Airbus Express becomes SkyBus

Auckland’s city to airport bus has new owners bringing with them a new name, a new livery and promising a higher quality service. The Airbus Express service has been bought by SkyBus who operate Melbourne’s airport bus service.

Free on-board Wi-Fi and ground hosts to welcome intrepid travellers to Auckland are just the beginning of big plans by new owners to expand – and smarten – the 24-hour airport bus service.

The former Airbus fleet has already had its name changed to that of Melbourne’s 38-year-old SkyBus, which is taking it under its wing.

It will be repainted from light blue to red as more buses are added between the fast-growing airport precinct and downtown Auckland to widen the span of departures, which already run every 10 minutes during week days.

That follows a change of ownership from Johnston’s Coachlines to a consortium majority-owned by Canada’s Ontario Pension Trust, in a deal worth about $20 million.

Melbourne-based directors Michael Sewards and Adam Begg have hit the ground running in Auckland, adding two buses in their first couple of weeks here and installing free Wi-Fi across what is now a 15-strong shuttle fleet – with seven more due by May.

The service has long been popular, running 24/7 and with great frequency. On weekdays they run every  10 minutes between 7:30am and 8:10pm and on weekends they run every 15 minutes during the day. In the middle of the route the frequency splits in two with services alternating between Dominion Rd and Mt Eden Rd. The addition of more buses suggests frequency will improve even further making the service even more useful.


AirBus Timetable

One aspect that is interesting is the move to a red livery like is used on their buses in Melbourne. Queen St already has the red City Link buses so users will have to pay more attention if catching either one. Once they change I wonder how long it will be till someone accidentally gets on a red SkyBus to a short distance up Queen St only to be charged $16 (the one way fare).

SkyBus and CityLink

The old livery with the new name. Photo by Luke C

One of the reasons the cost for SkyBus is $16 is that the service is and has always been fully commercial meaning it isn’t subsided by Auckland Transport, siting to the side of the normal public transport system. As such the company can charge whatever they like. As such there is also no discount for using HOP and there is no indication that would change with the new operators and it seems they will continue to retain a separate ticketing system

Telecommunications company Spark is meanwhile developing a sophisticated ticket-buying app which it hopes to roll out in Auckland before Christmas and then back-load to Melbourne.

Mr Sewards said during a tag-team visit by the pair to Auckland this week that technological solutions encountered here had been “incredible.”

He is similarly impressed by Auckland Transport’s $100 million integrated Hop ticketing system, into which his fleet was plugged by its former owners, although SkyBus will remain fully commercial with none of the subsidies received by most other city bus operators.

The owners also talk about improving journey times. I imagine the biggest improvements would likely come from having more bus lanes and with better operating hours however the new owners also single out Waterview as helping. Unless they’re planning on running buses all the way to the city via the motorway then I can’t see how that will make a lot of difference.

Mr Sewards acknowledged room for improvement in journey times, now varying from about 45 minutes to an hour for the 12km trip between downtown Auckland and the airport.

That compares with about 20 minutes over the 23km between Melbourne’s CBD and its airport.

But he said Melbourne’s route was far more direct, along a single motorway, and is looking forward to faster bus trips in Auckland once the Waterview tunnels open in early 2017.

Lastly it’s an interesting time for the change in ownership as there are a number of interesting developments on the horizon.

From a PT perspective the competition to SkyBus is a combination of a train and what is currently the 380 bus (will be called the 30 in the new network). Next year Auckland Transport will roll out integrated fares which will make transferring between bus and train services cheaper and easier for most journeys. From the city it would be only three zones for which AT have indicated the cost would be $4.80-$5.00. The trade-off though is likely a longer journey time. Trains between Britomart and Papatoetoe every 5 minutes during the day and from there the 30 bus runs fairly direct to the airport however it only runs half hourly during the day and based on the current timetable even with an almost perfect connection it would take around an hour.


Longer term there is also the prospect of rail the airport. If Auckland Transport build it as an extension of the existing rail system like they should (either between Onehunga or from Otahuhu like suggested here) then travel times could be slashed quite substantially. If instead they go for the option of extending one of the proposed light rail routes travel times aren’t likely to be significantly different to what exists today.

Rail to Airport - July 15 - LRT vs HRT Travel times

Either rail implementation would have significant impacts on the SkyBus service who I can’t see just lying down and letting it happen. Given SkyBus is already successful and not subsidised they are able to put forward a strong case not to build rail – especially in the current political climate. Yet the service is only really successful on a commercial basis which may not be the best outcome for the city/country due to the higher cost meaning many will still prefer to drive. Based on the current airport arrivals and departures of around 15.5 million people annually the reported SkyBus figures of around 650,000 trips represents just over 4% of travellers. I can’t help but wonder just how much higher patronage would be if you combined both the much faster journeys of heavy rail with the proposed HOP pricing and that’s before you add in making PT more viable for many airport workers.

An Update on Mangere and Airport Rail

Last week I highlighted an update from AT on Light Rail. In addition to that they also gave an update on rail to Mangere and the airport including their consideration of using light or heavy rail for the project. Once again I wasn’t at the presentation personally so can only go off the slides shown.

Firstly one thing I do think is good is that AT on their website are calling Airport and Mangere Rail. To me that’s a much better description of the project than just airport rail as this project will serve a much wider community than just the airport which is one of the reasons it’s worthwhile doing.

