This is a Guest Post from Darren Davis, who works in the Council’s Design Office. All opinions are his own.

Auckland’s New Network West is being implemented on Sunday, 11th of June. This constitutes the most significant single improvement to West Auckland’s bus network in living memory, putting aside the fact that the planned Northwestern Busway will undoubtedly be the next big step change.

With this in mind, it would be good to rewind 25 years to 1992 and reflect on how far we have come since then. Back then I wrote a piece in Passenger Transport Magazine (a desktop-published print magazine in the age before social media, the internet, smart phone et al) called Interpret the Ranui Bus Timetable and Win Absolutely Nothing.” This piece was not particularly kind to the bus service Ranui had at the time as outlined below.

Focussing in on Ranui, you can easily see how the public transport customer and service experience has significantly evolved since then.

Weekday inbound Larnoch/ Ranui/ Swanson outbound timetable in 1992

One thing to note is that while there were a fairly skimpy 15 buses per day, there were eight route variants within these 15 trips (077, 085, 086, 097, 98F, 099, 135 and 137). Put simply buses started in 0- travelled via the North Western Motorway with 07s going via View Road, 08s via Te Atatu Road and 09s via Edmonton Road. But there were exceptions  – the 98F flyer ran via Lincoln Road to the Motorway and the 099 ran via Te Pai Ave. The 13s ran via Great North Road all of the way to the city but even here there were exceptions. For example, the 10.45pm final bus to Ranui would throw in the Sunnyvale tiki tour at no extra charge (but a solid extra 10 minutes travel time on what was already a very long trip). Simple, eh!

And this is just a subset of the complexity of bus services serving the Te Atatu South, Henderson, Lincoln Road, Larnoch, Ranui and Swanson areas.

Route descriptions from the Ranui bus timetable in 1992

If I counted correctly, there were 27 different route variants in services to these areas. As if that weren’t complex enough, there was the added complexity of other services. For example, back in the day Ritchies Greenhalgh ran a couple of peak buses from Waitakere to the city centre via Swanson Road serving parts of Ranui but of course this was a different operator and hence a different timetable.

Fortunately the weekends thinned out the service complexity as it commensurately thinned out the service.

Weekend Larnoch/ Ranui/ Swanson outbound timetable in 1992

Ranui was serviced by just one route, the 135, except for the aforementioned 145 Saturday late evening Sunnyvale tiki tour.  There were 11 trips on Saturday and five on Sunday, all via the entire length of Great North Road with the last Sunday bus leaving the city centre at 4.40pm.

And it gets even more complicated in Te Atatu South. To understand all of the service you had in Te Atatu South, you needed the following bus timetables:

  1. The aforementioned Larnoch/ Ranui/ Swanson timetable.
  2. The Sunnyvale timetable as there are 079 trips not in this timetable at peak times that ran the length of Te Atatu Road.
  3. The Whenuapai timetable for buses that ran the length of Edmonton Road.
  4. The Glendene timetable as late evening and weekend service to Te Atatu South (apart from Whenuapai buses) started in Henderson, ran via Lincoln Road and Te Pai Ave to Te Atatu South before getting to nearly the start of the Glendene bus route at the corner of Te Atatu Road and Tirimoana Ave from whence they would spend another 35 minutes touring Glendene, Kelston and Brains Park (looping back on themselves several times in the process) to get to New Lynn, then another 30 minutes or so to get to the city centre.

Of course, Ranui is on the Western Rail Line but back in 1992 was the absolute low point of urban rail services in Auckland. In that entire year, rail carried just slightly over 1 million passengers – while in March 2017, rail carried over 2 million passengers in just one month. Quite the change!

Suburban train at Auckland Station in 1992

The rail timetable from 1983 was in force in 1994 and would not be significantly improved until 2004 when the ex-Perth Diesel Multiple Units had been in place for a few months.

1983 Western Line timetable in force until 1993

Ranui was served by eight inbound and nine outbound trains on weekdays only. Saturday train service were reintroduced in 2004 and Sunday train services only extended west of Henderson early this decade.

The last inbound train left Ranui at 3.38pm and the last outbound train from the city was catching the 5.40pm Papakura train from Auckland Station and transferring at Newmarket to the 5.50pm Waitakere train. To get there from the city, centre you could catch the ARA platform 4 bus leaving K Road at 5.18pm and hope it made it to the train on time (given that it was the last train!).

