Later this month, I’ll be heading down to Wellington for the NERI Energy Conference 2014. The conference organisers kindly agreed to give the blog a free ticket, and I’ll be attending on our behalf, tweeting updates during the conference, and taking screeds of notes for writing up into posts later.
The major theme of the conference is energy efficiency, and I’m particularly looking forward to the keynote address on that topic. A lot of what we talk about here at TransportBlog comes down to efficiency (although we’ve got wider interests, and we’re certainly not interested in efficiency at the expense of all else!) Public and active transport is a very efficient way of allowing large numbers of people to get where they need to go, as happens on a daily basis in cities around the world. It’s efficient in terms of the amount of land it needs, and it’s efficient in terms of energy use.
If we were trying to reduce transport energy use, we could either travel less, or we could be more efficient in our travel. This efficiency could come about from shifting to more efficient modes (public/ active transport), or more efficient vehicles (hybrids, etc), or altering our driving style. There’s potential for New Zealand to do all three, but public transport will play a major role in any shifts.
The Energy Conference takes place over two days, 20th-21st March, and will feature more than 30 speakers. One of the conference sessions is devoted to “energy efficiency in transport”. As part of that session, I’m giving a presentation looking at “household spending on transport fuels in Auckland”: this is using data I’ve gotten hold of quite recently, and which I’ll write a bit more about over the next couple of months as I get further into the research. Suffice to say, I’m quite surprised just how big the differences are between what households spend in the inner suburbs and the fringe suburbs.
I’ll also be giving a Pecha Kucha presentation on the Congestion Free Network – of course, if you’re reading this then you’re probably already quite familiar with it. Matt, Patrick and others have done amazing work on the CFN over the last year or more, and trying to boil that down to 20 slides at 20 seconds per slide is tricky.
It should be a great conference, and based on having attended it last year, I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in energy or transport research.
A final decision on the future Wellington’s PT Spine has finally been made and it’s one that might upset a few people.
Faster, bigger buses have been officially chosen as the future of public transport in Wellington, snuffing out any chance of having light rail in the capital for the foreseeable future.
The Regional Transport Committee – a collective of Wellington’s mayors and the NZ Transport Agency – voted today to push ahead with plans to build a $268 million bus rapid transit network between the Wellington CBD and southern suburbs.
Detailed plans are yet to be drawn up, but it will involve hi-tech articulated or double-decker buses running along a dedicated busway between Wellington Railway Station and the suburbs of Newtown and Kilbirnie.
The route forms the southern part of Wellington’s public transport “spine”.
Today’s decision brings down the curtain on the Wellington Public Transport Spine Study, which began in 2011.
The Spine Study had looked at a number of different options for improving PT in Wellington from simple bus lanes all the way up to extending the existing heavy rail network through the CBD and beyond. The options were narrowed down to three:
- Bus priority – $59 million, which involves more peak period bus lanes and priority traffic signals for buses, along the Golden Mile and Kent Terrace, through the Basin Reserve and along Adelaide Road to Newtown and through the Hataitai bus tunnel to Kilbirnie.
- Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – $209 million, which involves a dedicated busway, for modern, higher capacity buses separated from other traffic as much as possible, along the Golden Mile and Kent/Cambridge Terrace then around the Basin Reserve and along Adelaide Road to Newtown and through the (duplicated) Mt Victoria tunnel to Kilbirnie.
- Light Rail Transit (LRT) – $940 million, which involves new tram vehicles running on dedicated tracks along the Golden Mile, Kent and Cambridge Terraces then around the Basin Reserve along Adelaide Road to Newtown and through a separate Mt Victoria tunnel to Kilbirnie
One of the big problems with the spine study is it made some odd assumptions like that light rail would require its own dedicated new tunnel under Mt Victoria while BRT wouldn’t, instead using a second Mt Victoria tunnel the NZTA plan to build as part of the RoNS work.
However even putting that aside I do feel that the BRT option is probably the right one. One of the reasons for that is that the BRT option wouldn’t just benefit the dedicated buses that might run on routes above but that other buses from the wider area would also benefit. This is as what we currently see in Auckland on the Northern Busway where the Northern Express services only run on the busway route however a large number of other bus routes like the popular 881 use the busway for part of their journey. This appears to have been a key factor in the decision.
Committee chairwoman Fran Wilde said the ability of rapid transit buses to go beyond the dedicated spine and continue to suburbs like Island Bay and Karori made it a winner.
“With some of the bus technology that’s now on the books, the difference between what people consider light rail and bus rapid transit to be is getting smaller and smaller.”
Building a light rail network through the middle of Wellington would have also caused severe disruption to those living and working in the city for a number of years, she said.
Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown, who was first elected in 2010 on the back of campaign promises to push for light rail, said today she had also been swayed by the ability of buses to go further than trams.
She welcomed the decision to proceed but cautioned that Wellington’s topography and road layout would make it impossible to build the type of busways seen oversees, which were generally isolated from all other traffic by concrete barriers.
