From the Architectural Centre in Wellington:
The NZTA flyover and recent appeal
The NZTA have proposed building a flyover adjacent to New Zealand’s historic Basin Reserve. There are several complex aspects to the issue, but the basic chronology is:
- The Minister for the Environment established a Board of Inquiry in mid-2013 to decide if a flyover should be built by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) adjacent to the Basin Reserve cricket ground. The flyover is part of the government’s planned country-wide Roads of National Significance.
- The Board decided that the flyover should not be built. This was the result of a 72 day long hearing. The Final Decision is at: http://www.epa.govt.nz/Resource-management/Basin_Bridge/Final_Report_and_Decision/Pages/default.aspx(and there is a brief summary of issues attached). There were a number of non-profit community groups who opposed the flyover, and we worked together collaboratively to ensure alternative views were presented at the hearing.
- NZTA have appealed to the High Court asking for the decision to be overturned. The agency has also questioned a number of matters of law including issues to do with the evalution of urban design, heritage, and alternative options to the flyover.
Wellington is not a city of flyovers, and this proposal would place a flyover within a sensitive heritage site in our city, which includes an area of small nineteenth and early twentieth-century houses which would be dwarfed by the size of the 320m long concrete flyover, and become the dominant view for people living in Ellice St. The flyover would also block the view down the Kent/Cambridge Terrace boulevard, as well as obscuring views of the historic Basin Reserve cricket ground. We believe that a concrete structure of this large size, in this position, is not appropriate for this part of the city, which includes Government House, and the National War Memorial Park.
In addition to opposing the flyover, we believe that it is important that the alternative view to that of the NZTA is properly represented at the appeal hearing.
This means that we are off to the High Court.
It is no secret that the parties opposing the flyover have limited financial resources, and that the lack of an opposing voice in these proceedings will mean that not all of the relevant arguments will be put before the High Court. We consider it to be important for this to be a properly democratic process, which means that views from both sides of the argument need to be heard. It is for all of these reasons that the Architectural Centre will be a party to the appeal, and for these reasons we are asking for your support.
If you are supportive and would like to help there are a number of things that you can do.
- Spread the word. Circulate this email to anyone who you think would be keen to help.
- We’re holding a charity auction at 5.30-7.30pm Wed 3 December at Regional Wines and Spirits (15 Ellice St, by the Basin Reserve, Wellington)and are asking architects/artists/authors/designers/film-makers/poets etc. to donate drawings/paintings/designs/sculpture/poems/manuscripts/autographed books/film/anything – so if you can donate something that would be fabulous, and if you can encourage others to donate something that would be grand too. An auction poster is attached.
If you can donate something to be auctioned, please email us at email@example.com and/or post it to the Architectural Centre, P.O. Box 24-178, Manners St, Wellington, or deliver it to Cranko Architects, 81 Harbour View Rd (M-F 8am-6pm), and include your name, email etc. Additional information is at: http://architecture.org.nz/2014/11/01/architects-draw-charity-auction/
- Join the Architectural Centre. Information is at: http://architecture.org.nz/memberships/. More information about us is at: http://architecture.org.nz/
- Donate any amount you can. Our bank account details for internet banking are included on the membership form at: http://architecture.org.nz/memberships/
- Come to the charity auction… it would be lovely to see you there.
We really appreciate that there are many, many worthy causes that are likely to be taking up your time, energy and money, so we completely understand if you are too stretched to support this one with your time and/or money too. But if this is the case, your moral support and circulating this email to others, will be hugely appreciated by us.