As for where the project is at. The strategic assessment already undertaken has shown that rail is the most effective long term solution and a scheme assessment has determined a rough footprint which would require the purchase of 218 residential and 17 commercial properties. They estimate the project would cost around $1.4 billion to get to the airport from Onehunga. The engineers have been looking at ways to cut the cost of the project and two points are noted.

  • They’ve estimated the cost of double tracking the Onehunga branch line at $400-$600 million. For that price it sounds like they’re effectively suggesting trenching the whole line – presumably to remove all of the level crossings.
  • Put the rail alignment down the centre of the motorway. I don’t know what the original alignment was but I wonder if it crossed the motorway a few times to give better coverage of the community.

By building the route as light rail they believe it could be done cheaper for similar benefits and so they’re comparing the two modes.

They appear to be looking primarily at how to provide a single seat journey from the airport the city centre with the two options shown below along with a comparison between the two.

Rail to Airport - July 15 - LRT vs HRT routes

Rail to Airport - July 15 - LRT vs HRT figures

I have some serious concerns about this analysis as AT seem infatuated by light rail at the moment so it seems to me they’ve in effect stacked the deck against heavy rail. Here’s why

  • The light rail option is an extension of line that doesn’t even exist yet and there’s no guarantee it ever will.
  • I also wonder how practical that alignment alongside SH20 is. I know Light Rail can climb hills better than Heavy rail can but that route would be one long, steep and slow climb if it’s even possible.
  • When the measurement of success seems to be based on how many people could walk to a station and catch a train then having the heavy rail option with fewer stations it’s no surprise it has a lower result. It seems to me silly not to at least have a heavy rail station around the Montgomerie Rd area which is only about 2km from Mangere and 2.5km from the airport. Other stations may be able to be justified.
  • It’s no surprise that the Light Rail option has more people within walking distance of a station as it travels right through the densest residential area in Auckland – the CBD. I’m not sure if AT’s heard but there’s a heavy rail project which does that too – it’s called the City Rail Link. What’s more AT’s planned operating pattern will see trains from the western line pass through the CRL before heading towards Onehunga. It seems like there’s a bit of gerrymandering going on this. If AT are talking about delivering single seat rides then they should also include all the people next to the western line, even just the people near the inner west and CRL stations add almost an extra 60k to the walking catchment.

CRL Outline-Train-Plan-31July2014

  • With a dedicated corridor between Onehunga and the airport the travel time of light and heavy rail is not likely to be all that different. The issue comes in north of Onehunga. AT say above the extension just from Dominion Rd will have 1.9km of slow on street running, what’s not also mentioned is the on street running on the Dominion Rd corridor through to the city. The next slide looks at exactly this issue and it is perhaps the biggest argument against light rail. A 35-38 minute travel time is very competitive with all other modes at all times of the day whereas light rail is barely faster than the existing airport bus. It’s also worth contrasting this approach to what happens elsewhere in transport. As a society seem to be prepared to fork out billions with few questions to obtain a few minutes of travel time saving on roads the same but for rail it’s all about how we can do things on the cheap.

Rail to Airport - July 15 - LRT vs HRT Travel times

Next we have a bit of a matrix comparing many of the things mentioned above including what I consider to be flaws in many of them. One thing I haven’t mentioned is the frequency of service. This is something completely within AT’s control of how they run the rail network.

Rail to Airport - July 15 - LRT vs HRT matrix

The next few images show cross sections the proposed rail alignment down the centre of the motorway and through the Kirkbride trench. The car lanes would be pushed out to create enough space.

Rail to Airport - July 15 - Trench cross section

Rail to Airport - July 15 - LRT vs HRT motorway alignment

Lastly this image shows an elevated section soaring above the Kirikbride interchange. My understanding is that both options of through or over the trench are possible and are both still being considered.the chosen mode will go over or through the trench so both options are being considered.

Rail to Airport - July 15 - LRT vs HRT elevated alignment

It’s good to see some details on this even though I’m not convinced by the analysis done to date.

Kirkbride Interchange and Rail Future Proofing

Rail to the airport is in the news again – and not in a good way – this time related to the Kirkbride interchange the NZTA are currently building and whether it’s future proofed for rail. The answers by Auckland Transport and the NZTA also hint at some of the dysfunction, lack of critical thinking and potentially deliberate sabotage that’s long plagued this project – one which is constantly one of the most popular publicly.

Auckland Transport is having to stump of $21 million to “future-proof” a motorway project for trains or trams to the airport.

The council body is paying the money to the Government’s Transport Agency, towards extra costs of designing a motorway interchange for trams to run through a trench beneath Kirkbride Road, Mangere, or trains on an elevated line.

That is additional to $140m the agency is spending on the 580-metre trench and a motorway extension to the airport in an accelerated Government-funded project.

Preparations are well-advanced for the trench to be dug west of George Bolt Drive.


Considering that airport rail has been talked about for decades and has been on regional plans for probably just as long it’s absolutely absurd that AT are having to pay $21 million to widen the trench to be able to accommodate rail. Long-time readers may remember the excuse given by the NZTA for not building a busway along SH16 at the same time as all the motorway widening going on was that the old Auckland Regional Council didn’t list the route as a rapid transit one (rail or busway). That isn’t the case here because as mentioned rail has long been on the plans and been subject to many studies, some of which they themselves have been involved in. The NZTA should also remember the public desire the project in the form of the 10,000 signature petition the CBT organised back in 2007.

