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.

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45 comments

  1. The lack of seats is an issue they could surely address.

    As for shelters, AT seem to be like NASA and get billed multiple times above reality if Kingsland was anything to go by when they extended shelters there.

  2. It’s not just the cover of the platforms it’s also that it doesn’t extend to the platform edge, so when it rains you’re forced to wait in the rain whilst the door opens. Compare that to Swiss or German stations where not only is the entire length of most platforms covered but you can wait at the door of a train to board and are also still under shelter.

    1. Yes especially as you may have to wait & push the button. Germany & Switzerland have snow, so more important? I guess we do have rain a lot on and off in Auckland, you sometimes wonder in nicer weather though it’s nice to have open space in the sun too.

      1. Agree, there are many days where standing in the sun is preferable. However, I suspect the most common wait is by morning commuters, when the sun is a a reasonably low angle. Therefore it is possible to have both shelter and sun in the same spot.

  3. In Papakura the local council spent a lot of time trumpeting the covered walkway from the station to the town centre. The cover on platform four runs out just as you reach the first door of the train that’s parked up to go to Pukekohe. Also I have always been envious of the cover that is on the overbridge at Ellerslie but the one in Papakura has no cover. Another gripe has been the lack of bike gutters on overbridges. I asked AT whether they had considered a bike gutter as part of the design for the new overbridge in Pukekohe and the answer i got back was there wasn’t enough room in the design. So cyclists either use the lifts where there are lifts or the carry their bikes up and down.

    1. Yes bike gutters would be good, especially when you see a train coming you have to catch. Don’t like hogging the lift either & so slow doing Sylvia Park. One up and one down. There is one on the new ped bridge over the rail line near panmure at William Harvey Pl but doesn’t seem to work, too angled so wheels jam in it or fall out.

  4. The few shelters that are already there – are they all the same? In terms of design? Or do they vary wildly from station to station due to when they were installed? Is their any coherence in their design?

    I’m just thinking that this could be a wonderful opportunity for AT to get some design integrity into their stations, and help reinforce a common theme of station architecture and branding, rather than just try and throw together some bodged up responses. Clearly Auckland needs some – a lot – more canopies seeing as it rains about 4 times a day up there. Yes yes, Wellington needs a heap more canopies as well, especially ones with solid back panels, to stop that wind. Passengers down here are treated abysmally on train stations, but then we have an even more dysfunctional organisation running the trains in Wellington. But Auckland has a real chance right now with AT, a chance to really improve the life of the people up there, and also improve their branding and architecture into a coherent theme.

    1. More wind in Auckland than Wellington, we are told. 🙂 It’s an everyday thing.

      Cohesive design moving forward would be good, but you can waste a lot of money trying to make them the same when they didn’t start that way so I’d prefer to see a pragmatic approach than a PR-driven programme.

  5. Yes with our climate we certainly do need more canopies and as BBC says it would be good if they actually extended to the platform edge so that people can stay dry while boarding.
    Bus Stops could also do with more cover. AT really needs to take a good long hard look at the costs of these as they seem to be paying through the nose for these that look quite nice but are actually fairly useless (still get wet, expensive glass that gets smashed, very small). The gap at the bottom is ridiculous, why does only Auckland find it hard to keep bus shelters clean if they don’t have a large gap?

  6. Why was Mt Albert recently upgraded with a great new bridge to the main road, but no cover put over the stairs?
    Couldn’t the same as what was installed over the stairs at Ellerslie done at the same time? It would make all the difference at one of the better stations on the network and in the scheme of the recent work could not have been that expensive.

      1. Good to know. Albert Eden are seeking submissions on their draft plan at the moment. They have some really great stuff in there about transport – most relevant bit about safe access ways is:

        “We will ensure public transport is more accessible by investigating and advocating for parking near public transport stations, and clear signs and safe access ways that people of all abilities can use.”

          1. perhaps advocate for “Kiss and Ride” stopping areas rather than full “Park and Ride” facilities? Certainly need somewhere for people to be able to set down and drop off/pick up in Mt Albert / Mt Eden – but further out, parking is a big part of it – getting people to forget about bringing their cars into the city.

  7. Matt where did you get the platform lengths from? Papakura appears to be short, the covered section looks about right, platform 1/2 (the least used) would be around the 160 metres you quote but platform 3 (the most used platform) is probably a little over 180 metres. Add to the 180 metre platform 3 is over 100 metres of platform 4 (to Pukekohe) with there being very little cover between.

