Public transport

Oct 14, 2012

What can Auckland tell us about doing public transport better?

Australian cities could learn a lot from the 'anywhere at anytime' public transport network proposed by Auckland Transport for implementation within just four years

Alan Davies — Editor of The Urbanist

Alan Davies

Editor of The Urbanist

Business as usual (left) and proposed (right) frequent public transport network, Auckland 2016 (Source: Auckland Trasnport).

The first exhibit shows two alternative visions for Auckland’s frequent public transport service network (a service every 15 minutes from 7am to 7pm seven days a week). They’re from the Draft Auckland regional public transport plan via Jarrett Walker’s blog, Human Transit.

The one on the left is business as usual – that’s what it will look like in 2016 on current trend. The second is what Auckland Transport proposes it should look like in 2016.

The business as usual map is great for getting to the city centre if your origin is reasonably close to one of the transit routes. But it’s not much chop for going anywhere else.

The proposed alternative is an attempt to establish a genuine network. It conceives the entire public transport system as an integrated system rather than as a series of isolated ‘lines’.

It offers greatly improved access to all of Auckland because it provides opportunities to connect to other routes at interchanges. It seeks to create a ‘synergistic’ public transport system – the ‘network effect’. The second exhibit (scroll down) shows the proposed network as a metro-style map.

The wonder is it could be up and running in four years and is claimed to cost no more to operate than the business as usual case. It replaces a complex historical accumulation of circuitous, low frequency bus services with a sparser grid that’s much more frequent and provides more opportunities for interconnection.

Transit consultant Jarrett Walker is involved in the project. He says:

The (proposed) network still includes coverage to all corners of the city that are covered now, and ensures plenty of capacity for peak commuters into the city.  But meanwhile, it defines an extensive network of high frequency services around which future urban growth can organize to ensure that over time, more and more of the city finds public transport convenient.

Now compare this with the approach to improving public transport in Melbourne advocated by a transport expert, as reported in The Age. He says the Baillieu government should prioritise its “short list of really good rail projects.”

The projects he cites are the Melbourne Metro, an airport rail line and suburban extensions to Rowville and Doncaster. “What we need is a sense now of what is the formula that is going to deliver that suite of projects in a 10 to 12-year horizon”, he says.

This is not a lone voice. Much of the public debate about public transport in our cities has revolved around proposed new light/heavy rail lines.

Each of these projects has its virtues. Melbourne Metro is needed to address city centre capacity problems, although it’s arguable if it needs to be as big and costly as currently proposed. The others would all be ‘nice to haves’, but they take the majority of their patronage from existing public transport services.

The key concern, though, is they’d cost many billions of dollars and take many years – probably decades – to complete. Indeed, it’s unlikely the Victorian Government would commence more than one of these projects before 2016.

Moreover, they’d also add many fewer kilometres to the network than the kind of approach envisaged for Auckland. In fact it’s by no means clear that either Rowville or Doncaster, in particular, have been prioritised against alternative projects in terms of their potential to multiply the network effect.

What Auckland has in mind saves on capital costs by using low cost buses and, importantly, existing road infrastructure, to tie new and existing modes together via interchanges. Of course it’s not without its drawbacks.

Travellers aren’t used to connections. But as Jarrett Walker says, in the absence of connections the system will still have difficulty providing high frequencies.

As Aucklanders begin discussing the plan, I hope they stay focused on the core question:  Are you willing to get off one vehicle and onto another, with a short wait at a civilised facility, if this is the key to vastly expanding your public transport network without raising its subsidy?  

Another issue is buses aren’t as attractive to travellers as either light or heavy rail. Also, they often compete with other traffic and can get held up at traffic lights.

But they’re generally much cheaper and faster to establish than rail. A key requirement is they be given priority in terms of road use.

Over time, as patronage rises to a level that exceeds the capacity and/or cost-effectiveness of buses, it will make sense to consider higher capacity ‘mass transit’ options, like light rail or heavy rail.

What’s proposed for Auckland in 2016 is only the beginning. Longer operating hours, higher frequencies and a denser network would be better. There’s a map in Auckland Transport’s draft report that envisages a denser network in 2022.

Australian cities should have a good look at what Auckland’s trying to do. Their focus should be on a public transport network that increasingly gives users the option of travelling ‘anywhere, anytime’.

Buses and roads will have to be an important part of the mix because of cost and time constraints. Some rail will be in there but it needs to be prioritised on its systemic contribution.

Some of our cities have looming capacity problems, especially in the centre, that can only be addressed with rail-based solutions. But it’s questionable that projects like Rowville rail, which would extend the reach of the rail system further into the suburbs and draw patronage mostly from other public transport routes, should be among the leading priorities.


Metro-style schematic of proposed 2016 frequent public transport network, Auckland
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35 thoughts on “What can Auckland tell us about doing public transport better?

  1. Alan Davies

    Follow up story in Atlantic Cities

  2. Patrick Reynolds

    For anyone wanting to follow the roll out of the 3 interlinked big changes happening Auckland: The total bus route redesign, the new electric trains being built in Spain, and the integration of the fares system, the best place for independent coverage and analysis of this and related transport and urban design issues as seen from Auckland is the imaginatively named .

