This is a guest post from reader Isabella
I’ve been with Wellington for a while. We’ve had our ups and downs, but it’s over 30 years together. Notwithstanding some flings with other cities, I’ve been faithful to you. But I can’t pretend I’ve not yearned for a few things you don’t have (like decent PT, some real bike infrastructure), and some things you’ll never have (better weather, lots of little tree-lined beaches).
But after that night, Wellington….
Wellington, I’ve fallen for you again – better and more than ever!
That night… I went on a progressive dinner party, traversing the city by hired e-bike between Wellington on a Plate restaurants and bars.
À La Carless – the progressive dinner by e-bike – took 14 of us from Switched On Bikes on the waterfront, to entrées at Nam-D’s fairy-lit “hawker stall” on Tory St, up to mains, wine and desserts at Salty Pidgin in Brooklyn, back to sea level and Charley Noble on Post Office Square for cocktails. It was cold, drizzly, and a light southerly; from start to finish, we progressive diners had the time of our lives.
The Wellingtonista has a great full-spectrum review, but here’s what made one woman glow on her date with Wellington
The “progressive” part of “progressive dinner”
Oh, those hills. They’re so… Wellington.
Without them (and the Town Belt) we’d not have our compact CBD, so… thankyou hills. But dammit, getting up them on foot or on a bike is just hard – especially dressed for dinner, and drinking some nice wines. And especially if it’s windy.
So it’s bus (timetable, ugh), or taxi / Uber (expense, carbon, ugh), or make a few people sober-drive everyone else (carbon, parking, feeling obliged – triple ugh).
But the progressive diners of À La Carless could have our progressive cake and eat it all. Our progressive progress around the city was on e-bikes. And it was a complete revelation.
E-bike serenely contemplating a Wellington hilltop view. No sweat. (Photo: Wellingtonnz.com)
From cruising at jogging pace along the waterfront, bells dinging cheerily and passers-by waving, we progressive diners hit the road. Keeping up easily with the traffic through town, we headed up to Salty Pidgin in Brooklyn. Brooklyn Road, known as a never-ending gut-buster for all but the Fittest Cyclists, was a total breeze.
We zoomed up at a comfortable 20km, this diner cackling with delight as we passed walkers and Proper Cyclists slogging their way up, and as steamed-up buses and cars passed us.
Dear Wellington, after 20 years of getting around in you, and stifling my groans at your hills… now I can wholeheartedly say I love your contours.
All it takes is an e-bike and a destination.
Brooklyn Road – on an e-bike, it’s e-asy (see what I did there?). Photo: Google Maps
Wining and dining and riding, oh my!
The e-bike made a true progressive dinner possible. We spent at most ten minutes door to door between restaurants or bars, and parked right outside every one. Our courteous-parking challenge was more than your average, because of our large posse of steeds, yet it felt easy and seamless finding a park anywhere.
On bowling up at each restaurant we were welcomed and our dish and drink selections arrived with perfect timing, thanks to seamless organisation by Frocks On Bikes.
And credit goes to Frocks’ ride-leading. Light-handed, informative and reassuring, the Frocks women enabled even the most nervous and unaccustomed riders to feel comfortable and enjoy the “progressions” between eateries. Even the most nervous were exclaiming “I had no idea Wellington could be so easy to ride around!”
Some progressive diners getting ready for the road – and dinner
You surprised me, you charmed me
The evening’s destinations were kept secret until we were ready to hit the road, but several of us were extra startled to hear we’d be heading back down to the city and Charley Noble via Central Park. Central Park is in the middle of town but feels like a wilderness – steep, densely bushed, and somewhere you avoid at night (especially if you’re female).
L: Central Park by day (Photo: Tripadvisor). R: Central Park’s nocturnal wildlife (well, maybe). (Photo: hillsofafrica.com)
But with a bike gang of dining buddies, it was just exciting! “Ooo this is such an adventure!” people said as we rolled through the dark trees, with ruru calling our passing and headlamps illuminating the tree-trunks and ferns. The cherry on our dining adventure cake was a stop-off in the middle of the Park – for a zoom on the flying fox. Every progressive dinner should have such an interlude!
Wellingtonians, it seems, can wear all manner of outfits (high heels, dresses, capes, trench-coats) on bikes and on flying-foxes with equal aplomb. (Though despite our narrow streets and traffic there was only screaming in Central Park; flying foxes are a tad more thrilling than riding a bike).
I lived within walking distance of Central Park for years, and never realised how great it’s become. Wellington, I love how you surprise me!
Now, for a threesome…
My partner said “Hell no I’m not A Cyclist” and turned down the offer of a ticket to A La Carless. He’s now regretting it, but he needn’t fear.
