In just 39 days, on June 11, Auckland Transport will roll out the new bus network for West Auckland. From a quick look, most of the network confirmed over two years ago remains the same, although there do seem to be a few changes, mainly to do with the peak services. Like South Auckland, one major failing by Auckland Transport is that they won’t be delivering on the rail frequencies promised to support the network. As such services will be stuck at only every 20 minutes off peak and every 30 minutes on weekends.
But what is really noticeable about the formal map for the west is how appalling service is to the Northwest. From the Northwest there is just one, half hourly service and from Lincoln Rd through to Westgate it is limited to local roads – in the mornings Triangle Rd can be severely congested so that half hourly service will be slow and unreliable.
Of course, one of the key reasons for this is the lack of the Northwest Busway or even any proper bus interchanges. Prior to consultation on the new network, AT had talked building some interchange stations at Te Atatu and Lincoln Rd but after local residents opposed the Te Atatu interchange, AT went silent and nothing has really been heard about them for the last 4 years. During the consultation they released this graphic showing what they would do with frequent services with those interchanges and eventually the busway.
Getting on with the interchanges should be a top priority but the significant improvement won’t come till the busway itself has been built. It’s now considered so important, the Auckland Transport Alignment Project listed it as being required in the first decade. Here’s an earlier schematic from Auckland Transport on it.
If you’ve been out past Lincoln Rd recently it’s hard to miss the construction underway to widen the motorway between Lincoln Rd and Westgate. Yet despite the busway being a key project, it’s not being built at the same time meaning we’re going to have to go back again in just a few years and dig everything up again. Not building it at the same time as all of the motorway widening works is quickly shaping up to being one of biggest transport mistakes of all time.
The NZTA’s excuse for not building the busway is essentially “but it wasn’t on any plans” and that it “was only marked as a QTN route (only requiring some bus priority) rather than a rapid transit route requiring a dedicated busway”
Now this is true for the motorway between the city and Lincoln Rd but isn’t true for the section from Lincoln to Westgate. The 2010 Regional Land Transport Strategy (page 84 – 5.7MB) clearly shows that section as a future Rapid Transit route.
While the 2010 RLTS may possibly have been the first statutory document to include the route as rapid transit, it appeared in numerous other documents from the former Auckland Regional Council (ARC) and their subsidiary the Auckland Regional Transport Authority. Reports I’ve found at least as far back as 2008 include the above map and I suspect it dates back to earlier than that. Some of those documents can be found here.
The works underway at the moment had to have been consented at some point. Recently I came across this consent hearing report from early in 2011 and it it contains some interesting comments in relation to the idea of the Northwest busway.
First that Auckland Transport submitted requesting that the route be future proofed for rapid transit
The report contains significant discussion of the differences between a QTN and RTN networks and what they require. But ultimately the whole idea of even future proofing for a busway was ignored because AT didn’t yet have detailed designs for it. In other words it was better to rush ahead with a project (that didn’t start for another 6-7 years) than put even a small amount of effort in to do some even basic future proofing.
It was already pretty clear in 2011 that we’d need a busway here sooner than 30 years but like so much of our PT system, no one believed it.
There was also quite a bit of discussion around bus priority lanes on the full length of the westbound and eastbound off ramps at Lincoln Rd. The NZTA were arguing against providing them but it was recommended that they be required to include them. We might need to follow up to see if that ultimately became a consent condition though as they definitely don’t exist on those off ramps.
Finally, it’s not like the NZTA didn’t have at least some indication as to what would be required for a busway. After all just a few years earlier they’d completed the Northern Busway and a document from 2010 even had some very early designs of what would be required to accommodate the busway.
I feel particularity sorry for some of the local residents who are going to eventually have to put up with another round of construction for something that should be included in the current works.
Ultimately, we now think there’s a good case for eventually having the busway as a light rail line and have included it in our CFN as such.