    This is really nothing other than a revolution for this extremely auto-dependant city of 1.5million, that used to have the developed world’s highest level of PT use per capita until the tram system was dismantled in the mid 1950s in a disastrous attempt to ape the new American way. This was followed by equally destructive privatisation of buses and trains [rail was re-nationalised by the last Labour government], and an insane all in bet on urban motorways. Ak has the biggest and vilest urban motorway interchange in Australasia :
    Paul Mees devotes most of a chapter in ‘Transport for Suburbia’ to the sorry story of how Auckland was tricked into abandoning its transit past.
    It is an interesting tale and now on the verge of a huge new change in direction. It will be extremely interesting to follow if the new region-wide council can achieve its aims especially faced with a hostile highway loving government holding all the funding.

  3. IkaInk

    Once again Michael, you’re putting words into my mouth. I’ve never said, nor implied that passion has no place in planning. The reason I find your statements about being passionate frustrating is that you seem to think it excuses you to rant to the point that it becomes impossible to follow what you are actually trying to say. I simply can’t make sense of most of your arguments. Every post seems to try to say 10 things at once, many points which seem to only be connected by the flimsiest thread.

    As for the the comment regarding Toronto, please re-read your comment: And finally, you’re quite wrong about your comments re Toronto. How am I ever meant to interpret that as that you agree with me?

    Call me blind and deaf all you like, but I think if there is a problem with misinterpretation it lies with your writing.

  4. michael r james

    Ika, you have reached the point of being blind & deaf to what I am trying to say, misinterpreting me. I was agreeing with your comments about Toronto (you have to read the earlier post; in the last post I was disagreeing with your misintepretation of my comment, yes altogether too exhausting to sort out).

    My Jane Jacobs comment was a throwaway line but I have often wondered… That is, most works/bios seem to focus on her life and influence in NYC. I’m not sure what she may have done in Toronto. (ie. I need to read the Alexiou bio. (I think))

    BTW, I almost did a Jane Jacobs myself–fleeing one’s homeland for Canada on principled grounds (or in the depths of dismay; apparently she was motivated by Vietnam.). Though almost certainly Vancouver in my case. And really, you can pour scorn on my “passionate arguments” but be careful about that. It is what is missing in all Australian discourse, mediocrity being the MO here. It is dispiriting to anyone with an imagination. I would hate to think you believe there is no role for it in urban planning. It is the source of my major disagreements with AD whose bloodless econometric interpretations fit perfectly into the Oz mediocrity scenario.

  5. IkaInk

    I can’t be bothered arguing with even more of your lengthy, irrelevant rants Michael, but I am curious why are my comments about Toronto incorrect?

    don’t just tell me I’m wrong, but WHY I’m wrong

    That Jane Jacob’s lived the later part of her life here is utterly irrelevant.

  6. michael r james

    In the last post I forgot about my asterisk. My local cafe is the Belle Epoque which is an entirely passable French patisseries/cafe in the middle of the Emporium, which is a creditable low-rise mixed-use development on the edge of the Valley. It is squeezed in between two hugely busy roads (to airport and points east and north) of Anne and Wickham streets. It has buildings of mostly 5 storeys around a 8 storey central block; apartments above retail shops (including until recently a rare bookshop), cafes, restaurants and a boutique hotel (the Emporium). Palm trees, frangipani and bouganvillea. It has a circular road and parking but altogether is a pleasant refuge.

    But either side of the two traffic conduits, despite attempts with more shopping, are complete dead zones. They are only 25m away but hardly anyone ventures there. Several of the shops on the “wrong” side have moved away. Perhaps they will build Emporium-like “villages” along Parramatta road but the planners vision says otherwise (and their vision is of a hi-rise apartment corridor/canyon.) They just don’t get it and are in a timewarp of priority to road building that will simply create yet more congestion. But hey maybe they will run a busway along the surface component (more space in the motorway below as I refuse to believe they will ever allow two entire lanes of this sunken monstrosity to be given over exclusively to PT).

  7. michael r james

    At this point I am just spitting in the wind, but since AD is so exclusively focussed on Melbourne, there needs to be some alert to the madness going on in Sydney. Especially as it is so relevant to the discussion here.

    In today’s The Australian (reading at my local cafe*) Imre Salusinsky summarizes the fantastical Nick Greiner-Infrastructure NSW 20 year plan in all its grotesqueness. It reads like something a road planner might have written with sincere intent about 40 years ago.

    The four most significant projects, in his own words, involve M4 widening from 4 to 8 lanes, a “further tunnel” to airport/port, widening of M5 and a second tunnel, and a “slotted motorway” under Parramatta road.

    Alas the online version doesn’t have the artist’s rendering of the slotted motorway. Has anyone looked around the world where just slotted motorways exist? Have they worked in any way these report fantasists imagine: “The vision in the INSW report is of a sunken freeway, with a local road above it, and new housing and retail development on both sides, linked by overpasses.” I can’t think of many–mostly because I don’t go near such places when I visit cities, which I believe is telling in itself–but the ones I can think of are a few motorways on the edge of Paris (in a situation not dissimilar to the problem with Parramatta road) and they are shockingly bad.

    In one breath one of the planners says “You tend not to walk across 10 lanes of traffic to get to a retail street” but has somehow deluded himself that the replacement slot is any better. It divides the two sides of the road into different universes. Planners even observe that Park Avenue in NYC does the same –an unintended consequence of the two large roads either side of a central strip of “park”.