So why are AT now paying the NZTA future proof the interchange?

As I understand it when the government announced they were accelerating the project back in 2013 the Highway Network Operations (HNO) team within the NZTA quickly went to work on designing the interchange. They didn’t look at the work their planning teams had been working on with AT and designed the interchange to take up the entire space of the motorway designation. They claimed their design future proofed the interchange for rail but what they really meant is there was space beside it for rail to go but it would effectively require starting from fresh including needing to purchase and designate all the land. In other words the NZTA’s work didn’t preclude a future rail line but didn’t do anything to help it either.

When AT realised and challenged HNO they claimed it was a done deal and they were on too tight a schedule to make any changes. They also tried to use Watercare – who need to build a new pipe through the area – as an excuse for not being able to accommodate any changes however it turns out Watercare were only bringing their project forward after being told to by HNO. After working out they only needed a few extra metres and some high level talks HNO backed down and agreed include the project but with a new catch – AT would have to pay. They then tried to claim the extra work would add something like $60 million to the $140 million project. The price of $21 million has come about after AT sat down and worked out what the actual extra cost would be.

That it even got to that this point is absurd and puts into question both organisations claims of working together well in partnership. Putting this aside, so what are we now getting?

Auckland Transport project director Theunis van Schalkwyk has since, in a joint statement with the Transport Agency to the Herald, confirmed that his organisation has allocated $21m to make the trench 3.5m wider than planned.

Its new width of 29m would provide an 8m rail corridor, which the statement said would be enough for trams to run through the trench or for elevated trains above it.

So the NZTA almost severely hampered rail to the airport all for the sake of 3.5m – that’s less than a single motorway lane. Here’s what the current plan is for the project

Kirkdbride Layout

And a closer look at the interchange itself

Kirkdbride Layout - interchange

The answer and these images also raises new questions.

  • How will Light Rail run through the trench, presumably it would have to be down the centre and would have to be protected from cars by barriers. Is 8m enough space for both the tracks and barriers?
  • By designing so that heavy rail has to be overhead is that a strategy to ensure local opposition?
  • After either light rail or heavy rail pass the interchange then what? How does light rail get to or from the centre of the motorway, if elevated how does long is the line elevated for?
  • If an elevated line is built I’m assuming that it would have to stay elevated for some distance to get past Bader Dr and the SH20/SH20a motorway interchange. How will that impact on Mangere Town Centre. Alternatively it would be interesting to hear the local communities thoughts if as a result Mangere town centre was served by a station like this from Vancouver (Brentwood Town Centre).

Brentwood Skytrain Station

Of course Kirkbride is just one of what seem like many mountains in front of getting rail to the airport. Earlier promises by the NZTA’s predecessor to future proof the recently duplicated Manukau Harbour Crossing for rail turned out to be completely pointless – only allowing enough space for a single low speed track. At the other end it seems that rail will required to be in a tunnel though the airport property as it will have to get under a longer runway.

In addition to all of this I think that AT’s current fascination with Light Rail is distracting them. Light rail is appropriate for the isthmus routes they’re suggesting but in my view is completely inappropriate for rail to the airport as it simply won’t be fast enough. LRT would likely take around 50 minutes to get to the city vs 30-35 for heavy rail hooking into the existing network – either at Onehunga or perhaps as Patrick suggested the other day.

All up it feels like rail to the airport will go the same way as so many other transport projects in Auckland’s history. So much opportunity to easily get a great result hampered by short term thinking and expediency. So much hassle could have been avoided if AT and predecessors had applied just a little bit more urgency in obtaining a designation for the project.

Airport Transport Plans

Following up last week’s Mangere/Airport RTN post, reader Martin B pointed to this recent AIAL Masterplan: pdf.

Airport terminal

Here are the key Landside Transport pages:

Airport Transport

Map of the future precinct; white dotted lines indicate the rail line and the white rectangle the station:

Airport Masterplan

Good to see both northern and eastern routes are being planned for, however they are completely missing a trick by not taking the station right into the Terminal building (04). We know that AIAL are planning for the line to be cut and cover through their property so why not take it all the way to under the yet-to-be-built Terminal building? Seems pointless to insist that rail users stop just short enough from their destination to have to drag bags across a couple of roads. Interestingly this places the station with the proposed massive new parking buildings.

I have used trains to get to airports all over the world and by far the best have stations fully integrated into the terminals. Given this is a completely new integrated domestic and international terminal building surely it wouldn’t be difficult to future proof for this. Especially as they are claiming they are to reduce congestion while providing 20 000 carparks. The RTN route and service will need to be as good as possible to make sure it attracts as many users as possible to help keep those approach and local roads flowing.

After all, isn’t the plan for a streamlined seamless experience?

