Wellington Scoop

Transport a top issue – the heat index

by Roger Blakeley
Over the last month I have attended 20 public meetings to “meet the candidates” in the 2019 election campaign, with various combinations of Mayoral candidates, City Council ward candidates, Pōneke/Wellington constituency candidates for the Regional Council, and District Health Board candidates. The meetings, organised by community groups, were well attended, lively, good-humoured, and occasionally quirky: at the Aro Valley meeting we were squirted with water if one second over the allocated time, and at the Vogelmorn meeting we were offered a haircut with a deep and meaningful conversation in a barber’s chair.

Transport must rank as a top issue in the campaign. What were the ‘hottest’ transport issues? And what is my take on those issues? Applying a ‘heat index’, here is my list in descending order of heat.

The Buses

The dominating issue for the Pōneke/Wellington constituency candidates for the Regional Council was The Buses. At some meetings there’d be a plaintive call from the audience – “Could we please discuss something other than buses?”. Fortunately, all 23 candidates promised to “fix the buses” so, whoever is elected, the problems will be solved!

Candidates were united in their demand for the buses to be frequent, fast, comfortable, quiet, non-polluting, affordable and direct, without unnecessary transfers at hubs.

To the question: “why should I trust you with my vote when you are current councillors and had the chance to fix the bustastrophe?”, Daran Ponter and I replied that neither of us was a councillor when the decisions were made about the new bus network several years ago, and we have both worked hard to get council agreement to improvements in the routes since July 2018.

My view is that we need improvements to the bus network, with fewer hubs and more direct services between the suburbs and the CBD, and fair wages and conditions for bus drivers. There are currently over 50 drivers in training, who will relieve the driver shortage when they enter the workforce. GWRC must work with unions, bus operators and the Government to ensure bus driving will once again be recognised as a career.

Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM)

LGWM was the butt of jokes from candidates (eg ‘we should re-name it “Let’s Keep Wellington Waiting” ‘). Candidates were divided on whether the LGWM ‘Indicative Package’ should include a second Mt Victoria tunnel and widening of Ruahine St and Wellington Road.

My view aligns with the internationally-accepted principle, that congestion will not be solved by building more motorways, or more lanes, or more tunnels – that will merely attract more cars, more congestion and more carbon emissions. I support Transport Minister Phil Twyford’s recent comment, that mass transit should be built first, and then a decision made on whether we need a second Mt Victoria traffic tunnel.

I support light rail as a much better mass transit solution than trackless trams or bus rapid transit. I also support light rail linking seamlessly to the existing heavy rail system: for example, provision for extension from the Wellington station to Melling, Porirua and Karori.

According to LGWM’s figures, more than half the cars entering the CBD approach from the north, and this figure will rise with the opening of the Transmission Gully motorway. However, nothing in the proposal indicates how people will be attracted from cars to trains. Eventually, when the Matangi trains reach the end of their operating life, the whole of the existing and new suburban system could be operated by light rail. That would bring major improvements in service to customers across the whole region, and a corresponding mode share shift from cars to public transport.

Proposed Single Transport Authority

Mayor Justin Lester and several candidates for both WCC and GWRC support the establishment of a single transport authority, with responsibility to take over public transport, roading and parking from GWRC and WCC, similar to the Auckland Transport model.

I do not support a Single Transport Authority for two reasons: first, the residents of Auckland complain that the ‘corporate’ model of the Auckland Transport Board makes it less responsive to community concerns, rather than when elected councillors were directly accountable, and second, a restructure of this magnitude could take 2-3 years and put LGWM into a state of paralysis, when we want action. In recent months, joint work by senior officers and councillors of GWRC and WCC on bus priority has kick-started the collaboration we have been demanding.

Climate Change

The dialogue on Climate Change has shifted dramatically. Most candidates ranked it in their top two priorities, which is a big change from the last election. Parliament’s introduction of the Zero Carbon Bill, recent Declarations of Climate Emergency and setting targets for net zero carbon emissions by Councils, and the influence of the youth-led School Strike 4 Climate and similar organisations, have pushed this to the forefront of community concerns.

