Call me a cynic, but I couldn't help wondering what Auckland Transport knows that the rest of us don't, when it declared March "Walk Month", announcing it will be "encouraging Aucklanders to take to their feet and discover the many benefits of walking".
To offer prizes to people willing to leave their cars at home on the eve of the excavation of inner-city Albert St - a major bus artery - for the City Rail Link tunnel suggests the transport authority is not primarily worried about the state of our hearts. Rather, "Walk Month" is more along the lines of the World War II "Dig for Victory" campaign when the war planners feared the system wouldn't be able to cope and people would starve if they weren't persuaded to grow their own food.
Six years of major CBD traffic disruption has only just begun and AT is already conceding that preliminary work in Victoria St West moving underground utilities is "slowing traffic flows". AT's solution is to promise more dedicated bus lanes around the CBD at the expense of motorists, and ask commuters to cut their car trips into town, walking, biking and catching public transport instead.
As I no longer work in the CBD, I'm not stressing. I certainly haven't been up at dawn, oiling up the old hiking boots. But experiences in recent weeks with the two vital Link routes suggests it isn't much point AT encouraging more people on to their buses until they get the existing system right.
They say 35,000 seats have been added to the transport network over the past year, and more are planned. My adventures suggest a lot more is needed. And fast.
Three weeks ago, coming home from the dentist, I caught the Inner Link bus at the bottom of Queen St around 2pm. Not a busy time of the day. It now runs up Queen St instead of up Albert St, in anticipation of the impending excavations. Trouble was, when we got to the bottom of Victoria St West to turn right, we couldn't. Nobody seemed to have told AT's traffic planners that their mates in AT's tunnel department had turned Victoria St into a construction site, narrowing it to a single lane each way. It took about 15 minutes to turn right and start crawling up the hill. The driver told me it was a disaster. He sensibly asked, if Victoria St was to be compromised for who knows how long, why the Link couldn't be routed up Wellesley St. As for the Outer Link, the much promoted, "every 15 minutes" service is, in my recent experience, a joke. Last Friday, as I pointed out to AT chairman Lester Levy in a grumpy message, I waited from 1.45pm until 2.23pm at the main Wellesley St stop for a bus heading west. By the time it arrived, there were so many waiting the driver had to leave several hot and bothered travellers stranded at the stop.
In the early evening, the time-keeping is regularly as bad. Since the Aotea car park ramped up its night rate to $12, I've been using the Outer Link for the short trip in from Herne Bay. The problem is, the gap between buses can be up to 40 minutes. Frustratingly, the timetable phone apps are not much help. At 5.30pm they'll tell you there are several buses coming up over the next hour or two, but when you recheck at 6pm, two or three have just vanished, never to be seen again.
It happened three times last week. On Friday, I had to run for the 6.19pm bus after the two programmed between it and the 6.57pm suddenly disappeared from the app. Adding to the confusion, AT's "real time" device at my bus stop consistently disappears an approaching bus from its screen, several minutes before it arrives. Do you trust the phone app, which says it's still coming, or start walking?
On the eve of six years of major CBD traffic disruption, the knowledge that AT can't maintain a simple circuit service in normal times must be good news for shoe shops. But not for the rest of us.
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