Below is a post I wrote in August 2016. We are re-running it now because it is confirmed what we have learnt since from both the seemingly endless number of reports on this issue and the increasingly dysfunctional traffic in the area. Here is my proposed way forward for this issue, in order:

1. The first step: While designating the Light Rail route, build a Rapid Bus service between Puhinui Station and the Airport with minimum 10 frequency.

Replace the current Airport inter-terminal service, and extend it to the Airport Business area on Tom Pearce Dr, along SH20B on new bus-only shoulder lanes to Puhinui Station. Puhinui upgraded to Interchange Station status, all weather, safe, optimised for transfers. There are already 5min train frequencies here both ways at peaks, which is when traffic is worst in Airport area (see chart below). That is a train in one direction or other every 2.5 minutes! Other than the station upgrade, no other rail investment is required for every train on the Southern and Eastern lines become a ‘Train to the Planes’. This should be done as soon as possible, there seems to be available land at the Station could it be operating by end 2018? Extend this over the rail line and on to the new Manukau City Interchange Station too.

At the same time optimise existing bus lanes on Dominion Rd as an immediate capacity and quality improvement for those services, while getting on with designing the proposed and agreed Light Rail system there and to the city.

2. Construct Light Rail as planned to run from Wynyard Quarter, Queen St, Dom rd, Mt Roskill, Onehunga, Mangere, Airport. <2025. While also extending the Rapid Bus east to Botany to connect with AMETI (busway from Botany to Panmure)

3. Rapid bus could become converted to Light Rail if justified, certainly cheaper and easier with Light Rail at Airport already; becomes an extension or overlapping route; Airport no longer a terminus.

Multiple routes and modes to and through Airport, Isthmus, South West, and East. All staged, each part accumulative and mutually supporting, nothing redundant.

Through-routing and choice, a one seat ride on Light Rail through a dense part of city all the way through the City Centre’s spine to the big Transit interchange at Downtown. With options to transfer to Rail network at Onehunga, K Rd, Aotea, and Britomart. Ferries at Britomart. But also an efficient option east either all the way into the south-eastern heart land or again to transfer to two rail lines at Puhinui for South, North, and inner Eastern destinations.

Below is the map from last years Government and Council Auckland Transport Alignment Project. Note route from the Airport east to Botany via Manukau City.

4. After 2023, with the City Rail Link open freeing up platform space at Britomart, and at least one additional track on the main line enabling new services through the city, then Intercity trains from Tauranga and Hamilton could be re-introduced. We will write more about this in future posts. For now it is enough to say that these would stop at Puhinui too, taking advantage of the Airport Shuttle. And this would offer both an express service from Britomart and direct Airport access for people travelling from Waikato and Bay of Plenty.

Airport Rapid Transit: A Quick First Step

AT have now put the SMART study documents on their site, here. There’s a lot to review there and this post is not a look at the whole report and its conclusions, but rather is a response to the problem of the length of time this project is likely to take whatever mode is selected.

All of the proposals in the report are capital intensive, without any currently identified funding source, and the timing of the Rapid Transit route looks likely to be complicated by the Airport’s development plans, particularly those for the second runway, so there is a good case for looking at interim improvements for Airport/Rapid Transit interconnection while these bigger decisions are being resolved. I am focussing on the airport because of its fast growth is clearly a major generator of increased traffic congestion for the whole Mangere area.

First some background from the report. Just setting aside travellers for a moment, what about the workforce at and around the Airport, what are their current patterns?:

AIRPORT Commuter movements

So we can see in the above data from the 2013 census that the key connection for workers is east to Manukau area, followed by that to the centre. Furthermore that employee movement is still quite peaky, despite the airport itself obviously being a 24 hour operation:

Airport worker arrivals

So what opportunities are there for a quick and relatively low cost connection between the Airport and the current RTN, particularly with the above information in mind, that could be built while the full Mangere/Airport RT route is being developed, whatever the mode? RTN 2016 AirportThe first and obvious point is that there is already, right now, great service on the spine of the Southern Line relatively close to the Airport, particularly to the City Centre, but also south and across to Manukau City. Where the red and blue lines overlap there are services every five minutes at peak. So there seems to be a clear opportunity to improve connection east from the Airport for its own catchment while that also will connect, via the rail system, the City Centre and anyone who can access a train station.