Section of the New Network West being implemented on Sunday 11th June

The New Network west, beginning on 11th June 2017,  is quite different to the situation in 1992. There will be four routes from Ranui to Henderson, with three of these running half-hourly (141. 142, & 143) and one running hourly (146). This is considerably simpler than the 27 route variants serving this part of the west in 1992. And while there will no longer be direct bus service to the city centre, trains to Britomart now run every 10 minutes at peak, every 20 minutes during the day and every 30 minutes late evenings and weekends. While this isn’t the ultimate train frequency, it is certainly a rather substantial improvement on the eight inbound and nine outbound trains that existed in 1992.

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  1. I also notice that in 1992 the train took 43 minutes to get from Ranui to Auckland (not Britomart, it must be said) while the current timetable allows 52 minutes Ranui to Britomart.

      1. There are a whole lot more passengers. Even with more doors they do legitimately take a while to board. (Please let’s not rehash the excess dwell times due to “safety features”)

      2. The train stopped at Kingdom Street in Newmarket, too. Which saves about 5 minutes on it’s own, add a minute to board everyone, 3 minutes waiting for a slot at Britomart, and that’s the difference right there.

        1. The trains in that timetable didn’t stop at Kingdon St – that had a station later, but only temporarily while Newmarket was being rebuilt. As I recall that stop didn’t cost any extra time because trains went direct to/from Britomart, not reversing at Newmarket.

          The temporary existence of that stop doesn’t explain any of the difference between the early 1990s and and now, because it didn’t exist at either time.

        2. I didn’t know that Kingdon Street was only used temporarily. Thanks for the information.

      3. Two new stops have been added since 1992: Grafton, and of course Parnell. Allow say 1 minute each, added to the 1992 timings.

        And current run-time from The Strand junction to Britomart is 4 min.

        So adding all 6 minutes to the 1992 best-time of 43 minutes gives 49 minutes. And that includes the classic double-reversal that used to be needed at Newmarket!

        Today the Britomart-Ranui timing is 50 minutes (now that the present single-reversal at Newmarket has been speeded up).

        Still slower than what the clapped-out old 1992 loco-hauled consists could theoretically have achieved on today’s network!

        1. Grafton is a “new” station, yes, but it replaced the old Boston Road station when the line was duplicated. Boston Road was just over the other side of Khyber Pass from the current station.

        2. @ DavidByrne: If you look at the old train timetable above you will see that Boston Road is not mentioned. Hence my assumption that trains didn’t stop there back then, but I’m open to correction.

        3. If I recall correctly Boston Rd was an unadvertised stop for schoolchildren only, inbound in the morning and outbound in the evening. To avoid the kids having to cross the line trains used the loop on the south side, which meant that trains ran on the right through Boston Rd in the morning and on the left in the evening.

          Another quirk was that trains ran on the right instead of the normal left through Mt Eden before duplication, because of signal sighting issues I believe.

  2. Love and Hate that photo of the train at the strand station. It looks so terrible/dirty & only two carriages!!!!

  3. All very well looking at one small area 25 years ago, but what about how it impacts on existing users. I also live in West Auckland (Massey Area). As of June 11th I will have less options, less frequency, and longer total trip times.
    Route frequency is currently every 30min into the city during peak periods which is ok since the travel time is reasonable as long as I get to the bus stop on time. I currently have two different options for a directish route to the city, 081 and 070. The 081 takes longer and is a longer walk to get to the bus stop.
    On Monday the equivalent of the 070 (14W) goes to Henderson or Westgate instead. Taking about 15min in each direction on a good day. Going in the Henderson direction the 14W intersects with the new 110 (30min frequency) 5min AFTER the 110 goes through. This is a lost opportunity to start having meaningful connecting services in the region around Lincoln Rd On Ramp.
    There are four 129 buses each morning into the city via Don Buck Rd (roughly equivalent to todays 081), which is a longer walk and the trip takes a bit longer, but could be a viable option albeit not as appealing as the existing 070.
    My remaining options to use public transport all add at least 25-40min to the total travel time unless I park near Triangle Road. Many require me using my car to get to somewhere I can either catch public transport or is close enough to the city so that I can walk to work from my car. There is a park and ride at Sturges Rd Train Station, which fills up fast, or there is street parking at Westgate, also fills up fast, or street parking around Triangle Rd, also clogging the local streets.
    Driving isn’t actually a bad option either. This morning the 070 was 15min late and not showing up on the AT Metro App, so I booked a park on Parkable and jumped in my car and drove in. It took me 32min to walk to my car from the bus stop,drive into the city, and park. Add to that a 10min walk to get to the office and I arrived at work earlier than if the bus had actually arrived on time.
    If CFN2 was implemented with a Western Busway and frequent local loops incorporating stops at major motorway onramps, as well as Train Stations, then having a new network would make sense. As it is there are some areas (such as Te Atatu Peninsula and Westgate) that are better served, and some (Massey) that are worse off.
    The 070 may only have 70 regular passengers from Massey being impacted by this, but we are not entirely happy about the move. In fact, its encouraging some of us to seriously consider starting to drive into work again.

