Wellington Scoop

Light rail – our only hope

by Leviathan
There is one good side to this bus debacle – don’t jump down my throat just yet, hear me out.

I think we can all agree that the Hub and Spoke model is not working in Wellington. The reason it was adopted was that it could be the answer to the over-crowded main spine route through Lambton Quay. Flawed thinking, as it turns out, but that was the reason.

The introduction of the double-deckers is a step along that nirvana that is meant to be Bus Rapid Transit. Clearly that has not worked yet either, and shows no sign of working either.

BRT is a dead duck, a mortally wounded turkey, or perhaps most appropriately, a parrot that has shuffled off this mortal coil and joined the choir invisible.

So – the good side of all this is that it all goes to show that if BRT cannot be the answer, then the third option from the Spine study needs to be implemented: the Light Rail, high speed, high quality, rapid public transit solution that is being promoted hard.

It is, literally, our only hope.

Leviathan is editor of eyeofthefish.


  1. Build it now, 23. March 2019, 15:49

    Does this person not realise that the light rail system will require more hubbing and spoking? For example what will happen to pt users from the southern suburbs?

  2. Wellington Commuter, 23. March 2019, 17:31

    Nope, it’s too early to say BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) “is a dead duck”. What Wellingtonians see today is what happens when NOTHING is done to improve the bus service.

    Let us see what can be done when the GWRC (who want to raise our rates by over 11% but STILL have nothing in the budget for investing in even basic bus lanes) actually decides to put some real money on the table to improve the bus service. Happy to compare how $1B invested in BRT stacks up against $1B invested in light rail.

  3. luke, 23. March 2019, 18:32

    There are too many buses for the spine, of course it will be congested. Until people can accept tranfers are a part of networks & a loss of ratepayer subisdized car storage on public roads, we will remain congested. Four/six/eight lanes to the planes won’t make any difference.

  4. Leviathan, 23. March 2019, 19:54

    Dear “Build it now” (ummm, build what now?). Yes, this person does indeed realise that a Light Rail system will entail a much stronger fixation of some really serious hubs, and a whole lot of spokes. If it is done properly, then it will work better than what we have at present, which is just a lot of congestion at immovable pinch points.

    The thing is, as Luke says, things will stay congested unless there is a viable alternative. The Bus RT system is not working as it takes at least as long as, and usually considerably longer than, a car (to get from place to place). That’s primarily because the bus uses the same road space as the car – and then has to stop – and so takes longer. The double deckers are making it worse, as they take longer to load and unload.

    But a Light Rail system, with its own separated path, and higher speeds in between stops, and people entering and exiting via around 9 doors per train as opposed to 1-2 doors, will be a far better service and will end up taking way more people off the road, as long as it is a better, quicker, safer, service.

  5. Glen Smith, 23. March 2019, 23:06

    If rail is implemented logically (increasing across town capacity by adding a second PT corridor as a high quality rail along the Quays, removing transfer at the station by ‘track sharing’, and running ‘lines’ of the same mode- either bus or rail- from one peripheral location via the CBD to another peripheral location) then aggregation of demand (ie hubs and spokes) wouldn’t be required at all (except for very minor routes). All commuters from any major route could reach the CBD directly (either by bus along the Golden Mile or rail along the Quays) and would only require one transfer (at transfer rather than aggregation hubs) to reach any other destination on any other major route throughout the Wellington region from the Eastern and Southern suburbs in the south to Kapiti and Upper Hutt in the north. However the evidence is that the chance of our planners implementing such a logical design is sadly at or approaching zero.

  6. michael, 24. March 2019, 10:59

    Given past history, unless GWRC is replaced by a competent transport authority, we will still be talking about this in 10 years.

  7. Leviathan, 24. March 2019, 18:19

    Michael – time to stage a coup therefore? Storm the barricades? Transfer power and authority back into the hands of the people ? Council meeting next week – revolution ?!

  8. John Rankin, 25. March 2019, 11:20

    @GlenSmith re “at transfer rather than aggregation hubs” — in my experience, cities with effective public transport networks have both kinds of hub. It’s not an either / or choice but a case of choosing horses for courses. To date, I have not seen evidence that our planners have the experience to do this.