The next free weekend we have, I’m hiring us some Switched On Bikes and doing a progressive dining date with Wellington!
This is a guest post from Wellington contributor Andy C who has previously written about the capital’s laneways and missing bus lanes
Friday 27 May sees the final scheduled running of Wellington’s Hungarian-built Ganz-Mavag trains. They entered service in 1982/83 but have been progressively replaced by the Matangi trains over the past few years.
According to the Greater Wellington Regional Council:
There will be a short ceremony and opportunity to see inside the driver’s cab before everyone boards the train which will be a scheduled passenger service. The train will leave Wellington at 2.17pm, arriving at Melling Station at 2.35pm. You can then catch the return service to Wellington at 2.39pm, arriving just before 3pm
Ganz-Mavag in action – photo credit A Wickens
In the past couple of years the Ganz-Mavag have pretty much only been used for peak-hour services, but it’s still great to see Wellington move to having a single fleet of Matangi trains for the metropolitan network.
New Matangi waiting for action
I understand that with 83 units in the fleet there will now be enough in place to add additional carriages to some peak-time services. Given reports in recent months, my guess is that these will be on the Kapiti line where people have been complaining about overcrowding all year. Having a single fleet will also make maintenance simpler and hopefully with all units only being a few years old (the first Matangi entered service in 2011) we should see fewer breakdowns.
The move to a single fleet is actually quite good timing for Transdev as they are taking over the running of the network from July 1 and are promising to improve service levels.
This is a guest post from Wellington contributor Andy C who has previously written about the capital’s laneways.
Last year I wrote a post about Wellington’s so called Bus Rapid Transport system. In the comments a reader wrote how they would like to see more bus lanes in Wellington and gave some suggestions. So this post looks at one of those suggestions in a little more detail.
As some may know, the Wellington City Council has just finished consultation on improving the shared cycle path along the Old Hutt Road – a 3km long stretch of road. They are also asking about introducing peak hour T2 lanes there.
That consultation covers the area in the red circle below and calls for a wider shared cycle and walking path on the right hand side of the road. It also asks about introducing T2 lanes during peak hours.
According to their consultation documents this is one of the most used cycle paths in Wellington (around 400 southbound cyclists hour at peak compared with around 2,000 southbound vehicles with 2,500 people in them an hour at peak). And at peak time it has 40 – 45 buses an hour run along it. To give you an idea of how congested it can get, the northbound bus time for this 3km stretch ranges from a fast 5 minutes, to a very slow 26 minutes.
According to the consultation documents; ‘buses carry a comparable number of people as motor vehicles along the corridor even though the number of buses is a very small fraction of the number of motor vehicles.’
Based on that, I personally submitted on making the proposed T2 lanes full time bus lanes for two hours at peak. Firstly because they are already moving almost as many people as the cars, and secondly because adding bus priority in this way should act as an incentive to get more people out of cars and into the congestion-free options.
Sadly the Council documents say the current level of vehicle traffic is too much for only one lane. I find this odd given that we are about to get a whole new northbound traffic lane on the urban motorway that exactly replicates this stretch of road. But it seems we will keep adding traffic lanes and not bus priority down here as part of the Wellington way…
Anyway, having taken the bus this way quite a bit lately I’ve actually come to the conclusion that the easiest way of improving bus times along the road is not necessarily what they are consulting on, but is the stretch circled in yellow on my map – Thorndon Quay.
The photo below was taken at 5.30pm on a Thursday evening recently, and as you can see, with only one lane for traffic things can get pretty congested. In fact, some evenings I can walk faster than the traffic along here, and when I cycle there is no comparison at all.
As you can see, there are a huge number of empty angle parks along the street. I estimate that the street ranges between 20 and 30m wide along its whole stretch. So to put it simply: if people are not using the car parks at peak time then surely we can use this road space for another use that will help all commuters – peak hour bus lanes.
From the railway station to the overbridge from Aotea Quay is 1.8km. Imagine peak hour bus lanes the full length of that road (with the exception of the intersection with Tinakori Rd where buses would probably have to merge with traffic for 30m or so). And then see what it does to patronage and timeliness.
Now I’m not traffic engineer, but when you have huge unused road space as we do here, and buses struck in general traffic, then the solution seems pretty simple. So come on Wellington City Council – take the plunge and run a three month trial and measure the time savings. I bet you’ll be surprised by how much this will improve bus times.
So what do you think? Is this a realistic plan? And where else you think we can easily introduce more bus lanes in Wellington?
