This is a guest post from reader and friend of the blog, Shan L.

As seems to be becoming tradition, on Sunday I took a trip around a large tract of Auckland by public transport, to experience AT’s New Network West on launch day.

Rules

Like before, the idea was to simulate a series of casual turn-up-and-go journeys, so the following rules were in effect:

  1. No computerised trip planning
  2. No smartphone realtime tracking
  3. Some shopping at each stop to keep it real

No deadline this time though – the area I wanted to explore was bigger than in the south and I had some indeterminate amount of (not pretend! honestly!) shopping to do, so I wanted to take my time.

The old network

The new network

The journey

I decided to travel from Mt Eden Station up to Westgate, making stops at Avondale Market, Bunnings New Lynn and Henderson Town Centre along the way. Then I’d make my way back to Mt Eden via whatever route presented itself from the wayfinding and timing at Westgate.

This is how it played out:

OriginDestinationModeWait time (min)Travel time (min)
Mt Eden StationAvondale StationTrain214
Avondale Town CentreNew LynnBus (18)05
New LynnHendersonBus (154)629
HendersonWestgateBus (120)923
WestgateHendersonBus (14T)1223
Henderson StationMt Eden StationTrain3031

And the actual route:

Looking at the table, one thing stands out more than anything else and it’s worth talking about it immediately:

The wait for the train at the end was as long as the longest continuous leg of travel for the entire journey.

30 minute frequencies on the backbone of our PT system undermine our ability to use it as a network except for a few hours during the weekday peaks. Plus: it’s just straight-up poor customer service when you’re forced to wait half an hour for the next train because your connecting bus is 45 seconds too late. The sooner this is finally resolved, the better.

Impressions

Rather than talk about each leg of the journey in detail like last time, I’m going to talk about my experience of the network in general, and in particular some of the less technical aspects of the journey.

At least on the services I was using, there was significantly less chaos than the Southern New Network launch – most bus drivers seemed to know where they were going, and the AT staff that were present were mostly just helping customers get on the right service, rather than jumping out into the middle of the road to flag down confused buses.

And for the most part I didn’t need their help – the network was simple enough that I could find a route to my destination on my own, and the wayfinding at was clear enough that getting to the right stop was straightforward. There was a distinct lack of hastily printed pieces of A4 paper sellotaped to bus stops, like were everywhere when the network went live in the south.

That said, it was harder than it should’ve been to get hold of a paper network map – I expected to be able to pick one up from Mt Eden station as I was leaving, but there weren’t any provided. As Mt Eden is not in the west this might be understandable, but Avondale Station didn’t have any either. Leaving some paper network maps on all Western Line platforms would’ve been helpful – especially on the first day – and not very difficult.

I eventually found a paper map at a local bus stop. Like with the poor train frequencies, sometimes it feels like AT treats the railway as an entirely separate entity instead part of a network, and this makes for a jarring experience when so much effort has clearly been taken to make everything about the new network say ‘integrated system’.

One of the better pieces of wayfinding in use was this schematic map of a large part of the western network:

Easy to follow and gives a good sense of the freedom of movement available, metro-style. This was displayed at several stops, but could be used more – especially on pamphlets, which need to fit lots in a small space.

Of the four bus services I ended up taking, all turned up without enormous waits and got to their destinations in reasonable time, with the exception of the 14T from Westgate to Henderson which got stuck in serious congestion on Lincoln Rd and felt like it took twice as long as it should have. If that’s normal for the area on a Sunday afternoon, AT’d better buy a large amount of green paint and get to work, because it’s in desperate need of 24/7 bus lanes. [editors note: Lincoln Rd can be horrific at any time of the week]

Most buses were brand new (except the ill-fated 14T and an 18, which were older but acceptably kept). A new Scania model, running on the 154 service was particularly nice inside, with loads of space for circulation up front due to more than the usual amount of metro-style seating and actual, working screens – even though they were just acting as super-fancy ‘bus stopping’ indicators.

The only obvious issue I saw with the new buses was that the 154 pictured above had quite a small rear door with only one Hop reader. Since the rest of the bus was clearly set up for larger passenger loads, it seems strange that they’d do this – hopefully it doesn’t impact dwell times.

We still have a long way to go with the quality of some of the stations and stops we provide on our PT network. Westgate – which is depicted as an interchange on the network map – is at its best a few old bus shelters, and at its worst a piece of concreted-over berm and a splattering of mud.