Currently the connection between rail system and the Airport is very poor, as anyone -like me- who has used it will tell you.

New Network South

The 380 via Papatoetoe station is not a viable option because of three problems [the longer and slower route to Onehunga is even worse, as well leading to an equally low frequency train]:

  • Low frequency: 1/2 hourly service
  • Slow route; the 380 has no priority on its route so therefore is subject to both delay and unreliability caused by other traffic [I have been on this bus stuck in traffic for tens of minutes]
  • The Station/Bus physical connection at Papatoetoe does little to encourage the transfer.

So why not investigate a dedicated shuttle between the even closer Puhinui Station and the Airport on a minimum 10 minute frequency with dedicated lanes on Puhinui Rd and improved passenger interchange at the station, complete with lifts for people with luggage, and all weather cover? Puhinui is currently timetabled at 33-35 minutes from Britomart [this should improve with current work] with a train leaving every 5 mins at the peaks, exactly when traffic congestion is at is most disruptive. With bus lanes on Puhinui Rd the journey to the terminals would be a reliable 10 mins. Including an average wait time of 5 mins that’s a perfectly satisfactory 50 minute journey from Britomart to the Airport. Because this journey time is reliable and not subject to congestion and avoids the time and cost of parking at the Airport it should be competitive enough for a good proportion of travellers and workers. As shown below, there is space to build an interchange and turning space to the west [Airport] side of the station, this would need to be of interchange standard.

PUHINUI

The Puhinui Rd/20B road and bridge are due to be upgraded or duplicated soon in the on-going work to increase general traffic access to the Airport [what you feed grows] surely it would be wise to actually include dedicated transit lanes on a bridge in Auckland for once? This is a future RTN route, the route is flat and unconstrained by buildings; these are good practical and cost arguments for bringing this section forward. Shoulder lanes, or better, a dedicated busway and bridge, LRT ready, would be real ‘future-proofing’ [a phrase it is hard not to be cynical about in Auckland as it generally means doing less than nothing in practice].

With this service then it would be viable and essential to brand both the shuttle bus service at the terminals and the Southern and Eastern line services, both of which, with no changes to how they currently run, then become true Airport services.

Of course the transfer is less ideal than a system that takes you on one seat right into the Terminal either as a flyer or an employee there, however we know many travellers currently transfer from their cars to various bus shuttles in order to get cheaper parking, and surely many workers would be happy to not to have to battle increasing congestion with a reliable and cost effective alternative. In other words by optimising the bus connection we will further unlock the value of investments recently made in the rail system. It probably makes sense on those grounds alone.AIRPORT -Puninui

This should not be seen as instead of a north/south pan Mangere RTN, but it would surely make a good start, especially as this is the route for the future Botany-Manukau City-Airport RTN. So it would be even better if it continued to the new interchange at Manukau City, and then on to Botany and AMETI. And ensuring all hard infrastructure is built to be efficiently upgradeable to Light Rail in the longer term. Improving eastern connectivity is completely compatible with the northern Mangere routes discussed in the study, and indeed the current Airbus service, so arguably is an even more urgent direction to improve. There is no duplication in sorting this connection out first.

Botany Line

Incidentally this map clearly shows the other areas lacking RTN coverage: the Northwest and Upper Harbour, and the Isthmus and Mangere….

Which is exactly what AT have on their future RTN maps, but far too far into the future in my view. This is still based on last century’s thinking where every road is widened first, leading to the inevitable dysfunction and only then do we try to relieve this adding quality RT alternatives.

To summarise: we already have a high quality Rapid Transit service almost all the way to the airport, it seems to me that the addition of a high quality connection between these points would be a very useful first move in improving connectivity in this important area, especially if taken at least to Manukau City too, and as soon as possible.

