I took a bus.
Yes, me, Moppie, car loving fuel burning power sliding crazy driving Moppie, me, took the bus.
To be clear, I have taken a bus before, I used to take one home from school and when I was 10 my Grandmother took us on a bus ride into the city. But as an Adult my experience of Auckland’s bus services has been from behind the wheel of a car. Anyone who shares the road with buses understands what a really negative experience that is, bus drivers have evolved into some of Auckland’s worst drivers and it is just a given that if you see a bus it will pull out in front of you, or fail to give way at a roundabout, or randomly change lanes on top of you.
That of course is a gross generalisation, most bus drivers are actually very competent, and after driving a Truck around central auckland for several years and sharing the road with them, very courteous. At least Metrolink, North Shore and Mana bus drivers are. Sadly where I live we are served by Howick and Eastern, and I’m not sure what they do to their drivers, but I don’t think they are very nice to them, they turn nice people into red light ignoring stop sign running Howick bus drivers.
So after dodging them on the road, watching them have countless near misses at intersections and clearly having no respect for them, how did I end up riding on one?
A Lexus. Yes, in order to drive a Lexus test car I had to get to Parnell without my own car, and that meant public transport, and since there are no trains or other alternatives in East Auckland, that meant a Bus.
The process started off surprisingly well, I simply asked Google Maps for directions, selected the public transport tab and got a list of bus options, with bus stop locations and arrival and departure times. It includes the ability to customise by leaving or arrival time, and lists all the different route options. Visiting the Auckland Transport website journey planner will also give really good info that is easy to use on which bus to take: AT Journey Planner This also includes costs, with and without a hop card.
I have a couple of options, one that leaves twice a day from just round the corner, or one that runs every 30min from a stop a half hour walk down the road.
There also some really good apps that I found worked really well, one is the AT Journey Planner and the other the AT Bus Tracker that lets you know how far your bus is away from your stop. They are not perfect, but I had no trouble making the return trip just using the phone apps.
Catching the bus was of course really easy, wait at the stop, signal the driver, get on, pay money, find a seat. The bus was pretty modern and it was clean. The driver was a nice guy, friendly and helpful, and a very good driver. All of that pulling out in front of people, running red lights and just not giving way at roundabouts makes for a very smooth ride as a bus passenger. When you see how other road users block bus lanes, fail to give way to buses and generally act like the idiots that Auckland drivers do, then you can understand why bus drivers often drive the way they do.
The return journey a few days later (after dropping off the test car) was a similar experience. I have heard stories of 3-4 buses going past stops because they are full, and waiting at the stop in town to head home I saw this happen with several buses that fortunately were not mine. On a nice warm dry day it would be annoying, in the middle of winter when it’s cold and raining, it could be very frustrating, and speaks to a failing somewhere in the system.
So does this mean taking a bus to work (yes, some of us Empire Men have day jobs) is a viable alternative to taking my car? Is the bus better? Does Auckland’s Public transport system work?
Well lets break the experiences down, and get a few important things out there. I also run my own business and have to own a car, I can’t take my equipment on the bus. So regardless of what transport method I use, I will still have fixed costs of car ownership. So that leaves us with comfort, travel time and journey cost as three easy things to compare.
When it comes to comfort, as good as the new busses are, they will never win against being in a nice car. My car is a 12 year old mid range Honda, but it has climate control A/C, a pretty good stereo, and it’s all my own space. No one is going to sneeze on me, no fat people will cram me into my seat and it is generally a nice warm dry place to be.
The car wins this one, a bus simply can not compete.
But the bus must have some advantages, isn’t public transport cheaper?
It is a 19.3km journey and my car get about 9.8km per litre of petrol which costs about $1.80 a litre. The bus with the hop card has a fixed cost each way, so we get the following costs:
That sounds like a significant difference, in the cars favour. And that is using the hop card discounted price for the bus. But the reality is, if I took the bus every day I would save enough on tyre wear and general wear and tear on the car that I would save $650 a year, so the cost works out about even. We can call that one a tie.
Time however is also important to me, and travel times between a car and bus are very different. There are no bus lanes in Howick or Pakuranga, and the bus makes a lot of stops and has to deal with some really heavy traffic. As a result the travel times are very different:
Total Travel Time per Day
Total Travel Time per Year
Difference 200 hours, or 8 days
That is a big difference! And a really significant one. Nearly an hour a day, or 200 hours a year is a lot of time I could be doing other things, things you can’t do on a bus.
And that is what really tips the scales firmly in the cars favour. If the car costs the same, but is a more comfortable and considerably quicker form of transport, then why should I take the bus? I haven’t even mentioned the 20min walk at the parnell end of the Journey, the bus only goes as far as New Market. In the car I get to park in the staff park right in front of the entrance. A nice walk up the hill from the bus on a dry spring day is pleasant, the same walk in the cold pouring rain, or humid summer heat is much less enjoyable.
At the end of the day public transport means sharing space with other people, that should make it cheaper and faster, it is the payoff for having to do some walking at each end of the journey, and for having to deal with sharing and the loss of comfort. But thanks to the still broken and backwards system we have in Auckland the car costs the same and is faster than the bus.
Auckland Transport might have some great technology behind the public transport service, the website and apps work well, and I am sure in some parts of Auckland buses and trains are a better way to get to work. But for me, there is no advantage in sharing the space with others on a bus. I am better off in my car, warmer and dryer in the winter, cooler in the summer and listening to what I want to listen on my stereo.
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