This is a guest post from reader and friend of the blog, Shan L
With Sunday being the launch of the New Network for the East, together with Harriet I yet again decided to get on a few buses and trains to find out how well it was working. A quick recap of the rules:
- No trip planning on a computer
- No smartphone realtime apps
- Some entirely not fake shopping at each stop
The old network
The new network
This time we decided to travel from Britomart to Pakuranga, transferring at Panmure. Then on to a quick visit to a friend’s house in Highland Park, carrying on to Howick village for lunch. After lunch, we’d go down to Manukau for some essential shopping at the mall, before rushing to the airport on the newly improved 380 bus to skip the country for somewhere in Scandinavia.
The approximate route:
Leg 1: Britomart to Panmure
Service: Eastern line
Wait: 30 minutes
Travel time: 16 minutes
Upon meeting at Britomart, the first words spoken amongst us went something like, “Hurry the #$*& up, we’re about to miss the train”.
With a minute to get to the platform we duly missed it, and ended up having to lurk around Britomart generally lowering the tone until the next service turned up half an hour later.
We’re now a year into the new network rollout – about half way – with no sign of the promised 10 minute all day train frequencies to make it work properly. At this rate I’m expecting to have written my final one of these posts without it having improved appreciably.
On the plus side, this did give me some extra time to locate an eastern new network map, which for some reason was hiding on a shelf by a ticket office, instead of being on prominent display.
The eventual train journey was fast – and as is normal on the eastern line – spectacularly scenic over the lagoon heading into Orakei.
Leg 2: Panmure to Pakuranga
Wait: 7 minutes
Travel time: 10 minutes
Things rapidly improved once we left the rail system and hit the new bus network. We were only transferring here, so strolled up to the lobby to find a bus and were immediately greeting by some fairly solid efforts at customer assistance and general wayfinding:
Pamphlets were provided in different languages which would’ve been extremely helpful to many customers, and wayfinding was clear and accurate.
Stops are labelled with letters which is a really easy way to find where you need to go, and it’s a trend which continues for most (all?) of the interchanges we hit on this trip.
To get to Pakuranga there are loads of buses you can take, with enough frequency that you don’t even have to think about it – probably 5 minutes or so. I haven’t bothered working it out because it’s high enough that it no longer matters.
We got on our onward bus – a new double decker – and after a 7 minute wait headed off for a snack.
Leg 3: Pakuranga to Highland Park
Wait: 3 minutes
Travel time: 9 minutes
Pakuranga is depicted as an interchange on maps but in reality looks like this:
I wasn’t quite sure whether to press the stop button or not, since it just looked like a regular bus stop – but luckily the smell of sausage rolls indicated it was the right place to get off.
The trip to the other side of the interchange to catch our next bus to Highland Park was deeply unpleasant: we were almost run over by a maniac running a red light on a slip lane of doom and then had to cross a high speed, oversized intersection with a missing pedestrian leg.
If you manage to make it to the other side you get this:
Thankfully it wasn’t raining. How this is meant to function as an interchange I’m not entirely sure. If AT are expecting people to transfer here facilities will need to be upgraded – and in particular with a safe way of crossing the road.
In the Howick direction you get the choice of the 72C or the 72M, together running at 15 minute frequency in the weekend – from 5.30am until half-past midnight – even on a Sunday!
A 72M turned up after a short 3 minute wait. The bus was older (without USB like the newer ones have), but large and comfortable to maneuvre in.
Leg 4: Highland Park to Howick
Wait: 0 minutes
Travel time: 4 minutes
Part way to Howick we needed to get off at Highland Park to deliver something to some friends. This was a 15 minute walk, which apart from having to cross the Pakuranga urban motorway was fairly uneventful.
We were able to get to back on track without much trouble and lucked out with another 72 turning up as soon as we got to the stop.
Lunch was only 4 minutes away at one of Aucklands few rooftop bars.
Leg 5: Howick to Botany
Wait: 4 minutes
Travel time: 11 minutes
When you initially look at the map, it looks like there is no frequent bus between Howick and Botany – but in fact, provided you’re not fussed about the exact route, you still have the combined 15 minute frequency of the 72C and 72M. And slightly better again if you include the hourly 735 which goes on a more indirect route. We took the first one which turned up.