    Anyway, in the context of discussion of PT as on this blog, a UniS “expert” proclaims, apparently without irony, “it recognises the role of buses and busways – and, hence, motorways.” And just for AD: “It is more cost effective than the rail system.” This of course is why LA which has busway lanes on some of its motorways, is now spending tens of billions on Metro (subways & lightrail).

    Not that that “ideal” and “less expensive” “solution” to PT is a firm part of the 20 year plan, it is will merely “increase the leverage for governments to insist on dedicated bus lanes on new motorways”. Great. Increased leverage is going to work just dandy with people who hate cycleways. It will be the Campbell Newmann model.

    Then there is the selling of this plan, which Salusinsky and planners alike, know is going to be a hard sell. Some extracts: “It’s about how you sell the package”; “It makes marketing it to some parts of the community easier ..”; “We live in a democracy. Hopefully, the majority will win out.”

    Yes, confusing democracy with majority rule (the “minority” can just get stuffed).

    The final word has to be given to this astounding back to the future comment, gossmackingly ignorant of half a century of road and city planning:

    “committed to a vision for a city no longer bedevilled by congestion”.

  8. michael r james


    The most objectionable word in your own little rant is then. In Australia then never arrives, and by distracting the choices by all those “good” ideas which amount to tinkering will even further push them into the NIMTOO category.

    My point about BOF threatening cyclelanes was to show the mindset of these guys. You seriously think that if they get so heated about cycleways taking space from cars (or in Newman’s case, busways on roads), they are the type to bother tinkering with the bus network. Sheesh, our two biggest cities can’t even implement a sensible electronic travel card! Labor or Libs won’t even contemplate sensible changes to Sydney’s George Street!

    I can hear you and Alan thinking, “WTF does that have to do with anything?” Alas, everything.

    In practice it would take a lot of activists’ energy, a lot of political capital and thus a lot of distraction to make the modest (and I perfectly agree, very do-able) improvements to existing PT.

    I am going to be arrogant and claim that my case is irrefutable. It’s in our history. And that yours is all wishful thinking. You’re right at the level of the trees but dead wrong at the level of the forest. If the miracle happened and governments actually took your approved course of action, it may improve some things in the short term but any long-term vision, nevermind action, would be forever postponed. Indeed I believe Brisbane’s busway project has effectively done that–it has given “permission” to Newman/Quirk to do nothing further about PT. I have no idea how you (or AD) can be in denial over that relatively transparent reality in Australia.

    About the “waste” of any given project I think it is highly arguable. The same has been claimed for almost every major costly PT project I can think of (of course in London, Paris, NYC–I’m thinking in my lifetime). Economists are screeching the exact same thing about China building “too much infrastructure”! Yet, you won’t find much if any of it is under-utilized today. (or shortly in China with another 400m about to urbanize). You and AD and the kind of narrowview econocrats who sit on the Productivity Commission (Orwellian thing if ever there was!) and wring their hands but if the same group of worthies had determined the shape of those great cities, well they wouldn’t be great cities. (They’d be hellish versions of Houston, Phoenix, Atlanta).

    The other non-negligible (indeed almost determinitive) aspect to those “wasteful” projects is the Daniel Burnham maxim. (Make no little plans…). Governments and leaders want to leave a visible legacy behind and since this is driven by voter perception, it is pointless to argue against it. One has to harness the force not dismiss it.

    And finally, you’re quite wrong about your comments re Toronto (the adopted home of Jane Jacobs). But Australians are as Americans are to Canadians. Or worse.

  9. IkaInk

    Michael, your supposed “context” is little more than your standard four post rants with little pertinent information. What the hell does O’Farrell’s cancellation of bikeways have to do with the debate at hand? Australia has shitty politicians? Yes, and? Are they suddenly likely to become good just because we’ve decided to spend $6billion on a rail tunnel through Melbourne that will only supply the capacity the City Loop was already built to provide? No, of course not, but they will have blown $6billion, recovered very little of the expense and helped build the case for spending less on public transport in the future. We need to make smart investments, not necessarily big investments.

    I’ve given you plenty of reasons as to why I disagree with you (see Toronto, points about patronage on Melbourne’s buses), and evidence to support my claims. I might not write out quite as many 4 post rants chocked full of “passionate”, but ultimately only relevant in the broadest sense, claims; but I tend to try to make my points brief and to the point.

    Again, let me make myself perfectly clear as you seem to fail to understand what I am saying:
    Australia needs to invest in rail, but we need to do it sensibly (not concentrating entirely on very big ticket , big cost projects), and to compliment these investments, we must fix our bus systems which carry too few passengers and cost too much to run.

    As far as rail investments: lets get our current infrastructure operating at 80% (standard best practice) of its capacity, not the approximate 60-70% its operating at in Melbourne at the moment. Lets re-arrange the seating of carriages and order 6 car sets for rollingstock. Lets fix cheap and easy to fix bottlenecks. Lets do these relatively low-cost capacity improvements and then decide where we should build the next multi-billion rail line.

  10. michael r james

    “Those options are sold as being cheaper (by the likes of AD) but as anyone willing to open their eyes and look up from a short time horizon, can see that they turn into the most expensive option.”

    Just in case it still is not clear. They end up being the most expensive option because they bring endless delay in the only thing that is ultimately the solution for big-city transport. (Not the only thing but the thing without which none of the other things can work properly, or get enough people out of their cars.)

