The Auckland Plan (submissions close October 31st) takes a fairly long-term viewpoint of Auckland’s future, looking to 2041 when the population may well be as high as 2.5 million. Here are the projected population numbers for Auckland over the next 30 years, and how they compare with cities throughout the rest of New Zealand: A population of 2-2.5 million in 2041, if the medium or high projections are what turns out to happen, would put us in a situation similar to that of Greater Vancouver (current population 2.2 million). Add in our limited capacity to expand the roading network, hopefully a greater focus on aligning land-use plans to encourage intensification around public transport corridors and the inevitability of much higher petrol prices and you have the recipe for significantly higher public transport patronage in 2041 than what we have now. As impressive as our increase in train patronage has been over the past 10 years (especially since 2003 when Britomart opened), if you compare Auckland with Perth and Vancouver, you can see that we’re really just scratching the surface: Realising this level of rail patronage in Auckland will obviously require massive changes in the structure of our public transport system. Vancouver’s Skytrain is so incredibly popular because it’s used for all kinds of trips – particularly trips to suburban centres and reverse-commuting trips for those living downtown but working elsewhere. More than half of Skytrain users arrive at their station on the bus, while continuously high frequencies (enabled by its driverless operation) make the system useful for far more than just peak-time commuting: The low proportion of Auckland’s public transport trips taken on the train is fairly unusual, as Ottawa and Honolulu aside (both cities are now expanding light-rail systems), we have one of the lowest proportions of our PT trips on the rail network – clearly a legacy of the rail network being so bad for so long. Comparing Auckland to Vancouver (which is also dominated by bus patronage, even considering the fact that the Skytrain carries around 120 million trips a year) highlights that a more long term ‘balanced’ network might have around three bus trips per rail trip, rather than Auckland’s six bus trips per rail trip.Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Brisbane all have much higher proportions of their PT patronage carried by rail. While in Melbourne and Sydney this is because they have huge historic rail networks, Perth had lower rail patronage in the early 1990s than Auckland does now but now has nearly as many rail trips per capita as Auckland has bus trips.
What does all this information actually mean though? I suppose the message I’m trying to get across in all of this is to look at Vancouver and Perth as giving us a view into Auckland’s future. Those cities have shown us that it is possible to have successful rail systems in cities with relatively low densities and without huge legacy rail systems (like you see in Sydney and Melbourne). In short, I think it’s perfectly feasible to expect our rail system to carry 50-100 million or more passengers a year in the medium-term future. But what kind of system might that require?
The obvious point to make is that we need to use our existing rail asset far more effectively. Electrification will enable that to an extent, but we’re still stuck at a train every 10 minutes – meaning a capacity of little more than 4000 passengers per hour per direction, a fraction of a railway line’s potential capacity. The City Rail Link is, of course, necessary to enable our existing railway lines to operate to their capacity. Beyond the City Rail Link, completing an Airport/Southwest Line would enable a pretty useful system based around two lines:
If the maximum capacity of your railway line is around a train every 2 and a half minutes (24 tph), then theoretically a train could run every 5 minutes each way along both the red line and the green line. Obviously it will be a while before we need to run this level of service, even at peak times, but it effectively doubles the capacity of the line in each direction and quadruples the capacity of trains into the CBD because there are now two entrances (from Britomart and from Mt Eden).
A next line to put through, half of which seems to be progressing in the thinking of the powers to be (North Shore rail), half unfortunately not (a Southeast Line) could be this: Aside from the shared track between Glen Innes and town, this new line could theoretically be developed as a “Light Metro” along the lines of what Nick said recently in this post. The southeast portion of this line would probably be really useful in the next 20 years, although because we’re already building an AMETI busway chances are it’s probably quite a long way away from becoming a reality, if it ever happens.
Another possible future line, one which already has its route protected actually, is between Avondale and Southdown. This line would probably be of most use for freight – enabling freight trains to bypass Newmarket and the really high frequency passenger trains we’re likely to run on the inner part of the network in the future. Building that line enables an isthmus loop line though – which is quite an interesting idea for future service routings: Supplemented by a Northwest Busway (or a northwest rail line?) (perhaps linking through to Albany via SH18?), excellent quality feeder buses in the outer parts of the city, a high-frequency grid of bus routes on the Auckland isthmus, perhaps a few tram routes where they make sense and I think we might have found ourselves the public transport system to really support a city of 2.5 million people in a future where driving as much as we do now simply isn’t feasible.