The original New Network design was really fantastic. It proposed changing our spaghetti on a map of a bus system focused on one seat rides to everywhere resulting in an inefficient confusing low-frequency radial focused network into a high frequency all day integrated grid based one.

New Network Principles

Unfortunately, Auckland Transport made many changes from the well designed proposed network in the final version backtracking on many of the solid principles of the New Network such as:

  1. The replacement of the efficient Crosstown 4 & 6 routes with the current inefficient Outer Link Route;
  2. The reduction of the 380 from frequent 15m to connector 30m frequency. Thankfully this is being fixed in December;
  3. The failure to provide interchanges in the NW dramatically affecting the quality of NW roll out of services for the Western New Network.

This was all reported well here and can be clearly seen by comparing the New Network Frequent Routes proposed & final below.

New Network Proposed vs Final

Since AT has made changes even between the final routes and the roll out of networks such as in the West, I thought would be a good time to try and push for saving the Crosstown 4 and 6.

As you can see in the two maps above the glaring missing section between Balmoral and further east exists. Crosstown 6 was planned to continue onto Greenlane, Orakei and Glen Innes with Crosstown 4 running from Onehunga to Mt Roskill via the City. This split the inefficient Outer Link into two strong bus routes providing great grid based connections.

Central Proposed New Bus Network

But why is the Outer Link so bad? Isn’t it a popular service people ask therefore we shouldn’t change it?

The Outer Link has many problems which result in a poorer service and that can have flow on effects which create problems for the rest of the Network. This was noted in the early days of the service and stems from it being a loop.

Loops are something that sound great but when analysed properly perform very poorly for PT outcomes as Jarrett Walker in Human Transit puts it:

But there’s a problem with loops, and it’s so obvious that it’s easy to forget : very few people want to travel in circles. Most people experience their travel desires as “I am here and I need to be there.” The desire for transportation is a feeling about two points of space, “here” and “there.” In the geometry of cities, the shape of that desire is a straight line connecting those points.

Because of the nature of loops they have no end point which results in an inability to layover and recover properly, this means when issues occur they compound for a long period of time. That is why you often have situations where you are

  1. Sitting at a stop for ages because the bus is so ahead of timetable.
  2. Getting kicked off one service and moved onto another because one is so late.
  3. Bus bunching where 2/3 Outer Link Buses will come past in quick succession with the next ages behind creating uneven frequency.

It is also poor for drivers as there is no good end point to layover. This is why loops like this are not recommended for PT services and one of the major reasons the London Circle Line was broken up. The inefficient nature of the route results in requiring more buses to run it properly which puts a dent in AT’s OPEX budget. The opportunity cost being less OPEX for services across the rest of the network such as Crosstown 6 or buses for the South/NorthWest.

So, in summary, the current nature of the Outer Link is:

  1. Poor for drivers;
  2. Poor for passengers;
  3. Costs a high level of OPEX taking money from other routes such as Crosstown 6;
  4. Creates a less grid based network for the City.

So why was the Outer Link in its current form retained?

  1. The power of branding most people know of the Outer Link & when they heard it was being cancelled opposed any changes (Even though most of the users of the Outer Link would have no changes as Crosstown 4 covered most of the actual patronage). Never underestimate the power of branding.
  2. Mt Eden Village would lose its one seat ride to Newmarket.
  3. A group of Grammar School students created a group called Save the Outer Link because they didn’t want to transfer including great reasons for keeping the current route as is such as a driver on the Outer Link saying they like the challenge.

The problem with our current consultation is it biases existing users over future users since the latter are a little hard to consult. Also, people happy with changes are less likely to submit than those against. This creates a tendency towards the status quo.

The reason the Outer Link was able to build up so much patronage was not because of its loop structure but in spite of it because it is so frequent. Frequency is Freedom and we have seen the patronage increases all day frequency result in. Which is why we have pushed so hard to have at minimum 7am-7pm, Monday-Sunday, 15m train frequencies on the three main lines.

So my proposal is we go back to the original design for Crosstown 4 and 6. However, we simply call Crosstown 4 the Outer Link keeping its recognisable yellow buses. This will create a better bus network for the majority of users while continuing to tap into the successful branding of the Outer Link.

At the end of the day, its should be the Outer Link, not the Outer Loop.

So what do you say AT?

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27 comments

  1. +1000 the crosstown 4/6 and the lack of an interchange at Te Atatu have made the network significantly less useful.