Addendum: The morning after I wrote this, the local paper ran a front page piece using some fairly emotive language, claiming that Wellington’s next big cycleway fight is brewing on Hutt Rd, and it’s already drawing comparisons to the Island Bay saga. I found myself struggling to take the article too seriously when one of the people quoted was worried about it [the road] becoming congested once it was reduced to a single lane (fact: the road is remaining the same size with four traffic lanes) and another wanted a path on the along the edge of Wellington Harbour instead (fact: the Council have already explained this option will be six-times more expensive and will not easily connect to the other paths around here). So if that is the nature of the debate on a road where almost no one lives, then maybe my bus lane suggestion won’t be welcomed by many…
Editorial note: Since sending this to me a few days ago a review of Wellington’s cycleways has now been announced. Seriously Wellington, sort your priorities out. If Auckland can implement cycleways and bus lanes then you’ve got no excuse.
This is a guest post from reader Andy C in Wellington.
Over the past year, the Wellington City Council has started to get serious about brightening up some of our inner-city laneways. According to the Council, they have identified a total of 72 lanes and arcades in the centre of Wellington that could be improved. The plan is now to connect as many of them as possible into “a funky pedestrian network”.
The catalyst for this seems to have been the decision to turn Bond St (which leads onto Willis St, one of the busiest streets for buses in town) from a little through street into a dead end. As a test case it has been a resounding success, with the street itself being painted with bring red polka dots, and a shipping container being used to house an assortment of outdoor furniture and planter boxes that get laid out each day. And from what I have seen, it seems to get good use.
So late last year the Council began to work on a number of other laneways as well – and the results are starting to look pretty darn impressive.
Mason’s lane was previously a dark, dank and uninviting alley with a set of steep stairs leading between Lambton Quay and the Terrace. While not finished, the shot below shows the changes underway. Simply by removing the canopy, freshening up the concrete underfoot, and putting in a small living wall at the back right, along with some funky lights, the place already feels much nicer.
The other area that has taken my fancy is the work being done around Eva and Dixon Streets by the old Hannah’s shoe factory. The Hannah’s Factory was one of the earliest inner-city apartment conversions that I can recall in Wellington, and the changes in this area include an overhead light show, a massive chandelier, themed car parks and (apparently) a machine shooting bubbles from the Six Barrel Soda Company. In my image below you can see the first of the car parks to be painted as shoe boxes (which is a great metaphor I have to say).
Unfortunately, not everyone seems to be a fan. According to the Wellingtonian newspaper Lambton ward councillor Mark Peck said some retailers had told him the [Bond St] pop-up area was discriminatory.
“Spending $100,000 of ratepayers’ money to temporarily enhance Bond St with a pop-up display makes fish of them and fowl of the rest,” Peck said, who owns a competing cafe nearby.
“Council has no business wasting ratepayer money on these sort of feel-good interventions that act as a subsidy to the businesses lucky enough to be in the vicinity,” Peck said. “This action is hurting hardworking business. The sooner it comes to its senses and takes down this abomination, the better.”
I’m not sure if Mark still stands by those comments from last year, but if he does, then I’m a little worried to be honest. I thought he’d be all for an innovation that brings more foot traffic nearby…
As someone who regularly walks around the inner-city I have to say these improvements are making a fantastic change for pedestrians, and giving the city a bit more life. And to check out some of the bigger plans, the Dom Post ran a series of sketches from the Council last year. All I can say is, if the real thing is only half as impressive as these images it will be worth rate payer’s money.
So credit where it is due. While the Council may be madly pursuing an unrealistic dream of a longer Wellington airport runway, in this instance at least, they seem to be getting it right. I can’t wait for the day when focusing on pedestrains in the inner-city just becomes normal.
They’ve been a few interesting pieces of news from Wellington over the last last week.
Transdev to run Wellington’s trains
Transdev – who run the trains in Auckland – has been picked as the preferred operator for the trains in Wellington. This is an interesting result as for one it means trains in both Auckland and Wellington will have the same operator. Whether this is a good or a bad thing will have to remain to be seen. The Dominion Post reported the company was surveying people earlier in the year asking about ideas such as quiet cars, indicators to say where seats were available and WiFi. All of which begs the question of if they’ve thought of it, why they aren’t doing it in Auckland already. Presumably their holding some improvements back while they wait for Auckland Transport to go out to tender again or restart the current tender process*.
Just whether changes will lead to growth is something we’ll follow closely. In recent year’s patronage in the capital has increased but not by much.
*Auckland was also running a tender for rail services with the short-list also being Transdev, Kiwirail and Serco however AT postponed it in September citing uncertainty over the outcome of the Auckland Transport Alignment Process. As such they extended Transdev’s contract.
Greater Wellington Regional Council has selected Transdev Australasia in association with Hyundai Rotem as its preferred future operator for Wellington’s metro rail service.
