Wellington Scoop

Buses – building on a winning formula

by Tony Randle
It is time to remind the citizens of Wellington, and light rail fans like Demetrius Christoforou, that we have an amazingly successful public transport system. Around 17 per cent of the region’s workers travel on buses and trains at peak hours, the highest public transport usage of any city in New Zealand or Australia.

The biggest growth area has been with Wellington City bus users, from 10,377 a day in 1996 to 14,328 every day in 2006. More importantly, this increased bus usage has kept car usage nearly static: only 5 per cent of the growth in the region’s car traffic is from Wellington City. Seen as boring by many, buses work.

This success story happened with very little investment to improve bus capacity or reliability. All that councils have done is to paint some green bus lanes and add a few primitive “B” lights to intersections (the millions spent on new trolley buses made the service greener but not better). But now we see this great service threatened as the CBD struggles with ever increasing numbers of buses and trolleys queuing up between Lambton Quay and Courtenay Place, causing delays and frustrated commuters.

The good news is that some good work has gone into plans to make the buses work at the new levels demanded by their success. One example is the Transit NZ 2006 report “Golden Mile Capacity Assessment” which concludes:

“… significant scope exists to reduce journey time, improve reliability and increase capacity over the length of the Golden Mile. The use of bus priority measures associated with link, signal and bus stop intervention would provide the basis for these improvements. . . . With the introduction of these interventions, capacity could be increased by 100 to 200 buses per hour in each direction.”

The Manners Mall conversion back to a bus route is a first major step in removing bottlenecks along the central transport spine. But Wellington still has a way to go towards getting rid of other bottlenecks: a proper Intelligent Traffic System with integrated signal preference; more bus lanes; bus stop redesign, bus tracking through GPS, integrated ticketing; real express bus services and better vehicles (it’s amazing we have never trialed hybrid diesel/electric buses). Building these basic elements would create a real bus rapid transit system (similar to the highly successful “Metro Rapid” in Los Angeles) with higher capacity and reliability.

The bad news is the number of local body candidates (like mayoral candidate Celia Wade-Brown) who seem to be ignorant of these logical improvements and simply want to “Think Big” by adding light rail to the already congested CBD corridor. A few tens of millions for basic bus passing points would enable much greater reliability, but many candidates would rather throw the next decade’s total public transport funding towards yet more rail.

Even worse is the treatment of those more measured (thoughtful even) candidates who want to consider all feasible options. It seems even questioning the need for an expensive light rail option is somehow anti public transport . . . an unsustainable option in these times of tight money and mounting council debt.

Light Rail will, of course, be looked at. The number of light rail fans in Wellington will ensure that. It is also vital that options for modern Bus Rapid Transit be properly considered, options that build on the success of today’s bus/trolley system.

Yes, I know that improving the humble bus service is not as glamorous as a “Think Big” option like Light Rail. With buses, there are fewer opportunities for politicians to cut ribbons. But Wellington already has the highest public transport usage of any city in Australasia, an achievement largely based on residents deciding to take the bus. We cannot afford to stuff it up.

Tony Randle is a public transport advocate from Johnsonville who regularly travels on the buses and trains.


  1. Keith Johnson, 6. October 2010, 4:46

    If you are interested in following up this article, you can consult the recently released NZTA Report ‘Overseas cities demonstrate value of public transport network planning for NZ’, available at:


    and my summary and comments for Wellington at:


  2. The City is Ours, 6. October 2010, 9:39

    1979 Annual Report of Wellington City Transport:
    “Buses now traverse the one-way Dixon Street faster and with fewer accidents than was formerly the case in a very congested section of Manners Street”. Good Luck with that Tony.

  3. Ant, 7. October 2010, 12:17

    If it’s so successful how is it that bus fares for around the city have increased 100%?

  4. The City is Ours, 8. October 2010, 10:04

    Walking has always been the preferred transport mode, as proven by the Central City Apartment dwellers’ survey where 74% walk to work and/or study daily. With a population explosion in Te Aro of 74.6% in the last decade, demands on open spaces and pedestrian precincts override the need for all suburban bus services to traverse the Golden Mile.

