I caught the bus and didn’t hate it

Every day there seems to be a report in national media about an accident, or break down causing chaos on Auckland’s roads. Yet everyone is reluctant to get out of their cars and onto public transport.

Typically, I ride a motorcycle. In my opinion it is the easiest way to reliably get around this city. There are, obviously, risks associated with riding a motorcycle in traffic. They aren’t for everyone. The maintenance, registration, and insurance costs associated with two-wheeled vehicles are significantly higher than a car, distracted drivers are a sudden lane change away from causing you a potentially serious injury, and, you can’t text and ride.

However, a motorcycles ability to get around easily, it’s low road impact, as well as the environmental and congestion benefits, should be enough reason for the NZTA and Auckland council to encourage people to use them more.

This week, my motorcycle broke down and it won’t be fixed for another week. The first day of being bike-less I hopped in my car and spent an hour sitting in stop start traffic, then another 15–20 minutes driving in circles trying to find somewhere to park that wasn’t paid, or time restricted.

After that one trip, I started looking at cheap second hand motorcycles on Trade Me. The problem was, the cost of paying registration fees on two bikes was in no way going to fit my budget, I needed another option.

I was a mostly typical, middle-class, suburban Auckland raised, kid. I can only recall taking a bus once in my younger years — From Cockle Bay to Botany Town Centre — It was something a mate and I did for fun, to kill time, not because we needed to be somewhere. Normally if you wanted to go somewhere, you asked your parents to take you, or you walked.

I got my licence on my 15th birthday. Six months later, I had my restricted, and a way to go where I wanted, when I wanted. Cars have always been a part of my life. I love cars and I love driving them. I learnt to drive when I was 12. I was a big fan of Top Gear. My family was heavily involved in the four wheel drive scene. At one point, we had multiple cars per person in our household. Cars were the normal way to get around and I always believed public transport was no good.

After fighting traffic in my car and struggling to find somewhere to park, I decided I wasn’t going to go through that again. On my way home I stopped by the local dairy and picked up a hop card.

There were a few suggested options for getting to Eden Terrace from Cockle Bay — I could catch one bus that would take me to the city, then walk 25 minutes up Symonds St. Or, a better option, catch a bus to the Ellerslie train station, jump on the southern line to Newmarket, then switch to the western line out to Mount Eden for a total of 10 minutes walking from my doorstep to my desk. My last name may be Walker, but the less walking I had to do, the better.

The next morning I found myself at 7:55, alone, at the bus stop. I boarded the empty bus, picked a seat behind priority seating, close to the front so I could get out the front door three steps closer to the train station. It was five stops before the next person joined me where I was 8 minutes into an episode of the Netflix show Abstract. A few more passengers had jumped on board by the time we had reached Highland Park and as we pulled into Panmure Station, 15 minutes later, only half a dozen passengers got off. I was expecting more. The electric trains are a much more comfortable way to get to the city.

I got off the bus in Ellerslie and headed up the motorway overpass for the train. For some reason I decided it would be a good idea to stop and take a picture of the slow moving motorway traffic on my phone. I quickly regretted that decision when I walked down the stairs to the platform and saw the Newmarket bound train leave me behind.

Five minutes later the next train arrived. Conveniently it happened to be an express train that doesn’t stop at Greenlane or Remuera. Six minutes later I was in Newmarket. I walked off that train and straight on to the western line train. Another five minutes later, I was tagging off at Mt Eden and walking up the hill to work. The trains really are that good!

Having an hour in the morning to read a book, watch an episode on Netflix, or a few YouTube videos, is not a bad way to start the morning. It beats sitting in a car built to hold 5 people, which likely only contains you. Sitting next to other single occupant cars, listening to commercial radio, and getting more and more frustrated the longer you spend not moving on the motorway. It makes me wonder why more people don’t take advantage of the public transport options.

The public transport network in East Auckland is severely lacking. I think everyone who lives in this part of the city will agree. Why do we have a three lane highway from Highland Park to Pakuranga plaza, yet no dedicated bus lane during peak times like there are in other parts of the city? Simply adding a bus lane down the highway could have a significant impact on bus trip times.

More importantly, when is Auckland Transport going to build a rapid network out east? If there was a rapid transit network from Howick through Panmure station and on to Ellerslie station, the time from Howick to the other side of the city could be drastically reduced.

Don’t take my word for it, there are far more intelligent people who have talked about how to make the transport network in our city better. Take a look at Greater Auckland’s congestion free network. This needs to happen now. We need to stop talking about what roads to build and stop toying with the idea of spending $1.85b on a potential east-west motorway. Instead, we should invest that money on building a rapid transit network all over the city.

You know the saying — build it and they will come — I have no doubt that if they built a limited stops, rapid bus transit tomorrow, people would use it. That’s not to say that people shouldn’t utilise the services that are available today.

If you live out east in Pakuranga, Howick, Botany, and work in the city, you should definitely jump on whatever bus will get you to the Panmure Station the quickest and transfer to the train. It might just surprise you. Furthermore, if the eastern bus services do start to see an increase in use, Auckland Transport may take action sooner.

Where ever you are in Auckland, do yourself a favour — consider taking a bus and/or a train to get to work. A little light walking is good for your health, you’ll have more time to read, catch up on tv shows, listen to one of the many great podcasts that are available today, and you’ll also help ease congestion for everyone else. You, personally, can help solve the great Auckland traffic woes.

It’s really not that bad