This month was a watershed for the Regional Transport Committee. Last week, a record number of submitters overwhelmingly called for a shift away from road building to investment in safe cycle ways, all-electric public transport and better urban form. They also asked for reconsideration of high-capacity light rail.
In spite of the public sentiment for a change in direction, the hearing Committee is likely to recommend continued backing of the expensive new roading schemes along with a second best Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) option for improved public transport in Wellington city. This means 85% of the $1.392 billion of the prioritized new infrastructure projects being spent on state highways and local roads, and a miserable 12% is for public transport, and 3% for cycling and walking.
The NZTA multi-billion dollar Roads of National Significance will induce a surge of new fast-moving vehicles later this decade, which will compete with public transport, produce more congestion, more unhealthy polluting particulates and more greenhouse emissions.
Transport is the highest contributer to climate change from fossil fuel burning and climate scientists are clearly telling us that we must move to low-carbon transport. That means electric rail and trolleys and not the planned dirty, diesel-fueled buses, or the aspirational hybrids which only reduce fuel emissions by 30 to 50%. Instead, the 60 electric trolley buses are planned for the scrap heap even when they have 10 to 15 years lifetime left.
For capacity, buses are planned to be large double-deckers or long bendy buses which international transport planners tell us will not work in Wellington’s narrow streets under the proposed Bus Rapid Transit scheme. These huge buses will magnify the safety problems that the current buses pose in the CBD for pedestrians & cyclists. The real alternative remains light rail as shown by recent projects in cities like Besancon, France.
The rapid increase in rail patronage over the last two years following improved reliability of the new Matangi trains, shows the potential for our public transport: an 11% increase in patronage over the 12 months to December 2014 compares to a flat 0.3% increase in bus patronage where unreliability, poor performance and high fares turn new customers away.
A welcome integrated ticketing package and a Wellington Bus review are planned some time in the future after new tenders are completed. But I am calling for some measures that can be carried out now to improve Wellington city’s public transport. These are zero fare Saturday buses, and free transfers extended from Hutt Valley Services to Wellington city. The other issues, such as moving to modern light rail, need to be worked through carefully over the coming year or two.
Free Transfers Wellington city
This move is long overdue in Wellington city and should come ahead of the integrated ticketing package of 2017/18. The Valley Flyer already has free transfers in the Hutt Valley, as does the Beacon Hill shuttle, Paraparaumu Kapiti Plus ticket, and the Porirua Mana coaches with their monthly paper pass. There would be an immediate benefit for some of Wellington’s 22,000 students, making our city an even more appealing place to study, live and work.
Zero fare Saturday buses
Zero fare Saturday buses should be brought forward to help reduce traffic jams and parking hassles as parents combine sporting events with shopping trips, visits to the market and school fairs.
Better use of public transport enhances the village atmosphere that we all seek. Also, those 30% of Wellingtonians who aren’t drivers can be mobile. A bonus will be the support to local retail sales. Above all, it will test
the impact of lowering fares.
Weekend buses are running with spare capacity, and any loss of fare revenue can be easily met from this year’s transport operational surplus. Savings on vehicle and parking costs also compensate for any rate cost.
Greater Wellington Regional Council completed a Hutt Valley bus review 9 years ago, bringing an 80% increase in patronage on some routes. In contrast, a bus review for Wellington city has not been implemented for over twenty years, and although begun over 5 years ago, will not be implemented until 2017, after the completion of the new tender round.
Wellingtonians like the ideas: Retail NZ Assn members attending a breakfast meeting in February supported the proposition. Wellington City Councillors also voted unanimously for an early weekend fare capping trial. The Regional Council’s integrated ticketing package includes capped weekly fares. It would be great to see Wellington City and Regional Councils working together.
Free weekend parking already provided by WCC costs retailers $1.4m, but the benefits go only to car-drivers. Research in the Tory Street precinct, showed greatest local economic benefits came from those who do not require on-street parking. There will also be social gains. People who choose to go out on a Saturday night and consume alcohol can use free public transport.
Wellington is attracting talented migrants, innovative business and forward thinking investors. We need to provide innovative transport options for our region in ways that add to the area’s appeal and reduce congestion now.
The Regional Council’s stated objectives are: more people on cost-effective public transport, reduced congestion and transport emissions. Council must begin some changes now, rather than waiting for the completion of new bus tenders.
Have Your Say by making a submission through to 21st April 2015 at
Green Party submission Better Buses at
Exploring the allocation of public space for transport
Retail owners over-estimate the importance of car-bourn trade by 100% www.sustrans.org.uk/blog/free-parking-not-good-high-streets
Low-cost light rail: what can we learn from Besançon?
Dominion Post published article