This is a guest post from reader and friend of the blog, Warren Sanderson

If you are interested in the design of cities and transport, for those of us in Auckland this is indeed a very interesting time. With the adoption of the Greater Auckland’s Congestion Free Network 2 (more or less) by the Labour Party we seem as citizens, to be reaching some consensus that Auckland has to well and truly ease off on further motorway development and play catch-up with public transport. Even the National Party, though with some reluctance, are prepared to spend some money on rail.

The city of Perth in Western Australia has of course, been an example for us. It has been referred to on this blog on many occasions and we had their old clapper diesel units as commuter trains, before our own new CAF EMU’s arrived. Like us, Perth went through a long period of political non-acceptance of the role of rail and the closure of the Freemantle line was on the cusp at one stage. Luckily, ‘Build it and they will come prevailed’. It was built and they did come.

I had not previously been to Perth, but I well remember attending an Auckland Conversations session back in April 2014 and listening to Professor Peter Newman from Curtin University in Perth explaining the positive difference rail has made to Perth and drawing lessons for Auckland, as we make public transport more sustainable.

It was time to check Perth out for ourselves so my wife and I sorted some likely accommodation on the internet and in due course made our way to Claisebrook Cove in East Perth and right on the Swan River. The area was apparently an old industrial area but has been beautifully redeveloped, mainly into terrace housing and with convenient adjacent restaurants. It was a very pleasant locality in which to base ourselves and about as far out of town as Parnell is from our CBD. And as a cricket lover I had been pleased to note that the hotel was not far from the WACA i.e. West Australian Cricket Ground.

More importantly, we found our hotel was located on the yellow CAT (Central Area Transit) Free Bus route – equivalent to our Link Buses. The frequency was every 7 to 8 minutes so getting into the CBD was very easy and at no cost at all.
But wait, there is more………….There are four such inner city colour coded bus routes within the free transit zone, mostly with 10 minute frequencies.

Murray and Hay Streets in the main shopping precinct of the Perth CBD are completely pedestrianised for one block and together with several interlinking side lanes were actively busy places. As a contrast, by casual observation vehicular traffic in the general CBD area was comparatively light but not so, as we later discovered, in some of the further out suburbs where the car is still king.

Now for the trains. The Metro Rail Network comprises five lines centred on or passing through central Perth. Three of these are legacy lines which depart from the old, but upgraded Perth Station, to Freemantle, Midland and Armadale. They tend to have more stops at shorter intervals for the distance covered.

The newer and longer lines are the Joondalup line running north and now extended to Butler and the Mandurah line which goes some 74 kilometres south. They start from the Perth Underground Station which is on the other side of Wellington Street but connected to the old station by a wide underground pedestrian tunnel. Stations on these lines are more widely spaced and the trains have the freeway route on either side for a considerable distance. We noted they have very fast acceleration and go faster than vehicles on the adjacent freeway.

We travelled on all the lines except the Mandurah line, to their outer termini and experienced this fast rapid transit both as train passengers and again as motorists in our rental car, as we drove south down the Kwinana Freeway, with the Mandurah line alongside.

Fares: Elizabeth and I found that the most economical fare for us was a Day FamilyRider ticket, which took the two of us anywhere that day, including on the ferry across the Swan River to South Perth, for a total of $12.60. This fare was cheaper than four single trips for both us would be.

The four unit trains are very similar to our Auckland EMU’s but I noted that with one exception that seating was lengthwise along the carriage, which allows more standing room.

Stabling: There is a depot and marshalling yard reasonably close to the central city in the direction of East Perth but I also spotted this storage depot with lots of trains stored out in the open, just before the end of the line at Butler. See satellite picture below and note how the outwards and inwards lines diverge, which together with fencing encloses and protects trains not currently being used.

Perth infrastructure all seems to be modern and of good design and good quality, which I guess reflects the wealth Western Australia has enjoyed over the last three decades. Let me give you one small observation. Roadside gutters are in the main chamfered back – see picture. For motorists, this ensures they do not mutilate expensive mag wheels, if they make a misjudgement, when trying to park as close as possible to the kerb.

It is worth keeping an eye on what is happening in Perth, as our cities are of similar size and they have embraced the concept of public transit just that much earlier than we have. As for Elizabeth and me? Well, we enjoyed this first visit and fairly comprehensive exploration of Perth, so we rewarded ourselves by heading south by rental car, to sample the delights of the wineries in the Margaret River region.

That however, is another story!

