Over the last few years, the growth in the use of the rail network has been astounding to behold. In the four years from mid-2013 to mid-2017 the number of trips on trains doubled to over 20 million. This was primarily as a result of electrifying the system but other improvements such as HOP, integrated fares, new bus networks as well as new and improved stations like Manukau and Panmure have all played a part.
Since the end of last year, that dramatic growth has come to a screeching halt. Some of the reasons behind this are explainable, a mix of changes in the number of working days each month, industrial action, network shutdowns etc, but even without those, it’s clear that growth has slowed. Instead of being in the 10-20% range it’s now more likely less than 5%.
We expect the next large surge in usage to come following the City Rail Link in 2023 but we shouldn’t just rely on that for future growth. We believe it’s important that Auckland Transport keep pushing now to drive ridership up so that we can get the most out of the network. There are a number of things they can do to achieve this, some of which are already underway. These include:
- Improving off-peak and weekend frequencies – some improvements coming in July but don’t go far enough
- More trains so all peak services can be 6-cars long – trains have been ordered
- Improvements to dwell times to speed up services
- Making trains easier to access
In the past I’ve looked at a couple of aspects around how we design our train stations that is unfriendly towards users. This includes the lack of shelter and the poor layout at most stations. Another big aspect is how easy it is to access stations.
The need to make stations easier to access is agreed by many. Only it’s often said that needs to come in the form of large multi-storey carparks. As we saw last week with the proposed new carpark in Takapuna, that can be incredibly expensive at around $60,000 per space. Based on that, adding 1,000 carparks would cost around $60 million, plus ongoing operational costs. However, with each space only about 2 trips per work day to usage, it won’t make a huge impact on ridership numbers, only adding about 500,000 trips a year (2.5%). That’s a lot of cost for not that much gain.
What we’re not doing anything about is making it easier to connect to stations by walking and cycling.
Station catchments are often considered to be about 800m, about a 10 minute walk. To get more out of our station catchments there are three things we can do
- We can make the catchments bigger, up to 3km, by making it easier and safer to cycle to stations. Auckland Transport are working on the first two examples at Glen Innes and New Lynn as part of the Urban Cycleway Fund.
- We can put more people in the catchment by having more housing near stations, this is allowed for in the Unitary Plan.
- We can make our station catchments more efficient by improving the connections within them, thereby making it easier to walk and/or bike.
In this post I want to focus on that last point. To do that, below are a few examples.
Newmarket has long been our second busiest station, yet it provides poor access to Northern Newmarket due to only having access to the station at the southern end. For example, from the middle of the platforms it’s about a 400m walk to the Broadway/Khyber Pass intersection. Improving access to northern Newmarket would help make trains more useful to a wider range of people.
There have been proposals for a development over the top of the rail junction which could provide access to the station but those all seem to have died. Until such time as a more permanent solution is able to be built, perhaps AT could look into providing a temporary one. One option might be to use temporary materials like scaffolding to build stairs and a walkway into the neighbouring carparking building, which I understand already has access through to Broadway.
While on the topic of Newmarket, there’s still no news on when the current entry from Broadway will be fixed so it doesn’t feel like you’re walking down a dodgy alley.
Just down the tracks we have a much lesser used station in Greenlane. This is not too surprising given much of the closest catchment is the motorway and one of the busiest interchanges in the country. This results in the station effectively being severed from any of its catchment north of Greenlane East. This is highlighted in this map I made some years ago showing how far you can reach with a 500m walk.
Fixing access north of the station is fairly difficult but more could be done to connect the houses to the south of the station. There are some houses off Adam St that are just 20m from the platform but would require an 800m walk to reach.
Ideally a bridge would be built from the southern end of the platform and provide access to Adam St. Even better would be if a pathway could be extended alongside the tracks at least as far as Mitchelson St. This would help in opening up a lot more houses to have easy access to the rail network.
Incidentally, such a bridge used to exist and can be seen in old aerial photos of the station, such as this photo from 1959 before the motorway was built. I’m not sure why it was ever removed.
The Sylvia Park station provides good access to the mall but has very poor coverage to the east of the station, including the residential catchment between Carbine and Waipuna Roads. This is highlighted below by some analysis on catchments done by MRCagney for Auckland Transport a few years ago. Harriet has also written more about it here.
It’s not just directly at the stations where improved access could make a big difference. In many cases there are links between local roads that would open up greater catchments. One such example is at Ranui where the uncompleted Marinich Dr, I believe due to a dispute with the land owner about who pays for it, where even just a walking/cycling connection would help open up a greater catchment. Examples near other stations often include connections between cul de sacs or other streets.
While we need to make a greater effort to connect our existing stations, it’s important that we’re building our new stations with as much access as possible too. We’ve talked a lot in the past about the need to build the Karanga-a-hape Station correctly with the inclusion of the Beresford Square entrance but Aotea needs greater access too.
Aotea is expected to become the busiest station on the network but currently it is only planned to have three station entrances. This will be a main entrance on the corner of Wellesley and Mayoral Dr and access from the southern side of Victoria St on either side of the Albert intersection.In our view, this isn’t enough for such a crucial station in the heart of the densest area of the city. At the Wellesley St end, people heading west of Mayoral will have an unnecessary wait compared to if there was a station on the western side. At the other end of the station, people wanting to head north of Victoria will need to exit then wait to cross. Not the most customer friendly. Here are a couple of options for further links from Aotea.
The council own the tower on the northwest corner of Wellesley and Mayoral/Albert however I get the feeling that there is a reluctance to integrate it with the station for a fear of the optics it would have. If true, the council need to get over themselves. The council tower even provides the perfect place for an entrance, the large covered plaza area on the western side of the building and linking to Federal St. All that would be needed is a short pedestrian tunnel.
At the other end of the station, it would be good to provide better access to the north of Victoria. One of the pieces of work needed for the CRL is to shift, block by block, the entire bluestone wall that sits between Victoria St and Wyndham St. The vehicle bridges from Albert St will also go, so too will the toilets accessed from the top of Durham St west. Perhaps the archway could instead be turned into a public entrance to the station.
I think there are a number of advantages to this, including
- It makes it easier to access the station for many of the people from the north of it.
- Durham St also has an easier grade down to Queen St
What do you think of some of these ideas and is there a station access you’d fix?