Business, Workers, and Tourists With Bulky Bags Do Not Mix Well on a Bus: The Pitch for Light Rail on the Southern Airport Line

I understand Twyford’s reasons for Bus Rapid Transit to the Airport but it does not make for a pleasant advertisement for users


In the weekend Transport Minister Phil Twyford was busy Tweeting and dropped a couple of informal announcements on the table. They were:


So Regional Rapid Rail, and the Southern Airport Line are both a go as far as the Minister is concerned (Regional Rapid Rail and The Southern Airport Line a (virtual) GO!).

As a brief recap:

Regional Rapid Rail is inter city rail between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga with further destinations opened up later on. The idea being rather than driving or flying between these major urban Centres you can catch a diesel/electric hybrid passenger train whether you are on business, an international tourist, a domestic tourist or off visiting family in the upper North Island.

The Southern Airport Line or Botany to Airport via Manukau and Puhinui Rapid Transit is either a Bus and/or Light Rail line that connects the Airport up to:

  • The Southern or Eastern Lines (at Puhinui Station) to allow you to continue to Papakura, Pukekohe, Britomart or any other station on Auckland’s heavy rail network
  • Manukau Station and transfer to a commuter bus that feeds or runs through the bus station next door
  • Regional Rapid Rail (at Puhinui Station) for either an express trip to Britomart or one of the RRR Lines heading south to Hamilton, Tauranga or Rotorua


Naturally doing Regional Rapid Rail and the Southern Airport Line together just makes sense!



Using the Southern Airport Line

However, upon reading the good news from the Minister of Transport Phil Twyford I did see that he plans for the Southern Airport Line to be Bus Rapid Transit (think Northern Busway) not Light Rail as the Northern Airport Line (Airport to City Centre via Dominion Road) would be.

This has again prompted concerns that we are under-cooking transit infrastructure again in Southern Auckland but this time with inter-regional consequences.

My Tweet thread below goes into why the Southern Airport Line should be Light Rail not Rapid Bus:


In essence: 

  • Mixing business passenger, families, airport passengers with bulky baggage, and airport workers on a 50 seater bus (with luggage cages) is going to be a very uncomfortable ride and one that has very long dwell times at stops as everyone gets on at the single front door, waits for the people to place their bulky bags (if the cage is not full already), and probably get held up by those needing to exit out the single back door (but need to get their bags first). Simply put not efficient even if double door loading is done as you still need passengers to alight first.
  • A 4-car tram can easily be fitted out to allow:
    • Middle two cars having the luggage racks for passengers with luggage
    • End cars for passengers without bulky baggage. Of course all four cars are super low floors for wheel chair or scooter access
    • All cars have double doors like our heavy rail units for quick boarding and exiting
  • A 4 car set can be joined up to create a double 8-car consist much like our heavy rail 6-car sets for when passenger loadings are high
  • A 4 car set even with luggage racks should be able to move 400 passengers, 800 if in double consist mode
  • Dwell times are kept very short due to mix of passenger types not being tangled up nor having to enter and exit via single narrow doors as they would on a bus
  • All about the first and last experience in Auckland. You do not want that ruined by inherent problems that will be found with busses
  • Remember your heaviest patronage station where time is a premium is Puhinui Station. Light Rail gives best and more efficient loading profiles


North West Light Rail or even the Southern Airport Line
Source: The Spinoff


Given the Southern Airport Line has an inter-regional catchment (the entire upper North Island whenever they want to go to the Airport or those from the City wanting an express route to the Airport) and that catchment is fast growing in terms of population and employment complexes I wonder if bus is really the right way to go about for the Line (the answer is no).


Planned roll out:

  1. Now: bus lanes from Airport to Puhinui Station. 380 rerouted to service Manukau, Puhinui, Airport only with other commuter busses taking up the Papatoetoe, Mangere and Onehunga section of the current route
  2. Next: SH20B is being widened so Light Rail from Airport to Puhinui Station is built (along with Puhinui being upgraded to become the interchange). LRT tracks continue down Puhinui Road and Lambie Drive to Manukau Station forming an interchange there. At the same time the 35 bus from Botany to Manukau runs every 10 minutes off peak and five minutes in the peak
  3. Within 10 years: LRT extends from Manukau to Botany linking up with the Eastern Busway (Botany to Panmure) forming an interchange at Botany
  4. The depot for LRT is built at the Puhinui Gateway alongside SH20B. The area is currently blank land zoned Light Industry


Light Rail to Airport and Manukau
Source: Auckland Transport and NZTA



One thought on “Business, Workers, and Tourists With Bulky Bags Do Not Mix Well on a Bus: The Pitch for Light Rail on the Southern Airport Line

  1. We need to do the Southern Airport route once and do it right. Look at the Northern Busway, that should have been light rail from the start but, understandably, at the time it was difficult enough just to get it as a bus way. At least they did build it capable to be converted to Light Rail.
    We now know that the Southern Airport connection will need to be Light Rail in the future, so we should save (future) money and build it as light rail from the start, and the sooner the better.

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