The new bus network on the isthmus rolled out on Sunday and many people have been finding the changes positive. It follows on the heels of the roll outs in the South, West and East of the city, all of which have so far proven successful at increasing the number of people using PT. We expect we’ll see similar positive results from the Isthmus network and in the future the North Shore network too.

But while the buses have improved for many, it’s inevitable that the change will result in some people getting a worse PT experience, or at least a different one. Where previously they may have been able to catch a single, possibly infrequent, bus to their destination, now they might need to transfer. Those people will also tend to be much louder than those benefiting from better coverage.

Transferring does introduce more uncertainty, but it also opens up greater opportunities for travel. When it works well it can be just as good, if not better than direct buses – as our friend Jolisa experienced and tweeted about the other day.

I’ve copied the text of the rest of the tweets below, follow the links to see accompanying pictures if you want

First bus of the new two-bus tango: the Route 66, which runs every quarter hour, a straight shot down to the Pt Chev shops. Boarded @ 5.32 (slightly late), did the run in approx seven parsecs, sorry, minutes.
Then a gallop through the town square (creating a new desire line through the planting next to the bus stop) with a minute to spare to catch the #18. (Not a double decker, alas.)
Also not a fan of this desolate-feeling bus stop tbh, even with frequent buses. This will be the sketchiest part of my return trip, despite alighting in the warm glow of the KFC: I have to cross the town square to another more desolate bus stop.
Rattling along the Great North Road ridge and K Rd at an efficient clip. Nearly at my destination. This bit is good!
And stepping off the bus at 5.56. Journey time 24 minutes, if you make the transfer, which involves a bit of a trit trot. Satisfactory so far. Homeward leg, later!
Homeward bound from K Road. It’s true what they say about buses: you wait ten minutes and then three turn up at once! I hop on the 132 (even tho the one behind it is a double decker). K Rd to Pt Chev shops: 8 minutes.
Running the gauntlet: first, Auckland’s slowest pedestrian crossing; then the empty town square, then the motorway intersection with aaaalll the slip lanes; then the desolate bus stop.
My reward: the 66 arrives just as I do! It’s mine, all mine, and gets me home before I can even finish typing this tweet. Total travel time: 18 minutes door to door, K Rd to Coyle Park. What the hey!
In conclusion: if your timing is good and/or you’re a brisk walker, this new frequency lark is just the ticket. But I wouldn’t fancy sitting at the bus stop for 14 minutes; luckily I didn’t have to, this time. Also: safe and convenient pIedestrian crossings will be essential.
Caveat: the buses were great, but the dark scary lonely parts are dark, scary, and lonely. Possibly more actively dangerous – but fixable by AT: the tedious beg button crossing (after two minutes waiting, the temptation to jaywalk is strong!) and the ‘orrible slip lanes.

Frequency is key to having transfers work well but as Jolisa highlights, that’s not the only part of PT experience that needs to work well. We also need to ensure that transferring is comfortable, easy and safe. On that score, AT doesn’t come out so well.

That brings us to the 2013 Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP). The RPTP lays out how PT will work and what services will run and the 2013 version was the first to officially introduce the new network. The document also talks of the need implement accompanying infrastructure to support the network.

Table 8-2 also shows the delivery date by which the infrastructure project needs to be operational to align with the planned staging of proposed service changes. The table does not purport to be fully comprehensive but does cover all public transport modes, and includes Park-and-Ride

The projects are broken down into the three categories below

  1. ‘Essential’ means required in advance in order to run the proposed services or the project significantly enhances patronage growth
  2. ‘Highly desirable’ means crucial projects to maximise the benefits of the proposed services in terms of patronage growth and/or enhanced connection environment between services
  3. ‘Desirable’ means useful projects that complement the proposed services, eg by improving customer experience.

Here’s the table for the central network along with some of the expected costs at the time. Some projects, such as Newton Interchange, simply don’t exist anymore, but most do and despite many being ‘highly desirable’ and not that costly, it seems no progress has been made.

The combined cost of the cluster of town centres listed from Blockhouse Bay to Glen Innes amount to just over $16 million – although that’s likely to have changed. Getting them rolled out would help to make a difference in how the network is perceived.

We even have an example of what some of the important suburban interchanges may look like as a result of the bus shelter trial a few years back. We’ve seen the small and medium versions but not the large neighborhood ones. The image below is of Balmoral and is a far cry from the usual windswept bus shelter on most roads.

Improving the infrastructure surrounding key transfer points won’t solve everything but will go some way to improving the experience for customers. That these haven’t been implemented and, as far as I’m aware, there’s no current plan to do so, brings into question ATs commitment to improving PT outcomes.

