Over the next few days I’ll be doing a series of posts recapping the year before beginning the new year by looking at what we can expect in the year ahead. For me when it comes to transport, 2013 was always going to be a bit of an “in progress” year. By that I mean that a heap of projects (both PT and road) would be advanced throughout the year however there would be nothing major completed that would fundamentally change transport in Auckland – that will change in 2014. For this post, I’m just going to be recapping public transport.
Wires are now a familiar sight across much of the rail network with primarily just the Eastern Line and the inner parts of the Western Line still to be completed however this was originally meant to have been completed by September. Back in May we revealed that the project was running late and is unlikely to be fully completed till March/April with Kiwirail saying it will be all done by the time the first electric trains are running in April. Britomart and the Eastern line are the focus over the Christmas shutdown and as I was in town yesterday I popped into Britomart which was a hive of activity and flashing lights with crews and vehicles working on each track.
While the case for extending electrification to Pukekohe came out in 2012, the new development that is now expected to occur along the rail corridor thanks to the Unitary Plan is likely to help bring forward the need and justification for it. At the other extreme of the network Auckland Transport announced this year that the Waitakere station would close due to a combination of stubbornly low patronage and high costs to run a diesel shuttle service. The outcomes of two more stations – Westfield and Te Mahia – are still under review after it was suggested they would be closed too.
At Wiri the new state of the art depot to maintain our new electric trains was completed in time for the arrival of the first train.
The first of our new electric trains arrived at the end of August and staff have been busy testing it. Since then it has been joined by three others with more due to arrive soon. The trains are arriving at a rate of two every month till December when they increase to four per month. From my personal experiences of riding on them, I think they’re fantastic and people will be surprised when they first get to try the out next year.
City Rail Link
The City Rail Link perhaps provided the biggest surprise of the year when in June the government suddenly turned around and agreed that it was needed and said they would help fund half of it. This was quite a change from the position they had previously taken, especially their earlier responses including to the City Centre Future Access Study which even Ministry of Transport officials had been a part of. It is believed a large part of the reason the government had such a change of heart was that their polling was showing a lot of unhappiness amongst Aucklanders about the lack of support towards the regions preferred transport and housing solutions.
While the announcement saw the government finally support the project it doesn’t mean they agree with everything about it as the government don’t want to start the project till 2020, roughly the time the council want it finished. They have set some aggressive but potentially achievable targets for starting early. Regardless some parts of the project will actually start next year (or in 2015) following an agreement between the council and Precinct Properties (who now own the Downtown Mall) for part of the tunnel to be built when they redevelop their site. That removed potentially one of the biggest issues from the consenting process which has been proceeding fairly quietly in the background. We should hear the results of that in the new year.
We here at the blog had been getting pretty frustrated with the way the project was being sold by AT (and others). Finally in November we saw a decent effort by AT with this video.
Integrated Ticketing and Fares
Integrated ticketing has one of those projects where if something can go wrong it will, frequently stumbling from one issue to the next with deadlines frequently missed as a result. The project had already been delayed multiple times in the lead up to 2013 and this year showed no sign of that changing with more deadlines missed. This year we were told the roll-out of AT HOP to buses would be completed by the end of the year however issues with the change overs pushed that back again. Birkenhead, Urban express and NZ Bus buses have now all been converted to AT HOP and fingers crossed the rest will be complete within the first few months of 2014. It will mean that for the first time people will be able to get around the city on PT with a single ticket (which is different to a single fare).
While getting integrated ticketing is a good step, integrating fares will be one of the keys to unlocking the system and making it more usable. While it has always been mentioned that integrated fares would come sometime after integrated ticketing, many at AT had previously given off the impression that it was more of a nice to have and there had been no real push. From what I have heard there has be finally been a shift and realisation within AT that integrated fares are desperately needed, especially to support the new bus network and as such work has been going on behind the scenes on this so it should become a reality.
New Bus Network
Early in the year we saw that there was a hugely positive response to the Regional Public Transport Plan of which one of the key features was the new bus network. This enabled AT to go out to the first detailed consultation which was in South Auckland. Once again there was a overwhelmingly positive response to the proposed changes. Auckland Transport deserve a lot of credit for this result as wasn’t just that the new network was good but that AT took their time to explain the reasoning behind it. Despite consultation now being complete in the South, we won’t actually see the changes made till 2015 as AT still need to work though significant issues like contracting with the bus companies. The video below is one AT put together to help accompany the consultation and explained excellently much of what is happening.
Patronage growth was fairly stubborn throughout 2013 after a poor few years partially exaggerated by the Rugby World Cup. However there have finally been signs of improvement in the last few months, especially on the rail network. I suspect we will start to see some decent growth occurring once again in 2014.
Along with some of the big projects mentioned above, below are some of the other important things that have happened over the year:
- In Mt Albert we saw the upgraded train station open. Another stage connecting the station to New North Rd and a new plaza will happen in 2014.
- At Panmure the upgrade of the train station has progressed and will open in a few weeks time.
- The Parnell station moved a few steps closer with it going into detailed design however construction is unlikely to start till the end of 2014 at the earliest with completion not till late 2015.
- On the Northern Express we saw the a double-decker go into service in Auckland for the first time. It was intended as a trial and other bus companies were looking at them too however I’m not sure if or when any more are coming.
- One big disappointment has been the continuation from AT of not installing a single metre of bus lane since it was formed. The only bits of bus lane added in the last three years has been done by the NZTA.
- At Hobsonville and Beach Haven a new ferry service was started however only with a few services a day.
Anything major PT wise I’ve missed? Upcoming posts will look at and recap what’s happened with road network, walking/cycling, development/planning and finally the blog itself.