Rail service management in Wellington and Auckland seem to be experiencing a bit of a role-reversal lately.
Wellington has a long history of (relatively) good public transport, starting with electrification of the regional rail line in the 1950s, and the highest bus and train mode share in the country. This has no doubt contributed to the amenity and community of the city – it’s not as congested and sprawling as Auckland.
However, this week the Dom Post has run a series focussing on the recurring problems Wellington Metro Rail has suffered with delays. Poor delivery and public relations management has seen rail patronage fall steeply in the past year, with bus patronage only slightly up.
This can’t be good for congestion, though it doesn’t necessarily translate into massively increased car trips into the city. As an example of how transport influences households location, last month one of my co-workers actually shifted into town because he was sick of the train delays. Now he walks or cycles to work. Although his rent is a bit higher, he saves heaps on transport and his quality of life is better.
On the other side of the north island, Auckland’s previously infamously poor rail service is on a roll and going from strength to strength. ARTA’s monthly business report shows that rail patronage has grown well over 10% a year for the past 5 years, reaching the highest recorded patronage with over 800,000 boardings several months this year. Punctuality of services has been improving regularly, and is anecdotally better than the local bus services.
It won’t take long for Auckland to catch up to Wellington if TranzMetro doesn’t get their act together. Since Wellington is the capital and has a civically-minded populace who demand good commuter services, they might actually get some attention from central government. Transport Minister Steven Joyce was quoted in the paper saying “commuter rail in Wellington has been through a long period of neglect and underinvestment.”
Whereas in Auckland, the Minister is less than enthusiastic about investing significantly in expanding the rail network, although it’s clearly suffered from decades of underinvestment.
For Auckland’s sake, I hope the new Auckland Transport Agency (ATA) will be as competent as ARTA have been, and perhaps even more effective at lobbying for increased central government funding!