Wellington Scoop

Compelling, but costly

At the heart of the Let’s Get Wellington Moving debate is the question about what is the best mass transit solution for Wellington’s southern reaches: is it a slam-dunk for light rail as its advocates claim, or would some other technology (Bendy buses? Trackless trams? Flying cars? Individual hover-boards?) be a better bet?

To the more engineering-orientated, light rail is a compelling proposition. It can move more people more quickly and more quietly than all the alternatives. It’s a proven technology that doesn’t depend on new laws of physics or new laws of economics, and best of all, it can be joined up to Wellington’s existing rail network. And these are compelling points – in the words of the irrepressible Brent Efford, light rail has:

“multiple advantages of energy efficiency, smoothness, comfort, capacity, predictability, precision, permanence and sheer charisma (‘it’s real on steel’ is the way I put it)”.

All of that may well be true. But there’s a major fly in the light rail ointment: the cost.

The total lifetime cost for LGWM is given as $6.4 billion over the next 50 years – which includes operating subsidies and financing costs. To give that some perspective, it’s higher than the headline figures for both the Waterview Connection road tunnel and the City Rail Link in Auckland … put together. It’s a very large number indeed.

Now, that’s not really comparing apples with apples, because it’s hard to tell if the headline costs for the Waterview Tunnel and the City Rail Link include 50 years worth of operations and maintenance and interest. But on the surface of it, even if the headline number for LGWM is half what’s been advertised, it’s still a big piece of spending for a region of about 500,000 people. If we take that headline cost and divide it across the half million residents over 50 years, we’re taking about a commitment of nearly $13,000 for every woman, child and man in the region.

And it appears from the LGWM information that the light rail component is about 40% of the total budget. Gulp.

Of course, major infrastructure projects don’t come cheap. Digging up the roads, installing the rails, buying the rolling stock, rearranging the traffic, building the stations, making the power systems work, integrating the ticketing (although not if the Regional Council has anything to do with it!) and all the rest will cost some serious money. That’s where the vast bulk of the budget goes – it’s a big number for a reason.

The way we think about big investments as a country is that we try and calculate the benefits we’re going to get in return for the money we spend. In the case of light rail, some of those benefits are public (lower congestion and lower emissions) and some of them are private (higher property values near light rail stations). And it’s this steady flow of benefits that justifies the big-ticket spending. The LGWM folk appear to have had a good stab at calculating exactly that – but the problem is, the benefits don’t fall equally across the region.

Let’s say you live in Upper Hutt, you work locally and you only need to get to the airport a couple of times a year. There’s no doubt that the integrated train/light rail system is going to make the journey a lot easier and more convenient – but why should you and your family pay the same for that benefit as someone in Miramar who can use the light rail to get to work every day? And shouldn’t the people whose property values have increased due to proximity to a shiny new light rail station be paying more than the family living in Wainuiomata, who get negligible benefit from the system?

There’s a pretty strong case that the people who are getting more benefit should pay more of the cost – it’s a simple question of equity. And let’s say that happens, and that people south of the railway station pay twice as much as everyone else in the region – by that time, we’re taking about a potential debt of maybe $20,000 per person for those southern folk, which is going to need to be paid down over 50 years. That means higher city rates, higher regional council rates, and potential new taxes like congestion charges. The project may well double the WCC debt burden, with everything that implies in terms of financial sustainability and the inability to complete other projects.

It’s a pretty brave (or foolhardy) politician who wouldn’t look sideways at that number, and wonder if there was a cheaper way to get similar benefits for less money – presumably, that’s why people are looking at trackless trams, Star Trek beam-me-up-Scotty transporters and everything else they can think of. Despite the concerns of the light rail advocates, the flurry of activity around the-trams-that-are-actually-buses is probably nothing to do with engineering illiteracy, and much more to do with the light rail price tag.

It’s fair and reasonable for the light rail advocates to question the engineering credentials of trackless trams, but sooner or later the region is going to have to grapple with the challenge at the heart of the light rail conundrum: even if it is the best system, can we afford it?


  1. Ralf, 19. July 2019, 10:25

    Some interesting points. Transmission Gully costs even more than Light Rail and doesn’t benefit people in Upper Hutt either. Furthermore this argument applies as well to other expenses. Why should I pay with my taxes and rates for roads when they bring no value to me? A third of the WCC budget is for road upkeep. So my rates can be lowered by a third if I deduct this for me as an unnecessary expense.

    Note: If you do not invest in PT, people will use cars. Which means more roads are needed. So either way, money WILL be spent. It is just a question on what it is spent and what is the more intelligent solution (and not what is the “common sense” solution, which is a code word for: we need more roads and no bikes on the roads and no PT).

  2. John Rankin, 19. July 2019, 11:27

    Given the choice between buying a light rail, which the accountants say we can’t afford, and a trackless tram, which the engineers say won’t work, what do we do? If we buy something that doesn’t work, we waste all our money. If we buy something that we need and want, but can’t afford, we have to earn more money or make savings elsewhere.

    Looking at the LGWM RPI, it appears to me that the choice is pretty stark: we can build 4 lanes to the planes or we can build light rail from the station to the eastern suburbs and airport, but not both. Which will it be?

    Our elected representatives appear to have decided that 4 lanes to the planes is their priority and they have put their faith in new trackless tram technology, unproven and uncosted, to square the circle. This will not end well.

  3. the real non-PC GM, 19. July 2019, 11:28

    It is worth noting that the majority of the LGWM spending is on roads, and if Light Rail was not part of the package, then an even greater percentage of the (reduced) package would also be for roads. Also, the road that LGWM were planning for, and relying on, i.e. Te Aro / Karo two-way undergrounding, is not included in the package; if it was, the roading aspect would be higher still.

    PCGM – In my view, never ever be sorry for installing the best quality Public Transport system a country can buy. Wellington City has had at least 30 years of non-spending on crucial transport upgrades and we are well overdue for some decent payback. Transmission Folly is spending only for the region, not for the city. It will make life in the city way worse, rather than better, allowing more cars and more trucks to jam up our streets. There’s only really one day a year when it will be useful to Wellingtonians – when they drive north for the holidays: when the usual traffic jam may get reduced from 3 hours down to 2. Other than that – money down the drain to me as a city-dweller.

