Auckland Light Rail: Critics miss ‘key elements’ of project, says transport planner

A transport planning expert said critics of Auckland Light Rail (ALR) missed key points of the project.

Shane Martin is a senior economist at transport consultancy MRCagney. He said the first thing overlooked by opponents of the project was that transport projects like the ALR co-exist inside a web of other transport options – like roads, bus lanes and tracks. cycle paths – and should therefore be considered as a whole.

Second, “significant misunderstandings” came from a narrow view of the problem the ALR project was trying to solve, he said.

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“Such complex projects usually serve multiple purposes that help improve transportation in the city.”

In January, the government pledged to build a largely underground system, stretching from the heart of Auckland to Māngere and the airport. This decision was met with skepticism from politicians and urban planners.

Critics were quick to point to ALR’s growing costs, which are expected to be more than $14.6 billion, with construction expected to begin in 2023 and take around eight years.

One such critic was National Party transport spokesman Simeon Brow, who said the government’s light rail project did not seek to meet the “holistic needs” of Auckland’s transport network.

“[The] The project also suffers from an identity crisis, with a lack of understanding about whether it’s trying to solve a housing problem or a transportation problem,” Brown said.

Shane Martin says critics of Auckland's light rail miss important factors.

MRCagney/Supplied

Shane Martin says critics of Auckland’s light rail miss important factors.

Martin said projects like the ALR are not just about displacing people.

“Nobody calls State Highway 1 a failure because hardly anyone uses it to get from Cape Reinga to Bluff.”

Likewise, the light rail shouldn’t be called a failure if people don’t use it to get from the airport to downtown, he said.

“While some people may use it for this purpose, the rail line is really about providing reliable public transport access to two of the city’s biggest employment hubs, the airport and downtown. “

The city’s congestion problems were not the problem, but rather a “symptom of the problem”.

“People often think congestion is the thing that needs to be fixed. But the congestion is just proof that people don’t – or can’t – live close to where they work.

In Auckland, the only practical way to get around was often by car and without good public transport and active transport options congestion would never be resolved, he said.

In response to Martin, Browne said that while the ALR business case considered the benefits of the additional accommodations it might enable, it did not consider the cost of the enabling infrastructure to enable those accommodations.

Tunnel light rail has been touted as the preferred option for rapid transit to Auckland Airport.

Auckland Light Rail / Supplied

Tunnel light rail has been touted as the preferred option for rapid transit to Auckland Airport.

“The government should be upfront about what those costs might be because that probably means several billions are added to the price tag.”

Allowing others to use public transport or active modes was also good for drivers, he said.

“When I take the train, all the conductors – and one of them could be you – take advantage of the fact that I am not on the road.”

Modern transport infrastructure projects often had many “vital objectives”, some of which may not be well publicized or appreciated by the most vocal critics, he said.

“Gone are the days when transport was seen as the exclusive domain of the private automobile, a subject completely disconnected from land use.

Jose P. Rogers