Despite some very small and (seemingly) reluctant steps by Auckland Transport to close off parts of the city centre to traffic on New Year’s Eve, there was still a dangerous and very messy situation with cars mingling with thousands of revellers as midnight approached:
@AklTransport @AklCouncil @AklDesignChamp @DarbyatCouncil Happy New Year all, looking forward to a great 2019. But maybe next year step up and just close the road properly rather than half assing it! pic.twitter.com/8QeWiG23EA
— Ben Lilley (@benlilley) December 31, 2018
This is not an isolated problem. At the start of 2018 there were similar problems in the city centre due to roads not being closed off to traffic when they should have been:
Auckland is to be serious about hosting big public events, closing off streets in a meaningful way is going to have to be something we get much better at. For example Sydney closes most roads early in the afternoon
REMINDER: Road closures are in place tonight for #SydNYE. Leave the car at home. Major roads close from 2pm. Majority of the city will close by 7pm. Further closures from 11pm. Most roads remain closed until 4am on 1 Jan. For info: https://t.co/PtShCJUbjk, follow @LiveTrafficSyd
— City of Sydney (@cityofsydney) December 30, 2018
One thing that is exciting about the council’s Access for Everyone proposal, that Councillors unanimously voted to support late last year, and encouraged AT to start trialling as soon as possible. Not only will it help make many parts of the city centre more pedestrian friendly, as part of the proposal, the city is divided up into a series of independent cells and cars cannot travel between them. This should make it easier to close of different parts of the city depending on the event.
It’s worth noting that it’s not just cars that get priority over thousands of people, Stuff reporter Todd Niall was on the waterfront and noted that thousands of revellers were held up from crossing the Wynyard Crossing bridge so a single yacht could pass through. I understand the priority for boats was set when the bridge was built but with the waterfront getting more popular, perhaps it’s time to reconsider those rules.
Ten people on a yacht go through. The hordes will move again soon ! pic.twitter.com/xYIBrmOxlP
— Todd Niall (@toddniall) December 31, 2018
Not giving enough priority to pedestrians wasn’t the end of it though. Afterwards it seems there was a pretty horrific lack of public transport services for getting people home. A Stuff article on New Year’s Day highlighted the plight of some people who had to wait hours for a bus:
Albany woman Colleen Fairweather said she was one of hundreds milling around Britomart after midnight, waiting for only a handful of buses.
Fairweather had travelled into the CBD by bus to watch the fireworks and thought her trip home would be easy.
Her route planner app showed there were plenty of buses to the North Shore scheduled, but few arrived, she said.
Instead, there were queues snaking along Quay St and around the corner up Queen St – including older people and children, she said.
An Uber home would have cost her $160 due to surge pricing, so she waited.
Fairweather said only three northbound buses arrived in 90 minutes, each quickly filling with passengers.
It was 2.30am before she got home, she said.
“It was such bad planning. They know people will be out [on New Year’s Eve].”
Jamie Killick, from Sandringham, gave up up waiting for a bus after an hour and Ubered home for $60.
“I know there were in fact massive delays … The buses were just disappearing from the board and not coming at all,” he said.
He said that a No. 70 bus scheduled for midnight arrived about 1.30pm, while he was at the bus stop.
A bus driver noted
Well I was driving a bus last night. Left Customs St nr Commerce @1am & didn’t reach Mayoral Dr off Hobson until 1.45. Allowing traffic in central city main prob – total gridlock
And part of the cause for this again comes courtesy of Todd Niall as everyone tried to drive home.
Downtown Carpark. Epic. A train would be good about now pic.twitter.com/XbejQutzwz
— Todd Niall (@toddniall) December 31, 2018
Some of this stems from public transport services just not being good enough. Just look at the minimal extra services Auckland Transport were running on New Year’s to ferry these thousands of people home. It’s no wonder many instead choose to drive. On a night like New Years, we probably need close to a full peak hour level of service. On top of that, all of the peak time bus priority measures should be activated too.
It’s useful to compare and contrast this with how other major cities around the world run public transport over New Year’s. London provides free public transport travel from just before midnight until 4.30am on New Year’s Day – and operates most tube lines at something not too short of normal frequencies. Sydney runs thousands of extra services on their bus, rail and light-rail networks.
Part of the problem is we’ve seen this story before. For large events, and particularly for free ones like New Year’s or the Lantern Festival, Auckland Transport has long struggled to provide sufficient public transport services to meet demand. The only events where a lot of PT is put on tend to be large concerts and sporting events where the organisers are required to pay for them, these are the ones where travel is included free with an event ticket.
My point here is not specific to New Year’s, but rather to highlight that Auckland Transport don’t yet seem to realise the importance of public transport to more than just commuting and trips to games at Eden Park or concerts at Mt Smart stadium. I think that part of this is cultural – most AT staff now use public transport for commuting or for the odd trip to the rugby once or twice a year but probably little outside of that. This under-appreciation of the growing role of public transport for a wider and wider variety of trips gets reflected in the ongoing lack of improvements to off-peak rail frequencies (even though the rail network is a core part of the frequent PT network) and how most of the rail network still gets shut down for weeks at a time in December and January for what seems to just be routine maintenance.
This, and another issue was again highlighted yesterday with AT promoting their event services for a Mumford & Sons concert this weekend at Western Springs.
Mumford & Sons: Travel on Trains, NX1, NX2 & Event Buses is included with your event ticket on Saturday. Info on transport, road closures, parking restrictions & bus diversions can be found here: https://t.co/T6ZtMCu8pE pic.twitter.com/nTZfBGeB4k
— Auckland Transport (@AklTransport) January 7, 2019
A couple of key issues include:
- The whole point of the new bus network is to create a coherent PT network but one that may require people to transfer to reach their destination – as a trade of for more frequently running buses. Running a few extra busway and train services isn’t a lot of use to people as an alternative if people then can’t catch a local bus to get them from a bus or train station home.
- The closest train stations (Baldwin Ave and Morningside) are almost a 2km walk away and if you need to transfer to a Southern, Eastern or Onehunga line train you better check the timetables as the extra services depart Britomart before the extra Western Line services arrive.
- There are special event buses to the venue but they leave from Mayoral Dr. Anyone catching the NX1 to town will have to walk all the way up there to get one when instead they could just get an NX2 for a short walk.
- The 18 bus, which runs from New Lynn to the City along Gt North Rd right past the venue is not included in the free travel.
Right now we seem stuck in a vicious cycle where many people don’t even consider using PT for events because AT have fumbled it so many times they’ve lost trust and so they drive which only makes the problems worse.
Fundamentally public transport is becoming a critical part of what makes Auckland work, not just an ‘add-on’ for a few students, those who work in the city, and those who can’t afford a car. This needs to be understood by Auckland Transport much more than happens at the moment.