  5. Kris Price, 8. October 2010, 19:13

    Tony: it isn’t fair to say those local body candidates who propose light rail are ignorant of “logical improvements.” You’ll probably find them far more pragmatic about improving bus services than those who favour spending half a billion dollars on tunnels. I’d take a guess that those candidates are more likely to vote in favour of initiatives such as closing Courtenay Place to private vehicles during peak hours, so that busloads of passengers aren’t stuck behind queues of single-occupant cars. This is something our current council failed to do just before it decided to spend $11m on converting Manners Mall back to a street.

    No candidate has proposed (as far as I’m aware) to irresponsibly blow our budget and rack up the council’s debt on light rail. If it does happen, light rail will require funding from NZTA, just as the Urban Motorway did in the 70s, the bypass in the 2000s, and the proposed Basin flyover and second Mt Victoria tunnel. It’s important that we have a comprehensive plan that sets out how public transport will be improved over the following decades to meet the demands of the 100,000 new residents who will be moving into the area between Johnsonville and Miramar. Bus priority measures may get us through the next decade, but what about beyond that? We need to have a plan for this, so that the money we spend upgrading underground services, improving streets, building flyovers at the basin, etc., don’t require expensive and unnecessary reconfigurations in the future.

  6. Tony Randle, 8. October 2010, 21:46

    Ant: The Greater Wellington Regional Council sets PT fares and they decided that (mainly Wellington City) bus users must pay much more to meet their funding shortfall. The reason this occurred is because most of the Regional Councilors who represent Wellington City are more interested in protecting rail users from cost increases than bus users (while bus users lost their Gold Card monthly discount ticket, the GWRC ensured the rail users retained Monthly that give much better discounts).

    The City is Ours: Wellington City (in addition to high and increasing bus usage) also has increased levels of walking (19% walked to walk in 2006). This probably reflects the increased numbers of CBD residents but this does not mean that peds “override the need for all suburban bus services to traverse the Golden Mile”. The city is for all residents and most of us do not have the option to walk to work/shopping. I love walking but I am not walking to work from Johnsonville (it takes 2 hours each way !).

    Kris: I hear what you are saying but your own web site makes statements like: “Public transport is congested. We have over 250 buses, each carrying 50 passengers, all trying to traverse our Golden Mile during peak hour, … This leaves only one choice: Light Rail. We need to recognise this and properly plan for it” … exactly the type of closed comment that I am concerned will end up excluding proper consideration for using Bus Rapid Transit, which is why I wrote this article. Between 1996 and 2006 the bus service has delivered a 27% increased capacity without significant investment. I believe we CAN keep increasing performance but not without some real investment . . . all I ask is that we all look at these options as well 🙂

  7. CC, 9. October 2010, 8:17

    Tony, it is difficult to ascertain whether you are quoting facts or making assumptions to support the notion that buses are ‘amazingly successful’. There are numerous reasons why there is increased patronage of buses in Wellington and few have anything to do with the attraction of a quality service. Your response to Ant indicates you have evidence that the Regional Council have deliberately cranked up bus fares to advantage train users – could you please cite the evidence? It seems more likely that the longterm costs of rail are cheaper, so cost recovery can be spread out – supporting one reason for considering light rail. The owners of (most?) of the Wellington bus services have been pretty proficient at investing where they can hold major stakes in NZ infrastructure that has a public funding element and potential for them to ratchet up prices – enough said? A cynic would suggest Infratil weren’t too successful with this ploy on the other side of the globe, where competition appears to have pushed them out of at least two major investments. You appear to place great store on incremental improvements to improve a situation which Kris suggests is nearing capacity. Your response then suggests some that will have little impact on service efficiency other than, for example, to let patrons know how long they have to wait for their bus which is running late. Finally of course, in your ‘lust for bus’, you ignore the long term issues of oil depletion and pollution. If buses, tunnels and more roads are the answer, someone must be asking some pretty stupid questions, especially when cities overseas have found cost effective solutions to public transport issues.

