Wellington Scoop

Focus on roads is “$2.3bn bust;” FIT makes the case for light rail


News from FIT
“The Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) proposals are a $2.3bn bust,” says Fair Intelligent Transport Wellington. Space is at a premium in Wellington, yet LGWM wants to pour over 80% of its proposed spending into the most space-hungry transport mode — cars.

“This is magical thinking straight from the 1950s,” says FIT spokesman John Rankin. “We ought to spend public money on solutions that will work.”

“FIT supports LGWM’s Scenario A, to prioritise public transport, walking and cycling in the central city, but it’s not enough. We also need to prioritise light rail, road pricing, plus safe walking and cycling. FIT calls this Scenario A+.

“Invest in light rail connecting the railway station to the regional hospital, Newtown, and continuing to the airport, so people have an inviting alternative to private car travel.

“Charge for car trips entering the central city during peak times, to reduce traffic on city streets and make it easier to get around.

“Make multiple safe places for people walking and cycling to cross SH1 between Willis St and the airport.

“We need a bold objective,” says Rankin. “Let’s aim for over 80% of CBD trips to be people walking, cycling and using public transport by 2040. That will enable Wellington to do its share of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to meet the Government’s ‘net zero by 2050’ target.”

“For a city Wellington’s size, light rail is an attractive, space-efficient and affordable mass transit option,” Rankin says. “A person travelling by car takes about 20 times as much road space as a person travelling by light rail. We need to charge people for their peak hour car trips and invest the money in public transport.”


“Our city deserves future-proof transport,” says Rankin. “Scenario A+ will get Wellington moving on all transport modes, including cars.”

FIT asks Wellingtonians to reject the failed thinking of the past and support Scenario A+ at getwellymoving.co.nz.



  1. Neil Douglas, 8. December 2017, 9:25

    John, Your clear proposal for LRT fits Wellington well. Hopefully, you can persuade Phil Twyford of its merit and get it built in 5-10 years. Watch the costs, disruption and funding as it’s got to be affordable for Wellington ratepayers.

  2. David B, 8. December 2017, 12:52

    But Neil – we are in a different era now, and one which hopefully will not leave the funding of essential public transport infrastructure up to ratepayers. These schemes could be termed “…of National Significance” just as justifiably as 4-lanes-to-the-planes, if not more so.

    Thus we don’t need to be forever stuck in a mindset of doing things on-the-cheap.

    If $124m could be found for a very expensive 200m tunnel with a nice park on top (Pukeahu) that has solved NOTHING in traffic terms that simply closing the Tory St/Tasman St intersection would not have done, then public transport advocates need to lift their sights.

    The problem with the light rail scheme outlined above is that it provides no direct continuity from the existing rail spine which has needed extending since the 1960’s. It is just like terminating the motorway at Thorndon and expecting all motorists to get out and change modes. That’s 1920’s thinking!

    Sure, “Trains to the Planes” is what we need, but they need to be trains that connect the rest of the region via the system we already have. Let’s do this properly!

  3. luke, 8. December 2017, 21:37

    I agree that extending heavy rail south from the station would be great but we shouldn’t let perfection be the enemy of improvement, so what if people have to change trains at the railway station, as long as it’s frequent. Transfers are a part of public transport networks.

  4. Boaz, 9. December 2017, 10:59

    How can anyone talk of Light Rail now that the politicians have junked the trolley bus system? Trolley buses are a flexible mode which when equipped with articulated trolley battery buses with in motion charging, provide the most environmentally- friendly cost-effective mode of transport known to man. The Wellington trolley bus system was junked by a Labour-led conspiracy, who used a mythical cost argument to destroy the system. It would have only cost $15 million to keep the system going. The trolley bus line to Miramar came within 1km of the Airport Terminal. To have extended the wires to the Airport, and purchased a fleet of articulated trolley battery buses with in motion charging, could have all been achieved for under $100million. The left-wingers could have achieved everything that is desired in Public Transport had the trolley bus system been retained. The Trolleybus overhead electrical system could have been adapted to serve a Light Rail Tram System since it was originally a tramway infrastructure. Indeed the trams never left Wellington, they simply evolved into Trolley bus. The loss of trolleybuses is the loss of 125 years of electric transport.

