Last year Auckland Transport consulted on their long-term plans for buses in the city centre. Part of the plan involves creating two high-quality east-west bus corridors through the city but another key part to it involves building up to five major off-street bus facilities on the edges of the city centre for buses to terminate at with services routed to a facility on the opposite side of the city to the one they enter on. Those facilities would include passenger facilities and AT pointed to the Manukau Bus Station as an example of the kind of experience they want to deliver with them
AT released the outcome to that consultation back in February and while there weren’t too many responses, most were supportive of the changes meaning AT are now moving on to
consultant welfare business case stage.
While I do think the City Centre Bus plan is an improvement over what we have now, the reliance on large, expensive off-street facilities is what concerns me the most about the plan. ATs Regional Land Transport Programme currently allocates over $350 million for these and some of the other bus improvements in the city but they’re also the most likely aspects to face cost escalation and/or other delivery challenges. This becomes even more of an issue when you consider most city centre passengers will still board or alight buses on the street and the facilities are mainly just about providing layover space for bus operators.
AT did say at the time that the number and location of the facilities could change as part of the business case process but one option I hope they include in that analysis is option of fully through-routing some buses which may reduce the need for or the size and features of those facilities.
Through-routing comes with a number of benefits, but it isn’t without its own issues too. So let’s look at these.
Auckland’s city centre is home to the most expensive real estate in the city, if not the entire country. Any off-street station is going to be expensive to deliver either in terms of the amount of land needed or for high engineering solutions such as underground or elevated (like the proposed Grafton Gully Station would need to be).
This means any off-street facility is going to have a massive opportunity cost, both in terms of financially for AT to deliver but also spatially as it is land/space that can’t be used for other purposes. Through routing can essentially shift that cost to areas where land is cheaper.
Perhaps more importantly, through-routing can also open up new opportunities for easier public transport options. I’ll cover some options for joining routes together later in the post but as an example, linking together the Manukau Rd services (30) and the Takapuna services (82) would directly link together Onehunga, Royal Oak, Epsom, Newmarket, the city centre, Takapuna and Milford.
The first big issue to note is our geography which results in somewhat of an imbalance of routes. There are still plenty we could join though so it’s not always an issue.
The major issue with through-routing is reliability, especially after making some very long routes. As it is many of the buses on the existing routes suffer from reliability issues and so without major improvement in bus priority this will only get worse. By starting buses in the city it does mean that in the PM peak at least, buses can generally leave when the timetable says they will.
The alternative to this is likely to be overly conservative timetables and the introduction/addition of staging/timing stops much like the dreaded Victoria Park Pause of the Inner Link.
There may also be issues with long routes and how it impacts on driver schedules and their need for breaks.
Finally, based on our current network there will almost certainly be un-even flows. This is because all routes have different service levels and levels of usage. Aligning these may result in increased costs. Again coming back to the suggestion of linking Manukau Rd and Takapuna services, both services have buses running every 15 minutes off-peak and every 7.5 minutes in the peak direction at peak times (to the city in the morning, away from the city in the evening). The 82 also runs that higher-frequency in the counter-peak direction but the 30 only has counter-peak direction buses every 15 minutes. So to fully through-route these services AT would need to increase the frequency on the 30 part of the route which would increase costs, but then also provide a better experience.
I’ve come up with a bunch of routes I think could be joined together. I focused this joining frequent routes and considered aspects such as frequency, ridership, and the location of where services currently terminate in coming up with these suggestions. I also excluded Sandringham Rd services from the list given the uncertainty of their future over light rail but have included another combination.
- 30 and 82 – I’ve already mentioned this one and incidentally it was also part of the original proposal for the current bus network.
- 18 and 75 – The 18 runs a bit more frequently than the 75 throughout the day but they are close. Perhaps the bigger issue that they both currently terminate in quite different locations and joining these together would remove direct access to Wynyard for 75 bus users.
- 20 and Tamaki Link – As part of the bus plan, AT want to extend the Tamaki Link to Wynyard. Given they both currently have identical frequencies they may be ideal to join together.
- 22 and 95 – Both routes run fairly similar frequencies with the major difference between them being the 22 uses Wellesley St while the 97 terminates downtown
- 27 and 97 – From a matching frequency perspective this was one of the hardest as the 27 runs a lot more frequently than the 97 but if the base patterns were to be joined, it would mean just the extra peak services on Mt Eden Rd would need to be dealt with terminating in the city.
- 25 and City Link – Not a through-route but with light rail on Dominion Rd now seemingly off the table, perhaps AT should look join these routes together to create a route like they originally envisioned with light rail, making use of Ian McKinnon Dr for a more direct route and linking through to Wynyard. Both these services already run at high frequency all day.
Pre-Covid these routes carried combined nearly 18 million trips, or about a quarter of all bus trips in Auckland.
What suggestions do you have for through-routing or do you think it’s not worth the benefit?