AT Bouquets and Brickbats from the severe weather

There’s a lot that Auckland Transport do that we criticise them for and I so always like being able to give them praise when they deserve it. As such this is just a quick post to say that I thought their communication on Thursday about the impacts of the severe weather were good – at least on twitter anyway.

It started right from early in the morning with this tweet

Most people who use PT often have a choice between PT and driving and when the weather is bad the first instinct can be to revert to using the car, especially if the car is parked in an internal garage. Of course when that happens the roads get even more congested so having congestion free options – the rail network, the Northern Busway and the few roads with bus lanes on them – becomes even more essential. The great thing about the reminder above is most people can probably remember times when they’ve been on the road in those conditions and the gridlock that ensued.

I know the thought of driving crossed my wife’s mind before reminding her of what the roads would be like. A others clearly went through the same thought process and the reminder was timely in enabling them to get around the city.

 

 

And of course as expected the roads were madness, there were some horror stories out there of people taking multiple hours to drive around the city. This was especially the case in the eastern suburbs where Tamaki Dr was closed. Again on Tamaki Dr it seemed their communication was really good. This is just one of many tweets they had on the issue.

 

So for comms well done AT, you did a good job.

In saying this, it’s also worth thinking about why people changed their habits so much. One of the reasons is surely due to the lack of quality amenity at many train stations or bus stops. By that I mean the often appalling small and exposed shelters. Take my local station as an example (Sturges Rd). On both platforms there is only a single shelter with seating under it for about 10 people. That might be ok during off peak but in the mornings it’s common to see more 70 or more people waiting for the train (in the offpeak it’s not uncommon to see 30 people waiting for a train). On Thursday morning those people were all trying to cram under this single shelter and to get there they already had to dash across the open platform and access paths at either end.

Sturges Shelter

Sturges Shelter 2

Sadly most bus shelters are just as bad or in many cases probably even worse.

I realise there are a lot of competing priorities when it comes to PT funding but in my opinion providing better facilities would go a long way to improving the customer experience and would probably drive more patronage than $100 million spent on new park n ride facilities.

To end on a positive note though, my wife works in the Wynyard Quarter and until Thursday had always walked there from Britomart. She doesn’t mind if it’s raining lightly and had always ignored suggestions to catch the City Link bus as only every second one went there. However the weather on Thursday was pretty crazy and now that all City Link buses go to Wynyard it’s simplified the service and increased the frequency to the area so she gave it a go. In her words “it was a godsend”. A good example of how simplifying services and improving connections will get people using services.

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.

Otahuhu Bus Train Interchange

One of the features of the new bus network is that in return for a much greater number of frequent routes, some people will need to transfer. It’s important that we make that process as easy as possible, especially at the major interchanges – like the Panmure one that Luke posted about this morning. In South Auckland where the new network has already been consulted on – and received really positive feedback with something like 70% support – one of the biggest interchanges will be at the Otahuhu train station where there will be two frequent and numerous other bus routes.

Otauhuhu bus network

The the current situation is fairly grim with the station being hidden from the main road by walls of empty shipping containers, there’s not even really any bus stops nearby. Here are some images from Auckland Transport of the station and it’s surrounds as it is today.

Otahuhu Current

Auckland Transport are now consulting on a design for a fully interchange to make it easy to transfer between train and bus (or bus and bus). They say key design features include:

  • Integrated platform – dual bus bays (x4 buses each site)
  • Canopied bus and rail platforms – continuous coverage for passengers moving between bus and train services
  • Enclosed waiting room on bus platform
  • Concourse – linking bus and rail platforms, incorporating retail kiosk, staff facilities, gating and ticketing
  • Multiple bus / train platform access options – stairs/lifts/ramps/escalators
  • Kiss & Ride parking, taxi stand
  • Secure cycle storageOtahuhu bus train interchange
  • WiFi Hotspot facility
  • CCTV security – real time information

I really like the idea that there will be an enclosed waiting room for bus passengers. That’s something we haven’t seen be a feature in Auckland so far so a nice addition. Here are some images of the proposed upgrade.

Otahuhu proposed 1

Otahuhu proposed 2

If the final design turns out like this then I think it will be quite a neat station. I really like the wide concourse building and the close integration with buses. Certainly a much better use of the land than what is currently on the site. If this is the standard for the major interchanges – which it must be considering other major stations like New Lynn and Panmure – then I think it suggests we are heading in the right direction.

If I was to have one concern about the project though it is that it focuses only on the interchange, why not also take the opportunity to upgrade the local roads to improve walking and cycling connections for locals but that is something that can be included in the feedback.

Cycle cage trial now underway

We learned a few months ago that AT were about to trial some cycle cages at a few rail stations and if successful roll out the scheme to the rest of the rail network. Now the first cages at Papakura, Papatoetoe and also at the Birkenhead Ferry Terminal have gone into operation and if you live in the area, you can register to use them here.

