Wellington Scoop

Light rail – why it’s affordable


by Kerry Wood
The Global Research report commissioned by LGWM notes that some respondents “…think that Wellington is too small and lacks population density for [light rail] to be economically viable.” The obvious reason is costly rail tracks. However, overseas experience shows that, on busier routes, light rail is usually cheaper than buses, all things considered. The reason is lower operating costs.

For either buses or light rail, the largest single operating cost is the driver, and the longer the light rail vehicle, the lower the costs for each passenger. 1 FIT proposes vehicles 66m long, the length proposed for Auckland, each with the passenger-carrying capacity of six to eight buses.

If Wellington wants an affordable mass transit solution to its transport woes, then the central city route almost certainly must be light rail.

The choice between light rail and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) comes down to passenger capacity. BRT is best for one-way peak passenger flows of up to 3000 passengers an hour, whereas light rail is best for anything higher. Wellington’s main bus route already carries up to 6700 passengers an hour in the busiest half-hour of the morning peak (southbound at the Supreme Court). The demand for light rail is already there.

The comparative per-passenger costs of light rail, conventional buses and Bus Priority (as defined by Transport for London), are shown in the graph above. 2 It shows how light rail’s high capital costs are offset by low operating costs, most notably fewer drivers:

• Conventional buses are the cheapest option for a route carrying up to about 1500 passengers an hour, one-way.

• Bronze-standard BRT (or Bus Priority) is the cheapest option for a route carrying about 1500 to 3000 passengers an hour.

• Light rail is the cheapest option for a route carrying more than about 3000 passengers an hour, and is cheaper still at 8000 passengers an hour.

Light rail in Wellington will offer immediate cost-savings. Many examples, including Auckland, 3 show rapid ridership-growth on new, quality mass-transit systems. Well-integrated bus and light rail systems can provide, fast, reliable and effective services, anywhere to anywhere. Even more ridership can be expected from new policies, signalled in the new Government Policy Statement.

Another Wellington myth is planning to start with BRT, with a route reserved for light rail. This is illogical because BRT would be overloaded on opening day. The confusion comes from three Spine Study errors:

• Too many buses on a substandard route design created unrealistic capacity estimates.

• A flawed project assumption that existing — very unpopular — transfer delays would be acceptable on an otherwise-rapid system requiring many more transfers.

• A failure to think through the cost and complexity of converting BRT to light rail.

By way of clarification, BRT comes in three broad forms, unjustifiably merged in the Spine Study because of ill-considered definitions:

• ‘BRT-lite,’ proposed in the Spine Study but with capacity now halved to 30 buses an hour. The change was recommended by WSP (consultants to LGWM) for compatibility with the international (minimum) Bronze Standard. 4

• ‘Full’ BRT, (ITDP Gold or Silver Standard). This is probably impractical in Wellington, because it needs wide streets. Busy junctions such as Whitmore or Taranaki Streets would need tunnels or flyovers.


1) Route capacity comparisons are based on the cost of each passenger-kilometre in a vehicle running at capacity.

2) Adapted from https://stuff.mit.edu/afs/athena/course/11/11.951/oldstuff/albacete/Other_Documents/Europe%20Transport%20Conference/local_public_transport/public_transport_m1679.pdf

3) Auckland’s diesel rail services achieved 22% ridership growth in 2008, and electrified services achieved 23% in 2015 and 18% in 2016.

4) ITDP is the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (latest BRT edition 2016).

Kerry Wood is a retired Wellington engineer and a member of FIT Wellington.

Read also:
Looking good for light rail


  1. Jonny Utzone, 28. March 2018, 9:45

    Kerry – the TfL graph shows passenger PLACE costs per kilometer not passenger kilometer costs. Places are seats and possibly standing room. The places might not have anybody siting (or standing) in them. So just because your tram is 66 metres long with a carrying capacity of 6-8 buses does not make it more cost efficient.

    As you go on to say – you need sufficient passengers. For most of the operational day (say 12 hours) public transport operates with low load factors typically say 6 to 8 passengers per bus.

    The peak period is where LRT might come into its own by requiring a smaller vehicle fleet with fewer drivers. The peak vehicle requirement is usually considered a capital cost and not an operating cost.

  2. KB, 28. March 2018, 10:04

    Wouldn’t the environment where light rail is cheaper – at 3000+ passengers per hour – only apply to a tiny several kilometre section of Wellington’s network in the CBD? Would be odd to base such a huge spending decision on such a small section of the overall network. Having said that, I still think it’s worth doing from the Railway station CBD to the airport via the Hospital, even if the cost/benefit isn’t spectacular on paper.

