Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: AT's shuttle just the ticket for us all

If the city bureaucrats’ bus service is quicker than the public system, then let’s make it part of that system

AT staff bus shuttle services is quicker than its public system. Cartoon / Peter Bromhead
AT staff bus shuttle services is quicker than its public system. Cartoon / Peter Bromhead

I'm waiting for the penny to drop at Auckland Transport headquarters. If it can run a shuttle bus service for its staff that gets passengers from Henderson to the bottom of downtown Albert St 15 to 25 minutes more quickly than public bus and train services, why doesn't it get into the passenger transport business?

Oh yes, that's right. It already is. How embarrassing. Auckland Transport (AT) is the master of Auckland's public transport network. It's the one that contracts the private operators to provide a service so slow it's not considered good enough for AT staff to use.

Since the story broke this week, critics have been demanding AT abandon its exclusive $122,000, six-month shuttle trial, and that staff return to catching public buses and trains to suffer like the rest of us.

But there is an alternative. AT could instead throw open its obviously superior shuttle services to the hoi polloi and let all of us zap about Auckland more quickly than the private operators can manage.

Instead of conducting an expensive in-house trial which is attracting a miserable 40 to 50 staff members a day - about four a trip - AT could install a Hop card reader in the new shuttles and welcome all-comers.

If demand calls for more mini-buses, then why not? The worst that can happen is that existing services will be forced to compete for customers.

And not just for West Auckland customers. AT's parent body, Auckland Council, is considering a similar superior staff shuttle between its Manukau offices and CBD headquarters. It is planning a 30- minute trip, which is nearly three times as fast as the current 80-minute bus trip and 10 minutes better than the scheduled rail journey.

Again, if the Auckland Council can run such a speedy service, why restrict it to the bureaucrats.

It should be showing the private operators how it's done. Or persuading them that augmenting their existing fleets with smaller, more flexible shuttle services is worth considering.

What is dispiriting about the AT and council shuttle plans is the failure to foresee the public fallout that was inevitable once the trials became public. And that's giving them the benefit of the doubt. They could well have known it would attract great public cynicism and gone ahead anyway.

In defending the shuttle, AT issued a statement saying there would be no dramatic improvements in train travel times until the City Rail Link tunnel was in place.

But that could be a decade away - possibly much longer, given Auckland's chequered record with trains - which is of little consolation to present-day passengers.

Also in the future is the redesigned bus and train network. This revolutionary project links the bus and train routes into one integrated whole, made up of "frequent", "connector", "local" and "peak" services.

We're promised that by 2016 we'll be enjoying more frequent, more connected travel for which you'll just turn up and go at a bus stop, train station or ferry terminal.

But why wait until 2016, when AT and the council are boasting about their ability to provide a rapid and regular service to points west, south and north here and now. The only catch, you have to be an employee to qualify for the superior service.

But if they're not going to share their shuttle buses, I agree with other critics that AT should abandon the $122,000 experiment and discover what it's like to travel on the public bus and trains service.

It continues to amaze me that those making the decisions at AT aren't required to experience the service they're paid to provide for the rest of us.

Then, for example, it wouldn't have taken several years for them to realise that the burgeoning bus service across the harbour bridge was endlessly held up in a small choke point on Customs St heading out of the central city. Finally, a small stretch of bus lane has solved the problem. Sitting in a bus, instead of their cars, they would quickly identify the need for small stretches of peak-hour bus lanes elsewhere.

They would also appreciate the urgent need for a bylaw which makes cars give way to buses pulling out from a bus stop into a long line of traffic - a courtesy commonplace in Sydney and, I'm told, elsewhere in Australia, but not in Auckland.

- 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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