Auckland Transport have launched consultation for their Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP). The RPTP is an important statutory document that lays out how public transport will develop and operate in the region. It includes Auckland Transport’s vision, goals, policies, plans for PT as well as a description for all services they intend to run and the frequencies they will run at.
Historically the RPTP was updated roughly every three years and looked forward for about 10 years, in line with the Regional Land Transport Plan but it was last updated in 2018 and AT say this one will be for 8 years, which may be about getting it back on to that original schedule.
AT’s current plan, consulted on in 2018, looked to turn PT in Auckland up a notch with a range of improvements to services and infrastructure – including the ill-fated Connected Communities. But delivery of that was obviously hampered by COVID and a lack of funding. PT in Auckland is now in a recovery phase but the funding issues are more real than ever. AT are making that issue clearer, like we’ve seen them do with their recent Capital Programme and budget. It appears to be part of a wider push by AT for a change in our transport funding system.
Everyone has high expectations of the PT system, and AT wants to achieve these goals, but the biggest impediment is lack of sufficient funding. If AT is to deliver the improved PT system Council, Government, and many Aucklanders want, significantly more funding will need to be provided.
This is not just a question of sufficient funding, but also of having funding certainty. Currently, uncertainty over funding from Government and Council means that AT’s budgets are only confirmed on a year-by-year basis. This makes forward planning difficult and means contingency planning is required in case of shortfalls. AT is seeking longer-term certainty from our funders, which will benefit our operators and customers.
AT also recognises that the funding model for PT (and transport) needs reform. AT also supports the investigation of new and alternative sources of funding, such as congestion charging and increasing the cost of parking fines, both of which require legislative change at the national level.
It’s not just funding certainty that they’re after but more funding too with messaging that AT won’t have the money to improve services to the level required to meet their mode-shift and emissions reductions goals.
Speaking of goals, in 2019 our PT network hit 100 million trips for the first time since 1951. With the impacts of COVID we’re currently tracking at 75-80% of that level and AT have an aspirational target to achieve 100 million boardings again by the end of this financial year (June 2024). The RPTP’s modelling takes a more conservative approach and suggests we may not get there again till 2026 and that by 2031 we might reach about 150 million trips. To put that in perspective, the Transport Emissions Reduction Pathway (TERP) suggests that by 2030 we need around 550 million boardings to meet our climate targets.
This also suggests they expect an approximate doubling in rail use (compared to pre-covid levels) in the few years after the CRL opens.
These are the wider performance measures they want to judge themselves against. One potential positive is they’re looking to start judging punctuality not just as when a service leaves the first stop on its route but also when it reaches its destination – something far more important for PT users.
AT say their plans for improving PT fall into four broad categories:
- Service improvements – new services and more frequent services.
- Major infrastructure projects – this includes like the City Rail Link, busways and other flagship projects.
- Supporting infrastructure – smaller scale projects like bus lanes or upgrading key bus stops, or making it easier to get to and from PT.
- Customer experience improvements – better information like apps, wayfinding and other changes that make it easier to use PT.
The delivery is also broken down into short, medium and long term goals.
- Short Term – now till end of 2024 – fixing the PT network and getting it back to a pre-covid state.
- Medium Term – 2025-2027 – making changes to support the CRL and other big projects such as the Eastern Busway, the Rosedale station and electric ferries.
- Long Term – 2028-2031 – broader network improvements and includes changes such as the City Centre Bus Plan.
This map shows the Rapid and Frequent transit network along with where changes or improvements are expected over the next eight years. Many of the bus improvements expected are funded as part of the Council’s Climate Action Transport Targeted Rate (CATTR).
Here are some of the most noteworthy aspects of the RPTP.
Future Rail Services
We covered this in our post about AT’s recent board meeting where this draft RPTP was signed off but it’s worth covering again.
AT are looking to confirm their plans for how the rail network will operate after the CRL opens, likely in 2026. There are a few changes to the wording compared to the paper that went to the board, pushing out when some of the changes will occur.
When CRL opens, the existing Eastern and Western Lines will be combined into a new East-West line, running between Swanson and Manukau via the CRL stations (Maungawhau, Karanga-a-Hape, Te Waihorotiu, and Waitematā). The Southern Line will operate between Pukekohe, the CRL stations, and Ōtāhuhu. Both the East-West and Southern lines will operate every 7 to 8 minutes at peak times (eight trains an hour, with
exact intervals varying by line), and every 15 minutes throughout the day. Services will remain half hourly in the late evening, because of KiwiRail’s maintenance requirements. The doubling up of the Southern line between Ōtāhuhu and Newmarket means this section will have double frequency.
Some additional trips on the Southern Line will operate, with limited stops, and will be introduced following the opening of the CRL. These will provide a service that will be 10 minutes faster than the all-stops services, from stations south of (and including) Papakura. These services will operate to the CRL stations, via either the Southern or Eastern line, skipping all stations except Puhinui (to enable transfers to Auckland Airport or Manukau). In the longer term (beyond this RPTP), these services will be further improved to become a separate ‘express’ line.