  3. Kerry, 28. March 2018, 10:27

    Jonny: Sure, and a fare of 10 cents/5 pence a kilometre is equally unrealistic. Cost per place-kilometre is the best way of comparing modes, but is useless on its own.
    Filling real trams or buses on a real system needs other measures: speed, frequency, reliability and so on. Three particular measures are:
    — Timetables designed for all, including people like shoppers and shift workers at the hospital and airport
    — Excellent connections with buses and rail, making many trips faster with a connection than present-day trips without
    — Getting the route right: not Ruahine Street!

  4. John Rankin, 28. March 2018, 11:28

    @JonnyUtzone: The core business of LRT is providing high-volume, reliable, frequent all-day, every-day service, fast enough to compete with travel by private car. It’s really hard to justify investing in LRT to serve weekday peak hour commuter traffic, especially in a small city like Wellington.

    So the question to ask is where off-peak demand for LRT will come from in Wellington. Fortunately, a line from the railway station to the eastern suburbs can join up a lot of places with all-day demand. These include: the hospital and airport (both with all day visitors and lots of shift workers), shopping areas (e.g. Lambton Quay and Newtown), Massey’s Mt Cook campus, and the Zoo and Kilbirnie Sports Centre.

    By ensuring the line is part of an integrated network, as @Kerry notes, we can also expect to increase patronage on connecting off-peak bus services.

    Most urban travel occurs outside the peak periods and LRT has to capture a significant share of the total urban travel market, not just the peaks. One of the characteristics of successful LRT systems in other cities is that they are busy all the time. This doesn’t happen by accident; it has to be designed in.

    For a given level of investment, a city can maximize LRT ridership by creating a service that:
    maximizes the number of people within a 5 minute walk of an LRT stop
    encourages transit-oriented development around LRT stops
    is part of a well-connected network that makes it easy to transfer between other modes (buses, walking, cycling, kiss-and-ride)

  5. Roy Kutel, 28. March 2018, 12:45

    Kerry thanks for the cost comparison. I think the graph is from a 2004 TfL study of a corridor similar to Croydon and is a whole of life cost comparison.

    I’m sure you will be aware of the GWRC’s 2013 million-dollar Spine Study which came out firmly in favour of bus as summarised by the peer reviewer. So to me, it seems very unlikely that GWRC would want to revisit the economics of bus v LRT so soon after such a major study.

  6. luke, 28. March 2018, 13:32

    railway station to newtown would be a fantastic stage one and extend heavy rail’s reach greatly.

  7. Kerry, 28. March 2018, 16:24

    Roy. There is a lot of resistance to scrubbing the 2013 Public Transport Spine study, but until it is scrubbed it will be a barrier to sorting out transport in Wellington. It is now clearly unworkable.
    The capacity of BRT was marginal at the time, and has since been halved by the WPS study commissioned by LGWM.
    Greater Wellington gave itself a bad dose of ‘BRT creep’ (see wikipedia) and overloaded an under-designed route.
    The same study gave light rail a BCR of 0.05…

  8. Andy Foster, 28. March 2018, 20:55

    Good article Kerry.
    Question – the current level of PT demand along the Golden Mile includes people travelling on buses who are likely not to want/ need to switch services. For example I think the Karori Park bus service is the highest patronage service in the city. How many of those people are going to want to get off their bus at Lambton Quay and then onto LRT when most of them won’t be travelling much past Manners Street? Same will undoubtedly be true of many other services. So my question is how many of those 6700 people currently using PT on the Golden Mile are likely LRT passengers, and how many are likely to stay on their bus until journey completion?
    Warmest regards

  9. Citizen Joe, 29. March 2018, 8:23

    Andy, surely the main aim of LRT would be to reduce the number of diesel buses going through the CBD (for the benefit of all non bus users – like me). This is a main aim for the $2 billion Sydney CBD Light Rail which is currently being built (pedestrianize and remove buses from George St).

    For Wellington, more buses would terminate at the railway station and Courtenay Place and so passengers would have the choice of a healthy walk or hopping on Light Rail. (It’s a pity the trolley buses have not been retained since they could have provided a Lambton Quay shuttle with LRT going down the waterfront).

    So yes, the ‘price’ would be more bus transfers in the CBD, hopefully offset by more direct buses to/from some suburbs. The benefit is a rail-based PT spine from Masterton/Waikanae/Jville to the Airport (albeit with a splint at the railway station).

    Takes vision and political will Andy as I’m sure you know (you being a candidate for NZ First which backed trolley buses and Light Rail).

  10. Digger Dan, 29. March 2018, 9:34

    The key problem with light rail vs BRT is all the stuff underground. If a pipe breaks it takes out your transport as well. With BRT you drive around while it is repaired. or you add significant cost to relay all the pipes and cables.

  11. greenwelly, 29. March 2018, 10:36

    @Digger dan
    >or you add significant cost to relay all the pipes and cables. That’s standard practice for any light rail install anyway…You have to dig out a significant depth for the concrete base pad, so all the services have to be rerouted.

