Last week saw two big changes to buses in Auckland. In the city bus routes changed avoid the area where the first of the CRL enabling works will happen and on the Hibiscus Coast the new network was launched. At the end of last week Auckland Transport provided some information on the changes.

On the Hibiscus Coast they say there was some initial issues with connections between buses but they believe those are now sorted. In even better news they say patronage is already up 10% on what it was prior to the new network. That’s not bad for the first week of a completely new network as I’ve heard that places like Brisbane the changes in the western suburbs initially saw a 20% drop before recovering and ending up 20% higher. While we will see a unique trend on the Hibiscus Coast the initial results are promising and I’d say there are much bigger increases to come as people get used to the network.

One aspect that will definitely be helping is the extension of the Northern Express to Silverdale. Unsurprisingly the park n ride is already full and I suspect many of those users are people who in the past have driven to Albany to park. There are currently only around 100 formal carparks (seems a lot are parking on the grass) however AT eventually plan to extend that to 500 spaces but were delayed in doing so due to their consent being challenged in the environment court. The photo below is from reader Bryce P.

Hibiscus Coast PnR

The other change saw bus routes mainly from the North Shore and West Auckland change in the city centre along with the introduction of new 24/7 bus lanes. AT say the changes affected around 10,000 customers and involve over 3,000 trips per day. They are claiming the changes have been a success with only a handful of inquiries from people – mainly about North Shore routes. They also claim the bus lanes are successful and that drivers have adapted to them quickly.

I’m not quite so sure the changes have been as gone as well as claimed and I suspect many people have accepted the changes but are frustrated by them. My personal experience has been mixed. Last week I tried what I described as the third of my options for getting between Britomart and Takapuna. In the mornings this meant jumping on a Northern Express bus, taking a trip along Fanshawe St before getting off at Victoria Park and catching a Takapuna direct bus. Of the three times in the morning I tried it last week one time it worked well, another the NEX was held up by someone taking an age to pay cash and I watched as the bus I needed to catch got the light ahead of us at Halsey St meaning I missed the connection and a third time the Takapuna bus was 15 minutes late. There were similar results on the return journey in the afternoons.

One thing that would be useful to improve the situation would be to increase the frequency of buses to Takapuna, of the connection that did work well the bus was packed (which is common for these services). This was likely impacted by the fact that in the past a bus going to the Hibiscus Coast via Takapuna was a few minutes ahead. Now one bus is doing the role two did with the following results. Some extra buses would both make connections easier and address the frequent crowding these services experience.

Full Takapuna Bus

It will be fascinating to see the impact the city changes have on patronage.

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  1. Queen Street is still bus hell without bus lanes. Yesterday I just missed catching an inner link bus on Customs Street. Caught it at Vulcan Lane, 200 metres away, 5 minutes later because it had been delayed by single occupancy motor vehicles. It took another 5 minutes to get to Victoria Street. You have to wonder why AT continues to penalise PT users; bizarre given the pedestrian-friendly initiatives that have made walking in Queen Street almost pleasurable.

    1. that’s because for the last 20 years no one in positions of influence have stood up for buses.

      Retailers champion cars, the urban designers champion pedestrians, and the politicians generally champion rail. Can you name the last time you saw Len Brown stand up publicly and make a case for buses compared to, say, talking about rail this and that … hence buses miss out on essential infrastructure all. the. time.

      I recall that there was even an active campaign against buses on Queen Street back in the early 2000s. Silly stuff.

      1. Exactly. Which makes it slightly galling that they have just about skipped over buses and are now investing a whole lot of PR capital into LRT. However at least they have started installing bus lanes again.

        1. That’s a bit of a stretch no? I mean AT are currently rolling out the new network which literally improves every single bus route in the region!

        2. yeah, and I’m not sure it’s AT’s role to champion modes per se. They pick up the strategy and budget from AC and are then responsible for implementation. It’s not really their core role to build wider support for PT, even if it would of course still be a good idea. The political championing of buses really needs to come from AC.

        3. There appears to have been an improvement in the past year or two. But when it comes to bus priority it is still a bit half assed – case in point Queen St. Also look at the Fanshawe St to Anzac Ave corridor, a very significant corridor but still gets buggered every night despite being on obvious issue for years. The new bus lanes in the city are also poor quality with a lack of signal priority and sharing with general traffic at every intersection.

          But apparently LRT will get this amazing level of priority which leads people to erroneously attribute corridor quality to vehicle type.

