This post continues my recent series on how we can make big improvements to bus journeys through relatively small changes.

  • In part one I looked at Khyber Pass and the need for us to be more flexible in providing better bus lanes.
  • In part two I looked at how better bus priority measures can help improve the quality of our town centres.
  • In part three I looked at Great South Road between Newmarket and Ellerslie

In this post I’m going to look at the Link Bus services that operate in Auckland and how we might improve them. These buses are some of the most well used in Auckland, so no mix of proposals for bus improvements across Auckland would be complete without having a look if they could be run even better. The three Link bus routes are shown in the map below:

City Link 

The City Link is relatively fine in the medium term, however, it will be superseded by Light Rail given the election of the new government. A discussion will need to happen over the role the City Link should play during the Light Rail construction.

In the interim, however, the City Link could be improved with full bus lanes (Due to short blocks this is hard to only do only at intersections) and looking into improvements ranging from at minimum restricting left turns off Queen St to keep the bus lanes clear for buses, to turning Queen Street into a transit mall before Light Rail. These changes would also benefit the Western Bus changes as part of the CRL works, as buses from Great North Road are now running inbound via Queen Street.

Inner Link

The Inner Link is the descendent of Auckland’s original Link Bus that was introduced in the late 1990s and remains very popular. However, the quality of service on this route is undermined by its very nature as 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 endpoint 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. Driver changes mid-service rather than when route competed;
  3. Serious bus bunching where 2 or 3 Inner 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 endpoint for buses to layover. The other day I had a driver panicking because he was waiting on the replacement driver to finish the loop at Victoria Park because he had an important appointment, this would not happen if true endpoints existed as the service would be laying over with no passengers.

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 also results in requiring more buses to run it properly which puts a dent in AT’s OPEX budget meaning less bus funding for areas that need it.

Inner Link

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

  1. Poor for drivers;
  2. Poor for passengers;
  3. Costs a lot due to inefficient taking money from other routes;

The reason the inner Link was able to build up so much patronage was because of its loop structure but in spite of it because it is so frequent and has good branding. Frequency is freedom and we have seen the patronage increases all-day frequency result in. This is why we have pushed so hard to have at minimum 7am-7pm, Monday-Sunday, 15m or higher train frequencies on the three main lines as well as pushing more important bus routes to be upgraded to frequent level of service.

The key issue with the Inner Link (other than the inefficient use of bus operational budget) is that loop structure causes issues that impact its own users. However, the overall route is sound as it links major inner city urban areas. With the CRL & Karangahape Road station, the Inner Link will gain even more importance as will link also Ponsonby to the rail network at Aotea and K Road stations.

So my proposal is we split the route into two routes:

  1. A Northern Crosstown route doing Ponsonby to Newmarket via Parnell. This service would be Crosstown 1 etc. or another option could be split the routes at the same time as Citylink finishes for Light Rail construction. The new route could use the built-up brand of Citylink.
  2. A Southern Crosstown route doing Ponsonby to Newmarket via K’ Road which would keep the Inner Link branding.

By splitting the route into two we can ensure the routes are much more reliable and efficient, while still retaining excellent connective across the inner city suburbs.

Outer Link

We have written many times such as here and here regarding the Outer Link, especially regarding our belief that the current route structure of the Outer Link is inherently flawed, delivering poor outcomes not only for the actual users but across the network as it sucks up operational budget due to its inefficient nature. This means other bus routes (specifically crosstown ones) have been cut back undermining the New Network.

Until the Central New Network goes live I am going to keep hitting the proposed Outer Link route. We don’t have to get rid of the Outer Link branding as it would be silly not to take advantage of the built-up branding. We just make it a more efficient route like it was as originally proposed in the New Network consultation.

Light Rail also offers another opportunity to take a refreshed look at the Outer Link as presumably, it would have to be removed from Dominion Road (between Balmoral & Valley Road), and the LRT needs much improved fast east-west connections across the city at Balmoral allowing easy access to locations such as St Lukes, Alexandra Park, Greenlane Hospital and Cornwall Park.

I have also heard that the Outer Link efficiency may be investigated next year.

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  1. Splitting it into proper crosstown is essential, but leaves a gap in getting from western K’rd/eastern ponsonby to Wynyard. The link is the only route for that at present (and it sucks).

    It HAS to change, the inner link is essential for lots of inner commuters and it’s just a complete waste of time.

    1. Imagine AT is smart and implements the Wellesley Street busway:

      Would it work if you’d catch one of the Great North Road buses, and then transfer onto a bus along Wellesley Street which terminates somewhere on Wynyard Quarter?

  2. Agree with everything above, New network will bring new frequency route for example the NX3, would repeat southern/western part of the inner link, (ponsonby, k’rd, newmarket), & why not extend 30, 70 or 75 via parnell, vic park, terminating at three lamps.

    I also think bus routes though CBD should be better arranged.

    Regarding the outerlink it no brains that it should be broken up.

