The 650 bus from Glen Innes to Pt Chevalier runs along Green Lane Rd and stops outside Greenlane Hospital. It's a new half-hour service, replacing the old 007. Elderly residents on the route have complained that they now get "dumped" on the road outside and have a much longer walk to get into the hospital.
Is this outrageous or merely unfortunate? I went to Auckland Transport and asked them to explain themselves. Four AT planners took it on themselves to do so; my thanks to all.
First, a little background. AT rolled out its new central suburbs network on July 8, as part of a larger exercise to overhaul the networks of the entire city. The south got new networks in 2016 and the east and west in 2017. The new northern network will be introduced on September 30.
The central purpose of them all is to increase patronage. The method is to simplify the routes and increase frequency. It's constantly a work in progress: where we live and work is changing so fast now, the average Aucklander has been in their current job just 18 months. AT's networks have to keep up.
In the flurry of route redesign, by the way, none of the buses "dumps" people on the side of the road. They pull into a stop and you get off.
The AT planners talked about "tradeoffs". Buses no longer meander through suburban side streets, which is less convenient if that means they no longer come past your door. But if the journey takes less time and they come so frequently you don't need a timetable, that's more convenient.
For most people the tradeoff probably works. But if you find it difficult to walk any distance you'll be worse off. Public transport has a particular duty to the infirm, but it also has a central purpose of serving enormous numbers of people well. Public transport may not be the best option for people with particular needs, but it's also sometimes the only option. No one said this was easy.
AT says before the new networks rollout, 215,500 Aucklanders lived within 500 metres of a frequent or rapid network route stop. By October 527,600 people – nearly two-and-a-half times as many – will live that close.
Before the new networks, buses were on the frequent and rapid routes for 1.9 million hours a year. By October it will be 2.7 million hours.
Still, those figures disguise some other issues. If you're infirm and the bus used to come down your street but now you live half a hilly kilometre from a stop, the bus might as well be on the moon.
Overall, the new networks are making buses more popular. In west Auckland, a year after they were introduced, the number of trips is up 10 per cent. In the south, after two years with the new routes, patronage is up 7 per cent. (These are full trip figures, not counting transfers, calculated to May, year on year.)
That southern figure looks low, but before the new routes patronage had actually declined by 4 per cent. So the rise is significant. The numbers are too: there were 725,000 bus trips in south Auckland in May 2017/18, up 55,000 on May 2015/16. It's a lot.
Some new features of the networks should be especially attractive. The Tamaki Link, for example, is a 15-minute service with dedicated blue buses connecting the city centre with Mission Bay and the other eastern suburbs. Come summer, why would you bother trying to drive a car along Tamaki Drive?
Then there's Route 20, a frequent service connecting St Lukes through Kingsland and Ponsonby to the Wynyard Quarter. On paper, it's an excellent route, serving commuters, schools, shoppers, moviegoers, families taking the kids to Silo Park and the waterfront, theatregoers at the Waterfront Theatre. Not to mention patrons of practically half the eating and drinking establishments in the entire city.
And yet, nearly two months after launch, Route 20 buses are almost empty.
Why? Locals don't want it? Don't know about it? Or just don't get it yet? But why not? Here's a clue: there is no marketing campaign. The AT planners told me AT couldn't promote the service before it existed.
But it does exist. That sound you hear is me banging my head on the floor.
Route 20 runs at 10-minute intervals in peak and, like buses on other routes all over the city, every 15 minutes until midnight. Part of what AT calls its commitment to the night-time economy. Who knows, if they market that well, how popular those night services might become.
Then there's the expected impact of light rail and the City Rail Link, which will have much wider benefits than is often realised. Bus capacity is currently constrained by the number of buses that can squeeze onto Symonds St and park up in the city centre. So when light rail removes buses from Dominion Rd, for example, bus frequency will grow on other routes.
And that 650 bus to Greenlane? Technically, it's not a hospital bus service, but it sort of is. And it's fixable, but is there the will to fix it?
Greenlane Hospital is the Auckland District Health Board's centre for outpatient clinics. It's very busy every day. You enter by going round to the back, where the car park is laid out as a kind of maze, with circuitous routes, speed bumps, barrier arms and few safe walkways for pedestrians. At all times there are frail people negotiating their way through the cars.
The bus stop is as far from the main entrance as it could possibly be. The walk between the two, using a safe route, is about 200 metres.
The AT planners say the bus stops out on the street are about 300 metres away – only another 100 metres to walk. Whereas, they add, when the bus goes into the hospital grounds it adds five minutes to the journey time of everyone else on board. When they did their public consultion on this route, they say, some people didn't want the bus to enter the hospital grounds. "They were quite assertive about it."
So they had to do a tradeoff.
But trading off the conflicting demands is so obviously the wrong way to look at the problem. Why not find a solution to make everyone happy?
It does exist. There is another bus route that still goes into the hospital grounds: 321, from the city centre to Glen Innes. The AT planners say ADHB is probably going to give 321 a new stop, close to the main entrance, on the southwest corner of the main building, where the buses can get in and out of the grounds relatively quickly. That's perfect.
So why can't they do that for the 650? All it needs is for AT and ADHB to integrate their planning. Honestly, it should not be so hard.