    1. CFN 2 the NW is LRT & would likely take around 28m from Westgate to CBD.

      For the NW really need to get the Interchanges minimum up & going so we can create a better Network more like what was consulted then back it up with the Busway & CBD priorty.

    2. +1, the NW busway is desperately needed here. AT/NZTA could have comfortably built some bare bones interchanges in time for the new network. Not doing so has doomed the network to failure.

  4. I was out west over the weekend and passed through Kumeu and thought that it would be great to run a diesel shuttle from Swanson out to these upcoming areas, similar to the Pukekohe to Papakura diesel shuttle.

    1. +1, I drive through Kumeu quite often and with near all the needed rail infrastruture in situ it seems such a waste not to have a Swanson-Huapai diesel shuttle. The congestion on sh16 I can’t see how a bus rtn could share it.

  5. Did Sturges Road used to be known as Sturgess Road (as shown on train timetable)? Or is it simply a typo?

    1. For some reason the railway did indeed call it Sturgess Rd: it was corrected to Sturges Rd in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

  6. So in 1992 I could have caught a bus from Ranui at 7:25am and be in Downtown in 50 minutes (less if I had been going to the northern end of the CBD). On Monday the 12th I will have to get a train at 7:28am which takes 57 minutes and only drops me at Britomart. Add on a walk back up Albert Street or wherever I actually want to go. Are you sure you are improving anything?

    1. Yeah and you can go out tomorrow and catch a direct express bus in Ranui at 7:19am and be on Albert St in 61 minutes, according to the current timetable.

      But you are right, I think the best thing Auckland Transport could do with the New Network is to magically wind back 25 years of traffic and patronage growth to make the buses faster.

    2. Nice try mfwic, it was an a flyer bus on the motorway which I’m sure would now be clogged with mainly SUV’s slowing down any similar bus. Post CRL of course the train to midtown is estimated to be 40-50 mins (compared to 60-70 mins currently).

    3. Ranui and the buses linking to the train station are getting a pretty rough deal under the new network, sadly. It’s an improvement in a lot of areas but this isn’t one of them.

  7. The best thing about the new network is that in 25 years some enterprising young transport planner will be able to replace it with a bifurcating system of buses to reduce the need for transfers. He or she will be able to point out the advantages of using buses as buses rather than giving them all the disadvantages of trains.

      1. Which part of hub and spoke is direct? Total travel time always trumps frequency of one part of a multi-stage journey and do you really think people who commute every day don’t understand the system?
        When I worked on a public transport model for London the big debate was how much of a penalty we needed to include for a transfer. The journey time included the transfer waiting time but also an extra penalty to reflect the fact people hated getting off one train or bus and having to use another. None of that matters though if you adopt monopolistic thinking- ie “this is all there is, take it or leave it”.

        1. Yes exactly, people just hate actually being able to go somewhere with a connection. They much prefer not being able to go somewhere directly.

          Auckland’s transport models likewise have a large transfer penalty… and consistently underestimate the number of people using PT and transferrring. Damned reality keep not fitting the parameters they decided to put in the model.

          You only need go stand at Panmure every morning to see all the people transferring onto the train, despite the fact the bus continues to where the train goes anyway, eventually.

        2. I know I shouldn’t but I will. Do you think the fact people transfer at Panmure is evidence there is no penalty for transfering or is it evidence that people will accept the penalty provided they receive a compensating shorter trip?

