Auckland has certainly seen its fair share of short sighted transport decisions over the decades and one of the most significant recent ones was that a busway wasn’t included alongside the Northwestern motorway at the same time as we were widening it as part of the Western Ring Route project.
The current government promised to rectify that, but progress stalled while waiting for decisions with light
rail metro. However in July things finally started tentatively moving forward with the announcement as part of the government’s COVID response of up to $100 million on a range of interim improvements.
Yesterday the Auckland Transport and Waka Kotahi NZTA launched a consultation on just what those improvements would be. However, while they will improve buses to the Northwest, they’re certainly not a long-term solution and don’t represent the best customer experience.
Auckland Transport and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency are asking for feedback on a proposal to significantly improve public transport connections to and from Auckland’s northwest.
The plan to make bus journeys quicker, easier and better connected involves upgrading and extending the existing bus shoulder lanes along the Northwestern Motorway (SH16) and building interim bus stops at Westgate and the Lincoln Road and Te Atatū motorway interchanges.
This would enable a northwestern express bus service using the motorway which connects with local feeder services operating to each station. The bus network will also be reviewed to make better use of the proposed new bus stops and adjustments are planned at motorway interchanges to increase priority for buses.
Transport Minister Phil Twyford says this joint AT and Waka Kotahi project will allow faster and more frequent bus services.
“Bus passengers going from Westgate to the city during the morning peak could save up to 35 minutes on their journey as a result of these improvements.
“This project will also create around 300 jobs and support our economic recovery,” says Mr Twyford.
Mayor Phil Goff says the project will have economic and social benefits for the northwest and will help support jobs and population growth.
“The $100 million in government-funded upgrades for public transport in the northwest will enable a further 170,000 people to get in and out of the city within 45-55 minutes on the bus,” he says.
“This will support jobs and population growth in the area and help to reduce traffic congestion and vehicle emissions by allowing more people to commute without driving. Construction of the projects will create jobs and provide economic stimulus across the region.”
The improvements are to be built over the next five years and, once complete, will encourage more people to use public transport while plans are made for longer-term improvements.
Looking beyond the next five years, Waka Kotahi plans to explore options for a mass rapid transit system so that even more people can be moved along the Northwestern Motorway (SH16).
The works which proposed over the next five years include:
- A station at Westgate and interim bus stops at the Lincoln Road and Te Atatū motorway interchanges.
- Upgrading and extending the existing bus shoulder lanes on the Northwestern Motorway (SH16).
- Improvements at motorway interchanges to increase priority for buses.
- A review of the bus network to utilise the new bus stops.
Before getting into just what’s proposed, it’s useful to understand how AT intended to run the bus network in the west once this is in place. The changes are shown on the maps below and like with the Northern Busway, essentially there will be a core Western Express service along the motorway that local routes will connect to. This will necessitate people needing to transfer from those local services to the Western Express service.
It’s making those transfers work well that is critical and also where these leave a lot to be desired with the Lincoln Rd and Te Atatu ‘stations’ being bus stops in the middle of motorway interchanges on motorway on/off ramps.
First up, here’s how services will operate at Westgate. A new station is being built on the eastern side of Gunton Dr between Kedgley Rd and Tawhia Dr. This is not the most ideal location given half of the catchment is motorway – though given how Westgate has been designed I’m not sure where else it could go.
Lincoln Rd is where things start getting interesting.
Citybound express buses exit the motorway, cross Lincoln Rd and stop on the motorway onramp to pick passengers up. Those passengers will get there by way of bus stops on Selwood Rd that local buses will access via a new roundabout.
Westgate-bound buses will stop on the motorway off-ramp with transferring passengers using the existing crossings built as part of the NW Cycleway extension to access the local stops.
A similar situation to Lincoln Rd will exist at Te Atatu with the exception the local buses will through route between the peninsula and Te Atatu South.
Citybound there’s a bus stop on the off-ramp while passengers from the peninsula or heading to Te Atatu South will use a new bus stop in the middle of seven lanes of traffic. For those going from the Northwest to the peninsula the local bus stop is at the top end of the image.
Westgate-bound buses appear to have two stops, one on the motorway off-ramp (not shown very clearly) and one again on the on-ramp. The local bus stops are to the north and south of the ramps.
It’s really hard to see how this is going to take five years to deliver – we’re going to build a rail tunnel and two underground stations in that time. It’s also hard to see where the $100 million is going – though in both cases I suspect some of those bus shoulders are going to be tricky to add.
Overall, the proposal has some similarities to what happened with the Northern Busway where the Albany and Constellation Dr stations were build and an interim service was put in place while the actual busway and additional stations were being built. One difference being that the full busway was already under construction whereas on the Northwest it’s much more of a band-aid solution and there’s no timeframe or guarantee on when an actual rapid transit solution will happen. I guess with the solution being so bare bones it will help but won’t remove the for that longer-term solution