Wellington Scoop

Who’s to blame? How to change?

It hasn’t been a very good couple of years for Wellington’s public transport system. Our low-carbon trolley buses are sitting in the scrap-yard along with their cable infrastructure, the rail system has been plagued with failures and strikes, and the grandiose plans for electric buses and light rail and bus rapid transit are still firmly lodged in the file marked “pipe dreams”.

The goals of a public transport network in Wellington should be pretty straightforward – to get the maximum number of people where they want to go (work, mostly), on time, at reasonable cost, in a way that doesn’t destroy the planet. Yet most of the changes in the last few years have taken us in exactly the wrong direction, on practically every count. The pages of wellington.scoop have been full of articles and comments lamenting everything from illogical route and schedule changes to the inept performance on the Wairarapa line.

And the same pages have also been full of practical (and in some cases innovative) approaches from readers and contributors. There have been suggestions from the small-scale changes that would make life better for bus users in the Eastern suburbs, to more grandiose plans for light rail and better public transport flows around the Basin Reserve and everything in between.

Yet still the Wellington Regional Council sails on regardless, seemingly oblivious to the fallout.

There’s no getting away from the fact that all of the decisions that have led to the mess in the public transport network have been political ones. The call to scrap the trolleys? A political decision. The re-tendering of the service contract for the trains? A political decision. Raising fares while service levels have plummeted? A political decision. Replacing zero-emission trolleys with some of the dirtiest diesel buses in the country? A political decision.

At the most fundamental level, the politicians sitting around the table at the Regional Council are fully accountable for the fact that Wellington’s public transport network is dirtier, less reliable and more expensive than it was five years ago. Every single decision that led us to the current mess is as a result of a majority of those politicians voting to make it so.

So who’s to blame for this dismal state of affairs?

Bluntly, we are.

We’re to blame because we keep voting the same collection of people into power, time after time after time. Seemingly, every time there’s a local body election, the same hands go up and we obligingly tick the boxes to put the same crew back in power at the regional council – despite their dismal track record.

And in most cases, the people concerned don’t even go to the effort of campaigning. Our household was unable to recall a single flyer from a single candidate standing for the regional council in 2016, and there seem to have been no instances when any of the (largely) elderly candidate pool door-knocked their way around our suburb. Most of the current crop seem to work on the basis of vague name recognition and an assurance that “I’ve done the job before!”

To state the obvious, this is no longer a glowing recommendation.

If we want to fix Wellington’s public transport network, it’s pretty clear that it will only be done from the top down, by a group of councillors who are prepared to look to the future rather than the past. What’s needed is a revolution – a necessary first step to remove the current set of deaf ears, and replace them with those who might actually care about the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere or the additional cancer deaths from diesel particulates.

Much time and energy has been spent by clever and resourceful people across this city, exhorting regional councillors to do the right thing. These campaigners have offered reasoned criticism of the current direction and made positive suggestions about a better future. But based on what they’ve achieved and the recalcitrance of the politicians, it seems to have been largely a waste of effort.

Perhaps, therefore, the same campaigners might wish to turn their attention to a more political campaign – aimed at removing the underperforming councillors and replacing them with candidates who actually care about the public transport network. That way, poor decisions would be stopped in their tracks, and officials would be tasked with coming up with new ideas rather than constantly re-hashing the old ones.

So what would a regional council revolution require? It would need a pool of suitable candidates with the energy and enthusiasm for the job, some coordinated action to organise and run a city-wide campaign, and enough people putting their hands in their pockets to provide the money needed to succeed against the incumbents.

Would such a revolution work? Celia Wade-Brown’s mayoral campaign in 2010 showed that a motivated and organised campaign can succeed against a complacent incumbent, so there’s every reason to think it might. After all, the current collection of councillors do seem to be pretty complacent, and going by the pages of wellington.scoop, there seem to be plenty of people with the right skills and motivations to run things better.

The alternative seems particularly dire. Come the next local body elections in 2019, the same group of incumbents will undoubtedly throw their names into the hat, we’ll dutifully elect the same collection of old stagers, and our public transport network will continue to stumble its way towards a poorly-managed, underperforming and high emissions future.

And we will have nobody to blame but ourselves.


  1. Conn G, 14. February 2018, 13:12

    An excellent article PCGM. Regarding the central city to the airport route, another option is to use the laid up trolleybuses. Resurrect the wiring on a direct shuttle route from Central Railway to the Airport only, and terminate the dual Airport Flyer route. Passengers will need to change to the Airport with a limited stops trolleybus. These buses are too new to be scrapped. (The Silver Line service from Boston’s Logan Airport to Sth Boston Railway station is an example).

  2. luke, 14. February 2018, 13:37

    the gwrc councillors need to be shown the door asap. Theyve basically ruined everything.

  3. Greenwelly, 14. February 2018, 16:25

    The Regional Council has five councillors from “Wellington city” (Tawa is grouped with Porirua) while eight are from Kapiti, the Hutt and Wairapapa. Electing new people won’t help – the areas of interest and voter accountability simply bias transport decisions away from improving the Wellington bus network. It’s really no wonder it is turning into an organisation that owns a $700 million train set. (Matangi $235 and $170 million) + now $300million for additional Diesel Electric Units.

    All while the poor old bus commuters south of the station have to put up with buses provided by the operator with only promises of BRT that in reality will be painted bus lanes and not much else.

  4. Michael Barnett, 14. February 2018, 16:41

    Well put PCGM, but it will take more than a major revamp of GWRC to turn the ship around. Ironically one of the main promoters of sound transport policy for Wellington (Paul Bruce) was voted off the council at the last election and two current councillors who have a clear grasp of Wellington’s transport infrastructure needs (Dr. Roger Blakeley and Sue Kedgley) are now lone voices on a dysfunctional sustainable transport committee.

    Wellington’s transport woes are compounded by the fact that there is no one agency responsible for urban planning and transport policy, while the major funding agency NZTA has no mandate for developing light rail or for that matter heavy rail infrastructure and continues to promote more roads as the solution to our transport needs.

