An exciting media release from Auckland Transport yesterday and something hinted at on here a few days ago:

Double decker buses to be trialled

Double decker buses could soon be on the roads of Auckland.

A number of bus operators want to trial double decker buses on the city’s busiest bus routes possibly starting later in the year.

Among routes being looked at for the trial are the busy Dominion Road and the Northern Busway on the shore.

Before any trial can begin issues such as the weight, height and width of the buses need to be addressed to ensure they meet national standards.. Possible routes will also have to be checked for access around power lines, shop verandas and bridges.

David Warburton, Auckland Transport chief executive welcomes the move. “There is the potential to increase capacity by around 70 per cent on some of our busiest routes without putting extra buses on our already busy roads.”

And Mayor Len Brown also likes the idea. “Demand for public transport in Auckland is going through the roof. New infrastructure such as the City Rail Link is vital to unclog our roads. But at the same time innovative and forward thinking proposals like this from our bus operators are great ways of maximising our existing route system. I look forward to the trial.”

The trial is just one of many improvements for users of public transport in Auckland.

The frequency of services on the shoulder peak of the Northern Express has been increased to four minues to respond to existing demand and to future proof for the opening of the Albany Park and Ride extension in the middle of the year.

Mainline Howick and Eastern bus services from Howick/Botany through to the CBD via the Ellerslie Panmure Highway are being streamlined to provide a service at least every 15 minutes. In addition there will be bus service connections to the new Manukau Rail Station.

Cash machines have been installed at Albany, Constellation, Smales Farm and Akoranga Busway Stations to make it easier for commuters.

Plus a review is underway of all bus timetables against actual running information to improve the accuracy and reliability of all bus customer information.

This is what they might look like: As well as adding a “cool” factor to travelling on Auckland’s buses, double-deckers also provide some really useful practical advantages on routes like the Northern Busway and Dominion Road, where we’ve already got very good frequencies but need to keep adding buses simply for capacity reasons. Adding another paid driver and vehicle on the road for each additional 50 passengers is a pretty expensive task – especially at peak times when the bus might only be used for a few trips a day. So increasing the capacity of each vehicle is a great way to run a more efficient bus system.

There are pros and cons when comparing double-decker buses to articulated (bendy) ones. Double-deckers probably have slower loading and alighting times, but take up a lot less street space as they’re only the length of a normal bus.

Overall, it’s good to see the message is getting through to the operators that Auckland desperately needs bigger buses. The most recent tranche of buses to arrive in Auckland are stupidly small when you consider how quickly bus patronage is growing – so today’s announcement is a big step in the right direction.

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  1. It seems like a no brainer for the likes of the northern bus lane. Limited wider application though.

    1. Disagree. All of Auckland’s major arterials already have sub 5-min headways at peak (which is not about 6 hours per day), e.g. Dom/Mt Eden/Sandringham/EPH. Increasing frequency beyond that becomes problematic for stop/intersection capacity, so double-deckers becomes a great way of increasing supply without increasing frequency.

  2. I’ve used them in London, Hong Kong and Las Vegas. Everytime the boarding time is much much longer, and the drivers have to wait for people to be off the stairwells before they can move. They discourage people from entering the stairwells while bus is in motion, further delaying alighting. I think there is more going against these buses vs articulated ones (bendy) than for.

    1. Disagree. If you were to allow back-door boarding (like they do with articulated buses and trams) then the boarding times would come down greatly. One of the key advantages of these puppies comes in the fact that they don’t soak up your stop/depot capacity (which is limited and expensive!).

  3. Once the HOP saga is sorted, I can’t imagine the boarding times will be too problematic. It’s so fast now that waiting for someone to pay cash feels like an eternity.

    On major routes like Dominion Road/Sandringham Road I’m sure they would be appreciated at peak times. Each morning I normally watch at least two full buses pass my stop on New North road before one comes along that I can fit on.

  4. They will be good, but people will have to learn to use hop quickly and efficiently, (well the card readers need to work properly!) I don’t anticipate crowding anywhere near the levels of London buses though.