  4. Mason, 19. July 2019, 12:35

    How much will four lanes (initially) to the planes, Petone to Grenada, crossvalley link, Melling interchange, Peka Peka to north of Otaki, north of Otaki to north of Levin all cost? Why is it only acceptable to spend money on bitumen based projects?

  5. Conor, 19. July 2019, 13:49

    Hi PCGM –
    Could you provide a link to mass transit being 40% of the LGWM cost?
    Also, LGWM is more comparable to the far bigger 28 billion dollar ATAP package, than any one project – it is a whole portfolio of transport and public space projects.

  6. Henry Filth, 19. July 2019, 14:51

    “. . . what is the best mass transit solution for Wellington’s southern reaches?” To be honest, probably a redundant queation, since “Wellington’s southern reaches” are likely to be under the waters of a rising sea level before any decision is reached.

  7. Dave B, 19. July 2019, 16:20

    Interesting and pertinent questions, PCGM. Was all primed up to spring in with a comment, but the guys above have pretty much covered it.

  8. Northland, 19. July 2019, 17:54

    Here’s something to get you primed up with a reply Dave B…
    What’s the problem with having a dual carriageway arterial route connecting Wellington to the Kapiti Coast and beyond to Levin. Good for growth and regional economic activity. Also good for resilience in the event of a natural disaster. For a lot of people there’s no realistic alternative to vehicular traffic. And if we want to reduce the tailpipe emissions, bring on the EVs!

  9. Henry Filth, 19. July 2019, 18:19

    “. . . the challenge at the heart of the light rail conundrum: even if it is the best system, can we afford it?”
    No accountant can ever afford anything. And yet in the dim, dark, distant past, Wellington did manage to somehow afford trams. How did they do that?

  10. D.W., 19. July 2019, 18:41

    Henry Filth -because they did not cost $1.5 billion a kilometre and the tracks could be laid in a week or so!

  11. CPH, 19. July 2019, 20:45

    Henry Filth – Because the tram system was not built to endure earthquakes in a high risk seismic zone. Because we were content to have men die whilst building it. Because the trams of the time did not have to contend with cars. Because we were prepared to let private companies build bits of the system and go bankrupt in the process. Because we were prepared to simply throw the rubble from the construction into the harbour. Because there were no competing demands for money, like libraries that need to be reconstructed or water reservoirs that need to be strengthened or runways that apparently need to be lengthened. In short, the trams could be built because we did so with the standards of the 19th Century rather than the 21st Century, and if you can persuade the politicians of our day to ignore the Resource Management Act and the District Plan and the Health and Safety in Employment Act and dozens of other pieces of legislation by which we count ourselves a civilised First World nation, then you can build that way again, consequences be damned. But it would also be wise to consult history and realise that “King Dick” Seddon, Premier of these parts, damn near sent the country broke in his quest to build railways across this fair land, and that the Main Trunk was only completed due to the grace of London bankers and Seddon’s enthusiasm for ruling by decree, resulting in a debt that was not resolved until many long decades later, and only finally repaid when the man who championed the trains so strongly was safely in his grave, having left his children and grandchildren to pick up the bill.

  12. Dave B, 19. July 2019, 20:58

    @ Northland. Re your comment above. My reply as invited!:

    1. As we may now be seeing with the difficulty in committing to further roading projects such as Melling-Interchange and Grenada-Petone, the Wellington-Levin motorway spend-up has gobbled-up so much of the region’s transport funding, that money is now tight. And that is aside from the 25-year PPP liability of Transmission Gully (and we still don’t know if this will be a toll road). Will the benefits of a duplicated SH1 really outweigh the costs? I mean serious economic terms – not just in “Hey-it’s-nice-to-have-a-new-motorway” terms.

    2. I would accept the argument that the road is “Good for growth and regional economic activity”, if there was no road previously, or such an inadequate road that it really did stifled economic activity. But this is not the case. The existing SH1 provides for most of that activity already, with only short periods of inadequate capacity. That could have (should have) been made-up-for by attracting non-essential commuter-traffic to rail. Rail already makes a massive difference in this regard, but it is hamstrung by not providing connectivity south of Wellington Station. A Levin-Airport road already exists, even if folk love to complain about it. A Levin-Airport railway does not, although the benefits would be huge, including to road-users. Instead we are building a gold-plated duplicate of the existing road. I suggest that the net-benefit of doing this is far less that the benefit of originally building SH1. And the costs are far higher.

    3. If resilience in the event of natural-disaster was the main objective, this could have been achieved by a much cheaper, 2-lane, 80Km/h contingency-road. It didn’t have to be a full-blown 4-lane motorway that has had a very dubious economic justification from the outset. This was Steven Joyce’s dream, not a rational business decision. Sure, for the speed-loving motorist it is a “nice-to-have”, but it is far-from justified by the possible 1-in-100 year disaster which might knock it out anyway.

    4. “For a lot of people there is no realistic alternative”. This is true, but the argument is circular, and not absolute. As I said, the rail alternative already demonstrates its capability of providing an alternative for many people, but because it has never had “motorway-level” funding showered on it, at least not since the Tawa Tunnels were built in the 1930s, it is basically the same old W&MR route that was laid down in the 1880s. There are many people for whom it is not a realistic alternative because it doesn’t go where they are, or where they need to go. Had it continued to develop as the region’s needs developed (as per 1960s plans), many more people would now be finding it a realistic alternative. And it only takes a certain proportion of traffic to be removed from the road at congested times to bring it below the saturation-level. Rail does not have to meet “everyone’s needs” in order to make a major difference.

