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Are more expensive stations worth the cost?

One of the things I’ve really liked about some of the recent developments in our PT network has been the development of some really high quality stations. In the Herald on Sunday, Janet McAllister takes a look at the new Panmure station which is the most recent of these:

Although traffic fixes seem super-slow, the efforts of our transport czars to beautify the Super City along the way have been a nice surprise. New Zealand Transport Agency’s eye-popping, swooping pedestrian motorway overbridges and even Auckland Transport’s amusing Lichtenstein-inspired pop-art bus ads are unexpected delights.

Then there are the beautiful train stations. In just over a decade, several new-look Auckland stations have been built including (but not limited to) Britomart, which is ageing well; sleek, criminally hidden Newmarket; and art-clad New Lynn.

The latest is Panmure Station, which, like New Lynn, is part of a bus-train interchange. I went there last week, to meet some of the Opus team responsible, including Chilean architect Victor Hugo Rojas and project manager Stefan Geelen. Bonus: I got to travel on the Eastern Line, which includes one of the world’s most beautiful stretches of suburban train track, crossing lagoons on its own causeway.

The Panmure site is not so pretty. The station, with its impressive statement frontage, stands as a handsome beacon of glass, stone and wood in the midst of a pedestrian-unfriendly commercial semi-wasteland (features for cyclists are still part of the work in progress). But the station is designed to help kick-start a more human cityscape: pleasingly, AT’s brief asked for an open public plaza and for quality, in order to attract good development.

Panmure Station 1

I love the few higher quality stations that have been built around the network and look forward to more being developed over the next few years – we should see Manukau finished this year and Otahuhu next year before the new bus network rolls out. One thing that is undeniable though is that they do cost more than regular stations, Panmure cost $17.5 million while Newmarket cost $35 million, the costs for the New Lynn are tied in with the works to put the rail line in a trench for grade separation. As a comparison my understanding is that a typical station upgrade is probably something like $2-3 million.

As patronage is generally one of the key things that PT systems and stations are judged on there’s often a bit of debate about whether the extra investment to make high quality stations worth it. The Atlantic Cities has reported on some research from Italy looking at just that.

But are transit stations really “destinations” in the absolute sense? More to the point: Do riders really care how nice they are?

The question is pretty apt considering a renewed trend toward gorgeous train and transit stations. These include the Arts et Metiers station in Paris, the Stadion station in Stockholm, the Expo station in Singapore, among others. The new focus on aesthetics has been dubbed a “station renaissance,” with many being designed by big name architects (Santiago Calatrava is behind the new PATH).

Recently a pair of civil engineers at the University of Naples, in Italy, tried to estimate what exactly this renaissance is worth to the average rider. They compared ridership of two lines of the Campania regional metro system: one traditional line, and the new “Rainbow” line that opened in 2009 at considerable cost. By service standards, the routes are remarkably alike — both serve a similar corridor with similar trains running similar travel times. But the Rainbow stations (left, below) are what you might call unparalleled. The traditional ones (right)? Very paralleled.

Hallway photo via Flickr user John Wisniewski.

Using a series of rider surveys and statistical models, the Naples engineers concluded that station aesthetics did, in fact, influence rider decisions about which line to take. They found that commuters were willing to pay about 50 cents (Euro) more per one-way fare at the nicer stations, to wait up to 7 minutes more for a train, and to walk an extra 10 minutes to get there. The latter metric is the equivalent of extending the station “catchment area” (basically its service zone) by about a quarter mile.

The researchers conclude that a station’s architectural quality should be an explicit design consideration and should even be compared against other service metrics, including frequency and accessibility, when determining transit improvements.

To some extent they do have a point. The perceptions people have toward transit matter, sometimes over and above objective service metrics, and striking the right balance is important. Scale aside, there’s no reason the interior of a transit station shouldn’t be as pleasant as the interior of a car.

That’s some fairly positive results for the higher quality stations however as The Atlantic Cities points out there is a need for balance. In Auckland I think we probably are getting that balance about right on the big stations. $17.5 million might be a lot of money but for such a major station as Panmure will be then it doesn’t seem overboard at all. I also like that we are developing a more nuanced hierarchy to PT stations. Even just a few years ago we either had the big expensive stations and then everything else. Now with stations like Mt Albert we are starting to see a middle category emerge, stations which are an improvement over the typical Auckland station but not as big or expensive as the those major ones. For example I believe Mt Albert cost just under $7 million so in between the typical station and major station cost.