    One had hopes that the new government with its stated commitment to developing rail infrastructure around the country would come to the rescue. Sadly the new Minister of Transport, Phil Twyford is showing a marked reluctance to show leadership and become involved, preferring to let the snail paced LGWM process take its course.

    I have said it before, I will say it again. NZTA should be dismissed from its role in the development of urban transport infrastructure and a new urban development and transportation planning agency formed to replace the existing multifaceted committees of WCC, Greater Wellington, and NZTA.

  5. michael, 14. February 2018, 18:44

    Greenwelly, I agree that we will not get any resolution to central city problems when the majority of GWRC councillors do not represent us. I note however that they are working very hard to ensure the Wairarapa line has smart new expensive units – most probably subsidised by the money saved when they agreed to expose the residents and workers in central Wellington to hordes of smelly carcinogenic polluting second hand Auckland buses.
    Wellington City Transport should be controlled by Wellington City and I wonder where the WCC fits in all of this.

  6. PCGM, 14. February 2018, 19:42

    Michael Barnett – So are you suggesting that GWRC are merely the implementation arm for transport decisions, all of which are actually made by NZTA? If so, I think that would come as a very considerable surprise both to legislators and the people who work in those two organisations. After all, on key initiatives such as LGWM, the terms of reference specifically say that GWRC (and WCC) are equal partners with NZTA on all decisions, so it’s a bit hard to see how they can be full partners if they were actually as powerless as you claim.

    But you may wish to think about the implications of that point of view. Specifically, if GWRC are mere show-ponies with neither power nor influence, are you saying that you’d be entirely happy for the same group of councillors to have their terms renewed for another 3 years in 2019?

  7. PCGM, 14. February 2018, 19:51

    Greenwelly – While it’s tempting to think that GWRC councillors are merely acting in the narrow interests of their own communities, the Code of Conduct they’ve all signed obliges them to act in the interests of the entire region. The wording is:

    Regional focus – Members must exercise their powers and duties in the best interests of the region as a whole.

    There are also a number of other obligations, including those of honesty, accountability, public interest and objectivity that would also seem to preclude them from indulging in pork barrel politics – which is presumably why they are paying attention to fixing the failing Wairarapa train service, despite only a single elected member coming from that area.

    But if your apparent contention that the majority of councillors are highly factional is correct, then they are clearly in breach of their code of conduct – and isn’t that the strongest argument imaginable for un-electing them?

  8. Kerry, 14. February 2018, 21:34

    This isn’t as simple as it looks. As I see it, the big problem is a combination of too many buses in the central city route and a difficult pinch-point in the Old Bank area: No more than a dozen or so lanes on Willis St, Victoria St and Jervois Q, for all purposes, including turning traffic.

    Part of the trouble is that the public transport objective is easy access, without walking too far, to buses into the central city. It has been like this for over a century but it now needs to change. It is one of the reasons why there are too many buses, costly to run because they are carrying too few people. They may be crowded at peak hours but not full enough the rest of the time. Large cities need to change their focus from easy access to an anywhere-to-anywhere connective system with easy transfers, and the Old Bank barrier is forcing Wellington to think like a large city. Even Auckland has only been thinking this way for five years or so, but is starting to get results.

    The solution is going to need Mass Rapid Transit, and that is going to need:
    – Light rail. There is no need for BRT in Wellington because central area bus ridership is already enough to make light rail cheaper and more effective.
    – Connective routes, with passengers transferring to and from light rail. Making connections is very unpopular in Wellington (rightly so in the light of present-day practice) so selling the idea and then making it work will be a daunting task. It will need ‘pulsed’ timetables, with buses and light rail arriving at the same time, and that will need much better timekeeping. Mass transit has to be rapid so that time lost in making a connection is generally outweighed by a faster trip.
    – Much better hubs.
    – Carefully thought-through connections, especially in the central city, to minimise passenger delays and provide flexibility for a wide range of journeys.
    – A second route (but how to get it past the pinch point?). Light rail alone would be hopelessly impractical because so many passengers would have to transfer, often twice.
    – Paying for it all. That might be easier with a new government, and much easier when the whole system has much higher utilisation.

    Zurich has about the same public transport vehicle-kilometres per head of population as Wellington, but has five times greater use than in Wellington. This excellent system needs about a quarter of Wellington’s subsidies. The high cost is worthwhile because revenue is so much greater. And that is before you start counting the wider environmental and economic benefits.

  9. Cr Daran Ponter, 14. February 2018, 23:51

    Hi PCGM, Fact checking seems to be in vogue at the moment, so here goes (on some, but not all matters)

    1) The re-tendering of the service contract for the trains? A political decision.

    Untrue: A statutory requirement. Statutory requirement means “the law”. It means being diligent in applying the law correctly. It does not mean that all councillors either agree with the process, or the outcomes. You seem to want the GWRC to act above the law.

    2) Raising fares while service levels have plummeted? A political decision.

    Untrue: Fares have not been raised for the last five years. So the real cost of public transport has gone down quite significantly. Fares may be rising in July 2018 – by 3%, along with a raft of fare reductions, such as free fare transfers between busses, 25% off peak discounts, discounts for students – of course these were all political decisions as well.

    From the 15 July 2018, in Wellington City, 12 suburbs will start to receive evening and weekend services, where this has not previously been the case. More consistent and frequent evening and off-peak services will be available on many routes. On the electrified rail lines more off-peak rail services are being introduced. Again, a political decision.

    Yes, service levels have gone down on the Wairarapa line, but over a five year period they have improved on all other lines and the buses (we can all point to examples of failures in our daily commute, but day in day out service levels have improved).

    The Regional Council is working with the Government to get new investment in the Wairarapa line and Wairarapa rolling stock – of course, again, this was a political decision as were previous decisions to upgrade rail rolling stock and convince the government to make a $.5billion investment in upgrades across large parts of the network.

    2) Replacing zero-emission trolleys with some of the dirtiest diesel buses in the country? A political decision.