“This is not going to be the highest quality bus rapid transit network in the known universe because that just wouldn’t work.”
Ms Wade-Brown said all options had been thoroughly considered as part of the spine study. The $380m cost of a rail tunnel was not the critical element holding back light rail, she said.
There are a couple of key comments in here that are worth expanding on. As Fran Wilde notes the differences between buses and light rail are getting smaller and smaller and that is likely to continue. Wellington already has some trolley buses however with other electric bus options being developed it doesn’t have to mean that BRT is any worse environmentally than light rail. Even more traditional looking diesel buses don’t seem to have been a problem in attracting passengers for Northern Busway services.
The other key comment is from Celia Wade-Brown where she says that Wellington won’t have the highest quality fully separated BRT. The reality is that any light rail system would suffer exactly the same constraints as the bus option. Even so I’m sure they will be able to significantly improve bus priority along the route. This is also recognised in the spine study in that the estimated travel times for both BRT and LRT come out almost identical.
In addition to all of this another advantage of the BRT option is simply that it can be built over time and in doing so each section can provide immediate benefits to existing services. Under a light rail scheme it isn’t until an entire route is really in place that the infrastructure becomes usable. That staging ability combined with the fact that buses from outside of the immediate area of the spine can also benefit from the infrastructure then I think it becomes quite clear that the BRT option was the better one.
But all of this doesn’t mean that light rail couldn’t happen at some point in the future, in fact most of the works needed to secure the right of way to implement a BRT system would also apply to a LRT system so that work would already have been done and it would just come down to the cost of laying tracks. BRT could be seen as means of building patronage numbers faster than possible otherwise which might help better justify light rail in the future. For those pushing for light rail it could be a case where sometimes the best way to achieve your goal is not always to go straight to the final solution.
Now that a final decision has been made hopefully those supporting PT in Wellington will focus on pushing to get the BRT infrastructure needed in place as soon as possible.
Last year John Key caused a bit of outrage by saying that Wellington was a dying city but particularly when it comes to transport, perhaps he was right. A couple of articles yesterday about transport in Wellington helped to highlight this so in this post I’m going to look at a number stats about and associated with transport in the region.
First up let’s have a look at a couple of key stats that have an impact on transport, population and jobs.
As you can see from Stats NZ estimates, Wellington’s population is growing but it isn’t growing that fast (when compared to somewhere like Auckland) and you can see the growth has been slowing down over the last decade or so.
Jobs in the Wellington region are still down on the peak of 2008 but not by too much (3%). Some areas appear to have been harder hit than others though, with Upper Hutt down 12% (1450 jobs) and Lower Hutt down 8% (3670 jobs). These changes are bound to have had some impact on travel but probably not massive amounts.
On to transport. The first article that caught my attention was this one on the current proceedings from the Board of Inquiry hearing into the proposed flyover around the Basin Reserve. The NZTA’s expert witness used the same argument of the insane traffic modelling that traffic volumes are just about to go up so we need to build build build.
Today Mr Kelly attacked the view that the flyover was not needed because more young people were choosing not to own cars these days.
He acknowledged traffic growth had been low or flat in recent years, and that some of that could be attributed to declining car ownership.
But, in his view, the economic downturn was more to blame.
“This should be no surprise. We all know of individuals and companies who have restricted their travel as a result of belt-tightening during the period of economic contraction.”
In recent months, economic indicators had been pointing to a return to more traffic growth as the economy rebounded, he said.
Mr Kelly also produced research by ANZ Bank that showed GDP growth since 2009 had been mirrored by a rise in the number of heavy vehicles on the nation’s roads.
There are two and bit issues in here. Dealing with the easy one first, the ANZ data which is known as the Truckometer. What’s important to remember is that the rise in the number of heavy vehicles isn’t an indication of what will happen with private vehicles which are invariably the ones that contribute most to congestion. Further the Truckometer is at a national level not a regional one so rises in trucks volumes in other parts of the country doesn’t mean they are in Wellington.
The Wellington vehicle fleet continued to rise in both total number and on a per capita basis until 2007 before flat-lining or even falling slightly so likely economy related although I suspect also related to PT (which I will touch on shortly. Interestingly there has been a spike this year presumably as people have started feeling happier about the economy. Due to the way the stats are done I wonder if we might see them drop slightly next year as cars that are no longer in the fleet work through the numbers.
The map and graphs below show traffic volumes on some of the state highways over 20 years and as you can see, they have been almost flat for that entire time.
Vehicle Kilometres Travelled (VKT)
In total VKT remains flat around Wellington and despite a small rise around 2009 it’s at around the same level it was in the early 2000′s. On a per capita basis the length of vehicle trips has fallen by about 10% since 2000/01.
So with the exception of a spike in the vehicle fleet, it doesn’t look like traffic volumes are about to suddenly rise. That is unless the GRWC continues to drive public transport in Wellington into a bit of a death spiral.
The pinch of bus fare rises is causing Wellington commuters to desert public transport – but the regional council has responded by raising fares further.
