A couple of articles caught my attention over the weekend that I think ultimately are somewhat related.
First up, following a number of articles last week about he new WX1 route, yesterday Todd Niall reported on how some senior managers from Auckland Transport and Waka Kotahi tried it out.
Five senior transport managers have taken a peak-hour bus ride on Auckland’s new WX1 express service to see first-hand, troubles which have disrupted what was pitched as a taste of rapid-transit.
However, despite a $100 million spend by Waka Kotahi on the lanes, and two new bus interchanges, peak hour travel times on the WX1 route are as slow and congested as they previously were.
“We came to Waterview and then we came to a bit of a grinding halt, and that felt very bad,” said Stacey van der Putten, AT’s executive general manager of public transport services, who organised the trip.
Van der Putten and four other managers from AT and Waka Kotahi missed their intended city-bound service on Thursday, because of morning congestion even travelling against the flow, from the city centre to Westgate, by WX1.
“Just getting from downtown where it left, and up Albert Street took far too long.” she said.
Citybound, the first hurdle is that the Westgate onramp has no priority lane for buses, and van der Putten and the other managers spent four minutes crawling on the bus, until reaching the motorway bus lane.
Long sections of Waka Kotahi’s northwestern motorway have shoulder space that remains out-of-bounds to buses for reasons the agency describes as due to safety, or the cost of modifying obstructions.
Adding bus priority to the citybound onramp at Westgate, and westbound at Newton Road, is expected to be completed by May 2024, following work started by Waka Kotahi in 2018.
Waka Kotahi told councillors at the Transport and Infrastructure committee, that it was looking at the issues highlighted during the bus trip.
“We think we can change the onramp configuration reasonably quickly – the area around Waterview is more challenging due to a lack of space, but our team will do some brainstorming,” said Steve Mutton, the director of regional relationships.
The problem areas are not new. AT had to put pressure on Waka Kotahi in 2013, after the building of a section of motorway bus lane at Westgate but which the agency did not intend to open for 8-10 years.
At that time, Waka Kotahi said it would not be possible to change the format of the Westgate onramp to provide bus priority, although that design work is now underway.
Van der Putten said other areas noted by the managers were the layouts and the flow of people at the Te Atatu interchange, where passengers changing buses have to cross the road to access a narrow bus stop.
Mutton said the group would do a further trip next week on the westbound evening peak services.
“It felt really great being a bus customer on the bus today when you’re going past all the cars, but then you get to that stuff, you really notice it at Waterview,” said van der Putten who was confident the two agencies would be able to sort out those issues that could be fixed.
It’s great that these managers took this trip to see first-hand how the WX1 performs. Fixing some of the areas highlighted, such as buses being slow just to get out of the city, could have big implications for not just the WX1 but many other services.
Auckland’s public transport network would be a lot better off if this wasn’t just a one-time event but happened on every route on a semi-regular basis. They should also try using public transport for some journeys that involve transfers – or to/from areas where car mode-share is especially high.
Given Auckland has nearly 200 bus routes, riding all of them is not something that could be achieved quickly but they could also achieve a lot of benefits just by properly analyzing the huge amounts of data they already collect.
For example, some detailed analysis of their timetables or even better, their bus tracking data, should allow them to identify the locations where buses are at their slowest. Fix those slow spots and re-evaluate and see where to focus on next. Furthermore, the solutions to many of slow spots on many routes are likely to be similar, so once they’ve got some experience in dealing with them, it should enable that fix to roll out faster elsewhere.
This kind of approach is exactly what should have happened with the now stopped, scandalous Connected Communities project and I understand there was some unpublished work they produced doing exactly this. Maybe AT just need to dig into their recent archives.
The second article follows on from reports of hours-long queues to get out of the mall car-park in Newmarket.
The Automobile Association (AA) has hit out at Auckland Transport (AT) after Westfield shoppers were reduced to panic attacks during horrendous three-hour traffic queues yesterday, with the motoring watchdog demanding better traffic management for beleaguered commuters.
The line of cars winding around the Newmarket parking lot inched forward by a few metres per hour yesterday afternoon, forcing many shoppers to spend at least three hours stuck in their cars.
Anger boiled over as some motorists were desperate for food and water, and one shopper was even forced to wet herself in her vehicle as she waited in the traffic jam to exit the car parking building.
Westfield has blamed poor weather and high customer numbers for the debacle, and apologised to affected customers for the “unforeseen delays”.
AA’s Auckland issues spokesman Martin Glynn said “at the very least” traffic lights on nearby feeder roads should have been rephased to help clear the traffic once the severe congestion problems became apparent.
“The scale of Auckland’s congestion problem means decisions on how we use our road space need to be focused on what moves the most people on a particular road at a particular time and day,” Glynn said.
“Auckland’s public transport system is getting better but most people still use their cars to get to malls so the transport network still needs to be able to respond to this sort of problem.
“If the problem is an ongoing one at the weekends and can’t be addressed with changes to traffic light phases, AT may need to rethink what is the most efficient use of space on the surrounding roads at that time.”
There are many things that AT can be blamed for, but I fail to see how this is one of them. For starters, how focusing on with the mall that promotes thousands of free carparks to encourage people to drive and shop there.
Even if they had of changed light phasing, it’s hard to see how that would make much of a difference other than just pushing the congestion elsewhere.
I do agree that AT need to rethink what is the most efficient space on surrounding roads though, because the reality is, there is very little space for anything but cars through Newmarket. For example, Broadway between Remuera Rd and Khyber Pass Rd has six frequent and four other bus routes passing through it yet there’s not a single metre of bus lane. There are however still two lanes of carparking.
Most of the bus and transit lanes that do exist in the area are only active at peak times on weekdays. And it’s here where, if AT were to get serious about the user experience on public transport, they could make some changes and perhaps more people might have given the bus a go – reducing the severity of congestion.
Finally, isn’t this carpark experience just the latest in a long line of evidence showing that traffic modelling and the transport assessments used in consenting processes are junk. They get constantly made out to be some kind of precise science that can predict what will happen but often fail miserably.