    @WellingtonCommuter: in theory we could run BRT on a dedicated 2-lane rapid transit corridor instead of light rail. But it would be at capacity on the day it opened and then we’d have the problem of how to upgrade it to light rail. However, we can do a lot to make bus services more reliable and effective, including greater use of dedicated bus lanes. Building a rapid transit network is not a substitute for bus system improvements; the investments are complementary.

  9. Bob, 26. March 2019, 11:12

    Was this not the GWRC hidden agenda?

  10. Ross Clark, 26. March 2019, 11:25

    Who pays? If we can’t sort that question out to begin with, we’re wasting our time talking about light rail. And we have to be serious in wanting to curb car use as well, but no-one wants to go there …

  11. michael, 26. March 2019, 13:52

    Ross: I agree we need to know where the funding is coming from.
    But as far as reducing car usage, it’s a chicken and egg scenerio. Until there is an effective public transport system, people will still use cars.
    Since the fiasco of the new bus service I have friends who, against their principles, have been reduced to using a car because the new system does not meet their needs. Say no more !!

  12. John Rankin, 26. March 2019, 13:53

    @RossClark: the Government Policy Statement includes a new activity class called “rapid transit” so as long as we build a rapid transit service, there is money set aside to pay for it. The intent appears to be that rapid transit will be frequent, fast, and high quality, able to compete successfully with travel by private car.

    In addition, the Tax Working Group recommended: (a) cities be allowed to introduce congestion charges to discourage car use; (b) removing incentives in the tax system that promote car travel (eg an employer providing a car park pays no FBT whereas providing a public transport allowance attracts FBT).

  13. greenwelly, 26. March 2019, 15:34

    @John, Just because there is a activity class for “Rapid transit” doesn’t mean there is actually any money in it…

    The only rapid transit money allocated to Wellington in 2018-2021 NLTF was “$25,000” for the “LGWM – Rapid Transit – indicative business case”


  14. Ross Clark, 26. March 2019, 23:40

    Until there is an effective public transport system, people will still use cars

    My view after too many years in this business: even with effective public transport, people will still use their cars. Hence the need for thinking of ways to actively reduce car use, politically toxic though that is. Our transport policy has to work from the premise that people, for the most part like their cars and like using them.

  15. Kerry, 27. March 2019, 9:25

    Ross. I agree: politically toxic is necessary. A slightly lesser and probably earlier political toxicity is public transport hubs. Nobody likes them but everybody likes the public transport results (when it is done properly). Hubs allow more frequent services, for longer hours, often using fewer buses, because routes can be optimised. That needs longer walking distances to stops, but it is worth walking further to a better service. My bus is 50 m away, but I often walk 900 m to the train. If light rail runs from the airport to the railway station in about 20 minutes, that is a good start, and the two exclusive lanes needed to achieve that are another good step.

    London is getting excellent results from its cycling ‘superhighways’ on retired traffic lanes. Paris traffic is as bad as ever, but with 30% fewer cars.

    Safety measures can also help: many cities use a maximum kerb radius of 4 m, which slows traffic, reduces (car) capacity and makes junctions much safer.

  16. Elaine Hampton, 28. March 2019, 10:37

    So what we need are the dinosaurs swept away. Time for the panic to set in – cars are incompatible with a low carbon future as are diesel / petrol buses. It is about good housekeeping, spending now to save later. Bike – I would be happy to cycle but would someone design a covered electric vehicle with non toxic tires so that I don’t arrive drenched and irritable to work, as I am beyond the fit forties

  17. luke, 29. March 2019, 13:07

    cycleways are easily achievable if we give up a bit of private property storage on public roads.

  18. Paul, 29. March 2019, 15:19

    @ luke – but what is the point if no-one uses them? Still barely a soul on the Island Bay cycleway, even in the summer.

  19. Kerry, 29. March 2019, 17:43

    Paul. They will be used when they are linked up as safe through routes for cyclists.
    Sometimes they are well used but still get the same complaints, as in Auckland

  20. luke, 29. March 2019, 18:02

    bit hard to use a cycleway that isnt connected to anything. Also, we dont judge the need for a bridge by the number of people swimming across the river.

  21. Steve Doole, 30. March 2019, 9:56

    Luke’s suggestion of decreasing parking on roadways seems a good first target.
    What do you think of councils charging for each night a vehicle is on the roadway, say at 3am. Maybe a dollar except for electric vehicles to start.