  8. jack, 9. October 2010, 14:50

    With $400,000 dollars proposed for public lavatories on the waterfront (since put on hold) and the millions of dollars on the Cobham Drive indoor sports centre, the new Council won’t have much left to contribute for updated transit systems will it ? Oh, I forgot – just borrow more! Over the decades, the WCC tore up all the tramlines which traversed just about every suburb in our city, so get real everybody, for any tracked transit system to be rebuilt now there would be the potential to bankrupt the Council, even if its funding was only a part contribution.

  9. ViV, 12. October 2010, 19:27

    Tony: you make sense. To look at all options with an open mind is sensible.
    This City Is Ours: Wellington doesn’t stop at Lambton Quay or Newtown.
    Ant: Tony is correct in his response to you.
    CC: talk to Tony; he’s in the phone book.
    Jack: The WCC doesn’t fund public transport per se; the Regional Council does, and you would be amazed how much is involved by way of subsidy per trip.

  10. jack, 13. October 2010, 13:34

    I do not need Viv to use his/her profound knowledge of all things pertaining to politics,central and local governments to chide , correct me and allude to me being ignorant. Suggest you read my last sentence again.

  11. Jarrod, 13. October 2010, 16:39

    Jack, it seems unlikely the Wellington City Council would make a “partial” contribution toward light rail that would “bankrupt” it… There were one too many qualifiers in your last paragraph. I agree that going into even more debt is exactly what the Council ought NOT to do… but Viv’s comment still stands – it is the Greater Wellington Regional Council who fund public transport in Wellington. So … moot point.

  12. Mike, 13. October 2010, 18:42

    The Wellington City Council provides public transport infrastructure such as bus lanes, bus pre-emption at traffic lights and bus shelters; and the Auckland and Christchurch City Councils subsidise public transport operations through free city centre buses; so there are already precedents in Wellington and elsewhere for city council involvement.

    So WCC already funds some aspects of public transport (and it subsidises private transport through free weekend parking).

  13. Graeme, 14. October 2010, 10:58

    Mike – “WCC subsidises private transport though free weekend parking”? Thats rich! What’s really happening is that the WCC have subsidised their CBD business owner mates by condescending to match the free parking you find so readily at Lower Hutt, Upper Hutt and Porirua shopping compexes provided by retailers – but at weekends only – to attract shoppers & try to retain market share of the retail spend within Wellington. Not that it does much good. I don’t know anyone in the northern suburbs who goes into the CBD to shop at weekends at all. Lower Hutt and Porirua both offer superior, modern and compact shopping experiences for most of us, and their free and ample parking is a given.
    WCC’s logic in changing the rules to prohibit a larger mall redevelopment in Johnsonville was the result of a panicked, irrational 2007-2010 council that continued to refusal to support the basic infrastructure (eg, solving the decades old rushhour traffic gridlock, lack of footpaths and park’n’ride, no greenspace plan, etc, etc) of the northern suburbs.
    Personally, I take the bus to work because trains don’t start running early emough for me to get to work at 6 am (simple and avoidable poor customer service there), and trains are sooooo slow (it takes twice as long to get to town by train ( with all the stops on the J/ville line ) as it does by bus, and the matangi trains & ‘new improved” track wont fix that!!

  14. jack, 14. October 2010, 12:32

    To Jarrod and his friend Viv. I am humbled and feel duly castigated for my ignorance which seems to rile them both. It is a shame we do not have these two people representing us as city councillors. Perhaps next time ? Bless you both .

  15. Andy Foster, 14. October 2010, 14:01

    Hi Graeme – you may not know anyone in the northern suburbs who ever shops in the Central City at weekends, but I suspect that might not be a fair reflection of the whole population. The latest numbers I’ve seen say that the CBD has been holding its market share of regional retail spend over the last decade. Previously it had been declining in relative terms (that does not necessarily mean in real terms) as other areas grew their relative spending – obviously the big retail developments in the Hutt and Porirua attracted a lot of money.

    I’m not sure how often this has to be said, Council has never prohibited a large mall in Johnsonville. In fact as you well know the expanded Johnsonville Mall has consent. Plan Change 66 simply gave Council the ability to require an economic assessment of any very large (and let’s be clear we are talking very large) retail development on the Golden Mile. If something was going to rip the heart out of the Golden Mile are you really suggesting that Council shouldn’t even think about that ? Furthermore as I’ve also previously said in these columns on several occasions we already under earlier plan changes had the ability to consider the economic impact of out of centre retail developments on the likes of Johnsonville. By your apparent logic we shouldn’t worry if a major mall were built at Takapu Road or at the Churton Park motorway offramp and proceeded to undermine Johnsonville.