  12. WW, 29. March 2018, 10:43

    What is the source of that chart? Should be very careful using it, as there is no information on how those costs were calculated. For example, light rail might come out cheaper if you assume faster speeds than bus. But what if you assumed a dedicated right of way for bus also?

  13. Kerry, 29. March 2018, 11:03

    Thanks Andy
    That is another article… but the short answer is choices. Light rail cannot replace all buses, because far too many trips would require passengers to change, often twice. Neither can light rail share a two-lane route with buses (capacity). The FIT answer is:
    — leave the bus route alone (no construction disruption) but cut it down to 30 bus/hr, or a quarter of present-day capacity (no delays). Bus passengers can then choose to catch a through running bus (infrequent services on multiple routes) in the suburbs, or change to bus at a hub, or change to light rail (one or two stops between the Railway Station and Te Aro Park), or walk, or hire a bike (or a wheelchair for that matter).
    —Light rail on the waterfront, with stops at Frank Kitts Park (possible overhead footpath on Willeston St, 170 m to Lambton Q) and perhaps also Midland Park (mini-hub).

  14. Ralf, 29. March 2018, 11:11

    While I like your promotion of LR and I would be ecstatic to see LR in Wellington (how awesome would it be to board LR at the airport and drive onboard such a beauty into town) there is no political will. The majority of the council is opposed to this and they got their argument with the Transport Spine study (everyone knows how flawed that study was, but there are no other official numbers). While the current government might be a chance to change something here (e.g. offer money to the city only for PT projects and not for roads) I am sure that the council would just sit it out and wait for National to get back in power, to build further roads across the region.

    I would be happy if we could get some political will to improve PT instead of regressing it. Auckland seems to have finally gotten it (out of necessity because there are too many people and too little room for “just build some more roads”) but here we are happy with replacing electric buses with the dirtiest diesel buses one can find, and “improving signalling for pedestrians and PT” which should be commonsense and already under way.

    Coming back to “official” numbers. You state that LR is worth it because of the number of passengers on the golden mile from the train station in peak hours. That is as flawed as the Spine study. Few of them travel through to Courtenay Place or further. On the other hand, attractive PT will attract passengers, so I am not saying that LR won’t work. But some numbers for people travelling to the Hospital and the Airport now and what can we expect them to be with LR would be useful.

  15. John Rankin, 29. March 2018, 14:01

    @WW: as I read the chart, a dedicated right of way for buses corresponds to the “Bus priority/BRT” line. Provided the demand is high enough, LRT out-performs buses because one LRT vehicle-lane can carry more people than one bus-lane.

    And yes, we’d need to run the LRT at the highest speed the corridor allows, to minimize the number of vehicles needed to satisfy the demand. We can see from the shapes of the curves that you don’t have to erode the performance of LRT by much to push the cross-over passenger numbers up.

    At Wellington’s numbers, running LRT on a slow corridor with frequent stops could be less cost-effective than bus priority. Without detailed modelling, it’s hard to know.

    @Ralf: I really hope you are wrong about the political will not being there for LRT. I think it’s more that politicians tend to move at the pace of the slowest learners. But if you are right, we should put up a sign at the entrance to the city:

    “Welcome to Wellington. You are now leaving the 21st century. Please put your clocks and watches back 50 years.”

  16. Kerry, 29. March 2018, 14:52

    Ralf: Interesting question.
    The FIT estimates of passenger numbers should be pretty good, because they are based largely on 2016 cordon data, not the PTSS. The ‘largely’ is because rail passenger numbers transferring to buses have been scaled to avoid PTSS transfer estimates, which WSP (LGRW’s consultant) criticised.
    FIT figues are peak-of-the peak:
    –6700 pass/hr southbound at the Supreme Court
    –5100 pass/hr northbound at the cordon line, broadly, north of Webb St and east of Kent Terrace.
    The peak-of-the-peak is the busiest 30 minutes in the two-hour peak, 60% busier (PTSS Modelling Report). The PTSS averaged over two hours and got a much more manageable-looking figure.
    How far the 5100 pass/hr have come is a much more difficult question; hopefully it will be answered by modelling commissioned by LGWM.

  17. Mr Smith and rover the dog, 29. March 2018, 22:25

    Sydney has a very good light rail service. Effective and efficient. Wellington could look at the Sydney system for wellington.