Hopefully this is temporary and will be sorted out quickly. But in addition to being glued together with clay, the interchange also suffers from being completely disconnected from the mall – you can only get to it by tramping through acres of parking and people trying to run you over – this seems less likely to be resolved anytime soon.

The New Network West seemed to launch with plenty of people on services, little confusion and no obvious major disasters. Although I don’t commute from the area, I go there regularly and the changes will make that considerably easier and allow me to go to more places faster.

But the biggest problem still persists: the weak off-peak and weekend rail frequencies are starting to feel increasingly anachronistic as more and more of the network rolls out, and as bus frequencies continue to improve around it.

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56 comments

  1. New Lynn to Henderson at 29 minutes (plus wait) seems like an age. Presumably the train is much quicker than this if you can get it. Relies on frequency improvements as well of course.

    1. I thought the same thing. Far too much time to make bussing a viable option for me. Off peak I’m sure I could drive this in 12 mins so its close 3 times times. I’m not sure what can be done to speed this up as its not a viable express route. Unless the hold ups are from people using cash.

    2. Yeah, it was ages, but I think mostly because I took a 154 (first to arrive), which goes on a massive tiki tour. Had I waited a bit for a 14 it probably would’ve been better.

  2. Thanks for posting Shan! I tried out some aspects of the network on Sunday, in my case more of a commuting trip that I would normally do during the week. I’d agree that the vehicles Pavletich are using appear to be better in many cases – a slick interior, better visibility out of windows, and USB ports on the 154 over the last couple of days since the weekend. I’d also congratulate the drivers, who over the last few days have been unfailingly polite and mellow drivers, contrasting with NZBus staff in hindsight.

    On Sunday I also hit the lack of rail line integration unfortunately. Unbelivably, the 154 towards New Lynn is _scheduled_ to arrive at Glen Eden 1 minute after the citybound train leaves, continuing on to New Lynn interchange at 5 minutes after the train leaves. I thought that this might be an early morning quirk until I realised that this happens _all weekend_, with both modes on pretty consistent 30min schedules. If passengers are expected to change, then this kind of silliness needs to be fixed!

    1. Sadly the lack of ferry integration also leaves a lot to be desired. The Hobsonville Ferry is Herald Island’s fastest PT to the CBD (now that the bus time has increased by 50%), but only one ferry leaves after the bus arrives. Lorde lorde lorde – I’ll just have to ride my bike the 30kms (thanks for the cycleway)

      1. I was looking at this yesterday and there is 2 morning & 3 afternoon matched timings towards the city (5 min transfer wait), mind you the last 2 have a 15 & 20 min wait respectively. I guess a lot of the closer residents can walk or ones further towards Westgate can catch the West Harbour ferry which has more sailings anyway.

    2. Funny you should mention that about the drivers – the only one that was obnoxious on the whole trip was an NZ Bus driver who spent ages loudly explaining how terrible the network was to a lost passenger.

  3. The positives appears to be that AT didn’t axe the old service providers just before they implemented West Auckland’so new service, so the drivers know the area.

    But why no bus lanes out West to go with the new network? Why no coordination with rail? This isnt a piecemeal project is it and in the latter totally foreseeable that a so called new network should combine with rail. I assume the shortage of train drivers that is worsening is a bridge too far at this time.

    I realize this was a Sunday but the Lincoln Rd scenario is a daily problem/nightmare that shows up the lack of any meaningful attention to PT in West Auckland by AT.

    1. About the service providers: I’d thought that Pavlovich had won the contracts for the vast bulk of the Western New Network and that NZ Bus had been completely shut out. However NZ Bus seems to be operating quite a few routes still, including the 18 and 110. Was Pavlovich unable to deliver on the contracts? Or am I completely wrong in my recollection of the winners and losers in the PTOM process?

      1. I’m not sure about West so much although Pavlovovich were operating off peak services I believe anyway.

        But South Auckland saw the elimination of the previous dominant provider of NZ Bus altogether and their Waka Pacific brand went into liquidation.
        Also Howick & Eastern lost a fair few routes too, hence their spare Double Deckers being used as pool buses around Auckland at the moment.

        Then Go Bus, Ritchies and Murphys I think it was, took over but without the prerequisite driver knowledge of routes.

        1. Howick & Eastern doubledeckers only used on two routes. Over capacity od doubledeckers probably due to passenger numbers not growing as quickly as anticipated. H & E did not lose much in the Southern Network tender process, but have lost Howick in the latest tenders. Considering the company started with Howick many long years ago, that is a pity!

