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Better public transport, not roads or tunnels, says Civic Trust

News from Civic Trust
Light rail, walking, cycling and open space should be prioritised over roading in any upgrade of the transport system in the Capital, according to a city watchdog.

Responding to the Let’s Get Wellington Moving’s (LGWM) summary feedback report, the Wellington Civic Trust (WCT) urged city leaders to invest in better public transport rather than roads and tunnels in line. This is in line with the main themes that came out of independent consultant, Global Research, analysis of the responses, released yesterday.

Nine key themes were identified, with support for better public transport at top place, and widespread support for walking and cycling improvements and priority. A significant number, through advocating for Scenario A+, sought light rail to be added to Scenario A+.

Paul Bruce, transport spokesman for the WCT, said new roads and tunnels will inevitably lead to greater traffic congestion.

“High quality public transport, cycling and walking will improve the quality of life, mobility and health of Wellingtonians.

“An urban design that encourages Wellingtonians and visitors to walk or use high quality public transport would reduce the need to travel by car, lower noise levels, improve air quality and ambience.

“High capacity public transport such as modern light rail can also help provide the needed capacity to remove both bus and car congestion in the inner city and at the Basin Reserve.”

Light rail could be an efficient alternative to private vehicles, potentially allowing fast access to the airport and eastern suburbs, and at the same time, removing the need for private vehicles to enter the Central Business District, said Mr Bruce.

“Light rail is the most expensive public transport mode, however, it is cheap compared to the cost of new roads and the loss of prime quality land, safety hazards, air pollution and greenhouse emissions.

“It also fosters transit-oriented development along the route, which could be used to lower the cost of installation.”

“The fundamental aspect of a city is its people. A city must be designed around dense walkable core suburbs connected by efficient public transport and safe cycle routes.

“Cities that adopt a high quality urban environment result in lower living costs, attract more tourists and support more vibrant business.”

New suburban facilities should be constructed close to transport hubs, said Mr Bruce.

“The need for travel and new roads is reduced when a higher quality urban environment containing all essential services is facilitated. This is especially important for inner city residents, but also in potential urban islands such as Newtown, Kilbirnie, Miramar, Karori, Johnsonville.”

Restriction of private vehicle entry and street parking within the city would also allow for much more green, pedestrian space and cycle routes, parks and tree promenades, he said.

“The promised removal of a traffic lane on the Quays and replacement with a cycleway would connect Wellington’s CBD to its waterfront, as well as giving greater support to cyclists. Removal of private vehicles from the Golden Mile and their replacement with widened pedestrian promenades and modern light rail extending from the railway station to the eastern and southern suburbs and the airport, should be explored.

“An innovative design of a light rail transport system could help provide an effective mechanism to start to build city infrastructure that can better-cope with sea-level-rise.”

Mr Bruce said planning for exclusive use of zero emissions vehicles alongside much better facilities for walking and cycling will also reduce the need for retrofitting expensive new roading-related infrastructure that will soon be impacted by emission cuts.

“We urge the local authorities and the government to discard their ambitions to induce even more traffic by roading projects, and to build the first-world public transport, cycling and walking solutions sought by Wellingtonians.”


  1. Ian Shearer, 15. March 2018, 21:28

    Excellent comments from the Civic Trust. Light rail has been identified as the rapid public transport mode through this LGWM consultation process. Let’s get on with planning for commissioning it within 10 years.

  2. Dr. Russell Tregonning, 16. March 2018, 10:10

    The health and climate benefits of all-electric rapid mass public transport trump more roads and private car use. Scenario A+ includes better cycling and walking infrastructure with light rail and measures to discourage car use. The Civic Trust has got it in one.

  3. Kerry, 16. March 2018, 20:00

    Good stuff but a minor correction. Light rail is usually the most expensive public transport mode to build, but in Wellington’s narrow streets Bus Rapid Transit may be even worse, because of the width needed at stops. The WSP study (for LGWM) has shown that the two-lane BRT proposed in the PTSS doesn’t have enough capacity for Wellington. Light rail has lower operating costs than buses. Drivers are costly for either, and one modern tram driver can replace up to seven or eight bus drivers. A standard rule of thumb in Europe is that Bus Rapid Transit is cheaper than buses at peak loadings of up to about 3000 passengers an hour, and the worst point on Lambton Quay already carries twice that.

  4. Jonny Utzone, 16. March 2018, 23:16

    Kerry – have you any comparable estimates of inter-peak and off-costs for LRT v BRT which will account for 12 out of 16 hours per operational day (6am-10pm). I guess you should include the costs of feeder bus services too (to link into Light Rail so as to make the costs comparable).

    Also don’t forget that Tranzit (which won most of the routes) will be running brand new double deck battery buses (albeit untested) from remote depots (Grenada) and is non unionised at least at the moment (although that might only be temporary) whereas LRT will have Tramway’s unionised drivers right from the start at 2x to 3x the hourly rate of a bus driver (+ a year to train).

    I look forward to some informed analysis.

  5. John Rankin, 17. March 2018, 14:59

    @JonnyUtzone asks exactly the right question: what is the expected off-peak patronage? Investing in urban light rail only makes economic sense if there is demand to support an all-day, every-day service, with supplementary services during the weekday morning and afternoon peaks.

    On a Wellington railway station to airport line, most off-peak demand will come from: shift workers at and visitors to the hospital and airport; shoppers to the Golden Mile, Newtown, and Kilbirnie; students at the Victoria CBD and Massey Mt Cook campuses; and staff at and visitors to the zoo and sports centre. For a line that’s about 9km long, it’s connecting quite a few potential sources of all-day demand.

    As a frequent visitor to cities in western Canada, one of the things I like to do is catch their LRT outside peak times to see what the ridership is like. A couple of years ago I rode the Vancouver LRT from downtown to suburban Burnaby on a Sunday morning: standing room only, lots of families, lots of young people, lots of old people, not many tourists.

    So one of the things to look for in any light rail proposal LGWM puts out is how the proposal addresses off-peak demand. Does it include transit-oriented development around stops, for example?

  6. Kerry, 17. March 2018, 20:31

    Jonny. Comparative costs are based on ‘place-kilometres offered’, places for passengers—standing or seated—each hour. Like buses, trams will sometimes run empty, and the trick is to assemble both trams and buses into an effective anywhere-to-anywhere system. That needs:
    — Much better timetables and timekeeping, to make the system easy and quick to use
    — Light rail faster than buses because it is largely on reserved routes, with a high priority at traffic signals. It is often fast enough to to make a new trip, with a transfer, faster than the old trip without
    — Suburban buses also faster because they avoid much of the central city congestion
    —Central city buses faster because they don’t delay each other, with 30 bus/hour on the golden mile instead of the present 120.

    Effective systems attract all-day passengers because they are designed for all trips. No more peak-only services (why leave buses unused for most of the day?) and few or no school buses needed.

    Tram drivers can expect higher wages, not least to retain them because of training costs, but they get job security too. There is no need for in-principle differences between bus and tram driving.

  7. Jonny utzone, 18. March 2018, 9:55

    Thanks Kerry it will be interesting to see if and how LGWM compares LRT and bus capital and operational and wider economic costs and what the key assumptions regarding priority, speeds, driver rates and load factors are. I’m not convinced that place kms is the best kpi however. As John Rankin alludes, it’s moving people not metal that needs to be costed and ideally with the full economic costs on non users also taken into account. We don’t want another trolley bus mistake. However with GWRC involved I’d prepare yourself for another spine study outcome.