  18. Glen Smith, 30. March 2018, 10:42

    Kerry. Good to see you pointing out some of the many flaws in the Spine Study.
    Let’s examine just one fundamental flaw.
    The study, rather than taking an open view and examining how many PT corridors were required and what the nature of these should be, started with the underlying premise/ axiom (fixed underlying assumption) of a single PT corridor. Then it applied a heavy bias towards a corridor that ran close to CBD destinations (not unreasonable given a single corridor axiom)- ie the Golden Mile. To appreciate how stupid this is let’s apply the same process to cars. We plan a single across-town car corridor closest to CBD destinations (again the Golden Mile). Given this planning process, we would immediately shut the Terrace Tunnel and divert the motorway down Lambton Quay. Then we would go “oooh bugger – it’s a bit crowded..what can we do. I know ( lightbulb above head)..let’s run some of the cars down a ‘secondary route’ (but we won’t do that straight away – we’ll plough ahead with running them down Lambton Quay to start with, then think about it again later) – we could use…ummm..how about some down..hmmm… I don’t know…maybe Featherstone St?? ..or perhaps the Terrace??..”.
    This would clearly be mind numbingly stupid planning. Yet this is precisely what the Spine Study did for PT.

    There are two main populations of commuters- those going to the CBD and those going across town. Traffic flow data shows that the majority of motorway traffic from the north continues on through the Terrace Tunnel (ie it is across town traffic). Potential PT users will be similar. Forcing all these commuters to slowly traverse the Golden Mile is head bangingly stupid. Yet the LGWM team have persisted with this basic flaw. It is unclear what the mental block is here. I assume there is a collective self-perpetuating group delusion amongst planners (similar to the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’) that this is a good idea. It is a very pervasive delusion.

    Two across town PT corridors are required. One should be the Golden Mile serviced by buses. The second should be a high quality ‘bypass’ (equivalent to the motorway) logically a seamless extension of our existing rail network. The best (and in fact only viable route) is the Quays since not only can it supply a rapid rail corridor (modelled at 7 minutes) but it can directly service the entire CBS without transfer.

    Time for our planners to have another look, see that the Emperor is in fact naked, and do some proper planning. After 5 years I won’t be holding my breath.

  19. Roy Kutel, 30. March 2018, 11:04

    Glen, GWRC’s ‘Emperor’ will need to engage different consultants who know something about urban transport, otherwise ratepayers will be throwing good money after bad and end up with the same result as the million dollar spine study.

  20. Wellington Commuter, 30. March 2018, 14:15

    Just a reminder that the reason the Spine Study rated the light rail option as providing a worse PT service has not been mentioned in either the article or the discussion. Light Rail will require longer travel times than any equivalent Bus Rapid transit option because of the need for commuters to transfer from most areas and, unless a dedicated light rail tunnel is built, the need to travel from Kilbirnie via Newtown into town.

    Spending more money for a worse service is not what we should be aiming to do if we want people to switch from driving.

  21. John Rankin, 30. March 2018, 20:47

    @GlenSmith: yes and by my measurements, an LRT line via the Quays and Taranaki St, then under Mt Cook to Adelaide Rd, would put every point on the Golden Mile within a 500 metre walk of an LRT stop. My understanding is that this is a widely-used design standard for new LRT lines.

    @WellingtonCommuter: yes and bus timetables would need to be redesigned to connect to the LRT service at transit hubs, as is routinely done in cities with LRT. And yes, a dedicated light rail tunnel under Mt Albert between the Zoo and Kilbirnie would be needed to deliver the travel time savings you mention. By my calculation, a travel time on LRT between the railway station and airport of under 20 minutes is achievable. In comparison, the Airport Flyer takes 30 minutes for the same journey.

    As Glen’s comment implies, the LRT service needs to be frequent and as fast as the corridor will allow, to make up for the transfer time between the LRT and connecting bus services. In well-designed and well-run PT networks, transfer times are generally 2 minutes or less.

  22. Ross Clark, 31. March 2018, 11:15

    Point #1: Wellington is not going to get a light rail system for under a round billion or so.

    Point #2: it won’t happen without the Feds coming up with at least three-quarters of the cost; the new Labour Government is generous, but I doubt that they are that generous.

    Point #3: The people who put the Spine study together were probably aware of that fact.

    Point #4: transfer-based systems will only work well with a much higher service frequency than has usually been the case in the New Zealand context.

    Point #5: bus-based systems can work well – as long as you get all the cars out of the way.

  23. Cllr Chris Calvi-Freeman, 31. March 2018, 14:11

    @ Ross Clark

    Point #1: True

    Point #2: Hopefully they will. There are many positive signals coming from the new government, about a new era of mode neutrality. The challenge is to prove that LRT is the best investment option.

    Point #3: Maybe so, but that’s history.

    Point #4: Yes and no. People look at all sorts of factors when making mode choices. People will walk a bit further and wait a bit longer for a quality service like LRT especially if it provides a truly reliable timetable. With an appropraite compromise between speed and stop spacing through the CBD, most people’s end-to-end journeys would be faster and more reliable.

    Point #5: Yes but that in itself is difficult. It’s easier with LRT.

  24. D. J. Vu, 1. April 2018, 11:43

    Ross – the Feds? This is NZ not Australia or the USA! LRT won’t happen in Wgtn until GWRC backs it.

