A few days ago I discussed the budget blowout for Auckland Transport’s Midtown Bus Solution, the root cause of which was a stupid compromise made by Auckland Transport to the unreasonable demands of the University a few years ago which prevents the obvious solution of linking buses from Wellesley Street to Symonds Street via a useful little slip lane that is hardly used. While this issue may take a while to work out, the need for a major improvement to Midtown buses becomes clearer every day, with what’s now known as the Wellesley St “Bus Sausage”:

Over time a number of major projects will help address the city centre’s bus congestion problems. These include City Rail Link, Light Rail, and (in the shorter term) building the Midtown Bus Corridor. At the heart of the Midtown Bus Corridor is a “bus boulevard” on Wellesley St, including the removal of general traffic between Albert and Mayoral Drive.

CEWT Wellesley St – Albert to Mayoral Drive Section

I was thinking, however, why do we need to wait for the much needed fancy upgrade of Wellesley St to deliver parts of the future bus boulevard? Why can’t we deliver the most important parts quickly with some tactical urbanism? We can look overseas to see some options here, with the most obvious recent candidate being the hugely successful King St Pilot in Toronto, of which many great articles can be found in this Sunday Reading post.

For those who don’t know, the King St Pilot was a small tactical urbanism project which with a few small changes for around $1.5 million, created a corridor that gave priority to streetcars and limited through traffic between Bathurst Street and Jarvis Street which is the busiest surface transit route in the city.

CBC has reported the huge success of the pilot with

A 16 percent overall increase in ridership on King streetcars.

A travel time improvement of four to five minutes during the evening commute in both directions.

Travel times for cars on most downtown streets since the pilot started have, on average, increased by less than a minute.

King St Pilot

The King Street pilot shows us we don’t have to wait for the CRL works or funding to deliver great transit, we can start right now. We could deliver the Wellesley St Bus Boulevard with a couple of signs, some paint, and bus lane cameras.

By prohibiting general traffic on Wellesley St between Albert Street and Mayoral Drive, while banning turns off Queen into Wellesley St, this would give us the Wellesley Street Bus Pilot where for little cost we can create a fantastic midtown bus corridor in the interim until the full street upgrade can be delivered.

King St Pilot

Put simply, we simply can’t wait for years to make bus improvements in the city centre. We are at crisis point now and need to do something in the very near future to keep the buses moving.

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  1. +1, I really don’t understand why this hasn’t happened yet. It would be better for traffic on Queen Street, better for buses on Wellesley and Queen Streets, and better for pedestrians. Who loses?

    1. Possibly the CRL LTD folks who are worried about their congestion conditions of consent for the construction. And of course they are now an entity independent even of the already rather independent Auckland Transport, so good luck getting the agreement of this almost un-controlled entity.

      1. Possibly, but congestion could reduce through traffic evaporation and improved transport choice. Alternatively, if it gets worse to the point of affecting the congestion conditions of consent, they could always be waived.

  2. And while you’re at it… keep those bus lanes going all the way along Wellesley and beyond!
    Include a dedicated bus lane turning left from Halsey onto Fanshawe; it would save thousands of evening commuters the grid lock they are currently mired in.

  3. Yup. Anything to get the buses moving faster through there so sitting at the bus stop doesn’t mean you’re lining your lungs with diesel.

  4. Since a city (Toronto) similar in size and multicultural nature to Auckland, has already done this, done it recently and the success is well documented, Auckland has no reason at all not to do this. Lets do this and do this well before end 2018.

    1. Toronto has a metro population of 5.9 million so not really comparable. I agree though, there is no reason for this not to happen even with our smaller population.

  5. Yes. Wasn’t getting traffic away from the Queen Street valley a reason why Mayoral Drive was built in the first place? And from that picture it doesn’t look like there’s a lot of cars getting through anyway.

    Maybe after this is fixed the 881 can go via Wellesley Street.

  6. My bus ride home is now at least ten minutes longer as the Rapid 18 has been diverted from Pitt – Albert to Queen – Wellesley, and I have not witnessed the extremes of the sausage, so I imagine that for some it is far worse. If you are driving in that area, you are lost, as there is nowhere to park and you have missed the parking buildings. Can’t we make it easier for these lost drivers and just prohibit them from precious bus space? AT needs to be looking for these easy to implement, low cost alleviation measures, as they plan in Federal Street; as lower cost attracts less opposition, and I can’t imagine anyone really enjoys being stuck in their little car behind a dozen buses anyway. PT deserves priority. This is a baby step but baby steps are important.