This questioning is compounded by AT dropping the infrastructure segment from the 2015 version of the RPTP.

For those interested, here are what they say was needed for the South, East and West.

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  1. Evidently something that AT has no intention of funding; they’ve got roads to build and traffic flow to maintain. It seems to be a list of things AT believe the local boards should fund. Plus ça change, c’est la même chose!

  2. My experience is much like Jolisa’s – the service connections appear to work well, but getting from bus to bus or train to bus involves lots of inconvenient road crossings and poor footpath environments.

    This is core stuff AT controls and can do something about pretty rapidly – and it’s central to the New Network being based on interchanging.

  3. That bus shelter in Balmoral – is that a real photo or a render? Doesn’t quite look like it is a real thing – and hoping it’s not – its a very confused and expensive piece of design. Seems to be at least 3 or maybe 4 different shelter designs all mashed into one long conglomerate – a largely incoherent design I reckon.

    Six timber posts concreted into the ground at the back – at least a dozen steel posts at the front?
    No gutter on that lightweight roof? It rains five times a day in Auckland – and all that is going to be dribbling down the back – no, down the front of the ticket machine?
    All that hardwood timber strip cladding – just asking for vandalism in a big way.

    Whoever the design team was – nice try, but no. Totally out of touch with reality on the streets.

      1. A nasty render that is distorted to look like a photo from a wide angle lens. But it ends up looking like some fool is planning to put a bus stop on the inside of a bend.

        1. Sorry I am wrong. That render does show a curve and someone is silly enough to put a bus stop on the inside of a corner.

        2. I assume the idea is that this is a transfer point between services intersecting here?
          The whole structure is unnecessarily fiddly and complicated however.

  4. “That these haven’t been implemented and, as far as I’m aware, there’s no current plan to do so, brings into question ATs commitment to improving PT outcomes.”

    How many times do I read comments like this in the course of a week? AT’s track record is appalling in terms of good public transport outcomes and as you say calls into question why they even bother to have the lofty ideals that they aspire to in the statements of intent?

    Part of the problem seems to be that they fixate on big noticeable issues, but that often have small impact. Park n rides are such an example where a hell of a lot of money is spent for the benefit of a very few. The spending on the last one opened and the next would have been enough to do all the projects that you have spoken of for the benefit of tens of thousands of commuters.

    The big question is will AT ever change? Thankfully their poor outcomes are being noticed more and more. I note that the Minister for Climate Change has stated publicly that he is concerned that Auckland car emissions have grown 24% in the last few years, during the same period that their target was to reduce it by 10%. I am amazed (well no I am no longer amazed because AT repeat this behaviour over and over) that with the organisation failing to meet major targets year after year that they continue to do the same thing over and over.

  5. It looks like a lot of this low cost, good stuff has got lost in the new RLTP, with the PT focus on big shiny RTN development. AT need to remember that the there is a huge amount of patronage potential on the FTN and supporting bus network that needs a whole lot of little things fixing to make it work really well. The bus stop arrangements in Pt Chev are a truly great example of where the connection experience is absolutely awful.

    1. I completely agree…

      riddle : when is a connection not a connection ?

      A: When it involves a 200 metre walk and crossing 2 major roads to stand shivering in a shelter for 10 minutes because the busses don’t actually “connect” at all 🙁

  6. On paper the “connections” look ok…in reality, in Auckland’s weather, walking a couple of hundred metres and having to cross two main roads, then waiting in a “shelter” which is open to the weather, is hardly an “enhancement”

    1. People complain about shelters open to the weather. Do you remember old-school shelters which were enclosed? They were smelly and uncomfortable, and not only because of the desperate or gross having used them as a urinal at some stage.

  7. Bus Tracker doesn’t appear to have been updated with new routes and bus numbers which is very frustrating. I would have thought that would have been a simple project deliverable?

    1. You may need to update the app – seems to fix this most times. Not convinced it needs to be this way, but maybe tech reasons why?

  8. Here’s my experience. Going to St. Lukes from the North Shore the 20 looks like a good option, just get off the NEX at Air New Zealand and and nip round the corner to Beaumont St. First problem: the NEX doesn’t stop at Air NZ now so I had to backtrack. On Beaumont St I nearly walked straight past the stop which is hidden behind a motorway sign. It started pouring with rain; no shelter, of course, but fortunately there was a bit of a shop awning that I huddled under. Meanwhile a massive puddle built up on the road that washed over the footpath every time a truck came past. Eventually a bus turned up with Special showing on the destination board. The driver opened the door and yelled “St Lukes?”. That was repeated at every stop where anyone was waiting. Eventually an old lady and her grandson got on, they were the only other passengers. As I was waiting to get off I had a diatribe from the driver about what a useless route it was.