    Final comment – not sure how you can say Council is subsidising our ‘downtown business mates’ by providing free parking. For heavens sake – the free parking is paid for entirely through the Downtown Levy funded funnily enough entirely by downtown businesses.

    We are now waiting for the Mall owners to action their consent, and to talk to Council about roading improvements.

  16. Jarrod, 14. October 2010, 14:29

    Unusual, Councillor Foster, that you say the WCC has never promoted a large mall for Johnsonville. Well technically you might be right, as I am sure the “Council” of Councillors never publically promoted it. But when I was a Council Senior Advisor, I was a member of the project team that consisted of other WCC staff (from roading, planning, consents), Transit NZ, the developers, GW Regional Council, bus companies and Tranz Metro. We were working together in harmony to plan for this mall and it seemed at that stage to be full steam ahead. I was shocked when WCC did the massive flip-flop on the whole deal (after I had left). I’m shocked you are presenting this view of history, considering I don’t ever recall you being at these planning meetings. However, in your defence it is apparent that many things happen in WCC that councillors are not aware of.
    PS. To Jack: for the reasons above you will not see me as a Councillor. I like to have some modicum of control over what my Council does.

  17. ViV, 14. October 2010, 18:48

    Andy, how much is collected via “The Downtown Levy” ?

  18. The City is Ours, 14. October 2010, 19:39

    The downtown levy is about $ 10million per year and needs to go under the green microscope.

  19. andy foster, 14. October 2010, 22:59

    Jarrod – you misread one very important word in what I wrote. I said Council has never ‘prohibited’ (‘promoted’ was not the word I used!) a large mall in Johnsonville. Graeme Sawyer made the point that we had ‘prohibited’ mall redevelopment.. I was saying that is (also) not the case. In fact, Council policy in the Johnsonville Town Centre Plan is that we do want mall redevelopment, so yes I was well aware of a lot of work being done in collaboration with the other parties you mention. The only point of Plan Change 66 was that Council wanted to have the ability to require economic impact assessment of very large scale retail developments such as Johnsonville.

    ViV – the Downtown Levy is in the Annual Report (on line if you want numbers). In the year to June 2010 it was $10.3 million – covering things like free weekend parking, events and Positively Wgtn Tourism.

    Hope that helps ViV – and Jarrod that we are clear now !
    Warmest regards
    Andy Foster
    City Councillor

  20. Demetrius, 15. October 2010, 3:53

    Excellent comments, Kris and CC. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

    Tony, you need to be gently reminded that the apparently high bus usage (by NZ standards but low by overseas standards) is the result of the fact that no other viable alternative exists at present south of the railway station for a reasonable length journey. Put light rail in to rectify that and overseas experience has shown that public transport usage will increase exponentially.

    As for 200 buses an hour: Have you considered that amounts to one bus every 18 seconds? Is that even possible, let alone desirable through the CBD? Have a look at:
    Bus rapid transit, indeed! Isn’t one quiet, smooth electric tram-train every two minutes preferable to 5 roaring fume-belching blunderbuses?

    The apparent harsh treatment of various candidates in the recent elections is the result of frustration at the fact that light rail was deemed feasible and desirable for Wellington in a study carried out 15 years ago, then conveniently put in the “too hard” basket and forgotten. We don’t need to waste money on any more studies. These people need to be made aware of what has gone before them, in fact if they don’t go to the trouble of finding out, why do they even bother to stand for election? Read the last paragraph of:

    Tony, your own harsh criticism of Celia’s philosophy is seriously flawed. What she is advocating is not “Think Big” but rather, “Think Ahead”. Auckland’s woeful situation is the result of not thinking ahead, and now look at how it’s going to sort out its problems – with rail, no less!