Bus patronage had not increased since 2008, yet fare revenue was expected to rise 3 per cent annually in Greater Wellington Regional Council’s long-term plan.
Councillors voted yesterday to increase bus and train fares. Smartcard and multi-trip fares would rise in October by 1 per cent, and cash tickets by 50 cents in certain zones.
The public can give feedback on the decision during the council’s Annual Plan consultations in April.
Councillors Sue Kedgley, Nigel Wilson, Gary McPhee and Paul Bruce voted against the increase.
The graph below shows the patronage across the different PT modes in Wellington. Growth has remained stubborn and is bound not to be being helped by fare increases. As I said above I can see a PT Death Spiral starting to form where increasing fares drives passengers away but then the fares are increased further in a bid to make up for what has already been lost but further alienating even more customers. If it continues then perhaps the prediction about heaps more cars will come true. It’s quite sad really.
There’s probably a heap more graphs that could be included but this will do for now.
Edit: Meant to include this graph showing PT patronage per capita
Mother Nature gave the Wellington rail system a quite of a battering last year through multiple earthquakes and major storms. The major storm that hit on the night of 20 June was the one that did the most damage when it washed out the sea wall protecting the rail line that serves the Hutt Valley and the Wairarapa between Ngauranga and Petone leaving tracks dangling in the air. Kiwirail said the damage was unprecedented. The impact of the outage was felt throughout the Wellington transport system as people who usually caught the train needed to look to other methods of transport. It took almost a week to get the rail line restored with services resuming on the morning of 27 June.
Photo credit: David Morgan
If there was one positive to come from it, its that it gives a chance to study what the impacts of the outage and that’s exactly what the Ministry of Transport have done in a report released late last year.
Extreme events and disruptions to our every-day lives give us a chance to probe how we react in different circumstances, and consider how we can better react in the case of similar future events.
The storm on the night of Thursday 20 June 2013 severely affected Wellington’s transport network, with both immediate and flow-on effects for commuters in the region. Of particular significance was
the damage done to the Hutt Valley rail line, and the consequent disruption to passenger rail services for the six days following the storm.
This project surveyed 1,072 Wellington commuters to assess several impacts on Friday 21 June, Monday 24 June and Wednesday 26 June, including:
- the extent to which disruptions to the transport network (in particular the Hutt Valley rail line services) affected the time it took commuters to get to their destination
- how commuters changed their travel behaviour to respond to the network disruptions
- the extent to which communications by transport agencies (including radio, email and text messaging) may have influenced the behaviour of commuters.
And here’s a summary of what the study found.
- 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
- traffic delays were slightly less severe on Friday 21 June. This may have been due to 27 percent of commuters (surveyed across the region) not travelling to work on the Friday. By Monday 24 June this figure dropped to just 4 percent
- on Monday 24 and Wednesday 26 June, roughly 45 percent of the typical Hutt Valley train commuters opted to drive themselves or be driven to work in a private car, and roughly 45 percent chose the train and bus replacements
- communications by transport agencies were effective, with 75 percent of people surveyed aware of transport delays before they headed to work on Friday, and over half of these people altering their travel plans to respond to conditions.
Research undertaken as part of this project estimated that the economic impacts of transport disruption resulting from the storm was between $12 million and $43 million. This included $5.3 million in cost to local and central government agencies who responded to disruptions and damage on the transport network, $5.3 million loss in value of travel time and between $2 million and $32 million reduction in outputs.
There’s a few interesting points in here. The first is day of the outage (red) compared to same day the week before and after.
The severe congestion probably helped to ensure that those who were previously using trains went back to doing so once the rail line was up and running again. This is the patronage from the Hutt Valley line surrounding the outage and you can see it bounced back to normal the following week.
Probably the most interesting part is the assessment of the economic impacts of between $12 million and $43 million depending on how it’s calculated. Some of those costs – like the $5.3 million in repair works – are unique to the outage however the same amount again is simply due to the travel delays caused by the mode shift and ensuring congestion. This might not sound like much but consider that it is just for four working days so equates to about $1.3 million per day. That helps to give us an idea as to just how much impact the rail network in Wellington is having on congestion relief.
My understanding is that the Hutt Valley line carry’s roughly half of the patronage on the Wellington rail network while the rail network itself only accounts for about 6% of all journey to work trips. Imagining for second that someone decided to close the all of rail lines in Wellington we can probably assume that similar travel delays would occur throughout other parts of the road network. Even just using the figure of $1.3 million per work day extrapolated over a typical year (~250 working days) would see travel time delays add up to over $320 million per year. By comparison the entire system only costs something like $80 million to run and that’s before passenger fares are taken into account.
Of course there would be a lot of other things that would need to be taken into consideration and the costs above are just very quick calculations but it does go to show that while the rail network might only play a small part overall, it does play a significant one.
The Dominion Post had some great coverage on Wellington’s growth patterns in June this year. They put together an interactive site, which seems to be having some clunkiness issues (as most of them do) but has some really interesting information.
