How Light Rail will change lives

7 September 2022
"It messes with my family life and mostly I miss out."

These are the words of 20-year-old Moa-Herilla Salu, who every day spends up to three hours travelling on four different buses to get to and from home in Māngere to her university classes in Auckland's city centre.

"I leave before eight in the morning and don't get back until after eight at night," she says. "Every evening our family (she lives with her parents and six brothers and sisters) has a prayer meeting which is really important in my life, but usually I'm not home in time."

Salu, who is studying for a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of Auckland's city campus, says while she is prepared to make the sacrifice to further her career, it can be difficult to manage the demands on her time and to find pockets for further study.

A glaring example of the difficulties faced by many people in south Auckland who rely on public transport to get to jobs and study, her story comes as the region has renewed hope the days of putting up with an often unreliable and infrequent transport service are numbered.

The government is investing in light from the city centre to Māngere as part of its vision to build a high-capacity, linked-up rapid transit network across the city and the Māngere community is hopeful once complete it will transform the ability to get easily and quickly to places of work and study.

Under the plan, the first light rail line will run in a tunnel from Wynyard Quarter to Mt Roskill, then jump to the surface through to Onehunga, Māngere and Auckland airport. It will connect two of Auckland's major employment hubs - the city centre and the airport - and will have a stop for city universities. With trains coming every five minutes, it is expected to significantly cut travel time.

"It will make a huge difference to me and should cut my travel down to 30 minutes each way," Salu says. "I'm hoping the light rail will be more affordable too."

Her daily trip to university involves changing buses at Newmarket - both ways - and once she was forced to walk the 2km distance to the campus after missing a connection. On Fridays (and Saturdays) she works part time from 4pm in a clothing store at Manukau City, a trip which means she has to not only leave university early, but is forced to change buses three times.

"It costs me $60 a week in bus fares and sometimes I can't afford it so I've had to stay home," she says. "With all of that it is really hard to find time to put into study when I get home."

Despite this Salu is one of the lucky ones. She says she knows of other young people in the area who want to study but have no reliable or affordable ways to travel.

Māngere-Otahuhu Board chair Tauanu'u Nanai Nick Bakulich is also enthusing at the prospect of light rail: "We are rubbing our hands at the thought," he says. "Transport has been a real barrier in this area and there are examples of people who have moved away from the district because of it.

"That's a big sacrifice because people in this area are very family-focused and to move away from the family heart is a hard thing to do."

Bakulich says if the only option for families is to travel by car to work or study that too can be a barrier because they are forced to make a decision on who gets the car: "There is also the cost of petrol and parking - that's if they can even find a park in the city.

"I believe light rail will not only give people more freedom, but is likely to be a game-changer in that it will invite investment into the area particularly for places like the Māngere Town Centre which is in desperate need of an upgrade.

"We've seen overseas that investments in shopping malls and housing follows the establishment of transport hubs," he says. "We are also hopeful that once construction starts they will look to use the local workforce, take advantage of local architects and those out here with IT skills for example.

"This is all going to take time, but now it is in the pipeline we are delighted; it's going to be a big, big bonus for the area."

Auckland Light Rail believes light rail will benefit communities through stimulating investment and social and economic returns by giving people equal access to opportunities.

"In our community engagement we have heard from young people who would like to go to university in the city centre but do not have the ability to get there in a reliable and affordable way," says Tommy Parker, Auckland Light Rail Project Director. "Our modelling shows that in the morning over 3000 people will alight at the airport business area stops, and nearly 5000 people at the city universities.

"The airport precinct is a growing employment hub (Air New Zealand is moving its corporate headquarters there from the city in 2024) and is a major job centre for people living in Māngere. Getting there can take over 30 minutes in traffic; light rail will cut that journey to seven minutes."