    But I’ve already made these points elsewhere, including the important point that it is not the various councils, but central government who should pay, using a mere 10% of what they have budgeted for those “roads of notional (sic) significance”:

  21. ViV, 15. October 2010, 9:36

    Yes Andy, I know. I just wanted to put the figure out in the public arena. Why, because so much expenditure on events/upgrades/promotions has, in the past, been attributed to the Downtown Levy. Now we can keep a running tally, from press clippings and missives from councillors, justifying , to let you know when it’s been exceeded. As if that would make a difference.

  22. Graeme, 15. October 2010, 10:57

    Jarrod is spot-on – thank goodness there is a vehicle by which Andy’s dis-information can be highlighted. I wrote (above) that WCC had “changed the rules to prohibit a larger mall redevelopment in Johnsonville” – by which I didn’t suggest that a slightly larger mall redevelopment was not “allowed” (we all know it was consented last year) but that it was a smaller mall redevelopment than was proposed, one that doesn’t “threaten” the CBD. And the very existence of that “threat” at all was – and is – a fabrication and a fantasy. The “Smaller Mall” redevelopment proposal that WCC approved in 2009 has stalled, and it’s more than likely it will stay that way for another decade or more. Why? Because at the reduced size (compared to what was originally planned before WCC outlawed it) it’s not economic in this climate. If the council had allowed the larger mall to proceed as original DNZ proposed (and massively supported by the suburb), and if the council had accelerated spending to fix Johnsonville’s disastrous traffic gridlock (15 years overdue for remediation), then DNZ would have had the mall largely finished before the effects of the global fiscal crisis stalled it, and J/ville would be a jewel in Wellington’s retailing crown. Now, we have nothing (small children could disappear in the potholes of the decrepit mall’s parking lot). And no prospect of any inprovements any time soon.
    Most Johnsonville residents are still unaware that this smaller redevelopment – if it ever proceeds – will lack all the great community-building features (like a cinema) that they were expecting, because the developers were forced to remove them to keep under WCCs “new and special” size restrictions. So, not only have WCC failed to invest in any new public community infrastructure in J/ville for the last decade, WCC actively prevented a new private community infrastructure going ahead too! In another ten years, when Andy Foster’s vision for Johnsonville’s residential landscape (which will see it dominated by Housing Corp. units, Council flats, and private cheap & nasty high density low cost rentals for the poor and aged) comes to fruition, DNZ may look at the neighbourhood & decide they’d prefer to put a new mall in Cannons Creek or Naenae instead.
    If you don’t believe that I (and virtually everyone I have spoken to on the subject – and believe me that’s a lot!) don’t shop in the Wellington CBD at weekends, you need to wake up. The new (yay!) council may care to commission some research to look into that. The “suspicion that I am wrong” is hardly a basis for sound policy decisions…. maybe it’s that propensity to make policy on the hoof that is resulting in tumbleweeds beginning to blow through Johnsonville right now, while CBD rents are pushed so high that they are uneconomic for many retailers. By acting to “protect” the CBDs retailing, what WCC have done is to drive significant business out of the city limits (which include Johnsonville) and into other cities.
    As for your waiting for DNZ to “cross WCC’s palm with silver” before the roading in J/ville can go ahead, this pushes credibility too far. As I have stated in this forum before, WCC engineers told me 18 months ago that their modelling showed a new mall of the magnitude of the one now consented would add nothing to the traffic load on Johnsonville. This surprised us all greatly, but they were adamant their modelling confirmed the fact. So if the roading is already years and years past the point where it reached capacity (and everyone agrees it is), WCC’s greed in forcing DNZ to stump up millions for work that WCC have been gathering our rates to fund for decades (yet still not doing it), serves only to strangle any small chance that the mall upgrade will proceed at all. Once again, WCC policy seeks to choke J/ville! That the previous WCC administration fooled themselves that their interventionist approach was in the best interests of the city (by trying to maintain retailing “status quo” in a fast changing world) is nothing short of bizarre. It reminds me of Rob Muldoon freezing wages & prices to stop inflation – you just can’t control markets in such ways and expect them to operate efficiently, and efficiency is what we need going forward, not some Stalinist interventionist approach ! Lets hope the new council can take a fresh look at this. (Which reminds me: congratulations Justin, and good luck!!) (Abridged – Ed.)