Note: I still think a lot more effort needs to go into existing and even recently upgraded stations to improve them. In particular through providing additional shelter and seats.

Mt Albert Station (1)

Mt Albert Station with its concourse and built in art

As part of the RPTP, Auckland Transport also included a table highlighting what should be included in the design of any future PT interchanges so we should see this hierarchy develop further..

  • Major Interchange – at the city centre or at metropolitan centres, where a rapid service terminates or passes through, where several or more frequent services terminate or pass through, where local and connector services terminate, where inter-regional services may terminate or pass through, or where the interchange facility is a landmark feature within its environment.
  • Intermediate Interchange – are within town centres, where a rapid service may terminate or pass through, where one or more frequent services may terminate or pass through, where local and connector services terminate, or where the interchange may be a landmark feature or integrated into other land use. A different type of interchange also fits into this category where it is a dedicated piece of infrastructure required for connection between two modes, such as ferry to bus or train to bus. In this situation, the location is fixed by the access requirements of one of the modes (ferry or train) and may often not be part of any urban centre and will thus need to be fully self-serving (i.e. no opportunity for shared facilities).
  • Minor Interchange – are at local centres, where a rapid service may pass through, where one or more frequent services may terminate or pass through, where local and connector services may terminate or pass through, or where the interchange facility is more likely to be integrated within or subservient to surrounding land use.
  • Neighbourhood Connection – Within a neighbourhood centre, where frequent services pass across each other and provide a connection opportunity, or where the connection points are generally on-street stops and subservient to surrounding land use.

RPTP - Interchange Design 1

Lastly one positive is that the cost of these upgrades is like loose change compared to the new PATH station being built at the World Trade Centre site and which is costing US$4 billion/NZ$5 billion.

36 comments to Are more expensive stations worth the cost?

  • Bbc

    And small change to what NZTA spend on basically any road project. AT plans to spend 50 million just to widen Lake Rd, around 3 Panmure stations.

  • Short version: Does good design add value? I guess you could exhume Steve Jobs and see what he thinks….

  • Christopher T

    I understand that the cost of the Avondale station redevelopment came in at under $1m, largely, I suspect, because they stripped out the proposed pedestrian over bridge. The result is an inconvenient facility; the current design demands that passengers walk an additional 150m to cross platforms which, of course, encourages risky behaviour, particularly amongst the young. It certainly doesn’t meet AT’s criteria for ‘safe pedestrian crossing facilities’ which is odd given that the station is used by significant numbers of unsupervised students. AT have done nothing to remediate these design deficiencies by, for example erecting an inter-platform fence, although the costs would be relatively minor.

    • George D

      I will consider them culpable if a person dies. I’m going to get on to the Local Board about this.

      So typical. Hundreds of millions of dollars of road can be scheduled without so much as a cursory business case, but essential elements of transit facilities are cut back as a matter of course.

      • Anthony

        I thought moving the station away from the Blockhouse Bay Road bridge was a bad idea, certainly until St Judes St grade separation.
        The “temporary” platform, east of Blockhouse Bay Road bridge had no pedestrian problems.
        It will be years before grade separation is finished and I also wonder if grade separation is even possible without redoing the station again, due to track elevation vs road elevation, grade and property access.
        Perhaps that “temporary” location may have to be rebuilt.

        • Anthony

          While talking to the local board, you might also ask why the pedestrian link hasn’t been built beside the tracks between the station and Blockhouse Bay Road bridge.
          This was part of the station relocation design and partial mitigation for those who are now further from the station.

          I believe there is a proposal to create a link from Trent St to the Waterview cycleway. Extending further to the station would be good.

  • Paul McC

    The cost is well worth it if these stations are to act as catalysts for change, both in development of the area around stations and encouraging more people to use PT. Does this cost include the lowering of the tracks, building the cut and cover road and the station? The station at the moment seems very isolated, looking forward to see how the surrounding sites develop.

