Auckland has had a tough few weeks, first with flooding and now Cyclone Gabrielle bearing down. Hopefully everyone is safe and any damage is limited.
At the time of writing this the wind is starting to pick up but we’re yet to really see the full effects but some impacts starting to be seen, such as Waka Kotahi closing the Harbour Bridge and Kiwirail shutting the rail network across the top of the North Island.
As such, if there is any damage, hopefully it is able to be repaired quickly, and in the case of the rail network, I certainly hope Kiwirail put a bit more urgency than they have for a slip following the flooding.
While many businesses and schools are also closed for at least today, once the storm passes we can likely assume travel demand will quickly return to normal levels. Normal levels are quickly changing too as with schools now back, that brings with it a lot more demand for travel around the city. That demand will only increase in a few weeks as University students start again – resulting in a time previously called March Madness.
This should have been the time that AT could really start encouraging people back to using PT and getting us much closer to pre-pandemic levels as people look for a way out of the congestion. But this year, both through the combination of driver/staff shortages and more recently the floods, the city’s PT network seems woefully prepared to handle a surge in demand.
One issue that stands out to me, partially because it affects me personally, but also because it feels like clear example of the kind of experience so many have on our PT network, is a slip on the rail network just east of Sturges Rd.
I’m not sure if this came down during the first flooding even on Friday 27 January or the heavy rain event the following Tuesday but I first noticed this on the morning of Wednesday 1 February. As you can see below, this appears to be a fairly small slip that has partially covered one of the tracks.
While a number of other slips around the network were repaired, over at least a week and a half later, Kiwirail have yet to even show up to clear this one. Worse, I’ve heard some suggestions they will take till the end of the month to clear it.
As a result of the slip, trains are having to run on a single line Henderson and Swanson so the real issue is that while we wait for the network to be fixed, users are subjected to complete uncertainty about if or when a train will even show up. Last week the timetable changed four times in as many days – at one stage only offering a service approximately every 60 minutes but with no fixed timetable. They eventually settled for a train shuttle running every 30 minutes – though this wasn’t reflected in the live departures in the AT app so you’d only see it if you went searching in the notifications section.
While I’m sure everyone can understand the network being closed for safety issues, like today, or as a result of damage from flooding or a slip. But there’s been another thing that’s bothered me about the response, a lack of information. Over the last few weeks we’ve seen plenty of images of damage to our transport network, as is normal in these kinds of events, but there’s been almost nothing about the various slips that have occurred on the rail network or when they’ll be repaired. About the only thing we’ve had was a press event on Monday 30 January next to a slip near Meadowbank. There Kiwirail CEO Peter Reidy said this:
Despite the wettest day in Auckland, the network’s held up reasonably well. We have 15 slips, a lot of those have been remediated over the last 72 hours, we have 80 people on the network, we’ve brought crews in from Palmerston North, we’ve held off any other capital works we’re doing right now to resolve the issue at hand, to make sure passengers can travel as easily as possible on Tuesday.
Behind me, as Mark said, we’ve got the Meadowbank slip here, this is one of our major slips, this will be remediated today. We’re very confident, as long as it doesn’t rain too heavy tonight that we’ll get this line up which means passengers can operate on the Eastern Line. We’ve got slips in Parnell, both ends of the Parnell Tunnel, we’ve got a geo tech review today, we’re evaluating the conditions, seeing what we can do to at least open that to a limited stage, but if it’s not safe we won’t do that, we’ll have a longer term plan. And thirdly out west we’ve had slippage around the New Lynn station.
Those words feel very hollow when there’s clearly not a sense of urgency on slips like above. Perhaps it’s just an extension of the general contempt that both Auckland Transport and Kiwirail have always seemed to treat the Western Line with.
Compare that response on the rail network to AT’s ability to install a temporary road bridge in just days.
The real issue here is this, as well as years of disruption and poor service is eroding trust in the network and people who give up using the network in frustration at going to be much harder to get using it again if these issues are ever fixed. And this isn’t just about us saying highlighting the network issues.
One West Auckland resident has told the Herald his train to the central city takes almost twice as long as it did two weeks ago, with slips still affecting rail services.
The recent floods “extensively” damaged Auckland’s rail and road network, the AT spokesperson said, and work has been underway clearing slips, fixing roads and re-routing bus services.
“Granted there has been some track damage due to the flooding, I can accept that,” West Auckland commuter Mark Sheridan said.
“What I can’t accept is the ridiculous response from the network or the sheer lack of maintenance, accountability and ownership of our disgraceful network.”
Sheridan said rail replacement buses he has needed to take have often not arrived, and service changes have been unclear.
He said it was “impossible” to find reliable timetables for the disrupted train services online.
AT did not respond to concerns about how service changes have been notified or communicated to affected commuters.
“The system is a joke and it needs to change,” Mark told the Herald.
Unfortunately, buses haven’t been much better either with the Herald also publishing this last week.
One father says he’s lost trust in Auckland Transport after a string of cancelled buses hampered his daughters’ first day back at school today.
The North Shore father-of-two said one daughter was 30 minutes late and he had to drop the other at school after she was left waiting for a bus that never arrived.
He told the Herald when his eldest daughter’s bus did eventually arrive the driver “forced everybody off” 2km into her journey and didn’t continue on to her destination.
“Why do we continue to trust (and fund through rates) AT to run our buses, trains, roads, general transport, parking and speed limits when they continue to prove that they are incompetent?”
“What is the Council and our mayor doing about it?”
“We know how unreliable AT are so we got her to the bus stop 2 buses early, so when the 1st bus was cancelled at the last minute we didn’t panic.
“But after the 2nd bus was cancelled we knew that she would be late,” he said.
Auckland Transport said they were unaware of any significant issues this morning.
The father said he had “no choice” but to continue putting his daughters on the bus.
“A public transport system has to be reliable or it is worthless and only the desperate or those with no choice will use it.
Reliability is certainly a major issue. As a result of the rail network issues I caught the 120 bus. As I’ve experienced before, sometimes, like it was last Tuesday, the trip can be faster than my usual option of catching the train but other times it isn’t, and I had that experience once again last Thursday when I caught the bus at the same time but the trip was over 30 minutes longer due to a lack of priority. Furthermore, despite being operated with a double decker now, with schools back it was also leaving kids behind at bus stops.
The mayor has talked a lot about fixing Auckland and has even set up a dedicated transport committee with one of it’s key tasks being to address the PT crisis we’re in. They better get cracking or before long there won’t be much of a PT network left.