A recent newsletter from Auckland Transport highlighted that we missed an important anniversary. The Northern Busway turned 10 years old.
The busway was officially opened by then Prime Minister Helen Clark on 2 February 2008. It was built by Transit NZ (now NZTA) and at the time it cost about $210 million to build with another $84 million coming from the North Shore City Council for the stations. That now seems like pretty decent value compared to projects today, even when comparing similar projects, like it’s extension to Albany.
The Busway has been so enormously successful that it’s hard now to imagine public transport in Auckland without it. It not only moves a lot of people (more on that shortly), it has helped save billions of dollars on needing an additional road based harbour crossing, pushing the need for one back by decades. It has also become an example for other parts of Auckland, showing that Aucklanders will happily use public transport, even buses, when high quality options are provided.
It wasn’t always viewed this way though. Like some of our other big PT projects such as Britomart and rail electrification, more than once was labelled a white elephant. One of the biggest opponents to it was the Herald’s John Roughan with opinion pieces like this – although he now uses it as an example of why we shouldn’t build projects like Light Rail. The cartoon below appeared the day after the busway opened.
Now, over 5.3 million trips are taken along the busway every year and it continues to see double digit year on year growth. That’s in part because it is arguably Auckland’s only Rapid Transit route, given the poor off-peak frequencies on the rail network. At peak times, buses now travel along the busway every few minutes (in the peak direction) and even counter-peak services are running relatively frequently and are often quite full. As such, usage of the busway is actually starting to approach similar levels to the Southern and Eastern rail lines which each carry around 5.8 million trips. That’s not bad considering just 41% of the route from Albany to the city is actually on the busway proper.
Over the last decade, some of the key milestones have included:
- In March 2013 the Northern Express became the first in Auckland to get double deckers. Now, almost all NEX services are run using them and so do a number of 881 services.
- In 2012 the Albany park & ride was doubled to 1,100 spaces
- In October 2015 the NEX services were extended to Silverdale.
Initially, Auckland Transport and its predecessor ARTA only captured the usage on the Northern Express services but from mid-2015, that changed to reporting all trips on the busway.
Not all of the original plans for the busway were actually implemented. One big missing component was the initial plans for a busway station at Northcote Point at the old toll plaza between the bridge and Onewa Rd. That would have seen the full busway extended further south than Akoranga and allowed for a bus interchange with Onewa Rd buses. However, plans for the station were dropped after strong opposition from Northcote Point locals. I wonder if some of those locals reject that stance now?
Many also don’t realise is the busway was actually designed with the potential to carry high occupancy vehicles (like T2/3 lanes). You can see how they would have accessed the busway from how some of the stations have been designed and one of the more interesting is at the Constellation Busway station where there’s a short underpass leading from the carpark to the busway that has been chained off and never used. The inclusion of HOV features was to help get the original business case over the line. At the time many experts, the modelling, and business case evaluation processes didn’t believe enough people would use buses to justify it being bus only. But the busway has continued to exceed expectations and more recently Auckland Transport and the NZTA have said that introducing HOVs would have too many negative impacts on buses.
The busway has been a fantastic success so far and its future looks bright.
Later this year Auckland Transport’s New Network will roll out and see more services use the busway such as the NEX 2 & 3. Many other local buses interchange with busway stations to allow for easy transfers.
In two weeks time, the NZTA will start work on the Northern Corridor Improvements project which includes extending the busway from Constellation through to Albany. At the same time, Auckland Transport will be adding a new $70 million busway station at Rosedale Rd.
Longer term it’s likely that the continued growth in usage will see capacity constraints starting to create issues, particularly in the city. The strategic case for North Shore rapid transit found that by 2026, capacity constraints could start to have an impact in some locations and by 2036 most stations will have issues. That means likely in 10-15 years we’re going to need to upgrade the busway, likely to light rail. We believe this should ultimately be on a new bridge carrying just light rail and walking/cycling and the light rail should link into the route down Dominion Rd and to the airport.
Thanks to all of those who helped get the busway built.