Two of the most important requirements to making public transport attractive to use is to make it reliable and for it to be somewhat time competitive with driving. Buses will always be a key part of the public transport picture and so to achieve those requirements it’s critical that buses have priority on our streets. There are a number of ways priority can be given, from a full busway like the Northern Busway, to bus lanes, transit lanes (T2/3) and down to bus advance lanes to allow buses to jump to the head of the queue at intersections.
For all of the various types of bus priority to be effective, it’s critical that they’re enforced otherwise impatient drives will abuse them. Not only is that unfair on those that do follow the rules, these drivers tend to end up slowing both buses and general traffic down as they back up at intersections and/or push their way back into general traffic.
Cheating motorists using transit lanes on a major Auckland road will soon be caught out by 13 new traffic cameras in a move being described as an “overkill” by the local board.
Auckland Transport is rolling out the new cameras to monitor T3 lanes on the heavily trafficked Onewa Rd.
Incorrect use of the lanes during operating hours includes having the wrong number of occupants in a vehicle or using them for more than 50m to turn.
The cameras should be operational from June.
Warning letters would be used in the weeks immediately following the introduction of the cameras but that would later be replaced by $150 fines.
AT says the new cameras will allow more consistent enforcement of the rules while not requiring staff to physically monitor the road.
However Kaipatiki Local Board chairman John Gillon said having 13 cameras on the one road did “seem like overkill”.
AT have been rolling out automated enforcement of bus lanes and now transit lanes for a while. By automating this, it is more consistent and more efficient than random checks every now and then. It is also safer than having people on the side of the road filming the rule breakers.
Onewa Rd is Auckland’s oldest transit lane though wasn’t enforced until the early 2000s – at which time ridership and carpooling started taking off. The lane has been so successful that it now carries about 19% of the vehicles on the road during the peak but is moving about 66% of the people and those using the lane move down the corridor about four times faster than those in the general traffic lane. These numbers are also why it doesn’t make sense to make it a T2 lane as so many more people would use it, it would lose all of its benefits.
So it’s sad to see the Local Board Chair, John Gillon seemingly not wanting the lane fully enforced. If AT were to change their plans and reduce the number of cameras on the network it’s his constituents that will suffer the most.
As well as enforcing the bus and transit lanes we already have, we also need to make better use ones we have, by extending the hours they operate for, and of course, by adding new lanes.
This brings me to an email a reader recently forwarded me about an interaction with Auckland Transport.
Dear Mr Ellison,
I will be brief, but I write to express my displeasure as to my experience on the bus on Constellation Drive this evening. I have been living overseas for the last decade and recently returned to Auckland in the wake of COVID. I see that many improvements have been made, but there are still many improvements to be made as I am sure you will agree!
I commute from Northcote to Mairangi Bay for work; I cycle to Smales Farm and catch the bus from there, and vice versa. On the way home this evening, the bus got stuck in traffic on Constellation Drive, which I only expect to get worse with “March Madness” on the horizon. There is a T2 lane but this is only in use in the mornings.
I catch the bus to reduce congestion and emissions, but I’m not a martyr. Unless the bus is quicker than the car, I won’t continue to do so, and I’m sure many people have already made the decision to take the car because the bus gets stuck in the same traffic as the car (Downs-Thomson Paradox).
I understand that AT is hamstrung by public opinion, but AT also has a legal obligation to reduce emissions. As such, I would like to see the transit lane hours along Constellation Drive extended for evening rush-hour so that it is more efficient to catch the public transport than take the car.
Riding a bike and catching a bus, that’s exactly the kind of behaviour Auckland Transport should want to be encouraging.
Constellation Drive has had transit Lanes for at least as long as the busway has existed but they’re only of use at peak times in the peak direction. Outside of that time they’re used for carparking. Yet the road is quite busy, being busier in the middle of the day than it is during the morning peak.
And here was AT’s response.
Thank you for getting in contact about the transit lane on Constellation Drive.
We work to maximise the flow of people on the network and monitor vehicle volumes, vehicle occupancy and bus travel times.
We use that data to decide how best to manage the lanes. Afternoon peak passenger numbers are low for this direction, vehicle volumes are high and average bus travel times are considered acceptable.
Overall, there is not a strong case for changing the operating times right now.
The transit lane ends 100m before Parkway Drive, and queues back from the motorway onramps delay buses accessing Parkway Drive.
The change of the transit lane operating times would not be expected to provide much benefit in this situation as it doesn’t remove the primary source of the delay. However, a change to the times is something we are considering for the future.
We appreciate you taking the time to get in contact, and to share the suggestion.
The response is disappointing and there’s clearly some cognitive dissonance at play. Buses are clearly stuck in a vicious circle where afternoon peak passenger numbers are low due to the buses being slow and stuck in traffic, which then results in more people driving making the situation worse. The issue, and the Downs-Thomson paradox she mentions is well covered in this video.
The point of including this isn’t just about Constellation Dr as this issue is repeated all across the city.
Auckland’s Climate Plan has targeted for us to increase public transport mode-share from 7.8% to 24.5% by 2030 and to 35% by 2050. Those might not seem like high numbers overall but as I pointed out here, they represent a massive step change in what we need to achieve. Prior to COVID we were seeing just over 103 million trips being taken annually and the 2030 target suggests we’ll need around 300 million trips.
One of the biggest opportunities to achieving that is to make PT more useable and attractive for trips not just to/from the city at peak times. Changing and extending bus and transit lane operating times should be one of the simplest changes AT can make.
Finally here’s how a proactive AT could have responded.
Welcome back to New Zealand, we’re very lucky to have you. As the head of an organisation dedicated to a move towards Healthy Streets and mode shift for health and climate above all, I’m always delighted to hear of new arrivals who make use of our PT system and other alternative modes to the car. As you’ve discovered, by combining bike and bus you can cover a lot of everyday journeys in Tāmaki Makaurau; more than when you set off overseas.
And it’s our mission to continue to make this easier and more intuitive. Benchmarking our progress against comparable international cities is a key part of how we stay accountable.
To your question: indeed our research tells us that… [stuff about travel choices] and so we are constantly seeking to smooth passage for buses wherever possible, identifying quick wins in particular and locking them in to help support the more long-term improvement of the physical network (this emerged from our Covid response lessons learned and you’ll have seen similar in our approach to the cycle network – which doesn’t currently connect Northcote directly to Mairangi Bay but will by the end of 20xx.)
Thank you for raising the question of changing the operating times on Constellation Drive. The data suggests many more people travel in cars than on the bus at this time of day – so improving bus reliability here would help shift that.
Here’s how the process would work. We’ll take this one forward to [whatever committee etc] and keep you appraised of the outcome.
Thanks again for taking the time to get in touch – it’s a pleasure to work with Aucklanders to improve their travel options and we especially appreciate hearing from customers with detailed and positive suggestions. If you have any feedback about the quality of service in the cycling part of the journey please do share – and copy in our head of cycling strategy.
PS We are always keen to highlight community leaders of all kinds who travel by PT or active transport in our communication materials. If you or your colleagues would be interested, may we add you to our list of “active ambassadors”, for future contact?