COMMENT:

As a bus user, it's always a relief to read that Auckland Transport is going to take a moment off from stroking its rail-based show ponies to tend to the work-horses of the city's public transport network, the buses.

Amidst all the blather about light rail and the City Rail Link being the saviours of Auckland's traffic congestion woes, the reality that more than two-thirds of the 92.4 million public transport trips in the year to May 2018 were aboard a bus tends to get lost.

Along with the fact that buses had an annual patronage growth of 6.5 per cent, compared with the 4.4 per cent experienced by trains.

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So it's great that while the City Rail Link tunnellers bore away underground to Mt Eden and the dreamers imagine new trams chugging down Dominion Rd to the airport, new AT chief executive Shane Ellison is about to unveil a programme to speed up the good old suburban bus services.

Ellison is reported saying that over the next two to three years, "We are looking at where we can improve the bus journey time, the frequency and the consistency of journey times - all those things matter to customers."

He said it "could have a huge impact", and would be at the expense of general traffic and kerbside parking, including the reallocation of road space.

Coming four years after long-time chairman Lester Levy issued his "statement of imagination" which painted a heavenly vision of an Auckland public transport system where "you can turn up at a train station, bus shelter or ferry terminal and go", an Auckland where "your bus is comfortable, clean, air-conditioned, reliable, punctual", it is hard not to say "about time". Dr Levy, what kept you?

Still, with Ellison taking up his role only last December, one can't blame him, but only point to the tough task he has set himself. The most recent AT Board agenda admits, for instance, that only 29km of a three-year plan to introduce 40km of bus lanes by the end of the 2017-18 financial year has been completed.

The failure of AT to mark out a miserly 13km of extra bus lanes a year over the three years following Levy's original vision suggests an institutional-wide reluctance to bite the bullet and, to borrow Ellison's words, "reallocate road space".

Expanding the dedicated bus lane network to ensure buses keep flowing through the known bottlenecks obviously needs to be taken more seriously, even if it upsets adjacent shopkeepers worried about their parking.

It's an issue that will have to be confronted if/when light rail eventually takes over major arterials, so it might as well be confronted now.

Meanwhile, on the remaining street network, where buses share the road with other users, I've never understood why we haven't borrowed Sydney's bus priority rules.

There, buses pulling out from a kerbside bus stop have right of way re-entering the stream of traffic. This is reinforced with large red flashing arrows mounted on the rear of the bus signalling the bus' intentions. I presume it's the law.

Sydney drivers seem to automatically give way and let the buses in. AT is looking for improvements that can be delivered in two to three years. With a public transport-friendly government currently in office, such a law change should easily fit into that time scale.

Ellison says AT is looking at improving journey time and frequency. A good first move would be going back to square one in the measuring of "Bus Performance".

In May 2018, we're supposed to believe that overall bus punctuality (departure within 5 minutes of schedule at origin) was 95.8 per cent across the network and that "service delivery" (depart origin within 10 minutes of schedule) was a fairytale 98.4 per cent.

It sounds fabulous. But important data is missing. What happened to the bus during the journey and did its final arrival time at its destination match the timetable?

AT has already met industry consultants and bus firms seeking advice on how best to make the, as yet, unannounced changes. Could I suggest they follow their chairman's 2014 "vision" manifesto and just get on and find the "courage to make decisions".