    1. NX3 is peak service only, inner link is an all-day every-day bus service for local movements, so the NX3 is of limited use!

      In terms of inner city connectivity (post CRL/LRT) the Inner Link becomes less neccesary, but would be valuable for ex-city travel

    2. I don’t think there is a need for the “southern branch” of the Inner Link if a few tweaks are made to the NX3 timetable. Yes, at the minute, the NX3 is proposed to be business hours Mon-Fri only, but if this were extended to all-day every day service, the southern branch of the Inner Link could be dropped altogether.

      However, in order to provide a decent service for Ponsonby residents to the city, the northern branch of the Inner Link would need to be extended from Three Lamps to the Western Park/Vinegar Lane precinct, as otherwise passengers on that short journey would need to make a change at Three Lamps. So the Inner Link would be a “hook-shaped” route starting at around Western Park, down Ponsonby Road and then via Jervois Rd and Parnell Road to Newmarket as at present.

      My back-of-the-envelope calculation suggested that the savings of bus numbers on the Link route could be applied to the NX3 and that Mon-Fri at least there wouldn’t be much of a shortfall. Alternatively, the NX3 could operate just Akoranga or Smales to Newmarket, freeing up more buses – no need with frequent services to have all three of the NX1, NX2 and NX3 go all the way up to Albany or beyond.

      This would also have the advantage of providing a good option from South Auckland to the North Shore once the CRL is in place – take the train from (say) Papakura to K Road and then change to the NX3 for the rest of the trip to Albany. Probably easier than changing to the NX1 at Britomart (though possibly the NX2 at Aotea would be a better option).

  3. Seems to me that the easiest way to improve bus times is the ban bikes from bus lanes. They should never have been mixed in the first place.

      1. I see it all the time. I watched it happening this morning on Symonds St. A queue of stopped traffic in the right lane not blocking the bus and a numpty on a bike holding up 30 or so people on a bus with no way for the bus driver to pass. If you are right then why dont we let cyclists pedal down Dominion Rd in front of the proposed light rail. Hell why don’t we flatten between the rails on all of the railway lines and let twits on bikes hold up every commuter train. Perhaps you can explain why that isn’t acceptable but compromising the operation of bus lanes is.

        1. Let’s just go with ” They should never have been mixed in the first place.” and accept that he’ll come around to understanding who needs to be banned to get it to work for both buses and bikes.

        2. And your solution is…? If your sentence starts with “ban bikes” again, i’m going into sleep mode.

    1. Yes, every time I am stuck in a slow moving bus I look around and think “gee if only there were no bikes in the bus lane I’d be zooming home”. Honestly, what an absurd observation. Somewhat obviously, the things that hold up buses usually also have four wheels. The lack of bus lanes is usually what holds up buses.

  4. Whatever changes are made to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the routes, for the InnerLink and CityLink services in particular, the configuration of bus seating may also need to change.

    Amongst recommendations made to AT Metro in 2016 on improvements to CBD bus stop customer experience, was a recommendation to reconfigure seating on the CityLink and InnerLink buses – reorienting of seats between the front and rear doors. It was identified that the current Link bus seating config can have a negative impact on passenger boarding and alighting flow and this in turn can have an downward effect on service utilisation and route patronage.

    In 2017, a group of AUT 3rd year product design students undertook an 8-week project to present for consideration by AT Metro, designs for bus seating and seating accessories – products that would, across the entire Auckland network, improve bus customer experience and facilitate better passenger boarding / alighting flow, especially for passengers only going 2-4 stops on a route, including passengers with prams, children, luggage and shopping bags. Designs for use on circular and frequent service routes were included.

    From 28 Feb 2018, a group of AUT 3rd year product design students will once again spend 8 weeks designing for consideration by AT Metro, solutions to improve bus seating and seating configuration – products that can be used network-wide including the Link services.

    1. Hey Rob, is it possible for you to publicise the results of the design students’ work, perhaps in the form of guest posts?

      I’m sure lots of people would be keen to hear more about the concepts they came up with, I for one am 🙂

      1. +1, I have some very strong feelings about this, would be nice to see what others have come up with.

      2. +2 That would be really great to see. Particularly after having to intervene to stop a driver refusing entry to a mother because there was already one pushchair on board. I think we should be able to accommodate more than one pushchair on a bus!

  5. Simplest solution for the Inner Link: break the loop at Newmarket.
    It’s a natural service stop, out of the loop pattern, and is a major hub for bus and rail.
    There’s amenity for drivers and space to stack buses.

    1. Ding ding, we have a winner!. Yes. Split the Inner Link at Newmarket, keep the branding. No padding of the route. Under the viaduct? On that dead land owned by NZTA?