The Regional Council will now begin negotiations with Transdev to finalise the terms of the 15 year contract. Subject to those negotiations being successful, a new contract is intended to commence on 1 July 2016.
The jobs of 400 TranzMetro staff who currently deliver Wellington’s metro rail service and maintain the new Matangi trains will be preserved. GWRC’s contract will require Transdev and Hyundai Rotem to offer employment to those staff on the same or more favourable conditions.
GWRC Chair Chris Laidlaw says the selection of a preferred operator is a significant milestone towards a new era for public transport in the Wellington region. “The rail contract is the first of all new, performance-based contracts for our train, bus and harbour ferry services. The new contracts will mean better services for customers and provide strong incentives for operators to grow patronage by making public transport easier and smarter.”
Mr Laidlaw also acknowledged the very competitive tenders submitted by the two other tenderers. Those tenderers were Keolis Downer in partnership with KiwiRail, and the UK based rail operator Serco.
Transdev currently operates the Auckland passenger rail service under contract to Auckland Transport and operates rail, tram and bus services in 19 countries across 5 continents.
Hyundai Rotem is the manufacturer of the region’s Matangi electric train fleet.
Commenting on its selection by GWRC, Transdev Australasia’s Acting CEO, Mr Peter Lodge said “We are very excited by the news today and look forward to the next stage of the process and concluding the contract with GWRC in the New Year.”
GWRC will not be making further comment until negotiations with Transdev are completed and a decision has been made to award the contract. This is likely to occur in March 2016.
Diesel buses set to replace trolley buses
As part of a new bus network the regional council will phase out the use of the electric trolley buses in 2017 in favour of diesel buses that they can eventually replace with battery powered buses. It is part of their change to a new bus network but does sound like an odd way of going about things. As an example it raises the question of why not just skip straight to battery buses which as a technology are advancing quickly. It also seems a bit odd that they think they’ll get a whole heap of new diesel buses now and that bus companies will replace them again in just a few year’s time. That sounds like a recipe for bus companies charging a lot more to run services as they amortise the cost of the buses over a shorter time frame.
Wellington’s new bus network
The Wellington region now has a clear path to an all-electric bus fleet after the Regional Council made some decisions today on how best to get there.
Chris Laidlaw, Chair of Greater Wellington Regional Council, says an exciting future is in store for bus travel in the region. “We are determined to be the first region in the country with an all-electric bus fleet when the technology is more mature and affordable. We expect to progressively introduce electric buses to the region within the next five years, starting with an electric bus demonstration in the first half of 2016.
“In the interim, however, we need to begin upgrading the Wellington City bus fleet. High capacity buses are a vital part of the new, simpler and more convenient network which will be rolled out in early 2018. The new network will give 75% of residents, compared to 45% at present, access within 1km to a high frequency bus route. Services will run through the CBD instead of stopping or starting at Wellington Station or Courtenay Place as many do currently. This, coupled with the use of high capacity buses, will speed up travel times for everyone.
“The Council has decided that an upgraded fleet should include new low emission double decker buses, ten of which will be hybrids. These will replace the older diesel buses in the fleet and the trolley buses, which are being phased out in 2017 because of their unreliability, the high cost of upgrading and maintaining the infrastructure and incompatibility with the new routes. The upgrade will mean that by 2018 the average age of the fleet will be five years compared to 13 at present and overall tailpipe emissions levels of the fleet will be about 33% lower than they are now.
“The biggest gain we can make in contributing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is to get people out of their cars and onto public transport, and this is why the bus fleet strategy that we’ve endorsed this week is so important. By removing the trolley buses and the old diesels we can deliver services that are fast, reliable, comfortable, easy to use and that go where people want to go. And the only way to achieve these big changes by 2018 is by replacing those vehicles with the best technology available, which is a mix of hybrid buses and new low emission diesels.”
Mr Laidlaw says the Regional Council will be going to tender around April next year for new bus service contracts and will be working with operators to bring their ideas and innovations on how to provide a low emission bus fleet for the region.
“We also plan to hold a symposium around the middle of next year on electric vehicles, bringing everyone together to ensure we make the most of the exciting opportunities on the horizon. Electric vehicles are coming and the challenge is to prepare the way for these by agreeing on the infrastructural needs. Wellington region is poised to lead the country to a cleaner, smarter transport future and we’re determined to make this happen.”
Island Bay Cycleway
While the work to build the Island Bay parking protected cycleway continues, some parts are already open and it looks fantastic. Unfortunately, the people who have long opposed any change to the street – claiming that the road was already safe (because only the hardy used it) and that people would be doored by passengers on the left have continued to fight the project.
A new cycleway through the heart of Wellington’s southern suburbs is threatening to tear the community apart, as thousands vent their anger at its “confusing” design.