My view is that all decisions on transport should be looked at through the ‘carbon lens’. Transport contributes 39% of total greenhouse gas emissions for the region.

I advocate that GWRC agree to no future purchase of diesel buses, and that the bus fleet for the region (currently 466 buses) be 100% electric by 2030. I consider that the LGWM ‘Recommended Programme of Investment’, October 2018, is seriously lacking in ambition on climate change. It includes a mode share shift of only 19% over 20 years from cars to walking, cycling and public transport in the CBD morning peak. It contributes only 18% reduction in carbon emissions within the CBD. Over the last year, I have given public presentations on my recommended strategy to reduce regional carbon emissions from transport to zero by 2040, by a combination of mode share shift from private cars to walking, cycling, e-scooters, ride-sharing and public transport; and uptake of electric vehicles to replace fossil-fuel-powered vehicles. LGWM should wake up and realise that we are dealing with a Climate Emergency!

Roger Blakeley is a regional councillor who is standing for re-election for the Regional Council


  1. Stephen Moore, 6. October 2019, 10:03

    Roger. Melbourne’s tram crash rate with pedestrians and vehicles is the highest in five years. Why won’t the same risk occur in Wellington given the issues of bad pedestrian road crossings in the CBD?
    How can light rail provide a fast service given it is limited to road speeds (WCC wants to low lower road speeds) and how will they be punctual as they are sharing their track space with other vehicles and people?

  2. Kerry, 6. October 2019, 13:34

    Roger. Hopefully LGWM will pick up on Phil Twyford’s comment about putting mass-transit first. Without light rail, GW and WCC will have no real alternatives to a badly overloaded bus route. The one-way capacity of a quality bus-route, with good timekeeping, is only about 60 bus/hr, but the golden mile is sometimes running 22 or more buses in 15 minutes, over 90 bus/hr.
    Bus Rapid Transit might work but demands four lanes at stops, and there is no route in central Wellington with enough space.
    The ‘Secondary spine’ that popped up in the 2013 Spine Study was never very plausible, which leaves only two options:
    — The golden mile (but where to put the buses?)
    — A second bus route on the waterfront, with both lanes on the west side. It is a bit inconvenient but will work, but then what happens when light rail is built?

    Building light rail a soon as possible would be the best approach. As you say, ‘congestion will not be solved by building more motorways, or more lanes, or more tunnels.’ This approach is now accepted by the NZTA, which has revised proposals for a second harbour crossing in Auckland. It will now be rail only (light or heavy) because a road tunnel is no longer seen as cost-effective.

  3. Ian, 6. October 2019, 14:06

    I support your vision for the future Roger. Let us prioritise the provision of a rapid, regular, safe and electric public transport system along all main “spines” into and across the city.

    We need to make sure the PTOM rules will not make it more difficult to tender out new local electric systems that are needed to connect to the rapid spine services. Integration and timetables are a key function of GWRC. This must not let us down.

    A rapid service to Karori is the next essential link (after the east and airport).

  4. Concerned Wellingtonian, 7. October 2019, 8:22

    A pity that nobody on the Regional Council is looking after Karori or Northland.

  5. Brent Efford, 7. October 2019, 9:01

    What a breath of fresh air that comment on Lets Get Wellington Moving is! I hope Roger is not only re-elected (a certainty, I hope) but is also supported by enough GWRC councilors to become chair. He is by far the best qualified by both experience and breadth of vision.
    Particularly telling is his recognition that the existing suburban rail network, which is quite ‘light rail-like’ in its form and operation, needs to be extended as light rail through the CBD and beyond, to ensure a single rail spine suitable for a half-million metropolis. This is the only way to move a serious amount of traffic off the state highways, ensure better access to the eastern suburbs and contribute substantially to a carbon-neutral capital.
    Merely somehow ‘fixing the buses’ (which all candidates say they support) or some undecided and unconnected so-called ‘mass transit’ (which could just be the ineffective sham tram/guided bus the Mayor favours) just won’t cut it, and would just be a symbol of a small-minded provincialist Wellington continuing to go backwards.

