I first noticed the news of the changes to the Airport Flyer in an article that appeared in the DomPost. The article is very matter-of-fact – quite refreshing compared to the quote-laden GWRC and NZ Bus media releases. Beginning Jan 14, 2013, there will be a 10-minute frequency between the airport and the Wellington Railway Station as well as a 20-minute frequency between the airport and Hutt city centre. Direct service to Upper Hutt will be replaced by a connection with route 110 from Queensgate.
Achieving a high frequency service takes some trade-offs. In order to have enough buses, service to Upper Hutt will be sacrificed, as well as travel through the Rongotai Retail Park. The media release indicates that the bus will take Cobham Drive to the airport instead of Moa Point Road. This implies that Kilbirnie will be bypassed, but fails to state this clearly. This is my expectation for the route after January 14:
Using route 30 as a model, we can expect the travel time from Courtenay Place to the airport to be approximately 13 minutes, making a total travel time from the railway station 25 minutes, down from 30 minutes currently seen at peak hour. It’s still longer travel time than in a taxi, but also much cheaper. Frequency is key, though. Every 10 minutes means that no matter when you’re ready to go, you’ll be there within 35 minutes.
Although the route is more direct, dropping Kilbirnie from the Airport Flyer route would be a disappointing shift, especially in light of the Wellington City Bus Review. The network is being redesigned with the idea that making connections will allow for more frequent services than our current direct-service model. As a core route, the Airport Flyer should be targeting the major connection points. Kilbirnie is a hub for the east and south-east Although a direct route along SH1 may be faster for city passengers, a stop at Kilbirnie allows for much better connectivity. For the cost of around 2 minutes, I would rather see this:
Access through Rongotai and to the retail park will be picked up by extending route 14. Normally, the 14 terminates at Kilbirnie, so an extension to the service is logistically easy. Timetables for the Airport Flyer indicate that it’s only a 2 minute extension to go as far as the retail park. Personally, I find that hard to believe, so I hope that Go Wellington factors in some extra time for its headway calculation. Although the 14 has several partial runs, the full route is run at half-hour intervals. This is less frequently than the current Airport Flyer, but probably adequate for the purpose. More importantly, passengers to Rongotai are treated to normal city bus fares instead of paying the much higher price of the airport service.
Overall, I think this is good news for the city. A high-frequency service through the city centre and to the parliament precinct should put bus service on near-equal footing with taxi services for business and tourist trips. The free WiFi on board is icing on the cake. I had initially expected that longer travel times for the 14 might lead to an adjustment of either the frequency or the staffing. Having looked at the current schedules, I think my fears are baseless. It appears that the extra few minutes of travel won’t substantially affect the running of the route. It appears to be a net win for Wellington.