    GWRC’s million dollar spine study canned LRT with a BCR of 5 cents in the dollar. The clear message to Central Government is that Wellington does not want LRT. Unless new thinkers are brought into GWRC or GWRC is abolished how can LRT ever be a goer?

    Apart from Sue Kedgley, who are the regional councillors who have the ambition to bring it about? Laidlaw and Donaldson won’t do anything and given Wellington is a safe Labour territory there will be no advocacy from them. So get used to diesel buses!

  25. Cllr Chris Calvi-Freeman, 1. April 2018, 18:52

    @ D. J. Vu. LGWM (NZTA, GWRC and WCC), not GWRC alone, is calling the shots on Wellington’s medium-long term transport future. Several GWRC councillors are demonstrably and actively pro-LRT.

  26. D. J. Vu, 1. April 2018, 20:12

    Chris, several actively pro LRT councillors? 1 Who are they? 2 Are you pro LRT given the outcome of the Spine Study? 3 If yes, how can you convince Central Govt given the awful economics GWRC officers came up with in the Spine Study?

  27. Ross Clark, 2. April 2018, 1:07

    To explain: “Feds” = “Central Government”. Soz for my quirky turn of phrase.

    But there is a deeper question to resolve; not why people prefer LRT to bus, but why they want to use public transport in the first place. Where I live (Edinburgh, in Scotland), the public transport is bus-based; and in a city of half a million people, it carries 120m people per year. (It also has a light rail line, carrying 7m pax per year; 20 percent of this market is to or from the airport).

    If Wellington had that rate of bus use, the bus companies and J’ville Line between them would be handling 40m or so trips per year, not the 16m or so at present (for the Wellington Urban Area proper, excl Tawa). Hence my comments in other posts about grasping the nettle of controlling car use.

  28. Ian Shearer, 2. April 2018, 8:16

    @ Wellington Commuter: “Just a reminder that the reason the Spine Study rated the light rail option as providing a worse PT service has not been mentioned in either the article or the discussion.”

    The most stupid aspect of the light rail option used in the spine study was the split route – one leg to the airport via an area with very low housing density, and the other leg a dead end route to the hospital.

    The spine study then recommended a bus technology system that would not fit in the Wellington streets – even as BRT lite – that is incompatible with pedestrianising the Golden Mile. No wonder the study was a total failure.

    These aspects were criticised in the body of the recent WSP study – but the summary appears to have been changed in the final version to ignore these failings. (GW staff or governance pressure?)

  29. John Rankin, 2. April 2018, 13:49

    @DJVu: the graph at the top of the page shows why the Spine Study found the benefit:cost ratio for LRT was so low. Below about 2000 passengers per hour, the cost per passenger of LRT rises steeply. The LRT route used in the Spine Study is unlikely to attract the ridership LRT needs to justify the investment.

    The message in the graph is simple: for an LRT investment to pay for itself, you need to attract over 3000 passengers per hour. Does LGWM have a plan to do this?

  30. Keith Flinders, 2. April 2018, 17:36

    If LRT is to run along the Quays, as FIT suggests, how will the many hundreds of those who have to walk from The Terrace, especially, cross over a busy road (afternoon peak) be persuaded to do so in adverse weather. If we had a continuation of the near perfect weather in the summer just concluded, I am sure the able bodied would relish the prospect of added exercise.
    Surely LRT needs to run closest to where its patrons want to connect with it. Getting the bus numbers down along the Golden Mile will provide space for LRT along that route.

  31. Wellington Commuter, 2. April 2018, 20:25

    @Keith Flinders says “… getting bus numbers down along the Golden Mile will provide space for LRT along that route.”
    So how will hundreds of commuters from the north and west get to work if you stop their bus running down the Golden Mile? Unlike commuters from the south and east, we won’t have the choice of taking light rail (although I’m sure we’ll be expected to contribute towards what will be a worse PT service).

  32. Patrick Morgan, 2. April 2018, 22:21

    You know the spine study was a jack up, right? Deeply flawed analysis was rigged against light rail. It’s a junk report. [via twitter]

  33. Roger Blakeley, 2. April 2018, 22:23

    Yes, I know the background to the Spine Study. You can imagine my reaction when I read the WSP report on Wellington Mass Transit for LGWM in October 2017, and it repeated the same flawed recommendation for a bifurcated spine route as the Spine Study. I don’t want history to repeat itself! [via twitter]

  34. Sue Kedgley, 3. April 2018, 8:20

    There are a number of GWRC Councillors working together to promote light rail in Wellington and that includes Roger Blakeley and Daran Ponter.

    Great to see FIT leadership on this issue but I don’t support light rail on Jervois Quay as it needs to run along a central transport corridor where most people work and shop such as the Golden Mile, as it does in most cities with light rail. The key is to make it accessible to people and making people walk down to Jervois Quay simply wont work.

