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:
The City Link is relatively fine in the medium term, however, it will be superseded by Light Rail given the election of the new government.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.
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
- Sitting at a stop for ages because the bus is so ahead of timetable.
- Driver changes mid-service rather than when route competed;
- 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.
So, in summary, the current nature of the Inner Link is:
- Poor for drivers;
- Poor for passengers;
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.