A tweet a few days ago from Auckland Transport highlighted for me a major issue with so much of our public transport infrastructure, its lack of redundancy.

To be clear, people who have mobility issues, such as those with a disability or perhaps a parent with a pram, suddenly can no longer use a key train station on our rapid transit network – a station that is an important link to the town centre and for connections to local buses.

To further put that in perspective, around 24% of all New Zealanders have some form of a disability and I’d expect Auckland to have its fair share of those. Obviously not all people with a disability will have mobility issues that require them to use a lift. But for those that do, public transport may be their only option for independent travel, so not being able to access the station may have significant consequences, especially if they are unaware of the issue until they arrive at the station and find the lift broken.

Equipment like lifts and escalators do occasionally break down but the issue with Henderson, like with so many of our stations, is that Auckland Transport and its predecessors built them to the bare minimum specifications they could get away with. This often happened in a bid to try and get the costs down during value engineering processes because of the very tight budgets for public transport. So in trying to engineer out the costs they engineered out much of the value.

For those that don’t know Henderson, this is what it looks like from the sky. The current station was built in 2007 as part of the works to double track the Western Line. The platform is accessed via an overbridge with most people using the escalators to access the platform on the southern side of the concourse. The northern side features a single lift and some concrete stairs. There is no other access to the platform.

That is not all that’s wrong here. For example, you can see the shelter is only around 30m long and has a similar sized gap between the shelter and the base of the escalators. A lack of shelter at stations has long been a bugbear of mine and I’ve also written before about how we need to improve the layout along with other features of stations, such as the location and number of HOP machines and tag posts. We also want to see more effort put into improving local connections to stations.

For Henderson the best long-term solution is a second station access at the southern end which would both expand the catchment and access to the nearby area slightly but importantly also provide some additional redundancy. There has been talk of doing this as part of a upgrade to the station with additional platforms to support the City Rail Link, but it’s been a long time since we heard anything about that.

Another problem at Henderson is that the size of the lift doesn’t fit an adult with a couple of children and their bikes. Unexpected stresses like that, in which a great idea for an outing suddenly becomes a puzzle of keeping everyone safe, that pushes people to taking the car instead.

Henderson isn’t the only station that has had lift issues either. Swanson has too, where Auckland Transport have been doing maintenance on the lifts since early May and are finally due to finish this week. That work has meant they’ve been out of service between 7am and 5pm. If you have a mobility issue and travel between those times you either need to find another way to travel or hope the next train terminates on the side of the tracks you’re on. I’ve even argued that the additional platforms should be at Swanson.

Swanson’s lifts also have the quirk that they are different sizes, so if your bike is a bit longer than standard, you might find it fits going up and over the tracks, but then not fit going down… which doesn’t really work.

While many of our stations were designed and built before Auckland Transport came into existence, they have had nearly 12 years to do something about it, and haven’t.


Future Stations

Future stations, like those in the Light Rail project, need to be designed with accessibility and resilience at their heart. Will those underground stations have multiple entrances and multiple lifts, or like Henderson, Swanson and others will they they be pared back to just a single lift in a bid to save money? It’s also worth noting that accessing underground (or overhead) stations takes time and the time from the street to the platform isn’t included in the overall travel time assessments.

There is a way to design light rail stations for quick and reliable access though. Surface-level stations are much more accessible to more sorts of people, of all abilities. As Women in Urbanism have pointed out, because street-level stops don’t require stairs or elevators to get to a station, they provide easy journeys for anyone with pushchairs or wheelchairs or accompanying children or even just shopping. You can see and be seen, which adds to the comfort and appeal of city travel.

At the end of the day, stations that are designed well for those with mobility issues will also be great for everyone. We need Auckland Transport to be working to improve our existing stations so that when issues like at Henderson this week happen, they don’t suddenly cut the access to those that need it.

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35 comments

  1. This makes the decision to underground light rail even more perplexing. “We will go to any lengths to avoid inconveniencing road traffic,”we” will even throw mobility challenged commuters under the bus to achieve this “. Surely underground light rail looks more and more absurd,as each day passes,with the cost blow outs on CRL,there is no way underground light rail will ever see the light of day.
    Sadly,light rail is still 20 years away, l say concrete the roads and run track less trams.

