Given there’s a lot of focus on developing a light-rail system across much of Auckland at the moment, it’s worth looking at whether the Eastern Busway (formerly known as AMETI) should instead be light rail. I want to go through why, in this case, I think we should stick with the current plans of this being a busway.
Back in November last year Matt posted a general guide for comparing the corridors where buses, or light-rail, might work best. Some key things to keep in mind are:
- The need to be “mode blind” (i.e. not go in with a predetermined mode choice). Like tools, each mode has pros/cons and is better for some situations than others or sometimes the tool would be overkill for the job.
- Each corridor will have unique characteristics, higher or lower current and future demand, greater or fewer physical constraints and different land-use patterns generally
- Considering the network as a whole. By this I mean that the best option for this corridor could be a more expensive mode, but spending so much money on this option could mean we can’t do a more important project elsewhere. Furthermore, we need to ensure integration with the rest of the network so we don’t ruin create inefficient operating patterns or overload other parts of the network.
So what does this all mean? Well sometimes this means the solution is heavy rail, sometimes light rail, sometimes a busway or bus rapid transit. It could just simply mean increasing the level of service of the bus route or improving walking/cycling.
So back to the question at hand; why for the Eastern Rapid Transit corridor is a bus-based solution the right one?
One of the unique parts of this corridor is that it intersects with the Eastern line at Panmure, which means we can leverage the heavy rail network in a way not possible with many other corridors. By turning Panmure station into a good rail/bus interchange Eastern users can transfer to the rail network for a short trip to town. This means only a very limited amount of buses per hour need to continue to the city.
This is a key point, as a result, this corridor, unlike others, does not have the capacity constraints at one end. For other major corridors, city centre street capacity constraints are a major reason a step change to more spatially efficient modes like light-rail is required.
As a result of this, the level of buses that can be run compared to other corridors before reaching capacity is quite large, allowing a bus-based solution to deliver a quality service that can meet the demand without requiring the modal step change.
Better for Users
While transfers are a feature not a bug of a best practice transit network, creating unnecessary transfers is still not ideal. One of the big issues is that if we built it as light rail instead, is that unless we went to the huge added expense of taking it all the way to the city, would be that you are likely to be forcing transfers for many potential users. People from areas northeast of Pakuranga would end up needing to catch a feeder bus to the light rail, then catch the light rail to Panmure to then transfer to Eastern line.
The great benefit of the busway and bus rapid transit for this corridor is they can all use this infrastructure easily with much more single transfers instead of multiple.
Value for Money
Apart from not having to build a corridor all the way to the City, realistically if you were to build eastern light rail you would also need to build it along Pakuranga Rd as well as Ti Rikau Dr, simply to try to reduce the level of transfers needed. That’s roughly doubling the length of rail that would need to be built.
The money saved from doing a busway instead of light rail to Botany also makes the funding of the upgrade of Pakuranga Rd to Bus Rapid Transit as well more feasible.
So there are a few reasons why a bus-based solution can deliver a great service for East Auckland and is a great example of showing how each mode has its place in the network. Rail is awesome but it is not the answer to everything.
There is not one mode to rule them all!