Editor’s note. Perth happens to be one of the cities I keep an eye of for ridership. Below is their rail numbers compared to Auckland. Usage in Perth has dropped a little bit in recent years, possibly the result of economic conditions. I think it’s quite possible we’ll see similar explosive growth in Auckland once the CRL opens, possibly taking us to 40-50 million trips a decade from now.

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  1. I thought in the past that the spine and spoke PT system in Perth was something we could copy in Auckland. Their river is someways acts similar to our harbour. I was there for a year in the mid-90s, so it’s probably change a lot since then.

    Took the train to Fremantle about 15 years ago and was working there intermittently while the CBD tunnel was being built. I thought the Fremantle train was slow compared with others in Asia at the time. Can certainly see the difference in station spacing on the maps above and the potential for greater speed on the new lines (Joondalup / Mandurah).
    I would have thought it would make more sense to do through routing on the lines North-South and East-West but that’s not what is shown. Perhaps not all services for network balancing but it’d be nice if the majority did.

    1. They actually do have through routing, so in effect are only 3 lines (Fremantle-Midland, Butler-Mandurah, City-Armadale/Thornlie) but for the rail maps they are shown as 5 separate lines. Also note the overlap in green & orange lines as they go through the city.

  3. The satellite picture of the Nowergup Train Depot near Butler is quite old and possibly taken when it was under construction.
    On a Sunday I counted some 20 trains stabled there, so it is a very significant stabling area.

  4. My wife and I travel to Perth at least once a year to visit our family in Baldivis a large suburb south of the city. We always use the public transport and have our “snapper” cards. A bus from the Airport to the central bus terminal and then onto the train to the Mandjurah means we get to our destination almost as quickly as if we were picked up from the Airport. The trains run every 10mins thru the day so there is never a worry about missing one because another will be along before you know it. Busses connect with the trains and service the outlying suburbs like Baldivis (around 20,000 people) and for us there is a stop almost outside the front door. We never take a car into the city as we can travel there quicker using Public transport and with less stress –
    althought the freeways into the city are far less packed than SH1 through Auckland. Not only are the suburbs beautifully laid out, they have parks for recreation everywhere. From my families home there are at least 4 parks within 5 mins walk from the house where the children can play.
    I believe the main reason why there has been a drop-off in commuting numbers in Perth has been the down turn in the mining industry. The numbers of FIFO workers in the city has decreased substantially over recent years.

  5. What a nicely written article, almost like a travel journal.

    I think it might make a nice travel destination for our councillors too. They could learn how Perth provides basic things that Auckland can’t (or won’t) like integrated fares, circular fare zones that provide equal fares in all directions, and why it’s a good idea to build new rail lines to places where rail lines don’t currently exist so that the whole city gets to benefit. We can do all of these things too!

    There’s a lot to be said for study tours so that our councillors can see first hand what other cities have done. Our council is still too much the old Auckland City Council and not enough greater Auckland, and seeing how other cities work might help shift that mindset.

    1. Looks like you could still do a significant crosstown trip in one zone in Perth, so I’m not sure how it provides ‘equal fares in all directions’.

    1. The Auckland Council should try this , it might keep a lot more unwanted viehicles out of the city centre . As long as the revenue goes to help to pay for PT and not the over blown salaries of the top civil servants

    2. Perhaps in Auckland’s burbs, the retailers who want free parking for their customers could pay a parking levy to pay for feeder minibuses to the PT network?

      1. You must remember that ou CRL willcost between $2.8 and $3.4 billion for 3.5km so they are getting a good deal nd we are only getting 2+1/2 new stations

        1. End of the network line vs CBD… perhaps there’s a reason for some of that cost difference. Maybe we should have done the CRL when it was first proposed?

        2. There is a reason I mentioned end of a network line. The CRL allows frequencies to be at least doubled across all stations on the Auckland network, this only allows for three stations to get new service, doesn’t add any capacity anywhere else.

        3. How are they getting a good deal? We get a doubling of network capacity, and two new stations that will be busier than the current busiest station

        4. They are building a double tunnel 8.5km long with 3 new stations for $1.8b if they can do it there we should get them to build the same from Onehunga via the airport to Puhinui with a extra station at Mangere Bridge and that would save a fortune .Their tunnel also goes under the Swan river so they hve a similar problem as we have here and they are using two TBM’S not one TBM like they are doing here .

  6. In relation to the Fremantle line, it was shut down in 1979 with the service replaced by buses. Perth was then moving towards a freeway/bus system with shed like bus stations near the big shopping centres. The Fremantle line reopened in 1983 following a change of government.

    Also worth noting (unlike Adelaide & Brisbane) is the number of cross suburban & circle routes running every 15 min to connect with trains (every 15 min Mon – Sun).