  35. John Rankin, 3. April 2018, 17:43

    @WellingtonCommuter puts a finger on the nub of the problem running LRT through central Wellinton. You can run buses on the Golden Mile or you can run LRT on the Golden Mile, but not both. Between Panama St and Taranaki St there are only 2 lanes (one lane past the Old Bank building). LRT needs a dedicated right of way, which means you don’t want it sharing a lane with buses.

    FIT concluded that if you want LRT to provide a rapid transit service it’s better to keep the slower bus services on the pedestrian priority streets that make up the Golden Mile and run LRT on a faster corridor. With fewer buses (WSP estimates about a quarter of current numbers) the Golden Mile can become much more pedestrian friendly, with a speed limit at most 30 km/hr.

    A case can be made for a transit mini-hub at Midland Park, offering connections between LRT and bus services from the north and west. This would also give people working on The Terrace a shorter walk to an LRT stop.

    I’d like to hear @SueKedgley’s reasons for concluding a Quays route “simply won’t work.” Every point on the Golden Mile would be less than 500 metres walk from an LRT stop. Many train passengers today walk 1000 metres or more from the station to their destinations. Why do people walk 1000 metres to catch a train but won’t walk 500 metres to catch the LRT?

    The other challenge for a Golden Mile LRT route is that it will be slower, so will be less attractive to people who currently drive. Does Wellington want to create an urban rapid transit network that can compete with travel by private car, or not? I guess that’s for our elected representatives to decide.

  36. Glen Smith, 4. April 2018, 10:13

    Sue Kedgley. I have attended a couple of your presentations and have been impressed by your vision. However I hope you are going to undertake your job in a thorough, objective and open minded manner because your opposition to rail on the Quays makes no logical sense.
    If rail goes along the Quays, then commuters from the north arriving by rail with a Golden Mile destination can still access this directly using PT by transferring to buses rather than light rail. In fact this is unnecessary because if you take 5 minutes to look at a map you will see essentially all of the northern CBD lies within 300m (not 500m) of potential Quays station, well within the distance that empirical data shows that rail users are prepared to walk.
    For commuters from suburbs in Wellington, the logical design is to have ‘lines’ that run from one peripheral destination, across the CBD without transfer (ie the same mode throughout the entire journey), and on to another peripheral destination. This is the basic design used by essentially all networks worldwide. For almost all Wellington suburbs (and therefore almost all lines) the logical mode is still going to be bus. The only route that currently justifies rail, in my view, is the airport route and largely on the basis of the predicted 59,000 daily commuter trips to and from the airport by 2030 which will be spread fairly evenly (based on plane arrival/ departures data) over the day from 6am to 9pm.

    By displacing buses on the Golden Mile in favour of rail you will either reduce the frequency of service for these bus users, or force them to change mode mid journey (which empirical data shows is a potent inhibitor of utilisation) or force them to take a different route away from the Golden Mile – ie you will force inconvenience on the majority of commuters (who are in fact bus commuters.)

    One of the main objectives in any change should be to attract current car users from the north by removing transfer at the Station (something our planners seem to be ignoring and a second of the fundamental flaws in the Spine Study). This would require a high quality corridor for ‘medium weight’ units that can ‘track share’ on our existing network, which the Golden Mile cannot supply but which the Quays, in my view, can provide. The Golden Mile may be a short walk from the Quays, but equally waterfront destinations (waterfront eateries, Queens Wharf etc) are just as far from the Golden Mile. Adding a second across town PT corridor increases city coverage for all destinations as well as adding essential capacity.

    I hope you and other councillors are going to explore all options and present them to the people who should be making the decisions (the public) rather than imposing an illogical dictate based on personal biases.

  37. Keith Flinders, 4. April 2018, 12:02

    How many suburban train users, as a percentage of the total, go more than a km or two south beyond the Railway Station ? How many of those commuters would want to cross the seaward Quays to catch a light rail mode of transport that will not take some of them anywhere near to where they work ?

    John Rankin makes the point that having LRT along the Quays would make for faster journey times, but add the extra time to get to a LRT departure points and the average commuter hasn’t gained any time at all. Most will want to continue using the buses, especially during adverse weather conditions.

    LRT does not need to be totally segregated from other traffic, but in an ideal world it would be. Cities around the world manage LRT sharing the same transport corridors. FIT’s scheme seems to imply that LRT needs to be an extension of the heavy rail network, and not run where the majority of would be users want it to run.

    A form of mass transit Railway Station to Courtenay Place is needed, to reduce congestion caused mainly by the buses at peak times. Does it need to be super fast? I suggest not. Courtenay Place should be the other transport hub for the majority of eastern and southern suburbs commuters. I can hear protests already about the need to transfer from a LRT, or other mass mover of people, to buses – but such transfers will be the norm for many bus commuters come this July. The GWRC has decided that bus routes no longer need to be planned to suit the convenience of the commuter, rather how good they look with computer modelling and buses painted all the same colour.

