COMMENT:

When Auckland AA members imagine an effective public transport system, park and ride is one of the first things that comes to mind. They see it as a practical, convenient service – one where public transport is adapting to their needs as commuters rather than requiring them to adjust behaviour to meet the needs of the system.

That's why they can't understand why so little of it is provided.

At key train and bus stations across the city, parking spaces are gone by 7am. Drivers are forced to "hide and ride" in the surrounding streets, with spill-over parking a frequent headache for local residents.

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And it's turning people off public transport. In an AA member survey last year, more than a third of respondents who drove to work said the shortage of parking at stations is one of the reasons they don't use the train or busway. In the same survey, close to 85 per cent of people said Auckland needs to invest more in park and ride.

What it all highlights is that this area of Auckland's transport system is seriously under-developed. All up, there are around 5000 parking spaces at our rail and busway stations.

Cities such as Portland (Oregon), Perth, and Brisbane have similar populations to Auckland and are often held up as examples of what Auckland should aim for. Portland has more than 10,000 park and ride spaces, Perth 17,000, and Brisbane 21,000.

Even Wellington, which has less than a third of Auckland's population, has a similar number of spaces.

That's why we've been calling on Auckland Transport to deliver 10,000 new park and ride spaces in the next decade.

AT's response? It'll be 30 years before we need that many bays. Yes, 30 years. That won't go down well with AT's customers, nor will the reasons given for not investing more.

One of those is cost. Sure, at $15-$25K per bay, park and ride doesn't come cheap. But if cost is such a barrier, why not look at charging a daily rate on at least some of the new spaces?

Our survey results suggest most people would be prepared to pay $2-$3 a day to secure a park. This wouldn't offset the full construction and operating cost, but it would bring it right down.

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AT says its money is better spent developing feeder bus services to get people between home and the station. Feeder services should carry the bulk of the load, particularly when it comes to the stations closer to town, but AT needs to get the balance right and listen to what its customers actually want.

For many people, an extra bus trip at the beginning or end of the journey will be a step too far, even when the connections become faster and more frequent. Others have no choice but to drive to the station, either because bus routes don't extend to where they live or because they need their cars before or after work for things like the school run.

Without adequate park and ride, public transport is losing this potential pool of users for good.

AT also argues park and ride has limited benefit when it comes to increasing public transport patronage, because the new parks are often swallowed up by existing bus and train users (who are currently finding other ways to get to the station).

We commissioned research on this, and what it found was that 10,000 new spaces would add 5000 or more new users to the network every day – those are people who would otherwise be driving.

As a city, we need to take every opportunity we can to remove barriers to public transport usage and build public confidence in the public transport system. Here's a situation where people are queuing up for our trains and buses, let's not stop them getting on board.

• Barney Irvine is principal adviser, infrastructure and motoring affairs, for the Automobile Association.