While plans for Auckland’s Rapid Transit Network have existed in various planning documents for a long time, the routes and modes that make up the RTN have evolved a number of times over the years. The current iteration is just over five years old and was a part of the second Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) that was launched in April 2018. Where previous versions, such as the one from the first ATAP in 2016, highlighted high-level routes, the ATAP 2.0 version took things a step further by suggesting modes.
However, it hasn’t always been clear if any analysis has taken place to inform that future network and there’s been very little, if any, work done to assess when some of the routes may be needed, or even if additional routes are required.
To address this, AT, Council and Waka Kotahi have been working on a draft Auckland Rapid Transit Plan (ARTP) for the last three years which is intended to put some more rigour behind key RTN decisions likw mode and sequencing, bridging the gap between high level plans such as the Auckland Plan or ATAP and specific projects. Yesterday the AT Board were asked to approve sending it to the council for endorsement.
The paper is keen to highlight that the plan is not about locking the design of the RTN in stone but is “Auckland’s views of what is best for Auckland” to serve as a useful reference point for discussion, advocacy and negotiation with the government. For corridors where more detailed planning work hasn’t started yet, it also helps by providing a starting point to build off of.
The plan is not a definitive, locked in position on mode, timing, alignment etc. Instead, it is a reference case – a starting point for future investigation through individual projects. It highlights the regional view, to be tested at a corridor view. It will be updated as each decision is made on an individual corridor basis, including government decisions on funding, and technological advancement. Its core value is in having an agreed starting point and indicative end goal. It is already providing this role informally, but it is time to have a formal recognition of the network plan, together with public openness on the planned way forward.
The Auckland Rapid Transit Plan’s network was developed through progressively answering the following questions:
- What rapid transit corridors are likely to be needed in Auckland over the next 30 years?
- What is the likely mode for each corridor to be used as the starting point for future business case development?
- How should delivery of the rapid transit network could be sequenced over time?
- How can we manage uncertainty about growth patterns and future demand levels?
- How can the various agencies responsible for the delivery of the network work together to achieve the best outcome?
This is what they came up with. Unsurprisingly, it is very similar to what we have seen before with the biggest difference being a bit more uncertainty with the cross-isthmus corridor – though some combination of all of them looks great on a map.
This network will be progressively implemented over time. This includes at the corridor level, where in some cases interim upgrades should be made ahead of longer-term investments or where some sections should be built ahead of others. Interim upgrades may include introducing bus services ahead of investment in another mode, or temporary infrastructure to enable service improvements ahead of more significant investment.
Some thought has been put into how this would be staged too, though there is no timeframes around that. They also note that some of these corridors might originally be delivered as interim upgrades, like is happening now on the Northwestern.
To come up with this network, the work assessed a range of different corridors and across a variet of objectives. This resulted in confirming the network above but also highlights the likely next routes that might be added, being Onewa and Glenfield Roads, Manukau Rd, and Pakuranga Rd.
It’s interesting in there is that Sandringham Rd is listed as being “Unlikely to require rapid transit for the foreseeable future” when that’s the route Auckland Light Rail are planning to use for their tunnel.
To come up with the mode options, AT have used these figures of capacity per mode.
And they have combined that with the modelling for the various corridors. Personally, I think the suggested outcomes for some corridors doesn’t feel quite right and that may be related to limitations in the modelling, which probably struggles to properly pick up the transformational nature of projects like the City Rail Link.
Finally, one interesting aspect to any planned RTN is the impact it will have on land use. This is because the National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD), which requires significant upzoning around rapid transit stations.
The Plan also notes how the RTN is strongly aligned with development areas identified in the Auckland Plan.
As well as noting the need for good access to any new stations, the plan also notes that improvements are needed to existing stations and that AT are currently working on a business case to deliver them over a 10-year period. The basis of this comes from a Rapid Transit Station Access Study they have already undertaken.
Auckland Transport have assessed existing station access and experience across the rapid transit network, including an analysis of existing facilities, customer experience, the ease of transport access and the land use around each station.
It is great to finally see this plan emerge, as the logical overall network picture has clearly been missing from work undertaken on Auckland Light Rail and Waitemata Harbour Connections projects. It is interesting to see some inconsistencies between this work and more recent announcements on those projects. The rapid transit plan is a welcome insight into what’s right to do when you actually take affordability into account and think about what’s needed right across Auckland, rather than for a single project.