    Yes, and one which politicians had little choice over, when Wellington Electricity was demanding significant upgrades to the infrastructure, to their specified standards (and I say again, not a decision I agreed with, but nevertheless a tough call for Councillors, who were never going to get the support of NZTA to retain the trolleys on this basis – remember that NZTA is a 25% funder of Wellington public transport – any significant investment decisions have to be negotiated with NZTA).

    3) Wellington’s public transport network is dirtier, less reliable and more expensive than it was five years ago.

    From 15 July this year the emissions profile from Wellington region public buses will be less than it was on 15 July 2017 (of course it would be even less if the trolleys were retained – but that decision has been made and will not be reversed).

    Yes, there is a transition period of eight months in which the emissions profile goes up – occasioned by the fact that Wellington Electricity would not allow any further extensions to the trolley without significant investment in the substations (they had the GWRC over a barrel).

    On behalf of my fellow councillors, I have to take exception to your suggestion that regional councillors are involved in pork barrel politics. You might not like the decisions of the regional council – I sometimes don’t either. But I have never seen any indication of pork barrel politics, dishonesty or a lack of accountability. In fact to the contrary, my colleagues are objective in their approach to the duties – they take their roles very seriously.

    I really can’t understand where your comments are coming from – there is a clear need to do something about the Wairarapa line. You, yourself have been calling for action on this issue. And when the Council puts their back into it you accuse them of pork barrel politics!

  10. CPH, 15. February 2018, 6:24

    @Kerry – The point the article is making is that without some sort of political change, the chances of these various transport engineering fantasies coming to reality are negligible. Perhaps less wishful thinking about routes and roads is required in order to effect some substantive change to how decisions are made about transport in this city.

  11. PCGM, 15. February 2018, 8:52

    Daran Ponter – thanks for your view of the current performance of the public transport network, but I guess we can only agree to disagree on some of the metrics and methodologies.

    For instance, decommissioning the trolleys undoubtedly avoided some capital costs from Wellington Electricity for GWRC, but it could well be argued that it inflicted additional environmental and health costs on people in the capital. Diesel particulates are a known carcinogen, and putting more of them into a confined area using dirty ex-Auckland buses will result in more health impacts – and there’s no getting around that. It seems a high cost for the city to pay so GWRC can save a few bucks.

    The same applies to the fare rises. There’s no getting away from the fact that fares for most commuters are going up, and that patronage will fall as a result – that’s what GWRC’s own projections say. This seems a particularly absurd state of affairs when the rest of the world is intent on promoting public transport; for instance, Germany is now trialling free public transport in order to curb congestion and pollution – presumably because they are taking a joined-up approach to transport and health. Why is it unreasonable to expect GWRC to take the same holistic view?

    And I have to correct a misconception – I did not nor do I claim that councillors engage in pork barrel politics. As I point out in a comment up the thread, the Code of Conduct demands that this does not occur, and I offered the attention paid to the disastrous Wairarapa service as evidence that this is not occurring. But apologies if I did not express this well, as I did not intend to impugn anyone’s integrity.

    I did, however, intend to impugn the political abilities of a great many GWRC councillors – yourself excluded. With the exception of your consistent and detailed comments, and the occasional throw-away line from Chris Laidlaw, none of them are even slightly visible in the media to explain why public transport in this city seems to be headed in the wrong direction. Barbara Donaldson is the poster child for this “keep your head down and say nothing” approach, despite being the person who has primary accountability for the issues.

    And the other members of the increasingly-inaccurately named Sustainable Transport Committee? They are nowhere to be found; not in the mainstream media, not on wellington.scoop, not on social media … and this is despite the requirement in the same Code of Conduct that “Members should be accountable to the public for their actions and the manner in which they carry out their responsibilities, and should co-operate fully and honestly with the scrutiny appropriate to their particular office.”

    I contend that if councillors aren’t prepared to front up in the media and be accountable to the public that elected them, then they are probably in the wrong role, and should re-think their career direction.

  12. David, 15. February 2018, 8:55

    Our Wairarapa representative on Greater Wellington, Adrienne Staples, doesn’t even bother to tell readers what she is up to on the regional council in her regular columns in the Wairarapa Times Age. Instead she constantly attacks urban water users versus farmers using water and promotes the construction of a huge irrigation dam.

  13. Ross Clark, 15. February 2018, 9:52

    Follow. The. Money.

    Thanks to Daran Pointer for pointing out the financial realities that were a significant factor in the decision on the trolleys (I wasn’t aware of the situation). There is only so much that the NZTA will put in, when it can be encouraged to put in any PT investment money at all, and only so much that the region is prepared to pay from its own resources.

    Kerry – the *operating* costs of LRT may be less than BRT, past about 2,000 pax/hour/direction, but once the upfront capital costs are factored in, I really doubt that LRT is cheaper. And unless the NZTA, which is to say the Government, will pay at least two-thirds of the cost of a light rail scheme for Wellington, then it isn’t happening. I am not sure, from this distance, that the current government is going to make that much difference.

    Buses in Wellington would work much better than they do if there was a concerted push to control car numbers in the central city. I don’t see any enthusiasm for this, with or without LRT, and an LRT scheme would not make overmuch difference if at the same time no effort was made to control car traffic volumes.

    A good topic for discussion is what we could do *now* to improve transport in Wellington. And this means looking more at the small-fix but cost-effective improvements; like, bus priorities and priority lanes. Where I live now, they make a big difference, and explain why the rate of bus use is about two and a half times as high (per person) as it is in the Wellington urban area proper.

  14. Neil Douglas, 15. February 2018, 10:26

    PCGM – Sue Kedgley has been a strong supporter of the trolley buses and should be acknowledged for her efforts (as was Paul Bruce when he was a councillor). Many of the others who do and say nothing are mostly ‘out of towners’ who are politically immune.

    Daran Ponter became a Councillor after the decision to axe the trolleys was made (as he reminds us). The blame lies with Wellington City who owned the overhead wires and whose councillors did nothing to keep them.

    So you have to ask yourself the question as to whether having the GWRC is worth it. Surely, a transport board with political reps from the City and District Councils couldn’t do any worse and would save ratepayers millions.

