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?:
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:
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? The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.