    5. “Bring on the EVs!” Yes, this would be a big step forward but we are presumptuous to think this will solve everything, or obviate the need for good public transport. Some cling to a naïve belief that autonomous vehicles will provide the miracle-answer – redolent of many in the 1960s-70s who fell for the notion that automation would set us all free to enjoy copious amounts of leisure-time! EVs and self-driving cars will undoubtedly be part of the future, but extrapolating their nascent role today as justification to continue spending-up-large on roads and neglecting everything else is madness. Happily our current government seems to ‘get’ this.

    6. And one other problem with what we are doing, which everyone knows will happen, but few have effective answers for: More traffic will be funneled into Wellington. What we need are policies that will reduce traffic and car-dependency. Building motorways will not do this.

  13. John Rankin, 19. July 2019, 21:51

    @HenryFilth: It appears we can afford the road proposals in the LGWM RPI without asking the accountants’ permission. Instead of doing a business case comparing a light rail with a trackless tram, let’s compare a light rail with a second Mt Victoria Road tunnel plus the associated road widening. Could it be that light rail is better value for money than 4-lanes to the planes? “Induced demand” means that any benefits from extra road lanes get quickly consumed by people driving more.

  14. Kerry, 19. July 2019, 21:52

    Northland. The problem with a new and larger road is simple: it doesn’t work. Houston now has a road with over twenty lanes, reliably clogged, twice a day.
    Other cities have reduced congestion by closing roads and improving public transport, and Auckland already has declining car-use. Wellington will see the same thing when bustastrophe is sorted.
    Cars use road-space extremely inefficiently: about 1200 people an hour in each lane. The next-worst option is buses, at about 4000 people an hour. Cycling and walking are a bit better, at up to 8000 people, or light rail can handle up to about 10,000 people an hour (figures from Global Street Design Guide).
    Bus Rapid transit is not an option in Wellington because there is no space for a four-lane route.
    Sure, people like their cars, so long as somebody else pays, but we don’t have any chance of solving anything by road-building.

  15. Donald T., 19. July 2019, 22:22

    Kerry – Houston is the best performing metropolis in the USA – roads are busy because guess what – people want to live in Houston.

  16. Dave B, 19. July 2019, 22:48

    Kerry, the number of people who can pass through a city on foot is massively more than 8000 per hour, because they are generally able to disperse over a variety of routes. A “fun-fact” put out by the former Tranz Metro in 2015 was that, “Nearly 9,000 people arrive at Wellington Railway Station between 7-9am on an average work day. 1/3 of them arrive in one 15 minute period”.

    Well 3000 people in 15 minutes corresponds to 12,000 per hour, and yet you would hardly know it. They melt into the city-scape with barely a ripple and no infrastructure beyond footpaths and the odd bit of shelter. Walking is by far the most efficient way for large numbers of people to move. Putting that flow-rate of people into any form of wheeled transport requires a major logistical operation.

  17. Northland, 19. July 2019, 22:57

    I’m not against good quality public transport, I just don’t buy into the argument that a dual carriageway that connects the different parts of the Wellington region and extends north to Levin is ‘bad’. To me it’s a normal piece of infrastructure and not some sort of roading ‘outlier’ compared to the rest of the world. Why would we want to go back to using the old road with all the lights and roundabouts winding its way through Pukerua Bay and Mana ? Not good for users of the road or for those living in those communities to have trunk road traffic crawling through residential areas. I would still argue that the main drawback of the rail spine is that it can’t deliver the needs of many people. Cars and roads will continue to connect people.

    However, I do support extending the rail spine onwards to the airport and southern suburbs. It seems like a natural and right thing to do to support commuter traffic, take it off the roads at peak times, and increase the economic activity associated with the airport.

  18. Guy M, 20. July 2019, 0:30

    There is such a lot of good sense being spoken by many of the correspondents here, who understand that, as Kerry says above:
    “we don’t have any chance of solving anything by road-building”.
    Agreed. You certainly can’t solve congestion just by building more roads.

    I’d like to propose that people like Kerry, John Rankin, PCGM, Dave B and CPH seriously consider putting themselves forward as candidates for the Regional Council. If we don’t put up serious, clever candidates, we’ll end up with a bunch of old puddings once again. I propose a new Party: SOSO. That stands for Sorting Our Shit Out – although I bet Lindsay will change that to Sorting Our Stuff Out…..

  19. Henry Filth, 20. July 2019, 4:49

    I like Wellington.Scoop.
    You ask questions and people give you answers.
    It’s great!

  20. David O, 20. July 2019, 11:10

    Northland, Your comment about upgrading State Hwy 1 corridor as “also good for resilience in the event of a natural disaster ” is based on what facts exactly? The geology of the Wellington region means a Kaikoura-sized quake will have the effects it did in on the Kaikoura region – ie the roading network will be impassable for normal traffic for months. Modern roading engineering can’t build a road system which can withstand a local 7 to 8+ richter scale quake. Even a local shallow 6-7 will cause major disruptions.
    Transmission Gully is going to be as susceptible to a large quake closing it as any other older large road route. Any road which goes through a narrow hill section will have landslides, and sections which cross flat sedimentary soils will have liquefaction problems. That covers every possible route in and out of Wellington.

  21. PCGM, 20. July 2019, 12:50

    Ralf, John Rankin et al – The roads vs light rail comparison can be tempting but isn’t necessarily particularly useful. Let’s take that monster project of Transmission Gully as the prime example.

    The challenge is that Transmission Gully was designed to do a different job and is funded in a different way. The intention of National’s Roads of National Significance (RONS) was that they would increase efficiency on the national roading network, with a particular emphasis on freight. (Whether or not the political donations to the National Party from the truckies lobby group, the Road Transport Forum, had anything to do with the decisions will be left as an exercise for the reader.)

    Whether or not you agree with the strategic direction, Transmission Gully absolutely fills this brief, and it draws on some of the arguments that people have made above about light rail – namely, that it’s the high-quality solution, compared to the alternatives (in this case the coastal route). The intention of the road appears to primarily be to speed up freight and road transport on SH1, and because of that goal is basically 100% funded by central government, albeit using a PPP structure. The view of the government of the day was that it was a nationally significant and strategic project that would have wide benefits to the region and the country – although there’s a very good question about whether the benefits will ever justify the costs.

