Closures to Auckland’s rail network have proved a challenge for students travelling to and from campus. With the University of Auckland due to start predominantly online learning, Craccum investigated how the closures affected summer school students and may continue to affect students in semester one.
Over the summer, Auckland Transport undertook a higher number of rail line closures and replaced the missing trains with rail buses. The timing of the closures aligned with school and university breaks, and the holiday period, where it was expected that fewer people would need access to public transport. However, this summer it seems AT were unprepared for the amount of Summer School students and work returnees there would be on the buses.
AT sent out a notification in January on their mobile app stating, “there’s a few more of you then we expected,” and gave a timetable with additional railbuses. They later followed up with another notification with a different timetable, as the one they had initially sent out was incorrect.
On AT’s website it lists the reasons for rail closures as being a combination of maintenance work, a shutdown of overhead power supplies for trains, and equipment movement across the lines. It further states “we try to do most work at night.” AT does provide their Journey Planner service on their website and through the AT Mobile App, which gives regular updates and up-to-date information about network closures and alternative routes.
For Summer School students, rail line closures during January were implemented some weeks from Monday–Friday, making it impossible for some people to get to class. Students also showed concern over the amount of people being moved onto the buses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bus users reported to multiple media outlets that there was little to no social distancing when travelling, and an increase in the number of users.
The reoccurring closures have also proved an issue to students with physical disabilities. The University does provide disability resources, but for those with invisible disabilities these resources may not be enough to help them with transportation. Sam, a University of Auckland student, said that constant closures to the system make it hard for disabled students to manage transportation, as “everyone’s a stranger on the bus. They can’t see I’m in pain, they’re not just going to give up their seats for some random student.”
This March, the Eastern and Southern train lines will be closed for three out of the four weekends of the month, with the Western and Onehunga train lines closing for two halves of the weekends. For students who only have time to work or socialise on weekends, this presents a logistical challenge, as well as a mental one, as the inaccessibility to other activities may harm a student’s study-life balance.
Students aren’t the only ones who are angry at AT. A quick search on Google Reviews shows the public’s perspective on AT, with a raving total star rating of 1.5/5 from 224 reviews since 2016. Just like Tyra Banks on America’s Top Model, two months ago, one reviewer said they “Would give zero stars but unfortunately there is no option.”
The first-ever Google Review given for the service six years ago tells a different story, stating “really good service” and giving a full 5/5 stars. Perhaps once AT finishes work on the rail lines, this will aid future students in their travels. But amidst constant maintenance, students are left uncertain if they’ll ever be able to trust AT.