  11. michael r james

    Arrggh, need an Edit button. Obviously I intended to say that those world cities did not solve their transport problems with road-based options.

  12. michael r james

    IkaInk at 3:08 am

    The statements only sound contradictory when so taken out of context. IF we have sensible rational government, of course you could do both. BUT we don’t have sensible government (on transport at the very least). That is why I get passionate. I have come to the awful conclusion that our weak and infrastructure-averse governments (of all stripes, over most of our history) will always chose the easy option. In Australia, more than most countries, our governments are at the mercy and behest of the road lobby and the developers.

    Those options are sold as being cheaper (by the likes of AD) but as anyone willing to open their eyes and look up from a short time horizon, can see that they turn into the most expensive option. The cost of retrofitting our giant cities with PT that works. Sydney second airport & the cost of rail-based PT to all our major airports.

    So that is why you and I can agree on the logic of the bus network (hardly a new idea, just apparently a revelation to Australians), but why I want to see action on what matters on a longer time frame. It is clear as day

    By all means disagree but don’t just tell me I’m wrong, but WHY I’m wrong. Cite history to support your case. Me I’ll cite the LA example of buses only used by the underclass. I’ll cite Mayor Newmann cancelling busways the day after he assumed office (I’m not He did it.) O’Farrell threatening cycleways almost immediately after assuming office! And BOF, Baillieu and Newmann supporting gigantic new road schemes and no serious PT (except theoretic ones that will never get off the ground) that even previous road builders are beginning to have second thoughts about. Do you and the others on this blog live in a different Australia to the one I live in?

    It is why I have stated many times on this and other blogs that what Australia needs is a champion of PT. (And I can tell you, such a champion is not going to waste too much time on buses. Do you think that NYC, London, Paris, Tokyo etc solved their horrendous mobility issues at the turn of the century when they were roughly comparable in size to our cities today?)

  13. IkaInk

    One major contradiction in your lengthy rants Michael:
    It unfortunately comes down to a stark choice today between bus-only vs rail;

    Buses are so bloody cheap and quick n easy to implement, you can do them as well and at any time it makes sense.

    So which is it? We can only do one, or they can be done simultaneously? I’d say of course they can be done simultaneously, and that implementation on the sorts of improvements that cost next to nothing, that will lead to increased revenue recovery and that will produce better environmental outcomes, will only free up economic resources and provide more incentive to make other improvements; i.e. increased demand and better economic return will increase political pressure for more rail improvements.

  14. mook schanker

    Brevity isn’t your strong point Michael?

    To round out this article in terms of Melbourne (rather than a few words from a random ‘expert’), perhaps a discussion of what PTV is doing with the upcoming Melbourne bus re-franchises (happening now) which is the biggest thing in bus land happening for quite some time. It may provide some clue on the future planning for integrated bus networks, inter-connectivity and frequency laden services in Melbourne for years to come.

  15. michael r james

    Here is an interesting piece on LA PT by none other than that red-blooded, econometric, “build skyscrapers next to the Whitehouse in downtown DC” Matt Yglesias:

    L.A.’s Transit Revolution How a ballot initiative, a visionary mayor, and a quest for growth are turning Los Angeles into America’s next great mass-transit city.
    By Matthew Yglesias | Posted Monday, Sept. 17, 2012
    On a recent visit to Southern California, I began my day in Claremont, where I’d spoken the previous evening at a Pomona College event. I walked from a hotel near campus to the Claremont Metrolink station, where I grabbed a commuter rail train to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. From there I transferred to the L.A. Metro’s Red Line and rode up to the Vermont/Santa Monica station and checked into a new hotel. I had lunch in that neighborhood, and later walked east to meet a friend for dinner and drinks in Silver Lake.
    My father, a lifelong New Yorker and confirmed L.A. hater whose screenwriting work has frequently taken him to the City of Angels, found the idea of a carless California day pretty amusing. But the city that’s defined in the public imagination as the great auto-centric counterpoint to the traditional cities of the Northeast has quietly emerged as a serious mass transit contender. It’s no New York and never will be—Los Angeles was constructed in the era of mass automobile ownership, and its landscape will always reflect that—but it’s turning into something more interesting, a 21st-century city that moves the idea of alternative transportation beyond nostalgia or Europhilia.
    Los Angeles has made this remarkable and underappreciated shift because it has never stopped growing. The core Los Angeles municipality never experienced the kind of postwar population crash that afflicted Northern cities.]

    I think M.Y. is late to this vision and most of his/Slate’s readers would have been a bit shocked by these words. But he is certainly correct. He is not being visionary but late to the party: people like me, and not least the LA planners, saw this when they started their first subway in the mid-90s. The system they are building resembles SF’s BART which was already operational on my first visit to that city in 1979! (But due to the NIMBYs in rich suburbs along the peninsula, slowed the original plan to circumnavigate the bay–ie. down the peninsula to San Jose, across the Bay to Almeda and Oakland etc. Wow, it would have transformed PT in the entire Bay Area but the NIMBYs and the econocrats delayed it for decades, which of course added untold cost to eventually building it.