    I sat in Lambton Quay during the morning peak about this time last year and observed that the private vehicles were not contributing to congestion to any degree in that street. Buses, courier vans, service vehicles were the culprits. I need to repeat the same exercise for the evening peak but don’t want to further endanger my health inhaling the massive increase in diesel fumes and particulate matter now very much apparent.

  38. Sue Kedgley, 4. April 2018, 14:09

    If it’s considered essential to separate light rail and buses, then buses could go along Featherston Street. And Glen it’s not just me who thinks light rail on the Quay won’t work — Tramsaction and other public transport groups take the same stance that it should run along the Golden Mile so it’s accessible for a maximum number of people. But in the end it will be up to technical experts from Let’s Get Welly Moving to decide.

  39. luke, 4. April 2018, 17:00

    light rail along the quays would be more likely to attract car drivers to a train-lrt combo than a slow meander along the golden mile imo. There needs to be a fast route to bring the courtenay place jobs closer to the rail network.

    the days of infrequent buses from everywhere to everywhere need to be consigned to history; transfers are how networks function. Imagine the london underground without transfers.

  40. Glen Smith, 4. April 2018, 20:32

    Sue Kedgley. I admire your optimism that LGWM (who demonstrably still have a pro road bias) will present a comprehensive range of options. Perhaps you could ask ‘Tramsaction and other public transport groups’ to outline on this forum the reasons why rail along the Quays isn’t technically feasible or why the more expensive and difficult option of running rail along a busy crowded multipurpose space such as the Golden Mile is superior to running it down a nearby rapid high quality dedicated corridor that also increases PT coverage and capacity rather than simply displacing existing functional PT.

  41. Mike Mellor, 4. April 2018, 21:23

    Put simply, light rail along the quays will be faster for light rail vehicles (and the people on them) than along the Golden Mile; but slower for people who will be going to/from the CBD, because the Golden Mile runs through the centre of the CBD and the quays are on the edge. The quays route in fact substantially reduces PT coverage of the CBD, rather than increasing it.

    And both routes will also have their safety risks for pedestrians: the Golden Mile route because of mixing with pedestrians (though mixing with trams generally seems to be less risky than mixing with buses; and with the quays route (if the route is on the sea side, as I think FIT proposes) everyone heading to or from the CBD will have to cross six (or whatever) lanes of traffic. (A land-side route wouldn’t have this problem.)

    So it’s a trade off. In my opinion, if access *to* the CBD is the priority, the Golden Mile route is the better option; if access *through* the CBD is more important, the quays route is better (though with significant safety issues to be resolved).

  42. Cllr Chris Calvi-Freeman, 4. April 2018, 21:55

    I am a supporter of the single spine route (railway station to Airport/Miramar via Newtown) and have been involved in the recent workshops with sustainable transport advocates and the three key GWRC councillors (Cllrs Blakeley, Ponter and Kedgley). I am also a member of the LGWM governance group and, as such, have argued over the past 18 months for more work to be done on LRT, while also declaring that I will reserve final judgement until I see all the evidence of the benefits of this mode in comparison to others.

    Picking up on all the contributions above – I have said in the workshops that we need to aim for a compromise between those who propose a faster “rapid transit” service to the airport via the waterfront quays and those who believe it necessary for the route to follow the Golden Mile. We need a route that avoids the current bus-on-bus delays (which of course would reduce when/if LRT takes over a significant proportion of the current public transport patronage) but does not alienate CBD commuters and shoppers by necessitating longer and less attractive walks to/from and across the waterfront quays. (There’s also the issue of road capacity on the waterfront route, given that a second Terrace Tunnel will be a long time coming, so the waterfront will continue to carry a significant proportion of regional traffic to and from the airport etc.)

    There are several possible “compromise” CBD route options, for example:

    Southbound: Featherston Street then straight through to Lambton Quay past the old BNZ then straight into Willeston Steet, right into Victoria Street, left into Wakefield Street, right into Cuba Street, left into Manners Street, right into Taranaki Street.

    Northbound: Taranaki Street, left into Manners Street, right into Willis Street, left into Lambton Quay.

    This would involve converting the short section of Lambton Quay past the old BNZ back to two-way running – tight but achievable, with no stops to delay vehicles.

    Bus and LRT stops would be positioned to avoid, as far as possible, buses delaying the LRT – for example on the northbound Lambton Quay route the LRT would bypass the bus stops and have just one built-out stop. LRT services wouldn’t delay buses, due to very short dwell times, and both modes would have traffic signal priority through detection at every signalised intersection. Private and through traffic along the Golden Mile would be heavily restricted.

    The above routes would bring the station to airport travel time up from 20-25 minutes to 25-30 minutes, but commuters and shoppers would benefit from closer access through the CBD while airport and hospital passengers would still enjoy a very competitive journey in terms of speed, reliability and comfort.