  23. Tony Randle, 16. October 2010, 19:54

    Andy: It is good of you to join in this discussion (even if it is off topic) to keep trying to justify the shambles that the WCC has made of Johnsonville. Good intentions or not, the WCC’s actions have directly led to Johnsonville missing out on:
    * a big new mall to meet the growing needs of North Wellington
    * desperately-needed road and pedestrian improvements
    * expanded park & ride for bus and rail services out of the station.
    I am disappointed that you chose not to comment on the substance of my article. What do YOU think about the opportunities of Bus Rapid Transit as opposed to Light Rail and my concerns that it will not be properly looked at in the new study ?

    Demetrius: Again you make claims that, for me, raise more questions than they answer. For example you claim “the apparently high bus usage … is the result of the fact that no other viable alternative exists south of the railway station for a reasonable length journey. Put light rail in to rectify that and overseas experience has shown that public transport usage will increase exponentially.” Well at 17% (2006 Census), Wellington City has the highest PT (bus and train) usage of any city in Australasia. I challenge you to name any city that “overseas experience” has shown having light rail means it equals let alone beats the 17% PT usage that Wellington City has achieved ?
    You also say “Isn’t one quiet, smooth electric tram-train every two minutes preferable to 5 roaring fume-belching blunderbuses?” You sure don’t hold back on the emotive language but have you seem to have forgotten some more Wellington PT facts like:
    * Wellington already has a “quiet, smooth electric” trolley bus network that was introduced to improve the city’s environment.
    * One full diesel bus may annoy you but it still takes a couple of dozen cars off the road . . . isn’t that worth noting?
    * Light Rail will not reach most of Wellington and so how are citizens of places like Island Bay, Karori, Newlands, Wadestown, Churton Park going to get to work ?
    * New Zealand exports hybrid diesel-electric buses around the world that are much more environmentally friendly (including to New York City that now only buys hybrid electric buses). As I already mentioned (and you ignored), we have never even trailed hybrid buses here in Wellington, but they must surely be part of any improved bus option.
    Of most concern is your statement:
    “The apparent harsh treatment of various candidates in the recent elections is the result of frustration at the fact that light rail was deemed feasible and desirable for Wellington in a study carried out 15 years ago, then conveniently put in the “too hard” basket and forgotten. We don’t need to waste money on any more studies.”
    Unlike most of the audience, I have a copy of this 1995 Light Rail Feasibility study (I have a copy of most Wellington PT studies). People need to know that:
    * this study assumed the Johnsonville Line was converted to light rail
    * this study only looked at options to add light rail to other parts of the city including the CBD and to Lower Hutt.
    * this study did not consider ANY bus improvements (incremental or major) in comparison to various light rail systems.
    * Where bus and light rail solutions were considered together (such as the more recent 2006 North Wellington Public Transport Study), light rail was rated worse than any of the bus or rail options (BCR only 0.08 !).

    Demetrius, this new study is NOT a waste of money and your attitude raises a warning to those who, like me, still fear that Bus Rapid Transit options will be deliberately missed in the Wellington CBD Rapid Transit Study. Ongoing scrutiny will be essential if the study process looking at Wellington CBD PT options (bus and rail) is to be open and fair to all possible solutions.
    Finally, thanks to all for the great comments on this important issue.

  24. Demetrius, 1. November 2010, 2:50

    Tony, it’s apparent we’re just going round in circles. I mean I already made the point that 17% public transport usage is low by international standards and you insist on doing comparisons only within Australasia. After all, 17% means only one person in six is using public transport, so 5 out of 6 aren’t. Therefore we should be seriously looking at European standards. I could rattle off a list of cities but you would only come back to me and say that those cities are nothing like Wellington in size or demographics. You would always find a way to squirm out of your difficulty.

    “Quiet smooth electric tram-train” – well did I forget to add the adjective “fast”? You can’t use that adjective to describe trolley buses, can you? As for hybrid buses, well they still use fossil fuels, don’t they?

