Greg Ninness wonders how liveable Auckland is when it can take more than an hour and a half to travel by bus from Herne Bay to Dominion Rd

Greg Ninness wonders how liveable Auckland is when it can take more than an hour and a half to travel by bus from Herne Bay to Dominion Rd

By Greg Ninness

Martians have been abducting Auckland's buses and taking them back to their depot on the red planet.

I'm convinced the little green devils have been flying around the city and beaming our buses back to Mars, where they are parked up with Elvis Presley and squadrons of missing World War II bombers.

They seem to have a particular fondness for the orange Outer Link buses I catch to and from work most days.

Those are the ones that operate on a continuous loop from Newmarket to Parnell, the CBD, Ponsonby. Herne Bay, Pt Chevalier, Mt Albert, St Lukes, Mt Eden and back to Newmarket.

Around and around they go in both directions all day long, with a 15 minute gap in between each bus, except when the Martians are about.

To see the results of the Martians' handiwork you only need to watch those nifty electronic displays they have at bus stops to show you how many minutes you will have to wait until your bus arrives.

The display boards will tell you that a bus is say, five minutes away, then four, three, two minutes and then it's displayed as being due.

Usually that means the bus will be along in the next minute or so, unless it's been beamed up to Mars.

In which case the display board will keep telling you that the bus is due for another few minutes, until the satellite navigation system that keeps track of them realises that the one you thought you were going to catch has been beamed off the face and the earth, and then poof, the bus simply disappears from the display screen as though it had never existed.

On nights when the Martians have been particularly active, I've seen two or three buses in a row disappear off the display screen like that.

And when a bus finally does arrive, there is no guarantee it will pick you up.

I had a particularly bad experience with the Outer Link service last week.

I was at the bus stop by 5.15pm and the display board said the next bus was 6 minutes away, then five, then four and so on, until it was showing as due.

Then it disappeared off the display screen altogether.

"The Martians are at it again," I said to a fellow commuter waiting at the stop.

She agreed, and said they had also been at it the previous night, when she had had to wait 55 minutes for a bus that's supposed to come along every 15 minutes.

Our fears were allayed when a bright orange Link bus heaved into view at 5.30.

A bus is like a friend, I thought, because you are always glad to see it.

But they can also be the type of friend that lets you down.

When this one pulled into the stop the driver opened the back door to let passengers off, but wouldn't open the front doors to let us on, even though there was clearly room for us on board.

I knocked on the door plaintively, but the driver was unmoved, telling us he was running late and wasn't picking up passengers to save time so that he could get back on schedule.

And then he drove off.

After 20 minutes we were joined at the stop by a young woman who told us she had walked up from a stop on College Hill after the bus wouldn't stop for her.

But after walking in the cold and dark for nearly half an hour she had decided to wait with us. At least we had a shop awning to shelter under.

At 5.55pm another Link bus finally arrived and let us on.

By that stage I'd been waiting 45 minutes, so I suppose it was a 10 minute improvement on the 55 minutes my fellow passenger had waited the previous night, but the nightmare was far from over.

The traffic was abysmal and it took about 40 minutes for the bus to crawl its way from Westmere to Mt Albert, then just as the bus got free of the traffic and started traveling at a reasonable pace, the driver pulled into a stop and turned the engine off.

He told us he had to get his bus back to the depot, so we had to wait for another bus and transfer on to that to complete our journey.

Around five minutes later the other bus arrived and we transferred to that and continued on our way and I was let off at my stop at 6:51pm, which meant I had spent one hour and 36 minutes either waiting for a bus or sitting in one.

An intervention

There are two organisations that are responsible for Auckland's bus services, Auckland Transport, the Auckland Council-owned entity that is responsible for planning and oversight of the city's transport needs, and NZ Bus, the Infratil-owned company that is contracted by Auckland Transport to operate most of the city's bus services.

Auckland Transport is responsible for the electronic display boards at bus stops, so I asked their media relations manager Mike Hannan how buses could simply disappear from the display screens when they were supposedly just a few minutes away.

He responded that "Auckland Transport believes this is a technical issue. We will be investigating to understand the issue and provide a fix."

Which is nice to know, but in the absence of a more complete explanation, I'm sticking with my Martians theory.

I also asked Hannan why drivers wouldn't pick up passengers when they were running behind schedule, even when they had to stop to let others off (I have experienced this more than once).

Hannan said Auckland Transport introduced this policy in March and it was called an "intervention."

It was designed to save time when buses weren't running to schedule, but was only supposed to be applied when a following bus was no more than five minutes behind.

"We are aware that this disadvantages the customer who is either held on a bus or is not picked up, however international examples have demonstrated that while some customers are adversely affected there is a greater benefit to the majority who are picked up by a bus which has returned to the promised frequency," he said.

I also had a call from Andrew Gillanders who is a senior duty supervisor at NZ Bus.

He confirmed the policy of interventions but blamed the driver for leaving me waiting at a bus stop when there wasn't another bus following closely behind.

Gillanders said the driver had taken it upon himself to stop picking passengers up and had not been told to do so.

"The driver shouldn't have done that. He was not asked to do an intervention, he took it on himself to do it and we don't want them doing that because we obviously want to have control," he said.

So its sounds like it was a case of good intentions going awry all around.

However to me, it smacks of desperation when a bus company has to resort to leaving passengers standing on the side of the road at night to try and make its buses run to schedule.

