Leading Image: Busbahnhof Poppenbüttel, Germany. Credit: Blunck + Morgen Architekten.
This is a post by Paul Callister and Heidi O’Callahan
Plans are underway for a new long-distance bus terminal.
The terminal will play an important role for New Zealanders in the challenging times we have ahead. Public transport for regional travel will increase in importance as climate and safety awareness rise, as the population ages, and as driving and vehicle ownership reduce in popularity.
We can expect it to be a beautiful space, with all the amenities users might need; clean, well-maintained and a pleasure to be in.
Adelaide Central Bus Station
Most importantly, it will be central, and well-connected for onward travel.
This vision is a natural outcome of fit-for-future transport planning:
- prioritising energy efficiency, long distance low-carbon transport, and good management of our resources
- harnessing the safety benefits of public transport over private vehicles
- reducing the burden of car ownership on individuals, recognising the economic and equity benefits of public transport for our population, and
- protecting all our people, regardless of their age or ability and means to drive.
In this post, we’ll outline:
- the features and drawbacks of the current depot
- what we know about the current plans
- changes since those plans were hatched
- a solution, and
- why Council should act
The current depot
Auckland’s current InterCity terminal has a great central location on Hobson St. It is close to many hostels and hotels, is flanked by bus routes and the new Aotea Station will be very close. Being so central provides the best possible connection for passengers by public transport to all the regions of Auckland. It also has ample parking for those needing to drop passengers off.
Hosting the bus terminal was a requirement of SkyCity’s resource consent. SkyCity wants to be relieved of this requirement, but Aucklanders should have a say in whether we want to give up this key location. If we do, any deal would need to involve SkyCity providing sufficient compensation to both procure and maintain an equally well-located terminal elsewhere.
The waiting facilities at the central long-distance transport terminal are a barrier to using public transport as they are unpleasant and a public health concern. The design traps the diesel fumes, so the air is often polluted (and buses that spend the majority of their time on regional roads could be the last ones to be electrified). This affects passengers, people meeting them, staff and people walking past.
There are no parenting rooms, insufficient seats, and no drinking water provision. As most of the buses have no onboard toilets, bus interchanges need to have adequate bathrooms for all users. Yet these graffiti-covered toilets have no specific facilities for the disabled or for infants, are poorly maintained, feel dangerous and are often closed for maintenance (as the build-up of glue from “Out of Order” signs shows.)
The street connection is also very poor, and pedestrians are prevented from walking past the building, forced to pick their way through diesel fumes, waiting passengers and luggage on the inadequate, dark and grimy footpath of the undercover area.
We have been campaigning for the last four years to get the facilities upgraded, writing to InterCity, SkyCity, local MPs, the media, Ministers of the Crown, Auckland’s tourism agency, Auckland Transport and the Mayor. Some never replied, others passed the buck, few have taken any action.
The grunge in the corners remains.
The broken facilities are still broken.
Sky City holds the responsibility for providing adequate facilities, but say:
SkyCity doesn’t manage the facilities and maintenance of the terminal but we will pass your comments on to the InterCity team so they can address.
It’s a shared responsibility to maintain the bus depot, in particular InterCity looks after the cleanliness and on-going upkeep… we will continue to work with InterCity to improve the cleanliness of the depot.
Hosting the terminal comes with the responsibility of maintaining to an acceptable standard. As mode bias is no longer acceptable in transport practice, Council should be enforcing the same standard at the bus terminal as is upheld at the airport.
We need consistent, mode-neutral standards across the National Public Transport Network, regardless of whether the responsibility is vested in the transport operator or the owner of the premises. If InterCity and SkyCity will not willingly offer good quality facilities, local or central government need to step in either as a provider or a regulator.
What we know about the current plans
SkyCity started to disentangle itself from having to host the bus terminal some years ago.
The New Zealand International Convention Centre Act 2013 introduced a raft of new areas that can be used for casino premises. Importantly, the act allows the area known as the ‘bus terminal’ to be used as casino premises.
Auckland Transport said in 2014 that removing the bus terminal would require a change of resource condition under the RMA. As of last year, the “encumbrance registered against the title” for the provision of the bus terminal was still in place, according to SkyCity’s Annual Report 2019.
February’s AT Board meeting agenda said:
Design and Construction: Inter-Regional Coach Terminal. The procurement has been completed for the designer project team. Initial feedback on the proposal has been received from Ngati Whatua Orakei Whai Rawa who have raised some concerns. Discussions are continuing.
The likely location, given Ngati Whatua’s involvement, is in Quay Park somewhere, or maybe the old Auckland Railway Station on Beach Rd.
The old Auckland Railway Station. Photo credit: NZ History
Below, the current location is shown by the black rectangle in the midst of all the bus routes on Wellesley, Victoria and Hobson Sts, while the black shape on Beach Rd to the east is the old Auckland Railway Station.
The difference in connectivity offered by the two sites is clear:
The Strand Station and the old Auckland Railway Station have adequately demonstrated that this area is not sufficiently well connected to host a terminal.
The Strand Station is so poorly located that advice is often given to passengers wanting to connect to the train there using public transport, to make the way to Papakura instead.
The Auckland Railway Station’s location is also poor; when the Auckland suburban rail services were moved away from there to Britomart, Auckland’s rail revival was able to begin:
The distance from downtown Auckland was soon regarded as inconvenient and was an impediment to passenger services until the opening in 2003 of Britomart station on the site of this station’s predecessor…
Perhaps the proposed site is closer to Britomart than this. And perhaps Auckland Transport has been directed to also rework the bus network as required, with ongoing increases in opex charged to SkyCity. If these plans exist, though, where are the public communications?
