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.
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.
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.
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.
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.