City suburb’s Light Rail dream

7 December 2022
Project is about more than transport; cultural hub idea floated.

He’s lived in Māngere since 1960 and watched as the suburb has changed. But now Alf Filipaina believes the area is on the verge of something really special because of Auckland’s proposed light rail scheme.

“Māngere is ready and waiting” he says. “We are dreaming of the possibilities not only for here but other surrounding suburbs.”

A Manukau ward councillor at Auckland Council, Filipaina is speaking about the planned light rail project which, when completed, will pass through Māngere on a line stretching from the CBD to Auckland Airport and, its advocates hope, will be a transport game-changer for the city.

Yet Filipaina believes it is more than just a transport project; he is firmly of the view it will help re-shape neighbourhoods. He thinks too it holds the potential to bring to life an idea he has for the creation of a unique experience for overseas visitors arriving in Aotearoa.

Māngere is regarded as a capital of Pacific culture within Auckland and Filipaina believes light rail opens up the ability “for us to showcase our area through (developing) a Māori and Pasifika cultural hub.

“Visitors could stop here on their way from the airport into the city for a taste of what they will get in New Zealand and is a chance for us to say ‘welcome to Māngere, to Auckland and New Zealand’."

“It could be a little like the Gateway Project we had at (the old) Manukau Council in 2003. The work we did then is still relevant but we’ll need to be talking with the likes of the tourism industry and the airport and say ‘what do you think?’”

Since winning a seat on Auckland Council in 2010 (and before that as a councillor on the Manukau Council) Filipaina has been a prominent fighter for the people in many south Auckland communities.

He is excited by what a convenient, reliable and speedy light rail network will bring to the area; more quality housing, shops, services and opportunities for local businesses to flourish and create more jobs. The new shops which opened after the Manukau Bus Station began operation in 2018 is, he says, an example of the benefits a transport project can bring.

“It is critical for our community. Overseas research shows that when you have a railway that’s available and frequent, you have more businesses investing in the area,” he says. “It’s good for housing, employment and the environment, as light rail gives people options to be able to travel along the route from the city to Māngere for employment.”

It will connect two of Auckland’s major employment hubs (the CBD and airport) and Filipaina says it will help reduce congestion by getting people out of cars and off the roads. “Anything that does that has got to be better,” he says. “Without the expense of running cars it will leave more money to put food on the table.”

Filipaina says it’s also important that there are good connections between frequent bus services and light rail so people aren’t left waiting.

A recent study across more than two dozen American cities showed that rail transit benefits people in multiple ways. For example, a typical household reduces the cost of transport by approximately 20 per cent while a single line, such as the one envisioned for Auckland, has the capacity to transport over 15 times more people than a typical street.

The study, Rail Transit in America – A Comprehensive Evaluation of Benefits, was published by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute based in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. It also revealed that good rail transit systems on average lead to a reduction in traffic deaths by 36 per cent and 20 per cent fewer cars per capita.

Another study - Economic Importance of Public Transportation Investment issued by the American Public Transportation Association - revealed some families can save on average $1600 (New Zealand dollar equivalent) per year by driving less, while others who get rid of a car increase their savings to over $NZ15,000 per year.

Auckland Light Rail’s Chief Executive, Tommy Parker, says the project will help change how Auckland grows and prospers. “Neighbourhoods benefit from the investment that big, centrally funded projects can provide and which communities would not be able to afford.”

He says as part of the Western Ring route project, the Waterview tunnel, for example, helped improve public open space, stream rehabilitation, amenity improvements, a new school, walking and cycling paths. A $28m restoration of the Onehunga foreshore adjacent to State Highway 20 (which included the creation of nine new beaches), was the country’s largest recreational reclamation project.

Parker says it is predicted light rail will enable 66,000 new homes to be built by 2051 - 35,000 more than the forecasted growth without light rail - and the creation of an estimated 97,000 new jobs. The government also has plans to replace Mangere’s existing 2,700 state houses with 10,000 new homes.

“New housing developments and increased population must be supported by fast, frequent and reliable public transport,” he says. “Light rail will be the catalyst for improving neighbourhoods and is our chance to grow a modern, connected city and a better quality of life.”