Firstly, property price trends in Wellington since the 2007 peak. Many areas have actually fallen in price, and are shown in blue. The areas which have increased (shown in red) are almost all in Wellington City itself, i.e. they’re more central – closer to the Wellington CBD, which dominates regional employment and retail activity.
The Dominion Post also had some good articles which used case studies of CBD or suburban residents to illustrate their different lifestyles. This article talks about living in the Wellington CBD:
The place [in the suburbs] was simply too big for them after their children had moved out. “It was great. But you had to heat it all, and you end up turning one or two rooms into junk rooms,” Clark said.
Clark relishes the city lifestyle. Everything is an easy walk, and there is no need to plan if you want to do something.
The Clarks lived in Rome for a year in 2003, and were impressed by the inner-city lifestyle enjoyed by many Italians. “It makes a community. In a block of flats in Rome, a palazzo, you have shops all on the ground floor, and most have got a garden or courtyard. They all hang their clothes in the courtyard and talk to each other.”
In New Zealand, we build big outward-facing apartment blocks without a thought for interaction, she says, and that should change.
More low-rise apartment blocks built on a liveable scale should be welcomed, she says – and with them should come an influx of new young professionals and families to the city centre.
“Why aren’t we building for those people?” Clark asks.
Another article talks about the “quarter acre dream” in Porirua.
When [Sue Grazier] moved back from Melbourne with husband Michael last year, she wanted to get away from high-stress life in a sprawling city.
They believe they’ve found the dream: a modern house on a big section with a great view and thriving community spirit, and they are there to stay.
Though Sue’s family have all moved to Auckland, there was never any chance she would follow suit, and not just because of house prices. “It’s like Melbourne. You live only in a little area, spend your life in the car . . . [while] Wellington has a heart.”
Their 800sqm section is large by today’s standards and Sue knows she has been lucky to find it. Increasing intensification is unattractive, she says. It’s a reminder of the downside of Auckland and Melbourne, where people get piled on top of one another. “You get your neighbour’s toilet [next to] your kitchen.”
But it is the reality younger people will face as they grow up. “It’s going to be shocking for them . . . people need affordable places to live. Life’s stressful enough without a huge mortgage. But that’s what future generations are going to have to do.”
A couple of paragraphs in there strike me as being a bit ironic – e.g. the first, talking about moving out of a ‘sprawling city’ only to move into… a sprawling city? Likewise, in Melbourne you apparently “spend your life in the car . . . [while] Wellington has a heart”. There may be some context that makes this makes sense, i.e. perhaps the family works in Porirua as well, or they’re talking about central Porirua as their local ‘heart’, or they’re happy enough catching public transport into the Wellington CBD. I’m not sure, and I don’t really mean to pick holes in the story: suburbs will always be a big part of New Zealand cities, and some people will always prefer living there, while others will want to live centrally.
I agree that the suburbs really come into their own if you really do value having a larger section, or when you find yourself only a short distance from your local school, park etc, and not too far from work; the downsides are when you’re isolated from those and other activities, and have to drive to get anywhere. Likewise, there are pros and cons to living in a CBD or other built-up areas.
Also on the subject of Wellington’s growth patterns, it’s interesting that the city has achieved a ratio of 40-40-20 of CBD: infill: greenfield for its new housing in recent years, and this pattern is likely to continue in the future.
That’s for just Wellington City, mind you, not the overall region – and the city itself is constrained by having whopping big hills around it, and not much greenfields space remaining. However, Wellington City is the main growth node within the Wellington Region: the latest projections from Statistics New Zealand suggest that the city will account for around 70% of region-wide growth in the next 20 years. No doubt Auckland can learn some valuable lessons from Wellington, but Auckland also faces a bigger challenge as we’re growing much faster. To achieve meaningful levels of intensification, we need to see a real uplift in development – which we’re starting to, by the looks of things.
Last week we saw some images of what the proposed flyover around the basin reserve might look like. They came about as the proposal is currently going through the fast tracked Board of Inquiry (BOI) process and the board required the NZTA to provide them. Also released along with the images is a peer review of the traffic and transportation related aspects of the NZTA’s application. The outcome of the review is extremely interesting and raises a number of questions not just about this particular project but many others too. The most concerning part of the review relates to how the preferred option was chosen however there were other important issues raised.
The information provided for the BOI process shows that the NZTA had examined quite a decent number of alternatives from different consultants in the past. Opus who were doing the alternatives review for the NZTA narrowed the alternatives down to 5 main options (each with some sub options). These were described as options A to E of which A and B involved the use of an elevated structure – like currently planned while options C and D were at grade options. Option E retained State Highway 1 at grade and raised the local roads over it but was not thought to be feasible.
Opus then put the various options through a qualitative evaluation and selected Option A as the best one. The peer reviewers say they have attempted to replicate the results and they say that their analysis shows that actually option D performed best. What’s more is that the numbers from Opus suggest that Option D is $25m to $60m cheaper and has a better Benefit Cost Ratio too. So why did option A come out on top? the reviewers have noted the comment ”…the differences between the at-grade and grade-separated options in terms of economic benefits and BCR is relatively small for an urban project of this nature…“. In other words it doesn’t really matter about the cost and while Option D had a better BCR and was cheaper yet it it was dismissed as the predicted traffic time savings from Option A were much better. They say this doesn’t mean that Option A shouldn’t have been chosen but it becomes important when considering the next part.
