When complete the City Rail Link will transform how many people access and move around the city centre. Light rail, the Northern Path and other cycling improvements will be the same if they go ahead.
Even with these projects many people, and many more than do so today, will access the city centre by bus and I’m sure everyone would agree that the experience of catching buses needs to be improved. At the same time there is a need to implement the City Centre Master Plan (CCMP) as well as drive mode-shift and reduce emissions.
Today Auckland Transport are releasing their proposed plan for buses in the City Centre which would represent probably the most significant change to buses since the launch of the new network a few years ago. However this isn’t going to be a quick change as they say will take 5-10 years to fully deliver.
The plan has three steps
- Step 1 – Create two high quality dedicated east-west bus corridors on Customs Street/Fanshawe Street and Wellesley Street, with fewer, higher quality and safer stops.
- Step 2 – Establish dedicated facilities for urban and inter-regional bus passengers. These facilities would include safe and comfortable waiting spaces, facilities for drivers, and bus charging facilities. Possible locations for these are in the Wynyard Quarter, Beach Road, Learning Quarter and Downtown areas.
- Step 3 – Make changes to services so that bus routes run through the city centre rather than only to the city centre. This would free up at least 1 kilometre of kerbside space that could be used for people to share and enjoy.
A summary of it is here:
Looking at the steps in more detail
AT say they’ll create two high-quality east-west bus corridors on Customs St and Wellesley St. This will come with better quality bus stops.
Both of these corridors were identified as the main east-west bus routes way back in 2014 with Wellesley being fully bus only either side of Queen St. It seems like a massive missed opportunity that these Wellesley St plans weren’t implemented at the same time the road was reopened following the CRL closure. Also the image below from that time and far better quality than what’s included in this new plan.
For Customs St, the CCMP opens up new opportunities as a key part of the plan is stopping general traffic using the city as a thoroughfare. This potentially opens up a lot of opportunity to reallocate space to pedestrians, bikes and improved bus facilities.
Step 2 and Step 3
These two steps are interrelated so I’ll cover them together.
Currently buses terminate in the city centre all over the place and it can be a confusing mess to work out where to go to catch your bus from. The map below shows just the places where buses terminate but on top of this there are through services like the link buses.
You may recall earlier this year there was a lot of focus on the potential sale of the Downtown Carpark and Auckland Transport wanting to include a bus facility in the redevelopment. More recently they’ve agreed that facility could go on the street if the Hobson St flyover was removed (another part of the CCMP) – bidders for the carpark have to come up with how to incorporate the bus facility.
It’s this bus plan that’s a key reason behind the push for the bus interchange on or around the downtown site. But it turns out they don’t just want one off-street facility, they want up to five of them. AT also point to the Manukau bus station as an example of the kind of experience they want to deliver.
AT would then simplify bus operating patterns in the city centre with buses terminating at one of these facilities. This would also see many bus routes being terminating on the opposite side of the city from where they enter which will help in making them more useful.
But I do have a couple of big concerns about these off-street facilities as it seems the plan is largely contingent on them happening. These facilities are going to be big and expensive projects – the Regional Land Transport Programme allocates over $350 million for these and some of the other bus improvements in the city. Yet most people are still likely to be boarding their bus at an on-street stop and so this is a lot of money to use up prime city centre land for what is essentially bus layover space.
The size of these facilities means there’s a good chance of project slippage and with service improvements relying on these facilities being in place, there’s a good chance those service improvements will also be delayed.
At the very least it seems like the number of facilities should reduce with the western and eastern facilities being combined. That would see
- the Manukau Rd services extended to Wynyard – it also seems odd that Manukau Rd services would require two transfers to get to Wynyard.
- the two North Shore routes combined into a single facility on the eastern side – AT do suggest these could potentially be combined
Even if everything goes right, AT don’t expect these improvements to be completed until 2028. That seems simply too far away given the scale of change that we need.
Finally it’s worth mentioning some of the things that are missing from the plan. It’s notable that there’s only one mention of ‘mode-shift’ and only two mentions of ‘climate change’ in the document and all three of these are in the introduction by AT CEO Shane Ellison. Though talk about reducing emissions is mentioned a bit more it’s only really in relation to bus emissions directly. It seems to me that AT are missing a critical aspect in that they’re just trying to meet growth and to make buses better to get people out of their cars. This is reflected in their forecast below.
Notably, since 2016, the number of people arriving by car in the city centre during the morning peak fell from about 42,000 in 2016 to 35,000 in 2020 just before COVID hit. With current and future improvements to the city in making it more people friendly and with less space dedicated to the movement and storage of cars, there’s no reason to expect this trend wouldn’t continue. Yet AT are forecasting car numbers to increase.