Brian Rudman
Brian Rudman is a Herald columnist looking at Auckland and national issues

Brian Rudman: Three cheers for heroic rail campaigners - but what about the buses?

Photo / APN
Photo / APN

One of the cruellest aspects of political life is how quickly yesterday's leaders can get written out of history.

So it was refreshing, at the signing of the historic Auckland electric rail contract, to hear acknowledgement of the tenacity of two veteran campaigners, Gary Taylor and Mike Lee, in their hard-fought battles to persuade fellow Aucklanders and successive Governments to begin valuing the under-used rail corridors criss-crossing the isthmus.

The latest public transport patronage figures show how right these crusaders for diversifying Auckland's public transport were.

Despite the setbacks and breakdowns experienced with the present makeshift, semi-upgraded rail system, Aucklanders are flocking to use it.

In the year to August, 10,094,021 rail passenger trips were taken, an increase of 16.3 per cent, or 1,416,102 on the previous year. In August, trips were up 22.7 per cent on the same month last year.

The first of the new electric trains will be in service by the end of 2013, and trip numbers are projected to reach 17.3 million by 2016.

It doesn't need a crystal ball to predict Aucklanders will by then be wondering why this hadn't happened in the 1920s when it was first raised - and then abandoned for lack of vision.

But the patronage statistics are a timely reminder that despite all the justifiable excitement surrounding the train contract, the real work horses of Auckland's public transport system now, and for the foreseeable future, are still the buses in all their assorted liveries and varying states of repair.

The flash new trains will be dead sexy, and Mayor Len Brown was fizzing yesterday at the thought of taking his once a month photo-op journeys on them.

But for most public transport users, they'll be something to enviously gaze at as they climb on their diesel bus.

In the year to August, 51.7 million bus trips were taken, five times the number of train journeys.

In our jealousy, we of the majority think how nice it would be if the politicians were able to spread some of the love and affection they have for trains to the rubber-wheeled backbone of the system.

Admittedly there are bright spots. Just over two million trips a year are made on the modern Northern Express Bus and about six weeks ago the new orange Outer Link bus was introduced to give a taste of what is possible in bus comfort is concerned.

The new Link seats are rather snug for the average Aucklander, but that apart the bus is built as though customers matter. The highlight is an interior lighting system that replaces the normal glow-worm-cave gloom with a welcoming brilliance bright enough to read a book under with ease.

If any of our politicians travelled by bus, they'd be demanding to know why the same level of lighting can't be replicated in the whole fleet.

It's not that we bus users begrudge the focus on rail. We'd just like the same level of intensity directed on the majority transport mode as well.

On my route, for example, the arrival of the new Link service meant the demise of two timetabled services, to be replaced by a rush-hour-only timetabled service.

The Auckland Transport publicists also kidded me they'd arranged for the new bus to stop right outside my office. What they didn't say was it would be sharing the spot with buses for 52 other destinations, all trying to get people home at once.

The first night was best forgotten. Someone seems to have overlooked telling the drivers on my new route of the new New Zealand Herald stop.

After that hiccup, for the first month, my bus turned up as per timetable with remarkable accuracy. But the quality controllers must have now gone home. In recent days, it's been back to the bad old days. Buses are late, and twice this week just did not appear.

My favourite bugbear, the electronic signal board, is having a field day. With 53 different bus details to get wrong, it's spewing out details, pretending it knows where the buses are, when in fact, it seems as confused as the rest of us.

With passengers for all these buses dashing back and forth about the pavement, arms signalling madly, it's like a sped-up movie at times.

It's very stressful.

- NZ Herald

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