  43. John Rankin, 5. April 2018, 7:57

    @MikeMellor: if a waterfront route on the Quays is chosen, in my view a pedestrian bridge at Frank Kitts Park would be essential. As a general principle, the designers will need to think carefully about how rapid transit, whether using light rail or bus, connects to other modes along the entire line. Most riders start and end their journeys as pedestrians, so the interaction between rapid transit and walking has to be done well.

  44. luke, 5. April 2018, 8:54

    i’d like to see a pedestrian subway or bridge between the railway station and the waterfront too. Crossing there takes forever. As does whitmore st. If we want to make the cbd more walkable & improve the railway station’s walkup catchment.

  45. Glen Smith, 5. April 2018, 9:27

    Chris Calvi Freeman. How much of your proposed route will be highly segregated corridor? And is removal of the transfer at the station being considered, and if not why not? Because if transfer isn’t being removed and the corridor is low quality through crowded multipurpose spaces, then any logical advantage of rail over buses disappears.

  46. John Rankin, 5. April 2018, 10:05

    @GlenSmith: we also need to know the minimum service level that qualifies as “rapid transit” under the new transport GPS. One of the many good things about the GPS is that it funds a service (rapid transit), not a technology (light rail).

    I trust the technical experts from LGWM will design an LRT solution that comfortably exceeds the minimum requirement for a service to qualify as rapid transit under the GPS.

  47. Keith Flinders, 5. April 2018, 10:46

    To add to Chris Calvi-Freeman’s LRT route outline, see the Trams Action proposal at https://tinyurl.com/y7635re5 Be aware that this site takes a while to load the pdf file. Essentially Trams Action suggest south bound from Lambton Quay into Hunter, then to Victoria. Northbound would use Willis to Lambton Quay. Avoids much of the very narrow routes.

  48. Stop Trexit, 5. April 2018, 11:40

    Split the route and double the disruption cost? Note, we could have had an upgraded network of fantastic, quirky, unique trolleys for 5-10% the cost of one tram corridor. Oh the insanity!

  49. Dave Bond, 5. April 2018, 19:37

    I am glad to see these basic issues being argued and debated. It shows that some thought is going into the practicalities and realisms surrounding light rail. It also erases any pretence that there is a single obvious scheme that will somehow fix everything.

    I worry that there are many laypeople lending their support to the concept of light rail without actually knowing much about it, and who mistakenly believe that the ‘experts’ have it all worked out.

    Well for those who aren’t aware, there are currently two distinct camps in regard to how light rail should be done:-

    FIT – which proposes a self-contained light rail system from the railway station southwards, via the Quays.

    TRAMSACTION – which proposes Tram-trains, able to run onto the existing rail system (if KiwiRail allows it), and then going south via the Golden Mile.

    These are two radically different concepts each with strengths and weaknesses. The layperson should not assume that the term ‘light rail’ is synonymous with a fully-thought-out and settled-on scheme.

    So given that there is still much thinking and evaluating to be done, it is appropriate to remind people of another alternative which needs to be considered, and that is to extend the rail system we already have. This may well turn out to be far-and-away the highest-benefit option.

  50. Cllr Chris Calvi-Freeman, 5. April 2018, 22:14

    Glen, first and foremost, please note that the answers below (and my previous postings on this subject) are my personal opinions and should not be construed as WCC or LGWM comment or policy.

    The vast majority of the route would be along a dedicated lane in each direction – i.e. LRT only, but with cross traffic and turning traffic. The LRT would have priority at signalised intersections through detection. In a few areas, the LRT lane would be shared by a small number of buses, but bus stops would generally be off-lane. There would be virtually no lane sharing with general traffic. Including tunnels, I’d guestimate about 80-90% of the route in each direction being dedicated alignment or lane, 12-15% shared with a few buses only and perhaps 2-3% shared with general traffic. Advanced signal detection would ensure that the LRT would run through virtually every signalised intersection on green, even if following a small line of traffic.

    I believe transfers at Wellington station are essential for two reasons: First because (as I have explained some weeks previously) there is no practical scope to extend the LRT onto the Kapiti or Hutt Valley lines. Secondly, the system would lack the capacity at peak hours to carry every suburban rail passenger into/through the CBD – a short transfer and a single stage fare “penalty” would regulate demand on the peak LRT services – this would mean that Wellington railway station would effectively be a fare boundary for incoming suburban rail passengers, with an extra zone payable (by integrated ticketing of course) to travel further south by LRT or bus. There may be scope, however, to link the LRT through to replace the existing Johnsonville line trains.

    So, a quick transfer to a reliable clock-faced timetable LRT then a quick, reliable and comfortable LRT journey through to destination.

    Comments on this article are now closed, because our system cannot handle more than 50 comments. From now on, send comments to follow Kerry’s latest article which is Integrating light rail and buses


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