After the government started talked about putting Buckle St into a tunnel in front of the War Memorial the NZTA looked at a range of tunnel options for the project. These were named Option F to M with Option F being the preferred one out of that group. It was then compared against Option A but crucially it used different assessment criteria to what was used in the earlier stages. In the assessment criteria the tunnel performed much better than Option A but was dismissed due to the estimated cost of the project. They note (and the emphasis is theirs:
2.17 – In the opinion of the reviewers, Option F provides better overall outcomes to Option A in respect of the criteria it has been assessed against. However, it appears that Option F has not been selected on the basis of it being too expensive to construct.
2.18 – While the reviewers acknowledge that cost is a very important consideration in the evaluation of any project, the weighting assigned to this factor does not appear to be consistent with the approach used to identify Options A and B as being preferred to Options C and D in the evaluation of the initial options. In that instance, the assessment concluded that a difference in BCR of circa 0.5 was insignificant for a project of this scale. Whilst the reviewers do not share this view, the difference in BCR between Option A and Option F is likely to be of this magnitude given the additional costs of Option F and the similar level of benefits generated by each option.
2.19 - The apparent inconsistency and lack of transparency in the underlying process by which options have been compared at different stages of the project is a significant concern of the reviewers.
So cost wasn’t a factor when deciding to go for a bridge vs an at grade option but was a factor when choosing between a bridge and a tunnel.
The reviews go further saying that they aren’t able to double check the actual tunnel costs as the breakdown of them wasn’t included in the report like the other options were. That’s not to say the costs mentioned are wrong but that they haven’t been able to be reviewed.
There was also quite a bit of concern around the pedestrian and cycling facilities being provided. They say:
Whilst the project upgrades existing facilities and provides new facilities to the north, east and to a certain extent to the south, there is almost no provision to the west of the reserve in terms of cycle or shared paths or crossing facilities for pedestrians / cyclists. Cyclists travelling northbound on Adelaide Road who then wish to head west would be required to travel through the Basin Reserve coming out onto the shared area and use the crossing on Cambridge Terrace before continuing westbound through the War Memorial Park. This is a circuitous route compared to following Rugby Street and Sussex Street and is unlikely to appeal to all cyclists. The reviewers observe that the provision for cyclists on the western side of the Basin Reserve is not ideal.
Section 7.1.3 of TR4 also assumes that pedestrian and cyclist demand “is forecast to grow at 2% per annum”. However this does not match with Mr Dunlop’s evidence which provides information obtained from the WCC Transport Monitoring Surveys (2009 – 2013) that show a 62% increase over a five year period for cyclists at the John Street intersection (which may in part be due to the Countdown supermarket opening in the interim) and 123% increase over a five year period for pedestrians at the crossing of Buckle Street west of the Basin Reserve.
It is unclear if there is a particular reason for these significant increases. For example, if the increase in cycling demand at the John Street intersection is due in part to the opening of the Countdown supermarket then this may suggest a similar increase could occur on Rugby Street where the consented New World supermarket is to be built. If the future pedestrian and cyclist demand follows the trend shown in the WCC Transport Monitoring Surveys rather than the predicted 2% then potentially the pedestrian and cyclist facilities could be insufficient or under-designed
The evidence of Mr Dunlop also states that pedestrian and cyclist movements could “…double following the duplication of the Mt Victoria tunnel and associated improvements to the existing poor cycle and pedestrian facilities linking the south east”. This, in combination with the recent large observed increases in pedestrian activity in the general vicinity of the project, raise some questions over the suitability of the design of the proposed shared path facility. The reviewers consider the suitability of the 3m wide shared facility should be reviewed in light of the potential significant increases in walking and cycling activity that may eventuate over that currently experienced. Of particular interest to the reviewers is the large speed differential that may exist on the ramp between cyclists travelling downhill and other users, and the lack of escape route for users travelling too fast to avoid a collision.
If the growth in cycling continues like it has then getting the cycling facilities right will be crucial.
All up the reviewers have listed 49 key issues they found with the report, some serious where they are saying the NZTA needs to provide a lot more information though to some which are just a comment but no action is required for. I wonder if we will be able to get the BOI for Puhoi to Warkworth to require a similar independent peer review?
As part of the EPA process, the NZTA have released some new images showing before and afters of the ugly flyover they are proposing called the Basin Bridge.
The prime minister has announced that work on Transmission Gully will start next year, just before the elections.
Construction on Wellington’s controversial Transmission Gully road link will begin in the second half of next year – and open to traffic in 2020.
Prime Minister John Key confirmed the move at a keynote speech to Wellington’s Chamber of Commerce this afternoon.
It follows contentious comments he made earlier this year, claiming the city is “dying”.