    In comparison, light rail – with all due respect to everyone living south of the railway station – is not a nationally-significant strategic project. Its primary benefits will be as a piece of commuter infrastructure and as a passenger transport link to the airport, but no-one to my knowledge is suggesting that it’s going to move freight or have anything other than a marginal impact beyond Wellington city itself. There will be national emissions and environmental benefits, but that’s also true of the putative light rail system to the Auckland airport, and that’s going to service a while lot more people for a price that may be fairly similar.

    Which brings us back to the key problem of where the money comes from. Transmission Gully was pretty much 100% nationally funded, but LGWM won’t be – as described in the article, most of the benefits are locally felt, so most of the costs should be locally borne. This is likely to have a fairly big impact on the WCC and GWRC rates bills, and WCC in particular is already making Wellington an expensive place to live. So while local politicians are keen on the idea of light rail (particularly pre-election), they may start thinking twice when the size of the debt burden and the resulting rates rises starts becoming apparent.

  22. Northland, 20. July 2019, 16:51

    David O – https://nzta.govt.nz/projects/wellington-northern-corridor/transmission-gully-motorway/project-news/resilience-by-design/

    Seems a reasonable assertion that having a second road will decrease the likelihood of Wellington being cut off after a sizeable earthquake.

  23. John Rankin, 20. July 2019, 17:49

    @PCGM: I’m not clear why your comments about Transmission Gully are relevant to the question of whether Wellington can afford light rail. The reason LGWM is struggling to afford light rail is because it wants to build a second Mt Victoria tunnel and widen Ruahine Street and Wellington Road. Our elected representatives have chosen to build more roads now and build light rail to the airport later. Under the Government Policy Statement for Transport, there is funding for “rapid transit” but Auckland (rightly, given its problems) is getting most of it in the short term, leaving little in the pot for Wellington and Christchurch. Why not build light rail to the eastern suburbs and airport now and a second Mt Victoria tunnel later?

    I also think it’s a mistake to view light rail in Wellington as “a piece of commuter infrastructure”. The suburban rail lines are commuter infrastructure; there are few trips between Wellington city and the rest of the region outside peak times. In contrast, I would expect light rail on the station to airport corridor to be busy all day, because there are lots of places along the line with all-day demand. This is important because the economics of suburban commuter rail and urban light rail are fundamentally different. Urban light rail stands or falls on density of all-day, every-day demand.

    In particular, cities that get this right focus on the wealth-creating effects of light rail, through transit-oriented development around the stations. That is, they treat light rail as an investment that makes the city richer, not as a cost that makes the city poorer. LGWM appears to understand this, but it’s a new idea for normal people (ie those who aren’t transit nerds).

  24. Brendan, 20. July 2019, 18:05

    JR – buses and pink scooters will see us just fine outside the peak so your $2 billion one corridor Light Rail will principally cater for wealthy white collar commuters and the rest of us will be left paying for it.

  25. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 20. July 2019, 18:53

    An excellent thread – great contributions from several people, including John Rankin and Kerry Wood who have positively influenced the light rail / mass transit proposals.

    However, John, I must refute your assertions:
    “Our elected representatives appear to have decided that 4 lanes to the planes is their priority and they have put their faith in new trackless tram technology…”
    “Our elected representatives have chosen to build more roads now and build light rail to the airport later.”

    As the WCC councillor who leads on transport strategy & operations, and one of the two WCC reps on the LGWM governance group (the other being Mayor Lester), your statements are news to me. Apart from some “early improvements” to roads, designed to improve conditions for pedestrians, cyclists and buses, the top “big spend” priority in the LGWM indicative programme is the mass transit route. City and regional councillors have to date only approved the programme “in principle and in its entirety”, with any commitment to major spend on each component still subject to the production and approval of individual project business cases. For my part, I am pressing for these business cases to be developed as quickly and efficiently as possible, so that we may start on building some much-needed transport infrastructure.

  26. Ms Green, 20. July 2019, 20:30

    Thanks Chris for your contribution.
    Would you be able to explain to the likes of me and others what a business case is, what does it contain and how will it help make decisions?
    Could you also please elaborate on what is the subject matter of the “individual projects” that are being subjected to business cases?

  27. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 20. July 2019, 21:06

    Hi Ms Green. A business case sets out the costs and benefits of a project and seeks to assess whether the project is worth doing, on its own merits and in comparison to other projects. It also looks at risks and non-financial benefits. You can find out about the various projects that constitute the LGWM indicative programme, at http://www.getwellymoving.co.nz

  28. John Rankin, 20. July 2019, 21:10

    @ChrisCalvi-Freeman: Thank you for the clarification, because this is not the impression I had gleaned from the various reports. Since “the top “big spend” priority in the LGWM indicative programme is the “mass transit route”, a person might conclude that a second Mt Victoria road tunnel and widening Ruahine St and Wellington Rd are a lower priority and hence may be deferred if necessary, so that rapid transit to the airport can be completed and paid for. Is this correct? But the impression I have gleaned is that a second Mt Victoria tunnel and road widening are the top priority, meaning there is only enough committed money left to build light rail to Newtown, or (so it is said) trackless tram to the airport. I am pleased to learn that I am wrong.

    I’m not sure I understand the concept of “individual project business cases” within an integrated multi-modal programme. To me the big question is, given we have a limited amount of money, which is the better value investment, rapid transit or road widening east of the Basin? Forgive my cynicism, but from the outside it looks as if people may be jumping on trackless trams to save money, do rapid transit on the cheap, and build more roads.