Mangere/Airport Rail 2.0

Below is AT’s proposed post CRL rail running pattern. Quite complicated, with some peak only services and an infrequent 3tph [trains per hour] Henderson-Grafton-Otahuhu crosstown service. One feature of this design is that the 6 tph Swanson-CRL-Onehunga service [core Western line service] has every second train stopping at Newmarket, so it becomes 3tph from there to Onehunga. This is because the branch line from Penrose to Onehunga isn’t able to take any higher frequency, but also because there probably won’t be the demand on this little line to balance that of the whole of the western line, unless it is to be extended. And at 12tph there is plenty of action south of Newmarket- a train every 5 minutes each way.

Post CRL running pattern

Another notable feature is just how important Otahuhu is becoming. It’ll have 18tph both directions at the peaks; a train every few minutes each way [correction: actually 21 tph in the peak direction]. A frequency only matched by the Centre-City underground CRL stations. So it will be a great place to connect; that frequency kills wait times and connection anxiety, but also it offers a one-seat ride to everywhere on the network bar the last three Western Line stations and, unlike Newmarket, there is space for an expanded track layout for all these train movements [plus dedicated freight lines]. Add the fact that as you read this, thanks to the Council’s Transport Levy, a bus interchange station is being built there too, it’s becoming a real busy hub.

So picture this; How about adding the heart of Mangere and the Airport to the list of direct Otahuhu rail connections?


The Line

Here’s how it could go, there are a couple of options at the northern end, but otherwise around 9km of track over flat terrain pretty direct to the Airport. And, importantly some very good points along the way to serve the local community and add catchment to the service. On the map above I am proposing new stations at:

Robertson Rd

Mangere Town Centre/Bader Drive

Montgomerie Rd

Airport Terminals

The first two are close together but serve communities separated by SH20, and both are on good perpendicular bus and bike routes to expand that catchment. Mongomerie is also at a junction for good bus connection and is in the middle of the growing employment area north of the Airport. So residential, employment, and the community, education, and retail of the Mangere Town Centre too. Importantly this would act as a way to reconnect the community flung apart by the motorway severance. More on local impacts below.

Otahuhu is 25 minutes from Britomart, a number that should come down when AT and their operator sort out their currently overlong dwell times, and would be around 10 or so minutes from the Airport Terminals. 35mins from the heart of the city? Even cabinet ministers from the provinces would see the point of that congestion free journey when [say] going to meet us at the Ministry of Transport or NZTA in the city. But also such a fast and direct service would make taking it by connection from the North Shore viable, improving options for what is currently an expensive and congestion prone journey by any mode.

And in terms of running pattern it’s already sorted: send all 6tph of the western line on to through the CRL, Otahuhu, Mangere and the Airport. An immediate 10min all day frequency, through the busy Ellerslie and Newmarket hubs, direct to Remuera and Parnell, all the city CRL stations and every point on the Western line. Easy transfer at Otahuhu for every other station and connection point on the network. Uber to any station on the network with your bags, and you’re on your way in comfort and at speed right to the Terminal, and out of the vagaries of Auckland traffic and cost and hassle of parking. Personally I would prefer that transfer to the one people make now in their thousands at Airport Park’n’Rides.

Or if it’s preferred the 3tph currently intended to stop at Newmarket plus the 3tph of the crosstown service on from Otahuhu to make up the frequency. That looks overly fiddly and illegible to me, but that’s not important for this argument; the point is that Otahuhu in fact looks like a better point to connect Mangere and the Airport to the rest of the city than Onehunga, for both speed of service, and onward connections. And the added bonus of improving network efficiency by simply extending existing services.

Local Community

Of course the route is not free. the section between the SH20 interchange and Otahuhu station goes down a highway designation that NZTA still probably want and that the locals recently fought to keep as it is. Here:

Mangere Central

It is possible that the local community, if treated fairly and with respect, may see the advantages for them in having to this line in their midst. It is substantially different from a highway in terms of width, noise, pollution and benefit. The current residents would need to be rehoused to their advantage and the line would have to come with high quality and numerous crossing points and increased community access to the new stations and other destinations. It could be a catalyst for a whole lot of improvements in the area. But I can’t speak for them.

Otherwise it just faces the same route issues that the one sourced from Onehunga has. The refusal by previous decision makers, especially Manukau City Council, but also NZTA, and ARTA, to future proof adequately in their plans here means more expensive elevated solutions will be required over SH20A. However we are assured that the current Kirkbride Rd works allow for that and that the Airport company is similarly preparing for such a line. Otherwise it doesn’t look to face any unusual engineering challenge. Only the standard political and financial ones.

Interestingly here is report by BECA for ARTA from 2008 that features this route, with exactly the same station placements [can’t be too illogical then]. That found that Route 2B, as they called it, scored well:


BECA Airport Rail

But the report is complicated by the inclusion of the Avondale-Westfield line. One I never seen the point of in passenger terms and can not picture an efficient rail running pattern for, and that is only there because of an ancient freight designation. Also I find it odd that the report doesn’t analyse routes it terms of how services would use them.

Avondale-Onehunga-Penrose, and further, looks like it could be a more useful Light Rail service, once AT have their ‘four finger’ routes all ending along this line. The rest of the report is very dated and I’m sure would use very different ridership projections now.

I am confident about the utility and therefore the appeal of such a fast and direct line for Airport customers and employees, especially with such good onward connections and a turn up and go frequency. So long as the Sydney pitfall of putting a punitive fare on the Airport Station is not applied. Add the local residential, employment, and student catchments and bus connections, and this looks like a strong option without either the slow winding route from Onehunga, or the cost of crossing the Mangere inlet.