  6. Roger Blakeley, 7. October 2019, 12:35

    Stephen Moore This is to answer your very good questions about safety. The ideal solution for safety would be an elevated track, as you were advocating in your article in DomPost recently. There are examples of that such as the Skytrain in Vancouver and the elevated railway line in Docklands, London. There are two problems with an elevated line: first, it is more costly; and second, it has impacts on the urban streetscape, and that may make it not consentable.
    To answer your questions:
    Q1) “Melbourne’s tram crash rate with pedestrians and vehicles is the highest in 5 years. Why won’t the same risk occur in Wellington given the issues of bad pedestrian crossings in the CBD?” Melbourne’s tram system comprises rail tracks in the regular street, with no physical separation between trams and cars or pedestrians. In the design of light rail in Wellington, it will be important to establish a dedicated light rail corridor with as much separation as possible for two reasons: safety; and ‘rapid transit’, so that light rail is fast enough in journey time to attract people to shift out of their cars and onto light rail. That would mean a low physical barrier between the light rail corridor and vehicle traffic lanes. Pedestrian crossings would be traffic-light controlled and would be on “don’t cross” when the light rail comes past every 5 mins or so at peak time and longer interval at off-peak times.
    Q2) ” How can light rail provide a fast service given it is limited to road speeds (WCC wants to lower road speeds) and how will they be punctual as they are sharing the track space with other vehicles and people?” The light rail route proposed in LGWM’s Indicative Package released in May 2019 is from the Railway Station along the Quays (Customhouse and Jervois), Taranaki Street, Adelaide Road, Newtown to the zoo, tunnel under Mt Albert to Kilbirnie, Miramar to Airport. As you say , WCC is proposing reduced vehicle speeds say 30 km/hr in city and urban centres where there is high pedestrian traffic (which I support). Light rail would not travel at a faster speed than the general traffic speed. I have yet to see which streets WCC proposes to apply a 30 km/hr speed limit.
    If we consider the above proposed route, the Quays and Taranaki Street are not highly pedestrianised and the speed limit may be 50km/hr, and that would be the speed limit for light rail. On the other hand, the route through Newtown is a fairly narrow and a highly pedestrianised space, and the speed limit there for vehicles and light rail may be 30 km/hr. The light rail route between the Railway Station and the eastern suburbs and airport would have some parts 50km/hr and some parts 30 km /hr. FIT(Fair Intelligent Transport) has calculated that the journey time on light rail from the Airport to Railway Station would be approx 20 mins. That would make light rail an attractive travel option compared with cars, especially in peak times when cars are subject to traffic congestion, and light rail on a dedicated route is not. That is a design requirement if the system is to be ‘rapid transit’. Light rail would be punctual because it is not sharing the track space with other vehicles and people. That would be a major advantage for passengers ‘seamlessly’ connecting with buses at the 10 or so stations en route. An alternative to light rail going down the Quays could be light rail on a pedestrianised Golden Mile. That would have the advantage of convenience for people who shop or work in the vicinity of the Golden Mile, but light rail would necessarily have a slower speed, perhaps 20 km/hr, than on the Quays. The final design of the mass transit route will need to consider these trade-offs , e.g. more convenient location v slower journey time.

  7. Dave B, 7. October 2019, 13:44

    It is very encouraging that Roger supports “light rail linking seamlessly to the existing heavy rail system”. The notion of some, that a forced-transfer for thousands of passengers from existing rail to light rail is somehow acceptable on this major transport artery, needs to be challenged. However, the running of light rail services over existing KiwiRail tracks may prove to be highly problematic, as also may transporting the large passenger-loads which arrive by existing rail, thence via rail-lines in the street.
    I hope that forward-thinking councilors such as Roger will also give some thought to the likelihood that the only way to do this properly will be by extending the rail system we already have, via an exclusive right-of-way such as it has at the moment, and not assume that flows in excess of 10,000 passengers per-hour can be transported innocuously through city streets.
    Ideas for light rail are great, but they must be tempered with the possibility that this may not be the best solution for Wellington or the wider region. Extending ‘heavy rail’ and how this might be achieved also needs to be up there in the consideration of transport options.

