On Monday I wrote about the cost of more frequent of buses as improving frequency is the single biggest thing that will get people to use public transport more. Following better frequencies, the next biggest thing on the list to improve the quality of PT is to have better reliability.
Better reliability means buses that turn up on time to not only their first stop but to all their stops and is even more critical on a network like ours where transfers may be required. It’s no good having even high frequencies if it means you turn up to your bus stop and have to wait 20 minutes for a bus that is meant to come every 10, then two buses turn up at the same time.
By far the biggest thing that drives un-reliability is other road users in the form of congestion. On high-demand routes this can lead to a vicious cycle whereby once a bus gets delayed, by the time it reaches stops there are more people than expected, which increases dwell times. Once the bus fills up it slows down dwell times even more as people struggle to get off, which means even more people wanting to get on at subsequent stops and eventually slowing down enough and starts playing leapfrog with following buses.
To give an example of where better reliability (and frequency) could result in better PT outcomes, I thought I’d share an experience I had recently. Normally I catch an NX1 to the city and then transfer to a Western Line train to get me home. The NX1 has good frequency on weekdays with buses every 7.5 minutes even off/counter-peak and trains run every 10 minutes.
Leaving work, I arrived at the Smales Farm station and as I did that the 866 turned up so thought I would give that a go. The 866 travels from Albany to Newmarket via Ponsonby and by combining this with the 20, which travels from Wynyard to St Lukes every 15 minutes and which stops right beside the Kingsland station, where I could then transfer to the train home. In total the 866+20 combo is over 5km shorter than going to Britomart so could have the potential to offer a faster journey time, perhaps allowing me to shave up to 10 minutes off my commute. The map below shows these two options.
The key to making the 866+20 option work was the transfer and I knew from looking at the timetable that it might be tight but if I made it, I’d save time. Unfortunately the gamble didn’t pay off so I set about waiting for the next 20 to turn up, knowing from having used it previous times that it should get me to Kingsland to catch the train I’d have caught anyway had I gone to Britomart. Only it took my bus over 20 minutes to turn up, having lost about 5 minutes in just over 1km of travel. Then, as we proceeded along Ponsonby Rd and down Gt North Rd, frequently stopping or having to dodge cars parked in bus stops. By the time the bus arrived at Kingsland it had missed the connection to the train meaning my journey would end up being slower, not faster as intended. The point of all this is that better reliability would ensure people have more trust in making transfers and therefore are more likely to try them.
This kind of route could be even more important over the coming years it could allow people to avoid disruption during the City Rail Link works at Mt Eden.
So what can be done?
Auckland Transport have plans to improve reliability on a number of routes through what they now call the Connected Communities Programme (formerly the Integrated Corridor Programme). There’s not a whole lot of detail about the programme yet other than what is mentioned below, which comes from the recently refreshed Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP).
As part of this RPTP, AT is also looking to apply some of the advantages of the RTN to the Frequent Transport Network through the Integrated Corridor Programme. This Programme will seek to extend bus-priority for the full length of key FTN routes, improving average speed and reliability and reducing operating costs.
Auckland has constrained arterial corridors and there will be trade-offs to be made around competing uses including general traffic lanes, cycle lanes, parking and median strips. AT will design and deliver whole-of-route bus priority on the FTN where:
- current and planned services experience inconsistent travel times due to congestion
- where travel-time savings and patronage levels justify the cost of delivery
- where capacity exists, or new services are planned that can leverage priority infrastructure to deliver patronage growth
- if reallocation of road space is required, where expected patronage gains are sufficient to ensure that bus priority implementation will increase overall people throughput along the corridor.
The integrated corridor programme will be critical to deliver the next wave of patronage growth for Auckland’s bus network and instrumental in providing the next major improvement in customer experience. It will also be a major mechanism by which placemaking initiatives can be instituted – leveraging the changed environment generated by the corridor programme into urban design elements that will reflect local identity and character.
They go on to say the routes to be looked at will be on the isthmus and in South Auckland, also noting “The programme includes bus priority, safety and cycling upgrades as part of the overall programme“. The maps show approximately what routes are included in this work are below.
At a high level this is good and very much needed but I so have some big concerns with it. One of those is that it puts on ice smaller and more targeted improvements. One example where this has already happened is why the plans to add a protected cycleway on Gt North Rd between Grey Lynn and K Rd. Despite having already been out for public consultation in the past, the project is now being re-evaluated again with this new lens on it.
Another concern is how this is going to be delivered as ATs doesn’t have the best history in this space. I’d be more than happy to be proven wrong but at this stage I worry the programme it will be roughly similar to the following process.
- AT will spend 18 months working on multiple business cases, probably one for each corridor.
- They will come up with some semi-decent plans and put them out for consultation.
- As the plans will involve changing or removing carparking, a small number of retailers will complain, but be amplified by the media. The likes of the AA will get involved too, concern trolling the project by claiming they support better PT but not if it impacts on drivers.
- AT will then spend the next 6-8 months analysing the feedback from the consultation, ultimately watering it down and removing the most valuable changes.
- They will then take 2-3 years to finalise designs before looking to start construction, by which time many people will have forgotten about it and start complaining again.
- So maybe, if we’re lucky, we might see some mild improvements in about five years.
AT please prove me wrong.