nga mihi nui
Christine McCarthy, Victoria Willocks and Duncan Harding
on behalf of the Architectural Centre
The Architectural Centre is the most venerable advocacy group for better urban form in New Zealand. Formed in Wellington in 1946 by idealistic young architects and planners [including my parents] with aims of improving our built environment. The Manifesto includes clauses such as “Architecture must facilitate better living” and “Good architecture is elegant environmentalism.” A very good history of the Centre, Vertical Living, has just been published by AUP. Here is the full manifesto:
The news recently that Auckland had surpassed Wellington for rail patronage as well as passed the 12 million trips mark was good however as we and many others have noted, on a per capita basis Wellington is still well ahead. The per capita result got me thinking about how we measure it and whether the population figure used is ideal. It’s generally measured by dividing the number of trips taken by the population of the region
- Auckland – 12 million trips with 1.53 million people = 8 trips per person
- Wellington – 11.9 million trips with 0.49 million people = 24 trips per person
As you can see based on this Wellingtonians use trains 3 times more than Aucklanders do and for Auckland to have the same per capita rate patronage with it’s current population it would need to have around 37 million trips, something not likely possible without the City Rail Link (the modelling I’ve seen suggests Auckland won’t get patronage above ~25 million trips without the CRL).
While the residents of the capital definitely use trains more, the calculation is a very broad one as it uses the regional population. Both regions have large areas with a lot of residents that don’t live anywhere near a rail line that are extremely unlikely to use a train, for example the North Shore in Auckland or much of Wellington City except the parts near the Johnsonville Line.
For Auckland you can see this in the map below from the census Journey to Work data where train use is unsurprisingly concentrated around the rail network.
So it got me thinking about what the per capita results would look like if we based it just on the population that lives near a rail line. Reader Steve D helped me out and looked at the population numbers within all meshblocks that have some point within either 1km or 2km of a rail line.
This is only a close shot of Auckland to give an idea
And here’s Wellington
Based on the looking at meshblocks 1 or 2km from a train station the results are below.
So based on this Aucklanders still use the train less than residents of Wellington but the it’s not quite as bad as it appears when just looking at the regional level data.
Perhaps once Auckland gets the new network rolled out with integrated fares we might start to see per capita rail use in Auckland approach that of Wellington.
Campbell Live have been doing some great stories on transport and urban issues in the last few years and have easily been one of the best media organisations on the subjects. This week contained quite a few transport segments including on Monday when they dedicated an entire show to trains.
First there was this segment on travelling between the CBD and Papakura by train and by car.
I’m quite sure why John Campbell drove up Queen St to get to the motorway and I was quite surprised by just how quiet the eastern line train looked compared to the Western Line trains I’m used to.
Next up was a segment on extending train services to the Waikato.
We’ve talked about extending rail to the Waikato in the past. Personally I think for it to actually work we will need much faster services, particularly through the urban area and that’s where Kiwirail need to hurry up and get the third main built between Papakura and Westfield. I’ve been told it’s not all that expensive to build but they keep debating with Auckland Transport about who should pay for it. The example for Waikato trains was the Wairarapa Connection in Wellington.
I do think we need to be careful in using the Wairarapa connection as an example as the driving alternative isn’t great being a slow and winding road over the Rimutakas. I think if a trip from Hamilton to Auckland could be achieved in around 1½ hours (instead of the 2+ hours it takes) it would be very competitive.
Lastly on Wednesday they looked at the issue of tolling the motorway and compared a trip from Takanini to Mt Eden by the motorway and local roads.
As they show the local roads are already much slower than the motorways which I suspect will limit some of the diversion from people trying to avoid tolls but again it’s interesting to note that the same trip via train from Takanini to Mt Eden via train would have taken between 50 and 60 minutes (depending on the transfer).
We keep a close eye on patronage in Auckland – which has been surging in recent months – but what’s happening with patronage in our other major cities? So in this post I’ll look at patronage in both Wellington and Christchurch.
Unlike Auckland which has seen considerable growth over the last decade, the use of the system in Wellington can only really be described as flat. There are probably a number of factors at play including that the number of people employed in the Wellington Region peaked in 2008, the same year as patronage peaked – although I don’t think this is the only reason. On the positive side some recent growth meant that the end of June saw the 12 month rolling as the highest it’s been for potentially decades.
