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:

  1. No trip planning on a computer
  2. No smartphone realtime apps
  3. Some entirely not fake shopping at each stop

The old network

The new network

The journey

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

Service: 70
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

Service: 72M
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

Service: 72M
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

Service: 72C
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

Service: 35
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

Service: 380
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.

Impressions

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

Origin
DestinationModeWait time (min)Travel time (min)
BritomartPanmureTrain (Eastern)3016
PanmurePakurangaBus (70)710
PakurangaHighland ParkBus (72M)39
Highland ParkHowickBus (72M)04
HowickBotanyBus (72C)411
BotanyManukauBus (35)1231
ManukauAirportBus (380)827 (Dom.)
34 (Int.)

Average bus wait time: 6 minutes

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52 comments

  1. Enjoyable read. Hope you return from Scandinavia and write more user reports. Seems as if buses not only exist south of the bridge but provide an acceptable service.

    Agreed, a 10 minute interval between services is just about right. An average 5 min wait is soon forgotten but your 12min and 30min waits would be a drag unless you are travelling with convivial friends.

    Will you repeat the trip 6 months from now on a wet day with the standard 20kg international travel suitcase?

  2. Fix the frequencies of Public Transport Modes: Trains, Buses & Ferries for a show up & go service 7 days a week will fix the frustrating issues using weekend services for the PT Network. The weak link of using PT in Auckland.

    1. Devonport is languishing and AT are about to open a whole lot more hospo on the wharf which will cannabalise the little existing hospo on serious life support.

      One part of solving this puzzle is to have 15 minute frequencies 7am to 7pm, 7 days. This would take away any anxiety in missing the ferry and having to wait 30 mins.

      I know that Fullers have a monopoly and are exempt from the PTOM but surely AT could negotiate a subsidy for increased services – basically guarantee them the profit they are currently making on 30 min services. If they continue to make a profit (highly likely especially during summer) the no subsidy is required.

      Fullers also have to be incentivised to invest more in their boats. the current strategy of using tourist boats as ferries is a disaster. As a commuter, only the Kea and the Capricorn Surfer offer a real ferry service.

      To deviate a bit, another part to the Devonport puzzle is better cycle facilities to encourage tourists to venture further afield. Bike Devonport has been discussing with AT how that will happen and it seems to be on track.

  3. That Flat Bush detour should be removed once the Ormiston town centre roads are finally built – how long it will be til then, who knows…

  4. The reduction in service between Ellerslie and Panmure is disappointing. Previously we had about three buses every ten minutes with the range of H & E services heading out east during peak hour, now it is just the 70 running every eight minutes. Eight minutes sounds decent but there is a lot of bunching on this route, so gaps that often used to be 7-10 mins are now closer to 15-20 mins, making it largely useless as a feeder service for the train.

    I decided to drive to the train this morning as it will likely mean a quicker trip home this evening.

    1. The 70 from the CBD via New Market now seems to wait at the Panmure interchange for 10 minutes before proceeding. This also seems to happen with the 72X which is meant to be an express. Overall I am impressed and haven’t found any major issues since rollout. Having read this article I know also know that there is a screen with bus departures inside Panmure station. I also know what the letters do now that have sprouted up on bus stops.

      1. Should 70 be changed to 3 mins because people waiting for bus on Great South rd in Greenlane currently with 390 and 31X removed agree it should be 3 mins at peak and 5 mins outside peak.

  5. I agree 100% that the 380 should be renamed the 38 – they’ve only just introduced the new route numbering system and they’ve trashed it already. The argument will of course be that the number 380 is “special” because of the Airbus plane of the same designation but I seriously doubt whether this is in any way going to influence people’s ground travel choices, no matter this apparent synergy.

    I’m also concerned that the terminal for the “38” at Manukau is 10 min walk from the station – presumably this will change when the new bus station opens.

    AT also need to check the route numbers displayed at stops. I noted several stops along Chapel Road where Route 35 was not displayed on signage despite it being on the route.

    But all in all, the rollout seems to have gone smoothly – let’s now get the central and northern networks in place!

      1. This is the kind of thing that really annoys me! If you want people to use PT, keep it simple. Many people won’t take this bus because it is effectively named as a half hourly service, all to save a few bucks.

        Also I don’t think AT should have rolled out the new network until the train frequency was decent. Having to transfer to a half hourly train is an absolute shocker of the highest possible order. What are they thinking?