The Onehunga line will also operate between Onehunga and Maungawhau in peak times, and between Onehunga and Henderson at other times, before eventually being extended to Henderson at all times of day. This will enable a direct service between the west and Newmarket. Because of constraints caused by the Onehunga branch line’s single track, this service will continue to operate every 30 minutes at all times of day for the foreseeable future. Passengers wishing to travel between Onehunga or Te Papapa and City Rail Link stations will need to change at Newmarket.
As I said last month, having trains every 7-8 minutes means a total of eight trains per hour on each of the two main lines, an improvement on the six we currently have but trains only every 15 minutes off-peak and 30 minutes in the evening is simply not acceptable for a rapid transit service. The rail network is meant to be part of the backbone of the PT system but this means there will be buses connecting into train stations that will be more frequent that the trains people are connecting to.
As a reminder, this is what their RPTP in 2013 promised for rail services, trains every 10 minutes off peak and every 15 minutes in the evening.
Worryingly, they say it could be 15-20 years before we see those off-peak frequencies improve.
Improving frequencies on train services to be every 10 minutes all-day, for example, will require significant investment that will take many years (into the late 2030s or early 2040s) to deliver.
Other PT Changes
There are lot of changes proposed, some are improvements to frequency, there are some new routes, as signalled in the CATR funding and a few other changes. Here are some of the things that stand out.
- AT want to build a new bus station at the end of Penlink and would extend NX2 services there from 2027. This would also result in a change to how buses operate on the Whangaparaoa peninsula and at the same time, AT want stop the Gulf Harbour ferry.
- Also from 2027, AT want to extend the AirportLink service from Manukau to Botany via Te Irirangi Dr as an interim measure before a full busway can be built. This is good to see.
- AT should be doing the same thing as the AirportLink on other parts of the proposed Rapid Transit Network, such as Upper Harbour. They had planned to upgrade the existing 120 service to at least be frequent but have now scaled that back citing funding difficulties. The RPTP says the plan is now to make it a frequent route in 2025 and also shift it to using the motorway between Constellation Station and Greenhithe. That section is currently done using local roads and is the least reliable part of the journey.
- AT plan to finally break up the OuterLink next year. This will see the route between St Lukes and Newmarket via Pt Chev retained with the southern part of the loop replaced by the 64 and 65 services.
- Northcote, which has seen significant housing growth in recent years as part of Kāinga Ora’s development, will finally get a frequent bus route in 2027.
- At Northcote Point, AT will stop ferry services in 2026 with Birkenhead ferries travelling directly to and from the city instead. This follows a $2.6 million upgrade of the ferry terminal just a few years ago.
There’s plenty more changes so it’s worth scanning through the end of the lists at the end of the document to see if your service is impacted.
Here’s a map of what AT expects the PT network to look like in 2031.
And this gives you an idea of the kinds of minimum frequencies you can expect – it’s a shame they didn’t match the colours to those on the map.
On Demand Services
After trialling it in Devonport, AT have permanently rolled out their on-demand service (AT Local) to Takanini. They say they’re now looking to expand that to more areas with the areas under consideration.
On Inter-regional services AT say they are supportive but only if it doesn’t impact on Auckland. So I guess “transport needs of Aucklanders” don’t include getting to other places?
AT is supportive of improvements to inter-regional PT services, such as the existing Te Huia train service between Auckland and Hamilton, but our focus is – and always will be – on meeting the transport needs of Aucklanders first. Many inter-regional services are currently privately provided (such as InterCity bus services), contracted by Waikato Regional Council (such as Te Huia and buses between Waikato and Pukekohe), or operated by KiwiRail (such as the Northern Explorer train).
Significant improvements to such services are largely outside the direct control of AT. Central Government, through the Ministry of Transport and KiwiRail, has the responsibility to enable further improvements in inter-regional passenger rail services (through upgrades to infrastructure, including new tracks and rolling stock). AT supports these agencies in investigating and delivering improvements to service levels, so long as any improvements do not disadvantage the operation of our existing services for Aucklanders. We will work proactively with these other agencies to find solutions, and to integrate inter-regional services with other local services where practicable and as funding allows
Future improvements if AT have more money
As noted at the start, AT make a
AT advocates for things that we know will make the most significant difference to the way we serve our customers. We have evidence from our market research, and the response to improvements we have already made, that the changes below would result in increased use of, and satisfaction with, the PT system. If more funding for both operating services and the necessary infrastructure to support them were available, we would like to:
- Improve the all-day frequency on frequent routes from every 15 minutes to every 10.
- Add more routes to the frequent network.
- Expand the hours of frequent network operation from 7am – 7pm to 6am – 11pm
- Increase the base frequency on connector routes from 30 minutes to 20 minutes.
- Significantly expand the rapid transit network.
I wish AT would put some cost figures around these dreams so it was easier to understand the level of funding that might be needed to get our PT network up to the level it should be.
Is there anything in the RPTP that stands out to you?