  15. Cr Daran Ponter, 15. February 2018, 11:16

    PCGM – free fares are an excellent means of getting mode shift to public transport – witness super gold users in the off-peak.

    But that is not the Government’s funding model for the rest of transport users. GWRC is required to impose a minimum fare box recovery. Under this model universal free fares are not possible. If free fares were applied universally the cost would have to be borne elsewhere – through rates and/or taxes – ie free public transport has to be borne somewhere.

    With respect to the trolley buses, the GWRC avoided huge costs – in the $10s of millions. Yes, there was independent advice that the upgrades could be done at a fraction of the cost that GWRC had identified. But the cheaper approach was never going to fly with Wellington Electricity who applied their own set of standards to their equipment (ie the cost of keeping the trolleys on the wires wasn’t a few $million).

    The trolleys are now history. From 15 July we will start a new journey with battery electric buses – a small number to start with but nevertheless a positive start. I estimate that the 10 double decker electric buses will be the equivalent of about 18-20 trolley buses, noting that the new buses have a greater capacity, will run seven days a week (trolleys only ran 5 days a week) and will run on one of the longest routes through Wellington City (Johnsonville to Island Bay).

    As a side note, NZ Bus now have a certificate of compliance fo the first Wrightspeed bus which will be handed to NZ Bus in the coming days for further on road testing.

    Many councillors are unlikely to respond to Scoop articles – many of the comments are too vitriolic for councillors to constructively respond to – so you might be stuck with me, and occasionally Chris, Sue and Roger.

  16. Ben Schrader, 15. February 2018, 11:43

    I agree we’ve been ill-served by our regional councillors. For too long they have voiced platitudes about making Wellington a sustainable city and region, but have then gone about doing the very opposite – the dirty diesel Auckland buses being the last straw.

    I also agree that we have to take some collective responsibility for continually electing the same faces. As PCGM points out, most people cast their vote according to name recognition, rather than on a candidate’s performance (or non-performance). The little biographical booklet that we all get as part of our voting package is insufficient to make an informed choice.

    I think that Welly Scoop could have a role to play here. Next year might it consider devoting some space to canvasing regional council candidates’ views and, for incumbents, their performance over their term? It could also review what the Council has achieved in terms of its stated goals. Such an initiative would help hold councillors to account and make it easier to cast an informed vote. It might also encourage much-needed new blood to put their name on the ballot paper.

  17. Wellington Commuter, 15. February 2018, 14:57

    Daran: some of your fact checks need fact checking.

    “1) The re-tendering of the service contract for the trains? A political decision.
    Untrue: A statutory requirement. Statutory requirement means “the law”.”

    Fact Check: The PTOM Model is the law, but the GWRC and councillors were actively involved with and voted in support of moving to use the PTOM model and law. Below is from section 2.9 of the GWRC 2012 submission to NZTA on the law that introduced PTOM:
    “Greater Wellington has been heavily involved in the development of the public transport operating model, and supports its introduction through this legislation. Stronger network coordination, collaboration, and increased competition will provide more effective services and better value for money. We support the requirement that all services other than exempt services must be provided under contract.”

    “2) Raising fares while service levels have plummeted? A political decision.
    Untrue: Fares have not been raised for the last five years. So the real cost of public transport has gone down quite significantly.”

    Fact Check: The NZTA requires a Farebox Recovery Ratio of 50%. It is the GWRC policy that mandates Farebox Recovery must be 55% of PT operating costs. NZTA only requires a 50% ratio as stated in NZTA “Farebox Recovery Policy Q & A” Q4:
    “It is regional councils’ role to set farebox recovery policy, however, the Transport Agency will be advocating for the national farebox recovery ratio to move to, or remain at, no less than 50 percent …”
    The 3% fare increases are solely to meet a GWRC policy of 55% which could be lowered to 50% at any council meeting. This one IS 100% political.

    2)”Replacing zero-emission trolleys with some of the dirtiest diesel buses in the country? A political decision.
    Yes, and one which politicians had little choice over, when Wellington Electricity was demanding significant upgrades to the infrastructure, to their specified standards”

    Fact Check: Yes, GWRC received advice that keeping the trolleys would incur “huge costs – in the $10s of millions”. The real question is why the GWRC decided to scrap the 60 trolley buses that used to carry around 3,000 commuters/day because of a $50M investment was unjustified, but is now proposing to spend $300M to support the roughly 1,000 commuters/day from the Wairarapa and Palmerston North? Against what standard does the GWRC decide that a PT bus investment of <$20,000 per commuter is a "huge cost" while a PT rail investment of $300,000 per commuter is "needed" ?

  18. Keith Flinders, 15. February 2018, 15:34

    PCGM: Writing as one of the failed elderly GWRC candidates in 2016, who wasn’t able to cover all the Wellington City electorate as a team of one. Sorry that I missed your address !

    I agree that democracy is not best served by electing time and time again known names. A three term limit might ensure that we get a better mix of ideas and vision, for local government.

    However in saying that, running a multi-million dollar business using 13 elected councillors who haven’t displayed, to me at least, a jot of commercial experience, is not suited for the 21st century. One only has to look at the disaster at CentrePort where $100 million was spent erecting three commercial buildings on what is effectively sand. One is now a pile of rubble on the reclamation near the ferry terminal, another appears set for the same fate, and the third I personally wouldn’t venture into without knowing what strengthening took place over the past 12 months.

  19. Ian Shearer, 15. February 2018, 16:12

    Daran is right that the tendering of trains and buses was NOT a GW political decision – but it was a political decision of central government.

    Central government did this to stop local governments (especially the cities of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch) from implementing climate change actions and establishing themselves as more “sustainable”. Remember following the 2008 election, the new National Govt, declared that climate change action would only be a central government function – they changed the RMA to stop local government consideration of impacts – and they specifically banned the word “sustainable” from all documents submitted to Cabinet.

