News this morning that Waterfront Auckland is looking to shut down the Wynyard Quarter tram.
The future of Auckland’s trams is on the line after a sudden decision by the council’s waterfront agency to withdraw funds needed to keep them running. The decision by Waterfront Auckland’s board over the fate of Wynyard Quarter’s two vintage trams and their 1.5km circuit – after just 18 months of operation – has come as a bolt from the blue for Mayor Len Brown and his transport committee chairman, Mike Lee. Mr Lee, who headed the former Auckland Regional Council when it set aside $8 million for the initial circuit, was last night scathing of the decision, on top of a “failure of management” by the agency in delaying plans to extend the tracks to Britomart. The decision casts grave doubt on such an extension, to which the new Auckland Council allocated a further $8.2 million.
The debate about the merits of the tram is an interesting one. If it is left as, only looping around Wynyard, then it is nothing more than an expensive gimmick and one that doesn’t serve any kind of useful transport purpose. With Wynyard also still a long way away from being a bustling hub of commercial and residential development, there is little to attract people to use it in its current state.
At the time it was being built, many people described the Wynyard loop as a beachhead, the first step in building a new tram network and that is where the real benefit of it lies. Extending the tracks to Britomart enables it to be become part of the cities transport network. With more developments, like the new ASB building, popping up in the future there are expected to be more than 10,000 people working in Wynyard Quarter. Getting the tram to Britomart will allow for many of those workers to use it to get from trains or ferries to their offices.
Of course as Stu is bound to remind us, we do already have the red City Link buses that do exactly this. I guess my response to that is that the trams are a place making activity. They are the same as how that don’t need streetscape upgrades or shared spaces to allow people to walk yet we build them due to the nicer environment they create. Longer term I think that the entire City Link bus route is an ideal candidate to be replaced by modern trams, tied in with plans to pedestrianise Queen St. This is effectively what is proposed in the City Centre Master Plan.
Perhaps the most worrying aspects of the report this morning is the suggestion that there are issues with integrating the tram into the upgrade of Daldy St and that there are squabbles going on between Waterfront Auckland and Auckland Transport. If it is true then both issues need to be sorted out very quickly.
I can live with the tram being stopped for now on the provision that A) any upgrade to the streets around Wynyard doesn’t prevent the tram from running in the future, B) that we still commit to extending the route to Britomart soon and C) that there is a guarantee that when that that extension is completed, the trams are restarted again straight away.