    I am not impressed.

    1. I used it on Monday night from corner of Ponsonby/Great Nth to St Lukes. I would’ve had to walk all the way to Symond St overbridge the week before. Not entirely useless.

  9. Regarding the new bus system, it highlights a need that I think a new app could address. Not sure if it belongs within an existing app, or should be stand alone. When I am on a bus, and I am going to transfer to another bus, I would like to know if the services are operating to time and that I will make my connection. Set aside the USDOT work to hold up the bus that I am connecting to until I arrive, that only matters if there is not a frequent service. But my requirement is to know if I am going to arrive on time for my work or my meeting, or to easily know the delay and let my people know what is happening. So the new app would show me which bus I am on, and allow me to specify the bus that I want to catch, and to be able to see both (or several if I have choices) as they approach transfer points. And yes, it would be really good if I could signal the bus that I am right behind and tell that driver that I want to transfer from my bus to his.

    1. What would also be really good is the information display I saw recently inside buses in Stockholm. Not only does the display advise what the next three stops will be, but for the immediate next stop it also lists the connecting bus routes, destinations, and how many minutes away each is. – ie pretty much the same information that’s available at bus stops here in Auckland, but put onto a display inside each bus for the next stop. So impressive!

      1. I remember how annoying it was when buses stopped having numbers on the back, so you could no longer tell if the bus just pulling away was the one you wanted or not. Or if it was worth busting your guts in the hope of getting to it while some hopefully cash-paying customer was holding the bus driver up.

        1. Yes, seeing the number on the back (and even destination) is really handy. Sometimes panic sets in and it turns out it’s a NIS bus.

        2. Yes, and sometimes, you have to keep going to the stop, which can easily take a minute at traffic lights, and waiting there in hope, whereas if you knew you’d missed it, you’d start walking to option B, which might be just a different stop, with a bus about to arrive, or it might be a good walk away.

        3. Well good news seems to be the new buses have not only bigger displays but also ones on he side and back with the main destination & other key points along the way.

    2. Used to be an app called Buswise, stopped working in the last year or so. It showed you _all_ buses on a realtime map; with very little effort/experience you could not only understand which ones were heading towards a viable connection but also what route choices you might have in central areas (“do I walk 5 minutes in this direction for Route A, or that direction for 10 minutes for Route B?”)

      AT would do well to add this functionality to their app. From a user experience point of view it was far superior to their clunky app.

      1. Yes that app was fun to watch too. With AT Mobile & Kiwi Hub apps if you exit the screen you can’t track a bus you are on currently, or after the stop you are tracking from, has past the stop (& scheduled time?). This is handy to know see where a stop is coming up to know when to push the buzzer if not familiar with the route or area. You have to awkwardly put in a stop ahead if you perhaps the end point you are getting off on and track it from there. All this is tricky while you miss looking out at the view or conversation with travel companions or others etc. You look up and wonder where you have been while head buried in your phone. If you could select a scheduled bus prior to the current time this could be done a lot easier. I’ve given help from afar for my kids while tracking buses real time when plan A fails or they are lost, lol.

  10. AT is definitely not doing enough. They’ve designed a network, that’s definitely an improvement over the old one, but forgot that getting two lines to intersect is not enough. That particular transfer (from 132 to 66) in Pt Chev includes a 200m walk, across the village centre, slip lane and traffic lights with very long phases. It might be fine for good weather, but try making than transfer in heavy rain.

    There are a lot of transfers like that now. Around Victoria Park onto/from Shore buses. Around the CBD its pretty much always a length walk to transfer. I realise it might get better once CRL it built, but that’s years away.

    Similarly – for the NN in West Auckland – not a single interchange has been built. Westgate is an absolute abomination. Lack of interchanges at Te Atatu and Lincoln/Triangle means that there isn’t really a network, as you can’t really transfer. Going from Te Atatu Peninsula to Westgate means changing at Henderson or Pt Chev (all services at infrequent 30min intervals). I realise that Light Rail might get build there one day, but for it feels like AT simply doesn’t care about any details, and poor implementation means that NN doesn’t really improve anything.

  11. Good post Matt and very timely. I published an article recently about placing priority on empathy and convenience in transport service design. The article is here:

    How a person feels and responds to a PT service at the point of embarkation / disembarkation, is as important as the experience inside the vehicle during the journey, the quality of the timetabling and the route design.