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51 comments

  1. I should add to 4. above. Because of these changes it is important to leave space at Puhinui for it to becom a four platform station. Increased, Metro services, freight passing through and intercity services stopping. It will certainly need four tracks, and ideally at four platforms.

  2. Great post Patrick

    Just one point that needs critical emphasis: Any initial transit investment from the Airport to Puhinui MUST continue on to Manukau Bus/Rail Station at the same time. The Manukau Bus Station is open next year and will serve as the major bus hub for South Auckland and Howick coming west. So the airport line as it were needs to marry up not only with the rail line but ALSO the bus nexus point in Manukau.

    1. Agree, this alone would probably lead to a bigger improvement in the peak travel time issue than general airport passengers at all times of the day. No need for a turnaround area taking up space either. Imagine trenching Puhinui station and having a flat busway/LRT straight through…

    2. Agree Ben. Both Puhinui and Manukau are essential nodes, the first for regional rail links, the second for the metropolitan centre and local bus links.

      …although there isn’t exactly an ideal route. I guess Puhinui Rd and Lambie Dr to Manukau Station Rd is the most direct. At least there is plenty of median in Lambie Dr and Manukau Station Rd to do something well.

          1. Err? to get to Lambie doesn’t it need to use Puhinui? Or are you saying don’t go to Man City? I don’t think that’s wise. Important to pick up the Interchange there.

          2. Depends where the stops end up along option 1. I figure AT are trying to capture Ronwood Avenue and Cavendish Drive given that land in there contains a laneway designed for 8 storey development later on in Transform Manukau. So bringing the line down there with a station at Cavendish would capture.

            Mind you the bus would follow the dog leg to capture commuters in the same area as well as you wont find many outside Bunnings and Mitire 10 until the land develops again.

          3. I mean the Ronwood dog leg. It’s only 300m from Manukau station so you wouldn’t have another stop there anyway, just stay on Lambie.

          4. Draw a god damn picture/explain whole route instead of everyone guessing what you mean. While I’m at it, it’s so annoying for public released maps of planed routes, from PDF documents or whatever to be of such low quality resolution you are guess and straining eyes/double checking on another map where they are proposing a route. Like the airport alignment of rail, or Botany line into the airport…grrr just so much time wasted….AT maps another..useless thin lines. sooo many AT maps have half the road names for clarity, but just end up annoying?! Seems they getting better…slowly,, such out of date stuff online, NZTA stuff sooo low res or lacking…PR/media useful pictures are useless..get with the 21st century and fast internet….rant…rant….AT’s public announcements etc sooo always missing something important…puke train out..oh but didn’t mention bus replacement….just seek alternative transport….AT’s inconsistent mapping of timetables…close up’s of interchanges have mistakes, missing relevant interchanges etc…sigh

    3. don’t know if I do agree with this actually, extending a proposed frequent dedicated shuttle service runs the risk of jeopardising it in a number of ways:
      -increased bunching at peak times
      -we have existing rapid frequent train services from Puhinui why duplicate them and Papatoetoe is a frequent bus node just one stop away
      -dilutes the funding case

      1. How does extending the service 3km to get it to the second biggest centre in the region, the major hub for buses in all of south Auckland, and the inter-regional bus station make the case *weaker*?

  3. Matt L raised the rapid link between Puhinui and the airport yesterday and I thought why has nobody done this?

    Surely it is dead simple, minimal road needed in the scheme of things, its short, direct and half it’s route uses fast road speeds as well.

    Build the hub, convert road space used into bus lanes and its guaranteed this will work and best of all it doesn’t use George Bolt Drive or rely on any other part of the motorway system.

    I think train services at least to the Auckland CBD will need to be 24/7 after that though to match airline traffic.

  4. The 380 is Auckland’s quintessential example of ‘poor people’ transport and this option is the best way to go about changing that.

