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.

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  1. There’s some differences in the timing of the patronage figures and definitions between the two graphs. Note that Sky Train was defined as Tram/LRT, rather than heavy rail in Auckland. Also, the Perth and Vancouver patronage data in Figure 3.1 seems older than that presented in your first graph.

    1. Yeah there are a few discrepancies in the data. Wikipedia says that Skytrain carried 117.4 million passengers in 2010 and says that the population of Metro Vancouver is 2,116,581. That would suggest a per capita ridership of 55 a year – well above the 32 in the city comparison graph.

      1. The Skytrain data is skewed by the August 2009 opening of the Canada line, ( which basically added an addition 50% to ridership)

        Prior to August ’09 The Skytrain had around 75 million boardings per year (around 30 per capita)
        in 2010 ridership was, as you point out 117 million,

        Also an interesting point of Vancouver’s Canada line skytrain expansion ( and proposed UBC expansion) is that it generally expands capacity on high capacity Bus routes,( airport extension excluded) that had been built up around the existing skytrain routes,

        I think that Auckland’s next big step should be to look at rationalising its bus network to operate as feeder services for the ‘leccy rail- rather than have hugely long routes to and from downtown…..

  2. I was thinking about this the other day and came up with a similar but quite different idea. The first I would have the same thing you have suggested once the CRL and Airport lines are built. Once a North Shore line was built however I have taken a different approach, using the suggested link from Aotea, under the University and past the hospital, a station could be built directly under Park Rd before a junction with the existing Western line and down into Newmarket. At the same time I think we should build a spur off the western line towards Dominion Rd along the SAL designation, it would be fairly cheap to do that part considering most of the corridor will already have been grade separated (the route from Dominion Rd to Onehunga is going to be the costly bit and would be left to a later stage for now).
    With those two bits of infrastructure in place I would then make quite a change, the west south line would stay as is but the line from Manukau through the Airport and Onehunga would like up with the new line to the North Shore creating a North/South line. Also at the same time a route would go from Manukau to town via the eastern line, through the CRL and out west and down to the spur towards Dominion Rd.

    There would be a couple of advantages to this, first the inner western line i.e. Mt Albert to the CRL would have double frequencies and could have quite a bit of intensification along it. The section from Newmarket to Penrose would obviously have had that already but by moving the northern line like suggested you then give access to that employment zone to everyone from the North, West and South making for a lot of single seat trips from most areas of the region to a fairly large number of employment zones.

    Later on if we build a Botany line it could also run along the eastern and into a tunnel like you have suggested to hook up the one carrying the northern line to Aotea, on the other side it could head along Victoria St West and up under Franklin Rd to a Ponsonby Station before heading underground towards Grey Lynn before popping out around Western springs and along SH16 perhaps eventually all the way to Kumeu.

    It would be something like this (although I put the southern and Eastern lines around the other way),174.778552&spn=0.122087,0.264187

  3. Re that last map – that would be so awesome.
    An end goal worth aiming for.

    And the total of the projects added together in today’s prices is probably about the same as the current RoNS debacle.

  4. One thing that’s interesting is even with electrification and the CRL our number of trips per person isn’t actually expected to increase by that much. I keep track of the patronage stats like you do but I also have our current population for each month based on the growth figure from Stats NZ. Using that and looking at some of the predictions we have seen we get the following:
    Currently about 10.3 million trips per year = 7 trips per person (TPP)
    In the EMU announcement they say 17 million trips by 2016 = about 10.5 TPP
    The CRL business case suggested 16.1m trips in 2016 = 10 TPP
    CRL BC states 20.1m trips by 2021 = 11.5 TPP
    With CRL is 35.1m trips by 2031 = 17.2 TPP
    With CRL is 47.6m trips by 2041 = 19.7 TPP

    So while things definitely improve it still put things lower than those comparator cities.

    1. You’ve hit on the point I am trying to make, asking the question of what if those are significant under-estimates of future patronage. There doesn’t seem to me to be any inherent reason why our trips per capita on rail couldn’t match Perth & Vancouver (or others) in the future.

      1. Exactly- it seems our transport professionals, especially at government agencies, are consistently both unambitious and pessimistic about performance of public transport assets and programmes in Auckland. And, of course, like the Minister’s prediction about the future continued predominance of the private car use, this becomes self fulfilling, as we only investment to maintain current levels.

        Investment should be focussed on transformation and improvement, not merely keeping things as they are.

      2. I wonder if it is relevant to include the whole region when truly looking at trips per person. Looking at some of the cities we are compared against the rail lines seem to have far better geographic coverage of the region that those in Auckland. As an example very few people from the Shore would ever have a trip that would make it possible to catch a train but that isn’t the case for many of those out south or west. One thing I would like to see is if we could break these kinds of results down by region a lot more.

        I did some rough calculations a while ago using the census mesh blocks that suggested that for those in the parts of Auckland even remotely close to a rail line that trips per person was around the 16 per person mark. I haven’t updated that for a while so I might have a look at it again tonight.