Critics of the Island Bay cycleway have labelled it “a death trap” and say it has made one of the city’s main arterial roads too narrow for buses, reduced visibility for motorists on adjoining streets, and even made it “impossible” for some residents to pull out of their driveways.
But many also say the cycleway looks fantastic and will make life easier and safer for people on bikes.
There is a very good post on the project responding to many of the claims from supporters of the project and where the image below is from showing there is plenty of space for doors to open and not hit people on bikes.
Another claim levelled at the project is that the road isn’t wide enough for a protected cycleway. This image from Stuff highlights the width well. You can see the cycleway on each side (with some cars parked in it), the parking and the road lanes. It looks like plenty of space to me.
Wellington has been making some noises about moving towards integrated ticketing and fares for some time and doing so is formally listed Greater Wellington Regional Council’s Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP). In the RPTP they say “Improving the fares and ticketing system is the next significant element in the modernisation of Wellington’s public transport system”.
As Auckland learnt changing a ticketing system can be very difficult, especi byally when you have some operators wanting to force their own system on the public. Now it seems that Wellington could be set to have a repeat of some of Auckland’s ticketing issues.
The days of Wellingtonians swiping their Snapper cards on the capital’s buses could be numbered.
The Government is pushing to have Auckland’s Hop card system in the capital instead and Wellington’s political leaders are worried about the potential impact of that on ratepayers, as well as the future of Snapper.
In 2018, the entire Wellington region will shift to having one electronic smartcard that people can use to pay for all bus, train and ferry travel, in much the same way Aucklanders use their Hop card.
Snapper, which is already on more than 300 Wellington and Hutt Valley buses, is expected to be among those bidding to provide the smartcard technology when Greater Wellington Regional Council opens the contract up to tender.
But their chances of success look slim after the New Zealand Transport Agency wrote to the regional council stating its preference that Auckland’s system be extended to the capital.
The agency also proposed that its wholly-owned subsidiary company, New Zealand Transport Ticketing Limited, be directly appointed to provide the $50 million Wellington network, as it does in Auckland.
The door was left open for the regional council to chose a different technology provider, but the agency said that company would have to represent better value and less risk than simply bringing the Auckland system south.
It is expected Wellingtonians will be able to use their new cards in Auckland, and vice versa.
Paul Swain, the regional council’s transport portfolio leader, said while the agency was leaving the decision in council’s hands, the message was that it should be buying into the Government’s system rather than Snapper.
But for a project as costly and as complicated as this, he believed a tender process was needed to make sure Wellington was getting the best technology on offer.
“We want the best deal possible for the ratepayer, for the taxpayer and for the passenger,” Swain said.
“But our concern here is that the bar is going to be set so high that it will be difficult for us to get funding for any system we get a tender for.”
The Transport Agency and regional council are planning to split the $50m cost of the new system between them. But the agency can opt to contribute less if it is unhappy with the technology provider.
I’ve seen some comments concerned by the stance by the NZTA over this but it is actually nothing new and harks back to decisions made many years ago.
- At the time Auckland had held a tender for an integrated ticketing solution which Thales won. Infratil – the owner of Snapper – didn’t like the outcome and pushed the then mister to review the decision.
- The minister asked the NZTA to review the tender process and when they did so they found the system to have been the best on offer. However they also recognised that integrated ticketing was something that was going to be pushed by many councils over the coming years for which the NZTA would be asked to help cover the costs of installing them all.
- To manage what could be a lot of expensive system requests the NZTA took over buying of the system with the intention of it being used nationally. They said at the time other regions would need a good business case for not using it.
It will be interesting to see what happens. Snapper is much more entrenched in Wellington than it was in Auckland and so I imagine there will be a lot of strong views down there.
What do you think will out should happen?
In an interesting move Wellington City Council is paying $200,000 to subsidise bus fares on Go Wellington buses on weekends in the lead up to Christmas.
As Wellington bus users look forward to low weekend fares in the run-up to Christmas, their Auckland counterparts face a doubling of the price of new Hop cards.
Wellington City Council yesterday announced it was contributing $200,000 to subsidise bus fares, to as little as $1 for one-stage rides, for four weeks from November 28 to encourage more people to use public transport.
“This initiative will provide a welcome boost for retail sales,” said Mayor Celia Wade-Brown.
The fares, on yellow Go Wellington buses, will also include $2 for an adult two-stage ride and $1.50 for children travelling across two or three zones.
Auckland Transport is not jumping to match that, saying only that it will “watch the Wellington trial with interest”.
There are a couple of thoughts I have about this.
