Onehunga Line Feedback

Onehunga Line – Campaign for Better Transport feedback

In 2006 the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) campaigned hard to reopen the dormant branch railway line between Onehunga and Penrose once again to passenger services. Our 8,000 strong petition and support from the Auckland Regional Council saw the Government finally give the green light for funding on the 13 March 2007.

The CBT considers that there are a number of important steps that need to be taken to ensure that the Onehunga Line is a success. These are outlined below, and detailed individually throughout this feedback:1. Services must terminate at Britomart, not Newmarket.
2. Half-hourly frequencies off-peak and at weekends are essential.
3. ARTA to work with Dress-Smart Onehunga and the Onehunga Business Association to encourage shoppers to use the train.
4. One month free travel trial period.
5. Re-routing buses to feed into the train station for people travelling from Mangere area into the city.

Services must terminate at Britomart:

When the reopening of the Onehunga Branch Line was being planned and investigated, it was always assumed that the service would operate between Onehunga and Britomart. However, earlier this year a New Zealand Herald article suggested that it was being considered to only run the service as far as Newmarket, and for Britomart-bound passengers to have to change trains at Newmarket.

The CBT considers that this would be a very unwise move. When Britomart station first opened some train continued to terminate at what became “The Strand” station. These services were not popular at all and soon ceased to exist. There is an expectation in Auckland that all services should operate to and from Britomart. Due to the lack of integrated ticketing and poor frequencies, there is a strong negative perception of having to transfer.

If the Onehunga Branch Line is to be a success, it is considered essential that it operates between Britomart and Onehunga, not between Newmarket and Onehunga. If there are issues relating to the capacity of Britomart station, then all the more reason to push for the completion of the CBD Rail Tunnel – not undermine the effectiveness of a rail service and consign it to being a failure before it has even started.

Half-hourly frequencies off-peak and at weekends

While one of the main benefits of the Onehunga Line will be for those commuting to the city at peak hour, the CBT also considers that off-peak travel during the week, and on weekends, could also drive a lot of patronage on the line. Off-peak patronage of public transport has increased considerably in recent months, with the introduction of the “Super-Gold Card” and higher petrol prices making people consider public transport for trips like shopping. The line links together a very popular shopping mall (Dress-Smart Onehunga) with the regionally significant shopping areas of Newmarket and the city centre.

To encourage people to use the service during off-peak hours, the CBT considers that a minimum service frequency of one train every 30 minutes is essential. The Eastern Line now operates at half-hour frequencies on the weekend, and is very popular with shoppers visiting Sylvia Park. This same success story could be repeated on the Onehunga Line – but only if sufficient frequencies are provided. Hourly frequencies are just too risky for people (if they miss a train it’s a huge wait for the next one) taking journeys other than commuting to and from work.

It should be possible to operate half-hourly frequencies with only two single ADL trains – as the time from Onehunga to Britomart is less than half an hour.

ARTA to work with Dress-Smart Onehunga:

The success of Sylvia Park station has shown that people are very willing to use the train when going shopping. The Onehunga train station will be conveniently located to Dress-Smart Onehunga, a very busy shopping centre. Dress-Smart suffers from a lack of parking, which discourages shoppers and also has meant Dress-Smart needed to lease some space from the nearby church for additional parking. The provision of extra parking for Dress-Smart is likely to be difficult, if not impossible, due to the constrained site it operates on. Dress-Smart currently operates a shuttle-bus between the CBD and the mall during weekdays, partly in response to this shortage of parking spaces.

The CBT encourages ARTA to work with Dress-Smart Onehunga to look at ways in which the proximity of the Onehunga train station to the shopping centre could benefit both ARTA (through increased patronage) and Dress-Smart (through increased shoppers). Possible ways to encourage shoppers to catch the train could include excellent signage between the shopping centre and the train station (they are about a block’s walk from each other), real-time information signs inside the shopping mall letting people know when the next train is coming (which would also advertise the frequency and simplicity of catching the train to those at the mall who had driven there), special offers like free train tickets for those who spend $50 or $100 at the shopping centre (or discounts on their shopping for those who caught the train there) and joint advertising of the train link by both Dress-Smart and ARTA.

One month free travel trial period:

Public transport patronage trends in Auckland over the past year have clearly shown that while high petrol prices in winter last year got people out of their cars and onto public transport, as petrol prices have lowered again those increases in patronage levels have not disappeared. In other words, once people tried out public transport they seemed to like it and have stuck with it.

This lesson could be applied to Onehunga by strongly encouraging people to catch the new train service when it first starts – to change the behaviour of those who currently drive to work in their cars. One effective way of doing this could be to offer one month’s free travel on Onehunga Line trains. This trial month would encourage people to give the line a go and change their current travel habits. It would also be a way of ensuring high patronage from day one, and a general feeling of success about the line. Even once fares were brought in after the first month, the trends of the last year show that people who have given public transport a trial are likely to stick with it – even if the cost advantages of public transport over driving are not as significant as they were.

The CBT accepts that such a move would attract a lot of people who currently catch a bus along Manukau Road. However, the train service is going to probably reduce the patronage of that bus route in any case and is based on offering a better public transport service. If patronage on Manukau Road buses permanently declines then there will be the opportunity to redirect those resources to where they are more needed.

Re-routing buses to feed into the train station

It is likely that many people who currently live in the Mangere area are likely to want to use the train service. Unless effective feeder buses are provided, it is likely that these people will drive across the Mangere Bridge and park around the Onehunga station for the day. While some level of park and ride is acceptable, and could actually be encouraged, ensuring that people have the choice of catching a feeder bus is considered very necessary. ARTA are strongly encouraged to work with NZ Bus to provide an integrated ticket that could serve the area – similar to the “Northern Pass” integrated ticket that operates on the North Shore.

Currently, all the buses that pass through Onehunga, do so on the western side of the town centre, while the train station is on the eastern side. To encourage connections between bus and train the CBT considers that it is essential for these buses to be re-routed so they pass next to the train station.

Other measures like the provision of bike-storage lockers should also be considered.


The CBT is excited to see the reopening of the Onehunga Branch Line finally happening. However, there is a concern that unless the steps outlined above are taken, the line may not prove to be as popular as is hoped for – and could be pointed to as “another public transport failure”. At a time when the promotion of public transport is coming under intense political opposition, it is considered essential for there to be strong success stories. Onehunga could be one of those, or it could be a failure. That fate largely rests on the measures outlined above.

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