    2. The question is, do you have the projected TPP from whenever it was that Britomart was approved? Because we know that, based on the August figures, the actual utilisation of Onehunga line stations (as opposed to Onehunga services) is over 70% higher than the projections for first-year patronage. That’s with crappy frequency and nasty trains, too. What’ll happen once the trains are nice? And if they improve the off-peak timetable? Or start running shuttle trains between Penrose and Onehunga, just as fast as the return trip can be conducted, so that there’s a big increase in service frequency? (This would also open up slots at Britomart.)

      I have zero faith in the TPP projections for public transport in Auckland, because project after project has demonstrated that the wonks consistently under-shoot by large margins.

      1. You would probably have to ask AT for the figures but I saw a graph a while ago that had predictions from 2001 into the future and it the actual results were pretty close to what was predicted so it seems roughly accurate. Also there was a note in the last patronage report that said about 60% of the Onehunga line patronage is actually from stations along the Southern line and that peak usage was doing well but not yet at the maximum they had suggested there would end up being.

        1. When the August figures were released, based on the stated percentage of Onehunga Line patronage that was from stations strictly on the Onehunga Line, I calculated that the average daily patronage not attributable to Southern Line stations was about 853. From memory the projected patronage was 500/day, so 853 is more than 70% higher.

        2. And that’s current usage, not maximum. We know they’re nowhere near the line’s maximum capacity, even in a single track configuration.

        3. The prediction was something like 350 boardings at Onehunga during the morning peak based on the current configuration. Based on what we have seen there are probably about 1000 trips across a normal week day and assuming that each person makes two trips (i.e. one to work and one home), we get about 500 boardings per day in total.

          From what I have heard both online and from people catching the train from there (I have two people on my floor at work who do) is that the peak services have about 40-50 people boarding them and with only 4 trains per morning peak that is only about 200 people at most so a good start but still some way to go. I would guess from comments that there is probably also half that at Te Papapa so perhaps 300 people during the peak all up with probably 200 off peak throughout the rest of the day.

          This isn’t to say I don’t think the predictions won’t be beaten but lets put some reality around them. Also you have to be careful about whether the prediction is for boardings or total trips.

  5. “Aside from the shared track between Glen Innes and town, this new line could theoretically be developed as a “Light Metro””

    It could actually make a lot of sense to duplicate this section with a pair of metro-only tracks to carry the new outer eastern line, in lieu of adding a third/fourth main as has been suggested.

    That way the new tracks could carry frequent metro service, while the existing tracks could carry the (relatively infrequent, 6tph max?) ithsmus loop line and still have plenty of space for port freighters and regional-intercity services. Perhaps everything on the existing track could run express from GI to the CBD, which would help with the freight/intercity routing.

    If we want to run two frequent suburban lines, plenty of freight trains and a few long distance ones, Auckland will eventually need a third (and logically, fourth) track in this corridor regardless (whether they be all regular main lines or a mix with light metro). Luckily the corridor has bags of room, if we can manage the issues of the Orakei development and the impact of widening the causway across the bay and wetlands.

    1. Adding a third track solely for freight is still a good long-term move, because we have no idea whatsoever what future rail use patterns will be like. The folly of assuming that future use==current use is evidenced by decades of failure to support public transport and the consequent eye-watering costs of trying to catch up.

  6. One reason why the Sky Train out-performs is that it is driverless, which in turn reduces OPEX considerably and allows for 5 min frequencies all-day and much of the night. Note that 5 minute frequencies would cost a bomb in Auckland, unless we can switch to a driverless system (something to think about). Sky Train revenues more than cover the operating costs, which are only about $80 million CAD/year.

    Not so sure about the Perth network, but maybe they just pour shed-loads of money into running the thing, hence get higher patronage.

    P.s. IMHO North Shore Rail is unlikely to ever be built, but should be allowed for in current designs for the City Rail Link.

    1. Stu I know what you mean about NS rail looking hard to imagine right now, but I can see a situation post CRL and Airport Line and all the service improvements that these additions imply where many on the Shore start to feel left out and demand begins to build for them to be able to join in. Especially if that involved a pretty direct route to the airport. While right now the advantages of such an idea are reduced by the poor quality of the existing network and service and the unlikelihood of an NS extension, things could look very different in ten years. And that is without factoring in any possible resource issues and therefore costs around oil.

      While I remain impatient for commitment to progress beyond electrification I feel the terms of the debate have moved so much in the last couple of years and I am confident that this will continue. Momentum is an interesting and often compelling thing in ideas as in more physical phenomena, and rail in AK has got it right now.

      1. Hi Patrick. I am of the opinion that a rail tunnel to the NS is an absolute must in the near future. In my humble, amateur, would love to use more PT opinion, it is more important than the airport rail.

        1. Hi Bryce big arguments for airport line are its relatively low cost [especially relative to crossing the Waitemata Harbour], its high volume destination, and its expansion/completion of existing lines. The bridge at Mangere is already engineered for the addition of rail, the route is at least in part protected, it is flat, and it serves, quite apart from the travelers [who all, of course, arrive without their cars], a growing workforce, but also an area that currently is very poorly served by PT and suffers a high degree of severance both from the city centre but also the regional centre of Manukau City.