      2. NZBus: 14t, 14w, 18, 110, 122, 125, 129, 125x, 162
        Pavlovich: 111, 112, 114, 131, 132, 132x, 133, 133x, 134, 138, 141, 142, 143, 146, 151x, 152, 154
        Ritchies: 107, 120, 161, 170, 171, 171x, 172, 172x, 186, 195, 209

        1. It must be bloody difficult making decisions on capital expenditure with AT’s current tendering system.

          There is a huge amount of resources tied up in depots, servicing, fleets etc that can vanish abruptly as NZ Bus have learned!

          I would be surprised if their Swanson depot is even viable now with so few routes, if that is the actual numbers.

          1. These new tenders are like 15 years long, so capital expenditure is guaranteed for the life of buses.

          2. Well bear in mind that NZBus have the frequent routes. As much as every 6 min in peak. They also have been given increased new north rd and sandringham rd services.

  4. I ventured out west yesterday. The New Lynn interchange works well, but Henderson is very messy, and needs larger and clearer signage about which buses leave from where. Having the interchange across a busy road does not help. More pedestrian crossings please!

    The return journey from Henderson to Botany took 2 hours 10 minutes, including a 15 minute wait for the train at New Lynn. The other transfer at Newmarket was immediate and brilliant.

    1. 2 hours 10 minutes for what would be a 30 minute drive on a Sunday. We are still so far away from being able to get rid of the car – or even the second car…

    2. Yes agree the Henderson interchange is a nightmare and hopefully gets upgraded soon.

      I understand the new Westgate interchange is only temporary and will eventually move too nearer the new library. Not sure when that move is planned.

  5. So over two hours of travelling time and almost an hour of waiting time on top of whatever time you spent doing your shopping….. and you wonder why people use their cars so much, almost a full fay to go shopping, what a load of rubbish.

    1. Have you done the same trip using a car? Would love to see your numbers. Until then, there’s no need to make such facile statements.

        1. I mean, unless we suddenly upgraded our PT system to have 5min rapid transit on all these legs, I’d probably still drive it, if I was up for driving fictional shopping trips. But for argument’s sake…

          Assuming Google is correct and adding an hour for traffic and parking, you get 150 minutes.

          Total journey time by PT was 184 minutes. Add on about 30 minutes for walking (I think it was about that, it wasn’t much, especially if you subtract arseing around taking pictures) and you get 214 minutes.

          Then if we fixed the #@($* trains (-25min), installed bus lanes on Lincoln Rd (-10min), and if I took a 14 instead of a 154 (-10min), you’re left with 169 minutes, which is not far off a car in traffic.

          And at that point, I’d start seriously considering if all that traffic and parking damage to my mental health was worth the 20 minutes less…

          But yeah, with real PT shopping you usually change your destinations and travel times (peak only if possible!), so the comparison doesn’t really work.

      1. I do everything by PT, and it takes much longer. I am often in conversations where a reality check is required – what I expect out of my day and what others with cars do, is quite different.

        1. I do everything by PT too (well, almost everything) and have found that for the majority of my shopping trips it’s faster or very close.

          But to get that I needed to:

          1) Live somewhere well connected
          2) Change the shops I use
          3) Travel mostly at peak, because there’s sorta-kinda-almost a network then, due to proper frequencies

          There’s also weird multi-modal stuff I do which thrashes the hell out of just a car alone (involving taking cats to the vet, and using their office as a park and ride).

        2. I think there is actually a bigger reality check required by those who only drive – just having a Hop card on auto-topup in your wallet is stupidly useful, even if you don’t use it often. Auckland PT is generally bad, it’s nothing like as bad as it used to be, and parts of it are actually good.

          1. This is true. So strange that halfway through 2017 and we still treat this as an either or. You’re a driver so you must drive everywhere always, you’re a PT user so you have to scrap your car and hand in your license, etc. The funniest is haters who claim cyclists are somehow ‘cheating’ if they drive a car or catch a bus on occasion. FFS.

            And as for Auckland PT being generally bad, this is true. But its also true that driving in Auckland in generally bad also. Why is it that people can’t just pick and chose what suits at the time?

        3. People with cars don’t also factor in time & cost of cleaning, maintaining them. Also costs of insuring, depreciation (or financing, if any). This really only applies if you go totally car-less though which is hard to do unless you stick to really urban areas….I’m tempted to do it come the Central New Network. Be great of Uber worked for when visiting outer areas better to fill in the gaps when needed.

        4. In some respects I’m an atypical passenger in that I am not generally fussed about travel time being faster. I mean, sure, I’ll sprint to catch things I want to catch if needs must but the speed of the actual service itself? (Side note… I don’t drive at all.)

