City center bus interchange closes again
This is how long, from this week, the busiest bus interchange in the country will be closed. It has only been open about 18 months since the last upgrade.
This time around the closure is to allow Auckland Transport to install the shelters and seats that should have been installed as part of the original upgrade – but were taken out of the program following cuts budgets in the wake of COVID.
Starting Sunday, June 5, bus services that usually use the Lower Albert Street interchange (NX1 and Northwestern services) will use other downtown stops. Our AT Mobile and Journey Planner have been updated, so you can plan your trip. Learn more: https://t.co/EzNXWbmnt9 pic.twitter.com/Bg31CsUx0L
— Auckland Transport (@AklTransport) May 30, 2022
I’m glad the shelters and seats are finally in place, but the reduction in shelters from the budget has revealed the low priority Auckland Transport places on public transport users when making decisions. The Council’s decision to cut the project’s budget as part of a $119 million cut package would almost certainly have been based on AT’s recommendation, just as they tried to do with the cycling budget this week.
As for why it’s taking so long and some of the other common reactions to the news, Stuff’s Todd Niall has this.
“Five months?!” was a common response to news of working hours. After all, the street had already been prepared for the eventual and late installation of the structures.
Much of Auckland Transport’s explanation seems to be that it is trying to get the job done in a way that causes the least disruption to Covid-affected businesses on the street.
Another goal was to maintain two lanes of traffic – not only for passing buses, but also for general traffic, some of which access underground parking below the Commercial Bay neighborhood.
The erection of the steel structures will be followed by measurements for the sheets of glass that provide the shelter, which may mean a month-long break in construction.
Couldn’t we do one side of the street, then the other, to halve the disruption for bus users heading either north or west? No. The space required for construction made this impossible, Auckland Transport said.
Couldn’t this be done in the summer when bus traffic is less and shelter from the elements is less of a problem? No, because summer is a more important period for the shops in the area.
On the design itself and the temporary disruption, a few thoughts:
The shelters on the west side of the street have already been put in place so this closure is just to build those on the east side.
It’s hard to tell from the pictures as the reality is often very different, but I really hope they are designed to allow full rain protection for the passengers. One thing that can be incredibly frustrating about so many Auckland Transport designs is that the shelter stops before the curb, which means that when it rains there can be a rain curtain to cross to get on. or get off your bus or train.
Seating will be a welcome addition, but there was no mention of other amenities that should be mandatory at such a busy interchange. For example, are HOP machines installed so that people can recharge their cards or do people who wish to do so have to go to Britomart? What about things like water fountains that allow direct drinking or refilling a bottle?
There is no mention of things like this on AT’s page for the project.
It would also be good to see better wayfinding for those bus transfers to the train or ferry
Supporting Buses During Disruption
While most of the temporary bus stops are on bus priority routes, the NX1 is not and this is a concern given that it is the busiest service in the city. Indeed, while downtown may be quieter now than it was before the pandemic, that doesn’t mean buses won’t be stuck in traffic. During the initial closure of the bus interchange, it was not uncommon for buses to be stuck in traffic and/or for cars and delivery trucks sitting in bus stops to block them. AT should add temporary bus lanes to sections of Customs Street that the NX1 will operate on to help keep it reliable.
Why Not Start Activating AT’s Downtown Bus Plan
Incidentally, in previous work, I actually found the temporary bus stops on Customs Street more convenient than the downtown interchange even though the quality wasn’t as good – as the transfer was shorter, especially between the bus and the train.
Last year we learned that AT’s proposed plan for city buses was for the NX1 to stay on Customs Street and travel to a new terminus east of the city rather than end on Lower Albert Street. So why not move on to start implementing it? I suspect many of these could be implemented fairly easily without the need for a large off-street bus interchange like AT wants.
What about the sale of the downtown parking lot?
This thought isn’t directly related to these shelters, but it made me wonder what’s going on with the sale of the downtown parking lot.
Part of their push for major bus interchange facilities in the city, one of the first of these is likely to be an extension to the downtown bus interchange and AT was planning to retain the floor space as part of the sale and redevelopment of the downtown parking lot. . Following criticism of this, they are also considering options for the facility to be on lower Hobson St, perhaps exploiting the space of the Hobson St flyover removal.
The site went on sale last year and bidding closed at the end of November so hopefully we get closer to hearing the outcome of that and seeing what the plans are for the region.