  5. Your problem is that Papatoetoe station has just being made the interconnection point for all bus services in the area so our patrons will need to catch a bus to Papatoetoe then a train to Puhinui then back on a bus or light rail to get to the Airport. Of course 380 is slow with that loop through the main street and then through to Manukau although there is bus priority at a couple of sets of lights. But a Puhinui bus would also face similar problems if it was going to run into the Manukau interchange. If it was just a shuttle from Papatoetoe or Puhinui station then distance wise there wouldn’t be much in it. Maybe keep 380 and have a dedicated shuttle Papatoetoe station to the airport to fill in the gaps.

    1. I don’t think it’s that much of an issue. There are three routes through Papatoetoe, one is the 380 which you’d either replace or continue to run in parallel to the new airport link. The second is the 313 which also goes past Puhinui anyway, which leaves the main 31 crosstown which would stay serving Botany to Mangere via Papatoetoe.

      Much more important would be to connect to Manukau, which has about a dozen routes and really is the main interchange point for this part of the south.

    2. This general plan should be done yesterday. re the 380, I think it should just be kept for the Onehunga side to the airport, perhaps frequency increased. This would keep the timetable more reliable too. hmmmm not so great for those at Papatoetoe, if trains frequent maybe not too bad. Extending the shuttle to Papatoetoe would be too slow I guess, route too tangled.

      1. The 380 does a different job really, so keep them both. Definitely keep the Onehunga side and the Manukau side too. It serves Papatoetoe and the neighbourhoods either side, linking these to Manukau and the Airport.

        Thats a largely different and complementary task to a rapid service running direct from Airport to the Puhinui railway interchange and the Manukau Metro Centre.

        The 380 serves the local suburbs, the rapid serves the regional trips.

        1. I can just see seeing AT looking at the large duplication of it on the East side bar Papatoetoe’s St George St & Carruth Rd, but I see what you mean. Walking distance from those two streets to alternative stops are not too bad & perhaps the 313 could be bent slightly up to capture that better.

          1. There wouldn’t be any real duplication, the two routes would share the same bit of Puhinui Rd leaving the airport, but there isn’t really anywhere to stop there so it’s not actually duplication.

    1. yes, keep the 380, it used to be a right pain going to the airport from onehunga before that bus was extended to onehunga.

  6. Councillors who read this: please make AT do this.

    Puhinui Station could be upgraded to a reasonable standard at the same time, but that’s not a prerequisite.

  7. Did you mean extend the current Airport inter-terminal bus route to just Tom Pearce Dr Patrick? Would it work to go as far as John Goulter Dr where the Countdown/Warehouse etc is & current 380 plus future LRT was planned to have a stop? Maybe this is too far around a loop and be annoying for just terminal transfer. Does the current inter-terminal bus just go Tom Pearce Dr & George Bolt I guess, I’m unfamiliar with it?

    1. This.

      What’s different now vs when the 380 route was introduced? I don’t see why AT would have deliberately introduced a suckful airport bus service unless they were constrained by other factors – in other words, resistance from the airport who has the power to decline any operations on their land.

  8. A bit surprised that AIAL and the businesses at the airport have not proposed or even started operating a service similar to option one already. After all it is their business that are suffering from the congestion. If they were to restrict carpark use and offer free bus services to the transport hubs and 50% of their workers used the buses there would be a significant improvement in traffic flow.
    Would be a win win all round. Worker get to their destination faster and businesses can put the car park land to more productive use.
    But the service needs to start early in the day, Note from the worker’s arrival graph that 350 arrive at 6am.

  9. Regular commentator Guy M sent me these two maps which are in line with my thinking:

    Here’s how the new Rapid Buslink to Puhinui and Manukau City could work at the Airport, with a new bus only link road between the terminals:

    Compared to the current 380 meanderings:

    1. Thanks Patrick – it just seems so obvious that if AT and AAL wanted to speed up the traffic, they would do something like this. Even getting the Skybus at present – there’s a lot of pissing around getting stuck in the traffic with all the million other cars and taxis. If you want people to use public transport, its got to be fast and simple.

    2. Only problem is on Google Earth I can see planes & service related building things I guess where that red light goes straight to the right.