In effect this is the council trying to encourage people to use PT to shop in the city rather than them driving to a mall which most likely has free parking. In my view there are both positives and negatives to this. On the positive side it’s certainly better to encourage people to catch a bus to go shopping – which in most cases isn’t for going to be large bulky items – rather than lowering prices for limited numbers of council carparks.
At the same time though I wonder there are other reasons why more people aren’t already choosing to use the bus for shopping. The biggest of these is likely to be that that buses simply aren’t fast or frequent enough on weekends. Lowering the price might get a couple of people to change their behaviour but improving the level of service will likely have been much more effective – although possibly more costly.
In saying this I do think that in Wellington and in Auckland more use should be made of off peak fares to encourage more people to use PT at times when there is often an excess of capacity. For Auckland at least this isn’t currently possible with HOP so I very much hope AT are including it as part their integrated ticketing work.
It will be interesting to see if this has any impact on patronage. Currently growth on PT in the region is basically non-existent and for the 12 months to the end of September patronage was only up 0.6% however that was only due to rail with bus patronage down 0.2%. Hopefully the regional council release information about the impact of the campaign so we can see just how successful (or not) the idea is.
What do you think of the idea?
Last week, I took a look at some new research from the Netherlands that estimated the benefits of public transport for car travel times based on data from 13 “natural experiments” – public transport strikes. The Dutch researchers found that PT provided significant congestion reduction benefits – around €95 million per annum, equal to 47% of PT fare subsidies.
While the data was specific to Rotterdam, I’d expect to find similar results in most other cities with half-decent public transport networks. The whole thing got me wondering: Is there any similar evidence from New Zealand?
Fortunately for PT users and drivers, but unfortunately for researchers, potential PT strikes have mostly been averted over the last few years. However, Wellington did experience a “natural experiment” of sorts back in June 2013, when a major storm washed out the Hutt Valley railway line:
The Hutt Valley rail line was out for six days, including four working days. During that period, things got pretty ugly on the roads, as the motorway into downtown Wellington didn’t have enough capacity to accommodate people who ordinarily commuted in by train.
The Ministry of Transport (among others) very cleverly observed that this was a great opportunity to learn something about the impact of PT networks on road congestion. During the rail outage, they surveyed around 1,000 Wellington commuters about their travel experiences. According to their report, they found that:
- The closure of the Hutt Valley rail line put significant pressure on the road network. Delays for commuters were most severe on the Monday following the storm. Traffic on State Highway 2 was severely congested, with morning peak hour conditions lasting two hours longer than usual
- 80 percent of Wellington commuters from the Hutt Valley and Wairarapa experienced a longer than usual trip
- 32 percent of them experienced delays of over an hour
- the severity of commuter delays lessened over the week, with the number of commuters from the Hutt Valley and Wairarapa experiencing delays of over an hour halving by Wednesday 26 June
Essentially, what happened was that a bunch of people who ordinarily caught the train from the Hutt Valley couldn’t do that due to the storm damage. A quick eyeballing of MoT’s graph of daily rail patronage suggests that around 4,000 people had to make other travel arrangements:
Almost half of the rail commuters from the Hutt Valley opted to drive instead, while the remainder chose to take replacement buses or to stay at home instead. This had a serious impact on motorway traffic, as shown on this graph of hourly southbound traffic volumes. On a normal day (the green or blue lines), traffic volumes peak at around 7-8am, and fall off sharply after that.
By contrast, on Monday 24 June, when the rail line was out, people were still travelling in (slowly) until almost 11am. That’s some serious congestion:
Based on survey data, MoT estimated that the storm damage increased average travel times during the morning peak by 0.329 hours (20 minutes) on Friday 21 June, 0.309 hours (18.5 minutes) on Monday 24 June, and 0.230 hours (14 minutes) on Wednesday 26 June. It then used those estimates of average delay for people travelling at peak time to estimate the added cost of congestion that arose as a result of the Hutt Valley rail line outage:
In short, a four-day breakdown in part of Wellington’s public transport network cost morning peak travellers around $2.66 million in lost time. If we assume that there was a similar level of delay during the afternoon peak, when people are commuting out of downtown Wellington, the total cost would be roughly double that – $5.32 million.
This can give us a rough estimate of the value of public transport for congestion relief in Wellington. Extrapolated out over a full year (i.e. 250 working days), these results suggest that the Hutt Valley rail line saves drivers the equivalent of around $330 million in travel time (i.e. $5.32m / 4 days * 250 working days).
That is a very large number. According to an Auckland Transport report comparing Auckland and Wellington rail performance, Wellington’s overall rail network only cost $81.2 million to operate in 2013. 56% of operating costs were covered by fares, meaning that the total public subsidy for the network is around $36 million per annum.
