A couple of weeks ago, Auckland Transport sent out a survey to their research panel titled “Help us improve train stations“. This definitely piqued my interest and got me hoping they might be about to make some much-needed changes to stations to improve the customer experience. This could include adding more shelter, changing the location and numbers of HOP machines and tag posts or adding more amenities like toilets, better displays, covered bike parking etc. Alas it was not to be and the survey spent all it’s time asking about things AT could do to generate more money from customers through initiatives such as selling advertising or snacks from vending machines.
But it got me thinking once more about the sorts of improvements I had hoped it would ask about. So, I thought I’d write a series of posts on the topic, with the first one being about the lack of shelter at most stations. Shelter is a topic I’ve talked about from time to time with the last post just over six months ago. That post followed an incident where all passengers were thrown off a train and into torrential rain due to a door issue.
But this isn’t just an issue when there’s a fault, with the growth in patronage it can be an everyday issue at many stations. Many stations have just 12m of shelter across the length of a 150m platform. During the peaks when stations are very busy there are is simply not enough room for everyone to squeeze under a small canopy. But as well as being bad from a customer experience perspective, the meagre shelter at stations also encourages passengers to bunch up rather than spread out along the platform. This can result in longer dwell times and often some carriages on trains being much busier than others.
In some ways it’s surprising that nothing was ever done to improve this situation. Back in 2011 when the upgraded Baldwin Ave Station opened, I recall reading that even AT CEO David Warburton commented about the small size of the canopy – which at around 12m in length is not uncommon.
Instead of just highlighting the issue, I thought I’d take a look at just how much shelter there is at our train stations. In the interests to time, for the purpose of this exercise I’ve only considered the length of the citybound platform. Arguably this is a little unfair on island platforms where at least people can use the shelter on the outbound side of the platform too, but even that might not be enough and it doesn’t address the issue of bunching.
To do this I just used Google Maps to measure the length and location of shelters on platforms. In most cases the shelter was just the standard station canopy but in some, such as Grafton, I’ve also included the shelter provided by the road bridges. Where there are multiple shelters I’ve included that too as one large canopy is normally more useful than lots of smaller ones. The length of trains is shown for reference, as to are the busway stations.
There is lot of blue (uncovered) on that graph and not a lot of yellow (covered). The main exceptions to this are the big stations such as Newmarket, New Lynn and Panmure. The worst two stations are unsurprisingly the two that have never been upgraded with at least the standard station design, Te Mahia and Takanini.
To highlight just how little cover there is, the graph below shows the total cover compared with the uncovered amount. Across the network (citybound) just 29% of platform length has a canopy over it.
With so much about transport needing investment, I appreciate it’s not easy to go out and build a lot more canopies. But if AT are going to subject customers to ads and other revenue raising schemes, the least they could do is to commit to progressively improving stations. Perhaps they could commit to improving set number of stations per year with a minimum level of coverage, say 1/3rd (~50) or even half (~75m).
In the next part of this series, I’m going to look at the layout of stations.