Martin Spencer: Retailers counting cost of bus lanes

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The Auckland City Council proposes bus lanes for Queen St because they think that buses move more people than cars.

The truth is that cars move more than twice the number of people in the city's main street than buses do, even in the present congested circumstances of the $42.5 million revamp of Queen St.

Common sense suggests that this is what you would expect and five minutes spent watching the traffic in Queen St confirms it.

Let's take a closer look at figures for bus occupancy. Buses in Queen St each carry an average of only seven passengers each during working hours. This was the result of an actual count.

The council estimate, provided by Flow Transportation Specialists, was a guess based on an assumed average occupancy of 20 people over 24 hours.

The average of 7 passengers includes the free City Circuit red buses sponsored by Heart Of The City which are excellent and well patronised - but don't bring shoppers into the city. Most other buses contain only a handful of passengers. Outside working hours, buses in Queen St carry even fewer than that.

The Auckland City Council justifies dedicated bus lanes by saying that buses move more people along Queen St than cars.

We now know that their "estimate" of 40,000 people was incorrect and that the true figure is well under a quarter of that.

The council has suggested that buses in Queen St carry twice as many people as cars. In fact cars carry more than twice as many people than buses.

If the council's argument is a sound one, "to improve accessibility and urban amenity", then there should definitely be no bus lanes in Queen St and the council should do all in its power to make life easier for private motorists.

* Who uses buses travelling along Queen St?

Most buses travelling up and down Queen St are not bringing people to the city.

Like the red city circuit bus they are moving people around within the city.

For those few buses that are bringing people to the city and have to travel along Queen St, this part of their route is negligible in time and distance compared with their whole journey.

Saving a minute or two during their time in Queen St at the expense of disrupting the rest of the traffic in Queen Street does not justify the 2 or 3 per cent saving in travel time for the one or two passengers on those few buses.

* Why is Auckland City rushing this through?

The urgency to ram this through is apparent from an ACC memo that "this represents the only opportunity to do it at a time when the traffic has already been forced out of the street". Note the use of the word "forced".

If the street were put back to its normal configuration - and then the council tried to restrict it to two single lanes - there would be such a public outcry that it would have to back down.

The memo quoted in part above shows that the council realises this.

* Why are cars important to Queen St?

Before the revamp disruption the Auckland City Council studied the importance of convenient short-term parking to the economy of the central business district.

Its research showed that each P15 parking space in Queen St brought in $650,000 a year in weekday sales to retailers.

The P15s were used 100 per cent 11 hours a weekday from 9am to 8pm. The average P15 user - including those who bought nothing - spent $56.75 a visit.

The present temporary removal of the P15 spaces will account for part of the downturn being experienced by the inner city.

Yet the council's long term plan for Queen St is the: "progressive removal of parking spaces over the longer term".

Dedicated bus lanes are in sympathy with the policy of making access to the CBD difficult for cars.

* Why is Heart of the City organisation helping?

The count of bus patronage was done by an investor who owns several Queen St properties and who is horrified at the council's proposal.

Although the results showed that the council's guess was overwhelmingly inaccurate, it could be argued that the private measurement was not carried out by trained observers.

Heart of the City, the CBD mainstreet organisation that represents Queen St owners and retailers - those most affected by the plan - has agreed to fund a professional study to confirm the true relationship between cars and buses.

Listening to those people whose livelihoods depend on the vibrancy of Queen St, the retailers and business owners and those who live and work there every day, Aucklanders must oppose the council's plan to perpetuate the vehicle congestion caused by the present works.

Our mayor must listen to the needs of his constituents and stop the introduction of dedicated bus lanes to Queen St.

* Dr Martin Spencer, a scientist, owns buildings in the CBD and in Queen St in particular.

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