    Anyway the reason I mention it, is that this is obviously a good model. Matt Y wants to throw all building regs out the window and encourage skyscrapers all over LA, which is wrong headed and quite unnecessary to generate TODs. But the overall idea is of course a good one and his point that it is very workable for LA because it is growing. Exactly as our three east coast cities. (ie. Contrary to Bob Carr’s fears, the growth can be turned to advantage with a bit of imagination/planning/investment.) AD rants against the economics of the proposed Rowville rail extension, but (without knowing details of Melbourne) my question would be why would you build such an expensive line WITHOUT designing several TODs along it? (ie. obviously instead of the usual exurban sprawl). Then the economics (long term, one has to lift one’s eyes from short-termism) transform plus the city densifies automatically. (I believe, Alan, that is practically a law of economics, n’est-ce pas).

    Final bit from MY’s article in which you could substitute our city names for LA:
    [As work continues, people will find that Los Angeles has some attributes that make it an ideal transit city. Consultant and planner Jarrett Walker notes that the city’s long straight boulevards make it perfect for high-quality express bus service. And then, of course, there’s the weather. Something like a nine-minute wait for a bus, a 15-minute walk to your destination, or an afternoon bike ride are all more pleasant in Southern California than in a Boston winter or a sweltering Washington August.]

    However note that while a BRT system on those boulevardes could possibly work in LA, I don’t think for a minute they are a substitute for the expensive Metro they are building. And just like our own version of LA (Brisbane’s 200km city) the road lobby and politicians are unlikely to support such systems that take a lot of road space for that BRT, given that their roads are already saturated.

  16. michael r james

    I haven’t quite finished my rant!

    Another big reason for less enthusiasm for buses is that most people have less enthusiasm for buses. A hi-frequency, short-route network as all of us on this blog are agreed upon, is the way to run a bus system, barely exists anywhere in the world. Do you wonder why?

    A whole bunch of reasons, not least of which is the resistance of the majority of potential PT users. But of course also because, despite all the promises of the authorities, one never quite trusts the “hi-frequency” bit. Even on Brisbane’s quite good busway, with its electronic displays telling you when your bus is due: too often it is a complete lie. There are various theories as to why. Fellow bus users like me discuss this while observing the “ghost buses” suddenly disappear from the display approx. 1 minute after they were supposed to arrive, and never arrive! The authorities must simply cancel buses, so instead of 10 or 15 min intervals it becomes 20m or worse. It is bad enough if that happens once in a journey but if it is a network and happens more than once, well you’re f**ked, and bloody angry. Most car drivers will have a story like that to tell, and is why they are willing to sit in congestion with gritted teeth. It also drives some to cycling despite the abysmal provision of bike infrastructure. It is partly why I am a walker–surprisingly (or not) when you factor in all the waiting for buses, the difference between walking is not so great.

    No doubt there is a psychological component–because if you are waiting at a Metro stop, for some difficult-to-define reasons it is not as irritating as waiting at a bus stop. Perhaps because we know the train/tram will arrive pretty soon. With buses our lifetime experiences tell us to expect the worst.

    As I have wrote on this blog (and others), I am quite optimistic, perhaps wildly optimistic, about LA’s current plan to transform their PT. (Contrary to AD’s handwringing over their “overspending” and current gloomy user stats.) LA actually has a very extensive bus system–by virtue of the city’s gargantuan size probably the biggest in North America. But you (and AD and me) won’t find many, if any, people you know who use it, or have ever used it. I use it everytime I go to LA (usually for very short transit, overnight or a few days, and so reluctant to hire a car in this ne plus ultra car city). I catch the local bus from LAX to adjoining Venice Beach where I always stay–even at midnight (some flights from Europe). Or the express from LAX to the CBD, which uses the freeways (memory failing me but I think there might be a lane reserved for buses + cars with >3 pax?). One can walk along the boardwalk to Santa Monica in about 20 minutes. From VB or Santa Monica one can catch a bus that goes up Sunset or SM Blvd to my usual destination of UCLA, about 25 mins.

    In fact you can get just about anywhere in LA by bus and it is not as scary as many Los Angelenos imagine (they’ve never done it, though true in this part of the city you keep to the “left”–away from South Central etc).

    Anyway my point is that this huge bus network has existed for at least the last half century but most Angelenos will not use it. So, obviously it –by itself as per the previous half-century–is clearly not a solution to LA’s transport problem. That is why they are building a mix of full Metro and lightrail. As I wrote just last week, when the “subway to the beach” (Santa Monica) opens I believe it will be the pivot point: because lots of people who previously wouldn’t think about using PT (meaning buses) will give it a try, and voila, find it to be magic. Especially as it will serve many of the places they want to go (all the shopping/entertainment hotspots along Sunset & SM Blvd etc), UCLA, Century City and ultimately downtown. (Of course for greater LA it is going to take another few decades of spending tens of billions of dollars to achieve a city-wide Metro network. But the success of this beach Metro might speed it all up because of people power.)

    Yes, Alan, it is costing a motza. But FFS it is the only kind of PT that will get Angelenos out of their cars. Once they have a basic Metro backbone, then and only then I believe the bus network will come into its own. With some redesign to serve the Metro stations all kinds of Angelenos will start using them. The other way around–NEVER. BTW it is not a million miles from the NYC system. Or indeed Paris. LA is not a bad model for Australian cities, unlike the much smaller not-growing Auckland.

  17. michael r james


    My comment was really about the import of AD’s article and not on your comment. So, it was clunky writing/phrasing.

