The Northern Busway has been one of Auckland’s biggest success stories. Opened in February 2008 it’s helped transform transport on the North Shore with perhaps the most stunning statistic being this quote from a NZTA report on extending the busway to Albany and Silverdale – something that government cut from the package of works to widen the Northern Motorway.
Over the past few years investment in the Northern Busway, and efforts to improve bus and transit lanes in other parts of the North Shore, have resulted in a significant increase in the proportion of trips made by bus. Not only has the number of bus users across the Harbour Bridge improved significantly during this time, but there has been a decline in the number of cars crossing the bridge: freeing up space so everyone’s trip is faster and more reliable.
Recent figures indicate that almost 12,000 out of the 29,000 people crossing the bridge in the morning peak period are now travelling by bus (i.e. almost 41 percent of all people use the bus). This figure represents a significant increase in bus mode split compared to 2004 (which had roughly 5,000 out of 27,000 (18.5 percent)) of people crossing the bridge at peak times by bus.
The primary service that uses the busway is the Northern Express (NEX) who’s growth has been a direct result of the congestion free route the busway provides – although it uses the busway for just 41% of its journey. As of September over 2.5 million trips were taken on the NEX over the previous 12 months which us up from about 700,000 before the busway opened (NEX services started in late 2005 as a precursor to the busway).
The NEX is only one of a number of services that use the busway for some or all of their journey and many more people benefit from the infrastructure. With HOP it’s made it even easier to catch non NEX services that use the busway e.g. the 881. We don’t know the actual number of people using the busway however I’ve heard estimates that it’s in the range of 5-8 million trips a year. Another important feature of the busway is that buses using it travel at about twice the average speed of buses elsewhere in Auckland. That means the same number of buses and staff can run more services for no extra cost compared to other routes making them much more efficient. Because of all of the positive aspects mentioned we’ve also heard that services run at or close to full cost recovery so little or no subsidy is needed for them. In other words it’s a success on many measures.
NEX buses run every 3 minutes in the peak direction while counter peak – away from the city in the morning and towards the city in the evening – and off peak during the day they run every 10 minutes.
As many know I work in Takapuna and normally commute using PT. Recently instead of catching a bus direct to Takapuna I’ve taken to catching the NEX to the Akoranga station and walking from there (15-20 mins) as part of increasing the amount of walking I do. In addition due to the timing of the direct buses and transfers it often works out not much longer to get to work. It means I’m travelling counter peak and one thing that’s surprised me, as it does with buses direct to Takapuna, has been just how busy they are. In the case of the NEX this is particularly surprising considering just how poor the land use is around the busway stations.
This image was taken a few days ago while heading over the bridge in the morning with the bus full of people both sitting and standing. This is now a common sight at many times of the day in both directions.
The mornings are often busy however the afternoons have been seen buses packed, often to the point that people at Akoranga are missing out and having to wait for another 10 minutes for the next bus. While it is a sign of the popularity of the service it leaves those having to wait angry and frustrated. Those who get on and are standing on the bus don’t feel that much better either due to how packed it is. In addition buses extremely packed quickly fall behind schedule as they have to dwell at stops for a lot longer which can have knock on effects for future services. To make matters worse, those waiting on the platform for a bus will often see 2 -3 NEX buses plus up to half a dozen non NEX buses race past towards the city not in service so they can ferry people from the city back to the shore.
After this happened a few times and no response from Auckland Transport on social media about it (although they have been better lately), I went to AT directly about the issue. They pulled the data for the stop in the direction I was travelling for October and provided this graph which shows that around 5pm in particular many of the services are very very full.
As a result they are now working with Ritchies to put on an additional service which they say will likely be at 5:05 to help cater for the demand. They will also closely monitor some of the other service s that look quite full such as the 4:30pm service.
This is a good outcome and should hopefully really help address some of the issues although I would have thought a 4:55 might be useful too. I think ideally AT should be looking to move to 5 minute frequencies in the afternoon peak which shouldn’t be too difficult seeing as the buses are having to get to the CBD anyway. In addition this information was only pulled because I highlighted it, I hope to see AT getting to the point that services are regularly full are automatically highlighted to them so these issues can be addressed sooner.