There is still the problem of the conditions that the Airport company are demanding; in particular a more expensive undergound route to future proof for a second runway to the north and to keep it out of the way of their new terminal plans. However AIAL also predict huge rises in passenger and associated business volumes at and around the Airport which means that they are going to find other more valuable uses for land than just car parking. And, despite the heroic showering of money on State Highways if this growth is still to only be served by single occupant vehicles and buses stuck with them then these roads and the local ones in the area are not going to work. A really effective Rapid Transit route and service is only going to be needed here with increasing urgency, and nothing will give the capacity and time competitiveness like hooking into the existing rail network that is already much of the way there.

Yes the capital investment will not be minor, but the outcome is both a permanent and extremely valuable for both the city’s efficiency and resilience. It will also add efficiency to the operations of the rail network, increasing utility and cost effectiveness by working those existing assets harder. The always senseless claim that ‘Aucklanders won’t use rail’ or other forms of public transport, has been proven wrong beyond any doubt since recent improvements and booming ridership numbers.  It really is time for certain groups to drop their blinkered knee-jerk rejection of this mode, as it is based on historic conditions and experiences that no longer apply in the new Auckland, and as it really is the best tool for this important job.

Like the Rail Network the Airport appears to be on a trajectory for 20mil passenger movements a year by 2020: It is long overdue that we get these two critical systems linked together for their- and the city and nation’s- mutual benefit.




On this day… Thinking differently about ‘rail to the airport’

Today’s “on this day” post comes from 2011:

In many of the debates about whether building a railway line to Auckland Airport should be a priority or not, most of the focus has been on making it easier for travellers to get between the city and the airport. This is somewhat understandable, as for regular travellers it seems bizarre for the trip between the city and the airport to take longer than the flight between Auckland and Wellington. Furthermore, having a congestion free option, which generally only rail can provide (I’m yet to see how a busway could be provided between the Airport and the central city) provides a level of reliability to travel times that I’m sure would be much appreciated.

But rail to Auckland Airport would be pretty expensive – north of a billion dollars according to a study undertaken in 2008 (although this does seem to have ‘gold-plated’ the cost quite a bit compared to other similar projects). Furthermore, only a proportion of travellers (generally business travellers and tourists) would be making trips between the CBD and the Airport that would be best served by this rail line. It seems doubtful whether that would generate enough demand, in and of itself, to justify such a big expenditure.

However, thinking about ‘rail to the airport’ as merely providing a connection for travellers hugely under-estimates its potential in my opinion. In fact, while “rail to the airport” has been a useful term in gaining public support of this project, I think referring to the line as the “Southwest Line” would actually be more useful in recognising its wider benefits.

One of the main reasons for constructing this line is emphasised by a report that Auckland Airport had undertaken recently: pointing out the growing importance of the Airport to Auckland’s and New Zealand’s economy. Not only is this importance evident in the wider benefits of the Airport, but also in the area around the Airport’s growing significance as an employment hub. Put simply, a lot of people work either at the airport or around the airport and over the next 10-20 that number of employees is likely to increase very significantly.

The study, by consultancy Market Economics, also highlights the increasing importance as an economic growth node of the airport focused and supporting businesses located at or near Auckland Airport – within the Auckland Airport Business District (comprising land owned by Auckland Airport) or on neighbouring land. This growth node has been called the Airport Corridor.

The Airport Corridor already generates or facilitates around $3 billion of GDP annually and its contribution is expected to grow to $5-6 billion by 2031. This growth is expected to increase employment in the Airport Corridor from a current estimate of 21,000 workers to as many as 38,000 by 2031.

The study notes the correlation between jobs created in the Airport Corridor and growth in Auckland Airport’s traffic volumes – as the more vibrant the Airport becomes, the more companies want to locate close to it. Currently, there are about 1,800 jobs within the Airport Corridor for every million passengers passing through the Airport.

The Market Economics study concludes, “Auckland Airport facilitates substantial levels of business activity by enabling and supporting tourism and trade in Auckland and throughout New Zealand. As Auckland Airport (and the air transport sector generally) grows more rapidly than the economy as a whole, its role as a facilitator and generator of business activity is expected to steadily increase into the longer term. Within the Auckland spatial economy, the Airport Corridor will be a major focus of business activity, and a catalyst for economic growth across the region. Its significance as a driver of economic growth should not be under-estimated.”

There are around 80,000 people employed in Auckland’s CBD at the moment, so creating an employment node at the Airport of nearly 40,000 by 2031 gives a good indication of how significant that would be. The table below shows the increase:
The Airport picks up on the need to plan carefully for how this would work, and what infrastructure would be needed to support such an employment node:

Auckland Airport’s chief executive Simon Moutter said, “This study reinforces the important role that Auckland Airport plays in helping grow New Zealand tourism and trade by improving the air services connections between New Zealand and the world…

…“On a regional basis, it is important that Auckland Airport is seen not just as part of Auckland’s transport infrastructure, but a key driver of the supercity’s future economic prosperity and visitor economy.

“By commissioning this study, we hope to improve understanding about the strong growth potential of both Auckland Airport and the Airport Corridor. It is important that this growth is factored into planning decisions in areas such as land development, transport infrastructure and public transport services.”