    And actually I seem to have inadvertently riled you so that you haven’t read the rest of what I wrote (eg. my entire second para). As I said, of course there is a role for buses. In fact pretty much as you (or others say): as shorter routes, more frequent feeder lines to rail. I have argued many times (though cannot recall if specifically on this blog) that Brisbane’s busway system should be converted into lightrail and the buses used as hi-frequency feeders into the busway (now tramway with tram-bus interchanges). In fact if you read, you’ll find my remark that many of the buses using the busway, some with 20 km routes, often are almost empty for much of the day. They are the cause of the bus pile-ups at several bottlenecks and make using the bus stations a horror.

    So, I will gladly admit I am rail obsessed for the incontrovertible fact know of no major city in the world that has a functional PT system based solely on buses, which perhaps I should alter to “largely dependent on buses”.

    The reason I get so assertive on this blog is not due to your comments but to AD’s apparent obsession that rail of any sort is always “uneconomic” and he always favours “cheaper” options. He consistently argues that tired old line that Australia is “different” to (.. name it: European cities, Asian cities/countries). This is the only means by which someone can hide their cognitive dissonance as they travel around the world (increasingly even the USA, certainly Canada).

    It is the reason why the NSW plan is rejecting any rail plan, including the George St (Central to CQ) lightrail plan and instead proposing to keep buses but put them in a tunnel under George street (that will never happen because of cost–this is really just a “plan” to do nothing, but it will have AD’s approval). And proposing <$30bn on more roads.

    Finally, another reason I am "obsessed" with rail is strategic. I know–as anyone who looks at Australian PT and Australian governance of PT–that if there is any kind of short-term (5 year, 10 year) plan, inevitably based solely on buses, that looks like some bandaid for their time in office, then that is what they will do (defined more by what they won’t do). This is the NIMTOO phenomenon and it has caught up with both Sydney and Melbourne big time. And it looks set to afflict Sydney at least for another few decades once this Greiner plan begins.

    Incidentally, the politician (or uber-bureaucrat like Greiner) who realizes that a bus network is the sensible way to run buses, will also be the one to realize that a rail backbone allied to that bus network is the only viable long-term solution to a big cities PT system.

    So, it is in that sense that for me, yes, it unfortunately comes down to a stark choice today between bus-only vs rail. Because buses are no solution–in all three East Coast cities today–and it means we will be even less prepared tomorrow (in another decade or two as this final orgy of road building and exurban hell expansion plays out). And of course if rail is expensive today what is it going to be tomorrow? We’ve played these dumb games of procrastination for the last 40 years (since I was a kid and could see that all our cities were going to become LA in our own lifetimes).

    And the other absurd thing about the choice is that if you embark upon expensive rail projects, guess what? Buses are so bloody cheap and quick n easy to implement, you can do them as well and at any time it makes sense. Not true for rail which takes a decade to make an impact (witness LA, which by the way, AD argued/implied in his recent piece, was misspent budget!) If you give a bureaucrat the choice of spending $10bn on rail that will not be finished in his term of office (or even his second) versus a few hundred million on the band aid of buses that can be up and running by the time he is running for re-election (and of course all the econometric technocrats like AD are telling him is “more economic bang for his buck”), then we know what he is going to do.

    I think it is like that maxim from the 60s: if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem.

  18. IkaInk

    @Michael – Firstly, no, I mean to be effusive, this is one of Alan’s best pieces on the matter. He is absolutely correct in everything he says.

    Secondly to address this comment: I know of no major city in the world that has a functional PT system based solely on buses – Where in the original article, or in my comment did you jump to the conclusion that either of us were arguing for this? You have a habit of putting words into my mouth, but this one just baffles me.

    Thirdly, will this new bus network solve all of Auckland’s public transport woes? No, of course not and nobody has claimed it will. Is it an intelligent and praise worthy decision anyway? Yes; it is cost neutral, it expands mobility for a lot of people, and it will almost certainly lead to fuller buses, which will result in higher revenue return and better environmental outcomes. That means less money on operator subsidies, and hopefully more money for investments in other necessities, like rail.

    So, while it may be a good plan for Auckland, in no way can it be a model for our cities. Once again, I’ll disagree completely, this sort of model is exactly what we should be looking at. Do you know what the average number of people on a bus in Melbourne is currently? It’s 5 people. Yet we pay our bus operators vast subsidies to continue running these stupid routes that nobody wants to use all so people at the D.O.T can say that more than 90% of Melbourne residents are within walking distance of public transport. Never mind that many areas that are “covered” have public transport so poor that buses struggle to get more than 1 or 2 passenger on board at a time.

    Funnily enough, you’re so hell bent on your pro-rail, anti-bus bias that you don’t seem to have realised that the Auckland frequent service map actually includes some rail.

  19. michael r james

    Reading Mook Schanker’s post only after I posted mine, I retract my comment that buses might be fine for Auckland. It seems it has reached the same point as Brisbane did a while back. The thing is if the existing road system is inadequate then trying to impose a bus priority system on top of it probably cannot work, not least politically but probably physically either.

  20. michael r james

    Ika, I wouldn’t be so effusive as your first post because your next post points out that in Toronto it is heavy rail that does the heavy lifting. I know of no major city in the world that has a functional PT system based solely on buses (and please, I include Curitiba and Bogota). That system may well work for Auckland but all East coast Australian cities (and Toronto) are 2 to 4 times as big. Even more important is that they are all growing while Auckland/NZ are not growing much (of course how can they when the biggest immigrant group to Oz are Kiwis: 10% of them live in Oz!).