Key confirmed work on the $2.5 billion “northern corridor” – from Levin to the city’s airport – will begin next year.
The preferred bidder would be announced early next year, probably February, Key said.
He emphasised the Capital’s importance as a transport hub.
“The recent earthquakes have boosted the already-strong case to upgrade routes into and out of the region so it can better cope with such events,” he added.
The upgrade will shave 40 minutes off the morning peak travel time from Levin to the Capital, he said. It will also cut road fatalities from 140 to 100 within five years of opening.
And he claims it will create “thousands of new construction jobs”.
However, the project has encountered opposition from locals.
The route also lies on a fault line.
Others say the money should be spent on upgrading a rail link.
A public-private partnership will maintain and operate the link for up to 25 years.
There are a lot of issues with Transmission Gully that I will try to go into in greater detail in a future post however the main problems are that:
- it performs poorly economically -primarily due to its massive cost at about $1 billion.
- it isn’t all that clear it would perform any better in an earthquake than the existing coastal road
- it will be built as a PPP which will save us the upfront cost but will lock us in to paying huge annual fees over a 25 year period that will see us paying about 3 times what it cost to build. The NZTA have even removed the risk for the winning companies as they will have to pay for the road even if no one uses.
- Due to some steep elevation changes it is unclear that trucks will even bother using the route, especially if it is tolled
The map below shows where the road is going
The image below shows the change in elevation over the route.
While the videos below give an idea of what it will look like. You can see there are going to be some absolutely massive cuts into the sides of hills along with some massive embankments just to build the route.
This is a Guest Post by Generation Zero Wellington member Paul Young
Following an 18-month process, the Wellington Public Transport Spine Study was finally released in June and picked bus rapid transit (BRT) in favour of light rail as the best option for a new high-quality public transport system in Wellington city. Greater Wellington Regional Council is currently taking submissions on where to next, closing tomorrow. On one hand it’s positive that things are progressing.
However, the results and many assumptions of the study are highly dubious and have raised the eyebrows of many in the transport world. World-renowned transport academic Professor Peter Newman (also a board member of Infrastructure Australia) weighed in on it while in Wellington recently, saying the study “doesn’t do justice to light rail”.
Generation Zero has put together a quick submission form for people to easily have their say along the lines of our views, as explained in this handy little graphic.
Now there is nothing inherently wrong with BRT, and we aren’t blind light rail evangelists – in fact following the release of the study I was pretty convinced BRT was the way to go. But having read up and considered the evidence we believe it’s a short-sighted and problematic choice for Wellington. Light rail is a future-proofed option that we believe would deliver more benefits.
Here are some key points from my perspective about the study and the two options.
Cost and route
The study gave an extremely high cost for light rail ($940 million) because it chose a split route which involved building a whole new tunnel through Mount Victoria. Meanwhile the BRT option got a free tunnel by sharing the second Mount Vic car tunnel proposed to be built following the Basin Flyover. Doing this, by the way, would no doubt cause problems and delays by buses getting caught up in traffic congestion.
We believe cheaper options that avoid the need for a tunnel are feasible. In particular, a single line from the Railway Station to Newtown and then to Kilbirnie over Constable St and Crawford Rd was unduly dismissed in the study. The original reason cited in the study was just that it was “too slow”, but this later evolved into “you’d have to demolish a row of houses”. A quick play on Streetmix suggests otherwise, so long as we could find a way to remove the on-street parking.
Based on a similar cost per kilometre used in the spine study (~$56 million/km), this route would cost less than $400 million (compared with the study’s $207 million for the BRT option).
This route also doesn’t depend on building big new roading projects first, and avoids destruction of town belt land to widen Ruahine St. It would mean adjustments such as loss of parking on Constable St and slightly slower travel times to the CBD for Kilbirnie passengers, but benefits would include higher frequency service for Kilbirnie and Newtown residents and hence shorter waiting times.
In narrow corridors typical of Wellington, light rail has a much higher maximum capacity than BRT – approximately 10,000 passengers per hour in each direction, compared with just 3,000 for BRT. This is primarily because of smaller vehicle capacity (Wellington could handle buses for about 100 people, but trams for up to 300) and restrictions on how many vehicles can use the corridor per hour in order to give them full priority at intersections and maintain reliable service.
Retired transport engineer Kerry Wood gives a detailed explanation in this post on Scoop, and you can read his full 30-page submission here.
The study actually found that for the proposed BRT route, service from Kilbirnie through the proposed second Mount Victoria tunnel was at capacity from day one – let alone with any patronage growth. Information about service in the Golden Mile is unclear in the report but it seems BRT may be overloaded from the beginning here too. 
What is certain is that BRT doesn’t allow for significant future growth in ridership without compromising the service reliability and quality. Why invest hundreds of millions in a short-term option that will struggle from the beginning?
The modelling done in the study made no consideration for the higher ridership appeal of light rail over bus rapid transit, when there is strong international evidence demonstrating this.