    1. “Sadly,light rail is still 20 years away, l say concrete the roads and run track less trams.”

      And sadly, Light Rail was suddenly 50 years away.

      “Concreting the tracks” and “Trackless trams” doesn’t help without a physically separated right of way. I.e. a space where cars aren’t allowed (and ideally physically cannot) intrude to delay public transport movement in their own congestion stew.

      Trackless trams aren’t any faster or better than buses without their own right of way. And the unwillingness of our decisionmakers to make hard choices about taking space away from cars is how we ended up with this proposed tunneling boondoggle in the first place.

        1. +1, Dominion Road should be kerbside bus lanes the whole length 24/7. This should have been done 20 years ago, but we could at least fo it now. If we know surface light rail isn’t going in, then we can get on and do it. Plus, we even have space for protected cycle lanes. 12m of roadway, 2m cycle lanes both sides and 3m footpaths and planting even on the absolute narrowest sections.

      1. A trackless tram is a much better bus that is closer to a train. Personally I couldn’t care less whether the wheels are made of rubber or steel, it’s the space, quietness and speed that are important.
        I agree, bus lanes 24×7 and trackless trams or at least some decent articulated electric buses.

    2. Throw them under the bus quite literally, because of the station spacing we will still need buses running on the streets above to the tunnels

  2. I think central stations should be linking you to local points of interest/shopping centres (in nz).

    Sylvia park does this, albeit not in the best possible way but you still have a walk under cover to the mall.

    Henderson stations, and newmarket in the future should have an underground exist that links you to the surrounding malls/ office buildings without having to face the elements.

    For henderson specifically part of the mall could be integrated with the station, than there’s direct access which helps people, but also can use existing lift/elevator infrastructure from the mall.

  3. As a full time wheelchair user and a avid train user, mainly on the western line, I’m all for making access and linkages better for everyone. BUT please let us be part of the consultation, decision making and planning not as an afterthought.

    1. Hi Sharon. We know how much repeat individual effort at our expense it takes to secure even the smallest concession to reality.

      Built infrastructure lasts for decades, including the senseless barriers it creates. The new nationwide Accessibility law had better gain teeth during the select committee process.

      1. For those interested in putting a submission in on the “Accessibility for New Zealanders Bill”, you can read the proposed bill here: https://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/government/2022/0153/latest/LMS727091.html?src=qs

        At present, as you imply, the Bill is pretty toothless and seems to be more about setting up a committee, rather than actually taking some meaningful actions regarding accessibility. Links are to Ministry of Social Development and Ministry for Disabled People, but currently has no official link to MBIE, where it might have more use regarding linking to the Building Act. Seems to be making a case that Maori people with disabilities are a separate group from people with disabilities, which just seems to me to be a toxic recipe for disaster in later years.

  4. Wasn’t AT meant to have run out of money last month. Deferred maintainence to meet budgets is behind this. In addition train and bus arrival and departure displays aren’t being fixed buses and trains are being cancelled to eke out the budget. How many of the weekend trains being replaced by buses to allow for essential maintenance are just an excuse for its cheaper to run buses on the weekend. I was pondering the last time I was waiting for a rail replacement bus that maybe when the new bus network was rolled it should have being stand alone.
    Then in the event of a failure on the train network or maintainence or cost saving a plan B would already exist and no rail replacement buses would be required.

  5. One of the lifts at Sylvia Park was out a few weeks ago as well. Only alternative is the stairs. That station was built with funding from the shopping mall but the same penny pinching flawed design. And of course, only one point of access.

  6. I was on a southern line service going to Britomart yesterday and at Newmarket there was a a person with a zimmer frame trying to get in the front carriage instead of trying the centre carriage with mobility access , lucky there was a person also getting on the aided him . But there is so many out there that don’t want to use the right carriage and it’s also the same with people with bikes that do the same . So where are the TM’s to tell or help those that get on the wrong carriage with the wrong device ? .