On the back of these figures, it looks like Wellington’s drivers are getting a fantastic return from using some fuel taxes to pay for PT rather than more roads. The travel time savings associated with the Hutt Valley line alone are nine times as large as the operating subsidy for the entire Wellington rail network.
There are two caveats worth applying to these figures, one practical and one methodological.
First, it’s likely that the value of rail for congestion relief is unusually high in Wellington due to the shape of the city. Here’s a map of Wellington’s population density and infrastructure in 2001 and 2013 (from my analysis of urban population density). Dormitory suburbs extend linearly up the Hutt Valley and towards Porirua and the Kapiti Coast. Everyone travelling from those places to downtown Wellington are funnelled through a single transport corridor running along the shoreline of the harbour:
In Wellington, losing the rail line means pushing everyone onto a single road. (Unlike Rotterdam, cycling isn’t especially viable due to the lack of safe infrastructure on this route.) In other cities, there tend to be a greater range of alternative routes, which spreads around the traffic impacts.
Second, these results aren’t as robust as the Rotterdam study, due to their use of survey data rather than quantitative measures of traffic flow and speed. They’re not likely to be totally wrong, but it’s likely that people over- or under-estimated commute times, or that the survey wasn’t representative of all travellers (which could invalidate MoT’s extrapolation to all morning peak travellers).
However, the increasing availability of real-time data on traffic speeds from GPS devices means that the next time this happens, it will be possible to measure the impacts in much greater detail and with greater precision. The Rotterdam study offers some good methodological insight into how best to do that – it looks at transport outcomes at specific locations over a long period of time, and controls for seasonal and weekday effects that may influence transport outcomes.
Lastly, it would be really interesting to see some similar analysis done for Auckland. I’m sure that there have been a number of full or partial rail network outages, either due to bad weather or scheduled track upgrades. Perhaps it would be worth taking a look at congestion on those days.
Is Auckland getting ripped off when it comes to the cost of running rail services? Councillor Mike Lee has long thought so and has frequently raised the issue by way of comparing the costs of running the Auckland and Wellington rail networks – $125.6 million vs $85 million in the financial year to 30 June 2014. At that time rail patronage was also almost identical in each region. He has frequently blamed the way rail is set up saying:
A contributing factor may lay in the fact that in Wellington services are a matter between the Wellington Regional Council and KiwiRail. In contrast the Super City’s rail services management system is a complex, unwieldy ‘too many cooks’ arrangement of Transdev, KiwiRail, and of course Auckland Transport (AT) – which is demonstrably too expensive, inefficient, and allows too much room for dodging accountability.
Auckland Transport have looked at the differences in the past and come to the conclusion that the differences will largely iron out once electrification is finished however I don’t think Mike has ever been happy with that – and he seems to have an intense distrust of AT and Transdev in particular.
The Council’s Finance Committee tomorrow are presented with the outcome of that review which has found that when you account for the differences in the volume and nature of services provided, the costs aren’t all that different. Further it needs to be remembered that for FY14 Auckland had only had electric trains running on the Onehunga line for a few months. As such the efficiency of the Auckland network is only expected to improve – especially when combined with the growth in patronage expected. Here is what he found:
As mentioned above the costs in Auckland are much higher. The biggest single difference comes from labour costs – more on this soon – and train maintenance. The latter should have been reduced substantially with the arrival of the electrics.
So what causes the costs to be so much higher in Auckland. One major aspect is that there are considerable differences in both how many and how services are run. The report notes that in Auckland services are run stopping at all stations along the way. By comparison Wellington runs multiple short and long run service patterns on most of it’s lines. Boiling down the results they’ve been measured on the basis of how many full line services they equates to. Using that measure Auckland ran 2210 services per day while Wellington ran 1778. This highlights that one of the main reasons for the difference in cost is simply a difference in service provision.
Another factor identified was the level of dead running. Basically if services in Wellington terminate somewhere they can immediately go to a stabling yard nearby. In Auckland they often have a lot of travel some distance to get back to a stabling yard and all those trips add up to over 200,000 km per year. I suspect some of this has already been improved through the use of the newish stabling yard at the old railway station.
All up when adjusting for all of these factors the report says that the Auckland network is only approximately 7% more per hour to operate and that’s before taking into account the impact electrification will have.
On the other side of the ledger is the revenue from passengers. The report notes that the fare structures are fairly similar between the two cities however the average fares are quite different at $2.65 for Auckland vs $3.72 for Wellington. The main reason for the difference is that trips in Auckland are generally shorter. It had almost 1 million trips (9%) that were one or two stages while in Wellington the main lines of Kapiti and Hutt Valley most trips are a minimum of three stages due to the local geography and design of the system.