New bike parking facilities have opened at two train stations and a ferry terminal.

Auckland Transport is trialling enclosed, covered bike parking at Papakura and Papatoetoe train stations and Birkenhead ferry terminal.

The parks at the train stations hold 20 bikes while the one at the Birkenhead ferry terminal can store 30 bikes. All three parks offer a choice of standing racks and hanging bike parking.

Auckland Transport’s Manager of Community Transport, Matthew Rednall, says “We want to encourage people to leave their car at home and get on their bike to connect with the train or the ferry. It’s a chance to get fit and takes another vehicle off the road.”

The bike parks are covered by CCTV cameras and, to add to security, access is by a proximity card which is issued after registering on-line.

The parks at the rail stations also have bike repair stands for small jobs like fixing punctures.

Cycle Action Auckland Chair, Barbara Cuthbert, says “Bike parking has moved into a new age with these superb facilities – they even have a bike pump as part of the installation. Secure, undercover bike parking will allow more of us to cycle to the train or ferry, and have peace of mind out bike will be ready and waiting at the end of the day.”

Access to the bike parks is on a six-monthly basis, you will be contacted before your registration runs out in time to renew or cancel it.

For more information and to register go to: http://www.aucklandtransport.govt.nz/moving-around/biking-cycleways/cycling-and-public-transport/Pages/default.aspx

Here are some pics of what they look like.

Papakura Bike Cage

Papakura Bike Cage Inside

This is a good initiative and hopefully is successful and rolled out to all train and bus stations as well as ferry terminals. Many stations have woeful options for storing bikes yet can have a heap of carparks, like my local station at Sturges Rd below where there are 170 car parks but only a few exposed hoops to tie bikes up to. It’s no surprise that they are never used.

Sturges Park n Ride

Lots of space for cars at Sturges Rd

Sturges Park n Ride 1

Not much space for bikes

First stage of Mt Albert upgrade complete

The users of the Mt Albert train station have had a long few months of disruptions as the station has been rebuilt however the worst of it is now over and entrance to Carrington Rd is open once again. It is the last station on the western line to be upgraded although the next phase will see the underpass at the western end upgraded creating a few more headaches for users. To celebrate tomorrow there is a ribbon cutting ceremony from 10am-3pm along with a few activities for the kids. Here is the press release from AT:

Stage one transforms Mt Albert Train Station

Auckland Transport has completed the first stage of transforming Mt Albert Train Station from an aging station offering a basic level of passenger convenience to a modern, attractive and safe facility with better access for mobility users and pedestrians.

Mt Albert was one of the last stations on the Western line to be improved as part of Auckland Transport’s upgrade programme.

Auckland Transport’s, Project Director – PT Capital Improvements, Nick Seymour says “In recent years, upgrading Mount Albert Station has been in the headlines, primarily to ensure the end result is one that copes with future needs incorporating the wider plans for the area. The project is being delivered in two stages. The first focused on improving the customer environment and enhancing the entry point from Carrington Road Bridge.

“The second stage will be delivered in 2014.

“Once fully complete Mount Albert will have a magnificent new station fit for years to come”, says Mr Seymour.

Upgrade work included resealing the platform’s surface, installing two new passenger shelters along with electronic information displays, passenger help points and improving lighting and CCTV security.

Mr Seymour says it is the architectural form and design which gives the station character. The glazing along the walkway and concourse wall incorporates artwork designed by Moko IA Creative House. Titled ‘Owairaka’ it was developed around the cultural significance to the iwi of Tamaki Makaurau, the location of the rail link and the transportation of people both to and from Owairaka or Mt Albert.

Albert-Eden Local Board Chair, Peter Haynes says “Mt Albert has been waiting a long time for the station to be upgraded. We finally have it and it looks fantastic. The improved customer facilities now bring Mt Albert in line with other stations. This is stage one of an exciting redevelopment of the town centre as we look forward to progressing our plans for the future.”

To mark the completion of stage one a community ribbon cutting ceremony and free family festival will be held on Saturday 6 July from 10am to 3pm.

There will be a bouncy castle, a vertical bungee, free sausage sizzle, candy floss and popcorn, clowns and face painting. The festival is organised by the Albert-Eden Local Board in partnership with the Mt Albert Business Association and Community Groups. All are welcome to attend. Rain or shine.

What: Ribbon cutting and family fun festival
When: Saturday 6 July
Where: Carpark plaza, New North Road, Mt Albert
Time: 10 to 3pm
Free, Rain or shine

This is what the station used to look like.

A few months ago I visited the station to check on progress and this is how it looked.

Mt Albert 1

And here is what the station concourse looks like now, such a magnificent improvement.