    National’s opinion was that local governments were ‘getting too big for their boots’, so they established Regional Transport Committees (which included the NZTA) so that elected representatives from outside the cities could be used to control the actions of “liberal city residents” particularly in relation to climate change and sustainability actions. The National Government also, via the NZTA, established the PTOM model which forced regional councils that wanted subsidy money from central government to tender out a substantial portion of the subsidised public transport services every 10 years.

    The irony is that these ‘quietly-quietly’ moves to block the liberal sustainability transition aspirations of city residents started to break down when the National Government then forced the development of the Auckland super city, the process of which required the destruction of the Auckland Regional Council.

    We all wait with bated breath to see if the new Labour/NZ First/Greens government will change the Government Policy Statement on Transport, which will facilitate the huge changes toward public transport that are clearly needed. I predict we will know before the budget, and maybe even before the end of this month.

    LGWM will have a huge change in direction. I look forward to supporting this urgently required transition to a more sustainable and climate mitigating electric public transport.

  20. Andy Mellon, 15. February 2018, 16:40

    There’s a number of comments here that have suggested that sustainable outcomes for Wellington can’t be achieved given the mix of cities served by the GWRC. As a Huttite myself, and a commuter to the city as well, I’d think that sustainable, positive transport solutions in Wellington are of high importance to a significant number of Hutt, Porirua, Kapiti and Wairarapa residents as, quite simply, many of us have a need to get around Wellington. I find it hard to believe that many non-Wellington residents would be against positive transport outcomes for Wellington. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, please take any money earmarked for the CVL and do something less unsustainable and with fewer logical flaws with it.

  21. Cr Daran Ponter, 15. February 2018, 17:37

    Dear Wellington Commuter. Supporting thte introduction of PTOM doesn’t get around the fact that it is still a requirement on the Council, not a choice. I am not sure why the Council was so effusive in its letter of support – possibly didn’t want to bite the hand that feeds!

    Yes GWRC farebox recovery is higher than it could be – by about 5% – because councillors know that if you take it down to 50% you have to find the shortfall in income from rates – and some councillors are resistant to this. But in the past five years, there still has not been a fares increase.

    With respect to the investment in new trains, herein lies a significant incongruity in how public transport is funded. If the GWRC, on behalf of Wellington region ratepayers, had to fund all of the costs of the units, it simply wouldn’t get done and services to the Wairarapa would cease. But this is a request for taxpayer funding and the Government contrasts the costs of investment in rail against alternative investments (ie the cost of further road improvements).

    Bottom line – there is no common standard for making transport investment decisions in New Zealand, which is one reason why we get rather peculiar investment decisions.

  22. GillyT, 16. February 2018, 8:28

    A question for Daran.

    Now that Wellington’s new reality is to be 90%+ diesel buses, will they be emissions-tested using Portable Emissions Measurements Systems (PEMS)?

    In the wake of the Volkswagen controversy, it’s been proven that on-road PEMs testing is the ONLY reliable method of determining whether diesel emissions are meeting the standard (Euro 4,5,6). Without them, GWRC claims that emissions will be reduced in July are frankly meaningless.

  23. Kerry, 16. February 2018, 8:38

    Ross: That break-even figure for light rail was 3000 pass/hr, not 2000, and the peak-of-the-peak on Lambton Q is 6000. Wellington needs two central-city routes, and a quality bus service is fine at 30 bus/hr, or about a quarter of present-day bus numbers. If they also carry a quarter of peak-hour ridership, that is 1500 pass/hr on buses and 4500 pass/hr on light rail, well above break-even on opening day.

    Follow the money? Sure. But the rumour-mill is suggesting it may change its course soon. We shall see, fingers crossed.

  24. Cr Daran Ponter, 16. February 2018, 16:41

    Hi GillyT, good question. At this week’s Sustainable Transport meeting, officers were asked to report back on the logistics and costs of emissions testing.

  25. michael, 16. February 2018, 19:48

    What about testing the noise levels as well. Some of those old buses are so noisy when they go past and when there are three or more lined up along Willis Street it is dreadful

  26. Sue Kedgley, 16. February 2018, 20:49

    Hi Gilly, to elaborate on Daran’s comment, I moved the motion to investigate emissions testing of our diesel buses for exactly the reasons you mention— to ensure they do meet the standard they claim. As you probably know I was appalled at the decision to scrap the trolleys and replace them with ageing diesel buses which emit carcinogenic particulates, and spent three years trying to stop this foolhardy decision, but was outvoted. What many people don’t realise is that at present we have around forty diesel buses on our streets which are so old (more than 21 years old) the Council has had to get a special exemption from NZTA to allow them on our streets! They will be replaced in July with more up to date Euro 3,4 and 5 diesel buses but even these ones will still emit dangerous particulates and carbon emissions as well.

    I have just come across this post so for the record let me assure PCGM that when standing for Council I leafleted, at considerable cost, the entire Wellington region and went door knocking too. PCGM is worried that Wellington based Regional Councillors don’t appear in the media but this is partly a result of lack of media interest in Council activities. And I try not to spend my life glued to my cellphone so I don’t respond to many of the comments on Scoop.

    As a few people have mentioned, there is quite s split in the Council between those of us who represent Wellington city and those who represent the rest of the region and this is very apparent in the Let’s Get Welly Moving project. The priority for some Councillors from the rest of the region is a four lane motorway to the airport while the priority of myself, Roger Blakeley and Daran Ponter is to upgrade public transport with a light rail network that is so appealing and reliable that people will leave their cars at home. I can assure PCGM that we are working tirelessly, behind the scenes, towards this end.

    There was a 5% increase in car trips in Wellington last year and that’s why congestion in our city is getting steadily worse. If this trend continues Wellington will become as paralysed with congestion as Auckland.

  27. Keith Flinders, 17. February 2018, 7:20

    Michael: On a visit to Auckland last year, I purchased a Gold Hop card and experienced first hand their mainly new public transport bus fleet. Alas the noise emissions were as bad as those we are subjected to by their old fleet cast offs now replacing our trolley buses. The noise was at its loudest as the buses pulled away from bus stops, thus impacting people waiting for a following service.

