Auckland Transport is spending $5.5 million on doubling the free parking area at its Albany bus station, raising questions about the adequacy of "feeder" bus services from northern suburbs.
The council organisation will add 550 spaces to the "park-and- ride" facility, to boost capacity to 1100 cars by the end of July, when most of the area north from the bus station to Oteha Valley Rd should be paved.
A long line of covered shelters will run up the spine of the otherwise open-air parking area to help bus passengers keep dry while going from or to their cars.
It will be overlooked by a 7m high limestone sculpture designed by Titirangi artist Caroline Robinson.
The project is the second extension of the parking area to cope with demand since the bus station opened late in 2005 with 370 spaces, to prepare for the $300 million Northern Busway, which began operating just over two years later.
Commuters have long complained about missing out on parking at the Albany and Constellation bus stations unless they get there before about 7.30am on weekday mornings.
Annual use of the busway has swollen to more than 2.225 million passenger trips, after an increase of 16.7 per cent reported by Auckland Transport for the 12 months to November.
Auckland Council transport committee member George Wood, a former North Shore mayor, yesterday welcomed the continuing increase but questioned the planning of bus routes feeding into the busway stations, which are remote from main population areas.
He blamed a lack of integrated services between its bus stations and outlying suburbs for the heavy demand on parking.
That was because people returning from central Auckland on the busway found it too difficult to get the rest of their way home from the bus stations on local services, so took advantage of the free parking to have their cars waiting for them.
Mr Wood said he found it "a bit incongruous" that an agency trying to promote public transport was building extra car parks for $10,000 a space as part of that effort, and he was concerned about the cost to ratepayers.
"When the busway opened we did supply car parks but we were also going to supply feeder buses across the northern North Shore to service the busway up and down the spine."
Although some extra services were introduced initially to coincide with the busway's opening, he believed they were inadequate for many passengers.
"I'm not aware of a comprehensive up-to-date plan in relation to bus services and public transport across the northern North Shore," Mr Wood said.
He was also concerned about apparent delays in building a park-and-ride bus station at Silverdale, to take pressure off Albany from commuters driving there from the Whangaparaoa Peninsula.
Campaign for Better Transport convener Cameron Pitches said adding parks to Albany would be a disincentive for people to catch connecting buses from their homes.
He blamed delays in developing a region-wide transport ticket for poor co-ordination between services.
Former Rodney District mayor Penny Webster, also an Auckland Council transport committee member, said extra parking at Albany was badly needed, as were a new facility at Silverdale and more feeder bus services.
Auckland Transport spokeswoman Sharon Hunter was last night unable to indicate when the Silverdale park-and-ride station would be built, but defended the level of feeder services into the busway.
"The North Shore has a good level of feeder services to the busway and the busway continues to be quite an exceptional success story, both in respect of patronage levels and the return on investment," she said.
The Albany expansion follows a disclosure in November that her organisation's second-largest "public transport" project this year after electric trains will be a $20 million parking building near Manukau's new railway station, opening next month.
But unlike at Albany, drivers will be charged for parking in the 2000-space building, which Auckland Mayor Len Brown supports as being part of an "integrated development" transport hub.