  29. Kerry, 20. July 2019, 21:45

    Brendan. Real world benefits will go to far more people than commuters, let alone wealthy commuters:
    — Employees of Wellington Hospital, Wellington Airport and workers in Newton and Miramar.
    — Hospital visitors and airport passengers.
    — Most bus users in the southern and eastern suburbs (broadly, east of Island Bay Parade and south of Wellington Hospital). They will benefit from their bus route terminating where it meets light rail, at Miramar, Kilbirnie or the Hospital, giving them cross-platform access and a faster and more reliable run into town.
    The exceptions will be those who choose to use one of two alternative bus routes (Adelaide Rd & Mt Vic bus tunnel), so that they can benefit from a more direct route to Karori or VUW.
    — All bus users in central Wellington, because light rail will relieve a heavily overloaded golden mile.
    — Lesser benefits to many other bus users, because sorting the golden mile will improve timekeeping on all city routes.
    — Car users who discover that light rail gives them a cheaper, faster and more reliable trip.
    — Disabled users who can run a wheelchair straight in to a modern tram, by any door, with no delays.
    — Ditto for parents with prams and shoppers with wheeled baskets.
    — Car users will also get faster trips into town (the Downs -Thompson paradox)
    — Everybody will benefit from cleaner air.

    Where does your figure of $2billion for 10km of light rail come from? That is $200 million dollars per kilometre, when Canberra managed 12 km for NZ$m747: $62 million/km. Wellington would have extra costs for tunnels, and probably more for underground services (unusually low in Canberra), but these will not triple the cost. Remember that a light rail tunnel costs far less than a four lane road tunnel (the cost is roughly length x cross-section)

  30. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 20. July 2019, 21:59

    John. There’s a brand new programme director on board at LGWM, and NZTA CEO Mark Radcliffe is also pretty new, so some uncertainty is not unexpected. I hope we will have more certainty within the next month or two. With Chris Laidlaw’s decision to retire, there will be at least one new GWRC rep on the LGWM governance board after October.

    The planning for the major projects will have to proceed in parallel with each-other, otherwise there could be a multi-year delay between one project’s completion and the start of the implementation of another, and as you have pointed out, there are interrelationships between the projects. There’s considerable water to flow under the bridge before we have established with any certainty the costs and timeframes for the mass transit and the various roading projects and can ascertain how, when or if each will proceed. But as far as I’m concerned, the mass transit is the highest priority, all the way to the airport & Miramar. I won’t comment on trackless trams vs. LRT, other than to say that we have agreed to use the term mass transit for the time being. And it must be fit-for-purpose, not “done on the cheap”.

  31. Glen Smith, 20. July 2019, 21:59

    John Rankin. Sorry but I can’t let you get away with the information you are promulgating. In your comment in the thread in Brent Efford’s article you state that ‘The core argument given for through-running suburban trains to the airport is so people from places like Upper Hutt and Paraparamu don’t have to change at the station‘ which is true. But you then state that ‘the bulk of the demand is between the airport and the city centre‘. Really? Where you get this from? The purpose of through-running trains is not just to get people to the airport but to service ALL transport trips which start/ finish north of the city (predominantly serviced by rail) but which travel to/from the southern CBD or areas south of the city not on our truncated regional rail lines. The best way of assessing this ‘through traffic’ cohort is by looking at Terrace Tunnel volumes from the north, since these trips all start from north of the city (with the exception of small volumes entering at Hawkestone street) and all travel across the main CBD to exit to the south in Te Aro. Restating the figures given in the thread of my Stealth article from May which reference the LGWM report:

    ‘If we take the sum of the combined 2 way volume of SH2 (Ngauranga to Petone) and SH1 (Ngauranga Gorge)- (table 4 page 14) as the total cars approaching/ leaving the city from the north (likely an over-estimate since some will be SH1 to SH2 traffic and vice versa) and take the cars travelling through the Terrace Tunnel as ‘across town traffic’ (likely an underestimate since it doesn’t include cars taking a Quays route or exiting earlier to the ‘midcity’) then around 50% are ‘across town’ cars who are potential mass transit customers (not the 16% you quote). Taking the absolute Terrace Tunnel figure in 2016 of 41,350 and applying your 60% (likely optimistic but then as I say Terrace Tunnel traffic is an underestimate of total across town commuters) gives around 25,000 transport trips diverted to mass transit’.

    So the target cohort of ‘through’ transport travellers who will be severely inconvenienced by the fractured transport design you and LGWM are proposing is not a handful but potentially over 41,000 every day (and rising).

    You also state that ‘ there are few trips between Wellington city and the rest of the region outside peak times’. This is also incorrect. Again taking Terrace Tunnel volumes as a measure of ‘through’ trips (an underestimate), figures 19-21 (page 17) of the same report show that even on weekdays ‘Terrace Tunnel… Inter-peak traffic volumes are 70% to 75% of those in the busiest peak hour’ and at weekends through trips are heaviest in the early afternoon.

    Rather than looking objectively at the evidence and designing a transport system that meets demand, you and the LGWM team appear to have started with a predetermined agenda and then are trying to modify the facts to suit it. This then allows our planners to undertake their jobs in a non thorough and non objective manner. We saw the same thing with across-town PT capacity where the spine study identified the need for a second across-town PT corridor but planners clung to the plan of trying to run everything down the Golden Mile for 6 more years (resulting in huge delays and the ‘hub and spoke’ bustatrophe) and refused to even contemplate, let alone investigate/cost/model the logical Quays route for a second PT spine. When will LGWM start doing their job properly and investigate/cost/model options for removing the potent transfer penalty at the station by running through trains?. I’m picking another 6 years..if ever.