        4. Stu, fair point about ATs role, but then why are they championing LRT on their own with no mandate from council? Didnt Len Brown not even know about it when they first announced it?

        5. yeah fair question!

          With regards to LRT, the initial mandate for that still originated with Council. If you look at AC’s City Centre Masterplan, for example, it has photos of LRT, especially around the waterfront. It also talks about the need to reduce road network capacity in the city centre so as to improve the pedestrian environment, which is great but obviously will negatively impact on bus movements. Meanwhile AC’s Auckland Plan also aspires for higher PT patronage.

          The potential for buses to meet this future demand, especially in city centre, was then investigated by AT in several (publicly available) transport studies, e.g. CCFAS. In general these studies concluded that even with a major bus corridor on Wellesley Street there would be significant bus congestion in the future given the volumes involved. Hence, AT started investigations into potential ways to manage bus congestion, which quite naturally led to consideration being given to LRT on major bus corridors, as well as other things like high capacity vehicles (NB: I understand the latter is challenging due to things like trees and verandahs, which is unfortunate).

          So even LRT can be viewed as AT’s response to a wider strategic context, where they have decided that the best way to achieve all the outcomes is to convert some of the busiest bus corridors to LRT.

          And to be fair (given the fixed costs involved) it is probably no optimal to build one LRT on its own, so they’ve subsequently looked into a small network. I think it’s a reasonable approach, even I agree with you that an unfortunate (unintended?) consequence is that the LRT debate tends to suck oxygen out of the bus debate.

          On the plus side, as you and Nic note AT have been very proactive with the NN and bus lanes of late, which is a breath of fresh air and very encouraging. So no matter what happens with LRT there will at least be a baseline bus improvement.

        6. If LRT are the out workings of strategic planning then surely the efficient and effective management of the existing road network to achieve the councils objectives is absolute bread and butter. The council is absolutely pro PT in rhetoric, buses carry some 8
          % of passengers and are the mode available to the majority of Aucklanders. So I don’t think it’s reasonable to say LRT priority on Q St is just AT implementing a strategy (where are the billions coming from btw), but they can’t put the same priority in place for buses (for fractions of a cent in the dollar compared to LRT) because of a lack of political will.

      1. The only buses I catch on Queen St are the 29X/30X/31X/32X (X = Wildcard) which start/finish in Midtown. The city link is a joke, usually overcrowded to the max and takes forever to get up/down queen street. Better off getting symonds or albert street bus and walking from there. I noticed there’s a bit of a speed limit decrease in some sections of queen street now also, didn’t notice before but then I usually avoid the downtown area as the shopping always feels rushed as it is crowded and everyone seems to know exactly what they’re doing and rushes around like mad, so you just feel like your holding everyone else up when you “browse”. Other than shopping not too much I would do there? I go to the littlebird unbakery near britomart for eating but that’s about it.

    2. If you were catching the bus up to K Rd I can understand the frustration. However if you were heading down to Britomart you’d be better off walking in my opinion

  2. The change definitely helped with NW express buses. They could easily take 15 minutes to reach the motorway from Britomart, now that’s down 2-3 minutes (from Victoria St).

  3. A few years ago I was working on the Shore and was frustrated at the number of empty buses travelling “not in service” from the city to the shore in the am peak. Presumably these are buses going back to the depot, but I can’t think of any reason why they can’t pick up passengers on the way and drop them at Smales for connecting services. Has this changed?

    1. I worked on London buses (a lifetime ago) and when we were going back to the garage (depot) it was on the front of the bus and we picked up passengers. In fact plenty of people waited specifically for a bus going to the garage.
      It is very frustrating to see buses whizzing past empty. Two weeks ago on Sandringham road(about 3pm) there were four buses went past me with ‘not in service’ before one arrived that was in service.

    2. “Has this changed?”

      Not that I’ve experienced.

      Working in Takapuna and sometimes going into town after work for social reasons, there seems to be about a 4:1 ratio of not in service buses to in service ones.

      It’s not really a rapid transit network at that time, in that direction.

      1. Exactly. It is crazy to be driving lots of empty buses around. If it is to keep to schedule at the other end then make them express buses (Britomart to Albany non-stop for example).

    3. Cam, the majority of those buses returning out of service are going back for another “peak direction” service trip, ignoring that 1) a few passengers isn’t going to cost a lot of time, 2) there’s a bit of revenue to be made and 3) it reinforces the whole choose to use PT argument

      1. I believe that the new network designs partially reduce the number of such buses returning home empty. But there still will be some that are like that. Say a Birkenhead bus going back to the base from the university via Grafton Gully motorway to Verrans Corner will take 15 minutes. The same run with picking up and dropping off passengers, going via Britomart will take 40 minutes. There’s also staff time to be considered… so there’s definitely a reason they do that, as if it was worth the money they would stop, right?

