That’s how long, starting this week, the busiest bus interchange in the country will be closed. It has only been opened about 18 months since the last upgrade.
This time around the closure is to enable Auckland Transport to install the shelters and seating that should have been installed as part of the original upgrade – but were removed from the programme following budget cuts in the wake of COVID.
From Sunday 5 June, bus services that usually use Lower Albert Street Interchange (NX1 and Northwestern services) will be using other city centre stops. Our AT Mobile and Journey Planner have been updated, so you can plan your trip. Find out more: https://t.co/EzNXWbmnt9 pic.twitter.com/Bg31CsUx0L
— Auckland Transport (@AklTransport) May 30, 2022
I’m glad the shelter and seating are finally going in, but cutting the shelters from the budget revealed the low priority that Auckland Transport gives to public transport users when making decision. The Council’s decision to cut the budget for the project as part of $119 million package of cuts would have almost certainly been on the basis of AT recommendation, just like they tried to do with the cycling budget this week.
As for why it’s taking so long and some of the other common reactions to the news, Stuff’s Todd Niall has this.
“Five months?!” was a common response to news of the length of the job. After all, the street had already been prepared for the structures’ eventual, belated installation.
A big part of the explanation from Auckland Transport seems to be that it is trying to do the work in a way that causes the least disruption to Covid-hit businesses on the street.
Another aim was to maintain two traffic lanes – not just for buses to pass through but also for general traffic, some of which accesses an underground car park below the Commercial Bay precinct.
The erection of the steel structures will be followed by measuring-up for the glass sheets that provide the shelter, meaning perhaps a month-long pause in construction.
Couldn’t one side of the street be done, then the other, to halve disruption to bus users heading either north or west ? No. The space needed for construction made that impossible, Auckland Transport said.
Couldn’t it be done in summer, when bus use is lower and shelter from the elements less of an issue? No, because summer is a more important time for businesses in the vicinity.
On the design itself and the temporary disruption, a few thoughts:
The shelters on the western side of the street have already been put in place so this closure is just to build those on the eastern side.
It’s hard to tell from the images given how the reality is often quite different, but I really hope they’re designed to enable full rain protection for passengers. One thing that can be incredibly frustrating about so many of Auckland Transport’s designs is the shelter stops short of the kerb meaning that when it’s raining there can be a curtain of rain to get through to get on or off your bus or train.
The seating will be a welcome addition but there has been no mention of other amenities that should be mandatory at such a busy interchange. For example, are any HOP machines being installed so people can top up their cards or do people wanting to do that have to go over to Britomart? What about things like drinking fountains that make it easy to drink directly or fill a bottle?
There is no mention of things like these on AT’s page for the project.
It would also be good to see improved wayfinding for those bus to train or ferry transfers
Supporting buses during the disruption
While most of the temporary bus stops are on routes with bus priority, the NX1 isn’t and that’s a concern given it’s the busiest service in the city. That’s because while the city centre might be quieter now than it was before the pandemic it doesn’t mean buses won’t get held up in traffic. During the original closure of the bus interchange it wasn’t uncommon for buses to get held up in traffic and/or having cars and delivery trucks sitting in the bus stops blocking them. AT should be adding temporary bus lanes to the sections of Customs St the NX1 will be running on to help keep it reliable.
Why not start enabling AT’s City Centre Bus Plan
Incidentally, during the previous works I actually found the temporary bus stops on Customs St more convenient than the downtown interchange even though the quality wasn’t as good – as the transfer was shorter, especially going from bus to train.
Last year we learnt that AT’s proposed plan for buses in the city was for the NX1 to stay on Customs St and travel though to a new terminus on the eastern side of the city rather than terminating on Lower Albert St. So why not make moves to start implementing it? I suspect a lot of it could be implemented fairly easily without the need for a big off-street bus interchange facility like AT want.
What’s happening to the sale of the Downtown Carpark?
This thought isn’t directly related to these shelters but it did make me wonder what’s happening with the sale of the Downtown Carpark.
A part of their push for big bus interchange facilities in the city, one of the first of these is likely to be an extension of the Downtown Bus Interchange and AT were eyeing up retaining floor space as part of the sale and redevelopment of the downtown carpark. Following criticism of this they’re also considering options for the facility to be on lower Hobson St, perhaps harnessing space from the removal of the Hobson St flyover.
The site went up for sale last year and tenders closed at the end of November so hopefully we’re getting close to hearing the outcome of that and seeing what the plans for the area are.