    Auckland needs to up its game, not just in regard to providing more shelter at bus stops but to providing route and network information at every stop that is legible to all, intuitive to all and reassuring to all. Real bus (and train) service patronage growth comes from attention to such ‘detail’ at all embarkation and disembarkation points. Providing more services at greater frequencies and for longer daily service availability without this ‘detail’, wont achieve sustainable patronage growth – it is not enough to get people out of their cars and onto public transport, even with increases in petrol price.

    As for saying there is not enough money to add such ‘detail’, there is. Its called non-farebox revenue and its been a key source of service capex and opex funding for transport service operators/agencies in North Asia since 1980, even in cities with a similar population and geography to Auckland. When done well (Auckland’s sister city Fukuoka is a great example), non-farebox revenue creates the ‘stickiness’ transport service providers need to keep existing service users happy and continually attract new users to the network.

  12. AT and its predecessors have always treated the vehicle as the base unit of design, not the person – so they are useless at handling pedestrian connections to PT nodes. Changing that requires deliberate effort from leaders, and hiring and contracting people and organisations with the right mindset.

  13. Good timing this post. Certainly starting the main new network in the middle of bleak cold winter highlight some of these issues more & wasn’t the best timing for users trying things out. Wouldn’t of wanted to delay it anymore though. All the other new networks started in spring or summer if I recall correctly.

    I’ve tried a number of routes, especially yesterday and one that needs some safety attention is the back of Ellerslie on Kalmia St. If you want to cross the road there going north from bus to train you have to do so near or on a fairly wide sweeping corner. I crossed with my daughter and nearly got my feet run over, somehow I started walking too soon & or the car really came unexpectedly in close. This is in the school holidays, once the local school is open again, is going to be lots of fun. Not sure if you would put a crossing in there with the limited corner visibility or perhaps just need the corner made narrower & a lower speed limit.

    The other one is Sylvia Park. The bus waiting areas are quite dimly lit, need lights inside the shelters or all around more lighting. All the new display timetable, boards with maps etc could hardly been seen – would need a phone light on them or something to read them properly.

    A family member missed her bus in the morning dark from another minor stop – driver didn’t see them it seems…..she was wearing black – which didn’t help I guess! This is someone who has had their perfect old route in terms of timing, journey length & direction taken from them so they were not impressed.

    On the good news we have noticed a new bus stop marked to go in opposite our new one, so is actually a proper pair! The new route running down our road is great, the buses are quieter than I expected as they are new GoBus ones. Seems the body count in them not too bad for holidays and only day four. Some of the disused shelters never had (or someone took them away?) notices to say they won’t be used anymore except for school routes – could cause confusion…all these things I will communicate to AT directly.

    Another good thing is options when something goes wrong, missed a connection yesterday while helping someone else & confusing myself with the times for me going the opposite way (plus didn’t realise the bus I was just on was actually a bit late probably because the route has been changed from the documentation & planners so far). Just had to wait a few mins for a two bus alternative with slight walk at the end. Previously I would of been stuffed.

    Observe quite a few confused and lost travellers & such, bus drivers sometimes helpful, sometimes not, but all teething problems I’m sure.

  14. It is clearly the people who made the decisions are not regular pt users.

    The senior management should be kick out from their company cars and remove their allocated carparks.
    Instead offer them an concession AT HOP card and a electric bike instead.

  15. Regarding the pedestrian signal Jolisa notes is ‘Auckland’s slowest pedestrian crossing’, this is a crossing where the neighbouring retailers have seen many people hit crossing because the delay is unacceptably long. It can’t be nice working there when you’ve personally seen two children thrown across the road.

    Our placemaking group has managed to get AT to import new hardware to allow this crossing to be separated from the car-is-king, kill-you-on-the-slip-lane main intersection nearby. However, they have chosen to do so only at certain times of day. The reason given is to reduce delays to buses. [The reduced delays to cars presumably being just a bonus].

    My questions are:
    -why isn’t the hardware available in NZ, given that actually 100’s of pedestrian crossings probably need it?
    -this crossing is a connection between frequent bus routes; why aren’t those connecting passengers given priority at the crossing?
    -AT’s supposed to be improving safety; why does it take so long to filter through to decisions like this?

  16. Regarding the “much louder” link to Brittany Keogh’s grump about her particular route being more difficult: Brittany might do better putting her energy as a journalist into writing about why there’s not enough density in the inner west to support all the services she might want.