    Papakura passengers look in envy at the covered bridge at Ellerslie along with the shelters actually lining up with were the train stops.

    1. I measured them using Google Maps. Papakura was one of those tricky ones due to three platforms. I only measured the island platform in the interests of time and complexity. Point was to highlight the issue and so I felt that was sufficient.

      1. Fair enough it just stood out to me that Takanini was shown as longer when Papakura has the longest platform on the network. What you have does make your point but by using the main platform would make it worse.

    2. The trouble is the Pukekohe Shuttle. Previously the trains always used to stop at least vaguely in line with the shelter near the stairs but they now go as close as possible to platform 4… theoretically to allow Pukekohe people easier passage. However, there’s really no point to this when you have a six carriage train because you don’t have enough time to walk from the back half to platform 4… just today I watched three fairly young dudes sprinting along trying to catch up… just after I tagged off!

      And Papakura’s occasional uncoupling of such trains further emphasises the need for the display boards or something to indicate how long the train will be.

      That being said, normally you have the one train pull in (or already be loading) as the other leaves during peak and there are only ever very many off-peak people when the shuttle arrives and, obviously, they just walk from train to train.

  8. im sure Ive seen bus shelters provided by advertisers themselves, adsel or something, maybe get them to do it.

    1. All the bus shelters in Wellington are provided by Adshel, and while they are better than nothing, often they are fairly useless. Prime reason is, of course, conflicting the wants of the passenger to be able to
      A) keep warm and dry, and
      B) see the bus coming;
      whereas the Adshel people want the shelter to
      C) display their poster to the people waiting for a bus and
      D) display their poster to people driving past.

      But the wind comes from both directions (mostly warm northerlies, sometimes cold southerlies) and so sometimes you are in luck – sometimes not so much…

      This leads to ridiculous situations of people on one side of the street who can see the bus only if they get wet, and on the other side of the street, people warm and dry but who can’t see the bus coming. So, mostly spectacularly unsuccessful for actual bus-waiting, but hugely good at being a site for product placement.

      That’s why I said: good design needed first.

  9. Would be nice if the tag points were under cover as well – nothing like having to stop in the rain to make sure you are tagged on. Also having tag points next to the ticket machines for those times when you have to top up before tagging on, though less of a problem now that they have sorted out some of the issues with automatic top ups.

    I’m surprised to see New Lynn showing as 100% covered – there is definitely a gap between the station building and the platform shelters that the rain gets through, at least when the wind is blowing. I don’t bother leaving the station building cover most days.

    Another factor which would be difficult to survey without visiting platforms in person is where trains stop relative to the shelter. Henderson they stop up by the shelters so if you have taken cover under the overbridge you have to run (in the rain) to get to the train once it pulls up.

    1. At Fruitvale the trains stop at the city end, which make sense as that end is the only way to access the platform. However someone in their infinite wisdom decided the shelter should be exactly half way down the platform… so that everyone has to walk down the exposed platform to the shelter when they arrive at the station, then walk all the way back up again when the train arrives. Kinda defeats the purpose of a shelter.

      1. Totally agree, that up platform shelter is insufficient. There should be another shelter or two east of it. Probably same on down platform

      2. Usually the train reaches the shelter heading west at Fruitvale, however it is a long walk in the rain from the road to get there. Also accessibility at fruitvale is shocking, no pram crossings anywhere on the station side of fruitvale rd, unless you use the carpark driveway.

    2. I guess there will be a post focusing on the tagging machines etc but I’ve just noticed one of the reasons the suburban ones can be very difficult to read is the are perhaps too low. I suspect that could be for children, people in wheelchairs perhaps? I’m totally average height but have to awkwardly slouch down to confirm amounts, especially certain sun angles on stations like Penrose. Combined with scratched displays, rain on them etc etc means slows down tagging on and off. Mid morning sun on the Penrose topup machine is really hard to read. They need more contrast perhaps. This comes back to the shelters though, as more overhead shelter would mean more likely to be in the shade and so readable. Actual LCD display should be more angled up or the pole about 10cm higher?

    3. Tag points. When the stations were planned and built the tag points were placed in an arbitrary point probably by an electrician with no idea of passenger flow. But as use of the platforms changes over time, then the Tag points become redundant eg at Papakura there was a side entrance that has now been blocked by a shed to store cleaning gear, so now the tag points are not in the right places. You get massive queues on some and nobody on others. Is there a way to try place with wireless tag points to find optimum flow points.