  32. Glen Smith, 21. July 2019, 0:43

    PCGM. You are wrong about the costs of rail being unaffordable – in fact not having rail will very quickly be unaffordable. You assume that not investing in rail will save money. But congestion projections are dire. If we don’t invest in rail, we will inevitably have to invest in roads (although this will ultimately only be a futile short-term measure – road demand will eventually reach the city’s capacity to accommodate it, congestion will escalate and we will HAVE to retrospectively add high quality PT although with a lot more difficulty and cost). And adding marginal road capacity is more expensive than rail. Adding high quality PT inevitably saves money.
    You are also wrong about the greatest beneficiaries of across town rail being ‘someone in Miramar who can use the light rail to get to work every day’. The greatest beneficiaries of high quality PT likely to be road users. A Greater Auckland article looked at the economic analysis of the Hutt rail washout in 2013. The increased road congestion cost for drivers was $1.3 million per day or $320 million per year. The total rail subsidy for the whole of Wellington per year is $80 million. So this $80 rail subsidy saves road users $320 million in added congestion costs just on the Hutt line alone and just at todays congestion levels.
    Hutt congestion is projected to rise 400% by 2041 (opus TN20 report). It is hard to imagine what congestion costs will be then. High-quality across-town rail attracts ‘through’ drivers (the majority of Hutt motorway car trips based on LGWM and WTSM data) out of their cars. The congestion savings is likely to be in the hundreds of millions. And this all goes to car drivers. As a city grows inefficient, mass car transportation is self destructive. It relies on high quality PT to function. So perhaps car owners should pay the cost – or at least return some of the massive subsidies they currently enjoy.

  33. Glen Smith, 21. July 2019, 0:59

    John. You say ‘we can build 4 lanes to the planes or we can build light rail from the station to the eastern suburbs and airport, but not both’. This is an illogical ‘either/or’ position. The logical plan is to project population growth forward to predict what growth in car capacity AND public transport capacity we will require in different areas, then decide on the best way and timeframe for adding these.
    Where extra roading and increased PT are totally separate, then I absolutely agree that PT takes the highest priority (as with the Terrace Tunnel and Bypass proposals, cross valley link etc). But in some cases the cheapest and best option is to progress road and PT TOGETHER. This I believe is the case with Melling Bridge (see my Melling bridge article) and also with increased capacity across Mt Victoria and to the east where the cheapest and least destructive solution is advancing road and rail together is a combined tunnel plus increased capacity along Ruahine Street and Wellington Road. Adding rail first via Newtown (good luck) then inevitably later adding a road-only second Mt Victoria Tunnel wil , based on the evidence I have seen, be more expensive, disruptive, destructive and difficult to achieve. Again perhaps our planners could do some investigation/costing/modelling. Again don’t hold your breath (unless you can hold it for another 6 years).

  34. Concerned Wellingtonian, 21. July 2019, 8:16

    Chris, it is essential that the buses are fixed. Having one reporter who is satisfied belies what is happening to the rest of us. What will you say about this to the Select Committee on Thursday?

  35. PCGM, 21. July 2019, 10:18

    Glen Smith – You make some good points, but you seem to misunderstand the core argument. I didn’t characterize light rail as “unaffordable”, but I did point out that it’s awfully expensive. Simply dividing the 50-year lifetime cost of LGWM across the region and then doing the most approximate allocation of costs-to-benefits means that people south of the railway station could be facing a burden of $20,000 each over that period. For a family of four, that’s $80,000 – a small mortgage. It’s spread over a long period of time, but even so, I’d expect any politician to think twice about a debt of that size.

    And as far as the congestion argument goes, you’re right that high quality public transport moves people out of their cars – but only on the routes where the public transport operates. Building light rail in the southern suburbs will have little-to-no impact for commuters on SH1 or SH2, and I hardly think anyone is suggesting that the Wainuiomata Hill road or SH58 are magically going to become less crowded because light rail is running to the airport.

    Hence my contention that – despite it being a highly desirable project for Wellington city – it’s just not a strategic transport project in an all-of-NZ way. The problems it fixes (and fixes very well) are largely confined to the southern suburbs and the airport, and affect a relatively small number of people for what is a fairly large price tag.

    So let’s say you’re a government with a finite transport budget, and that you’re taking the enlightened view that investing in high-quality public transport is much better than investing in roads, and you look around the country at the light rail opportunities, and your choice comes down to building light rail to Wellington airport or building light rail to Auckland airport … why would you prioritise the Wellington investment when it will benefit fewer people?

  36. PCGM, 21. July 2019, 10:29

    Kerry – The construction costs between Australia and New Zealand are not directly comparable and never will be, unfortunately, so the Canberra figure is not all that helpful.

    The Productivity Commission has already highlighted that construction materials costs are up to 50% more expensive than Australia due to our smaller market and physical distance from suppliers. There are also Australian construction companies that have extensive experience building rail and light rail infrastructure in that country, but none here – witness the difficulties with trying to let the construction contract for the City Rail Link in Auckland. This means a contractor will have to establish an entire business in Wellington in order to build the line.

    Also, Canberra isn’t in an earthquake zone, doesn’t have hills, and has nice wide streets everywhere. And as you point out, there isn’t 150 years of underground infrastructure in the way of construction.

    As far as I can tell, the headline number for the Canberra system also doesn’t include finance costs or operating costs for the next 50 years, which the LGWM numbers appear to – which is fair enough, as Wellingtonians are probably going to want to see the total lifetime cost of the system.

  37. Keith Flinders, 21. July 2019, 10:31

    Chris Calvi-Freeman: “There’s a brand new programme director on board at LGWM.” But what is he/she going to do that the past 3 plus years of LGWM have failed to do other than come up with a concept? Wellington ought by now be in the planning stages of a mass transit system, but my pick is that we are going to see another 3 years of talk fests whilst the economy of the city gets more impacted by congestion. Transmission Gully is about a year from opening and its impact on city congestion is yet to be realised.
    Removing the GWRC from public transport decisions would be the obvious first step, replacing them with a transport authority without parochial interests to tackle the urgent decisions.