  8. Roy Kutel, 7. October 2019, 13:49

    No mention of trolley buses – Wellington city’s 100% electric PT system until GWRC wrecked it. Need to replace GWRC with a Public Transport Authority with political representation from City & District Councils.

  9. Patrick Morgan, Cycling Action Network, 7. October 2019, 14:17

    It’s good to see strong support for high quality mass transit for Wellington.
    Rail and bikes go together like wine and cheese.
    As the city builds a network of protected bike lanes, these will help more people access PT. It’s a win-win, which will reduce car dependency and give more people, more choices.

  10. Lesleigh Salinger, 7. October 2019, 14:26

    Much of the article is about how an operations approach might work, which is understandable given your engineering background, but the role of councillors is governance, setting policy and the ability to think globally across the region. GWRC management has finally employed a skilled operations manager to get the mess sorted.
    A Regional Unitary Transport Authority is what is needed for proper transport networks (whatever they are deemed to be) through taking an integrated approach. Running a bus network is a SERVICE to be run as efficiently and economically as possible, the democratic process is what we’re going through now, ie. electing the most able to represent we the ratepayers/citizens, and to set the standards and expectations required of that service.
    To bring the buses ‘back in house’ as I’ve heard you claim will require building a great lumbering bureaucracy which will send rates crashing into the stratosphere.

  11. Roger Blakeley, 7. October 2019, 14:31

    This is a reply to “Concerned Wellingtonian: “A pity that nobody on the Regional Council is looking after Karori or Northland”. I can assure you that four Wellington Constituency Councillors of GWRC, who have been working together on the bus issues – myself, Cr Daran Ponter, Cr Ian McKinnon, and Cr Sue Kedgley – have been looking after Karori and Northland. We have been receiving a constant stream of emails, phone calls and social media posts from residents of Karori and Northland since the ‘bustastrophe’ started in July 2018 with their concerns about routes, delays, timetables, bus sizes, cancellations etc and we have been doing our best to make improvements. The Regional Council initiated a Bus Network Review, which has invited bus users across Wellington to share with us their concerns and suggestions for improvements. Our staff have run drop-in centres in neighbourhoods to invite people to share their views. The routes and services to Karori and Northland are part of that. Recommendations will come to the incoming Council after the election. If Daran Ponter and I are re-elected, I can assure you that both of us will be “looking after” Karori and Northland and all of the other suburbs of Wellington. All 23 candidates for the Wellington Constituency of GWRC put “fixing the buses” at the top of their priorities, so you can be sure that whoever is elected your concerns will be addressed.

  12. Roger Blakeley, 7. October 2019, 21:15

    Patrick Morgan: I totally agree with your comment that as the city builds a network of protected bike lanes, these will help more people access PT. My personal experience of visiting cities like Copenhagen, where over half the peak hour trips are by cycle, is that their cycle lanes are separated and protected from traffic. Wellington City Council is doing a great job with $74m of funding (of which $33m comes from NZTA) in the 2018-28 Long-term Plan to build connections from the CBD to Kilbirnie/Miramar, Mt Cook, Brooklyn and Newtown over the next 10 years. You and Cycling Action Network are providing outstanding leadership by saying you want faster action to build protected bike lanes to achieve safe and healthy streets in Wellington, including your Facebook event at 7.30am to 8.30am on Wednesday 9 October to build a protected bike lane on Cambridge Terrace.

  13. Concerned Wellingtonian, 8. October 2019, 8:31

    The most sensible comment from all the guff above was made by Lesleigh Salinger: “the role of councillors is governance, setting policy and the ability to think globally across the region.” Roger Blakeley should have tried a bit of “governance” immediately the problem became obvious.