  5. These busses will be great for the Northern Busway. Boarding/Alighting can be a little slow when they are very full, and there is frequent alighting of only a small number of passengers (personal experience on Manchesters Oxford Rd – apparently the busiest bus route in Europe). But for Northern Busway, and probably most other Auckland routes they will be great.

  6. You’d have to make them HOP only for boarding efficiency. I agree, that it’s a great innovation that might encourage public transport use.

    1. In central london, some bus stops are Oyster card or prepaid tickets (from machines at the stops) only. NO cash fare. THis could be implemented on the NOrthern bus way easily.

      1. Well, oddly, Auckland Transport seem to want to go the other way:

        Cash machines have been installed at Albany, Constellation, Smales Farm and Akoranga Busway Stations to make it easier for commuters.

        Would be better if it was a Hop top up / vending machine.

        1. It cant be a HOP top up machine as the northern buslane express buses are all Ritchies from memory and they dont accept HOP yet.

          Once integrated ticketing does come in, hopefully the machines will be upgraded to include this feature.

          During the RWC, at certain times (at Smales at least), you had to pre-purchase a ticket or they wouldn’t allow you on which was a good idea to speed up loading.

  7. I used to love the old London Routemasters. Partly for the elevated views of London itself, but also because you could board a slow-moving bus by launching yourself at the rear open door at high velosity. The first reason doesn’t really apply to Auckland CBD or the busway. The second reason has been overtaken by health and safety concerns.

    I think these save a trivial amount of road surface, which isn’t something in particularly short supply. They increase the passenger:driver ratio on really busy routes. But they are going to delay boarding and disembarking by maybe 20 extra seconds while people climb up and down stairs, because you know that they’re not going to be allowed to climb stairs on a moving bus. That is going to make bus travel a lot slower, unless you only used them on limited stop express services. Like the busway.

    1. They are bringing back the Routemaster, including the open door at the back (not sure how they signed off health and safety on that but it is great for the able bodied commuter):

      Road surface on the busway may well be trivial but get a bendy bus stranded across an intersection on a red light and it becomes an issue. I also think the double deckers are more maneuverable (ie. turning into Britomart) than bendy buses but happy to be corrected.

    2. For a route like Symonds Street it will make a huge difference. The extra boarding time is not so much an issue there but the capacity of the buses is and the road is.

    3. Rear boarding could improve things substantially. Again, it would require Hop-only buses, something that shouldn’t be a problem.

    4. The saving in road surface is neither trivial (artics are approx 70% longer), and they are indeed at short supply at the most critical points: bus stops and intersections.

      In practice this means you can get two regular footprint buses in on a stop that could support only one articulated at a time. If those are double deckers then you’re looking at twice the stop throughput as with articulated. This all becomes moot on mega busways where you can build in massive stops, but it’s certainly an issue on the likes of Dominion and Mt Eden Rd’s, and even on the Northern Busway. Right now there are problems getting more than two buses on the stop at a time in practice (a third bus is sometimes possible if the stars align), so often buses must wait for the platform to clear. Happened to me this morning actually. Bring in bendies and you’ll be lucky to fit more than the the one long bus at the busway stops at any given time.

      Secondly on a route like Dominion you’ve got a huge frequency of buses running on narrow lanes, with only a single lane for buses at intersections (or sometimes no dedicated lane at all). In this case the route-capacity of artics would be little more than standard buses, you get roughly the same amount of people in the same length of buses lined up for each green phase. 50m of lane length queued at the lights gives you say four regular buses and maybe two articulateds. The throughput is much the same.

      With double deckers you can still fit four buses in, but each carries 70% more people.

      I would argue it’s actually the opposite, articulated buses boost the passenger to driver ratio but don’t do much for route capacity (on our constrained street based routes that is), while double Ds boost the ratio plus increase passenger throughput. The busway might be an exception, but definitely on street routes DDs are in favour.

