Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Bus commuters left in the dark

It's an increasingly anxious ride for the city's travellers because they can't see out the windows.

Link buses seem particularly prone to advertising that blocks the view.   Photo / Janna Dixon
Link buses seem particularly prone to advertising that blocks the view. Photo / Janna Dixon

Auckland Transport is about to begin consulting on its proposed new integrated public transport network. The bus, train and ferry network that has haphazardly grown like topsy over the past half-century has been radically redesigned in a brave attempt to meet modern commuter needs.

We're promised bus frequencies of 15 minutes on major routes from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week, better linkages with trains, integrated ticketing, you name it. Every mod-com, it would seem, except buses that have windows you can look out from to check where you are, and to laugh at car drivers stuck in traffic.

As Auckland Transport slowly begins the rollout of a revolution which will involve the vast majority of bus travellers having to travel along new routes, it does seem odd that the major private bus operator, New Zealand Bus, seems determined to make an extra dollar or three by covering up more and more side windows with advertising hoardings.

It's bad enough being sat inside a stuffy, often crowded, opaque-windowed tube, when you know the way home, as it were, blind-folded. But imagine the angst and confusion there will be when we're all aboard our rerouted steeds, desperately trying to peer through the obscured windows to sight a landmark - or bus stop - we recognise.

Last week I had a taste of the above. I had to take a new bus route to pick up my car from the panel-beaters - not my fault, I add. At least I knew where I was going, but the darkened windows still had me peering through the front windows to reassure myself that the bus driver was on the correct route as well.

Not so happy were a couple of British visitors who, with map unfolded, and no windows to look out from, were having an anxious time. The popular Link buses seem particularly prone to the treatment, house advertising increasingly swaddling them as completely as a purdhaed Taleban wife.

All of which seems counter-productive when the Link buses are popular with tourists wanting to get about and see the world's most liveable city. Their travel tales will be particularly dark.

Even an old regular like myself got caught on the trip home the other evening. My head stuck in a book during a particularly slow, stop-start journey, I glanced up to check where I was. It was raining and gloomy, and by some trick of refraction, all I could see when I looked out my window were the reflections of traffic from outside the other side of the bus.

It's true that throwing a dark cover over a caged bird or wild animal does wonders when the aim is to quieten an anxious beast down. But I'm not sure it's the same with bus passengers, especially when there's inside lighting, and a certain expectation that being allowed out at designated stops is part of the deal.

Top to bottom bus-side advertising introduces another problem, no windows that open and shut so the only natural ventilation comes from the odd ill-fitting door.

When air-conditioning was introduced to Auckland commuter buses, it seemed the height of sophistication. And when it's working well, it's miles better than the mix of cold air and the fuel-flavoured heating vents it replaced. But I'm increasingly missing the old side-windows, even when they leaked or sprayed rain about.

Aircraft seem able to provide air-conditioning that outputs a stable, dryish, temperate climate. Auckland buses settle for the sultry - as in hot and humid, not alluring and sexy.

Indeed, at this time of year, the back end of the bus can be unpleasantly equatorial. All pumped out by equipment as loud as a cheap, unmuffled range hood.

Auckland Transport have announced its agents "will shortly hit the streets to consult over the New Network for public transport services in Auckland". I'm not so sure they'll be thinking of the rights of passengers to look out the bus window and see the world's most liveable city rushing past as a key part of this particular agenda, but they should be.

The best new network in the world is going to struggle to attract new customers, let alone retain the old, if they're treated like sardines once inside the can, unable to see where on earth they're going.

- 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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