Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Logjam hardly a one-off event

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After last week's chaos it's clear we need dedicated and vigilantly policed bus lanes to keep city moving

Auckland Mayor Len Brown believes double decker buses will help unclog Auckland streets. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Auckland Mayor Len Brown believes double decker buses will help unclog Auckland streets. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Now I'm no marketing whizz kid, but I am a frequent passenger, and my instant response to being told to "get moving" is, chance would be a fine thing.The technical term for it is "March madness".

It's how Auckland traffic planners describe the chaos that descends on central Auckland streets during rush hours in the week tertiary students return to class after their summer break.

The traffic planners with a memory anyway. For when I asked Auckland Transport (AT) last Wednesday, why the streets of the CBD had suddenly begun grinding to a halt during the afternoon rush hour, they admitted "we are aware of the problem" and are "working with our Joint Traffic Operations Centre (JTOC) - jointly managed by NZ Transport Agency and AT - to understand exactly what is going on here and work as quickly as possible on a solution".

That response came on Thursday afternoon, just before the accident on the Southern Motorway at Newmarket, which brought the whole of inner city traffic to a virtual standstill and caused widespread delays further afield.

But let's not allow the authorities to persuade us that last Thursday's logjam was a one-off event, and to pin the blame on the drivers involved in the motorway pile-up.

When I read of motorists woes in Friday's paper, my first thought was, well, welcome to the club. On Monday, I had waited in Albert St for my 5.05pm bus, and when it failed to show, caught an Inner Link at 5.20pm, which then took 45 minutes to crawl up the short trip to Three Lamps, Ponsonby.

The journey wasn't helped, by a New Zealand Bus car, parked illegally as usual, by a clipboard wielding "inspector", slap bang in the middle of the bus lane outside the Victoria Park Markets. By week's end, someone must have talked to her. I last spotted it parked illegally on the footpath in front of the bus shelters instead.

My planning guru, one of the "seen it all before" school, assures me everything will settle down in a week or so, as students start either sharing cars, find the parking problems are too great, or sleep in and start missing early lectures, that sort of thing. Here's hoping.

Of course in a city with better separated public transport pathways, gridlock on the roads would be manna from heaven. What better promotion for the merits of public transport than a stalled and steamy motorist, trapped in their car, while a bus or train speeds past in their dedicated bus way or rail track.

In a year or three, when the new electric train service finally arrives, a part of this dream will become reality, and start luring commuters out of their cars. But for buses - the main form of public transport here - a network of separated bus lanes remains a pipe dream. Especially when even the bus operators treat what fragments of bus lanes that do exist - such as the one outside the Victoria Park Market - as a joke.

Last November, transport engineers Sinclair Knight Merz warned that traffic in central Auckland would slow to walking pace in 10 years if the central city rail tunnel wasn't built. I'm writing this before the Friday night rush hour, but from Monday to Thursday last week, that threat had already come true. Indeed on two nights, I passed buses as I walked from Wyndham St down to Victoria Park.

In the middle of this chaos, Mayor Len Brown and Auckland Transport chairman Lester Levy turned up at Britomart Transport Station to unveil their new secret weapon, Auckland's first commuter double-decker bus. Mayor Brown optimistically declared the fleet of double deckers would "play their part in unclogging Auckland ..." Without a set of wings, I don't know how. Wings, or dedicated and vigilantly policed bus lanes.

After several years of steady growth, public transport usage is starting to decline. At the last Auckland Transport board meeting, the bureaucrats presented plans for a marketing programme, complete with billboards telling us to "get training" and "get moving".

Now I'm no marketing whizz kid, but I am a frequent passenger, and my instant response to being told to "get moving" is, chance would be a fine thing. I would, if I could find a regular bus service to move me.

Before fancy double decker buses, we need buses that turn up on time - or at all. We need electronic indicator boards that don't lie and frustrate. And we need dedicated bus lanes in and out of the city so that be it Mad March or the depth of winter, buses can actually flow.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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