  8. Stranded, Obi

    I am not sure of the problem(s) you norw. In Edinburgh, and in London when I have used them, you pay for the trip with a touch card (Oyster in London, Ridacard here), and there is no particular objection to climbing up the bus stairs whilst said bus is in motion. Because neither operation gives change, one headache in NZ is avoided.

    Also – another solution to think about is ticket machines at the busier bus stops, for the casual trips. Works in London, and Edinburgh as well.

  9. Surely the extra-boarding/disembarking time is outweighed by the number of people that arrive at their destination sooner?

    Twenty seconds extra is nothing compared to the 10 minute wait for a bus that isn’t bursting at the hinges.

  10. when I started at Auckland City 10 years ago, one of my first jobs was a trial of kerbside ticket machines for busy stops, it didn’t proceed because of a dispute with bus operators about cash handling

    1. Which is why an integrated ticket has been so long coming. Once that gets sorted, tehre shouldn’t be any further issues with kerbside ticketing as the allocation and delivery of cash issue should be agreed.

      NOte: they already have them on the northern busway dont they?

    2. Again, bus companies should have no say over how things work, and very little right of refusal. It’s our system, run for our benefit. They’re merely paid to implement services.

      1. All bus companies are commercial enterprises (since the yellow bus company was privatised decades ago). If ATRA wants a service run, they need to agree a price with the companies. Any change to the detriment of the companies needs to be factored into pricing.

        No doubt ARTA wanted to hold onto the money as long as possible thinking they could earn a bit of interest at the bus companies expense.

        1. Having control of the float is one of the main reasons Infratil has been so disruptive to the whole integrated ticketing process and why they spent so long attempting to slow it down and get snapper in the door. Thankfully they failed.

        2. We are getting of topic but that is correct, plus the fact it would have given NZ Bus access to complete and detailed competitor sales data (could be very handy in try to win Tenders)

        3. Infratil weren’t the only people who complained – I was told as long ago as 2004 by someone in the-then ARTNL that control of the float was turning into a major issue with many of the other operators as well.

          The simpler solution would have been for Fergus Gammie to negotiate a topup payment to the operators to join an integrated scheme, rather than shove them into it, but he doesn’t seem to have had the money to do this. Bus operation is not at all a significantly ‘profitable’ business.

  11. I LOVE double deckers, much more fun to travel in!

    One question though is how they will cope with high winds on the harbour bridge.

  12. I haven’t been on the busway for a while, but isn’t there a point around esmonde rd interchange where the busway goes into a short ‘tunnel’? Would it have enough height for a double deck bus?
    The pedestrian over bridges were obviously designed with this in mind.

    1. The busway passes under the interchanges at Northcote Rd and Esmonde Rd. Investigations are going on as to whether they will be high enough, and there is the possibility of lowering the roadway if not.

  13. Just to give some indication, the original Routemasters were 4.4m high. Vehicles over 4.25m are classified “overheight” by NZTA standards, and are barred from using most of Auckland’s motorway network except Albany Highway to Squadron Drive (no limit), Ramarama to Bombay (4.7m), and the Auckland Harbour Bridge (4.8m). The lowest bridge clearance for motorway traffic between Oteha Valley and Fanshawe is the Northcote Road bridge according to Google Street View, and that has a clearance of 4.74m.

    Only downside I can see is bridge clearance, and the possibility that if everone goes on the upper deck the buses could become top heavy and roll over cornering.

  14. It’s funny if you think that there once were double decker trams in Auckland… are we slowly getting there?

    1. I found the opposite in Edinburgh – I always went upstairs because it was quieter and much more relaxing (less kerfuffle associated with people jumping on and off).

  15. One thing that hasn’t pointed out and I just thought about, the bus companies will love these as just think about how much extra advertising space there will be.

  16. The comments to this blog are making me chuckle. The questions raised – will they work, how long will people take to board – reminds me of stories of people’s fears of the first trains – will there be enough air to breathe at 50 miles per hour?
    Having spent most of my life riding double-deckers in the UK – where they have been in service for, what, a century? – I can assure you all that they work perfectly fine. And once ther novelty value’s worn off, I can guarantee you that no operator is going to be hanging around waiting for people to get off the stairs. Half the fun of riding a double-decker is negotiating the stairs with three bags of shopping while the driver whips the bus around a tight corner at 30 kph.