    • The more interesting question is, especially with Panmure; Is it sufficiently future-proofed? It has been clear for years that the track constraints at both Britomart and Newmarket are extremely shortsighted. And if we invest as we should in the Rapid Transit Network I can see the need to improve access to the platforms at Panmure sooner rather than later [one escalator from the station to each platform]. There will be complaints here about the lack of platform width and don’t start me on the failure to build the space for a dedicated freight line to the port through here now. Short-termism.

      I worry that the same shortsightedness and cost cutting will occur at the Aotea Station, as out transport models always under-predict Transit uptake. If so it will require extremely expensive rebuilding.

      Aesthetics and utility are inseparable.

      • Paul McC

        Very good point. It is fundamental to have good future proofed design that considers how the station will cope with growth (and consider the best case scenario for PT and rail use). This is fully supported by spending more money on the stations and to me the cost of the stations seems too low, if we are finally going to have good stations in NZ lets make it worth the investment.

        • Christopher T

          I suspect you have, as usual, hit the nail on the head Patrick with regard to the short-termism of track layouts on the Auckland network, particularly but not restricted to potential freight movement. You mention Panmure and, I seem to recall, you’ve previously alluded to the idiocy of building the New Lynn trench with only a double track. But there’s worse: just look at Kingsland, the station servicing Auckland’s major sporting facility at Eden Park. Not only is the current sticking plaster design inadequate for dealing with large crowds but also the track layout means that for major events the entire western line is disrupted to ensure that the station functions. What sort of planning is that? Funny thing, of course, that as late as 1967 bridges being built over the western line, e.g. at Blockhouse Bay Road were designed to accommodate up to four tracks (reduced to two following Project Dart). If Kingsland is going to function properly post electrification and CRL then the whole station and its associated track is really going to have to be re-designed at, I suspect, vast price.

          • I disagree entirely Christopher. Post electrification and CRL you could simply run the normal western line through Kingsland to serve game crowds. The CRL should allow al least five minute headways each way, and if you make sure those are all six carriage trains then you could carry twenty thousand people an hour from the station. With that sort of frequency you don’t need huge multi platform station with extra tracks, you don’t have people waiting around for long at all, and you don’t need to shut down the line or anything. You just pump them through quicksmart.

            Panmure and New Lynn might be constraints of freight but they are more than adequate for any passenger demand.

          • Christopher T

            I appreciate your optimism Nick, always an essential ingredient when looking at the Auckland rail network. Unfortunately, five minute headways and six carriage trains are at least a decade away. I agree a multi-platform station is unnecessary, but I do think a third track is, even post CRL, basically because it will always be a pinch point given its periodic high volume usage and the heightened possibility of operational stuff ups. I keep thinking of the Emirates Stadium/Finsbury Park set up in London, currently configured for 5 platforms which, from recollection, is barely sufficient for match days although, of course, it also has an enhanced role in the national rail network.

          • Jeff H

            Two tracks should handle crowds at busy through stations. The signal system lets trains run parallel on either line if needed and cross over points at the ends of stations means overtaking is possible which will help manage the flow of trains and passengers adequately.

            One obvious impediment to peak load capacity is the decision not to go with full transverse metro seating throughout the new trains, but AT confirmed this can be done and hopefully some of the new trains on order might get this in fit out,

            Yes the big stations will be worth the cost and prove themselves in no time.

          • Luke C

            5 minute headways and 6 carriage trains possible now, why a decade away? Not on all lines but on the Kingsland – Britomart corridor.
            Kingsland functions fine after big games now, and no need for Eden Park to get any bigger in the near future. And 6 car EMU’s much higher capacity than the existing diesel trains.
            Eden Park only maxes out a few times a year, mostly just for Bledisloe Cup and occasional events like NRL nines.
            On a related note would be great to have the EMU”s running All Black services at the end of this year sometime to really show general public what they are like.

          • Jeff H

            Yes Luke – All Black services with an all black EMU. Now that would look stunning.

        • Gary Young

          And looking at many existing motorway overbridges it is clear that they were constructed from the outset to accommodate carriageway widening. It seems then that future proofing of motorways is a given at the time of design and construction but with other forms of transport infrastructure it is presumed to be unneccessary.

          • Loraxus

            Not unnecessary – it’s just a lot easier to futureproof if you have money coming out of your ears, the way our road planners/builders have been gifted with by this government. What is a bit of future-proofing for more cars between friends?