    1. When you enter the platform at one end it would make sense to have mobility access at the same end, too. It might be possible that it would have been really hard for the person to walk to the middle of the train especially if they are note a frequent train user and only realizes that there is mobility access in the middle when the train arrives.

      1. JohnBGoode – This person had walked the full length of the platform at Newmarket to get on/in the 1st door of the 1st carriage , and this was a 3 car unit and most stations have markings showing where the disiabilty entry points are .

  7. Yes all the lifts should be increased in size when ever an upgrade is done. Apart from Britomart, I think, they are too small for bikes etc, mine just fits in diagonally.

    1. Britomart is a very tight squeeze for a single bike, you can get it in diagonally but then at the gates a second door opens 90degrees to the first meaning it’s close to to impossible to then rotate the bike to actually exit the lift. They must be the smallest, most stingy lifts they could get.

  8. Why they don’t just get rid of the escalators and replace them with travelators? There’s usually heaps of room for them. Then if they break down you can still use them to access stations, for bikes, prams, wheelchairs and mobility scooters.

  9. I’m an infrequent user of trains, using the Henderson station. I can’t remember the last time all the escalators were working i.e. months ago. The last time 3 of the 4 were stationary. What is wrong with their system that they can’t fix broken things in a timely fashion (a day or two)?
    I work in a job where the managing director is on the phone to me within a few minutes of anything going wrong. I can’t understand how escalators and lifts can’t be fixed quickly to keep their customers happier.

  10. Pier 12 Downtown (Waiheke berth) has a ramp that is lowered to the lower deck of the waiting ferry. It is relatively short and doesn’t comply to current standards however as it was ok when it was built it apparently passes muster now. The problem occurs when there is a low tide and the ramp is excessively steep. To counter this the ramp is raised to the upper deck of the ferry resulting in a near level access. This however means that all the passengers on the lower deck must go up stairs to disembark. Those boarding typically will tend to occupy the upper deck first. The result of this practice is that as the exit/entry from the other end is via the lower deck 100% of the passengers must at some stage traverse the steep stairs on board the vessel. I have observed multiple times wheelchair bound passengers being moved between levels with no assistance from the crew. Clearly this impacts bicycles, prams, those with luggage, elderly etc.
    In an attempt to stop this practice I have contacted Fullers who passed the buck and blamed AT for their berth allocation, AT didn’t respond when I raised it there and I have been met with indifference when mentioning it to crew and supervisors.
    The idiotic thing is that only two of Fullers fleet can use pier 12 and the adjacent pier 11 with a floating pontoon can be used by all vessels with no issues. I was even told by one Fullers supervisor that they couldn’t use pier 11 for that sailing as it was busy despite no vessel on it for the entire timetable slot!

  11. My bike can only just fit in the lift at the Henderson station. Recently at the invitation of two others on foot all three of us and my bike somehow fitted. I still don’t know how. It was a ridiculous, but up lifting experience 😛

  12. Wow, so according to the article, 24% of NZers have some form of disability, although not necessarily mobility. Is there enough car parking at train stations? No, there isn’t. I doubt this 24% will be riding pushbikes.

  13. London at one time had an extensive tram-system mostly at street-level (there were tunnels under the city centre), and of course it also had its world-famous, conventional-rail “Underground”. Regrettably over several decades the tram system was run down and finally closed in 1952, to be replaced by buses. Happily the Underground remained and this formed the mainstay of transport through central London until the opening of the Thameslink regional rail service in 1988, and Crossrail (The Elizabeth Line) which has just opened.
    What is the significance to Auckland of this history?
    Simply that London could not have functioned , if instead of closing its on-street tram system, it had closed its underground because of “accessibility issues” and “time taken to reach the platforms”. It remains a shame that both systems couldn’t have continued to exist as they do in many European cities, but Auckland is right to be mindful of the limitations of on-street light rail when considering a mass rapid transit system which is planned to service major corridors in a growing city, into a future which will increasingly rely on public transport. There may well be a role for on-street LR routes as well, but it is a delusion to think that this mode alone will be adequate for all future PT development in Auckland.