  38. Glen Smith, 21. July 2019, 12:17

    PCGM. Which bit of my argument that building rail is cheaper than building roads did you miss? We have to spend money either way to combat rising congestion and allow our city to function, and building rail capacity is cheaper so SAVES money.
    You are right that ‘high quality public transport moves people out of their cars – but only on the routes where the public transport operates’ but wrong that the target cohort is only eastern commuters and absolutely wrong that ‘building.. rail [I don’t like the preface light] in the southern suburbs will have little-to-no impact for commuters on SH1 or SH2’. As I said in my comment to John:
    ‘The purpose of through-running trains is not just to get people to the airport but to service ALL transport trips which start/ finish north of the city (predominantly serviced by rail) but which travel to/from the southern CBD or areas south of the city not on our truncated regional rail lines’. This is ABSOLUTELY SH1 and SH2. In fact this is the majority of SH1 and SH2 traffic (see the data I referenced – 50% of SH1 and SH1 traffic are target ‘through’ riders – not including the Quays – based on LGWM data and 58% based on WTSM traffic flow data). Why do you think that getting these people out of their cars won’t improve congestion on our roads?
    The initial cost of rail is high but saves money over time (see the research I reference under Brent Efford’s article) and is small compared to the subsidy given to cars and roads. European research concluded that ‘every citizen of the EU-27 pays for his or her private transport. On average, however, every person living in the EU-27, old or young, male or female, externalizes 750 euro per year on to other people, other countries or other generations. Over a period of 10 years, a family of four accumulates a “debt” of 30,000 euro’.
    That is NZ$50,000 over 10 years or a $250,000 subsidy over the 50 year timeframe you mention. Nobody appears to have any qualms about this or spending tens of billions on roads.

  39. John Rankin, 21. July 2019, 13:09

    @GlenSmith: You write “You say ‘we can build 4 lanes to the planes or we can build light rail from the station to the eastern suburbs and airport, but not both’. This is an illogical ‘either/or’ position.” I failed to give the proper context and you are right that as it stands this is an illogical statement. I should have written, “Given LGWM’s currently recommended programme of investment and the money currently available, it appears we can build 4 lanes to the planes or we can build light rail from the station to the eastern suburbs and airport, but not both.” As I understand it, LGWM proposes to build light rail (if it is light rail, which is still to be determined) only to Newtown within its current funding. LGWM has costed an extension from Newtown to the eastern suburbs and airport, but there is no current funding for this. However, CC-F has reminded us that there is still much water to flow under the bridge; it’s not a done deal.

    Glen, thanks for pointing this out.

    @PCGM: To answer your question: “your choice comes down to building light rail to Wellington airport or building light rail to Auckland airport … why would you prioritise the Wellington investment when it will benefit fewer people?” As you imply, I wouldn’t. But why would we build a second Mt Victoria road tunnel and widen Ruahine St and Wellington Rd instead?

    I tend to agree with Glen’s contention that there is a better answer than the one LGWM has come up with, but at some point we have to stop cutting bait and start fishing. Are we better working to improve what’s on the table from LGWM or pushing for something different? At what point does the perfect become the enemy of the good? Glen asks some good questions about the Newtown route, which LGWM needs to answer before the route is finalised. I’m not ready to concede that going via Newtown is wrong until I hear what LGWM has to say about the issues Glen raises.

  40. David O, 22. July 2019, 2:00

    Northland. Devil they say is in the details. Looking into some of the design requirements for a major earthquake you find this overall statement “Quicker reinstatement than the existing State Highway 1 in the event of a major earthquake.” That’s a low bar to overcome as the coastal route was constructed in the 1930/40s and the route has significant amounts of unstable hillsides above it.

    There no requirement in any part of the contract nor design work I can find that provides that the road and earthworks be able to withstand a 7+ or in fact any statement about any seismic modeling required for the whole route. Though there are requirements for any structures (bridges, etc) to withstand major quakes, the road itself and hillsides aren’t been given any additional stabilization work over above standard modern road construction techniques because these alone will be enough to allow “quicker reinstatement … ”

    As part of the Transmission gully route runs over of parts of the Ohariu & Northern Ohariu faults (the gully exists party due to seismic movements in the past) there’s no way you can design a road which would operate after such seismic events.

    ‘The Ohariu fault is capable of an earthquake about magnitude 7.5 with expected fault rupture of 3-5 metres of right-lateral displacement at the ground surface with lesser and more variable vertical displacement (Heron et al. 1998). The Northern Ohariu Fault, Gibbs Fault and Otaki Forks Fault are all capable of generating earthquakes magnitude 7+ and metre-scale surface rupture displacements (Litchfield et al. 2004, Van Dissen et al, 2003). The Wellington region’s tectonic environment

  41. PCGM, 22. July 2019, 7:30

    Glen Smith – There seems to be the idea that Wellington has a congestion crisis that needs to be addressed irrespective of the cost, and that’s simply not the case. We have a climate crisis, not a congestion crisis, and as I’ve previously pointed out, light rail is only a partial solution to our excessive emissions that will arrive a decade too late. If we were genuinely prioritising emissions reduction, then light rail would probably not be the first cab off the rank.

    And while you may be technically correct that through-running trains could have an impact on SH1/SH2 traffic, this assumes that there’s spare capacity on the rail lines into Wellington that could be applied to reducing car usage by the putative 50% you’ve quoted. Because if there isn’t enough existing rolling stock or signalling capacity or line throughput available, then there will be a big investment required for rail capacity north of the railway station, which seems to be completely un-costed in LGWM … and the light rail/heavy rail solutions start to look even more expensive.

    John Rankin – Part of the issue around roads-vs-rail is that they’re funded quite differently, as you probably know. The upgrades to SH1 (including Basin Reserve changes, a second Mount Victoria tunnel and all the rest) are funded via NZTA’s national pot of cash, while the rail costs are (roughly) 50-50 shared between central and local government. This means that the rail hits the rates bills of the locals, while the SH1 changes don’t.

    Now, there’s a strong argument that this is horribly unfair and it’s not a level playing field and yada yada yada, and all that may be true – but it’s the world we currently live in. Which is why four-lanes-to-the-planes starts to look attractive to local body politicians, because it feels like getting something for nothing.

  42. John Rankin, 24. July 2019, 14:28

    @PCGM: National list MP Nicola Willis was at the Cable Street vegetable market on Sunday, talking transport, buses and LGWM. As I understood it, her party’s position is that LGWM should build all the road projects in the programme and build them now, with rapid transit deferred indefinitely to some unspecified future time. A second Mt Victoria road tunnel, widening Ruahine St, Wellington Road and the Terrace tunnel, plus trenching SH1 on Karo Drive, would more than equal the cost of LGWM’s rapid transit project.