    So, while it may be a good plan for Auckland, in no way can it be a model for our cities. Though I point out that networking buses was the subject of a post of mine a week or two back (citing a SMH article, probably by Jacob Saulwick). Yes, it is a no-brainer. But once cities pass a certain threshold–Melbourne & Sydney passed it many decades ago, Brisbane at the millenium–such surface-road based PT start failing. In Brisbane’s case that is when they began building busways–ie. mostly grade-separated bus-only system. However too little, too late and it is now suffering congestion and falling ridership. True, it has not adopted a proper network approach, instead running buses (often mostly empty most of the day) from outer woop woop into the city. Dumb, but it seems there is no faith that Australians will want to change buses at proper bus stations (AD, you must have seen them during your last visit; serious stations that would work well in an interchange system).

    I would also point out that trying to give buses priority on existing roads becomes a political issue. In 2005 when Campbell Newman became mayor he closed the busways on Corro Drive and Lutwyche road the day after he was elected.

    There is a role for buses (mostly as feeders for rail PT) but it is not a serious solution for bigger cities, especially cities that know they are going to become seriously big. Given the horrendous cost of proper Metro I favour road-based light-rail instead of over-reliance on buses. They are permanent and businesses and property values along their routes always benefit; never the case for buses. This is what you are seeing all over the world, including in dozens of American cities. Private property owners (rate payers) and private business end up supporting it politically.

  21. mook schanker

    Wow, Auckland held up as the poster boy – oh my never thought I would see the day!

    Well the good news is Auckland is doing something that is the basket case of choked roads strangling the city and deplorable railway infrastructure that will soon get into the electric age (about 60 years later than Wellington). The rail network really is miniscule and awful!

    The atrocious segregation of councils for years in Auckland ruined any chance of a one voice for integrated transport and this combined with nay sayers banging on about hypothecation of rail transport whilst willfully ignoring broader economic gain led to the current transport disaster. They used to have trams years ago, ah well…

    The answer of buses is a big call, perhaps segregated routes could be the only option for an efficient bus system though could be folly in a road network currently well exceeding any demand.

    Maybe they should have kept that 20 cent tax on petrol after all to ‘really’ invest in transport infrastructure….

  22. Dylan Nicholson

    IkaInk, I’d definitely agree that simpler and more-frequent bus routes and connections with rail services could help boost rail patronage. But the line I live on doesn’t need any help there – the trains are overcrowded more often than not! So any improvements to our bus services have to be part of a overall overhaul of the PT system as a whole to provide more reliable, more comfortable and more frequent services if they’re to have any real impact.

  23. IkaInk

    @Dylan – Toronto’s rail network still does the heavy lifting (and with approximately 4 minute frequencies and very high capacity vehicles is able to), but the bus network is responsible for carrying the bulk of passengers to the rail network, hence still having a high transit mode share in suburbs not directly serviced by rail. In Melbourne something like 15% of rail passengers arrive at the rail network by bus. In Toronto I believe the figure is higher than 60% (I can’t recall these figures exactly off the top of my head, but they’re in these ballparks).

    Toronto manages this because: most buses are frequent; most buses run from early until late, 7 days; and many buses have extremely easy transfers with rail. This last point is important and Toronto has gone to considerable effort to achieve this. Buses regularly drive into the rail stations, allowing passengers to get off the bus, head down an escalator and board a train. Because the bus arrives inside the station there are less queues, there is no need to show anyone a ticket, and there is no exposure to weather. Here is a video of a street car (tram), doing the same thing. These sorts of efforts should be happening in Melbourne, but instead we’ve got this sort of situation seen at Footscray Station where bus stops are scattered all around the surrounding area in a confusing mess.

    If you’re experience with Melbourne’s bus network is using the decent bus routes that service Doncaster, then you’re getting a lucky experience. Melbourne does have some routes that absolutely make sense and should remain in place. Unfortunately the city also has a number of strange routes that are confusing, meandering and infrequent. (Check out page 14 for some examples). These routes may work well for a small number of people, but for the most part they carry small numbers of passengers and cost bus operators a lot to run (thanks to the way operators are subsidised though, they still do well out of the situation).

  24. Steve777

    Certainly we need something along these lines in Sydney. Sydney’s public transport is not too bad provided that your start and finish points are close to railway stations on the direct route to the CBD, but pretty hopeless if you need to go across suburbs. The relative cheapness of this solution and the quick time in which it can be up and running – within two electoral cycles – has got to be a major attraction. In fact in Sydney, it might be the only politically possible solution. Look at Sydney’s sorry history of grand infrastructure project plans – only a small fraction ever eventually get started, let alone completed.

  25. Dylan Nicholson

    And make sure new buses look more like this:

    Maybe it is possible for buses to overcome their image problem…certainly whatever money was spent on doing that would be less than what it takes to build light rail systems.

  26. Dylan Nicholson

    Of course, we could try to run ads like this…

  27. Dylan Nicholson

    I did say “largely due” – which I’d accept may be an overstatement, but as far as tram routes being direct and easy to understand, I’m not sure I’d necessary agree many of them are significantly better than many bus routes.
    If Toronto really does carry a significant number of its PT users by buses I’d think that makes it relatively unusual compared to most cities in the world I’ve been to where heavy and light rail carry by far the bulk of passengers.