  5. Stop Trexit, 9. December 2017, 18:32

    Boaz, You are so right! Wellington’s trolleys provided a system of rubber tyre ‘light rail’ that was truly light in terms of infrastructure cost. Today’s LRT like Sydney, Newcastle and Canberra are built to standard that the heaviest iron ore and rail coal ore line serving the WA Pilbara or NSW Hunter Valley would think over-engineered. LRT now involves concrete slab to a depth of 30 cm costing $175 million a km with overhead caternary that HSR would be envious of (or even more expensive in the ground power or battery). The Australian LRT concept defies the description of light rail!

    So if Wellington can’t afford trolley buses which could have been brought right up to date with lithium storage batteries (to permit longer off wire running) then what chance has LRT? Close to zero.

  6. Russell Tregonning, 9. December 2017, 23:53

    The urgency is to provide enough public transport capacity to take cars off the road to mitigate against climate breakdown and improve health. All electric light rail will cost about half the LGWM Scenario D with its roads, road tunnels and possible flyovers.
    The binningof the trolleys was environmental vandalism, but I can’t see how ‘left wingers’ have contributed to that. Retaining the trolleys would have been an excellent adjunct, but no substitute for high-capacity light rail. We need transformative transport options i.e. light rail, as well as electric buses & congestion charging. This is part of ScenarioA+. Tell LGWM.

  7. David B, 10. December 2017, 2:36

    Wellington most certainly can afford quality public transport options, particularly if National Land Transport Funds can be accessed for it. However this requires politicians with a different vision than billion-dollar roading schemes.

    What Wellington can’t afford is to continue on a path of worsening over-dependence on cars which is exactly where we are headed if the bulk of transport funds continue to go on more roads and public transport is left with the dregs.

    The loss of the trolleybuses was a political choice by certain politicians who we were foolish to have voted in. “Unaffordability” was an overblown excuse, not a reason.
    The real reason was that the trolleybuses didn’t fit comfortably with the ideology of competitive tendering that was foisted on urban bus services by the National Government in 2012, and our local politicians were too timid or too uninterested in finding a creative way around this.

  8. TrevorH, 10. December 2017, 7:29

    @Boaz. I agree entirely. The trolley bus fleet was indeed a form of “light rail” but without the huge capital cost, disruption and inflexibility of a rail system. Its loss is a tragedy for Wellington. I don’t know if the situation can be saved. Is it possible to impeach the Wellington Regional Council?

  9. Kerry, 10. December 2017, 8:21

    You are mixing two separate problems: unwisely damaging public transport does not rule out repairing it later.

    One measure of Auckland’s problem is 83 buses an hour, one-way at the worst stop, when the limit for smooth operation is 53 an hour. Auckland’s solution is light rail, and Wellington has 120 buses an hour at stops on Lambton Quay. Even inter-peak buses are often delayed. Wellington chose BRT, but then dumbed it down until it was no better than the existing single, overloaded route. Now there is no long-term plan.

    WSP, light rail consultants for LGWM, note that BRT built to the ‘bronze standard’ of an international design guide will work at up to 30 buses an hour in Wellington, which will have to do until light rail can be introduced. But it is not enough, and silver- or gold-standard BRT will be very difficult to fit on Wellington’s narrow streets. That leaves light rail as the obvious choice in Wellington, and FIT Wellington has shown that there are viable routes.

    With funding now available from central government, the biggest remaining problem is that Greater Wellington is postponing light rail indefinitely. The reason is not enough passengers, on a route than might as well have been designed to minimise passenger numbers. The latest estimate is that light rail patronage would increase by about 1.3% a year, barely faster than population. Worse, plans to convert BRT to light rail sometime in the future are much more difficult than GW realises.

    In reality, properly designed light rail often doubles patronage within two or three years, and a common problem is costly leasing of extra trams to cope with all the passengers. So instead of waiting for passengers to choose an already-overloaded bus route, why not plan for existing suppressed demand?

    Another common excuse is that light rail is too costly, but long queues of buses are expensive too. Light rail is often cheaper than buses—for both capital and operating costs—within a few years of opening. So let’s start planning.