  10. I do wonder what AT’s attitude to allowing continental style cast iron kiosks on the platforms at some stations, particularly the big park and rides. Kiosks could include built-in vending machines for hot drinks and tickets, and sell things like simple breakfast items (you know, a muffin or croissant), newspapers and magazines, cold drinks, sweets, umbrellas, maybe even bread and milk that will save the commuter a detour on the way home.

  11. I have submitted to AT 3 times on the link between the buses and the trains at Takanini. We have the opportunity to make the use of buses to link to the trains there but there is no shelter for the bus passengers and the timetables don’t match very well. Also there is considerable walk to between bus and train that needs to be addressed with the footpath being obstructed and damaged by the parked cars.

    1. Problem with train/bus timing is it’s probably more setup to time with the Papakura end, being a bigger interchange. I guess also Manurewa. Yes, shelters should be a minimum to ask here though.

  12. I remember last year a poster in buses asked people to vote on the best and worst bus stops.
    I think this would be a good idea for train stations too.
    I think accessibility, shelter, user friendliness, time and distance to get to and from the platform would be main factors.

  13. There is a win win solution that increase the revenue of station and providing shelter and amenities.

    AT can allow private to put a small coffee/food truck in a suitable spot of the station, the food truck should bring in chairs, tables and outdoor shading umbrellas. The foodtruck responsible for cleaning and rubbish.

    A use case scenario: Customers can order a quick coffee, sit down comfortably shaded, read some newspaper or use wifi until the next train arrives.

    This way AT solves the problem with no money.

    1. No, that was the alternative title for the post “Is building more homes a sinister plot against the poor?”

  14. They should have made the shelters less fancy but make more of them to begin with, I catch the train from Sunnyvale which has minimum coverage, it really is a nice shelter but its too bad that it’s made to suit a population of a small city

  15. George Shierny where are you?
    Does anyone remember him? He was a campaigner for bus shelters and took to building them himself to shame the council into doing it. As G.B. Shaw said: “All progress depends on the unreasonable man.” -It wasn’t thought necessary to mention women in Shaw’s day. So I guess we’ve made some progress in that respect anyway.

    1. I can’t remember the name of the fellow, but it was probably the same… back in the early 80’s? … I was the lucky one who scouted the demolition yards to find 3 old ceramic toilets, for which *somebody* made a rough shelter, trucked the whole thing to Victoria St, and ramsetted it to the pavement. I vaguely recall my Ramset licence came in handy around then. Ah the heady days of capping week stunts…

      1. No, late 80’s, I remember now it was because Auckland City Council were ashamed of the queues of people waiting for the buses on Victoria St, and were making them queue around the corner on Elliot St until the bus driver came to let them know their bus was ready!

  16. the shelter issue (or lack there of) arises in part due to service frequency – much of the London Overground network doesn’t have much or any shelter but with frequencies approaching a train every 5 minutes at peak. This also helps ensure you don’t get large crowds waiting (in the elements) on a platform at any given time

  17. I presume the verandah on the heritage station building at Swanson wasn’t counted in your measurement, Matt? Also doesn’t help when the 3-car EMU stop board is at the end of the platform at Ranui, such that the entire train stops beyond the shelter.

    Interesting that this photo shows the “new” shelter extending to the platform edge, and the historic verandah about halfway across. No verandah at all on the original station building (2nd photo).

    https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-NRh3OConUrg/TYuk4aWuj2I/AAAAAAAAFgk/UckYWfCijsk/s1600/Swanson+2.jpg

    https://images.ehive.com/accounts/3031/objects/images/1kiutsi_7pti_l.jpg

  18. Great to see this being given air time! I think that post “el cheapo rail” era, it really is time to revise the whole modular station system. Ticket gates at more stations along with the odd kiosk etc definitely worth a look, as is decent cover. Fact: Auckland has a moist climate. Fact: all along our shopping streets, large and small, since the earliest days, NZ towns and cities have way more coverage from verandas and awnings etc than Australian cities……so lets extend that to modern railway stations now that commuter rail in Auckland is starting to look like a real grown up system. There are some neat means to erect some large covering structures – time to commission some ideas from a shortlist of architecture firms for a new 2017 era Auckland station upgrade package!

  19. The Manurewa shelter on the up platform is continuous and has been for some time. It just needs extending back to the Southmall bridge – that would have saved building special shelters for the gates.

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