Things are looking up for those of us for whom most journeys start with a trip through the tangled suburban roads leading to Auckland International Airport.
Since I grizzled about the lousy access to the airport - and its high parking fees - a couple of months ago there have been several steps in the right direction.
* The Airbus service from Downtown Auckland runs more frequently and follows a quicker route.
* There's a new bus to link the suburban rail network to the airport from Papatoetoe Station.
* Maxx, the Auckland Regional Transport website, now tells commuters about these options instead of - as when I asked previously - recommending a bus-rail trip that involved leaving the afternoon before your flight.
* The prospect of a direct rail link to the airport has moved a wee bit closer with the Auckland Regional Authority's transport committee and the Auckland Regional Transport Authority both supporting the idea (though it would cost $2.2 billion).
Of course any traveller who has been around the block once or twice may be just a little cynical about whether these changes really are improvements or just PR spin so we decided to try the new services out. My colleague Donna McIntyre took the new Airbus Express service and was delighted. Here's her report:
We caught the improved 10.50am bus service (connecting with the 10am ferry from Waiheke) which now leaves from the carpark beside the ferry terminal.
The route from downtown to the airport is much more straightforward, without that annoying ducking and diving off the main route to service hotels and backpackers that it used to do.
The bus does still make a little detour off Symonds St to the Langham on the way out to the airport, but that was the only one.
The good thing is that the trip out to the airport is only for pickups; the return trip is only for dropoffs and this seems to have the desired effect of streamlining and speeding up the service.
That 10.50am pickup on a Friday delivered us to the airport at 11.28am (38 minutes, not bad) right by the front door.
For the return trip I caught the 1.15pm and was dropped at the ferry carpark at 1.55pm (40 minutes).
I did comment to the driver at the airport on the fact that two buses arrived at the domestic terminal only one minute apart. "Better too many, than none at all love," he said.
The driver was helpful, asking people if they wanted to disembark as he approached each stop to avoid wasting time by stopping unnecessarily.
At $22 return, if it's just the two of you, it makes more economic sense than a taxi, which can be anything from $50 to $100. It's also cheaper than parking your car at the airport, at a minimum of $24 a day, and it's almost a direct run if you are close to the inner city, catch a ferry or live along the Mt Eden Road route.
Meanwhile Herald transport reporter Matthew Dearnaley tried out the rail-bus service and for just $8 each way it got him to the airport in 52 minutes, and brought him back in 51 minutes.
If you've got access to the rail network that's a heck of a lot better than previously when the best Maxx could come up with was a one hour 41 minute trip with a 189m walk to the Middlemore bus stop in the middle.
I'm convinced that next time I go to the airport I'm going to give away the usual taxi ride and go by the Airporter Express ... and save myself about $100 in the process.
- Jim Eagles