Before I start this post I’d like to thank Cornelius from Frontier for the wonderful images.
Complaining that public transport in Auckland is of low quality is so accepted amongst the public that most people don’t bat an eyelid when it’s suggested. In fact, most people will probably jump in with their own tales of woe from trying to use it. To be fair, is there a city in the world where locals think their PT system perfect?
Despite the rhetoric, PT in Auckland has improved significantly over the last 10-15 years and these improvements and others are clearly reflected in the numbers, with ridership nearly doubling over that time.
Perhaps one of the important changes we’ve seen over this time, and has mostly happened in only the last few years, is that there is now a broad consensus both at a political level and by officials on what needs to be done for the future. In particular that priority needs to be given to building region-wide Rapid Transit Network. As such, the next 10-15 years is going to be equally, if not more transformational as we build out and optimise our RTN.
Key parts of that are now underway with four major projects under construction, or just about to be. These are the City Rail Link, Eastern Busway, Northern Busway extension and most recently, the first stages of the Airport to Botany line.
But while the people who read this site are probably aware of what’s planned, I wonder how many of the tens of thousands of others who catch public transport daily know what’s being done to make things better and expand the network, let alone the rest of the general public sitting in their cars. For example, how many train users actually understand what is going on behind the walls Britomart when they get off the train each morning? Even many of the people working on the CRL don’t seem to fully appreciate what it will do to the entire rail network. How many Northern Express users know the trains even exist and that they can transfer to them to extend the reach of public transport (and visa versa)? Do people even know the Eastern Busway is under construction which will enable them to easily reach Pakuranga and eventually Botany? What about the plans for a busway from the airport to Puhinui as well as light rail through the Isthmus and to Mangere?
Given many people are still ‘discovering’ the rail network and Northern Busway, for most it will probably require these projects to be completed and services operational before most properly understand them. However, I can’t help but think that Auckland Transport could be doing more to ‘prime the pump’ and help show that improvements are actually happening. Here are a few ideas for how AT could do this.
Brand the RTN
The Underground, the Metro, the Subway – many cities have effectively branded their rapid transit system to distinguish it from other parts of the public transport network.
In planning documents our rapid transit network is specifically defined (map above) and currently about 28% of all boardings take place on it but as the network expands that number is only going to grow and could easily double. So why not come up with a specific name/brand for it.
AT already use the Metro name brand to the wider PT network so that one is out but how about a name from a past proposal such as Auckland Rapid Transit or ART for short. I’m also sure some clever marketing people could come up with a lot of fun ideas to incorporate that name into campaigns.
Treat the RTN as a single network
Again in planning documents, AT do treat the RTN, and even the wider PT network as a single network. But on pretty much all of their customer facing material, buses, trains and ferries are treated completely separately. For example, the bus network maps show the rail line but don’t mention there are services on it. When there’s a fault on the rail network, AT say that HOP cards will be accepted on buses, rather than reminding people we have integrated ticketing and fares. Even when they talk about the impact of the new network, it’s only buses they mention, even though the design of the network requires many people from South and West to transfer to or from a train for part of their journey.
Perhaps about the closest we’ve had comes in the form of the strip map that appears on our trains – 8 per carriage. A few years ago the maps were updated to include the Northern Busway – although again the busway feels very much tacked on as an afterthought and so is another reflection of how AT treat buses and trains as separate things. This is further reinforced by the “& Northern Busway” text and that despite being a core part of the Rapid Transit network, these maps don’t appear on the Northern Busway or the buses that run along it. Also, if you look at the versions of these at the entrance to Britomart, you’ll notice they don’t include the busway at all.
Show what is being done
Thinking about that strip map and how it will need to change in the future was the inspiration for this post. Put simply, it is not designed in a way to be able to easily updated in the future as these new lines start coming on stream. In fact it doesn’t even represent now that well as we have the NX2 services that go via mid-town to the universities.
Instead of constantly redesigning it, why not come up with the future state now and then also use that to highlight what’s planned. This is is where Cornelius came in to help me visualise it. The goal was to flatten the ATAP map above into a map that could fit on the train in place of the one above. It should also be at least put on the NX1 and NX2 services. We wanted to show lines that are under construction or at least in more detailed stages of planning on the map in grey.
Firstly, here’s the network as it exists today along with the current projects under construction or likely to be completed over the next decade. The solid lines indicate there are some form of services currently but not the full RTN infrastructure – NX servives and trains to Pukekohe. You can also see the ART name.
The biggest omission here is the NW route. This is because the priority is on the City Centre to Mangere Light Rail project and so there’s less going on here.
Of course, we can’t just stop there when drawing maps so when the these projects are completed, this is what it might look like, along with the next likely cabs off the rank shown as in progress. These include Northwestern Light Rail and an Upper Harbour line.
And another version with those lines completed.
Finally with a bit of extra flourish, including converting the Northern Busway to Light rail and an additional line from our Congestion Free Network to serve the western North Shore.
There’s even an animated GIF version
Showing what the future plans are isn’t something new and after we started work on these I came across this example from Tyne and Wear from after they started building their metro network As you can see they also showed the parts that were under construction. There are likely other examples around.
AT and other agencies have seemed to have had a reluctance to promote things “under construction” other than in project specific information but with so much underway, perhaps now’s the time to change that.