Mt Albert Station (1)

While there is still a little bit of work on Mt Albert, from memory there is only the Panmure station upgrade to finish, Takanini station to upgrade and the Parnell station to build then all stations within the electrified area will have been finished. That is a vast improvement from over what the state of the network was 10 years ago.

AT to Trial Secure Cycle Cages at Train Stations

Two weeks ago an article in my local paper caught my attention. The article was in relation to the security of bikes locked up at train stations.

As mayor Len Brown strives to convince Aucklanders to stop using cars some of Auckland’s most eco-friendly commuters are calling for more safety measures to protect bikes.

Robyn Rakich’s grandchildren Jordan and Yanya both used to cycle from New Lynn to Fruitvale Road Railway Station to get to school.

The Rakichs would chain their bikes up behind the tennis club at the train station because it was the only realistic place for them to do so.

But on May 16 they returned from school to find Jordan’s bike stolen.

The theft highlights concerns over the safety of bikes at West Auckland’s stations.

Ms Rakich says the theft was very upsetting because the BMX was a joint Christmas and birthday present and now the pair have to walk to the station instead.

“I know that there are secure bike lockers at New Lynn station but I never wanted them to cycle there, it’s far too dangerous with all the traffic.

“If all railway stations had somewhere safe to store their bikes this thing wouldn’t be happening,” she says.

I have long thought having more secure bike parking at stations would be a very good idea. Bikes complement the rail network very well by helping to extend it’s reach and of course takes up a lot less space than car parks. I’m clearly not the only one who things this way:

Every railway station in Auckland has some form of cycle parking but many are limited to just cycle stands.

Of West Auckland’s 10 railway stations only New Lynn station has a covered cycle parking facility with separate lockers for cyclists to secure helmets and bags.

But the Cycle Action Auckland group says more needs to be done to encourage public transport use.

Chairwoman Barbara Cuthbert wants to see secure undercover parking installed for all bus and train stations around the city.

“Providing proper facilities for cyclists would strengthen our whole public transport network,” she says.

Busway has shown us that security and covered parking is the biggest concern for people leaving their bikes at stations.”

But the part that caught my attention was this:

Auckland Transport Media manager Mark Hannan says they are looking to implement covered cycle cages, or parkiteers, at some stations, similar to those found in Melbourne and parts of Europe.

“The first stations to be provided with this facility will be Papakura and Papatoetoe on the southern line and construction is already under way,” Mr Hannan says.

“This trial is taken from similar schemes operating in Melbourne and on other rail corridors overseas. Improvements in cycle parking on western rail stations is something we are looking at investing in.”

Auckland Transport says it is also working to improve access to railway stations.

This includes the Whau Greenways Network Plan involving safer links to stations.

This is excellent news and cycle cages are exactly what I thought would be ideal at stations so I got in touch with AT for some more details. Construction at Papakura and Papatoetoe starts this week while at Onehunga the existing cycle racks will receive a cover over them. The cages have been designed and manufactured in New Zealand and have the capacity for 20 bikes. They will be locked for security, only accessible with a card. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear that the card used to access the cages will be a HOP card but I’m sure AT will clarify what is required when they are ready to be used. If the trials are successful then the cages are likely to be rolled out to other stations and hopefully then they can be integrated with the HOP system to make them easy to use for everyone. And here is what they look like:

Cycle cages

As I said earlier, this is excellent and the type of Park n Ride I would much rather see (compared to massive Park n Rides for cars). I really hope it will be a success and will definitely be keeping an eye on them.

Southern Line Station Performance

Hidden in the business case for electrification to Pukekohe is some patronage data for the group of Southern, Eastern and Onehunga line stations. The data is for both the number of people boarding and alighting services at stations and my understanding is based on manual passenger counts done in May each year. I am unsure about is if both the Britomart and Newmarket figures include Western line passengers.

There are a couple of stations that really perform poorly, Mangere was only ever used by a handful of services and passengers could only alight but that has already ceased. Te Mahia has hardly changed in almost a decade and isn’t listed in the RPTP suggesting it could be set to close.  Others that seem to remain consistently low are Westfield and Remuera although at least with the later we probably need more data to see the impact of the station upgrade which happened after these counts were done. One thing that is noticeable is the impact that station upgrades have e.g. Glen Innes was upgraded in 2006 and saw a 32% increase, Panmure was moved with a new station in early 2007 with a 75% increase and Papatoetoe was upgraded in 2006 and saw a 72% increase.

AT can we please have this for the Western Line. Also surely some 2012 data must be floating around as the counts were done almost seven months ago so that would be nice to see too.

