This is a guest post from reader Heidi O’Callahan
One of my passions in transport is helping the younger generation venture forth independently into their city. Sometimes the ways we (and AT) can help them are obvious – smiling so they feel comfortable to ask questions, making sure there’s really good wayfinding information and safe crossing infrastructure, having a logical, intuitive network, training the drivers to treat young people as customers who are at least as important as others.
The Outer Link
The Outer Link was a step up in network connectivity, because it provided 15 minute frequency to parts of Auckland that had never experienced this before. It is also a great bus for people who don’t use the bus much – the “Link” brand and special colours is for routes that connect important locations for visitors from other parts of Auckland or outside Auckland, and the Outer Link does this well; if you like the simplicity of the colour branding, aren’t too concerned about how long it takes, and you’ve become used to its meandering route, it’s great.
However, the network has moved on now, to a higher level of connectivity, and the Outer Link does suffer with several downsides stemming from its “loop” nature. Some of these problems affect people who use the buses a lot and want efficiency, and some of them affect brand new users.
Here is a text exchange between a friend of mine and her young daughter, who was trying to get from Mt Albert to Ponsonby on the Outer Link. It was a journey she hadn’t taken before.
We all make mistakes. I remember in one city standing at a bus stop thinking I was holding a bus ticket in my hand. I’d bought it at a vending machine on the street, just like the guide books had described. Actually, it was a pay and display parking ticket, and it didn’t get me very far. But I digress…
Some of the problems my friend’s daughter experienced as a new user on the Outer Link were the very issues the New Network team were trying to solve by replacing the Outer Link with direct frequent services. For example:
- The shape of the route means that you are often facing opposite to where you want to go, so new users can quickly worry if they’ve taken the bus in the right direction. And sometimes they haven’t. The lack of logic in trying to go to Herne Bay by heading south along Dominion Rd, to Parnell by heading south along Mt Eden Rd, or to Ponsonby by heading southwest along New North Rd, can play havoc with decision-making, leading to new users sometimes discarding good advice.
- To keep to timetable, a loop requires much longer waiting stops along the way than a point to point route does. A new user can get anxious about how long it’s going to take, especially if the driver just gets off the bus and crosses the road, with no explanation, as this driver did. Adults can be unpredictable. How many children would be wondering, ‘What do I do if the driver doesn’t come back? Is this what a bus drivers’ strike looks like?’
- If you do end up going around the wrong way, the instructions you may have been given for where to get off, using visual cues as you approach, no longer work. In this case, approaching Three Lamps from College Hill looks very different to approaching it from Jervois Rd.
- In circle geometry, a curving arc is longer than a straight chord. But the Outer Link’s route is even less direct than a circle. The dogleg in Mt Eden adds a lot of extra (often congested) mileage, leading to loss of time reliability, bunched buses and frustrated passengers. The proposed replacement routes will be more direct for users. Of course there’s always someone for whom even a very indirect bus connects them door to door, but in general, straight lines serve the network better.
Until the network can be ironed out, and the Outer Link replaced with a better set of direct frequent routes, I wonder if drivers can do more to explain to passengers what’s happening? Some of the drivers go out of their way to do so, but it’s a bit hit and miss.
If this girl hadn’t had her mother at the other end of a phone, would she have received reassurance from a driver or a smiling stranger?