While Wellington does have ferries they carry such a small number of people (less than 200k per year) that they hardly register, of the other two modes bus patronage has grown slightly although it it dropped slightly in 2013 the figures are starting to rise again.Monthly patronage in June was up 6.3% on the same month last year which is a good sign and one of the largest single month increases in six years.
The rail network has seen more volatility with a large drop off in the number of trips from mid 2009. Patronage then stayed fairly low until after Wellington’s new Matangi trains were introduced in early 2011. Since then it’s been a slow recovery with the exception of the RWC. However in recent months we’re starting to see some real improvement and 12 month patronage to the end of June was up 2.8% – although that’s also partly because some lines were closed for over a week in June last year due to storm damage.
Overall patronage in Wellington has been flat for some time but the good news is that things seem to be changing with patronage numbers reaching new heights. Let’s hope that growth continues.
It’s also worth noting that traffic volumes on Wellington’s state highway network have also been flat for some time.
Between 2000 and 2010 patronage in Christchurch increased by almost 80% which better than what Auckland achieved over the same period with both cities coming off low base numbers. Then in 2010 and 2011 the earthquakes struck devastating the city – with the CBD suffering some of the most extensive damage. The impact on bus patronage was dramatic and set use back use by a decade more. Positively patronage in Christchurch is now recovering although still well below the pre-quake levels. Let’s hope the growth can carry on and see us quickly surpass the pre-quake results.
If anyone has details about patronage results for other NZ cities then I’d love to see it so let me know in the comments or flick me an email with the details.
In stunning news yesterday the Board of Inquiry hearing the case for the Basin Bridge bowled out the NZTA by declined consent for the project. This is what it would have looked like had it been approved:
All up the bridge would have been 265m long and carved a slice out of Wellington’s urban fabric at a time when other cities around the world are starting to pull these kinds of structures down – and finding it doesn’t cause traffic chaos.
The independent Board of Inquiry delegated to hear and decide the Basin Bridge Proposal of National Significance has released its draft report and decision.
The Board by majority decision (3 to 1), has cancelled the New Zealand Transport Agency’s Notice of Requirement and declined its resource consent applications for the construction, operation and maintenance of State Highway 1 in Wellington City between Paterson Street and Buckle Street/Taranaki Street.
The draft report and decision is available on the EPA website here: http://www.epa.govt.nz/Resource-management/Basin_Bridge/Pages/Basin_Bridge.aspx
A total of 215 submissions were received, and evidence was heard from 69 witnesses and representations by a further 74 submitters.
The applicant and other parties now have 20 days to make comments on minor or technical aspects of the report.
The Board will provide its final decision to the EPA by 30 August 2014.
This is quite a setback for both the NZTA and the government as the project is a key part of the Roads of National Significance (RoNS) programme and the Board of Inquiry (BoI) process was specifically set up to try and streamline the consent process for large projects. One of the key changes the government made in creating the BoI process was that appeals against can be made to the High Court on points of law only, and any decision cannot be overturned by the Minister. The outcome of this is that it’s meant agencies have had to do much more work upfront as there’s no second chance if they get it wrong. This led to the process taking longer to ensure all I’s were dotted and all T’s crossed and that extra length of time along with the risk of getting it wrong is one of the reasons Auckland Transport went with the traditional consenting method for the CRL.
But the NZTA clearly got this one wrong and have paid the price by not getting consent. This has effectively sent them back to square one and a flyover option is now off the table.
The report on the BoI’s findings runs to almost 600 pages so naturally I haven’t had time to go through it all yet however I here are some points I picked up on about their decision which starts from page 444 (page 453 of the PDF).
- That while the project would improve the cities transport system that it would do so at the expense of heritage, landscape, visual amenity, open space and overall amenity.
- They are uncertain how the plan would have actually accommodated for Bus Rapid Transit as proposed in the Spine Study.
- That the quantum of transport benefits were substantially less than what the NZTA originally said in lodging the NoR as they included transport benefits from other projects.
