The question of what to do about the Auckland Dockline Tram appears to be rearing its head again, with the group behind it presenting their latest version of a proposal to the City Centre Residents Group (CCRG) earlier this week.
The Auckland Dockline Tram presentation to CCRG on Monday night. Basically proposing a 600m extension to base of Princes wharf recognising resistance to any much more digging on Quay st https://t.co/lKliwbdkJU pic.twitter.com/R9HDAyHo9R
— AK CC ResidentsGroup (@CityAklccrg) November 8, 2022
As the tweet from the CCRG highlights, the proposal is for tracks to be extended along the waterfront as far as Quay St. This is a shorter version of what has been proposed in the past – and like then, the most challenging aspect is the need to build a new lifting bridge across the entrance to the Viaduct Harbour.
The proposal suggests that this could be as either a separate bridge beside the existing one, or that the existing bridge is replaced with a combined bridge.
It’s worth noting that Eke Panuku Development Auckland wanted to replace the existing bridge prior to the America’s Cup, saying it needed to be replaced as it “is reaching the end of its useful life“. They proposed a new bridge that twists and lifts – and at 6m wide, was slightly wider than the existing one, which is just 4m wide and which can get very crowded at times. But even that proposed 6m bridge is way too narrow.
The tram was last discussed in 2018 when, after operation having been disrupted for years due to construction in the Quarter, councillors voted against the recommendation of officers and agreed to spend around $6.6 million to reinstate the service.
The problem with the tram has always been that it doesn’t have a transport purpose. It’s a tourist gimmick, a horizontal Ferris wheel if you will. As described by MOTAT: “The Auckland Dockline Tramway is a 1.5 km circular tour around Wynyard Quarter with a short commentary provided by the Tram Driver along the way.”
And while it’s cheap to ride ($2 adult, $1 child, seniors and under-5s free), it’s not cheap to run: back in 2018 Panuku estimated it cost about $190,000 per annum to operate, yet over its entire existence from 2011 to 2018 it had only collected about $330,000 in revenue – and most of that was from its initial operating months during the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
To make it at least somewhat useful, it would need to be extended as far the Ferry Terminal so it would at least connect people to ferries, along with trains at Britomart and the Downtown Bus Interchange.
It would also need modern low-floor light rail vehicles that allow those with mobility issues to access the service.
I suspect the proposal to get the tracks to Quay St is in part that it would then create pressure to extend it further.
Exetnding the tracks to the Ferry Terminal would make for a return loop of pretty much exactly 3km with a round trip possible in 10-12 minutes. With two vehicles and the right timing, a 7.5 minute frequency service could be run.
But there’s a major elephant in the room with this. What happens when a boat arrives or departs from Viaduct Harbour? Currently, due to a deal done back when the bridge was first built, boats have priority, and can enter or leave the harbour whenever they want. The management of the bridge/s would need to changem otherwise the trams would quickly become hopeless unreliable, especially on weekends.
It’s not like Wynyard isn’t already served well by public transport, either. Currently there are three frequent buses that enter the area: the City Link, the 20 and the 75. At the southern end there is also great access from all of the North Shore buses entering the city centre. There’s also been the suggestion of extending other buses there, such as the Tamaki Link and the 30 from Manukau Rd.
If the tram could be extended along Quay St, operated with modern vehicles and integrated into HOP, I’m sure it would be far more popular than it is now. The questions are:
- would it be popular enough
- how much does it cost
- and who’s paying for it?
On cost, the proponents seem to think the bridge alone could be built for $8-15 million depending on which option was chosen. That doesn’t seem very realistic, given Eke Panuku’s replacement pedestrian/bike bridge was expected to cost close to $26 million – and that was before the current high inflation we’re experiencing.
Whatever the cost is – who is meant to pay for it? If the expectations are that the council does, how does this stack up against all the other projects vying for funding, especially in an environment with what we’re told is a huge funding gap?