          But also critically connection to the airport, I believe, will become a kind of killer Ap for the whole network; a motivator, a justifier.

        2. The Shore has the busway which is more than fine for now, so it goes to the end of the list of priorities in my opinion. City rail link, southwest-airport line, outer eastern line then north shore rail.

        3. What I was implying was a tunnel with an interchange for the busway to alleviate the issues with the current bottleneck – the harbour bridge.

        4. The bottleneck isn’t really the Bridge, but rather the roadspace once the buses leave the motorway from the start of Fanshawe St onwards. In the short and medium term this can be addressed with some relatively cheap and easy bus priority improvements, such as a bus lane extension right to Britomart or a peak bus lane over one of the four southbound lanes of the Victoria Park viaduct.

          We have much bigger fish to fry with Auckland’s rapid transit before we have to convert the pretty-damned-good busway into a very-damned-good rail line.

  7. In terms of visibility to others, both in terms of the rest of New Zealand and internationally, extending to the North Shore would be seen as just more of the same for a slightly larger portion of Auckland, with no impact elsewhere.
    Extending rail to the airport would make a huge difference in perception to how easy it is to reach the CBD from elsewhere. Having been in Sydney the week before last, I was seriously impressed – even on a weekend – with how easily I could be in the CBD and changing trains to get where I really wanted to go. With a bus service at risk of delays from traffic, an air traveller is going to allow way too much time for a bus connection – and that is real journey time wasted, even before we consider whether the door to door journey is faster. A rail link will shorten the true journey time to the airport and hence shorten links with Wellington, Christchurch as well as places across the ditch.

  8. You all fail to understand the real battle that needs to be fought for Auckland. It is not buses, streamlined bus lines and additional bus ways you need to lobby for but future rail. Bus ways and buses are already here and the establishment will ensure these are grown, expanded and improved. The real issue is that buses cannot provide the high capacity, fast and sustainable PT solutions we will need in only a short decade. Our focus and lobbying is needed for fast and high capacity rail right across the four axis of our region by 2030. .Optimism on bus ways is short term, misplaced and unfortunately will be the go too option for politicians and their associated bureaucrats for the fore see able future. Buses provide short-term results that politicians need and satisfy the requirement of the road lobbyists (Bus’s need roads too). Any medium term RPT for Auckland needs to have electrified, high capacity rail as its backbone. Any PT transport plan to be adopted by Auckland’s Governance agencies needs to have a 30-year window that encapsulates progressive acquisition of transport corridor designations. This plan is out now, with public submissions closing on the 31 October. There is no provision in this for NS rail. Conservative population for east side NS for 2030 is 500k. This is over 1/4 of Auckland’s population and it needs rail by 2030 if not before. (Peak oil is a reality not a myth….. NZ and Auckland will suffer more than most in the years ahead with respect to PT run on oil) Thus, we need to be lobbying strongly for the preplanning and development now of expanded, and effective electrified rail. If it is not on in the Auckland Plan, you can rest assured we will be no further on by the time the NS bus way reaches its capacity and economic viability. Yes, fording the Waitamata will be costly but it is necessity. I believe a new bridge harbour crossing aligned alongside the existing bridge (less its clip on’s) is the most effective solution. Fast rail under a road bridge with gradients reduced by elevated approaches for rail. (Yet transport guru’s conveniently rule out a bridge crossing for rail)
    A strong, informed response to the Auckland Plan is required on this glaring omission and it should be coming from “Campaign for Better Transport. Come on!

    1. The NBW is a very efficient way of moving passengers across the Harbour Bridge. It already carries about 40% of morning peak users. A shift to viewing buses as feeders for rapid transit network stations will make the NBW more accessible to more users, and diesel will have to get really expensive before building and operating electric trains is a lot cheaper.
      Dealing with the buses at the CBD end is the bigger challenge, and the CRL won’t help much with that. Replacing the NBW with heavy rail may well become important, but the NBW’s capacity is nowhere near being achieved in the next 15-20 years if a way to handle the buses through the CBD can be found.

  9. If Auckland wants to reduce emissions by 40% buses are not the solution.

    They are part of the problem.

    Stick electric things on rails, that’s the solution.

  10. I’m a bit confused by that PT trips per capita graph. Sydney has a significantly higher number of people using public transport compared to car travel as a % than any other Australian city yet it shows Melbourne as having higher per capita usage. Melbourne is slightly more than Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane, but is quite lower than Sydney when it comes to the trips made on PT compared to cars

  11. ok Ive just read that report from where that graph is from and I dont think the editor picked up a huge mistake when it came to Sydney. Sydney has 304.8 mil annual rail trips, 280.4 mil annual bus trips and 14.3 million ferry trips per annum. When the person added the 3 up it come to a total of 159.6 annual trips on Sydneys PT system. Whoops. Further more, he puts Sydneys population at 5.46 million, adding an extra million Sydneysiders that dont exist. So the trips per capita for Sydney is waaaaay underestimated. Did the report writer come from Melbourne by any chance. Just kidding

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