- That while North/South buses would be sped up, that the modelling doesn’t show any impact effect of this on modal change.
- That while there are some improvements for cyclists it’s mostly in the form of shared paths which will introduce potential conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists.
- That the dominance of the bridge would cause severe adverse affects on the local area and the mitigation measures proposed would do little to reduce that. They also found the new building proposed for the Basin Reserve would exacerbate this.
Perhaps some of the most damming criticism is in relation to the consideration of alternatives. The board say that despite there having been 73 different options considered since 2001 that the methodology wasn’t transparent and replicable. They say that weightings were applied to some criteria at different stages of the process but that it wasn’t clear how criteria were weighted and the reason for any weighting. They say that in their view it was incumbent on the NZTA to ensure it adequately considered alternative options, particularly those with potentially reduced adverse effects. This simply was not done. Of course you may remember that the issue around alternatives was one of the critical issues highlighted in the independent review the BoI arranged.
I think the issue of the inadequacy of the assessment of alternatives is particularly important as that has been a key criticism of the Puhoi to Warkworth route, a decision on which is due back shortly.
Interestingly not all of the commissioners on the panel believed that the consent should be declined. Commissioner David McMahon voted to the project saying that in his mind the benefits outweighed the impacts of the project will have. His reasoning for doing so are also in the report.
The big question now is what next. The NZTA has to go back to the drawing board to find or progress some alternative options but how will the government react. As of the time of writing this post I still hadn’t seen any response from the government despite this putting a huge dent in the RoNS programme.
Overall this is a fantastic result for Wellington and congratulations to all those like Save the Basin who put huge amounts effort in to fighting this project.
I’ve criticised Auckland Transport in the past for having so many items on their closed agenda. For example this was from their meeting on Tuesday:
Items for Approval / Decision
i. Rail Deep Dive
ii. Pitt Street Lease Expiry
iii. Relocation and Disposal of AMETI Property
iv. Investment Framework
v. Draft Election Policy
Items for noting
i. RLTP/LTP Update
ii. Internal Management Audit
iii. Health and Safety – May Report
iv. CRL Update
v. AMETI Communications & Engagement StrategyUpdate
vi. Glen Innes Tamaki Cycleway
I still stand by that criticism however I also have noticed that AT have been pro-actively releasing papers from the closed sessions after they are no longer considered confidential. This is a good thing and I think more council and government agencies should take this approach.
One of the papers that has been released from the April meeting is a fascinating comparison of a wide range of metrics between the Auckland and Wellington rail networks. The authors note that it can be very difficult to do a proper comparison due to issues like
- the length, layout and topography of the two networks
- how the services are operated
- the differences in the age and types of rolling stock
- the maturity of the Wellington network vs the rapid change being experienced by the Auckland network.
As such it is far from a complete comparison but does provide some useful bits of information about the two networks.
First up is a comparison of some key statistics.
The metrics show that Wellington rail commuters are generally travelling a lot longer than those who use trains in Auckland (23.7km per trips in Wellington vs 13.7km in Auckland). On a cost basis Wellington commuters also pay more however that reverses when you compare the average fares to the average distance travelled. On a per KM basis users in Wellington pay about 15c per km compared to 21c per km in Auckland.
Perhaps the most important difference is the operational costs. On a per km basis the difference will be even far more pronounced however we don’t have the number of service km’s that were run to do that comparison properly. Further on the report does break down the operational costs further though.
There are a number of significant differences between the two cities. Some of these are explained as:
- Fuel costs are obviously a lot higher in Auckland due to running diesel trains. The diesel cost was $3.86 per service km compared with an equivalent energy consumption of $1.22 per service km in Wellington. These should come much closer together once electric trains are rolled out across Auckland.
- Labour costs are considerably higher in Auckland. The authors aren’t able to give a definitive answer for this but suggest a combination of factors might be at play.