  14. Kerry, 8. October 2019, 8:47

    FIT would welcome the ‘single rail spine’ that Brent advocates, if it emerged from LGWM evaluation as the best option. The ‘tram-train’ option he advocates was researched by FIT, but then set aside because the benefits seemed highly unlikely to cover the costs:
    — Modern light rail vehicles are ‘low-floor,’ about 300 mm above the rails, for effective street-running. How will they share KiwiRail platforms with Matangis?
    — The primary benefit of tram-trains is through-running passengers saving say eight minutes a day at the Railway Station (both ways). What is that worth, when many passengers will go on walking from the Railway Station?
    — The maximum length of a light rail vehicle is about 75 metres, set by the practical length of on-street stops. This is roughly the capacity of a three-car Matangi. FIT estimates a light rail capacity of about 10,000 passengers an hour through the city, in about 20 vehicles an hour each way (Motor vehicles will be kept off the light rail tracks, but will need adequate ‘green time’ where they cross at traffic signals). How effectively will the equivalent of twenty 3-car Matangis an hour serve KiwiRail’s four passenger routes?

    The sole tram-train study for Wellington was made by amateurs, including Brent and I, and was far from complete. It was picked up for professional studies as a Johnsonville Line conversion to light rail, but necessary tram-train characteristics, such as dual-voltage and dual-mode operation, were never followed up.

  15. D.W., 8. October 2019, 10:25

    Well said ‘Concerned Wellington’ – Councillors should insist GWRC sticks to governance not micro management. Better still get rid of the lot of them and just appoint a few city and district councillors to a professionally run Public Transport Authority.

  16. Stephen Moore, 8. October 2019, 10:26

    Roger Blakeley: Thank you for replying.
    As you quote FIT – FIT has said 20-minute journey time from the railway station to the airport was a best-case scenario over the 9.7KM route.

    I doubt this is achievable as a LRT tram @ a constant speed of 50kph would take 11.64 minutes to cover 9.7km with no stops. This time doesnt take into account
    – time to stop at 10 stations on route to pickup-set down passengers
    – Acceleration and breaking time for the above
    – 30kph sections of the track (NB LRT would take 19.4 mins to cover 9.7km @ a constant 30kph)
    – delays on shared sections of the route due to pedestrians or vehicles as it isnt separated for the whole distance.
    – delays due to people crossing sections of the track that don’t have full height barriers

  17. Dave B, 8. October 2019, 12:44

    @ Kerry, the 1963 De Leuw Cather study estimated that 75% of passengers arriving by train would wish to continue on an extension-of-rail if it existed. In 2015, former Tranz Metro stated 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”. By all accounts these figures have now significantly risen. Add-in the benefits of extending rail and watch the numbers multiply again. We cannot expect to impose a transfer on all of these people.
    But I agree with you that tram-train is not the answer for addressing this. Extending ‘heavy rail’ is.

  18. Russell Tregonning, 8. October 2019, 17:00

    Roger – – your advocacy for rapid transit using light rail (LRT)makes complete sense to me. I agree with other points being made that the bus system and safe separated cycling infrastructure has to coordinate with this for the most effective and climate-friendly transport system for the city and region. I have travelled by public transport while living in a number of cities overseas. There was no problem with hubs as long as there were rapid and frequent linking services to avoid long waits. Choosing the same LRT gauge as Auckland would provide economies of scale. The ultimate decision should be up to rapid transit experts and not be in the domain of well-meaning politicians or enthusiastic but unqualified citizens.

  19. Kerry, 8. October 2019, 19:41

    Dave. There is better data in the Spine Study (Final modelling report) that in De Lew Cather, but yes, the peak is certainly peaky. But 75% seems a bit high; remember that some of the passengers transferring to buses are going north.