    1. I agree Ian, it’s very funny when you consider how well the double-deckers would in places like Edinburgh (which is similarly hilly compared to Auckland).

  17. I’m sure it’s worth trialling at the very least and if there are any changes needed to roads for clearances then surely that is acheivable? The new London buses do look pretty cool and I would jump at the chance to ride in one.

    1. It’s seriously non-trivial to increase road clearance. Bridges, street lights, shop fronts, power/phone lines… Bridges are the primary height constraint on the motorway, but for routes such as Dominion Road it’s shop frontages and utility lines. Running over-height buses along Greenlane/Balmoral would be fine, because it’s a designated over-height corridor, but Dominion Road is not, and it’s got encroaching shop fronts.

      Getting an ongoing over-height permit for a suburban route would not be a simple exercise, in part because NZTA has to address the question of “What if the route gets blocked?” For a one-off commercial load it’s fine to have a contingency plan of “Pull over and wait”, but that’s not viable for a bus.

      1. I wonder if this could lead to discussion of buslanes in the centre of the road. That way you can at least eliminate shop frontages as a potential problem.

        1. There’s been plenty of discussion on the topic (just not much action), and in fact the new busway going in as part of the AMETI project uses central bus lanes. Ironically, they would be a return to what we had back in the days that trams ran in Auckland.

        2. True about the discussion. If only Dominion Road had central buslanes. It would solve so many probleme.

        3. Yes, the Johannesburg BRT system (“Rea Vaya”) uses median lanes a lot. It’s hardly rocket science to build vehicles to have doors on the same side of the vehicle as the driver.

        4. Why would you change the doors to have median bus lanes, you can still have the stops on the outside of the median lanes.

        5. Personally I think if you have double deckers you could have doors on both sides. Set the bottom level up as more of a standing area for short trips and preparing to disembark. While the top level can be for people who are on longer journeys.

      2. I didn’t say it would be trivial but if the trial is successfull then surely it is worth some additional investment to improve services?

        1. The trial couldn’t commence without the work being undertaken. You cannot “trial” sending an over-height vehicle under a bridge or around a corner that’s overlapped by a shop front. Either it fits, or it doesn’t.

          Also, non-trivial in this context means several million dollars of work, which is never going to happen. Raising bridges or lowering roads, adjusting utility wires and street lights, it’s expensive and not necessary. We’re not talking about creating a new public transport route or building a bus way, it’s just meddling with the road corridor to fit taller buses than are ordinarily allowed by law.

        2. You can’t send an overheight bus under a low bridge? Dang, ain’t I stupid.

          I meant trial on the routes where it can work already and then, if they prove successfull, make adjustments as required for other routes. Expensive in places? Yes. But roads are modified all the time for other reasons.

  18. Not too sure why some seem to be assuming that double deckers would be overheight. The press release says “issues such as the weight, height and width of the buses need to be addressed to ensure they meet national standards” which indicates they will not be.

    The pic shows an Alexander Dennis Enviro 500 which is available in a low height version. Assume the trial would involve a narrow version of that (AFAIK the standard one is too wide for NZ).

    1. They’ll be really pushing it to have comfortable interiors and not be over-height. Minimum ground clearance is 0.1m. Maximum standard height is 4.25m. That allows 4.15m to accommodate chassis, roof, interior floors, and provide at least 2m of space on each level. Kiwis are tall, and 2m would be my pick as the barest minimum internal height that they could get away with. If people feel cramped they won’t willingly use buses, and most people would feel pretty crowded if they had to stand in the aisles of something the height of a standard domestic doorway.

      1. Upstairs headroom is much lower than downstairs – 1.8M or so on modern London double deckers and IIRC even lower on the old routemasters.

  19. I heard that NZBus has been test driving a normal bus with a rig mounted to see if it would hit anything.

    Ritchies also has one on order for testing on the Northern Bus way.

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