    Bus rapid transit requires a lot of room to work properly – room we haven’t got – and it still doesn’t come anywhere near the efficiency of rail. One bus may take up to 50 cars off the road, but one light rail vehicle will take up to 200 and keep doing it for a much longer working life. And the efficiency of steel wheel on steel rail will never be matched by rubber tyre on asphalt road. See: http://www.strickland.ca and click on “efficiency of different modes of transport”.

    Incidentally, the particular study referred to found benefit cost ratios in the 1.6 to 1.7 region for most of the options looked at. Sure, bus wasn’t looked at for this particular study, because it was specifically a feasibility study for light rail. But benefit cost ratio is a tricky thing. It can be improved by providing a high benefit or by requiring a low cost. However, it does not measure absolute improvement in what you are trying to achieve, namely a sufficient increase in capacity for present and future needs. There is no way bus transit can provide the required capacity along the golden mile, within the physical constraints of the golden mile. If you don’t believe me, visit lower Willis Street at 5.00 p.m. on a weekday and count the number of nose-to-tail buses between Lambton Quay and Mercer Street. I’ve counted up to eight in each direction. Private vehicles are prohibited there, at least southbound, so the buses are getting in each others’ way. Can you explain clearly how buses are going to overcome their own self-congestion, without widening the street, when they already have priority? One light rail vehicle will replace at least four buses, eliminating this congestion. And once they get to the railway station, they will continue on to the Hutt or Johnsonville without people needing to change at this very inconvenient point. Very simple, time-saving and cost-effective.

    Perhaps that it why bus rapid transit has not been looked at in the detail you require to satisfy you. Rail can and will provide that capacity. It has been proven throughout much of the first world where various types of rail systems are springing up at an increasing rate. Few new bus rapid transit systems are appearing and that should tell us something. In fact, some BRT systems have been converted to LRT. Have you heard of the opposite happening anywhere?

    So yes, let’s wait for yet another study, and let’s be fair to the poor buses. But we need to include all criteria and not ignore those that bus cannot compete on. That includes things like fossil fuel dependence, atmospheric pollution, space requirements, user friendliness, having a pleasant built environment, as well as the more obvious issues of capacity (including future requirements), speed and reliability. Sure, cost benefit ratio will be in there as well, but judging by the conclusions reached in the light rail feasibility study of 1995, light rail should win on that score as well, since a full-blown bus rapid transit system is hardly any cheaper than light rail, as the Auckland Northern Busway proved.

  25. Free ride, 1. November 2010, 10:57

    With the latest hike in bus fares what’s the point in using them anyway. The Daytripper has gone from $6.50 to $9.50 based on the premise that someone who lives in Island Bay will want to go to the Hutt and back – yeah right! A 20 minute round car trip and a parking fee is a lot more cost effective than a 90 minute round bus trip plus 20 minute walking time. Free buses would cost a lot less than millions spent on yet more studies and new infrastructure including light rail which still has all the traffic lights etc. to contend with.

  26. Tony Randle, 2. November 2010, 12:16

    I don’t think we are going around in circles Demetrius. We are just arguing for different views and trying to refute what the other says.

    However, you do raise a key question by claiming “There is no way bus transit can provide the required capacity along the golden mile, within the physical constraints of the golden mile. If you don’t believe me, visit lower Willis Street at 5.00 p.m. on a weekday and count the number of nose-to-tail buses between Lambton Quay and Mercer Street….”

    I take the bus to/from the CBD most days (when I don’t train) and know perfectly well the long queues of buses that appear at peak time. Our current bus system appears to have been designed by a light rail fan because the buses are forced to play follow-the-leader like light rail (and trolley buses). I would say the first step to increase capacity (and reliability) is to have a bus lane with “off-line” bus stops. This way buses can pull off the bus lane at bus stops and buses ready to leave can pull out and pass a slower bus in front.

    More importantly, this approach will permit the proper running of peak Express bus services (like the Airport Flyer) that would not stop at every stop (in Adelaide they use “skip stopping” where such buses stop at every second stop). With off-line bus stops, Express buses would sail past stopped buses greatly improving the speed, reliability and capacity of the CBD PT corridor.