        3. Neither, it is simply evidence against your assertion of “the fact people hated getting off one train or bus and having to use another.”

          Turns out people are perfectly happy to do it when it saves them time, or lets them travel to places they couldn’t otherwise, as you seem to acknowledge. I just wonder what they hate more, saving time, or being able to get places?

          I’m yet to be convinced the transfer penalty actually exists once other factors are controlled for (travel time, wait time, transfer quality etc). In my view its just a lazy modelling kludge used to explain outcomes of poorly designed networks.

          The problem comes whey you try and have an efficient network with direct, frequent routes…. and someone pipes in with “but its a fact that people hate transfers” and you go back to having a once an hour bus rambling its way around umpteen suburbs on the way to downtown an hour later.

          It’s a bit like saying people hate paying for petrol. Notionally accurate, but entirely unhelpful and not in the least bit indicative of actual travel behaviour.

        4. Yes, “Transfer Penalty” is a very real phenomenon. The London Underground gets away with it because all-day frequencies are high, and the alternative in the streets above is usually slower still.

          However the main line railways saw fit in 1988 to link North and South London via the one-seat “Thameslink” service. Ridership skyrocketed! Come 2019 when the new Elizabeth Line is finished, East and West will also be linked by a one-seat ride.

          The message from this and elsewhere is that while the hub-and-spokes (interchanging) model has much to commend it, main arterial passenger flows should not be subjected to forced-transfer.

        5. London Transport came up with a number of methods to get the transfer penalty. The best answer turned out to be that it was very high if you got a seat and not so much if you were standing. In Auckland they avoid the whole problem by trying to limit people’s choices.

        6. Lived in London for years and never went by car – always by tube or bus. Transferring lines was never a problem as it is all behind the gate line, and so often to get somewhere you would need to transfer two or three times. But with no penalty, except time.

        7. Yes but as with Nick R above a penalty is not a prohibition. People pay the penalty if it is worth it to them to do so. In London you often get a choice of staying on a stopper or transferring to a fast service. The penalty reflects people’s inherent reluctance to change service once they are on something. It becomes important if someone designs a system requiring everyone to transfer and sometimes make multiple transfers. As an example my daughter went to Devonport on two buses yesterday. She said she had better go there before they made it a three bus ride because at that point she will probably choose to drive when she visits there.

        8. Problem is that when they introduce the new service in East Auckland later this year I would need to make two changes Bus – Train – Bus to get to the same destination. I have a suspicion this will cost more overall. The only complete option the Express will not provide a direct connection to Ellerslie, Greenlane or Newmarket which are not on the Eastern line available from Panmure. At least it will enable me to avoid a transfer. Also the express has a limited time table. Botany have retained their direct service despite the Howick service having similar patronage. Also overall there seem to be less services and some services already run full to Panmure from Howick now. These decisions seem to be preordained before any consultation is done.

        9. Yes but its not a penalty, that just a reasonable assessment of the time and effort taken to make the connection, or connections. Three buses is surely a long and awkward trip to Devonport, I’d certainly think twice about bothering with that.

          But my problem is when a mythical and arbitrary penalty is added over and above the actual cost of connecting for reasons unknown to anyone except lazy modellers trying to calibrate their innacurate models. This then permeates into real life discussions with comments like “people hate transferring”. The truth is people ‘love’ or ‘hate’ transferring exactly as much as is benefits or inconveniences them.

          It’s like divining “the penalty” of hopping in the car, driving to the supermarket and paying money to buy a bottle of milk. There is no actual penalty of supermarket shopping, just the cost of time, money and effort to do so. Indeed sometimes it’s damned inconvenient and not worthwhile, but that doesn’t mean people hate supermarkets.

        10. The penalty is added because revealed preference showed there was one. It is probably due to people be risk averse and be reluctant to get off a service when they are on one unless there is a noticeable benefit. Call it a hurdle if you feel better about it but it is a penalty.

        11. “do you really think people who commute every day don’t understand the system?”

          That’s exactly what I am saying. I would bet you anything you like that the vast majority of park and ride customers at Albany and Constellation don’t know that express buses travel past their house, or that there are feeder services. Removing all of the duplication will make this far easier to understand.

