Senior transport managers ride Auckland’s troubled WX1 Express bus route
TODD NIALL / STUFF
Day one of Auckland's $100m Western Express busway, tested by Stuff's Todd Niall.
The WX1 was the headline act in the biggest revamp of bus services to west Auckland in six years, using bus priority lanes created along the motorway shoulders, between Westgate and the city centre.
However, despite a $100 million spend by Waka Kotahi on the lanes, and two new bus interchanges, peak hour travel times on the WX1 route are as slow and congested as they previously were.
“We came to Waterview and then we came to a bit of a grinding halt, and that felt very bad,” said Stacey van der Putten, AT’s executive general manager of public transport services, who organised the trip.
Van der Putten and four other managers from AT and Waka Kotahi missed their intended city-bound service on Thursday, because of morning congestion even travelling against the flow, from the city centre to Westgate, by WX1.
“Just getting from downtown where it left, and up Albert Street took far too long.” she said.
The western bus revamp also includes re-organised local services, better frequency, and on the WX1, regular services through to midnight, but the peak-hour express experience has not delivered yet.
Citybound, the first hurdle is that the Westgate onramp has no priority lane for buses, and van der Putten and the other managers spent four minutes crawling on the bus, until reaching the motorway bus lane.
Auckland Transport's new WX1 bus service, queued on the Westgate onramp, where a dedicated bus lane is not due to open until May 2024
Long sections of Waka Kotahi’s northwestern motorway have shoulder space that remains out-of-bounds to buses for reasons the agency describes as due to safety, or the cost of modifying obstructions.
Waka Kotahi told councillors at the Transport and Infrastructure committee, that it was looking at the issues highlighted during the bus trip.
“We think we can change the onramp configuration reasonably quickly – the area around Waterview is more challenging due to a lack of space, but our team will do some brainstorming,” said Steve Mutton, the director of regional relationships.
Auckland Transport's PT Network Development manager Pete Moth at the launch of the Western Express bus upgrade
The problem areas are not new. AT had to put pressure on Waka Kotahi in 2013, after the building of a section of motorway bus lane at Westgate but which the agency did not intend to open for 8-10 years.
At that time, Waka Kotahi said it would not be possible to change the format of the Westgate onramp to provide bus priority, although that design work is now underway.
Van der Putten said other areas noted by the managers were the layouts and the flow of people at the Te Atatu interchange, where passengers changing buses have to cross the road to access a narrow bus stop.
Mutton said the group would do a further trip next week on the westbound evening peak services.
“It felt really great being a bus customer on the bus today when you're going past all the cars, but then you get to that stuff, you really notice it at Waterview,” said van der Putten who was confident the two agencies would be able to sort out those issues that could be fixed.