    Next, because Bus Rapid Transit is not hugely expensive, we will also be able to invest in things like a proper Intelligent Traffic System (ITS) that will give Green Light preference to buses behind schedule to make the whole service more reliable (it can also ensure green lights to emergency vehicles, etc) and hybrid-electric powered buses.

    Now there is easily width for this along most of the route now (certainly there is along Lambton Quay where the “bump” style bus stops are a stupid design that unnecessarily force buses to queue). There are parts of the route where width is an issue, these same areas will have similar problems for a combined light rail/bus based PT system. That is where we have to study and invest to overcome these more restricted zones. Does this clearly explain how I think buses capacity would be improved through the Wellington CBD ?

    Can you answer a key question about the light rail based solution by explaining the route to be used by buses still going through the CBD when light rail occupies the Lambton/Willis/Manners/Courtenay Place corridor ? You claim “one light rail vehicle will replace at least four buses, eliminating this congestion. And once they get to the railway station, they will continue on to the Hutt or Johnsonville without people needing to change at this very inconvenient point. Very simple, time-saving and cost-effective. Perhaps that is why bus rapid transit has not been looked at in the detail you require to satisfy you.”

    Well unlike your favoured 1995 Light Rail Feasibility Report, I have already pointed out one recent study that DID COMPARE Bus Rapid Transit to Light Rail running through the Wellington CBD . . . the 2006 North Wellington PT Study. This study found BRT superior and that light rail was the poorer (indeed the worst) option.

    Finally, while we are unlikely to agree, I think this debate is useful for others who may not understand the different points of view. I like to stick to issues/facts. So far it has been easy for you to claim building a non-specific ideal light rail system would be better that our current bus service that has never had any real investment in the past two decades. Will you tell us the details of your preferred PT design for Central Wellington or will you just keep to the light rail brochure-ware statements ?

  27. Demetrius, 29. December 2010, 3:21

    Tony I agree that this is healthy debate, however, you should be aware that you can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time. Is this your idea of BRT with passing lanes?



    Note that despite the four lanes required for the buses to overtake each other they still have major bus congestion. What hope for the narrow corridors of Wellington? With tram-train, there will be one vehicle every couple of minutes. Room also for the odd bus to share the route, but most buses will be replaced by rail and the buses will mostly provide feeder services. Trams can also use “off-line” stops as you put it (they’re called passing loops in rail terminology) and of course also add width to the corridor, but they simply won’t be necessary with the reduced overall level of traffic.

    Bringing up the 2006 North Wellington Public Transport Study and saying it found “BRT superior and that light rail was the poorer option” is hiding the important facts. First point to make is that it only considers Johnsonville and surrounding areas and not the Wellington region as a whole. Secondly, it says that “[Light rail] is not recommended as a preferred scenario based on the requirements of the northern suburbs alone. It is possible that if light rail were adopted as a solution for regional transport needs, then the economics of introducing this mode to the Johnsonville line might improve. However, this prospect is outside the scope of this study and has not been considered further.” The conclusion actually reached was that the “base case” was the best option – basically a “do nothing” option but using Ganz units (now outdated because of the Matangi units) and making minor improvements to bus services in areas not served by rail. More to the point, the study never considered the two major factors in favour of tram-train, namely operating on other lines (Hutt and Kapiti) would vastly reduce the bottleneck at the railway station as people flock to change transport mode, and secondly, the vastly improved capacity through the CBD where rail wins hands down.

    Tony, things have changed considerably since the 1995 Light Rail Feasibility Study, to the extent that justification for it has increased even further and tram-train is now being pushed all the way to the hospital and eventually the airport while operating all the way to Porirua and Melling / Waterloo, with a loop joining the two via the Lower Hutt CBD taking in Queensgate. However, this is definitely not the forum for me to give you detailed plans (lest you become a convert!) but rest assured that they exist, are not out of any glossy brochure, and their benefits are much more far-reaching than any bus-based system could possibly provide, while the cost is actually comparable to the type of BRT with bells and whistles you are pushing for. It is my contention that central government should pay for LRT infrastructure, after all they are willing to spend money on roads for private cars which your buses use at no apparent cost (or rather the cost is hidden) but rail has to provide and pay for its own right of way. We only need about 10% of the proposed road spend to create a world class light rail system for Wellington.