    FWIW, I’ve never used trams very much, and used to depend heavily on the various quite decent bus routes that serviced the Doncaster area where I lived car-free for some time. Just in case you were thinking I had some sort of personal prejudice against buses 🙂

  28. IkaInk

    @Dylan – You honestly believe that the tram network is the least subsidised section of Melbourne’s transit network because of an aesthetic and cultural appeal? it’s not instead because their routes are direct, easy to understand and offer relatively frequent services? The same is obviously true of heavy rail, but heavy rail also costs a lot more to operate.

    Toronto has a very similar geography to Melbourne, and also features a combination of heavy rail, light rail and a sizeable bus network. Yet despite the fact that the heavy and light rail networks are both dwarfed by Melbourne’s, Toronto has consistently held a much higher mode-share using transit for the past few decades. This is true across all suburbs except for the inner cores which perform very similarly. Even in middle suburbs that have no rail (heavy or light) mode share for the journey to work hovers at or above 20%. In Melbourne our middle and outer suburbs struggle to achieve half that percentage.

    Transit doesn’t have to be sexy to get passengers on board, it has to get people where they want to go, when they want to. Only gunzels run around taking photos of trains and trams, the vast majority of people simply use them.

  29. Dylan Nicholson

    If they had plans to allow bicycles on buses (they way they do in many other cities around the world, including Brisbane as I understand it), I’d personally all be for using buses as the most economical way to expand Melbourne’s public transport network.
    But…I somehow doubt that buses are ever going to be seen as a anything other than a “second class citizen” of the public transport world. Nobody is ever going to look forward to being able to take a bus to work. Or take photos of one. The sound of a bus going past is never going to make a city seem alive and vibrant. If humans were rational unfeeling robots, none of this would matter, but we’re not, and it’s silly to pretend it doesn’t. That trams in Melbourne are the least subsidized form of PT is almost certainly largely due to an aesthetic and cultural appeal that buses are never going to have. And they’re obviously no replacement for the high-speed mass transit capability that trains offer. Absolutely, there’s plenty of scope for vastly improving the way they do operate currently, but I can’t see them being the difference between us being a city of car-dependents and a city of commuters who can and do choose between a range of travel options.

  30. melburnite

    Yep more frequent buses on more easily understandable routes seems an obvious way to go. Only routes I know about and use are the simple ones – hoddle street(nice and straight) and the Johnston Street one from North Balwyn to the city – which is a bit too complicated with 4 slightly different options and different timetabling for each and chopped and changed a bit over the years. With our grid of long straight roads in the middle and outer suburbs, you’d think it would be simple to just put a frequent bus service on most of them, and end up with something even easier to undestand than Auckland’s looks like it will be ! From what I have read the SmartBuses are a start in this direction, a far cry from that route in the news lately that goes about 3 km across Brunswick and back, with an average of 1 passenger / bus !

  31. IkaInk

    An absolutely excellent article Alan. In the years(?) I’ve been reading this blog in its current and previous incarnation I’d say this is probably the best article you’ve written on PT issues. There is far too much time and attention paid to big ticket, big cost projects in this country and too little on fixing the things that actually make public transport useful for more people.

    I can’t speak for all of our cities, but Melbourne and Sydney certainly have an “accumulation of circuitous, low frequency bus services” that need to be scrapped and replaced with a network of services that are direct and easy to understand. I’ve been in Toronto the last few months and it is so much easier to understand and use the bus network here!

    On another topic, not completely related. I am genuinely very pleased by one thing in the ‘Tunnel Vision’ article you’ve linked to: Victorian Labor seem to have turned their back on the very-stupid East-West Road Tunnel. Hilariously they seem to be implying it was never their project, which hopefully shows that a new Victorian Labor is emerging.
    Luke Donnellan has even pointed out a truth that the Eddington Report manipulated into a case for building the tunnel. The vast majority of traffic exiting the Eastern is not attempting to drive to the Western Suburbs! Unfortunately, and likely as a result that it is a Roads Minister and not a more sensible Transport Minister their proposed alternative solution is to “fix” Hoddle Street with still no mention of non-car based alternatives.

  32. Alan Davies

    Daniel Bowen #1:

    Thanks for referencing that, Daniel. I had seen it and it looks really interesting. At the time I couldn’t see how to locate the report it’s based on, so I moved on. Can you point me to the report?

  33. Last name First name

    Parker Alan• OAM
    I travelled the rail system In Auckland taking a bicycle with me. I rode the buses and never used a car. Their is missed opportunity in the 2016 plan to provide secure bicycle facilities at rail stations, bus terminals and for an underslung bicycle pedestrian way under slung from the Harbour bridge, respecting cyclists right of access requires this.

    16 years before I was told by the local Auckland cycling organisation that a bridge crossing was promised to them but NZ road engineers consulted Vic roads. Who advised that when cyclists where allowed on Westgate once a year for community rides and VicRoads advised that Melbourne cyclist had thrown beer bottles onto a road going under the the Westgate bridge so NZ was advised not to provide a bike way. The proper integration of public transport and road planning has been a disaster In Auckland

  34. Daniel Bowen

    If you missed it, here’s some info on Melbourne’s frequent network: (scroll down to see the difference in frequent service provision in peak, off-peak, weekend and evening).

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