  7. So, force the buses – and the cars – to use the Mayoral Drive route between Wellesley and Albert? Seems such a simple, obvious answer, I wonder why they haven’t done it already. After all, as Roeland says, that’s the whole reason the Mayoral Drive was put in in the first place. Presumably, judging by the name, ordered into existence by the then Mayor?

    1. I’d love to see a consideration for Cook street being made bus only and hooking into midtown. Proper links needed back to wynyard and britomart though, obviously

  8. Have any details been provided of the bus priority proposed on Grafton Rd and through Grafton gully as part of the “compromise solition”? It will be critical to get good priority through here as Grafton Rd snarls up badly.

  9. Here’s my experience of the snake a couple of weeks ago. I recorded the times as I sensed from the line of buses that this was going to be something special.
    board bus at 1647
    leave the bus stop 1702 (yes 15 mins sitting at the bloody bus stop
    at 1708 reach the first intersection (travelled 50m)
    at 1712 reach the start of Victoria Park
    at 1721 reach Fanshawe St (another 300m)
    Total time to Takapuna about 58 mins.

    Is this a RTN route? If it is, it feels like rooted, troublesome and nasty.

    I emailed AT but what could they say? Well they said nothing and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed because that’s what I expect from AT -nothing.

  10. The traffic jams of buses are largely caused by our system of buses from what I have experienced. They have priority lanes in the CBD as it is and it is still a cluster and it is not common in my observations for people to cheat the system (although not always). Thing is this is exactly what you get with the most base form of PT, the system of 39 and a bit seater buses with a driver each all starting their route in deepest confines of a major city’s CBD, ducking and diving out of stops every 200 metres.

    Buses are horrible in this environment and you are so right, the lung fulls of diesel fumes and noise these things pump out is revolting, especially after they start aging and especially when their cash strapped providers cut expenses to the bone maintaining them. And what does it cost to maintain these things and how much subsidy goes down the toilet in doing so never providing a single seat?

    What we should be demanding, non negotiable, is a rapid regular surface transit system utilising transfers, powered by electricity, not good ol’ buses and we Aucklanders have got to get past humbly accepting the bare minimum crumbs AT throw to us. We now have a government and a council aligned with PT for the first time in a long time so get on with light rail (LR).

    To me LR clearing the CBD to satellite hubs/transfer stations like Vic Park, Newmarket, K Rd, or somewhere near is what is needed

    But by banning ordinary traffic makes if fairly difficult for people to do business inside business hours in the CBD where a lot of business is located. And by and large our bus system caters for workers going to and from work (Peak) and not so much in between. It is not productive to have staff tootling off on a bus for hours on end to connect with businesses in the CBD.

    We really need to aim higher. Bus lanes and buses are band aid to a real PT system.

    1. I doubt there are many people driving between businesses in the CBD compared with the number that would just go on foot. Even if they do drive there are other streets for them to use.

      Also why would surface LR allow cars on Wellesley St but a bus solution wouldn’t.

      1. You can massively up the capacity with street cars that run on straight lines mid road that do not have to pull out into traffic, thereby taking up two lanes potentially per side of the road. Buses are bloody hopeless, I know, I use them.

        And try lumping numerous items into a meeting trekking across greater Auckland to do so. It doesn’t work! And that also presupposes that everyone is able bodied, which of course they are not. Ban other traffic equals banning the majority over 60 from the CBD.

        1. Banning private vehicles from Wellesley St between Mayoral Drive and Albert St does not ‘effectively ban the majority over 60 from the CBD’, how on the earth did you get to that conclusion?

          There is quite literally a bypass route for this section called Mayoral Drive!

        2. It doesn’t change the problem, which is buses which was the aim of my comments. These giant carbon emitting cars will still jam up. And to you taking a block of streets, in essence, out of the CBD matters not but for the not so able its huge.

          And lets be honest, is everyone not baying for the city to be closed to anything but buses so this supremely compromised form of PT somehow works? Talk about a square peg in a round hole. I read one comment mentioning Grafton Road should have bus lanes, a road I use frequently that does not have enough room for buses and any other traffic. How would that ever work for people using the hospitals?

          Buses are not the solution nor is trying to tailor the CBD streets for them either.

        3. ‘And to you taking a block of streets, in essence, out of the CBD matters not but for the not so able its huge.’

          I take it you are against Queen St being pedestrianised or any other pedestrianised areas in the world? I don’t know a lot about being less able but I would have thought a motorised wheelchair user or a mobility scooter user would prefer an environment with less cars around.

