The focus over the last week has understandably been on the massive light rail announcement last Friday. That announcement also included bringing forward of a decision on a future harbour crossing to tie in with light rail. But one area there was very little discussion about was the other of the three planned light rail routes, to the Northwest.
In some ways, the Northwest may actually be a more important route than the other two because it’s a corridor that currently has a lot of travel, a lot of growth occurring and very little in the way of public transport provision. By comparison the North Shore has the Busway, arguably the best public transport service in the country right now; while on the City Centre to Mangere corridor, there are a already a number of high-frequency services and elements of bus priority – not that they couldn’t be better.
Now I hear you asking: aren’t we making improvements to buses in the Northwest already? Which brings us to the point of this post.
Back in July 2020 the government announced $100 million was to be invested in a series of improvements to buses in the Northwest, with half of that coming from their ‘shovel-ready’ fund as part of their response to COVID. The planned improvements aren’t meant to be a full busway or a substitute for a proper rapid transit route but more of a stop-gap measure so that existing buses could be improved.
But six months on from that and this is all the progress that has been made.
That’s right: other than some ceremonial shovel swinging, not a single thing has happened at either site. There are no diggers, high-viz, hardhats or even any road cones and construction signage. The project is looking like it will miss the entire construction season. In the press release from the sod turning, they even said:
The project is scheduled to be completed in late 2022, at which time express bus services will commence. AT will also look at improving the local bus schedules and routes to serve these new bus interchanges.
The big question of course is why is nothing happening?
Unfortunately I don’t have an answer to that. While COVID-related lockdowns would certainly have delayed any construction, things would surely have started by now if that was the case. There are, however, a few rumours floating around that point to staff within Waka Kotahi blocking it. Whether that’s true or not I can’t say, but whatever the cause, it’s time some of the people in the photo above started finding out why and sorting it out. We simply can’t afford to keep delaying critical public transport improvements like this, especially projects that are meant to be underway.
It certainly wouldn’t be the first time Waka Kotahi have prevented public transport improvements on this corridor – as I explained last year.
I’m also not the only one asking, with Councillor Shane Henderson announcing he’s written a letter to find out why.
North-West Aucklanders leave home earlier and get home later than almost any other community in this country just to get to work. That's time away from their families
I've written a letter asking for an urgent update into the interim busway#LoveTheWest pic.twitter.com/aIHDlyFxGr
— Cr Shane Henderson (@HendoWest) February 1, 2022
One thing to clarify though: it’s not really an interim busway, more just some bus lane and bus stop improvements to enable services to run along the motorway corridor, stop at the interchanges for transfers to local services and then get back on the motorway again.
As a reminder, what we’re talking about here isn’t a Puhinui-scale station, or even a Northern Busway style station, but really just some bus stops and pedestrian access
There is also meant to be a station at Westgate, although that is now being delivered separately to this work and isn’t due to start construction till 2023.
While these improvements aren’t perfect and we still need a proper rapid transit route, one reason I think these improvements are so important – other than giving better transport options to people in the Northwest – is they could also be a model for more quickly completing other parts of our rapid transit network. In particular, the Upper Harbour route between Westgate and Constellation, the remaining Airport to Botany corridor, and the New Lynn to Onehunga corridor. Notably the first two of those almost appear to have been downgraded on the latest rapid transit maps released alongside light rail.
Can we please get some progress on this NW Bus project?