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.
Like before, the idea was to simulate a series of casual turn-up-and-go journeys, so the following rules were in effect:
- No computerised trip planning
- No smartphone realtime tracking
- 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
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:
|Origin||Destination||Mode||Wait time (min)||Travel time (min)|
|Mt Eden Station||Avondale Station||Train||2||14|
|Avondale Town Centre||New Lynn||Bus (18)||0||5|
|New Lynn||Henderson||Bus (154)||6||29|
|Henderson Station||Mt Eden Station||Train||30||31|
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.
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.