          1. Yes it is appalling that the train service is only at 30 minute intervals when funds are being sucked up for a park n ride at Albany that will likely have a negative rate of return. Also there is a parking building planned for Takapuna that will also have a negative rate of return. I imagine that there will soon be some pretext that this building doubles as a park n ride. I’m going to call that as bullshit right now, as the park n ride on Esmonde seems to enjoy only about 20% occupancy showing there is little demand.
            I’m a patient guy but I have completely lost patience with AT to substantially improve public transport. I do however feel better since I commenced an OIA request war with them. It won’t give me any meaningful answers, but it will show that there are an increasing number looking to hold them to account for what they say they will do –
            what’s their first Statement of Intent again?

      2. Yet AT describes it as a “frequent” route in its publicity. Either make it a properly frequent service (15 min, 7 days a week, 7am to 7pm) and change the route number OR stop calling it a frequent service!

        1. to be honest any bus serving the airport needs to be more frequent than 15 minutes and also be more frequent for a longer period of time e.g. up until midnight. auckland airport is so busy now that it is just as busy lunchtime on a sunday as it is 11pm on a wednesday

          1. +1, I actually think that the 380 should have been split into two routes with the airport to Manukau section going to 10 minute frequencies and the Onehunga to airport section going to 15 minutes and being extended to the end of Dominion Road, or even to New Lynn.

        2. Give credit where it’s due though. It’s an improvement. I catch it sometimes and it makes getting to and transferring at Mangere TC faster and easier. I got home 15 mins early than I would have otherwise.

          1. I’ll give credit where it is due. Good on the pro PT councilors and MPs for forcing AT to implement this change against their will.

  6. Does anyone know which routes the 70 replaces? I thought it would replace the 500, 501, 515 etc. but i still see those buses around

    1. It replaces the 500, 501, 550 551, 552

      The 515,525 & 532 still exist, they will get changed next year when the new central network goes live

        1. Yes totally, I’ve got really put off the old network as number of bus routes was too confusing. Overseas I had a nasty experience as teenager catching wrong bus (express) and ended up in suburb completely lost (this was before smart phones). So i always like to know the bus number where it going etc, when there 10-20 bus routes i can take it just too many to remember

          The only thing i find is it’s a bit disappointing how long it taking to roll out, will be looking forward to both central and north shore being done by this time next year.

          1. yes i am often paranoid that i’ll catch an express bus by accident so often am triple checking to make sure i’m getting on the right bus.

            i remember in 2011 being annoyed by buses on my route that never turned up – i emailed AT (or whatever it was called at the time) and they helpfully explained that by 2015 we would have the new central network. I was so excited and looked forward to that everyday and now it’s 2017 we still have crappy central city buses.

            on that note does anyone know how mt eden road buses will work in the new central network? the frequency of the buses in the morning (from around 7 to 8:30am) is amazing (about one every 2 minutes on average) and i would hate to see it go down to one every 6 minutes

          2. @Ray – In theory Mt Eden Rd at least: 5.30am Midnight peak every 5min, from Three Kings, but I think you add in the split extra routes every 15mins from Waikowhai to Britomart via Oakdale Rd + Waikowhai to Britomart via Hillsborough Rd that run every 15 mins at peak each. Total 20 bpdph = every 3 mins.

          3. thanks Grant

            the ‘all day’ frequency looks good to
            10 mins frequency from three kings = 6 buses per hour
            20 mins frequency from the first split route = 3 buses per hour
            20 mins frequency from second split route = 3 buses per hour

            total = 12 buses per hour = 5 minute frequency which is amazing.

      1. Yes can’t wait, hideous 515, though sometimes very handy for us/our kids personally for door to door service – it has very lumpy frequency & mixed in with the semi new (since southern NN) shorter runner 505 from just Sylvia Park instead of 515 from Otahuhu (which is less time reliant). 505 will also go with NN.

  7. 30 mins for Botany to Manukau? WOW. thats a long time! (i know the flat bush detour makes up 15mins).

    I’m sure bus priority measures out east would help plenty with travel times and reliability

  8. Given you missed the Eastern Line train, instead of the half hour wait for the next Eastern Line Train [then 16 minutes to Panmure on the train], couldn’t you have instead hopped a Southern line train leaving 5 or 10 minutes later, then travelled to either Ellerslie and got off at Ellerslie, then got the 70 or whatever number bus that goes to Panmure from there, and likely have arrived BEFORE or not long after the Eastern line train departed Britomart? And all for the same cost?

    Or stayed on the train to points south of Westfield (Otahuhu most likely) and then switched trains to the northern going Eastern Line train to Panmure.

    Agreed with either option you don’t get the lovely Hobson Bay/Orakei Basin vistas. But you would get to Panmure sooner.

    But to work all that out you need do a decent trip planner (either on a phone or on the web) or even better – have turn up and go frequency so you don’t bother with timetables.