Ellerslie Station Upgrade – April Update

While out on my trip to Manukau yesterday I stopped off at Ellerslie to see how things were going with the station upgrade. A brief history for those that haven’t followed what is happening, The NZTA are paying for the station upgrade as they have narrowed the platform by 2m which is enough to allow them to build an extra northbound motorway lane. I last visited in Feb and while it is still a construction zone, things look really close to being finished.

I do like the covered bridge and stairs and wish we could get that at other stations. It would also be nice if it could be extended along the platform so that there isn’t gaps in the shelter. The image below gives a great example of how much room has now been created by moving the platform to allow the extra motorway lane. As I have said before, I really do hope that we can get a nice noise barrier installed. I used to use the station daily and never thought about it but in the last two times I have visited I have really noticed just how loud things are with traffic passing by. It makes listening to things like music while waiting for the train much harder and a less pleasant experience.

The lifts look really nice and stand out well

And here is the entrance from Kalmia St including the other lift

 

Ellerslie Station Upgrade – Feb Update

One of the potentially most controversial upgrades happening on our rail network at the moment is happening at Ellerslie. The NZTA have narrowed down the platform by about 2m to give them enough room to build another northbound motorway lane in the future . To help mitigate the impacts of this they are also making some upgrades to the station, this includes adding an additional shelter and replacing the ramp from the pedestrian bridge with lifts and stairs (although it is dubious as to whether this constitutes an upgrade) . Here is an image of what it is the lifts and stairs are meant to look like when everything is finished.

Today I stopped by to see how things were progressing. I did feel that the narrowed platform was just wide enough but the one thing I really think that this station needs is a transparent barrier to block off the noise of the motorway from those waiting for trains. It is probably the most visible station on the Auckland network for drivers so showing that passengers needs are looked after is quite important and would probably help in encouraging more people to catch trains.

Stairs leading down to the station, lift in the background

Lift down to Kalmia St

The yet to be completed new shelter

New shelter from the platform

Current shelter with the new one in the background (just to prove that there are now two shelters)

Big push to complete station upgrades before electrification

There was some great news to come out of yesterday’s Auckland Transport board meeting (though it’s a pity they haven’t bothered to include any detail of what was discussed at the meeting on their website yet ). That news is that the board has agreed in principle to complete an upgrade of all existing train stations in the Auckland region by the time electrification is up and running – which now seems like it might be early 2014.

Here’s part of a media release from Auckland Transport:

Auckland Transport has supported in principle the fast tracking of rail stations upgrade to ensure they are all complete when electric trains are introduced.

The Auckland Transport board will be discussing funding implications at a future meeting before confirming the upgrade programme.

One of the first major upgrades would be Mt Albert Station, which would be complete by April 2012. Fifteen stations across the rail network would be upgraded in a $38.9 million project over three years.

The first full station upgrades to be completed would be at Remuera and Penrose stations both due for completion by the last quarter of 2011 closely followed by Green Lane in the first quarter of 2012…

… Auckland Transport Chief Executive David Warburton says as each upgraded station opens the demand for higher quality stations at other sites increases.

“The original rail station upgrade programme outlined four station redevelopments to be complete by 2014. But it is clear that we need to upgrade all the remaining stations within the future electrified network area prior to completion of the electrification programme.

“It is also important to have high quality stations across the network in preparation for arrival of new electric trains, which will be delivered in 2013.

“Full station upgrades will include refurbished platforms, new shelters, CCTV, lighting and PA systems, help points, and new signage. Some stations which have already been upgraded will also have some work carried out for electrification or to provide CCTV and lighting.

“Providing high quality stations with good security is key to encouraging more people onto public transport,” Mr Warburton says.

This is certainly fantastic news – and I would suggest that there’s plenty of money available for such an upgrade to occur, with Auckland Council spending around $300 million on new roads a year it wouldn’t take much change in that funding package to complete this station upgrade work.

Another thing that’s mentioned in the media release is that a new Parnell station is to be included at some stage. Arguments around the best location for the Parnell station have been well-made previously, but one thing that worries me about the station in general (no matter where it’s put) is what impact it might have on rail operations.

What I mean by this is that prior to completing the CBD Rail Tunnel there will be an enormous burden on the Newmarket to Britomart section of railway track: carrying up to 14 trains per hour in each direction and sitting between two fairly complex track junctions (Newmarket and Quay Park). While I’m hopeful the details could be worked out to ensure placing a station along this sensitive bit of track won’t impact reliability and service provision levels, I think this is something that probably needs to be looked into in quite some detail. While Parnell Station would certainly provide significant benefits – particularly if it can also serve as a university station – if it comes at the cost of a reliable rail system or at the cost of rail capacity into Britomart, then it might be smarter to wait until the CBD Tunnel is completed.

That’s a bit of an aside in any respect. The overall announcement is very good and I’m particularly looking forward to seeing upgrades to critical stations like Mt Albert and Otahuhu that have been horrifically neglected in recent years.