A lot of the land surrounding the Airport is currently used for carparking. But with the area becoming such an important employment node in the future I do wonder whether wasting such valuable land on parking (surface level parking at least) will be feasible and desirable: both from the Airport’s perspective and from the perspective of Auckland as a whole. But if the attractiveness of the area as an employment node is going to continue it will need to be easy for people to get to work there – which is where the Airport Railway Line comes in.

As far as I can see, there will be three main users of the Airport Railway Line:

  1. Travellers themselves
  2. People working around the Airport and nearby employment centres (this is likely to be the biggest share of potential users)
  3. People living in Mangere and its surrounding suburbs, who work in Newmarket, the CBD,  Manukau or other parts of the rail network

It’s pretty unlikely that spending close to a billion dollars on constructing the Airport Line would make sense if it were only to fulfil one, or even two, of these three functions. But the fact that it can provide all three – coupled with the predicted speedy growth of the area as an employment hub – means that I think it would be viable. Certainly in my opinion the CBD Rail Tunnel is more necessary, but in 10 years time if we haven’t built the Airport Line I think we’re really going to leave Auckland in a bit of a messy situation of having another car-dependent Albany or East Tamaki: just bigger, uglier and more congested.

The full study into the contribution of Auckland Airport to Auckland and New Zealand’s economy is here.


There has been little information on progress for rail to the airport in recent times, although the currently underway Kirkbride Road interchange project is being future-proofed for either light-rail or heavy-rail – as Auckland Transport seem to have a slightly strange obsession with light-rail at the moment. It seems that there’s still not a particularly strong push for this project, which is perhaps OK given the focus on CRL at the moment. However, as the post above highlights, Airport Rail is really as much about serving the surrounding areas and the Airport’s growing employment numbers as is it about travellers. It will be important in 2015 to see some progress, at least with route protection.

Also while on the topic of airport travellers, it’s interesting to see the numbers are continuing to rise strongly and in November reached 14.8 million for the previous 12 months.

Airport Passenger Numebrs - Nov 14

What Is Happening With Airport Rail?

As the Herald reported yesterday, it looks as if Auckland Transport have really dropped the ball in getting a designation in place for rail to Mangere and Auckland Airport – what should be called the “South Western Line”. It is worth emphasizing that the main point of any rapid transit project in the south west is not so much to provide air travellers with a rail link, but to provide the more than 20,000 workers at the airport with a decent alternative, and also benefit the residents of Mangere and South Auckland who probably have the worst public transportation services in the entire region.

Some years back, a cross-stakeholder South-Western Multi-modal Airport Rapid Transit (SMART) study was commissioned to look at the rapid transit options. It was supposed to be making progress towards a designation, and for some time we have been wondering how the study was progressing.

This week, through a LGOIMA request, we finally got our hands on a copy of what has turned out to be an interim, and final report. Unfortunately, Auckland Transport instructed consultants GHD to cut the three phase study short in September of last year.

Phase Three of the study was supposed to “focus on developing documentation to support route protection. This would have entailed developing a draft Notice of Requirement and/or easement documentation for future-proofing of the preferred route. Within the airport designation, it was anticipated that an easement would be agreed and included in the current Auckland Airport Masterplan.”

However, the study was cut short with the following reasons given:

SMART Scheme Assessment Report

There is no explanation as to why the plans listed have a higher priority than designating rail to the airport. Auckland Transport and Auckland Council have to be the party responsible for driving the rapid transit designation process through, but instead they’ve more or less said “Ugh – too hard!” and sat on their hands.

Fast forward a year later, and things have now come to a head as the NZTA are wanting to push through the Kirkbride Road grade separation project, which will turn SH20A and SH20 into a continuous motorway. There is currently no provision for a rail corridor in any of the draft plans, and it is my understanding that the NZTA are waiting on a clear direction from Auckland Transport on where the rapid transit corridor will run.

The interim SMART report supported an earlier study from 2011 which concluded that a rail loop through South Auckland remains the technically preferred strategic option (I’ll have the detail on a later post) yet no progress has been made in designating the rail corridor.

Most worryingly of all, it looks as if Auckland Transport is now re-litigating the decision for heavy rail and is considering light rail instead for the corridor between Onehunga and the Airport. There are currently no public details on any of the following factors:

  • How much would the light rail rolling stock cost, what would the capacity be and where would the rolling stock be housed?
  • How much slower would light rail be, compared to a heavy rail solution?
  • How much cheaper could a light rail route be, bearing in mind that Sydney’s light rail is now likely to cost $2.2bn – about the same per kilometre as heavy rail between Onehunga and the airport?

So many questions. So few answers.

Airport Motorway upgrade

The NZTA have announced that next year they will be starting construction on grade separating the intersection of SH20A and Kirkbride Rd and bringing SH20A up to full motorway standard. The project was announced last year as part of the governments Accelerated Roads Package which is seeing them pump $800 million into making bigger motorways. For those that don’t know the area well the intersection being grade separated is below. The NZTA don’t explicitly say however the intersection of SH20A with Montgomerie Rd will be closed as part of the motorwayification of the road.

Kirkbride Rd Grade Separation location

This specific project is costing $140 million and it appears the NZTA have let their most mono-modal engineers loose in the asylum to design it.