    1. I definitely could’ve done something like that, and probably would’ve if this was a real trip, but I was with a group and was too busy talking to people to engage super-PT-nerd-routing mode. I didn’t really do much thinking at all, just blindly followed coloured lines on a map, which is a good sign. But yes it falls down in situations like this.

      1. “super-PT-nerd-routing mode”, that’s a nice, descriptive term. If that’s a requirement for effectively using public transport, then it’s going to leave behind the 90% or so of people without that mode.

        I think a lot of people are going to activate their “damn if I’d just taken the car instead I’d be already there” mode in that situation. Driving a car is not immune to unexpected delays either but half an hour is quite unusual.

        It’s a bit strange with the trains supposed to be the backbone.

  9. Totally agreed the weakest link is the off peak train frequency. 30 min frequency on the network backbone is a joke.

    They need to aim for ‘turn up and go’ frequency. Frequency more than 10 minutes is poor user experience.

    AT needs to shows some determination and don’t accept those lame excuses from kiwi rail who wants statue of quo.

  10. Enjoyed reading this and also followed it in real time on Twitter. Out of interest did you make a note of the cost? Frequent transfers and zone-based fares should make this sort of trip way cheaper than driving.

    1. From looking at the hop website it looks to be about $8-$9, it’s a bit hard to separate out from other travel I did before starting and also counted as transfers. Even though we spent quite some time at some stops so didn’t always get free transfers, this would’ve been massively cheaper than before zone-based fares. Not sure how it would compare with driving but probably pretty well, at least for 1 person.

  11. Matthew, many have realised that the country will need to meet the targets for green house emissions provided by the Paris accord. One alternative would be to cull a huge number of farm animals. A more sensible approach would be to reduce motor vehicle trips. Indeed if each part of the country is required to make savings then this may be Auckland’s primary option.

    I think looking at options other than cars simply reflects a sense of realism rather than any sort of hatred. There will always be those who will want to drive, but they maybe those who can afford the true cost of it.

      1. One “half-full” diesel bus (probably running to Euro 5/6 standard these days) has still got to be better than the 15-plus cars it would probably be replacing…

    1. Culling a large number of farm animals is definitely going to be the biggest part of New Zealand’s contribution to battling climate change.

      1. You know we need the animals to increase the fertility of the soil. The best approach for New Zealand is to increase the carbon contents of our soils. As well as sequestering carbon it also increases the moisture holding capacity of the soil.this reduces flood events and as the soil retains more moisture it makes them more drought resistant. An added bonus is that a soil with high organic content will also retain nutrients. Ie less nutrient leaching. So a ++++ win win win win situation for the environment. A well managed soil can sequester 10 tonnes of carbon per hectare per annum. Bad farming practices can led to losses to the atnmosphere of 10 tonnes of carbon per hectare per annum. The classic case is Syria they have reduced their soil to silt and sand over the last 60 years through the use of fertilisers and over tillage. One of the reasons for the civil war their at the moment.

  12. Thanks for the post Shan L. As I’m a regular traveller on the Eastern network it was interesting to get your perspective.
    One of the greatest frustrations of PT travel in the area on weekends wasn’t the travel time – it was the waiting time – I could easily end up waiting 40 minutes of out my 1 1/2 hour trip into the CBD, especially since the services connecting to the main 550 (now 72) and 500 (now 70) always seemed to arrive 5 minutes after the half hourly bus had gone through.
    As you noted at Pakuranga “Interchange”, the facilities there and at Howick and Botany suck -especially shelter wise. The stop at Howick outside the Good Home (which can be seen in your rooftop bar photo) has become a transfer stop for Cockle Bay along with services to Botany, yet AT took away the shelter in July (in winter!) and still haven’t replaced it. The 711 service to Panmure via Union Rd and Cascades Rd also departs from here – it effectively goes in the same direction as all the other Panmure buses that leave on the other side, I think a sign in the other side pointing this out would be handy. If Howick is now a significant transfer point then surely both the stops on Picton St need their wayfinding to reflect that – there is no such info at all at the Good Home – presumably it will be in the new shelter?
    At Manukau station there are signs with beautiful maps that tell you the 352 and 353 stops have changed – to across the road! Why can’t they also just say “across the road”?
    There are new maps of the area at the Howick and Botany “Interchanges” – which are not ‘directional’ , they’re oriented North-South, whereas the stops are oriented East-West.
    I’ve also noticed a number of the new stops (on Aviemore Dr for example) don’t yet have any info at all – just the bare bus stop sign.
    All in all the new network is an improvement, but there’s still work left incomplete so far.

    1. Just so you know someone crashed into the shelter and destroyed it. I was there that day, the shelter went through the window of good home. I agree it should of been replaced by now, but it wasn’t taken away by any means.

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