        1. Your Birkenhead example is a bit of a red herring and there will be some routes like that. However for the NEX this is inexcusable. There is enough O&D (origin and destination) passengers at each end to at least make it worthwhile to have these operate as an express service. As others have mentioned it helps with the running costs, provides a faster and more frequent service that doesn’t cost more to run, promotes PT and frees up capacity on the existing counter flow services.

  4. I observed the limitations of buses this morning, at 8.10 buses to the city from Birkenhead full to standing less than half way into the trip, leaving frustrated people behind and hoping the next one in 10 minutes or so may be less empty. It wasn’t! Quality of capacity is a major deal breaker at the moment. All routes need either far larger buses for peaks, i.e, double deckers, more express services and or quite simply far higher frequency. It is too unreliable at key times.

    1. Or less seats and change it into standing space 3 people can fit into a space of 1 seat. One would think this is the low hanging fruit – I know there are capacity certifications etc… but are our urban buses set up for long-distance travel?

    1. They were looking at doing that about 9 months ago and put out warning notices but then there was a big social media backlash against it and they back down (the grass is only going to get ripped up for more carparks/bus lane in future so doesn’t matter if cars drive on it now).

      1. My thoughts exactly, whats the issue with parking on the grass? Clearly there’s a lack of parks and AT plan to expand it anyway… Why put people off PT. There is quite a bit of parallel parking on small road too which it looks like people are taking advantage of, I imagine most people don’t want to walk too far though.

  5. I believe Matt’s experience shows (what I have known from my experience) that a network based on transfers is not that great for timeliness.

    I transfer every day and the reality is that connections are not reliable. You have to allow for the chance you will miss the first supposed connecting service.

    For two connections (feeder > trunk > feeder) to have a hope of being on time you have to allow this on both ends. Call it half an hour extra.

    This may only actually happen once a week or less, but you have to allow for it.

    Intuitively this explains why people are somewhat against transfers.

    1. Welcome to the power of frequency, if the bus goes every five minutes then you only have to allow an extra ten minutes.

      Bus lanes would also help as they make the service more reliable,

      1. If bus goes every 5 minutes you need to allow 10? Hows that? Theoretically you need to allow UP TO 5, with hopefully less than that. But in practice, yes, it might be different – we all love the bunching up effect when 3 buses with the same number arrive at once.

        1. If you read the comment I was responding too then it is clear that an extra ten mimutes is to cover the possibility of both connecting buses being cancelled

      1. I totally agree.
        I hope that Takapuna at off peak will be served by feeder buses that connect at excellent frequency with the NEX. These should with existing resources be able to run every 5 minutes with one heading down Anzac and the other down Esmonde.

  6. I catch the 945X into the city each morning. Since the changes the bus has gone from standing room only to now you are more than likely to get a seat. The number of passengers has dropped by about a third, about the same as the number of people who would have otherwise disembarked near downtown.

    1. do you think this a good thing or a bad thing? There are comments in the thread above about buses being too full, whereas you are (apparently) concerned about there being space on the bus (which could arise if AT increased capacity elsewhere).

      Sometimes I think it’s impossible for AT to win, because people complain either way. The other thing to keep in mind is that you the passengers who are disadvantaged by a change often express their views quite vocally, whereas you rarely hear much from the people who benefit. They just appreciate the change by using the service more.

      For this reason I prefer to wait until network wide patronage data is available before making any conclusions about whether a particular change is working or not. Basically, people’s self-reported anecdotal experiences simply don’t give you an accurate enough sense of what is happening across the network. And often you need about 6 months of data, due to seasonal effects.

      P.s. This is not to invalidate anyone’s individual experience.

      1. Personally I think it might be a bad thing as they plan on axing that service with the proposed new network changes. However, it is a very popular express service which I think should be kept. But with the reduced number of passengers, I feel they will use that as a reason to still remove it. And doing so will increase the time it takes for my journey and will reduce the frequency of busses available. …but yeah, on the flip side, it is nice to get a seat for a change.

  7. Riding my scooter around the CBD new bus lanes it’s clear that many car drivers are simply ignoring them. There’s a big education/enforcement campaign required here.

  8. I’m starting to put pressure on AT in my official capacity to install bus lanes in Queen St. I’ll keep on asking til green paint goes in,

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