Friday, September 16, 2011

Three more busway projects for Auckland

Encouraged by the great success of the Central Connector and Northern busways, three more busway projects look to be on the books for Auckland

Akoranga station on the Northern Busway. The covered walkway extends across the Motorway to the campus on the opposite side.  In Christchurch a far more modest programme of suburban bus transfer stations, announced in 2006,  has made no progress in five years of Parker led governance, despite all the usual Council rhetoric. [click on image to enlarge] per Wikimedia Commons

Although the exact parameters of the terms busway and bus rapid transit have never been officially defined (if that is indeed possible) a general consensus seems to be emerging in public transport circles that four major components need to exist;

(a) bus lanes segregated in part or whole and/or fully separated from conventional road transport

(b) priority signals or grade separated intersections

(c) bus level platform stations with pre-pay boarding systems

(d) real time signage

Auckland's Northern busway meets all these criteria

The main elements of the busway are an 8.5 kilometre bus only roading, over 6 km of this on an entirely segregated road beside the northern motorway, five main stations air conditioned with platform loading and large car parks, and bus laned roads in the North Shore Takapuna areas on roads feeding buses onto the busway. 

The Northern busway reduced public transport traveling time from Albany to the city down from 57 minutes to 25 minutes. The system is even competitive with cars -  according to a report in the NZ Herald  travel times on the Northern Express from Albany station to Fanshawe St at peak can be almost half those of cars, 24 minutes as compared to 45 in a car. Buses depart for the city every 2-3 minutes in peak hours.

The busway opened in 2005 (fully in 2008) and patronage rose at 77% in the second year, and five million passengers trips were taken within five years. Patronage is still increasing in double digit figures, 19% in the year to June 2011.

The Central connector in Auckland's downtown area sees buses accessing the Central city by bus lanes and Grafton Bridge which has been converted to a bus only corridor during daylight hours.

The New Zealand Transport Agency were so impressed with the success of the northern busway in 2007 they began researching extending a mostly grade segregated busway a futher 16 kilometres north to Orewa. In November 2008 the NZ Herald reported

"Auckland's booming Northern Busway is being eyed up for a $700 million to $1.2 billion extension to Orewa.  The Transport Agency is considering extending a two-lane highway for buses from Constellation Drive to at least Silverdale, superseding a previous plan to rely on motorway shoulders for trips north of Albany.  Its new proposal would involve building five tunnels and seven bridges, including a flyover of the Northern  Motorway, leaving North Shore City and Rodney District to construct bus stations along the way - at Rosedale, Redvale and Silverdale."

After a hiatus of a year or two, it seems, this investigation resumed early this year with NZTA hiring international engineering giant BECA to scope out the needs of the project, which may be some years away but needs land corridors that will be needed to be identified and protected before they are compromised by new developments.

Although National is not as committed to growing public transport as the Labour Government was, (to say the least) it has made it clear it may support busway projects where seen as more cost effective than rail and wants busways investigated as an option to a central underground rail loop.

This potential Government funding of busways is good news for the AMETI project - the Auckland Manakau East Tamaki Inititiative, a $1.6 billion (plus) redevelopment of rail, road, busway and cycleway patterns for south east Auckland areas. Government funding of $429 million has been allocated to the total project to date.

Part of the AMETI project (which requires the acqusition of 329 properties and removal or demolition of most buildings upon these) is the proposed building of a central median lane busway between Panmure, Pakauraunga and Botany.

As  international public transport planner Jarret Walker says, although median lane busways can sometimes make turning movements more complicated for other traffic " a median BRT solution looks and feels like a separated busway, and its dedicated median station infrastructure makes the service look both prominent and permanent." 

Whether centre lane or curbside lane, there appears little doubt this project will go ahead, in line with the overall strategic goals of the whole project (best described in the AKT blog here).

Now more Auckland citizens, living in the west but out reach of easy access to the western rail line who are pushing for a western busway of their own, running from Te Atatu to central Auckland. According to a report in The Western Leader   "A proposal to build a dedicated busway alongside the north-western busway motorway has won support from the Henderson-Massey Local Board. It has included the idea in its draft annual plan. Labour MP Phil Twyford put forward the proposal and says the could be built, including new bus stations, for about $350 million. It would run from Westgate to either Pt Chevalier or the Auckland CBD and include stations at Te Atatu, Lincoln Rd and Massey." 

Given comments by Minister of Transport Stephen Joyce about Aucklanders using bus corridors this project could well get wheels on it [literally!] before too many years have passed (or maybe as soon as Phil Twyford's party regains the seats of Governance).

The spread of busways - and the desire to built these corridors, often cheaper than rail and delivering greater service frequency, speed and accessibility across wider spectrum of suburbs (without need for time losing transfers) when  "open" available to use by multiple bus routes - is not confined to Auckland.

Busways (more commonly called bus rapid transit in North America, and Quality Bus Corridors in the UK) are part of an international phenomena that has fostered significant growth in bus patronage where implemented. This is particularly so in South America, where many of the busways concepts were first developed (notably in Curitba and Bogota) but many busway systems have been built around the world in the last decades, the largest such as those in Jakarta, Istanbul, Mexico City, Lagos moving hundreds of thousands of passengers per day. Ottawa in Canada, with a population of only a million, carries more passengers per capita per year on its public transport system than every North American city other than the metropolitan giants, New York, Toronto and Montreal. An unusual achievement for a smaller city - Ottawa patronage figures are almost entirely based on its extensive off-road segregated bus network, though plans are now to also include a light rail extension along one corridor.

Closer to home, earlier this year the Queensland Minister of Transport announced Southeast Queensland bus patronage has surged by a huge 65 per cent over the past six years, to 71 million trips per year. This was more than triple the growth in commuter rail usage. Most of this growth is accredited to the very sophisticated segregated busway system in Brisbane, which allows dozens of bus routes to feed into non-stop busway corridors and trenches straight into the heart of the city without need for time consuming transfers.

In Christchurch no study has ever been done of busways, indeed the key words "busway" and "bus rapid transit" bring up no matches on the city council website.

That such a huge and significant growth phenomena of the last decade as busways/bus rapid transit can be ignored by the Christchurch City Council might suggest to many that those who are paid high salaries to manage efficiently have an abysmal ignorance of modern transit trends (and failure to research properly).

Or perhaps that certain factions may be pushing light rail and their own fantasies rather than investigating the actual resident transport needs and wisest choices for public transport for all of  Christchurch in the broad and professional manner they are hired or elected to carry out.

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