- The mixed fleet meaning Auckland had two separate driver rosters (Loco drivers and DMU drivers) combined with now former situation where some drivers were hired from Kiwirail at a premium rate (it changed in January this year). This is also thought to have led to an increase in driver training costs.
- Slower trains which means increased trip times for services and therefore more crew hours are needed.
- Auckland’s costs include all of those incurred by Transdev whereas it is suspected that in Wellington some support roles and corporate overheads are effectively absorbed by Kiwirail.
- Different fare collection staffing models. They note that it wouldn’t be possible to replicate Wellington’s fare collection model without potentially a lot more staff and/or fare leakage.
- Station expenditure is higher in Auckland. Britomart alone costs about $3.5 million per year to run and all stations in Auckland have more extensive use of CCTV and security patrols.
- Higher rolling stock maintenance costs due to the aging diesel fleet including approximately $5.7 million to Kiwirail for facilities, management overheads and hiring the diesel locomotives. The cost per km to service Auckland’s trains is $7.32 per service km vs 2.71 per service km in Wellington. The Auckland costs are expected drop significantly after electrification.
The one area Auckland does seem to exceed in is with the customer satisfaction scores which are significantly higher than those in Wellington. I suspect there’s a heap of reasons behind this and perhaps one is Aucklander’s are more accepting of crappy infrastructure/services as we don’t have the history of high quality to look back on.
All up a fairly fascinating report and while Auckland doesn’t look good in many of the metrics the good news is that improvement are on the way. The Auckland network should move much closer to that of Wellington from an expenditure point of view in coming years as the electric trains are rolled out and the savings they provide. That is likely to also be influenced by the re-tendering of the rail services which I suspect will attract a number of bidders from international rail operators as well as Kiwirail.
Transdev is hoping to secure a longer contract from 2016 following the transition to electrification, although Scott expects to face competition. Auckland Transport is asking prospective operators to attend a market sounding event on July 2 where it is seeking interest for the city’s passenger rail services for mid-2016
With patronage on the rise and the first electric trains starting to carry fare paying passengers in just 18 days it once again starts to raise the question of when annual rail patronage in Auckland will pass that in Wellington. It’s a question we’ve asked before after we got very close to doing so a few years ago but after the RWC hangover wore off, patronage fell away again.
The graph below shows the history of patronage on the Auckland and Wellington rail networks since 2002.
To me there are a couple of key things that stand out from the graph.
- Wellington patronage peaked just shy of 12 million trips in the middle of 2009 (although I understand it reached about 16 million in the 1980’s). After that patronage declined to about 11 million about 18 months later. Now that the fleet of Matangi electric trains have been fully rolled out and with reliability improving as a result, patronage is slowly growing again and is sitting at 11.47 million as of February.
- With the exception of the time during the RWC and over Christmas, since 2011 monthly patronage in Auckland has been very similar to that of Wellington, normally just a few thousand trips per month behind.
- There have only been a handful of times when patronage in Auckland has exceeded that in Wellington however those times can usually be explained by an event of some sort e.g. the storm damage last year or the NRL nines/Eminem concert this year. It’ll be interesting to see if Auckland can repeat it in March however it is something that will happen more frequently in coming months.
- The most noticeable difference between the two is the patronage over the Christmas/New Year period. In Auckland the lengthy shut downs for upgrades have clearly had major impacts on patronage. They’ve been a necessary evil while we get the network upgraded and hopefully with Electrification due to be completed this year, they’ll be a thing of the past (at least until the CRL really starts). If the shut downs stop then it suggests that alone may deliver about 300,000 more trips a year. Another good reason why the council shouldn’t let AT get away with lowering their SOI targets.
Before anyone raises it, yes on a per capita basis Auckland will be behind Wellington for some time yet.
Based on just how busy the trains feel this at the moment, my guess is we could pass Wellington by June this year but that do you think? Vote in our poll when you think Auckland patronage will pass Wellington’s
This is a guest post from Michael Dickens
The concept of Wellington’s Transmission Gully Road and a Petone to Grenada Link Road has been around for decades.