Overall it suggests that rail in Auckland isn’t as bad as the headlines often suggested which is good news
I’m sure this is a topic that will come up again and now the electrics are rolled out then for the future we should finally have more accurate figures to work with. One thing we do already know is that the subsidies are coming down with the subsidy per passenger km coming down.
Auckland may be the most prominent voice when it comes to discussing congestion charging in New Zealand but it appears other cities are keen to join in. Last week it emerged that Wellington are also wanting to look at congestion charging however unlike Auckland where it is being talked about primarily as another revenue source, Wellington say they need it to deal with the after effects of building new motorways.
The call for a toll on Wellington’s CBD is growing louder, with studies revealing the central city could be flooded with almost 12,000 more cars once its proposed new motorways are up and running.
Wellington recently joined forces with Auckland to lobby the Government for the law changes necessary to introduce user-pays charges as a means of reducing car use.
Some of the ideas being floated include a congestion charge, such as the one used in central London, and fees that ramp up the cost of long-stay commuter parking.
While Auckland’s chronic traffic congestion is already apparent, Wellington’s is expected to get worse once the Kapiti expressway, Transmission Gully motorway, and Petone-Grenada highway are all built, making journeys in and out of the capital by road significantly easier.
Recent studies by Greater Wellington Regional Council show that, even with continuing investment in public transport, there are expected to be 11,500 more cars entering Wellington during the morning rush in 2031.
This has prompted the council to also model how that scenario would change, with various user-pays charges in place, despite some of them currently being beyond the law.
It found a congestion charge would have by far the greatest impact on car use in 2031. Vehicles trips in and out of Wellington’s CBD would drop by about four million annually, while public transport trips would increase by the same amount.
Tolling the yet-to-be-built Transmission Gully motorway and Petone-Grenada highway, which is currently legal, would have a more “moderate” impact on car use, as would a levy on all-day parking, which is not currently legal.
A couple of thoughts immediately spring to mind.
- So far from the RoNS addressing congestion as the government/road builders/lobbyists so often love to claim, they’ll actually be making it worse by encouraging more people to drive, some of which comes from people encouraging people off using public transport and into their cars – making both systems less efficient. Why then are we wasting well over $2 billion on the new Wellington RoNS which already had poor economic outcomes.
- From memory the NZTA have already ruled out tolling Transmission Gully as their modelling suggested that very few would use it if they did so. My guess is that would rule out any individual road specific tolls.
- Like Auckland it appears that Wellington is blighted by politicians who seem to have the attitude of not caring what gets built as long as the government are spending money in their neck of the woods. There also seems to be the general attitude that public transport is only viable a mode of last resort.
The last point is displayed very well at the start of this interview on Radio NZ with Paul Swain, the chairman of the Regional Transport Committee who seemed aghast at the slight possibility of not building some new roads. It is also appears to be the attitude that is taken by Wellington City Councillor Andy Foster later in the piece who appeared quite annoyed that the Basin Reserve Flyover was cancelled – and as per this excellent op-ed from Dave Armstrong it appears both were quite keen on it.
Or listen here
I also found Foster’s comments on public transport interesting. He’s obviously correct that Wellington has the highest use of public transport in the country however I’m not sure I would go as far as him in saying that Wellington has a good system. There certainly seems to be a lot more that could be done to make the system better and therefore increase patronage. Many of those are things that Auckland has done or are on the agenda such as integrated ticketing and fares and a better bus network and greater bus priority. I kind of get the feeling that Wellington won’t really wake up and realise how far behind it’s falling until in a few years (at current rates) when Auckland passes them.
Coming back to congestion charging, I was also amused by this press release yesterday by the Property Council which claims that reducing cars in to Wellington would have catastrophic effects.
Wellington Branch president Mike Cole says slowing down traffic flow into the centre of a city of only 191,000 and a region of 471,000 people is ridiculous.
“They are talking about methods used in central London; a city of 8.6 million people. London could use the drop in traffic-flow, while we are desperate to get our city centre thriving by getting more people in.
“I think the Council is totally oblivious to the catastrophic effect this would have on retail and employment. Why would we drive people away, when we are working so hard to get them in?”
Perhaps someone needs to tell them that it’s people that buy stuff, not cars. Flooding the CBD with cars will only make it a less attractive place for people to be and therefore they will be less inclined to work and shop there.
Who knows what the outcome will be on congestion charging in either Auckland or Wellington but it’s certainly interesting that both cities are now starting to talk about it much more openly. As has long been the case my personal position is that any form of congestion charging should be designed at least initially to be revenue neutral – substituting rates or fuel taxes. That would give the public a greater level of comfort that it isn’t just a revenue gathering exercise but rather a traffic demand tool. I also think it is something that should be implemented in advance of another wave of road building so we can see the real impact it has before committing billions to construction.