Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Get on board, Len, and fix our buses

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Cartoon / Peter Bromhead
Cartoon / Peter Bromhead

It's great to hear that Mayor Len Brown's ride to redemption may include a trip or two on board an Auckland bus. After three years of his fixation with central rail loops, airport trains and roads every which way, we bus commuters were starting to feel a little left out.

This week came a glimmer of hope. Amid a flurry of apologies about you-know-what, he promised the Herald he would rectify his first-term failure to build more bus lanes.

This followed revelations in the dying stages of the election campaign that despite spending $770 million on public transport and $1.2 billion on roads and footpaths in his first term, not a single metre of new bus lanes had been created.

Indeed, the situation had worsened. Clamour from car users of the wealthy eastern suburbs had resulted in the 5km Remuera Rd bus lane being converted into a T3 lane, permitting cars with three or more passengers to compete with cyclists and buses.

Still, bus users shouldn't get too excited. This week's promise was hardly a full-scale conversion. In the same breath he reverted to type, pledging to make funding for the underground railway his second-term priority.

Not that I'm against the central rail loop. As part of an integrated transport solution it's a vital cog in the overall plan.

But let's not forget that over the past year, 77 per cent of Auckland's 69.23 million public transport trips were on the old workhorse of the public transport system, the bus.

Sexy rail carried less than 15 per cent.

Even with a fully electrified rail network, a CBD tunnel, and a major reorganisation of routes with buses feeding more passengers on to the trains, the old road-sharing bus will remain the dominant means of conveyance in the public transport network.

That being so, is it too much to ask of the car-using political leadership that they shove their shiny new train sets under the bed for a while and confront the day-to-day issues affecting Auckland bus commuters.

I made a similar appeal a year ago when Dr Lester Levy became chairman of Auckland Transport, but his pledges then to put the customer first are yet to bear fruit.

Why no heads have rolled over the drawn-out integrated ticketing saga continues to amaze.

Last week, a colleague was thrown off a bus because he presented a "legal tender" Snapper Hop card instead of a new Auckland Transport Hop card.

Over the past year, the new AT Hop cards have started to be phased in across the network to replace the older Snapper Hop card.

Auckland Transport says it was the hapless passenger's fault for not having a new card. It was not. The truth is he was on a route that hadn't been converted to the new AT Hop cards. The blame lay with the bus operator NZ Bus, which had plonked a bus, converted to read only the new cards, on to a route still using the old cards. Auckland Transport is also at fault for allowing the operator to get away with it.

Dr Levy pledged that under him the customer would always be right. In this case the customer was right but he got tossed off the bus by NZ Bus and then received a "serve you right" from Dr Levy's organisation.

Under the Super City set-up. Auckland Transport is a depoliticised council-controlled organisation. But the directors are there at the pleasure of their owners and it's past time that as titular owner, Mr Brown started throwing his weight around a little on behalf of bus users.

The extra bus lanes he promises will be excellent, but fast-tracked rather than in five or 10 years.

There are a couple of easy improvements I've suggested which any politician familiar with bus travel would be quick to appreciate.

Ripping the wrap-around advertising off bus windows would be one. Bus interiors can be claustrophobic enough without black-webbing obstructing your ability to see where you're travelling.

Another is the Sydney practice of giving buses pulling away from stops the right of way into traffic.

A bus load of commuters should have the right of way over one or two people in a car. It adds to the attraction of public transport by shortening commuting times and helping ensure timetables are kept.

Both these are simple and inexpensive improvements helping many more people, more quickly, than any rail tunnel.

All they need is political leadership.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

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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