A recent meta-study by Peter Newman and colleagues  shows rail outperforming bus in attracting trips from 1995-2005 throughout Australia, the US, Canada, Europe, Singapore and Hong Kong. Another meta-analysis for North American cities found that from 1996-2003 public transport trips increased by an average of 16% in cities that built light rail versus just 1.7% in cities that built bus rapid transit.  For a range of reasons, people tend to find light rail more appealing.
The study concluded that light rail would only attract as many extra PT riders as an enhanced bus service – overall growth of just 1% by 2040 – and that bus rapid transit would attract a lot more riders. This is way out of line with international experience and warrants strong scrutiny. The low predicted patronage growth in general needs to be questioned in light of NZ evidence shown on this blog of annual growth on the order of 16-20% following the opening of Britomart and the Northern Busway, vastly exceeding projections.
Transfers and the wider network
The main reason given for light rail coming out so bad compared with BRT is transfers. The study says light rail requires a lot more of them because – in theory – the BRT buses can continue out the ends of the corridor.
The modelling used a “transfer penalty” of 5.5 minutes – which is added to the actual expected waiting time – to capture the “inconvenience of transferring and boarding another service”.  Apparently this is actually a lower value than often used overseas. But again, the results are strongly at odds with observed outcomes in New Zealand and overseas and need to be questioned. Another point to note is that feeder bus services were not optimised.
It seems questionable whether BRT buses will really be able to continue outside the main corridor – at least without considerable adjustments and cost. Remember these will be big, articulated “bendy buses” (I suspect double-deckers may be a hazard on the infamous windy days!). Will Wellington’s tight streets really be able to handle these big buses as is, and will local residents tolerate it? It appears the study assumed no extra infrastructure cost outside the main spine route(s) despite the suggestion that “BRT” buses will be doing this:
Note that the dedicated corridor only operates between the black dots.
Perhaps the bigger question this raises is about reliability. If you have a light rail or BRT system operating entirely in a dedicated corridor with priority at intersections, the service can be very reliable and maintain regular frequency. If BRT buses are venturing out of the corridor they are bound to get delayed in traffic causing variable trip times. This was not considered in the study.
And while we’re on the topic of buses mixing with traffic, will the BRT really have dedicated right of way through the proposed second Mount Victoria tunnels? If not, will the supposed 3 minute time saving of the split route to Kilbirnie simply be eaten up by buses getting stuck in car traffic?
The spine study suggests approximately equal overall land value uplift from light rail or BRT of about $240 million, but again this seems at odds with international evidence that light rail offers larger and more reliable increases in property value.
Calculations by Tom Pettit as part of his postgrad research on the PT spine gave an expected land value uplift for light rail of $2.5 billion based on an an international review of over 50 installations across the world – an order of magnitude higher than the study’s estimate. He also estimated the increase in rates and fare recovery over 30 years would be $712 million, nearly paying the capital cost back twice. 
So that’s some of the key points, leaving aside some of the more intangible things around benefits to the urban environment, benefits of electricity as a fuel source, and so forth.
I guess a good note to end on might be to return to another nugget from Peter Newman, reported by Tom Pettit: There are 170 cities around the world with less than 150,000 residents that have light rail that is working. Why can’t Wellington?
We encourage readers to make a submission by Monday either using our form or the one on the GWRC site.
 Wood, K. (2013). Submission on Wellington Public Transport Spine Study. See “BRT capacity” section, p15.
 Newman, P. et al. (2013). Peak Car Use and the Rise of Global Rail: Why this is happening and what it means for large and small cities, Journal of Transportation Technologies, Vol. 3, No.4.
 Henry, L. & Litman, T. (2011). Evaluating New Start Transit Program Performance: Comparing Rail And Bus. Victoria Transport Policy Institute.
 GWRC, PTSS Short List Evaluation – Modelling Report. See pp79-80.
 Pettit, T. (2013). Bus Rapid Transit or Light Rail? Presentation at Exploring the Spine Study event, 23 September.
This is a cross post from Generation Zero whose Wellington team were perhaps felling a little left out our Congestion Free Network
By now you will hopefully have heard about the alternative transport vision for Auckland we’re pushing alongside the Auckland Transport Blog team; the Congestion Free Network. Quite a few people have asked, “when are you gonna do one for Wellington?”. Well guys, with the local government elections looming, the time has come.
Before I write any more words, allow me to drop the map.
It might sound clichéd, but Wellington is really at a transport crossroads. It’s on the cusp of a massive motorway expansion all the way from Levin to Wellington Airport, in the form of the Wellington Northern Corridor – one of the Government’s fabled “Roads of National Significance” (RoNS). The ramifications for the climate, our economy, and the special character of the “coolest little capital in the world” are pretty huge.
You might have heard John Key a few months ago announce that “Wellington is dying and we don’t know how to turn it around”. Apparently, the best answer is to spend well over $3 billion on some big new roads and tunnels through the heart of the city and region, to widen those state highway arteries. Surely this will get the blood pumping again!
