It sounds like NZTA, ARTA and other parties have finally woken up to the fact that simply saying “don’t travel this weekend” is not a particularly acceptable response to the closure of the Newmarket Viaduct’s southbound lanes for 36 hours on Saturday and Sunday – and have instead finally put some thought into encouraging people to travel via other means. After an excellent suggestion from ARC Chairman Mike Lee (perhaps inspired by this blog post) to make trains free during the time the viaduct is closed – that is what will happen this weekend.

Here’s ARTA’s media release:

ARTA offers free train services to assist Newmarket Viaduct closure

The Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) said today it had reviewed options, with the help of its operator Veolia Transport, to assist Aucklanders travelling around the region during the Newmarket Viaduct closure on 4/5 September. In addition to more services and longer trains, free train travel would also be made available during the 36 hour shut down period.

ARTA’s General Manager, Customer Services, Mark Lambert said, “Aucklanders are concerned about getting around the city during this time. Offering free train travel is a small way we can assist.

“We do need to stress that capacity on trains will be limited and that commuters need to consider carefully whether their travel is essential.

“While bus services have the potential to be caught up in road congestion meaning we are unable to guarantee service levels, trains run on an uncongested network.

“In order to help keep Auckland moving for this major piece of transport infrastructure to be completed, ARTA will offer free train services between 5pm on Saturday 4 September and all day Sunday 5 September”.

Auckland Regional Council Chairman, Mike Lee who suggested the free-train idea to ARTA said, “NZTA have warned Aucklanders to stay off the roads as the Viaduct shutdown will have a widespread impact across the whole road network – including bus services. But it won’t affect the rail network. Therefore we are encouraging Aucklanders to consider the alternative of using free trains to get around during the shutdown.”

NZTA’s State Highway’s Manager for Auckland, Tommy Parker has welcomed ARTA’s initiative and says, “This is really great collaboration to help keep a city like Auckland on the move during a very difficult weekend.

“We know there will be severe congestion on the roads and ARTA’s offer of free train travel will help encourage people to leave their cars at home and use alternative transport options to get around”, he said.

Mr Lambert said, “ARTA is aware that train services do not extend to all areas of the region, but this offer may go a small way to providing some help to enable Aucklanders to get around the city.

“On Sunday afternoon, fans will also be travelling to and from the Rugby ITM Cup at Eden Park.

“Commuters should check the MAXX website for details of the free train services which will be made available”.

Mr Lambert said, “The cost of providing the service during this time will come from within existing budgets”.

I just hope we put on enough trains to cope with the demand. I also hope that NZTA are the ones predominantly paying for this, as they’ve created the need.

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  1. this is all very late to be organising all this… but is great news. I really hope they now decide that a full weekday timetable should be operated- the better the service is, the less congested it will be and the more convenient/ faster it will be. I think it would actually work out to be profitable in the long term as it would convince a lot more people that the train is easy and quick to use if there are 15 minute frequencies rather than half hour frequencies.

    1. Yes it is late in the piece. Something tells me that some parties involved might have taken a bit of convincing?

      I also hope the frequencies are good enough to cope with the demand. This is a great opportunity to show off Auckland’s improved rail system to people who may never have caught the train before – let’s not stuff it up!

  2. First, this is a positive move and hopefully it gets picked up, the retailers in Newmarket can now say, catch the train to Newmarket instead of focusing so much on how they are just can’t open if cars can’t get to their door.

    As for the detail, I agree, it needs to be more than hourly or even half hourly for people to consider changing long term. Being free and a weekend I can see a lot of people taking up the offer and taking the kids on a free outing on the train so things will probably be pretty busy. It could also help to get more people supporting better train services and things like the CBD loop :-). Also I hope that the NZTA are paying for this and not just ARTA.

    1. ARTA say on their press release the free trains are being paid for out of existing budgets. So, sounds like it’s ARTA that’s paying for it… not NZTA.

      1. Though remember rail operations are 60% funded by NZTA and 40% funded by ARC rates. So I guess NZTA are paying for the majority of the cost anyway. I would have thought they’d pay for the whole thing on this occasion though.

        I’m a bit worried that it seems more trains aren’t going to run on the Western Line though.

      2. Bevan – I agree, it sounds like ARTA are paying for it and whether or not NZTA fund some of that it still means that effectively Auckland ratepayers are going to wear some of the cost for an NZTA imposed shutdown.

  3. It would have been logical to run a weekday or expanded timetable for the Western line rather than hourly trains only running to Henderson. In addition to the obvious exclusion of passengers further to the west, they are also excluding from use the Sturges Road park and ride (the largest on the Western line with 170 spaces) which I can imagine would be useful for those who usually do not catch trains which this response is trying to attract.

  4. Even ARTA knows that half hourly services (and hourly on the western line) will be completely packed due to the combination of free trains (we’ve all been waiting for something like this for ages) and no alternative transport options: “We do need to stress that capacity on trains will be limited and that commuters need to consider carefully whether their travel is essential.”

    Its crazy to discourage people from using a service when more capacity can be added so easily in my opinion. This is the best opportunity ARTA have at advertising how comfortable, easy to use and fast trains are now- and their telling people not to listen to their advertising, or take their own bait! If they really want to limit the crowds, why try and encourage them with free services? Worse still, I fear that people will be left behind at platforms (like they were for the mining protest), and leave with a poor opinion of our infrastructure… they wont see any new trains, good timetables, or feature stations, and will think the system is a real mess.

    For weeks now Aucklanders have been bombarded with messages like “don’t drive on the 5th or 6th”, “possible delays to ALL Auckland bus services” and now “catch the train for free this weekend”. Even if 1/50 of Aucklanders actually think “maybe this weekend is a good time to give it a go- we could have fathers day lunch at the viaduct”, the whole system will fall over under a Saturday timetable

  5. Well, of course, this is unthinkable, but what should really happen is that PT should always be free. Imagine how fast busses would be with no ticketing, processing costs would disappear, roads would completely free up and the productivity gains for the nation would be limitless. Now that would be freedom! I’m sure most of the money collected is spent on collecting it [as it is with toll roads]. So let’s think a little more adventurously. We would save a fortune no longer needing to endlessly expand the motorway network and communities would be screaming out for expansion of the network to them. I have no math on this but I’m sure it would work like the zero fees programme in Invercargil; increased productivity would soon absorb the paper cost…? Or do we have to wait for oil at $200 a barrel?

    Let me rephrase it for our slow witted government: public transit use is public good [as costed by NZTA] a train ticket is a tax on a transit user, tax is bad because it discourages a public good: ergo abolish this distorting tax! Surely this is already ACT policy?

    1. I think that making PT free would cost around $150 million a year. Personally I would rather that money went into improving the system’s quality.

      Furthermore, making travel free is a distortion that could encourage sprawl and discourage intensification.

      1. Actually admin, we would be in the hole $150 million a year just to maintain the status quo. Any monies for improving the system’s quality would have to be found in addition to that extra $150 million.

  6. I personally think ARTA should be paying not NZTA, NZTA are already offering other routes, including the recently opened SH20 – 1 Project and the Extra bridge across Manukau Harbour. Just as ARTA offered a alternative route when they shut the Train Network during Electrification via Rail Buses.

    I didn’t see ARTA paying for commuters fuel so they could drive during the disruption.

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