In the same area, a slightly better site for connection to the existing bus network would be one of the other sites at the intersection of Stanley St and Beach Rd. However, planning for the City Centre Masterplan’s Grafton Gully Boulevard, and the Albert Park tunnels is not far enough advanced; any new terminal at those locations would be premature.
Changes since the idea of moving the terminal was first mooted
Change 1. Auckland is finally set to catch up to other international cities:
The City Centre Masterplan refresh presents a vision of a city centre that is:
- More family-friendly
- More pedestrian-friendly
- More environmentally-friendly.
Access for Everyone (A4E) is a new idea to create more space in the city centre, responding to the needs of our inner city neighbourhoods… A4E aims to provide healthier, safer and more equitable transport and public space in the city centre – for now and for future generations.
The current terminal location is shown in the A4E schematic below, by the black rectangle above the pink, on the edge of the pedestrian core. The old Auckland Railway Station is the black rectangle to the right, well away from the Queen St valley. Buses, of course, can still run between neighbourhoods.
Hobson St, where the terminal is located, will be transformed by these plans. The street will cease to be a thoroughfare, and will serve (in terms of vehicles) just the traffic that visits that small part of the city centre – and buses.
We know the traffic evaporation effects of this sort of circulation plan are considerable, from places like Waltham Forest, Barcelona and Ghent. On Hobson St, the removal of through-traffic means the number of lanes can reduce from 6 to 2. It is through intentional traffic reduction measures like this that European city centres achieve their lower traffic volumes.
This government has also put a higher priority on walking and cycling improvements. Hobson St is a ridgeline, and should become a major route in the cycling network. With a multi-modal people-friendly streetscape coming to Hobson St, the location will be perfect for a quality bus terminal.
Change 2. Council declared a Climate Emergency last year. Bizarrely, their Letter of Expectations in December instructed the CCO’s to continue with business as usual (and especially not to come knocking for any funding for climate action).
But once Council has caught its tail and launched its Climate Action Framework, climate action will steadily build. Any move that makes taking public transport more difficult cannot be endured in a state of climate emergency.
Change 3. SkyCity itself wants action on climate change. Chief Executive Graeme Stephens wanted to know:
what he could do “tomorrow” to make an immediate climate impact.
And SkyCity’s chairman Rob Campbell (in his article “I was a late convert to being a climate change leader for business, and I’m not alone“) wrote:
I take a simple view. It is beyond time for humanity to react to the negative consequences of climate change… I say keep up the pressure. Do not rely on business to continue the progress itself… legal instruction is required… activists must push for levels of regulation and cost recognition which are necessary for the task.
Rather than move the terminal, the changes listed above open up an opportunity that delivers better value-for-money and outcomes.
Access for Everyone will provide four extra lanes of space to use. Here is one of many options for a redesign of the terminal that this new streetscape offers:
- Use one lane for the buses to park on the street.
- Add cycle lanes, trees, wide footpaths and a clear canopy as required.
- Convert the current under-cover area into a waiting room with windows and doors at the building edge, making it light-filled and airy.
- The ceiling height of the under-cover area is high, as it can accommodate double decker buses. Some of this could be sacrificed by raising the floor level, if required to provide more length of indoor-outdoor connection over the carpark ramps. If not, the high ceilings will contribute to a fantastic space.
- The carpark entrance and exit remain a challenge. Allowing such a lot of parking was bad urban planning, but it’s not insurmountable. The danger to pedestrians and cyclists on the street can be lowered by installing barrier arms or rising bollards to make the drivers entering and exiting the carpark pause.
Aarau Bus Terminal, Switzerland. Credit: Eduard Hueber, Niklaus Spoerri, Z3RCH Structural Engineering and Textile Architecture.
Why Council should act
Moving to a less-well connected location, if that’s what’s planned, will simply continue a series of poor public outcomes. Throughout, Council has failed to enforce the basic, decent maintenance of the terminal facilities which would have gone some way towards mitigating SkyCity’s activities.
Now it appears that Council may be willing to relieve SkyCity of their responsibility to providing a public amenity, without public engagement.
The Auditor General reiterated in the SkyCity inquiry:
The good practice advice that our Office has published identifies basic principles that help ensure that public funds are spent wisely and well: accountability, openness, value for money, lawfulness, fairness, and integrity. We expect public sector organisations to be able to demonstrate how their work meets those basic principles.
Which of these principles has Council followed?
Regardless of details about the new terminal, has the mayor been fully informed about an option of bringing what we have up to standard? Has the decision to move the terminal been made on the basis of good network design, user needs, fairness to the public and climate considerations?
Or is the basis simply that SkyCity wants it gone?
Renovating the terminal instead wouldn’t ruffle too many feathers. It’s a climate action that doesn’t threaten the road builders or the automotive industry. It wouldn’t upset the aviation industry, or the waste management, finance or farming sectors. It will even be welcomed by the tourism industry. It will assist the re-establishment of a low-carbon public transport network, and so serves future generations. It provides a good outcome for Auckland residents and other New Zealanders visiting the city. It will please equity-minded Aucklanders, and won’t upset those who are resistant to change.
It even meets SkyCity’s climate goals.
Conversely, what is the cost of moving the terminal away from its good central location, and then having to either:
- rearrange the bus network to serve that location, including opex considerations, or
- purchase central city land to bring it back, after some years of a substandard location for long-distance transport users?
Do we have money to waste like this?