      And with Queen St pre-LR: Along with full buslanes the vital change is to remove Right Hand Turns, so the intersections have this very simple and efficient pattern:

      North-South (incl left turns)
      Barnes Dance
      East-West (incl left turns)
      Barnes Dance

  6. I agree that the links need to be split, but I disagree on the ends. If AT won’t change the inner link to a proper crosstiwn, then the Inner and outer chould be split into 3 routes.
    Wynyard to Newmarket via Three Lamps, Ponsonby, and K Road. (Inner Link)
    Pt Chev to Newmarket via Mt Albert, St Lukes, and Balmoral Road (Outer Link)
    Pt Chew to Newmarket via Three Lamps, Britomart, and Parnell (Cross Link)

    You would also tweak the routes to make them more direct:
    Remove the Outer Link deviation to Valley Road
    Take the Cross Link via Beaumont and Fanshawe instead of Victoria and remove the U-turn at Herne Bay

    Plus we need bus lanes 7-7 7 days on Ponsonby Road, and K Road ASAP

    1. Hmmm that will have a few people of Mount Eden rise up in revolt, just like the last time AT proposed that.

      I wonder if there’s room for another cross-town over there between Kingsland and Newmarket.

    2. Query re the Pt Chev to Newmarket via Mt Albert, St Lukes, and Balmoral Road (Outer Link):

      Can you make it work well with the 007? Currently the 007 and Outer Link fight against each other (I can go into detail about how having both makes it tricky for passengers at both St Lukes and Mt Eden.)

      I think it might be better to alter the 007 route slightly, bump up the 007 frequencies and drop this proposed Pt Chev to Newmarket route. The consequences would be Mt Albert and St Lukes not having a one-ride ticket route to Newmarket. But Mt Albert has the train, so that just leaves a two-ride trip for passengers from St Lukes to Newmarket, which should be OK given that both legs would be frequent.

      1. Agree about conflict and duplication between 007 & Outer Link. I’d bring back Crosstown #6 from the pre-consultation New Network, except run it from Kingsland across Bond St to Grey Lynn shops & terminating at Westmere. This would allow the #105 to be rerouted to St Lukes via Western Springs to connect with Crosstown 6 (which could probably be truncated). I’d also run Crosstown #6 through Newmarket instead of to Remuera. – suspect the save Outer Link opposition could’ve been averted had AT proposed this in the first place.

        1. Could the Crosstown #6 terminate at Pt Chevalier instead, after Westmere? Certainly agree something has to happen to the #105: that’s a bus you don’t want to hop on by mistake!

        2. +1. The draft new network was far better. Mine was sort of a thought experiment on what to do with the current mess if we only tweak the Link branded routes.

          Either way, the Inner Link needs to be cut into Wynyard to New Market via K Road.

    3. Sailor Boy, you’re forgetting that the Inner Link is the only route linking Ponsonby and the city now. If it terminates at Wynyard, the connection is taken away. It needs to continue to downtown at least.

        1. Inner link west to city from Ponsonby Rd is good (when it doesn’t stop at Vic Park), and needs to stay. The 105 takes goes the other way and serves the eastern end of P Rd (replacing the rambling 020).

          Each serve different catchments and both are required to connect this area with the city centre well. Which has not been the case since the trams were removed!

        2. By plan has the 105 going down Albert Street and the Inner Link going to Vic Park and Wynyard. Where on earth are you going that isn’t covered by those options?

  7. When traveling short distance within city, Inner and outer link is quite expensive. There should be a city zone that only cost 50c (or free) regardless which bus.

    Queen st definitely need no private cars and uses smart traffic lights that gives bus priority. This will boost city and inner link speed, which could double frequency with the same fleet.

  8. A great improvement to the city link would be to actually put some signage up when moving bus stops that passengers have been using for years.

    I went to catch the bus at the stop opposite 2 Daldy Street, and noticed the real time board had disappeared, and the red City Link sign was missing. There was no signage indicating where the stop had moved, and the city link pdf on the AT website still said there is a stop opposite 2 Daldy St. See

    We were walking around the corner and then the City Link turned up, so we flagged the red bus down. The driver stopped and let us on. When we asked where did the bus stop go, he said he hadn’t been told anything, but just found people had started lining up at one of the Fanshawe St stops closer to the AT office, so he used his initiative and started picking up there.

    I understand bus stops need to move sometimes, but AT needs to tell us where they move to. Why was this stop moved? Was it so the AT staff didn’t have to walk so far?

  9. All this discussion is about the Auckland Isthmus and area. Does anyone know that the North Shore exists and is very much part of Auckland? Yes, I know the Northern Busway is there, but this really is a rubber-wheeled and bitumen road train route. How about a discussion about improvements to North Shore public transport, including better use of ferries. Devonport ferries are reasonably frequent, but more use could be made to the other existing terminals, and investigate providing more. For example, I recall seeing a proposal a few years to provide a terminal and associated development in the lagoon behind Barry’s Point Road to service Takapuna. Every passenger on a ferry or train is one passenger not on the roads.Bus transport, and dare I say it, trams, cannot boast that claim, even with busways..

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