    The trouble with heavy rail is that it must be grade-separated, because a train cannot stop quickly. Light rail gets around this using ‘track brakes.’ In emergency, the brake-shoes grab the track directly, using electromagnets, and they can stop as quickly as a bus (3.5 m/s sq, I think)

    Light rail can run on-street, with grade separation needed in only a few places, which makes it a lot cheaper

    LGWM have put out some great studies by MRCagney, with an interesting attitude; changing at one hub is acceptable, but changing twice must be avoided where possible. There are some brilliant bus-maps showing how it can be done.

    It seems to me that the combination of light rail and MRCagney’s bus route tweaks is better than heavy rail; much cheaper, and light rail at-grade is far more accessible: wheelchairs run onboard with almost zero delay.

  20. John Rankin, 8. October 2019, 20:52

    Interesting post and thread.

    Buses: “Candidates were united in their demand for the buses to be frequent, fast, comfortable, quiet, non-polluting, affordable and direct”.

    As project managers are fond of saying: “Good, fast, or cheap; pick two.” It seems to me that Roger’s job, if elected, is to figure out what priorities to assign to that list of demands.

    LGWM: “I also support light rail linking seamlessly to the existing heavy rail system”.

    It seems to me that if LGWM’s underlying purpose is to promote population growth in the Hutt Valley and on the Kapiti Coast, expanding the number of car-dependent suburbs, with rail as primarily a peak-time commuter service, then a seamless rail system is what the region needs. In this future, people will continue to make most of their non-commuter trips by car.

    If on the other hand we want a region that builds up not out, with most population growth within Wellington city, we need an all-day, every-day urban rapid transit network, that relieves the bus bottleneck within the city centre and promotes transit-oriented development. If I had my way, it would be elevated autonomous light rail, but I suspect hell will freeze over first. Otherwise, “Same as Auckland” makes sense to me. The future in this scenario is that Wellington is no longer a car-dependent city; you can have a car and drive if you choose, but it’s no longer a requirement to do so.

    And I take @DaveB’s point that rail commuters from the cities to the north can be better served. So as a second priority, I agree with Dave that some extension of heavy rail is highly desirable. I’ll take advice from Dave, but suggest an extension to Civic Square and perhaps Courtenay Place would make sense.

    Proposed Single Transport Authority: “I do not support a Single Transport Authority”.

    But consider setting up a permanent cross-jurisdiction transport committee, that coordinates continuous improvements across the network. It’s one connected transport system. Collaboration like that being done for bus priority needs to become a process, not a one-off event.

    Climate change: “[A]ll decisions on transport should be looked at through the ‘carbon lens’.”

    Necessary, but not sufficient. Also:
    – build up, not out (in which LGWM has a central role to play; it will shape the city for a century)
    – wetlands, wetlands, wetlands; restore the region’s degraded wetlands (double, double, and double again)
    – plant 100 million mostly-native trees across the region (lots of them in city streets, please)

  21. Kerry, 9. October 2019, 8:56

    “LGWM… will shape the city for a century.”
    Yesss! That is the big one, and it must be close to zero-carbon.

  22. Michael Barnett, 10. October 2019, 20:54

    Roger. Some random comments. It has taken five years, but at last LGWM has come up with a programme of recommended priority investment which should be supported and I sense you do. Sadly politics seems to get in the way and all I hear from many Mayoral candidates and other aspirants around the region is a clamour for more roads and tunnels to the airport. WCC and GWRC hire international experts in the field of urban development and transport planning (cf Jan Gehl of Denmark, MR Cagney of Australia and Jarrett Walker, US) then proceed to ignore their advice. I think this is a tragedy and dooms the city more procrastination and no positive action.

    On the matter of a Single Transport Authority you say you do not support it on the basis that it is less responsive to community concerns, and a restructure of this magnitude could take 2-3 years and put LGWM into a state of paralysis. I would like to suggest that LWGM is already in a state of paralysis precisely because of politics and a failure of elected representatives to take the advice of those international experts. Personally, I believe a single transport authority is the better option to address this paralysis.

    That said, good luck in your campaign and I hope you and plenty of like minded people get elected onto GRWC, WCC and the various regional municipalities.