    Inside these modern buses the transmission noise was chronic, making it impossible for those like myself, having hearing loss, to hold a conversation whilst there in motion. It seems to me that the buses were built down to a price that did not include noise attenuation. I expect more of the same with the new fleet here in July. As a Karori resident, I will not have the option of taking one of the very few double decker battery buses as they are not able to operate through the tunnel.

  28. Herbert, 17. February 2018, 9:12

    Cr Ponter, I support your stance on public transport and thank you and Cr Kedgley for your comments in the post.
    But it is misleading to state that total emissions profile will be less from the bus fleet after July 18 vs July 17. Your council documents only talk of a reduction in the harmful pollutants component of the emissions. By far and away CO2 forms the largest component of tailpipe emission and has no part of the Euron6 emissions control standard.
    Euro6 emission standards set out to control the health harmful pollutants only; a flawed system with real world driving tests (RDE) showing Euro6 “compliant” engines (from testbed testing) producing NOx levels 700% higher than the limit. The total exhaust emissions (including CO2 comprising 12% of the total tailpipe exhaust etc) over the whole bus fleet between July 2017 (with trolleys) and July 2018 (without trolleys and a fleet comprising of 96% diesels) will increase.
    Cr Laidlaw is also guilty of this error. Yes harmful particulates may theoretically decrease (38% by Council claims) but only if you naively believe manufacturer producer statements which have been disproved by RDE on the world stage.
    Please keep up the good work of strong advocacy for future clean public transport. You have our support.

  29. michael, 17. February 2018, 9:40

    @ Keith. I agree with you as I live in the inner city and use public transport.
    My biggest concern is not only the noise levels, but also the carcinogenic fumes we are all being subjected to. After work there are up to seven extremely noisy buses lined up at bus stops and/or traffic lights belching out their fumes while dozens of people stand there every day waiting. Surely their health must eventually suffer from this.
    The increased level of noise from my apartment is also very noticeable and it is bad enough to make me consider moving out of the city. The GWRC has a lot to answer for. I doubt any of them live in the inner city,

  30. GillyT, 17. February 2018, 10:43

    Thank you Crs Ponter and Kedgley for your informative replies.

    Sustainable Transport Committee chair Barbara Donaldson’s comment in the Dom Post that the council’s NZ Bus contracts were NEVER dependent on providing electric buses, totally contradicts all the GWRC pre-election statements that led the public to believe that they were getting a predominantly electric bus fleet to replace the trolleys. The level of hubris on display is staggering.

    We need regular atmospheric tests from NIWA to monitor Wellington’s air quality, and real world PEMs-testing of the bus fleet in order to hold our councillor’s statements of “38% reduction in emissions” accountable when the next local body elections roll around in 2019.

  31. Mike Mellor, 18. February 2018, 22:23

    Coming into this late, and much appreciating the contributions from Councillors Ponter and Kedgley, and the fact checking.

    In a post of a few days ago, Daran said “From 15 July in Wellington City, 12 suburbs will start to receive evening and weekend services, where this has not previously been the case. More consistent and frequent evening and off-peak services will be available on many routes.” While this is the truth, it is unfortunately not the whole truth: there will also be significant reductions in off-peak bus service for some areas from July. For instance, the number of services between the CBD and Miramar will be roughly halved, with Strathmore Park losing all its through buses; all through buses between the Miramar peninsula and the hospital/Massey Uni will be withdrawn; the last bus to Strathmore Park at weekends will be much earlier; and it appears that evening and Sunday services to Roseneath will be halved, too.

    It would be good if GWRC shared the whole truth, not just the good bits, but it’s not even doing that: the detailed information about the new network that used to be on its website vanished a while back and has not been replaced.

  32. Cr Daran Ponter, 18. February 2018, 23:06

    Hi GillyT. Cr Donaldson’s statement is correct – “NZ Bus contracts had never been dependent on providing electric buses, but that was the council’s preferred option.” NZ Bus did not include electric busses in its tender. The Wrightspeed project is a separate initiative. If it works out I am sure the Regional Council will welcome retro-fitted trolleys – but lots of water has to pass under the bridge before that happens.

  33. Thompson Lewis, 19. February 2018, 1:50

    It is time to accept that everything will change with cheap, small, self driving cars that will pour out of China over the next 20 or so years and make all buses and trains redundant. So only minimal investment should be done on these outdated modes – and the rail corridor will need to be converted to roads to allow for the revolution in mobility.
    Subsidies for public transport users will be replaced by “gold card” type subsidies of users by personal need – even the poor will have access to efficient point to point mobility. This will provide a huge improvement for people who’ve only had the public transport option – they won’t need to fit with restricted routes and timetables which rob them of hours every day.

  34. Neil Douglas, 19. February 2018, 8:44

    Traffic problems in Wellington City are much more than getting from the railway station to the airport. As an example, Tinakori Road connecting the motorway with Kelburn/ Karori is now a traffic jam for several hours on weekdays and much of the weekend too. Congestion has got much worse over the last five years. My white picket fence that I repainted a few years ago is now pitted black with exhaust emissions so I guess my lungs are too.

    We don’t have a bus service along Tinakori Road but diesel buses do go along Tinakori Road to the schools on Hill Street. I seriously doubt Tinakori Road and other suburban streets where buses don’t run are considered much by GWRC (other than in their theoretical transport model) since GWRC only looks after buses, trains and ferries. NZTA looks after the motorways and WCC looks after local roads and parking.

    So for many of us, GWRC is largely irrelevant since we don’t have public transport near our door. But we people in ‘irrelevant land’ still have to pay serious amounts of money in rates to GWRC Councillors and officers ’employed’.

  35. Dave B, 19. February 2018, 18:21

    It is time to be very wary about predictions that “everything will change with cheap, small, self driving cars that will … make all buses and trains redundant.”

    These claims are normally made by people who have not considered the practicalities of replacing mass transit (e.g. trains that can accommodate 700-800 people each) with large numbers of small driverless cars on city streets.

