Sunday, May 19, 2024

Two-year review finds Te Huia on track

A two-year review of the Waikato to Auckland passenger rail service, Te Huia, has found it has delivered or is close to delivering on all targets set by the NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi Board (NZTA).

The interim performance assessment completed by Waikato Regional Council, is due to be discussed at this week’s Future Proof Public Transport Subcommittee and will go to an NZTA Board meeting later in May for a decision on continuation of the five-year trial based on current rates of subsidy.

Council’s review of the service is based on the January 2022 to December 2023 period, due to Te Huia being impacted by the extended COVID-19 lockdown in Auckland in its first year of operation.

The report found that patronage growth is strong, with average demand targets of 250 passengers per weekday and 100 passengers on Saturdays being exceeded every month.

“The farebox recovery target of 15% is close to being achieved, noting the national average is 11% and Te Huia has a 25% lower subsidy per passenger kilometre than the Auckland metro network,” Council said in a statement.

“Evidence provided in the assessment shows that rail provides a more consistent journey time than the road for passengers between the two metropolitan centres. Transferring trips to rail also reduces the number of car trips in both regions.”

Based on Ministry for the Environment emissions data, once there are 55 passengers on board, Te Huia services have a net emissions reduction effect. This is now achieved on around 80% of all trips per month, Council confirmed.

“We have passionate and dedicated KiwiRail staff who’ve worked hard with us to deliver a reliable service, and that’s reflected in strong passenger growth ever since the first services rolled out of Hamilton,” said councillor and deputy chair of the subcommittee, Angela Strange.

“The service has opened up the world for people with disabilities, providing access to all the opportunities many of us take for granted. Overall, Te Huia has proven to be a crucial step forward in enabling an equitable, universally accessible and affordable transport system, the vision of the Waikato regional public transport plan,” she said.

The assessment also highlighted feedback from passengers who have successfully secured employment in Auckland without the need to relocate, and from those who have enrolled in tertiary study but been able to return home on weekends without buying a car.

Retirees have been able to use the SuperGold concession to connect with family and access social and tourism activities, the assessment found.

“The results of the assessment clearly show that Te Huia is on track to meeting its five-year targets and is a valued public transport option for hundreds of passengers. So it’s important we explore ways to keep this train running for the full five years of the trial.”

Cr Strange said patronage in 2024, after the timeframes considered by this report, had been very strong, in part due to the introduction of new services in February.

“Moving people by rail is important for economic development. With any new service, growth takes time and we are seeing that with Te Huia. Strategic, long term thinking is needed to ensure the time and money already spent building the service is not wasted,” she said.

The review noted that Te Huia had been impacted by temporary speed restrictions in place due to the Auckland metro rail network construction and renewal works in 2023. These have now moved to other parts of the network and 2024 performance has been far closer to timetable, Council says.

The report can be found at futureproof.org.nz/agendas/#publictransportsubcommittee.

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