I think there's probably a bigger problem than just errant individual drivers taking matters into their own hands.

As one of my fellow travellers said to me the other day, this seems to happen every time it rains.

As Auckland continues to expand, upwards and outwards, the congestion that was once confined to the city's motorways has spread to suburban roads and streets.

Traffic congestion is now so bad that it may only take a shower of rain or a couple of nose to tails and everything grinds to halt and it then it takes more than an hour and a half to get from Herne Bay to Dominion Rd.

Where more is less

According to the great minds that lurk in Auckland Council's corridors of power, Auckland is being transformed into one of the most liveable cities in the world.

I beg to differ.

The population growth that they believe is so essential to our wellbeing is creating a city where for increasing numbers of its inhabitants, housing is in short supply and expensive and transport is a nightmare.

I read the other day that Auckland Council is looking for a new brand to make it "stand out from its global competitors."

I have a suggestion.

What about "Auckland is More!"

As in more crowded, more congested, more expensive and more difficult.

And as it happens, all of those things are helping make the city less liveable.

So perhaps the slogan should be: Auckland, where more is less.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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Brown doesn't like busses. Busses take people away from meeting the growth targets for rail passenger journeys which need to be met before the govt puts money on the rail tunnel. He puts rates money down a rail tunnel hole without asking us if we want this rail tunnel. Now he reluctantly tells us that bus lanes are "an extra that you have to pay extra for".

huh? without asking? He got voted in because people want him to build the freaking tunnel. Ask the govt instead why they throw away billions in roads out in the sticks!

We want the rail tunnel! John Key said he'd build it two years ago and nothing's happened - he said raising house prices meant they couldn't build it... What the?? He is actually the biggest liar on the planet and he's our freaking prime minister

Anyone who has traveled the world knows that our public transport system is 3rd world by comparison. Try the SMRT in Singapore if you want to know what 1st world transportation is with a train like every 4 minutes or even the bus service in South Korea of all places, leather seats and the driver takes a bow to everyone and welcomes them aboard at the start of the journey if you transfer from the airport. Put up with the bus service here for 12 months, we had like 3 breakdowns, countless no shows and a fire with smoke from the rear brakes going over the harbour bridge, wet seats from condensation dripping from the ceiling because the buses are not undercover overnight the list goes on....

population density and per capita incomes, are they comparable?

Transport can make a city more livable. For example, in Osaka Japan, the subway, train, and busy system is hyper efficient and the average fare could be less than a bus from Takapuna to Auckland central, even though the distance may be greater than 20 km. With such a cheap and efficient transport system, it gives people options: they can choose to live in the central city where accommodation costs are usually higher or in the suburbs where costs are more affordable and you have the option of owning your own home.

Who cares about Auckland? Move out and smell the roses.....

Perhaps the auckland bubble is consuming too much hot air.
Lets allocate non residents of all varieties to cities in new zealand based on their capacity to accept them.
Can we do it?
Well i believe students are allocated to institutions for study, other non residents are allocated to jobs..

Greg, the moral is - drive the car to work! (Although if you intend spending an hour and a half each day in a terrestrial rendition of hell, you could probably get some exercise and save some money by walking home each day!)

It seems my slogan for Auckland (which, like the name of the Scottish play, I can not utter...) is more than apt...

Anyway, sitting in climate controlled, heated leather seats, listening to your favourite piece of Wagner in relative privacy beats avoiding spilt bodily fluids on a smelly bus filled with crude high school kids throwing snack foods at a grumpy driver who only knows two ways to drive - one with the throttle floored and the other with the brakes fully stamped on...

there's a reason the Loser Cruiser used to be the perview of old folks and students...

Management blames the driver? Typical. Pretty much sums up New Zealand society.

The Bus Companies dictate to Auckland Transport , its a case of the tail wagging the dog

The bus companies simply decide how to divide up routes between themselves .......... and then they tell AT what the deal is .

If we had congestion charging AT could afford to run more buses and there would be less traffic for them to get stuck in - job done. The real problem is that our government doesn't have a clue how to run a big city - I imagine none of them have ever travelled or if they have it was only to Houston.

nah Disneyland

Wouldn't busses simply not picking up people or dropping them off help make busses more likely to be on schedule?

What is the point of a bus that doesn't take passengers simply because it is trying to "catch up" to it's schedule?

This cannot be. Auckland is a world class city. You know, like London and New York. Has reality not caught up with property prices yet?

Auckland is just as good as London, New York, and Sydney...
Yeah right.

Joke more like.

The woes of Auckland Public Transport isn't new news. One example I have myself...

Many years ago when I lived in Three Kings and worked in Wyndham Street after finishing university... I would finish work between 5.15 and 6pm most days. It used to take approximately 10 minutes to walk from work to the Bus Stop down on Customs Street East. If the buses were on time, it would then take on average 35-40 minutes for the bus to get from Customs Street East to my stop in Three Kings, and a 5 minute walk home. So on average 50-55 minutes. IF the buses were running late... could be up to 1 hr 15, or if traffic was really bad...

I got sick of it and started walking home. Took about an hour (best time was about 56 minutes - depending on traffic lights etc). And I got decent exercise out of it.

This was back in 04-05 and traffic then was nothing on traffic now.

...give it time rickshaws and motor scooters will be the preferred and only affordable option.