    Things may well not work out as these crystal-ball gazers believe, and therefore it remains highly prudent to continue investing in conventional public transport as the only practical means of saving our city from inundation by traffic – driverless or otherwise.

  36. Cr Daran Ponter, 19. February 2018, 18:41

    Hi Neil, that’s an age old complaint from people who don’t use public transport – “I don’t use it so why should I pay for it”.

    As you are well aware, the very nature of public transport is that it has a strong public good element. That means that some people will pay for things that they don’t directly benefit from, but they are likely to indirectly benefit from. Besides bro, if you live in Tinakori Road you should be legging it into the city anyway.

  37. Neil Douglas, 19. February 2018, 19:04

    Daran: as you assume, I rarely use bus or train (maybe 3 times a year). I walk or cycle to the city centre and I use my 1980 mini to drive to my nut farm in the Wairarapa because I have two dogs and a cat and live 20 kms from Carterton station.

    I don’t mind paying rates and petrol excise tax to subside others using bus and trains – but not for the bureaucracy, waste and expensive mistakes that has been my experience of the GWRC over the last decade.

  38. Kent Duston, 19. February 2018, 20:47

    Just to come late to this debate … I had cause to go and submit to the GWRC transport committee before Christmas on the subject of fare increases for the Wairarapa line, whose escalating prices sit in stark contrast to its plummeting service levels. At the meeting, I lamented the state of the infrastructure, and was then asked by Cr Paul Swain whether I had lobbied our local MP to provide funding for the rail line. I remarked that I thought it was his job, a comment I stand by. He’s the one who is paid by ratepayers to advocate on their behalf, and it seems reasonable that he would spend the time and effort to make sure that the government was fully appraised of the acute needs of the public transport network in Wellington. Going by his comments, he thought otherwise.

    Following the submission, I emailed councillors to point out that a business case for an upgrade of the Wairarapa line was probably required before the government would commit to tens of millions of dollars of expenditure. Based on his responses, Cr Swain was clearly unaware of the status of any such request, but to his credit, Cr Daran Ponter stepped in to find out what the story was. In an email conversation stretching over a few weeks, Cr Ponter researched the state of play with officers and was able to provide some confirmation that GWRC did, indeed, have a business case in development for the Wairarapa line.

    It’s interesting to me that Cr Swain was the chair of the GWRC transport committee for a great many years, and yet seemed uninformed about the state of the organisation’s request for substantial amounts of taxpayer money on one of the key pieces of infrastructure that has problems dating back decades. It’s even more remarkable that he was not only ill-informed, but took it upon himself to tell ratepayers they should be doing the job that – to the casual observer – he is being paid to do on their behalf.

    In my direct experience, Cr Swain seems ineffectual – and if our email correspondence is anything to go by, seemingly uninterested in becoming more involved in providing answers to ratepayers. Cr Ponter, on the other hand, is engaged and enthusiastic, and as the comments above demonstrate, prepared to participate in the debates that affect us all.

    Deciding which one of these councillors deserves re-election is therefore left as an exercise for the reader … or the ratepayer, as the case may be.

  39. Cr Daran Ponter, 19. February 2018, 23:05

    Hi Herbert, the information that Councillors have been presented with, with respect to emissions, is that on Day 1 of the Wellington Bus network (15 July 2018):

    a) Total emissions will reduce by 60%, compared to the same time in 2017;
    b) NOx will be 60% less; and
    c) PM10 will reduce by 80%.

    By January 2019, when new NZ Bus buses come on stream, the GWRC has calculated that (on a total tonnes emitted basis):

    a) total emissions will be 64% less than July 2017;
    b) NOx will be 71% less; and
    c) PM10 will reduce by 84%.

    No calculations done for PM 2.5.

    Apparently calculations for bus emissions are based on real world data rather than “VW” test-bed data.

    I’ll see if we can get the full set of data posted on the GWRC website so you can comment.

  40. Cr Daran Ponter, 19. February 2018, 23:11

    @ Michael, The reality I’m afraid is that at present electric buses cost quite a bit more than diesel buses. The GWRC endeavoured to attract tenders which included electric busses and was willing to pay a premium for this – but to no avail.

    Over time (possibly quite a short period of time) electric buses will get cheaper. As patronage grows this means that we could well get to a situation where we simply say: “All new buses to the fleet must be fully electric” – the sooner the better I say.

  41. michael, 20. February 2018, 10:04

    Cr Ponter: I think we all accept the reality that electric buses are dearer, but the consequences of diesel buses will cause a lot more expense in other areas. Health and cleaning being a couple. In the short time the second-hand diesel buses have been running, the increase in pollution in the form of ashy dirt is very noticeable on my office window in Willis Street – no doubt because of the high concentration of buses. This must also mean people on the street are being affected as well.
    To prove these buses are not polluting our streets and bodies, I suggest the GWRC immediately starts monitoring the air outside at the Willis Street bus stop.

  42. Sue Kedgley, 20. February 2018, 11:39

    While Daran is correct about the projected reductions in emissions from our bus fleet from 2019, these are estimates only, which is why I believe it’s essential we introduce tail pipe emissions testing to ensure the projected emissions are real. And we need to start monitoring PM.2.5 as these are the most damaging ones that cross into the bloodstream etc. And while we will have 32 electric buses in 3 years time, this is out of a fleet of around 500 buses in the Wellington region! And once a new diesel bus has been bought it has a 15-20 year life. It would be horrifying to think that in 10-20 years time we would still be lumbered with a predominantly diesel bus fleet. That’s yet another argument for electric light rail from the railway station to the eastern suburbs.