  2. A pile of other routes were changed as a result too IIRC. Would a compromise be to have the cross town 4 to deviate to mt Eden village and back to route again

    1. No, there is no merit in the arguments of those calling for retention of the Outer Link. Compromising on the merits of the argument instead of the volume of the argument would mean implementing the Crosstowns 4, 5, and 6 as originally proposed and making trips between Mt Eden Village and Newmarket transfer on any one of the many frequent route options they will have.

      1. Who were the mt Eden Newmarket people? Wonder what patronage was for that, and were they just wanting to transfer to the many existing southern & eastern buses that wouldn’t necessarily be relevant come NN anyway?

  3. I’d say every single person on earth likes travelling in circles.Or perhaps it’s more of an “oblate” circular route. Can a circle be oblate, or only a sphere?

  4. >>”The problem with our current consultation is it biases existing users over future users since the latter are a little hard to consult. Also, people happy with changes are less likely to submit than those against. This creates a tendency towards the status quo.”

    *mind blown*

  5. Call the crosstown 4 and 6 the ‘crosstown 4 link’ and 6 link so people don’t lament the outer link’s passing. They just sold it wrongly to people.

  6. About point 1, lo and behold, the line to St Heliers is now called the ‘Blue Link’.

    Point 2 would read “Mt Eden Village lost its frequent east-west connection”. To me it was a bit surprising there wasn’t another frequent east-west connection between Balmoral Road and Newmarket.

    IMO in all maps there’s a missing link between Kingsland and Victoria Quarter (and perhaps further north to the North Shore). The difficulty of going from the western line to the North Shore has been well documented over here. The current New North Road buses don’t count since they detour via Symonds Street and as a result provide a very slow connection, and also due to their stupid lollipop pattern.

    Other holes: there’s no frequent connection between Glenfield and Constellation station (this was already missing in the consultation). And between the entire Kaipātiki local board area and the east coast bays / Takapuna. Takapuna is one of the very few places around here where it actually can be hard to find parking.

    1. +1, the N25 should be spilt into two routes that run Beachhaven to Taka via Glenfield and Highbury to Takapuna via Akoranga. The N8A and N8B should both be FTN routes to cover Glenfield to Constellation

  7. I don’t think AT knows about the disadvantages of the loop at all. In the NN for West Auckland both 131 and 132 follow a loop pattern on Te Atatu Peninsula. AT selected the first stop on that loop as a timing stop (or end/start stop). Now if you live along that loop (which takes about 7min to cover) you might end up waiting at that timing stop for 15 minutes, simply because there was light traffic coming from the city. On the flip side – since there is no time to recover the timetable – once a bus is late it runs consistently late (and later). On a few occasions 131 (which has 30 min frequency) ended up with one bus following the other. Since the total route from Henderson and back is about 55 minutes AT has two buses with no ability to recover timetable.

    In the old network it was a ‘through’ loop, with 2 proper termini for the routes that used it.

  8. Yes. The only virtue of the Outer Link is its frequency, and that’s impaired by bunching to the point where you have to leave substantially early in case you get stuck in one of the gaps between bunches.

    I think another reason (related to branding) that people are attached to the Outer Link is its legibility – the route diagrams are memorable and easy to understand, the buses are recognisable and the live route maps are helpful for infrequent riders. But neither legibility nor frequency requires a loop (and in the case of frequency, a loop is a drawback), so call the Crosstown 4 the Outer Link, tell the Grammar boys their convenience doesn’t trump network functionality and have done with it.

    It occurs to me that ‘Link’ branding could work for other crosstown routes, since the various Links are the only kind of crosstown bus most people have ever encountered. Crosstown 6 = Onehunga Link?

  9. ‘The problem with our current consultation is it biases existing users over future users since the latter are a little hard to consult. Also, people happy with changes are less likely to submit than those against. This creates a tendency towards the status quo.’

    Very wise observation from Harriet.

    Change requires courage, commitment, and alignment by Board, Executives, and staff.

  10. You can’t have cross town routes in the New Network. That would be far too convenient. Instead what they really want is to make you change buses at least once and perhaps even twice.

  11. I’m one of those people that was happy with the new plan, so didn’t comment. Happy to revert to the 4/6 but also need the 5 reinstated, part of which is covered by the current and AT proposed Outer Link route.

  12. If the Outer Link gets canned, Western Springs College students will have no way home on the public bus system to Cox’s Bay, Herne Bay, CBD – which is in their school zone.

    There is a new 101 route – Pt Chevalier to University via Jervois Rd. But it is peak only, and generally that’ll be in the opposite direction to what the students need.

