Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Commuters facing a 3-year crawl

NZTA offering no answers to missing bus lanes on Northwestern Motorway and promise of endless jams.

Bus lanes are disappearing during motorway work out west. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Bus lanes are disappearing during motorway work out west. Photo / Sarah Ivey

The Transport Agency reluctantly goes through the pretence of embracing public transport as part of its overall remit, but its DNA remains 99 per cent road-builder. When it comes to buses, the agency doesn't see them as an alternative mode of mass transport, just giant cars, needing more motorways.

This morning NZTA displays its caraholic ancestry by launching a three-year-long closure of the dedicated bus lanes along the Northwest Motorway.

It has to be done, says NZTA, because the trucks and diggers being used to upgrade this vital "road of national significance" need dedicated space to operate, so the buses can clear off and take their chances in the already congested car lanes.

NZTA highway manager Tommy Parker admits this change "will have a significant impact on people using the route" and says NZTA, Auckland Transport and the bus companies are working together "to do everything possible to reduce delays and keep people moving". Just what, he's not saying.

His only suggestion is that "Northwestern regulars ... leave the car at home and take the bus to help reduce the numbers of vehicles using this tight space over the next few years".

If the buses had been allowed to retain their dedicated busway - or got a new one for the duration - that proposal makes a lot of sense.

Indeed it would be the ideal opportunity for public transport to seduce commuters out of their cars and on to the more efficient bus. But who in their right mind - in particular, a dyed-in-the-wool car commuter - would contemplate swapping the crawl along the motorway in a private car for the dubious pleasure of crowding on to a bus and crawling to work in a conveyance with seats and springs as severe as a Presbyterian church pew, surrounded by coughing, spluttering and increasingly grumpy strangers.

At least stuck in traffic in your own car, you can choose the company you keep, to say nothing of the air temperature and choice of music.

Back in July, commuters got a taste of what was to come when the priority lanes for buses and cars carrying two or more passengers on motorway ramps at Waterview were closed. That had Ritchies Transport's Andrew Ritchie fuming about delays of between 10 and 25 minutes in the evening travel peak. From today, things will only get worse, with buses and cars with more than one occupant progressively being forced off the existing narrow shoulder bus lanes and into the general traffic melee.

While claiming to be doing everything possible to alleviate the problems this will cause, NZTA has fallen back on the "have to break the eggs to make an omelet" approach. This is the country's largest roading project to date, says Mr Parker, and "regrettably, this does mean impacts on people using the Northwestern over the next few years. We're asking for your patience and care when driving ..."

Two months ago Labour's spokesman on Auckland issues, Te Atatu MP Phil Twyford, made the eminently sensible suggestion that one of the motorway's three general traffic lanes in each direction should become dedicated bus and high-occupancy vehicle lanes during the three-year construction period. At the time, both AT and NZTA said they were considering solutions - including Mr Twyford's.

Mr Twyford says he also got "a very reassuring" message back from NZTA saying their design team were working on answers. As of last Friday, they'd failed to come back to him.

Auckland Transport's solution is to admit defeat and revise bus timetables to accommodate the inevitable delays. An additional eight trips a day will be laid on Ritchies western services from mid-October to cope with buses taking much longer to complete their journeys. Buses will also gain an extra lane on the Great North Rd onramp - but that won't speed up the journey, once stuck on the motorway.

On the eve of the launch of the new electric train system, this was the time to seize the moment and give public transport a boost citywide.

On the Northwestern Motorway, it's going to be three years of negativity instead. The existing bus lanes along the motorway were incomplete afterthoughts, but they are, or were, better than nothing. To abandon that advantage is another sign that NZTA doesn't take public transport seriously.

- NZ Herald

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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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