. So we’re probably looking at another 15 years before any southwest railway line is completed – in a best case scenario.

          In the meanwhile, this bus route can build demand along the corridor and help the argument for the necessity for such a route. It also gives this part of Auckland significantly improved bus public transport in the short term.

        4. Tremendous plan admin. Mangere is a fractured suburb, the Town Centre is terrible cutoff by the motorways to the airport. I agree with the view that this should be a unifying service with its own brand like the proven new Link models. My guess is that there could well be some real sense of ownership and pride in fancy new Link style services in different areas… They could well come to define a ‘hood, like the A train in NYC.

          I also agree that this could work as a stopgap for the southwestern rail line. Although some will then argue that it means the rail line is unnecessary, and of course they will argue this if the bus route has poor uptake or is a roaring success….

          However because of unique situation in this area, the airport, the fact that existing rail is half way there I really think there is a case for this line to be built along with the CRL. Currently, as we know there is a political blockage that makes that seem like an insane suggestion, but things change.

  9. I would use this bus! Botany to the airport for me. Bus lanes please. Also looking forward to the Ameti design details from Pakuranga to Botany. (And it being built, timed connections from bus to electric modern trains = excellent)

  10. Would it be better to divide it into two parts, both untimetabled and going at 10 (peak) and 15 minute (off peak) frequencies? That way you’d improve reliability and increase turnaround.

  11. I have been thinking a bit along similar lines although think I agree with Stu a bit more. However would like to see services like this eventually as expresses utilising the motorway for longer portions of their journey.
    For example there are already several dreadful wandering services from Onehunga to New Lynn but they are timetabled to take over 30 mins, while driving would take less than half this. Therefore would run services from Onehunga to New Lynn via SH20. Similarly the trip from Manukau to Mangere takes 15mins driving and over 40 mins in the bus!
    This serivce could do a loop from the future major Panmure hub to Ellerslie, Penrose, Onehunga, Mangere then express to Manukau City. Similarly the 380 could go express via Te Irirangi Dr from Manukau to Botany town centre then onto Howick.

    Maybe Josh’s route is the best in the short term then as popularity grows they could be slit up as I propose.
    Especially as I realise my routes require integrated ticketing with people used to making free and easy transfers.

  12. This is a good start especially a route that finally would link Onehunga with the airport. I assume that there would be other high frequency routes going east-west, as it misses the majority of Mangere East where many low income people live. Most locals do short local trips Otahuhu to Mangere, Mangere to Onehunga, etc. The Mangere routes seem well patronised it is the frequency and the slowness which are the let biggest downs.

    Many people work in Highbrook, East Tamaki, Airport Oaks or Manukau but the low frequency and meandering routes mean streams of cars going to work east to west from Mangere, Onehunga and further afield and vice versa.

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