    I use the Outer Link several times each week, and yes it should be canned, for all the reasons you list. BUT it was a huge step forward for Pt Chev. Prior to the Outer Link I had no way to go to playcentre in Herne Bay or even to some of the shops in Westmere when my toddlers couldn’t cycle that far.

    Wish I had confidence that if the Outer Link is canned, we’d get 15 minute frequencies all day on the 101.

    1. If the Outer Link was canned then Crosstown 4 would take over the outer link route from Mt Albert to Newmarket, preserving all the connections you describe.

  13. Connectivity to Wynyard Q is still really poor, and the big gap on the western side persists. I’m only 2.3km from wynyward quarter and the green link is the only option to get remotely where I need to. Walking quicker most days when I should be spoilt for choice.

    http://i.imgur.com/C9b7SE8.jpg

  14. Yes, that entire area is really poor. If you’d live in those new apartments on Union Street, your HOP card would hardly be worth the plastic it’s printed on. Partially thanks to this big motorway over there, but I don’t get the feeling AT is really trying either.

  15. Well the issue about a basic lack of ability to keep the timetable is in itself worth posts.
    While buses can be delayed due to traffic (in 80% that’s due to poor planning and routing by Auckland Transport), this frequent occurrence of buses arriving considerably early is extremely poor practice. If a bus is early it needs to stay idle at a bus-stop ensuring that the timetable is followed. Thats not hard to do.
    Some might have arguments for why buses sometimes are early. I am sorry but I have no time for such arguments, they are poorly defined excuses. Buses on-time has worked in Asia and Europe when I lived there so why it wont work in Auckland is beyond me.

    The part that discuss the Northwest is the most mindboggling things I have come across. Being a huge supporter o the new networks with feeder-buses I looked forward to the advent of it. BUT instead of an improvement, my travel-time has increased by between 15-20 minutes each way. Thats 30-40 minutes per day. Here inbred siloism at Auckland Transport prevailed against common sense and travel statistics. This means that all former Waitakere residents have to travel through Westgate or Henderson or they get punished by extra fares. Good thinking. Add cost, add travel-time and then wonder why the new “feeders” fail spectacularly and have on average 2 paying passengers…

    To be fair, on paper the idea wasn’t a bad one. I think the feeding of express buses is the way to go. However implementation failed at every step. There is no infrastructure, there is no timetabling, there is no coordination between express-buses and feeders and there are no bus-stops to serve the feeder-buses.
    The question of why no one considered the thought that feeder-buses should link to the express bus is beyond stupid. New network = wait 10-15 minutes at Westgate for an express-bus or get a tour around West Auckland.

    1. I absolutely agree. What I also find annoying is that the timetable in the NN for West Auckland is really padded up to the brim. My regular commuting experience (from/to Te Atatu Peninsula) show clearly that buses run much faster than AT wants them to. Regular 132 into the city, even in traffic easily arrives 10 minutes ahead of the printed timetable. For the express it’s even worse – citybound they’re regularly 20-25 minutes early (ie. whole trip takes 25min vs scheduled 50min), in the return direction express is regularly 15min ahead of its schedule when arriving on the Tat Peninsula. Similarly 133X (from city towards Henderson). On one occasion regular 132 from the city was 15 mins early (which meant that it had to spend that 15 minutes with 30+ ppl onboard at the timing stop).
      Having such bad timetables means that journey planner is useless at best (it never suggests trips with transfer and expresses) and really misleading at times (when it tells you how long it’s going to take).

  16. Would it be worthwhile taking parking off all streets that are also bus routes?
    When delays continue to occur then the case for a buslane is apparent.
    AT should be able to overcome the bunching of buses by regulating the other traffic to prioritize PT, do they have that ability?
    Surely if there are problems with buses running to schedule then the causes for that should be able to be addressed.

  17. Bus PT can never efficiently service an urban area. It will always struggle to meet minimum desirable frequencies, get enough funding and a high enough fare box ratio return trying to do so. But then again it must provide a social service & therefore must provide full urban coverage.

    The other issue is that full Bus PT networks are incomprehensible to users. A rail or metro system is understandable but not a spaghetti network of buses.

    The answer is to:

    1) Introduce a core PT network of BRT/rail running at high frequencies on the key corridors. This system will be closer to economic to run.

    2) Remove all other low frequency uneconomic bus services that are trying to provide coverage and tender for non fixed route rideshare alternatives – uberpool, chariot etc – they have to service the PT system as one end of the trip (the market can otherwise provide commercial point to point services)

    3) Provide park n ride at PT hubs

    If NZ needs to change the regulations or rules to allow non fixed route PT to get funding then so be it.

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