  14. It is generally quicker for able-bodied cyclists to carry their bikes up and down stairs than wait around to use lifts. The fact that some lifts may be too small for bikes should therefore not be a show-stopper.
    Of course with heavier e-bikes and longer ‘cargo-bikes’ now on the ascendancy, the ability to lug them up and down stairs is diminishing. But at what point should it be accepted that larger and heavier bikes are no longer appropriate to be carried on mass rapid transit? After all, there has never been any expectation that motorbikes should routinely be allowed on these services. Where should the line be drawn?

    1. Good outcomes don’t come from designing for the able-bodied of any mode, Dave, and the bikes for people with disabilities are often a bit bigger than standard. People can often carry their bikes up a flight, but not when the bikes are loaded in a typical way – so designing solutions in the expectation that people can carry them is a bias against people who use their bikes for the household errands and who have the children with them.

      The line should be drawn in a place that enables the solutions to car dependence to function. In our sprawl cities, where e-bikes are a massive part of the solution, that means designing for e-bikes to be able to use the trains. Their weight and size is not unreasonable, and we simply need the lifts to be designed appropriately and with redundancy. It’s not a big ask.

      1. Agree Heidi, that the move away from car-dependency HAS TO include maximising the enablement of all non-car modes. But to give this the kind of priority it needs (including dual, large lifts up-and-over to many station platforms) requires much more funding than we have grown accustomed to giving it, and realistically this will have to be transferred from funds that are currently expected for car-provision. As things stand, our society struggles with the concept of a massive shift towards non-car modes, particularly if at the expense of funding which many still believe should go to cars. The result is that worthwhile schemes – particularly rail – that possibly could proceed if done on the cheap, are considered unaffordable and simply do not proceed. Case in point – Kaiwharawhara Station in Wellington, closed in 2013 because a replacement accessible footbridge couldn’t be justified – hence disabled gained nothing and everybody else lost-out. And although things are slowly changing, I can’t see that our society is at the point yet where it is ready for a wholesale shift away from car-dependency and the re-prioritisation this will require. And I speak as one who would dearly welcome this and has been craving it for the last 50 years!

        As regards underground rail networks, it is totally unjustified to blanket-discredit them on grounds of poorer accessibility (compared to street-level systems). In grade-separated systems where good accessibility has been properly designed-in, almost never would the time taken to reach the platforms be considered as an overriding disbenefit. In many cases, stations are designed to blend in with sensitive re-development of the locality and some marvellous schemes have been produced where surface-traffic (including PT) no longer dominates.
        Hence I see the recurrent theme here, that underground systems are somehow automatically inferior, as being an annoying mistruth.

        1. Dave.
          Survival of the London underground network was very much because the subsurface sections of the underground network exist in extremly densely inhabited areas, and were further were fed by dedicated surface corridor running outside the extremly densely inhabited core.

          These core population densities are only just being achieved in the Auuckland CBD and inner fringe suburbs.
          The tram network in London was heavily disadvantaged over underground rail in this large core area, and outside this area, did not have sufficient advantages over buses as feeders to the already extensive rail systems.

          These factors have very little relevance to increasing the required capacity, frequency, speed and reach, in Auckland, and indeed Wellington.

          The majority of what is needed here can be achieved relatively inexpensively by increasing bus priority.
          Where bus capacity is closing in on ultimate capacity surface light rail, is the next cheapest option as it avoids the huge additional expense of creating new dedicated corridors, above, on ground, or underground in existing, or priority, densely developed areas

          Underground rail, light, metro and heavy is unequalled in capacity and speed, but the very high costs per square kilometre catchment come at the expense of serving a very much larger catchment.

          If surface light rail down Dominion road reaches capacity limits it would not become redundant if it was then largely paralleled with future underground metro.

          The argument should not be, with x number of dollars, do we have underground Metro in the isthmus or do we have surface light rail in the isthmus AND surface light rail x number of kilometres out west.

          Which option will produce the produce the best overall benifit, across our entire regional population?

          Options should never be examined in isolation to alternative allocation of the resources.

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