If you’ve ever caught one of Auckland’s Link buses, you’ve probably spent a good chunk of the ride sitting at a bus stop, not moving. But why?
On Monday morning I got on the Inner Link bus at Victoria Park on the way into Britomart at 9.21am. It had just stopped for a driver changeover. Normally I’d catch it halfway up College Hill, but because I could see the bus before us on the circuit waiting at the park I walked down to try and catch it. Alas, it slipped away just as I was crossing the road to get it.
The bus that I was on left the stop at 9.30. By the time we left, another big green Inner Link was parked up behind us, and passengers were being transferred from one to the other. Given the bus service is meant to go through each stop every ten minutes, we effectively spent that entire time sitting next to the park.
I’m not complaining. The view of the trees and the rugby fields was beautiful. And the Link buses generally are an amazing service – I can only imagine how many cars going in and out of the CBD and surrounding suburbs they replace every day. But almost every time I’ve caught a Link bus, be it a green inner or an orange outer, there have been long delays at certain stops, sometimes as many as ten or eleven minutes. And for a bus route that just goes round and round in a circle, that seems baffling and weird. My question is: Why stop at all?
I put some questions to Auckland Transport about it, and their media advisor James Ireland noted that the delays had been a cause of complaint for some commuters. He said that was typically only the case when the stops were for longer than two or three minutes, which is reasonable. After all, the view of the park is very nice. But if you’re running late for something, it could start to feel like a bit of an inconvenience.
Anecdotally, that feels about right. An elderly woman on the shopping run on Wednesday afternoon stood up and asked the driver how long the bus would be stopped for. Two and a half minutes, the driver answered. The woman turned to the bus at large, and announced, “yes, I can wait that long.” Polite nodding ensued among the passengers.
At the moment the Link buses operate on a timetable. They’re expected to be at certain stops at certain times. And that’s got advantages for regular passengers, who can basically work out when a bus is going to turn up based on experience. But James Ireland says that’s going to change in July.
The new service will be what’s known as a ‘headway’ based system, which means they will run on a continuous loop, with the priority being equalised gaps between the buses. James Ireland says there are advantages to this system, such as the maximum time passengers spend waiting for a bus to arrive will be much more standard, and there’s less risk of being stuck waiting for a long time.
However, headway services are more logistically different to operate, because various road conditions like congestion or roadworks can affect how quickly buses get through their routes. And there could be other changes too, like buses becoming drop-off only if they need to zip through faster, or jumping off to a different spot on the loop if they’re needed there. Those sorts of moves are likely to annoy passengers too if they end up on the wrong side of them.
Under either system though, I for one hope one thing doesn’t change – the long stops at Victoria Park. How good is it to see sun dappled trees on the morning commute? Even if it is weird to be stuck on a bus that resolutely isn’t moving, at least the view is good.