        4. Jezza, its about buses and whether they work in the CBD which I believe they do not, not unless sub optimal outcomes will have to do. Have a really decent system of PT and you do not have to close the CBD down to all other forms of transport. Have buses, especially the way they are structured now and you will and they still won’t work because they will be tripping each other whilst they go about their individual routes in city streets.

        5. I generally agree we have too many buses in the CBD but I think your arguments for freeing up the space to be used for private vehicles are spurious. The same confined space that counts against buses also makes it crazy to give priority to a relatively small number of private cars.

          Even in a perfect world scenario where PT was funded much better than it is it would take years to replace all of the core bus routes that run into the CBD with light rail. We would still need to plan for a significant number of buses in the interim.

        6. Which city in the world doesn’t have stacks of buses (or streetcars) in the city centre?

          Seriously, London, Paris, New York, Berlin, Tokyo, Seoul etc etc all filled with buses.

        7. “. I read one comment mentioning Grafton Road should have bus lanes, a road I use frequently that does not have enough room for buses and any other traffic.”

          Grafton Road has enough width for four lanes the whole way from Park Road to Wellesley. Incidentally, this is also the part where buses will be running.

        8. Older people drive less, not more. They also walk more. Catering to our ageing population means more PT and active mode infrastructure. Have a read of NZTA’s 2015 report no 575 about our ageing population and their needs.

          I’m with you about buses. I like the idea of hubs on the fringe of the cbd with LR within the CBD to reach it. But drop the “businesses need cars in the cbd” thing – honestly, that mindset has already gone, and catering to a few dinosaurs of mindset on that will wreck the whole place. What we need is easy, safe pedestrian amenity, more rain shelter, more places to put a few boxes of equipment, more frequency, more direct routes, more priority for PT. And probably more grandma trolleys or an upbeat version.

          Instead of focusing on less able-bodied people you think will be cut out from PT, make their access better, and focus on the many people who can’t drive and currently are disadvantaged.

        9. As above, we have buggered around with buses since the trams were withdrawn in the mid 50’s. They are holding us back and trying to fix a terminally broken form of PT is insane. They do NOT suit the CBD. How many 10 litre diesel motors can the human body take?

          As per my other comments, if we are all willing to accept that the best Auckland can do is buses and then why are surprised when the shitty system doesn’t work? In fact it implodes on its own shortcomings!

          The same failed logic suggest taking it to the next level of banning all other traffic to make it work, which it will not.

          And I promise, as much as I hate having to go to the CBD, I have to for business at times. That is why all the high rises are there!

        10. Waspman what is it about buses that doesn’t work exactly? The issues identified in the post are about the corridor not the vehicle type.

        11. It says “bus” corridor. Also mentioned is the “bus sausage” which says its all about buses. The word bus or buses is mentioned 18 times in this piece, not counting comments.

          And the very last sentence talks about “keep the buses moving”, which is the point of this I think.

        12. Sure. The point I was trying to make is that the identified issues with buses on Wellesley St relate primarily to the corridor quality rather than the vehicle type. A different vehicle type would not fix these issues.

        13. Buses have failed even though they deliver more than 40% of all visitors to the CBD?

  11. Many comments here on the noise and stench of diesel buses. Standing by the lights at the stop in Symonds st just before Grafton bridge with about a dozen buses idling is almost unbearable. We almost retained our electric buses in 1981 and indeed had already purchased new buses and had started installing the new style of overhead which reduced some of the problems associated with buses vs overhead powered trams. The decision at the time seemed especially odd as we were in a fuel shock which had dramatically increased the cost of diesel. Trials of battery powered buses in Auckland seem to have gone nowhere and it seems unlikely that with the cutthroat contract process the additional cost will be worn by the private operators. The Wellington network recently trashed was a compromise. Much of the overhead was a mix of old and new which still had the inherent trolley bus problems. They had also skimped on the rectifying infrastructure and so the buses did not have the performance they should have. The hybrid solution they now have will see diesel in use most of the time on hilly routes. Perhaps a way to fix this in Auckland would be to subsidize electric buses on the main routes or introduce trolleys again on the longer common shared main routes until lrt can be rolled out. Priority given to services in the CBD. Modern buses can run for some distance off the overhead which ignoring the fact we used to have passing sections in the overhead reduces the problem of breakdowns or buses at stops leading to queues which is always the main argument used against them. Even with hybrid and battery solutions the more likely option moving forward, unless we start now we will have diesels for some time to come.

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