The Public Transport Users Association says feedback shows Onehunga train users were upset by the lack of consultation when their city-bound services were cut off
A public transport advocacy group says it has received its highest ever response following the sudden truncation of Onehunga to Britomart train services.
City-bound trains from Onehunga have been terminating at Newmarket Station since the end of June to free up platforms at Britomart Station for City Rail Link-related construction.
It was a much-derided move by the Public Transport Users Association, which called it a “death plan” for public transport links to the suburb.
Now following a survey of the public, the association is reporting 86 percent of respondents opposed the service stopping in Newmarket, while 95 percent felt they had not been properly consulted by Auckland Transport or forewarned this would be a permanent change.
The association reported a range of gripes across the 209 responses, with more than a third saying the replacement service was inadequate and had made them late for work or university, while 15 percent of respondents said the change made living or working in Onehunga or Mangere Bridge difficult.
Jon Reeves, national co-ordinator for the association, said the group informed the public about the service change and the ensuing survey via social media and a public meeting.
In the week following the public meeting, hundreds of people logged on the group’s website to complain about the change, with concerns about overcharging, public safety and environmental impacts also looming large in the minds of Onehunga residents.
“Two hundred and nine responses gave us some very interesting replies to see how Auckland Transport’s poor communication, lack of consultation and now a very poor service is affecting passengers in the real world,” said Reeves.
He said the group is rallying for a return to direct-service trains, with fears that the truncation will be made permanent.
“We are challenging AT on their plans to make it a permanent cut even when the City Rail Link opens. That was never the plan for the line,” he said.
A tenth of the respondents to the survey added comment around a lack of genuine consultation, with comments alleging poor consultation, communication and management from the council-controlled organisation.
“I catch the train between Te Papapa and Britomart every day,” one respondent wrote. “The first I heard of this change was a post on Auckland Transport’s Facebook page about two weeks before it was implemented.”
Others spoke of long waits in the cold in Newmarket on evening return journeys, and said it may make public transport less attractive for people from their suburb.
“I am now taking my own car to and from the city and it makes working from home more attractive,” one person said. “It makes me and others less likely to use public transport.”
Former and now prospective councillor Mike Lee previously campaigned for the reinstatement of the Onehunga line back in 2010, and now has been calling on Auckland Transport to get the Onehunga Express back in full service.
“Given the substantial taxpayer and ratepayer investment in recent decades in upgrading our rail system and the massive spend that is going into the City Rail Link, surely the council and Auckland Transport should be extracting the maximum amount of value from our rail system,” he said. “Instead Auckland Transport bureaucrats are retrenching electric rail services to Onehunga with zero consultation and have now ended diesel train services to Pukekohe and replaced them with diesel buses.”
He said the battle here was not about bringing new rail services in for parts of town badly in need, like the quickly developing northwest – but rather about resisting the removal of hard-won services.
Speaking to the crowd gathered at Onehunga Station at its grand reopening back in 2010, Lee said there were more people in attendance than there had been at the grand opening of Britomart Station.
“Auckland Transport bosses need to connect the dots about the ultimate purpose of this huge public spend on rail and start thinking about prioritising the needs of the commuting public,” Lee said.
Train service from Onehunga was restarted after 8000 people signed a petition calling for its reinstatement – a group of people an order of magnitude larger than the amount who responded to the association’s survey.
Even then, there were those in opposition. Lee said some of the same people who opposed it back then were behind the decision to truncate the service once more.
“I note it is the very same individuals in Auckland Transport whom I well remember stubbornly resisted the recommissioning of the Onehunga branch line who are now the AT managers retrenching this service,” he said.
Previous surveys reported 60 percent of the people using the Onehunga line were using it to go all the way to Britomart, raising questions around the long-term use of the line.
It’s a fear best summarised perhaps by the lone comment on a YouTube video in which Reeves gave an update on the service to online radio host Max Whitehead:
“Tried to get a train to the CBD from Panmure today. No parking. Onehunga would have been my second option (living south-east). I ended up driving. Won’t even bother trying next time. I’m just going to drive.”