Waikato-Auckland Train service secures continuous funding


Te Huia gets continued funding due to strong regional support (Facebook Image by Te Huia Rail Service)

Praneeta Mahajan
Hamilton, May 21, 2024

The Waikato Regional Council has warmly welcomed the NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi Board’s decision to support the ongoing trial of Te Huia, the passenger rail service linking Waikato and Auckland. This move ensures continued central government funding for the next two years.

Overwhelming regional support

“We have received overwhelming support from the regional community, including through submissions to our long-term plan and the regional land transport plan, and I know our loyal passengers will join us in rejoicing over this news,” said Angela Strange, Waikato Regional Councillor and Future Proof Public Transport Subcommittee Deputy Chair.

“This decision supports the vision those before us had for a service connecting Waikato and Auckland, and the work of the amazing KiwiRail crew. It recognises that Te Huia is well on track to achieving the targets set by the NZTA and gives us the certainty we need to continue planning for interregional passenger rail connecting New Zealand’s fastest-growing city and largest city,” she said.

Ms Strange added, “We appreciate the board’s support and belief in the service. It is clear they have also listened to our passengers, who say this service is a vital link to study, employment, and social connections with family and friends; it is not a luxury for them. Just yesterday we had tamariki tell us they want Te Huia to continue because it is about their future.”

Collaborative funding model

Te Huia’s funding model includes both passenger fares and public funding, with the latter currently divided between NZTA (75.5%), Waikato Regional Council (21.2%), and Waikato District Council (3.3%). However, the subsidy will progressively decrease to 60% over the next two years, prompting the Waikato Regional Council to explore additional funding options, to be discussed in the upcoming long-term plan deliberations starting on Monday, May 24, 2024.

A two-year review of Te Huia reveals the service has met or is close to meeting all targets set by NZTA. The interim performance assessment, covering January 2022 to December 2023, was discussed at this week’s Future Proof Public Transport Subcommittee and later at an NZTA Board meeting.

The report highlighted strong patronage growth, with daily average demand targets of 250 passengers on weekdays and 100 on Saturdays being consistently exceeded. Furthermore, the farebox recovery rate is near the 15% target, outperforming the national average of 11%, and Te Huia boasts a 25% lower subsidy per passenger kilometre compared to the Auckland metro network.

Consistent journey times

The assessment also showed rail providing more consistent journey times than road travel between Waikato and Auckland, reducing car trips and achieving a net emissions reduction effect on 80% of trips per month once passenger numbers reach 55.

Ms Strange praised the dedication of KiwiRail staff, noting, “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.”

Reduction of subsidy

While NZTA Waka Kotahi’s decision on May 17, 2024, to maintain but reduce the subsidy for Te Huia has been met with mixed emotions, the Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) and Campaign for Better Transport suggest exploring additional funding sources to support Waikato Regional Council.

PTUA Chair Niall Robertson advocates for Auckland Transport to contribute, given that 22% of Te Huia’s passengers are Auckland residents. He also proposes building a temporary station at Pokeno to increase farebox recovery.

Jon Reeves, PTUA National Coordinator, supports the idea, noting that temporary stations were effectively used during Auckland’s network rebuild. At public meetings, there was a consensus among super annuitants willing to pay more for the service, acknowledging its value for enhancing family connections.

Mr Robertson emphasised the broader benefits of rail, stating, “The benefits of rail seldom show up on any balance sheet, but are vitally important on the wider balance sheet of national costs and benefits. Rail lowers road deaths and injuries, greenhouse gas emissions, pollution from tyres and brakes, congestion, and even road maintenance bills as well as bringing equity to transport. This is why this service should be enabled to develop. Its future potential is significant and the benefits are wide-ranging.”

Learn more about Te Huia experience by clicking on the link.

Praneeta Mahajan is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Hamilton.

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