Key features of the project include the construction of a trench that will carry SH20A – the main road link to and from Auckland Airport – under Kirkbride Road, new facilities on local roads for walkers and cyclists, and the provision for future bus shoulders on the state highway.

Mr Gliddon says keeping Kirkbride Road at its present level and sending motorway traffic underneath will improve local connections and safety for people on either side of the current intersection.

“Separating the two roads means children will no longer have to cross a busy state highway to get to and from school,” he says. “The airport’s also expected to become a lot busier in the future and separating SH20A from Kirkbride will help manage that.”

The SH20A to Airport project is one of four transport programmes that are being accelerated by the Government to help manage the projected growth in population, jobs, and freight in Auckland. The others are the East West Connection on the north side of Manukau Harbour, and improvements to the Northern and Southern Corridors along State Highway 1.

Construction is due to start in 2015. To minimise disruption to people, it is timed to coincide with work to construct Watercare’s Hunua 4 pipeline across the Kirkbride Road intersection.

Mr Gliddon says that in addition to next month’s public information days, community newsletters and a project website will be used to help keep people informed of what is happening.

”We are committed to working with the community and keeping them up to date with what is going on,” Mr Gliddon says.

Kirkbride Rd Grade Separation

Here are some of the issues I have with this

  • Despite Kirkbride Rd being only a single lane to the east of the intersection it seems like the engineers plan to monstrously oversize the interchange with it being six lanes wide in a bid to cater for almost every kind of movement in it’s own lane. On top of that the very suggestion of making it easier for kids to walk to school is plan and simple BS. Every corner of the intersection has slip lanes for cars and trucks to hurtle through which is hardly the place we’d want kids crossing the road or riding their bike. On the NZTA page for the project they even try to claim that this will reconnect the currently severed community – it will do nothing of the sort.
  • The NZTA say they are designing the project so that it only has the provision for bus shoulders some time in the future. Why not at the very least build those bus shoulders at the same time.
  • Cyclists are being kicked off SH20A which is probably a good thing seeing as it’s already a very high speed road but are being dumped on to the local road network instead with no indication that those local roads will be upgraded (other than the diagram below which shows that at least one section of Kirkbride Rd (presumably between SH20A and Ascot Rd) will have both shared paths and on road cycle lanes although the on road lanes also don’t appear to be protected.

Kirkbride Rd Layout

  • One area that the NZTA suggest a lot of effort will be put is in the landscaping around the road to make it more welcoming for visitors. What’s the bet that they will probably spend more on landscaping than they do on other transport modes?
  • The big elephant in the room of course is the question around Airport rail. Auckland Transport have yet to even release a rough route despite work on the project happening as long as 3.5 years ago (I understand they do have one planned/agreed on though). If the NZTA were truly muilti-modal like they try and claim they would at the least be building the project like the Maioro St interchange which has an extra span so rail can be added later easily.

CFN - Maioro St

According to the Herald, the NZTA are predicting 140,000 vehicles a day using the road by 2041. That figure seems insanely high so to put that figure perspective there are currently about 40,000 vehicles per day using the state highway to get to/from the airport. There are also approximately another 18,000 vehicles per day on Kirkbride Rd. The only sections of state highway  that carry more than 140,000 vehicles as day is on SH1 between the Mt Wellington and Grafton and again between St Mary’s Bay and Onewa Rd. All of those sections need vast expanses of asphalt to move that number of vehicles so having 140k trips a day on a four lane motorway seems like a recipe for congestion.

Overall while I can accept some of the need for the project it ends up feeling just like it’s spending $140 million of to remove a set of traffic lights (maybe two if you include Montgomerie Rd) and not really getting much in return.

If you want to find out more about the project the NZTA is holding some open days in a few weeks.

  • Saturday 11 October: Mangere Markets, Mangere Town Centre (7am-2pm)
  • Monday 13 October: Mangere Central Community Centre, 241 Kirkbride Road (3pm-7pm)
  • Wednesday 15 October: Mangere Central Community Centre, 241 Kirkbride Road (3pm-7pm)
  • Saturday 18 October: Sudima Hotel Auckland Airport, 18 Airpark Drive, Airport Oaks (11am-3pm)

CFN and budget transport announcements

In the May budget the Government announced they would fastrack yet another $800 million of motorway projects, partially financed by a $375 million loan. These were projects that had been identified in the Prime Minister’s Auckland speech in 2013. There were 3 main projects as outlined below.



Two of these projects have major potential to impact on 2 key elements of the Congestion Free Network.

The first is the State Highway 20A upgrade, which involves extending the motorway about 2 extra kilometres towards the airport.

Airport Access Map


NZTA says the main features are:

Grade separation of SH20A and Kirkbride Rd intersection

Upgrading of SH20A to motorway standards: two lanes in each direction plus dedicated bus priority lanes

Reprioritisation of Ascot Rd / Kirkbride Rd intersection

Installation of truck priority lanes and ramp signalling

Relocation and integration of cycle lanes in local road network

Note there is no mention at all of rail to the airport, which would follow the motorway corridor from Onehunga most of the way to the airport. It is of upmost importance that a rail corridor is reserved by NZTA when they are planning and building the project. They have done this on the SH20 extensions through Mt Roskill, however there was a designation already in place so the situation is somewhat different. Auckland Transport has been investigating rapid transit along this route since 2011. Initially they said the route protection was to begin in late 2011, however 3 years later we have learned little. The latest we have is an April 2014 update which suggests that a preferred alignment will be identified in 2014. While the Airport’s Masterplan may be causing issues at the southern end of the route, work should still be moving ahead in the northern area. It is essential that NZTA and AT work together to speed up alignment identification in this area, something which has been highlighted by the Campaign for Better Transport. If the upgrade is built without an alignment for the rail corridor it will add huge extra cost to the airport rail project. For one thing all the new overbridges would have to be rebuilt, which would be a huge waste of money. Auckland Council need to send a strong message to the government that this would be unacceptable, and ensure the rail corridor is allowed for in the design.