    As it is, she can still manage different options, such as the one she shows, or using the frequent 66 connecting to the frequent 18, with a 380m walk. That’s shorter than the pedestrian connections between routes at many intersections. It’s better than could be expected in a NIMBY suburb. If the inner west wasn’t trying so hard to stop intensifying, there would be passenger numbers enough for frequent routes along both Great North Rd (as there are) and along Williamson Ave (as she would like).

    Fact is, from her home there are now fantastic connections to the whole city, with the frequent 66 and outer link routes, that intersect with almost every other route the city has to offer. Little bit of a wider viewpoint please, Brittany. AT doesn’t have to provide door to door service.

    1. Correct Heidi. No one is entitled to a one-seat ride. Everyone transfers overseas and have done so for years. The networks there are efficient so that transfers are never a pain – they are no more than a simple hop off, brief walk, then hop on again. PT is not just for commuting only. Its there for weekend journeys. Just ask Asia, Europe and South America. Any transport agencies out there still hunting for the greater white commuter, need to check what year they’re living in.

      1. There is nothing wrong with transfers. But we cannot make the assumption that because it works overseas it works in Auckland. The reason it works overseas is that its convenient. That whoever has designed it realised what a connection meant.

        In Auckland a connection means that we have to jump off a bus and wait for another. In most other countries the other bus is already there. in Auckland the busstops (when existing) often lacks space for half the people waiting (peak hour). In Auckland, the change adds substantial time to the journey while overseas it tends to be fairly time neutral.

        To me this is why those at Auckland transport who designs the new network, while their routes, the frequency is generally ok dont understand the basics of being a PT traveler. The network is just one part of the experience.

        The most glaring example of what not to do is Westgate. Id love for anyone to visit the Westgate interchange station and after this come back and tell me that the new NW network is a success. Id also like to see the data of the new routes constructed to feed into Westgate (and Westgate is really important with its expectation to be one of the main towncentres we build Auckland around). I have a very strong suspicion that they are no success at all, to the contrary id say they have cost a lot of money and arent seeing patronage. After all whod like to be dropped off at anytime where the new Westgate busstation is? Its dark, feels unsafe, lacks any amenities, the buses dont always connect and above all its in the middle of nowhere. Yet someone who sits on a desk somewhere thought it would be a good idea. I suspect that someone has never caught a bus in and around Westgate…

        1. I’ve had the privilege of working alongside / interacting with the AT bus network planning team (designers of the New Network for Auckland) since 2013 – they understand deeply what service connections mean and how its done overseas. They have done an outstanding job in ushering 21st century PT service design into Auckland but they have no responsibility for, nor control over, infrastructure build and infrastructure delivery (bus stops, interchange points etc)…that power is in the hands of at least 3 other teams inside the wider AT. Bus network planning have no responsibility for rail service frequency and timetabling, yet they are the only team inside AT that truly understand bus, rail and ferry service integration.

          Why the AT bus network planning team isnt converted into being AT’s integrated network planning team, I just dont understand. Their knowledge, experience and capability in customer engagement, customer experience and PT service operational as well as strategic planning is real-world and its impressive. They live and breathe daily, customer empathy and customer convenience.

          Don’t (ever) beat up thus on the New Network designers – the AT Bus Network Planning Team. The service usage issues that are being raised here are not their fault and they are not in a position inside AT to do anything much about them. That is the sad fact and is something that really must change inside AT, otherwise the organisation will continue to be disliked and distrusted by many.

          Lastly, I totally agree with you about Westgate. It really is substandard out there and its an interchange about which nothing has been done for a very long time now.

          Customer empathy and customer convenience starts with getting the basics right and in transport services, that means:

          1. decent shelter at bus stops and train stations
          2. physical wayfinding signage that is consistently easy to understand and legible to all
          3. services that are truly reliable on a network that is disruption-resilient.

          AT continues to customer experience-fail in these three crucial areas and these are areas of service you simply cannot solve via an app.

        2. I’m tired of having the PR side of AT still try to deny silo issues in their organisation when what you have described is utterly believable, being identical to mismatches between other teams in AT that I’ve experienced. I’d add:

          4. bus stops at intersections instead of 100 to 400 m away.
          5. traffic signal priority at intersections for pedestrians and for buses.

  17. Heidi, you and others get yourselves along to the Auckland Central Library 17:30 on 18 July to hear Anthony Cross – head of the AT (Metro) Network Development (formerly Bus Network Planning), speak on the New Network. Anthony spearheaded the NN’s development and heads up the wonderful team of thinkers and doers I’ve described above.

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