          The major reason for this is that I invariably use train or even bus trips to do readings. This is problematic in itself as lately I haven’t been able to read anywhere else but there is a generalisable point: you can do things whilst travelling.

          I rarely catch buses of any length but twice in the last month or so I was forced off the train. The first time I met a friend of mine on the bus quite accidentally (if we train regulars hadn’t been around, she’d have been able to catch her usual bus) and she told me she often does stuff en route to work. The second time I screwed up and missed the quickest way in… but taking the extra, um, hour or so meant that I got a lot more done en route to my destination. (I should note, unlike the first occasion, my journey was only internally time sensitive… the friend-bus day made me late by about 5 minutes, and her 15, I think).

          On the other hand, a normal day sort of disappears and/or feels like it is extended by the length of the commute/corresponding time spent “working”.

          Finally, to add to Grant’s point… I think you need to factor in the lesser reliability of journey times on anything involving road traffic as an additional cost.

    2. You realise that that no one in their right mind actually goes from Mt Eden to Westgate to buy chocolate bars, right?

    1. Although many people in London and other major cities use the amazing Citymapper app – highly recommended for travellers in supported cities. It would be great to get this in Auckland

      1. +1. It sounds over-exaggerated, but when using it on holiday last summer I found it was nothing short of astounding how intelligent and helpful it was in real-time.

        You can put a request into them to have your city added to their system here, and I urge lots of people in Auckland to do it….

        https://citymapper.com/cities

  6. Thanks for this, Matt. It is important to experience the network as a rider without access to the internet, as a good network should still provide the information required.

    I had a poor experience a few weeks ago at the New Lynn station (which I don’t know) where the staff didn’t seem to be able to give information about buses, and I couldn’t find maps or timetables, just a real time board, which turned out to be wrong. I hope AT does something to improve this sort of experience.

    1. I actually found using the network without internet a great experience, surprisingly freeing not constantly re-planning trips in Google and refreshing realtime apps. It’s gotta be reliable though…

      It’s also a good indicator of how legible the network is, which is the main reason I did it.

      1. Yes I spend 50% of my time on my phone using various apps is the worst part of an random PT outing, especially if plans change & you don’t want to be stuck somewhere for 1hr.

  7. what is it from the CBD to Wetgate, 20km? 55 min on a bus, They really need some sort of WEX on that route rather than the 110.

    I imagine you could cycle it in that time.

    1. Cycling is often much faster than buses. In terms of a trip from Pt Chevalier to Epsom that my husband makes frequently this year, the bus journey takes 3 times as long.

    2. Yep, I forgot to mention it but NW busway + the MIA Lincoln and Te Atatu interchanges and you’d knock a whole heap off that return journey.

  8. All Train Stations & Major Bus Interchanges/Stops need large schematic maps that are easy to follow and gives travel options available e.g. metro-style as you say. This will allow people to make travel decisions especially when a train or bus service is delayed or cancelled. Agree you need network maps on all public transport timetables for locals & visitors using Auckland’s Public Transport System.

  9. The latest AT board business report suggests that the new mid-2018 timetable will introduce 20min weekend rail frequencies. Why can’t they go straight to 15min frequencies and offpeak during the week as well? Surely the number of drivers and a bit of opex for electricity are the only constraints for the Western Line at least?

    1. Back in probably 2013, I remember giant posters up at Newmarket Station telling me we’d have 7/7/7 10 minute train frequency… last year.

      20 minutes doesn’t make a network.

      1. Exactly, the NN is designed around rail or busways having actual frequent rapid transport.

        20-30 min train frequency does not facilitate transfers from less frequent local feeder buses, of which there are a lot in the NN. We need at least 10-15 min frequency throughout the day.

        Also trains finishing around 10pm Sun-Thurs doesn’t help either. We should be looking at something like:
        4:30am-12:15am Sun-Thurs
        4:30am-3:15am Fri-Sat

        1. In fairness to AT, several of the routes I looked at have benefited from a little bit of “operational hour creep” in the new timetable. Especially on Sundays, where there seems to be a significantly earlier start on some routes. And the last weekday bus on Sandringham Road is now 12.20am IIRC. That said, the old timetables have now disappeared from the website so I can’t go back to quote chapter and verse.

  10. Agreed the train frequency should be no more than 10 minutes all day all time.

    To increase utilisation during off peak, the following can be used during off peak
    1. Shorter train to save energy and wear-and-tear cost
    2. Train Manager presence only at high risk section of the journey
    3. Discounted off peak fare to encourage usage of non-working family member
    4.