The thing with a major roading operation like this, though, is it can have serious side-effects. In this case: “choking”, on all the extra cars it will bring into the city.
Capital will choke on new highways – Dominion Post 2/9/13
Gridlock is predicted to worsen across the Wellington region after Transmission Gully and the Kapiti Expressway are built.
Hardest hit will be Wellington city, as people from Porirua and the Kapiti Coast ditch public transport in favour of a faster, cheaper journey into the capital on the new four-lane highways.
The predictions are contained in a report commissioned by Greater Wellington Regional Council, which warns that local roads could struggle to handle the additional tens of thousands of cars hopping off State Highway 1.
There is some alternative therapy being offered in the form of the Public Transport Spine Study. This was supposed to tell us the best option for a high quality public transport solution along the city’s “growth spine” (Johnsonville – CBD – Newtown – Kilbirnie), particularly addressing the major bus congestion in the CBD that makes the current service slow and unreliable.
But, unfortunately, the Spine Study has problems of its own. It seems to have made an unfair and simply incorrect assessment of the light rail option, rendering the cost huge ($904m) and the benefits low (we’ll have a lot more to say about that). Even in the study’s best case option, Bus Rapid Transit, it projects the number of public transport trips in 2030 will only just claw back the lost ground as a result of the motorway building binge. And now the official line is that we can’t deliver this for at least nine years – five years after the International Energy Agency says global emissions should peak to be on a path to keep warming below 2°C.
We think Wellington deserves better. We see more and more cities around the world forging ahead fast with smart transport systems that help free us from dependence on oil and cars. These cities will be the ones prospering in the 21st century.
Wellington can’t afford a lapse back into the past – it’s time for a fresh, forward-looking transport vision. That’s why we’ve worked with some independent experts to develop…
It’s a holistic plan that we think builds on Wellington’s strengths to deliver better transport, a better economy and a better city. And it would cost much less than the planned motorway spend.
Over the coming weeks we’ll unveil and discuss more about Fast Forward Wellington. For now, I’ll just say a bit about the main components, shown in the map above.
1. A high quality “congestion free” public transport network
This means giving people the choice of reliable, high frequency PT services physically separated from traffic congestion, just like we’re pushing for in Auckland.
The first step would be building light rail on our alternative spine route from the Railway Station to Newtown then on to Kilbirnie over Constable St. We project this would cost less than $400 million and could be completed by 2020 by moving fast. Over future years the network can then be extended outwards – to the airport, Miramar, Island Bay and Karori. In the meantime these lines could be bus-only lanes connecting to the rail spine for transfers and some through services. Some routes like Brooklyn would probably remain as peak-hour bus only lanes.
2. A comprehensive Copenhagen-style cycleway network
This means giving people the choice of a safe and pleasant trip by bike with protected bike-only corridors.
Our proposed network would see about 150 km of segregated cycleways built throughout Wellington, Porirua and the Hutt Cities. This would be in conjunction with more on-road cycleways and traffic-calming measures to make the streets safer. With adequate funding of around $20 per resident each year, matched by central government, this could all be completed within a decade.
3. A city- or region-wide car share system
This means giving people an option of not owning a car but still having the service available for those occasions when they need one.
How does car sharing work? People pay a subscription plus a per-use fee, and can rent a car for minutes, hours or days at a time with little notice required. Systems are in operation in many cities around the world withZipcar. A company called CityHop has a small network in Auckland plus a couple of cars in Wellington and Christchurch.
Our proposal would see upwards of 200 vehicles rolled out across greater Wellington, making it a world-leader in car sharing. And for a cherry on top, how about making half of these full electric vehicles, with the rest plug-in hybrids or other high fuel efficiency vehicles?
There are some other components to the vision too. You might have also noticed on the map some new pedestrian zones or low-speed “shared spaces” on Lambton Quay, Courtenay Place and in the Newtown and Kilbirnie shopping areas.
And of course, there’s one pretty big point – Wellington doesn’t stop at the Railway Station. In fact about half of the Greater Wellington population live north of it. So, what could be done for those people?
We’re lucky to have some really good rail infrastructure to the north already, but there are a range of ways we can make it better – further electrification and double-tracking, building new stations, more cycle lockers and park & ride facilities, and much more.
And here’s one vital aspect: by building light rail in Wellington City and physically integrating this with the Railway Station, we unlock the potential for tram-train services from the north running through the CBD – rather than terminating at the edge. That means if you live in Johnsonville and work at the hospital, say, you could get there in one continuous train trip. A full public transport spine for Wellington, rather than a broken one.
In addition to this the cycleway network and car-share system would extend out, and we’d have separated bus lanes for Porirua (all day) and Wainuiomata (peak-hour only) connecting to the rail network.
So that’s the overview, and that’s probably more than enough for one post. We’ll have more coming over the days and weeks ahead as we work to push this vision onto the table in Wellington’s local elections, as well as putting out a quick submission form for Public Transport Spine Study consultation closing on September 30th.
Stay tuned, and we’d love to hear your feedback and ideas on the Fast Forward Wellington vision.