    Nicola seemed untroubled by the need for a business case to justify so much spending on roads and did not seem to think money was a problem (easy when you are in opposition). Since National regularly tells us they are the party of fiscal responsibility, clearly we can afford rapid transit if we want to. This is a political problem, able to be solved easily, if there is political will. Doing the wrong thing because it’s free is not a good way to make strategic infrastructure decisions.

  43. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 24. July 2019, 17:06

    “National list MP Nicola Willis was at the Cable Street vegetable market on Sunday, talking transport, buses and LGWM.”
    Odd. Was anyone listening? Or did they have cauliflower ears? Did anyone turnip at all? Please lettuce know.

  44. Glen Smith, 24. July 2019, 20:09

    PCGM. Climate change and congestion are both important problems, and high quality PT is, in my view, the ‘first cab of the rank’ for both.

    The science behind congestion is clear cut. A city has a finite capacity to accommodate mass car transportation, no matter how many arterial roads you build. Once you hit that ‘saturation’ point you can’t add extra road trips and ALL extra capacity has to be as more efficient modes. London is a good case in point. Car use rose steadily from the 1940s until around 1990 (as people bought more and more cars) but then hit ‘saturation’ and began to fall as a percentage of trips. But, looking at absolute numbers, from 1990 road trips were essentially static (they had hit the fixed ‘ceiling’ of capacity) while other modes all rose (see table 2.1). Total daily trips rose from 20.9 to 24.4 million trips but car, taxi and cycle trips were constant with all new trips being rail, bus, cycling or walking. Despite this ‘from 1980/82 to the latest complete survey cycle in 2006/09, average weekday traffic speeds in London fell by 18 per cent in the morning peak period; by 14 per cent in the inter-peak period; and by 12 per cent in the evening peak period’.

    How far is Wellington’s road system from being ‘hitting the ceiling’ and being ‘saturated’ with ever escalating congestion? Evidence would suggest not that far. To reference research I have cited previously the Opus TN24 baseline forecasting report table 6.4 page 28 shows average congestion rising by 71-116% by 2041 despite all of National’s proposed roading plans. AM congestion to the Hutt rises by 415% and PM by 435%! Tell the people of the Hutt that this is ‘not a congestion crisis’. The cost of this is likely to be hundreds of millions if not billions per year. Congestion falls from Kapiti and Porirua (due to Transmission Gully) but at the expense of downtown congestion with most of Wellington City at LOS D,E or F (page 38).

    Sadly many of our prominent politicians (including the Lower Hutt Mayor and Nicola Willis), who clearly lack even basic science training, think this can be solved by building a new bridge at Melling and even more roads. And you seem to think this can be solved easily by changing the motive power of individual vehicles from petrol to EV, and that this will somehow help climate change despite the fact this extra electricity has to be produced by the same amount of fossil fuels or by even larger investment in alternative electricity production.

    High quality PT is INEVITABLE as a city grows. Retrofitting this into a compact city is difficult. The longer it is left, the more difficult it becomes. The higher quality PT you install the more discretionary trips you divert, the lower the eventual ‘equilibrium’ point and the better all transport trips, including road congestion and travel speeds. The time to do this is now. Given Wellington’s compact nature, you would expect adding this high quality PT to be impossible. In fact it is surprising how easily it can be achieved….just. All that is required is some intelligent long term planning the political will. But if we don’t do it now it is likely the opportunity will be lost. Improvements in capacity of our rail network (especially at the ‘pinchpoint’ north of the station) is required and is noted as being planned in the LGWM document but for some stupid reason this is being done separate to other transport planning rather than taking a co-ordinated regional approach. You can only shake your head and sigh.

  45. Goofy, 25. July 2019, 5:37

    CCF: I dislike politicians at the market – they seem to do their election campaigning from the markets now. People normally avoid them when shopping at a crowded market, but they can’t.
    Right you are David O, all this yellow sticker fever with its stupidity is madness, people don’t know what the problems are anymore.

  46. Helen, 25. July 2019, 11:24

    I’ve haven’t bean there for awhile but it’s difficult to beet a visit to the market when politicians are sprouting and leaking their wonderful ideas to us veggies.

  47. Dave B, 25. July 2019, 13:20

    Thanks John Rankin – a good exposé above of the type of National Party denialism that has got us into the transport- and climate-mess we are in now. Nicola Willis’ stance typifies how head-in-the-sand this party still is.

    And thanks Glen Smith for a clear definition of the intractable problems we face, if our leaders continue in the belief that prioritizing car-transport and skimping on mass transit is somehow a prudent way to go.

    A ‘circuit-breaker’ out of this is desperately needed.

  48. D.W., 25. July 2019, 13:34

    Ms Green – Business Cases are the worst export to come out of the UK this century! They originated in the UK Treasury. They are usually over 150 pages and are jammed pack full of advocacy statements but few facts – these being removed or never put in. The aim of the Business Case is certainly not to give the general public information. The most important thing is the report cover. It must have one of the Big 4 Accountancy Company’s (Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC) names on it to have any credibility in the black suited corporate and political world. The report will usually cost taxpayers and ratepayers at least $1,000,000. The Big 4 have made so much money from the UK and Australian Governments that there have been public enquiries. The UK has recommended the Big 4 is broken up into a Biggish 8! Australia has advocated doing smaller targeted reports that smaller technical firms can win. The aim is to reduce the amount of money going to the Big 4.

    In the meantime, Govt politician(s), having decided what they want, get a Big 4 Company in to prove that they are 100% right and that the project must go ahead (or not if the politician is anti the project

    I hope that helps but don’t raise your hopes for a magical business case that knows all the underlying parameters and will systematically and objectively give us the right answer for Wellington. Wellington Spine Study II anyone?

  49. Peter Kerr, 25. July 2019, 14:00

    And such an array of fresh missiles to hurl.