Suddenly though we’re blindsided by major new motorway options ‘tacked on’ with haste to the proposed Petone to Grenada Link Road (P2G) in February this year.
These new options (one includes the destruction of a whole rural valley – option D) have appeared with no public planning, and were a surprise to the Wellington City Council which questions why they’re needed?!
Option D will be an unnecessary 4 lane motorway through the beautiful rural Takapu valley (option D), a unique gem within Wellington City District, as a preferred option over widening 3km of existing SH1 (option C) between Grenada North and the start of Transmission Gully. ‘It is easier than having to consider traffic management’ NZTA tell us.
Incredible in this day and age is the concept that weighs equally the short term gain for traffic management against the loss of a rural asset, productive farmland, environment, and a community forever. These were called ‘esoteric costs’ by NZTA engineers at the public open day, and don’t count they say.
What’s more we were only given a few weeks to gather information from a standing start to formulate objections for something that would change and ruin livelihoods and landscapes forever. A process you wouldn’t expect in an OECD democratic country. It’s the further relentless imposition of the roading network.
NZTA’s justification is extra capacity is needed – which isn’t right. They say that when Transmission Gully Road is connected at Kenepuru/Linden and Petone to Grenada (P2G) is connected to Grenada – the mere 3km section between these two points on SH1 can’t cope with the extra traffic so option C or D are suddenly needed.
But traffic will drop! The traffic on SH1 Linden is the same traffic, going to the same places – whether or not it’s coming from SH1 or Transmission Gully. In fact it’ll be less after Transmission Gully Road is connected – here’s why.
Transmission Gully Road intersects SH58 at Judgeford, making it only 7km from SH2 and Upper and Lower Hutts. This is significant because moving the main Northern Wellington motorway corridor east, now means the dynamics have changed. Petone is now 19km from Judgeford whether you go via Haywards or via the new link – but there are big differences…
However the fact that SH58 has an easier climb, 5.8% and 122m from SH2 versus 9% and 290m on Petone to Grenada, (SH2 is flat) means SH58 will be the road of choice for traffic coming or going north from the Hutt, including Petone & Seaview .
The extra traffic siphoned off onto SH58, means the loss of Petone bound traffic on the Linden section of SH1. This will also have the added benefit of easing the morning queues for traffic turning left at the bottom of the Gorge.
Traffic volumes have plateaued for the last 10 years in the Wellington Region, and between 2006 and 2013 censuses the volume of those commuting by car into Wellington has dropped by 3.5% (75% more by bike).
The NZTA are using a flawed model that has traffic volumes going up with population and GDP growth – whereas it has actually plateaued, and has petrol prices remaining static for the next 30 years – something we all know is nonsense.
Further, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) stopped the original Transmission Gully Road going through Takapu Valley because the impacts were too high. It could be said that NZTA are back trying to build it now by stealth and haste.
NZTA should go back to the drawing board and build option B that was planned for decades – simply connecting P2G to SH1 south of Tawa. It would save between $50-150million and wouldn’t devastate communities and the environment. Options C and D are nothing more than a last minute land grab tacked onto P2G by NZTA prior to the election, with no justification.
We would urge the NZTA to think again and:
- Connect Transmission Gully to Kenepuru/Linden as originally planned
- If Petone to Grenada goes ahead – connect it by option ‘A’ or ‘B’ at Grenada as always planned.
- Scrap the unjustified scheme options ‘C’ and ‘D’ and with the money saved:
- Do the upgrade on SH58, Judgeford to Haywards with a split level intersection onto SH2. Both to take the extra traffic and improve its safety. It was given consents for this purpose 10 years ago
- Remove traffic lights on SH2 with proper interchanges
- Stop working in silos and start looking holistically at Transmission Gully, SH58, Petone to Grenada and their synergies.
Submissions close on the 17th. April on the Petone to Grenada Road, and it’s tacked on options
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.