  11. Where can we obtain an electronic copy of the schematic map (which is styled similar to the London buses spider maps)?

  12. My experience as a commuter to the CBD, living in Massey who previously used the 070 Route from half way down Waimumu Rd.
    To catch a bus it was a 5min walk to catch the 070 bus. Since that Route is now removed I have a 9min walk to the 129 or a 17min walk to the 110. I can also drive and Park at the bottom of Waimumu Rd to catch the 110 in 5min. All available Routes are 30min frequency only. The 129 only operates 4 trips in the morning and 4 trips in the evening
    Monday Morning, walking to the bus stop for route 129, giving myself about 7min leeway in case the new Route is a little early, I notice that the bus has dropped off realtime tracking. I load up a stop further along at the Route and see that the 129 bus has already gone past. Instead of waiting for another 30min I go back home, pick up my car, and head down the hill to catch the 110 with another who also missed the 129. We arrive 10min early for the advertised time of the 110, park on Waimumu Rd and start walking to Triangle Rd a short distance away. Before we could reach there we saw a bus go through the intersection and assume it is the 14T. However, when we get to the bus stop we were advised that it was the 110, 10min earlier than advertised. Recognizing a couple of people who used to catch the 070 I offer them a lift up to Don Buck Rd to catch the next 129 due in 15min. Checking the realtime tracking once we re-parked we saw that this bus was also very early and we had to run to the bus stop in order to flag it down. Not the best start with 3 buses much much earlier than advertised on installed boards at the bus stops involved.
    Tuesday Morning I arrived at the 129 stop 20min early just in case. The bus arrived 10min early again. Considering this is only the 10th stop on the route and a distance of 3.5km the planning was obviously way out. Once we arrived in the city I realised that we had arrived only 10min earlier than the old 070 route that left 30min after the time we got onto the 129. Given the extra walking distance that is an extra 25min of commuting time each morning.
    Tuesday night things got worse. The last 129 home is @1747, by 1806 that bus still had not arrived. We were advised by the AT staff that there had been a mix up and a new bus had been allocated but was still 20min away. Not willing to risk being any later my friend and I got on the 110 (which was also late). Ironically we noticed that the 129 arrived shortly after the 110 but by that time we were committed. In the end we arrived home slightly earlier than the 129 would have despite the 17min walk up Waimumu Rd.
    We also noted that in the time we were waiting for our 129 to arrive in the evening there were 13 buses for the 18 New Lynn Route, all leaving with a handful of passengers only. Surely more resources could be allocated to the Massey Routes given the embarrassment of riches and relatively low patronage per trip out of the city on the 18 route.
    I am not the only one who has commented on the early arrivals in the morning and the Planning Staff at AT that I have spoken to agree that it is a known issue that they are working on. However, given the troubles to date, the low number of available trips, and the extra trip time required on the 129 I have given up faith in that route already. I will now be driving down towards Triangle Road to catch the 110.

    From my point of view this roll out has been a shambles for commuters. A colleague lives in Te Atatu and is experiencing similar issues with early buses, except he has a higher frequency so the impact is not so high. A massive opportunity was lost when the new route was not tied in with bus interchanges at Westgate, Lincoln, and Te Atatu with a Western Busway and local feeders.

  13. When I was a bus driver in Christchurch many many years ago, running early was a capital offence. Why can it not be made clear to drivers that running early is just not acceptable? And of course, if the timetables need adjustment, then that should be done at the earliest opportunity.

  14. The new bus stop signs and info are a huge improvement. One of my city stops has benefited as it has western buses. I’ve noticed the 209 has not shown up on the realtime displays this week so there must be a general problem that Richard also noticed.

  15. Speaking of services running early…
    Did a trial ride to my new job in the weekend – Hillsborough to Glenfield. Arrived at the ferry terminal just as the call for the Northcote ferry was being made. No sign of the ferry though. After 15 min I asked the staff and spoke to the person who made the PA call. She confirmed I missed the ferry. So why did she make the call for a ferry which had already left (about 10 min ahead of schedule)? And it was one of only two sailings on a weekend afternoon.
    So I ended up taking the Devonport ferry, which has excellent frequency, and my 30km round trip turned into 45. The most annoying thing is I didn’t get to ride the bit between Northcote ferry terminal and Porana Road to see if there were any dodgy bits. Now I’ll get to encounter them in the dark and with peak traffic…

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