    Before the Circle route in the late 90s and the bus reform when the Mandurah line started the network was strictly radial (like Adelaide & Brisbane today). Also significant are their high peak frequencies (10-20 min) even on local bus routes (dropping rapidly at night & weekends).

  7. A PT routes map would have been nice so those unfamiliar with Perth rail PT could get an idea what others are talking about

  8. Just recently moved to Perth and noticed the following:

    – It is much much much more spaced out than Auckland. Auckland is much more dense than Perth. Therefore those saying public transport dont work well with Auckland’s density needs to look at Perth. I think even just the Mandurah Line gets >20Million in 1 year. Compared that with Auckland’s 4 Train Lines.

    – Dwell time is amazing. Imagine the old Auckland Diesel Dwell time… but faster. And the trains have the ability to press the door button in advance.. dont have to wait for no green light like Auckland.

    – All station has an automatic airport style announcing upcoming trains etc.

    – Day Time Frequency is amazing. Even during off peak, service departs every 10-15 minutes max.

    – Perth has not 1… but 2 bus stations in the CBD. The newest bus station (Perth Busport) is underground and it mimics the Christchurch busport.

    – Train Lines and Freeway that runs through the heart of the CBD has been sunk down underground. This means that old separation between the Northbridge suburb and the CBD has been removed and now the two have been connected – great for pedestrians. Imagine a section of the Auckland Central Motorway being underground and the suburb adjacent the CBD (e.g. Newton, Freemans Bay or Grafton) is now connect again by land rather than bridges.

    – Much more bus lanes.

    – My favourite bit… Perth has got amazing cycle lanes and shared paths. I never cycled in Auckland, but pretty much cycle everywhere here in Perth. The quality of these paths are top notched that even ‘lycra cyclist’ prefer them than the actual road.

    However, not everything is good with Perth, and where Auckland does a better job.

    – Many of the stations, particularly the legacy lines do not have an island platform which is not ideal.

    – Something that Perth can learn from Auckland is the location and number of tag on/tag off points. In Perth, many stations would only have 1 tag on/off points for the whole length of the platform but multiple entry/exit points.

    – Both for trains and buses. Service Departure Display board is almost non existence in Perth.

  9. Throughout the 2000’s Perth was the leading example and aspiration that Auckland wanted to replicate, and for good reason as the graph shows. But that was under ARTA, and now under AT, there is no further aspiration to follow Perth in developing our rail network. They’ve walked away from it in favour of buses, and talk of light rail, whilst continuing with massive road building. We have returned to the narrative of the 1990s.

  10. It’s interesting to look at Perth, but I would prefer a truly aspirational target like Vienna. This city of a similar size to Auckland has 400 million train trips per year. This in itself is amazing enough, but to this figure can be added over 300 million tram trips. And all of this is delivered at a cost to an individual of $2 per day. Perhaps unsurprisingly an ever decreasing number of people are electing to drive and the public transport system continues to build on its own success. There has also been a significant increase to personal wealth as individuals invest less in cars.
    It clearly wouldn’t work here as this government struggles with other than individual or private ownership. If only Dunedin people would invest in health insurance and spare the embarrassment they are causing -so damn inconsiderate.

    1. We would have to combine that with the intensification that Vienna has. Even though they have a river, their spatial layout is not as complex as Auckland.

      That said, it’s a very good goal. MuseumsQuartier is one of the best public spaces in the world.

      1. If we take the peak PT ridership for Auckland, over 420 annual trips per capita, and multiply it by Auckland’s population (I’m using 1.495m), then we’d have 628m, so in line with Vienna’s 700m (plus any bus ridership?) for a population of 1.77m.

        Yes, Vienna has a more compact city, just like we would have had if the trams hadn’t been removed and the roads expanded to such an extreme extent.

        We’re in catch up mode, and the EWL and Mill Rd and the local RoNS won’t help one iota.

        1. Vienna’s metropolitan population is around 2.6 million but still it would be a significant number if we had the same per capita ridership.

          In fairness even if we kept the trams we would likely have sprawled, Melbourne certainly did, it really was what people thought was utopia back then (and many still do). Where Auckland failed was not putting in a rapid transit system around the time the trams were removed.

  11. Anyone looking at transport, city density and Perth should make at least a passing reference to Newman and Kenworthy. These Perth academics wrote the book.{actually several books).
    Aucklanders don’t seem to have heard of them.
    You cannot be fully informed about transport without reading their work.
    Perth’s transport system utilised their ideas and Newman and Kenworthy used the results to further verify the conclusions of their work.

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