Leg 6: Botany to Manukau
Wait: 12 minutes
Travel time: 31 minutes
The Botany interchange was the busiest stop on our journey, with a stack of people helping customers and herding buses.
Like lots of the other stops, there were plenty of these schematic maps around, which are fantastically clear:
To get to get to the airport, we chose to go via Manukau on the 35 bus (the green line above). It probably would’ve been quicker to go on the 31 via Papatoetoe, but since that was part of the southern new network launch we felt it would’ve been cheating. The 35 runs at 15 minute frequencies for most of the weekend.
The 35’s route has a big kink in it – presumably to serve the homes out in Flat Bush. Possibly this is worth it overall, but for us, travelling the length of the line it felt like an incredibly painful detour that took about 15 minutes – around half of the the total.
It was painfully clear we were travelling through some of Auckland’s most car-soaked suburbs: traffic was heavy for a Sunday, and we passed two car crashes on this one single route.
Leg 7: Manukau to Airport
Wait: 8 minutes
Travel time: 27 minutes (domestic), 34 minutes (international)
Unlike the many of the other interchanges, Manukau lives up to its name. Although that the new bus station doesn’t have a 20 storey building on top of it and has a park and ride next to it seems like an awful waste of space.
We made a beeline for the mall to locate our critical and unique-to-Manukau confection.
Heading back to the station to catch the 380 to the airport ended up being the only wayfinding fail of the journey: it turns out that despite the high-level map showing the 380 converging on the interchange like everything else, it actually stops at the other side of the mall, a 10 minute walk from the station – and where we’d just come from.
The 380 itself has now been increased from every 30 minutes to every 15, and it makes a big difference. I’ve used the 380 only once before and have been put off ever since due to the time cost of missing the transfer – which given usual Auckland conditions is highly likely. But at 15 minutes this cost is much reduced and removes most of the frustration from the trip.
Some still remains though – the trip from Manukau to Papatoetoe felt painfully slow, so modifying it to be more direct and with more bus priority would be very welcome.
I’m also not sure why the bus is still called the 380 – surely now it’s frequent it should be the 38, like all the others? Naming schemes exist to make it easy for customers to get information at a glance – why break it for this one service? If you break it for one, you can’t trust it at all, making it at best misleading and at worst a waste of energy.
There’s lots of low-hanging fruit like this in our PT system which AT just doesn’t seem to grasp is important to customers, and seem frustratingly disinclined to remedy.
Once you get past Papatoetoe however, the speed of the trip markedly improves, and the bus seems to have a new route once within the airport – a carpark looks like it’s been split in two and the bus run down it with concrete dividers on either side. Unfortunately the deepest parts of the airport are still total chaos and it’s slow going – 7 minutes to get between terminals. They even had the road patrol out to help tame the madness.
AT seem to be getting better at these rollouts, with relatively little chaos compared to previous efforts: no services going off-route, no not-yet-turned-on wayfinding, no people jumping out in the middle of the road to stop buses from ignoring new stops.
There are some significantly improved services – some which affect me directly – I often take one of the old mess of five-hundred buses to get to my vet in ellerslie, but only on weekdays at peak: because that’s when there’s frequent service. In the weekends I always drive, because the weaker and uneven frequency made it too frustrating. With the 70 now offering 10 minute daytime frequency on the weekend, I will be ditching my car for another trip. And if my vet suddenly started offering Friday night cat parties I’d be right on it, because 15 minute frequencies until midnight now let me do it.
The biggest issue still remains the increasingly anachronistic train frequencies: take a look at the table below. When the sum total of the wait 6 bus trips is only slightly longer than the wait for the single train (30 minutes vs 34) – the alleged backbone of our PT network – you have a problem…
Summary for nerds
|Destination||Mode||Wait time (min)||Travel time (min)|
|Pakuranga||Highland Park||Bus (72M)||3||9|
|Highland Park||Howick||Bus (72M)||0||4|
|Manukau||Airport||Bus (380)||8||27 (Dom.)|
Average bus wait time: 6 minutes