  43. Herbert, 20. February 2018, 11:52

    Thank you Cr Ponter for the clarification of predicted reductions in the harmful-to-health emissions. BUT, and this is a very important but, it doesn’t equate to a reduction in Total Emissions. If we remove N2 O2 and H2O tail pipe emissions from the picture as normal atmospheric gasses, we are left with CO2 (which is not controlled by Euro standard emissions controls) which remains harmful to health emissions.
    The difference in CO2 emissions since the bus fleet’s trolley bus removal is a figure which has not been widely published. Going to a fleet which in July will comprise of 96% diesel buses by weight of shear exhaust volume increase equates to a total emissions increase. The energy required to shift a bus doesn’t change however it is powered. It was provided previously by emissions-free electricity when the fleet comprised of a majority of trolley buses. Now that energy comes from burning fossil fuels. The terms of reference for the sustainable transport committee are:

    Reducing the impacts of the region’s transport system on the environment and on climate change, including identifying opportunities to reduce public transport emissions.

    So you can perhaps understand voter dissatisfaction at being misled. Providing data on CO2 will go a long way to help clarify.

    From Cr Ponter:
    Hi Herbert, GWRC predictions are that co2 emissions are set to decrease as well. Once GWRC have posted the information I will link to it so you can see all figures in context.

    On another note, yesterday I had the pleasure of a drive on one of Tranzit’s battery electric buses – fresh out of the box from the Tauranga factory. Must say that I was impressed with the pick up and the quiet ride (with occasional noise from the compressor unit).

  44. PCGM, 20. February 2018, 13:38

    Cr Kedgley – While the sentiment regarding light rail and its role in reducing emissions and health impacts is laudable, there seem to be two significant hurdles.

    The first is that half-billion-dollar price tag in the face of only lukewarm support from GWRC, and the second is a fairly high level of skepticism about GWRC’s ability to actually run the service in the best interests of Wellingtonians. GWRC has yet to unequivocally throw its weight behind light rail, and it’s quite important that it does so if the government is going to be convinced to pony up hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s hardly a good look if the organisation tasked with running public transport in the capital is all wishy-washy about such a huge capital investment … it won’t inspire confidence when it comes to writing big cheques.

    The second issue is that GWRC has a very extensive track record of gouging commuters through the fare-box recoveries, which in turn means that fares are more expensive than they should be and patronage is lower than it could be. And it’s entirely reasonable to think that GWRC would behave in the same way if they got their hands on a shiny new light rail system. The effect would be people sticking with their cars, because the costs of using the light rail system are disproportionate.

    As evidence I offer the example of a casual ticket on the train from Petone into Wellington costing $5.50 for only 10.9kms of travel … and that’s before the prices go up. At this rate, in a decade’s time it will be cheaper to take an Uber into town than take the train – presumably because so many GWRC councillors seem philosophically opposed to the very idea of public transport.

    So light rail may well be an excellent idea. But based on current performance, having GWRC responsible for it looks like a remarkably poor one.

  45. Dave B, 20. February 2018, 13:40

    Why should GWRC be concerned to maximise the 15-20 year life of new diesel buses? It didn’t hold back from forcing the trolleybuses into retirement after only 10-12 years of life – with owners NZ Bus having little say in the matter.

    So in 10 years’ time when the PTOM initial contracts expire and battery buses are hopefully out of their pioneering phase, GWRC could simply turn round and insist that all the 10-year old diesels be retired and replaced with battery buses. Or else converted to Wrightspeed at the owner’s expense.

    The precedent has surely been set with the trolleys. If I were Tranzit with my 228 new diesels I would be worried!

  46. Gillybee, 20. February 2018, 14:25

    “At this rate, in a decade’s time it will be cheaper to take an Uber into town than take the train …”

    Haha. Never mind a decade PCGM, it’s happening right now and we live within cooee of a bus stop, where we’ve observed patronage collapse in the last decade as fares have increased. Why pay close to $20 for four adults to ride into town ONE WAY! This was the situation recently when we had visitors to stay. There is no incentive to leave the car/uber behind. Looking at some of the tired old neo-libs who populate the GWRC and WCC benches, the “philosophical” argument against public transport holds sway. There’s no such thing as a “public good” in their world.

    @ Michael: I hear you. We empathise re the diesel noise and fumes and were also considering the option of leaving our beloved Wellington. We’ve decided to stay put and fight back somehow. Hope you do too.

  47. KB, 20. February 2018, 14:28

    “It is time to accept that everything will change with cheap, small, self driving cars that will pour out of China over the next 20 or so years and make all buses and trains redundant.”
    The above is 100% correct. Arguments against this being the end result “because it will increase congestion” are ignoring the last century of increased congestion from car popularity. People don’t make decisions based on whether or not they will increase congestion, they make decisions based on what is the best mode of transport for them. Point to point on demand autonomy is so far above the experience of any form of public transport for the vast majority of suburban commuters that it is not even close.

  48. Dave B, 20. February 2018, 14:51

    @ PCGM, I think Petone-Wellington at $5.50 must be the most expensive journey per-km on the whole network. It is a product of the way the fare zones have been set, but I agree it is overpriced and a turn-off to the casual traveller paying cash fares.

    However Auckland has some worse examples. Britomart to Orakei is only 4.4Km and yet costs $5.50 for a 2-zone cash fare!

    Come to think of it, our worst must be Wellington-Crofton Downs, 4.8Km, $5.00 peak cash fare ($4.00 off-peak).

    @ KB: Despite the apparent advantages of door-to-door car-journeys, some 15,000 people use the train every day to get to work in Wellington. I’m not sure what the figure is for buses but it is also large. In Auckland, more than 50% of CBD commuters now arrive by public transport, and this is prior to the City Rail Link opening which will result a further major increase. Public transport works for many thousands of people despite their choices not fitting in with your theory. Kindly stop claiming to speak for “the vast majority of suburban commuters”, while being obviously unaware of these facts.

  49. Keith Flinders, 20. February 2018, 16:59

    Dave B: $5.50 Petone to Wellington Railway Station looks cheap per km compared to $5.00 on a bus CBD to Karori, and standing all the way in peak hours if you are able to get on.

  50. Andy Mellon, 20. February 2018, 17:06

    @KB. In this utopia of everyone having a point to point on demand vehicle, what do these vehicles do all day when they’ll be used primarily in the rush hours? This seems so incredibly inefficient and in fact unworkable to satisfy the ‘autonomous vehicles for all’ principle and also ignores the rising trend for remote and flexible working.

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