      1. When I walk my trolley between the Domestic and the International Terminals in Auckland, I’m always amazed at how poorly laid out and poorly thought out it is. The thin “green line” route that pedestrian passengers follow leads you through and around small side roads, car parks, bushes, portacabins, etc, and it is obvious that passengers are tolerated as a nuisance that has to be accommodated, rather than as the main purpose of the airport’s existence. It would be possible, if AAL got its act together, to make the walk route a primary focus, and reroute the parking for airport employees etc, so that passengers came first.

        Similarly, if the passenger PT was routed in Auckland to consider their needs first. Why does the bus dropping people off at the airport have to go round at least 6 tight 90 degree corners, always filled with other users. Compare that with the airport at LAX, where a continuous stream of vehicles operates, and buses drop off and pick up a lot more freely than AKL, despite the air traffic at LAX being probably 10x or 20x higher.

        If Auckland Airport ever took the chance to masterplan and design a rational layout for the airport from the passengers point of view, now would be a good time.

  10. Great plan. I just wish Goff and Warburton will accept it for implementation.
    Big challenge for AT is that it was not invented by themselves.
    I also like the simplification of the bus route within AIAL land.

  11. I think you missed the main problem with this plan – as soon as it’s implemented the government will claim that there is rapid transport to the airport and nothing else is needed for another 100 years.

  12. What’s not to like about this cheap and effective “quick-win”?

    Many airports prior to getting a direct rail-connection, or which still have not managed to get one, start by providing a shuttle to the nearest point on the rail network.

    Prior to 1975, PT access to Heathrow was by Underground to Hatton Cross then shuttle bus from there. Not ideal but better than crawling all the way by bus from London.

  13. Great proposal, those census figures were illuminating.
    Dedicated bus lanes 24 hour with no electric cars in them please.
    We’re all for the buses being electric and maybe driverless.

  14. I pretty much just wrote this post at the tail end of the last thread – 100% agree with all.

    If marketed (and ticketed) as one, it’d become part of the rail to airport habit, like Luton in the UK for example.

    And then develop into LR and a fuller network overall. In my head it ends at Panmure, but if Ellerslie as per original maps, then why not either:

    – continue up Great South Road (Greenlane and Remuera stations to close/become LR stops)
    – continue across to Epsom and up Manukau Road
    – continue across to Epsom and up Dom Road (big loop)

    As with the Airport, routes could split/layover at Botany for example, for better performance – and branded/named lines. And perception of Botany – City and Botany – Manukau/Airport routes.

    And loads of buses could be dropped.

  15. From Devonport the “at.govt.nz” MAXX site already comes up with the Ferry, Train to Onehunga, and the 380 bus – $9.45 using a hop card and about an hour twenty from the Devonport ferry terminal. So the Train/Bus option is already the cheapest and probably the most reliable option. Clearly a train to Puhinui and a frequent shuttle bus would be an immediate winner on both time and cost. Great Idea!

  16. For Pete’s sake, for starters just get the 380 service at 15mins frequency and with a buslane to and from the airport. If it means only one lane for cars, too bad. The continuing congestion justifies public transit should take precedence.

    Honestly I wondered (and groaned) as I travelled on the 380 from Papatoetoe station to the airport one morning in February why the heck AT STILL had not put a buslane in place along this route. It should’ve been done within two weeks of the congestion being a major news headline.

    The lack of upgrading of the 380 service in the South new network was for me the single worst thing in that plan. I still can’t fathom how this was ignored, especially as I’ve noticed the service has started to attract more passengers the last couple of times I’ve used it.

    Hopefully, the Australasian Airlines Group will flex it s muscles against the likes of Auckland Airport. It should be noted though that even the airlines have also been getting in on the parking and taxi cash grab and Air New Zealand for example is netting some nice income from its airport parking and prepaid taxi services.

  17. You may not see the Paptoetoe train station and bus link to the airport as satisfactory but it is way better than waiting 30 years for something else and endless talk about it. It is available now and costs very little. From Orakei to the airport takes under an hour.

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