I'm not sure where the drive to encourage more people to take public transport actually comes from in Auckland. I guess it's the council, or perhaps central government - all I know is that there is a kind of pervading sense that Aucklanders moan about the traffic but refuse to use public transport.
For the most part, I'm one of those who refuses to use public transport unless I have to. Not because I don't think it's a good idea, but because of the service.
I'm on the Shore, so trains aren't an option - only buses. I live in Birkenhead where the brown buses serving the community make me feel unwell even to look at them. Many of these monstrosities appear to be from the 1950s, with seats so tiny and uncomfortable that if I ever see one pull up at the bus-stop I can't bear the thought of climbing the narrow 90 degree steps for the privilege of a seat.
On the occasions on which I've had to, I chose the skinniest person I could find to be sure I won't spend the entire bump-filled trip cheek-to-cheek with a stranger. Even then, I grit my teeth as bony hips dig into my side, as people bounce up and down on buses whose suspension has long left them. In winter this situation is particularly vile as windows fog up, and the air is thick with flu-filled passengers coughing and sneezing. It's quite a challenge to see how much of the ride I can hold my breath for.
If I get lucky and catch a Birkenhead bus built this decade, and I concede there are a few more of them now as they weed out the dinosaurs, I inevitably get a driver who seems to thrill at the fact he has modern brakes, slamming them on at every opportunity rather than easing into them, at which point passengers lurch forward in the aisles, bumping those lucky enough to be seated.
For this pleasure, and an 8km trip I will pay $4.50 and be on the bus for 35 mins. A long 35 mins.
Oh, and if it's around 8am on a weekday, I note we will fly past the hopeful faces of commuters waiting at stops further along the route, for goodness knows how long, until a bus with space can pick them up. Actually, I have been at one of those stops before, near the bottom of Onewa Road. I waited 50 minutes in rush hour before a bus could stop. It was standing room of course, and the driver was a lurch-loon.
This week I am staying in Orewa. I have seen the buses there, which look modern and vaguely appealing. I've seen them whizz by on that special lane on the motorway, that goes at least part of the distance (who knows when the bus extension will get as far as Silverdale, can anyone enlighten me?). By car the trip takes less than 30 minutes to town. I considered trying the bus as I noticed it stops not far from my work.
I looked it up. The bus trip costs $10.30 and takes 1 hour 9 mins for a 34 km trip. So return it would be $20.60. If I did it every day this week, that's $103. To be fair, I'm sure there are 10-trip concession cards but you get my drift.
I noticed, from my car as I drove, that there's a new park and ride in the pipeline not far from Orewa, at Silverdale - the Hibiscus Coast Busway Station - so obviously there are people keen to get on the buses. Ultimately there will be 500 car parks on the 4.2ha site, which the Council bought for $4.6 million through the Public Works Act.
The first stage of this project will be to build 100 spaces and a 500 metre road for access from the Hibiscus Coast Highway. I imagine you would have to be there at 6am to grab a park. The second stage, the other 400 parks and a drop off area (quaintly termed the "kiss and ride" zone) won't be completed until mid 2013.
Anyway, the fact it's being built means plainly there are people who don't mind buses and - when you factor in the cost of parking in the city - think it's cost effective.
Anyway, as much as I thought it might be nice to catch one of those fancy fast buses from Orewa, I had just filled my car up with petrol. And that extra 39 minutes travelling, is 39 minutes I could spend walking on the beach. In the rain.
The Aucklander would like to know what you think. Is your area well-serviced by buses? Do you have a bouquet or a brick bat for the drivers? Are the fares reasonable? Would you use a park and ride? Would you catch another feeder bus to a park and ride? If you're on the Hibiscus Coast, are you planning to use the bus station? And if you're in Birkenhead, what do you think of the bus service?
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