This is a guest post from reader Graeme Gunthorpe
The Inner Link is a crucial part of Auckland’s transport network, covering many central suburbs and running every 10-15 minutes from 6am to midnight.
But its circular design is failing riders every day, causing delays, frustrations, and eroding public trust in the network.
Continuous looping lines are prone to bunching, and the only way to regulate the service is to hold the vehicle and allow those in front to extend their lead.
You can try this quick and nifty visualisation to see how bus bunching works in practice (works best on desktop).
Trains are not immune from bunching either. London recognised it with the Circle Line, and in 2009 turned it into a teapot with fixed end points. (Uncircling the Circle Line, London Reconnections part 1, part 2)
Victoria Park Pause
Back in Auckland, this bunching has led to the Victoria Park Pause, where Inner Link buses stop for up to 10 minutes. Infuriated patrons debate whether to walk the 15 minutes to their destination or wait for the bus driver to re-emerge from their (probably well deserved) break.
If you’re travelling between Parnell or the city and Ponsonby or vice versa, this Pause can be the difference between choosing a bus or an Uber.
The effects are felt right across the route, as it destroys the frequency, reliability and convenience that inner-city services should offer.
Breaking the Circle
So how to fix this issue?
The Inner Link brand is very strong, and probably Auckland’s most well known route after the Northern Express. Therefore trust in the route is stronger than other bus routes, encouraging patronage.
There have been suggestions of splitting the Inner Link into Crosstown 1 and Crosstown 2. However, having seen the backlash from suggesting breaking the Outer Link up into Crosstown routes, there may not be political will to posit the same with the Inner Link.
In mid-2018, Auckland Transport announced the timetables would be scrapped, although this solution doesn’t allow commuters to plan, and with buses every 15 minutes, the frequency is not turn-up-and-go. It also has not fixed the Victoria Park Pause.
I am advocating for a solution which would retain the tried and tested current route, but would start and end the service at Newmarket.
The Inner Link deviates from its loop at the south-eastern corner, where it takes a turn at Mahuru Street, heads around the block and retraces its steps along Broadway. In traffic, this can be a 10 minute diversion from the original route between Grafton and Parnell.
It passes by the Newmarket Flyover, a permanent hindrance to development whose underside is a collection of surface carparks. Much of the land is owned by the Crown, and under the control of NZTA
In this proposal, the space underneath the flyover becomes the terminus for the Inner Link, where services can halt, drivers can refresh, and buses can recharge.
The route changes marginally: instead of turning down Mahuru, buses carry up to St Marks Road before heading around the block.
The capital required for initial implementation is surprisingly low: prefabricated offices and facilities for staff can be utilised, and street parking can be allocated for buses to save sealing the gravelled area. It also avoids the issue of the Victoria Park Pause being caused by a replacement driver failing to find a place to park the changeover car on busy Victoria Street.
In the long term, the bus terminal can be improved to include permanent facilities, bus storage, and even a bus connection between Broadway and Mahuru Street.
- Decrease journey times – Buses currently pause to allow buses ahead to get away. This will no longer be required, meaning journeys are quicker. No more Victoria Park Pause.
- Increase frequency – With buses moving more efficiently, frequency can be increased with the same number of vehicles. Alternatively, less vehicles are required for the same service frequency.
- Increased reliability – The Inner Link can go back to a timetable, giving travellers certainty in their journeys. Passengers travelling between Grafton and Parnell would need to change services, but they can do this at the northern end of Broadway, at no cost, and the increased frequency would mean faster journeys.
- Clear Victoria Street – Using a busy thoroughfare as bus storage is a poor and inefficient use of public land, and with the cycleways that have been promised, Victoria Street is going to get a lot more efficient.
- Driver welfare – While public facilities exist at Victoria Park, giving bus drivers a dedicated space is important for their health and wellbeing, especially considering the legal requirement to rest). Poor pay, tough conditions and split shifts for peak drivers make recruitment difficult, so AT / NZBus should jump at opportunities to make the job more appealing.
- Riders between K Rd / Grafton and Parnell are disadvantaged, as they may need to change bus to complete their journey. AT have (anecdotally) advised that part of the route has the lowest patronage. For those that do travel that route, the increased reliability and the opportunity for a free transfer at the northern end of Broadway may mitigate the issue.
- The operator NZBus is resistant to change as their depot in Wynyard is close by the current Victoria Park Pause and it makes driver changes easier (although instead of walking, their drivers bring a small car the 400m around the park and leave it in the bus lane, thus slowing buses further).
It’s not rocket science, but this small change could reduce delays and frustrations for thousands of people.
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