Matt Lowrie thinks and writes about transport in Auckland a lot. Here the Greater Auckland director describes a daily commute that takes him from West Auckland to Takapuna, and looks to the direction of travel for public transport in NZ’s biggest city.
As Auckland continues to grow and options for getting around the city without using a car continue to improve, a greater proportion of Aucklanders will choose to use those alternative options. I’m one of the most vocal advocates for improving those options in my role as a Greater Auckland director. I also practise what I preach and have possibly the most multi-modal commute in Auckland.
I live out west but work in Takapuna giving me a cross city commute that is difficult no matter which way I choose to get to work. I didn’t always work in Takapuna, but that I do is a good example of why the mantra of having more jobs close to housing doesn’t work in reality. People change jobs more frequently than they move houses and if you’re in a relationship, the chance of you and your partner both having jobs close by is reduced.
Years before I got involved with transport advocacy, my wife and I decided we wanted to have a house close to a train station so that we had options for getting around. As such, my commute starts with an eight-minute walk to my local train station, Sturges Rd on the Western Line. Interestingly, research has shown that people who use public transport tend to be healthier than those that drive and this is in large part because they tend to spend more time walking – those that cycle to work tend to be the healthiest.
These days, trains at peak times come every 10 minutes and the timetable says it’s a 49-minute trip, a bit slow but more on that later. Since the introduction of electric trains, performance and usage has improved remarkably. Auckland Transport report that over the last 12 months, 96.2% of trains have arrived at their destination within five minutes of their schedule. At one point, more than one in five trains would be late. Usage of trains has also risen strongly, doubling in four years to over 20 million trips annually and around 59% of all trips start or end at Britomart.
There are many factors that can influence the use of public transport but frequency and reliability are generally considered the two most important. They’re the secret sauce that make metro networks like the London Underground work as they become even more important when a trip involves a transfer.
Once upon a time I was able to catch a bus direct to Takapuna from Albert St but one of life’s little ironies is that as a big advocate for the City Rail Link, my commute is one of the most affected by its construction. Now, after a short walk to lower Albert St, the third stage on my journey is to get on a Northern Express bus to head north out of the city. Northern Express buses have good (for Auckland) all day frequency making that transfer easy.
Due to those CRL works, however, to get from Britomart to Takapuna by public transport now requires two buses. Having two transfers come off can be a lot more problematic. To get around this problem I remove the second bus lottery completely by leaving a bike at a busway station for the final short leg to Takapuna.
By now, some might be wondering why I bother and don’t just drive. To do that I’d be faced with the option of sitting in rush hour traffic on SH16 to the city before heading over the Harbour bridge or travelling via Upper Harbour and sitting in rush hour traffic down the North Shore. I find neither option very appealing, especially as Google tells me these options could take anywhere between 40 minutes and 1 hour 30.
While my multi-modal commute is at the upper end of this time range, it is almost all time I can use to do other things; interacting on social media, reading The Spinoff, listening to music or podcasts, watching YouTube or Netflix, or even just catching up on sleep. By passing through the city it also makes it easy to stop off along the way for a drink with friends.
I should add that I don’t always catch public transport to get to work. Once a week I also ride my bike the entire way which not only gives me a bit more exercise, but is great thinking time too.
What does the future hold?
Over the last decade, Auckland has experienced significant improvements in public transport and with the government and council’s recently announced $28 billion plan, those changes will be even more profound over the coming decade. It’s interesting to think about how this commute will change in the future.
Later this year Auckland Transport will roll out new bus networks across central Auckland (July) and on the North Shore (September). This follows similar networks in the south, east and west. Those networks will provide more frequent routes. To support this, Auckland Transport also plans to roll out a lot more bus and transit lanes which will improve reliability.
The biggest single change will be the completion of the City Rail Link (currently estimated in 2023). With it in place, my trip to the city could drop to around 35 minutes. It would also put me in the centre of the city, right next to the Takapuna buses so one transfer to a frequent bus. That could be enough to put the entire journey at less than an hour and it would be able to do that reliably. It’s an example of how the City Rail Link won’t just benefit trips to the city but make public transport trips around the region easier.
Finally, in the coming decade Auckland Transport plan to roll out a lot more improvements to safe cycling across the city. That will open up new opportunities for people to combine cycling and public transport as part of their commute.
Auckland’s future is to become a more multi-modal city.
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