Why we need an Onehunga to Airport bus service
Attempting to travel between the Onehunga and the Airport by public transport is a pain due to a lack of direct connections.
The airport bus speeds past Onehunga on State Highway 20 on its way into town. Even if it did stop it would still charge passengers the full fare of $15 for going half the distance. While its possible to get off at Three Kings Plaza and bus back, at a total (un)fare of $19.20, the cheapest taxi at $25 starts looking very good.
The Auckland Regional Council/ARTA have improved services to the airport last year, increasing the frequency of the Airport bus to the CBD and through the introduction of the 380 Airporter service to Manukau. ARTA were rewarded with a 13.5% increase in patronage, demonstrating there is demand for better airport services. The Manukau service has great potential as it links up with the rail system at Papatoetoe, which together could offer a more reliable service into Auckland CBD, particularly at peak hour. Unfortunately, there has not been enough marketing and promotion of this service for it to reach its potential. An airport services page on the Maxx website would be a good start at no cost.
Flying back home on Sunday I thought I would try an experiment. How easy would be it to catch the 380 to Manukau and then get a bus to Onehunga from there? While I would normally check the Maxx website to see where the routes best interconnect, I thought it would be more interesting to take the position of a tourist new to Auckland. So I asked at the Airport helpdesk. The older woman behind the counter was very helpful, familiar with the 380 service as she sometimes used it to get to work. She suggested staying on the bus to Manukau and catching the connecting bus from there.
My flight landed at 4.30pm. The 380 arrived after 15 minutes and took roughly 10 minutes to reach Papatoetoe station and another 10 to arrive in Manukau. So far so good. There were about 7 passengers on the bus. Unfortunately being Sunday I happened to strike an hour and a half long break in the timetable for the next 348 to Onehunga, and had to wait 50 minutes for the connecting bus. At least the mall was open at the time. This is likely to be nearly the worst possible scenario as the 348 connection is more frequent at other times in the week.
While the 348 is a lovely fast bus from Onehunga into town, before this it snakes like Slytherin through Mangere and Mangere Bridge for 40 minutes. This meant I didn't reach Onehunga until 6:45pm, meaning a total of 2 hours travelling time. With a straightforward connection between the 380 and the 348 it would take an hour.
I later found out it is possible to get off at Papatoetoe and catch the 348 on St George Street - this would take approximately 15-20 minutes off the total journey time (cost $8.60). Another option, more direct, but only available during the week, is to catch the 375 from the airport and transfer to the 348 on Ascot/Kirkbride Rd.
Despite the two hour commute last Sunday, I would catch the 380 again, but would only try it during the week. Also would like to try out the 375/348 combo as this is the cheapest ($3.20) and most direct route from Onehunga to the Airport. I only wish the 375 ran more often. That said I suspect only transport geeks like myself and students will bother with having to catch more than one bus.
The reopening of the Onehunga branch line for passenger trains next year provides a great opportunity to fix the Onehunga to Airport transport hole. A connecting bus from the Onehunga train station to the Airport would be a great way to encourage more patronage on the line, as well as create demand for the eventual extension of the line to the Airport. The combination of the bus lanes to be built on the new Mangere Bridge motorway crossing and the ability of rail to sail past peak hour traffic on the Onehunga to CBD stretch, will improve the potential reliability and speed of the service. Geoff on the Better Transport forum make a similar suggestion here. That said, the following could make a Airport>Onehunga>CBD service even more viable.
- ARTA are currently planning for half hour peak services on the Onehunga line, with services each hour off peak. An airport service, if it was to be used for travel to the CBD would require half hour off peak services at the very least. While I appreciate the Britomart tunnel is a troubling bottleneck, could some other southern line services stop at Newmarket until we get a CBD rail tunnel?
- Move the Onehunga bus terminal closer to the new Onehunga railway station. I am told the Onehunga Business Association have previously resisted such suggestions for no other reason than they want people to walk 10 minutes past their shops. This won't happen - people travelling from the south will stay on the bus into town instead of transferring to the train. Given the recent attitutes of bus companies like Infratil, Aucklanders are plain sick of myopic business owners who demand the public transport system should be screwed up for the benefit of their private profits.
- Integrated ticketing, or at least a combined ticket for the bus/train journey into town.