  8. Great post. As someone who lives out west that old service was abysmal and confusing.

    My issue with the new service is that the travel times are still too long. For me to catch a bus to the city off peak it takes an hour. This is due in part to all the stops along Great North Road. The alternative is driving in 15 mins. Guess what wins off peak. I would rather catch the bus by why waste 90 minutes of my day?

    Peak time there’s an express buses but the bus normally sits in the same traffic as cars as there are no suburban bus-lanes. The travel times on the express bus can be similar to the car. Bus normally wins in these times as I can read a book.

    1. I agree that travel times are far too long. I will be catching the Westgate to Albert St Express (125x) which based on the timetable will take 50 mins. This is ridiculous when its on the motorway the whole way. They really need to look at the stupid bus shoulders that make the bus have to merge back into traffic all the time (just paint the fast lane green and we would have 80% of the functionality of a north west busway).

      I have seen lots of Auckland Transport references to increasing frequency but a bus every 2 seconds makes no difference to me as a regular bus user, however a bus that gets me into town in half the time makes a huge difference. It seems like they target the spur of the moment bus user but I see very few of those on my buses as its almost all regulars.

      1. I think speed over other travel options to me is the key too. I don’t think frequency will improve bus usage until the travel times improve dramatically.

        Your travel times makes no sense especially if there are no pickups. Pick ups real slow down the bus even with the swipe cards. The bus lanes on the northwestern help but are still pathetic.

      2. Most of the current west expresses get off at Pt Chev rather than stay on the motorway despite the timetable/route map showing otherwise. As congestion past GNR interchange is terrible on the motorway and there are no bus priority lanes.

        So not really sure if the 125x via motorway vs 060 via pt chev/grey lynn is going to make much of a difference in the morning.

        1. I am wondering that myself whether the 125x will take just as long past GNR as the 060. The 060x use to not stop as it went along great north road because it was an express but then they changed it so it would stop to pick up people which really slowed
          it down.
          It would have improved the frequency figures for GNR by making the express pick up people but made the travel time worse for the regulars especially as its coming all the way from Helensville. This emphasis on frequency to me is the wrong focus for a decent bus service. If its quicker to get somewhere by bus than car then people will use the bus.

  9. So this was a guest post right, has Darren been reading these comments I wonder? I certainly hope so.

  10. Oh this brings back memories; in the early 1990s my parents were living at Swanson, and the Perth trains were in the process of being introduced. Compared with what had gone before this was a huge improvement.

    To today, via a detour down the Northern Busway. When I first got to look at it, I was thinking that at last we had a technology which eliminated the ‘transfer penalty’ that affects rail and light rail. What amazed me, instead, was the fact that the carparks at the park-and-ride stations were quite full and I gather still are. Some tooling around the bus timetables explained why; a bus from the Constellation Ave busway station to Browns Bay (terminus) was timetabled at half an hour; I am sure you can drive that stretch in fifteen minutes, and then the frequency of the bus to Browns Bay was a further fifteen minutes IIRC. Not surprisingly, people drove when they could, even though a transfer was not required. And what was true for a busway system would be even more true for a railway or light railway.

    To my point. Integrated transport systems need to have three things in place to work well. The first is physical proximity of the infrastructure; the second is co-ordinated timetabling (or a very high underlying frequency) and the third is integrated ticketing. I would also proffer the view that integrated ticketing won’t work if the timetables aren’t in sync, and integrated timetables won’t work if the infrastructure isn’t convenient. Instead, direct bus services continue to be viable, and popular, when all the theory says that people should ‘prefer’ to use an integrated system; this is because the point-to-point time is often less, even if the in-vehicle time is greater. And people are, and certainly were, prepared to live with a reduced service frequency.

    I am going to argue, therefore, that while the underlying rail and bus frequencies are workable for direct trips, they are still not strong enough to make transfer-based journeys as viable as they could be, especially outwith the peak. What scope is there for increasing service frequency, especially of buses?

      1. “15 minutes” was the case at the time I was looking at things, IIRC. And – to support my substantive point – I cannot see how a bus from Constellation Drive to Browns Bay would ever be faster than a private car.

        1. PT is hardly ever faster than a private car unless you compare to a grade separated transit route itself and even then off peak car can be favourable. There are other reasons to choose public transit over a private motor vehicle.

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