The second project is the suite of Northern Corridor projects, which largely revolve around the State Highway 1 to State Highway 18 grade-separation and associated widening. In December 2013 NZTA claimed there were 5 main components to the Northern Corridor projects.

Northern Corridor Improvements

Component 1 is already under construction (costing $19.5 million). Component 2 seems to be the smart low-cost improvements. The announcement above seems to refer to Components 1 to 4, totally leaving out the much needed Northern Busway extension to Albany. Currently the Northern Express speeds the 15km from Britomart to Constellation Station in just over 20 minutes. However the last 4km to Albany can take 15 minutes as there is no bus priority. This busway extension is another project that NZTA and AT have been working on for years, and seems have got bogged down somehow. In 2011 NZTA were saying that the route needed to be designated soon due to the development taking place. Last year we found out a little more about the route investigations, which suggested it would cost $249 million.


planned SH1/SH18 motorway upgrade

The planned motorway interchange upgrade is quoted as costing an astonishing $450 million. For that cost the project is totally unnecessary for something that just replaces a few at grade intersections with ramps. The focus should be much more on cost-effective targeted upgrades, then we could have the busway extension to Albany and plenty of spare change. The result would be lots more people using the busway, and reduced traffic congestion along the entire Northern Motorway and CBD.

The third set of projects around the Southern Motorway don’t have any components of the Congestion Free Network linked with them. However the upgrades should be a good chance to make Great South Road better for pedestrians, cyclists and buses. The one positive of this project is this means the current expensive plans to turn Mill Road into a 4 lane highway should disappear, and be replaced by a much cheaper safety upgrade. This would be a great way to free up over $200 million to help with Auckland Transport’s stretched budget.

Airport taxis expensive

In a completely unsurprising revelation, it’s really expensive to get a taxi from the airport.

Catching a cab downtown from Auckland Airport has been labelled one of the most expensive taxi fares in the world by an international travel company.

According to a CheapFlights comparison of prices in 24 cities, New Zealand has the third most expensive per-kilometre taxi fares.

And a Herald investigation has found some Auckland taxi companies quoting price tags up to $86 for a trip — more than the price of some domestic flights — that other companies can deliver for just $35.

The report, released last month but based on data from March 2013, found the average price of travelling the 21.4km route from Auckland Airport to the city’s CBD was $77.41 — or $3.50/km.

The New Zealand price was surpassed only by fares in Berlin that were $4.06/km, and San Jose in Costa Rica that were $3.59/km.

Auckland cabs were 10 times more expensive than in the cheapest city, Buenos Aires, and twice the $1.75/km people using Australian taxis were paying.

Consumer NZ chief executive Suzanne Chetwin said the survey results confirmed anecdotes about the ever-increasing cost of Auckland’s airport journey. “[The survey] just confirms that it is very expensive to get to or from Auckland Airport and it just seems to have got dramatically more expensive over the last few years.”

The herald then goes on to do its own brief survey finding prices varying from between $35 to $86 followed by quotes from the companies involved each trying to throw dirt at each other.

The Herald did check out the cost of the Airbus though which compares extremely well at $16 compared to the taxis. What isn’t mentioned (but that’s important) is that in peak times those buses also get to use the bus lanes where  they exist which has the potential to make the journey not just cheaper but faster too.

For getting to the CBD what the Herald didn’t mention is that there’s an even cheaper option than this though. The CBD can be reached through a combination of the 380 Airporter bus and a train from Papatoetoe for a total of $7.60 if HOP is used – $3.06 for the 380 to Papatoetoe followed by $5.04 for the trip to town on the train along minus a 50c transfer discount. Oddly this option while advertised on this page, doesn’t show up as an option on AT’s journey planner (which is probably why they didn’t look at it). The big problem with the 380 Airporter service though is its frequency which is a lousy 30 minutes at peak times and hourly off peak or on weekends.

In the next few years the bus and train option is likely to become more attractive with the new network delivering higher bus frequencies between the Airport and Papatoetoe along with electric trains providing and faster and better quality trains from Papatoetoe to the CBD. Integrated fares *should* also bring down the price by removing the penalty for taking multiple trips.

Of course longer term the ultimate goal is to have rail directly to the airport which would give a quick one seat ride all the way from the heart of the CBD (via the CRL) to the airport. Once that’s in place the trip will faster than a taxi at any time of the day and considerably cheaper too (assuming it’s priced the same as normal PT and not with added terminal fees on top). Add in features like WiFi and I think even business travellers would consider using it over taxis. It would require the Airport to stop pretending it likes the idea of a rail connection though.

CFN Airport connection