This is a guest post by regular reader, Minnie.
Route 66, as well as having a very cool name, is one of the signature bus routes of the New Network. It stretches from Coyle Park in Pt Chevalier to Sylvia Park, and nominally runs every 15 minutes*. The 66 is designed to draw more people towards public transport for everyday trips. Importantly, it’s the only public transport to Pt Chevalier beach on weekends or interpeak weekdays. That matters, because one of its many functions is to enable people from all over the city to come to the beach, transferring to the 66 from the rail network, the Outer Link, the Great North Rd buses from the Northwest and West, the 650 bus from Glen Innes, and many other frequent routes.
But something odd is happening at the Pt Chev end of the route. Signs went up recently at the two stops closest to the beach, announcing that from 9 November 2019 until 19 April 2020, those stops would be closed 24/7 on weekends.
Instead, the route now stops 400m short of Coyle Park, at the bus shelter on the corner of Oliver St outside the Pirates Rugby Club (417 Pt Chevalier Rd). The buses now take an extra turn around the nearby back streets in order to restart the route. Anecdotally, in at least one case drivers have treated Te Ra Road as the end of the line.
That might not seem like a big deal to some of us. But it’s an extra distance of 400m (officially) and 1 km (unofficially) to walk in the height of summer, for beach-goers and locals alike. To add injury to insult, it’s along a stretch of road that has few street trees for shade, let alone a cooling berm. This is a loss of LoS (level of service) for everyone outside the car.
Why do public transport users now have to go the extra distance? Reportedly, it’s because of bad parking.
Specifically, cars double-parked in the turning circle at Coyle Park (a remnant of the tram days) are apparently making it so the buses can’t safely negotiate their turnaround at the start and end of the route. Worse, parking wardens attempting to enforce better parking have reportedly faced abuse.
An aerial photograph of the old tram turning circle, which should be ample for buses to turn too. Most of the problem parking is happening in the painted triangle at bottom right of the circle, and on the lower edge of the central tree island..
So Auckland Transport’s answer, instead of backing its own parking rules that are designed for both safety and fair access, is to move the buses, the bus stops and the bus passengers out of the picture at weekends, for five months of the year.
For want of some more paint and fierce signs about ticketing, parking for three extra cars is all it takes to achieve a five-month rearrangement of the entire weekend bus service. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see the business case for THAT!?
Is this how it’s supposed to work? And will it stop with the first concession? As bad parking all over the city shows too well, give drivers an inch and they’ll think they’re rulers. Or maybe it’s just that parking will fill any space? Since AT made this decision, the problem parking has worsened. Writing in early December, drivers are now attempting to fit six cars into the painted triangle, and many more are getting used to using the bus stop too. Where do we think that might end, given the abuse the parking wardens have already faced…?
Drivers getting used to using the bus stop for parking, and managing to sort-of squeeze 6 cars into the painted triangle.
Obviously the health and safety of the parking wardens is a major concern. But what about the safety, health and convenience of public transport users, not to mention those biking, scooting or walking to the park and the beach, including those trying to walk safely back to their well or badly-parked cars?
Equally obviously, in a climate emergency we should be making it easier for people to get to the beach without using a car. But AT’s response here is essentially saying: hey, sorry guys, you’ve done the climate-responsible, space-efficient thing and bussed to the beach – so now please trek an extra half a k’ (or if you’re unlucky with drivers, an extra k’), rather than inconvenience those who decided to drive.
(Local knowledge: you can use the alleyway near the new end of the line to get to a different part of the beach. This is a handy option, especially if you are fast and confident enough to cross the very wide road for the homeward journey. But if, like most of us, you’d struggle to carry all your beach gear, hold onto one child’s hand, and scoop your tired toddler out of harm’s way in a hurry, this is not a safe solution. And if Coyle Park and its playground is your destination, you will have to keep walking to the end of the road).
Above all, this is about equity of access to free and lovely places. Pt Chev is an awesome urban beach, a hidden gem within cooee of the central city. The beach and the park are popular destinations for heaps of Aucklanders, with a tradition of epic family picnics: in summer especially, but all year round, too.
People will keep coming, in droves. So isn’t the answer to make the bus route even more inviting, rather than make it harder to use the bus? Especially when people will likely have to walk to catch the bus in the first place, good public transport should pay them the courtesy of delivering them right to their destination. And while we’re at it, make it more affordable for families and on weekends, so it becomes the obvious choice.
Otherwise, what’s the end-game here?
Will AT resort to the same appeasement tactics if and when the beach-going motorists, having parked all over the turning circle, start double-parking on the road, parking on the footpath, or even parking in the park itself?
Will this same approach be rolled out at other beaches all over the city? Will it stop at just five months of the year, or will it be the new norm to elbow public transport users out of the way when needed? And what about other popular destinations where the number of cars sometimes exceeds the number of parking spaces? Will the Sylvia Park end of Route 66 get the same treatment?
With a long, hot summer on the way, is Santa polishing up a lump of coal for whoever made this call?
* except when it runs on the half-hour, which is before 7am and after 8pm on weekdays and Saturdays (until the last bus from Sylvia Park at 11.30pm (or 11pm from Coyle Park), and after 7pm on Sundays until the last bus at 10.30pm, but anyway.