      • Luke E

        One potentially good thing about the delay in the CRL’s construction may be the fact we will have learnt the hard way not to under-provision Aotea in terms of platforms, having seen places like New Lynn and Panmure get really busy.

        But maybe that’s wishful thinking. It will be criminal if Aotea ends up with too few platforms.

        • Loraxus

          Aotea will have exacly one platform each direction, and with one line each direction, that is all it ever needs!

          What IS important is to dimension the accessways / stairs / elevators to be able to move large enough crowds on/off all the time. Thankfully, while not cheap, that CAN be fixed later if we get it somewhat under-sized.

          • Sacha

            And moving people smoothly off the Aotea platform towards Queen St requires reserving access via Elliot St. How’s that looking?

    • Paul – the cost is the station itself. There has been no lowering of the tracks and the cut and cover road is a separate part of the overall project.

      • Paul McC

        Thanks Matt. I realised after revisiting the project website that the tracks already went under the road and that the cost was too low to cover the cost of the road.

  • TheBigWheel

    “stands as a handsome beacon of glass, stone and wood in the midst of a pedestrian-unfriendly commercial semi-wasteland (features for cyclists are still part of the work in progress)”

    Good reporting.

    Imagine how much of the latter we could have for $ 17.5 m.

    In the context of the NZTA / AT $ 10s of billion road fest, we ought to be able to afford both. In 2014, not in 2044.

  • Loraxus

    I agree that stations being quality should be a must – because PT shouldn’t be treated as a cheapo bolt-on.

    Though I must say I am a bit wary of interview (preference survey) claims that people would walk 400m more to a better-designed PT station. If it’s true, it would be great – but what people say in such surveys often doesn’t fully match (in intensity at least) with what they actually do… would be great of the survey had included actually asking regular users where they had walked from, and then accounting for other factors like walking route availability, had tested whether it made an actual impact.

  • Gary Young

    Also regarding Newmarket I think the removal of the temporary station stop at Kingdon Rd was supremely shortsighted in that we could right now have direct connection to the western line with a stop close to the shops but without needing a train reversal.

    I would point out that there are two separate platforms some small distance apart at Penrose serving two lines. If this arrangement was deemed acceptable there why was it abolished in such haste at Newmarket?

    • Luke C

      ummm no. That would leave no ability to transfer between the Western/Southern lines, as well as effectively halving frequency between Newmarket and Britomart.
      CRL best way to get around this.

    • Difference is Penrose is 120m via a direct station overbridge, Newmarket would have been 680m via various city streets and crossings.

      Anyway like Luke C says, CRL makes it a non-issue and has Newmarket station in the ideal location.

  • Station development SHOULD be cost neutral or even profit making, using profits from developing the immediate area (apartments, shops, advertising) and higher rates from increased property values. I have been to many transit stations overseas that have full on malls above/around stations.

    • Luke C

      Panmure will pay off over a decade or so, but need high frequent rapid transit network for this to work. Will start to get this with electrics, will really kick off with CRL though.
      Of course also need developers to realise the benefits and attraction of rail, I feel that too many of our developers are car addicts so presume that they think everyone else is the city is too.

  • Adam W

    Does anyone know where abouts in the hierarchy Pukekohe station fits?
    I’m curious to know what the new upgrade coming soon is going to look like, but I don’t know where to go to find out.

  • Bryce P

    Depends on what you call expensive. Isn’t the Wynyard bus interchange budgeted for over $30M? That’s up there.

  • Bryan

    Appearance attracts. Just look at the revamped Warehouse in that recent post.

  • JimboJones

    I guess you have to account for the operating costs too – staffing, cleaning, etc. If it were just a concourse like most other stations the operating costs would be significantly less. Of course there can be extra revenue that may cover these costs (e.g. shops inside the station)

  • Jeff H

    Left the car at home yesterday and rode the train from Orakei to Sylvia Park in half the time of driving,on to Manukau then back via Newmarket and Britomart. The stations, walkways and other infrastructure are looking world class.

    But where were the people and where is the bustling retail activity around many of the stations?

    Maybe it’s planned, but Manukau needs a strip of retail in the desolate space where Council cars are parked to link foot traffic to the busy mall. Between AT and Westfield there must be commercial potential for both in developing Manukau as an attractive destination by train in the way Henderson and Newmarket appear to have done.

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