by Brent Efford
This coming weekend sees the biggest change to Wellington´s public transport services since, well, forever.
The old route pattern grew with the electric tram system and was retained with few changes when converted to trolleybuses.
A personal example: my own Aro St to Railway Station route dates from 1904 – but as from Sunday will be just part of a service from Highbury to Khandallah. The changes will benefit many – I may not want to go to Khandallah by bus all that often, but the evening and weekend buses through the CBD will definitely be a plus.
Others will not be so well placed after the changes: bus to bus transfers at suburban hubs are inherently problematic, where a feeder route in uncongested suburban streets transfers to a trunk service bogged down in traffic. The key to acceptable transfers is ensuring a minimum of discomfort and quicker door-to-door travel overall, compared with all the bus services squeezed into the same trunk, which has been the paradigm up to now.
There is also disquiet over the slow start to constructing the suburban hubs, most of which will clearly not be ready by Sunday!
The quick cross-platform transfer system, which has worked well on the Metlink rail system since the 1950s, is inherently difficult to arrange in all-bus systems.
Time will tell, but expect plenty of complaints – and only a small increase in PT use (if any), compared with the order-of-magnitude increase which a complete rail trunk through the CBD and Newtown to the eastern suburbs would ensure.
With the trolleybuses (until recently Wellington’s claim to public transport distinction) now a fading memory and the overhead wire infrastructure nearly all gone, concerned Wellingtonians are agitating for the regional council to make good on its ‘100% electric bus fleet’ (using battery buses, of course) promise a good deal quicker than it will take at the current tokenistic rate of progress.
The 10 electric double-deckers launched at Parliament on 5 July have received most of the media attention and GWRC greenwash, despite being only 2.3% of an otherwise-diesel bus fleet of 420, largely brand-new, which may last in service for at least 15 years.
Fortunately the GWRC, smarting from the backlash over the premature ditching of the trolleys, now sees the need to get beyond this tokenism. Cr Daran Ponter has persuaded most of his fellow councillors to try to speed up the re-electrification process – let’s hope that he can achieve at least as many electrics in service in five years time as there were five years ago!
Brent Efford is the NZ Agent for the Light Rail Transit Association (LRTA).