Wellington Scoop

Real time and real problems – a response to Fran Wilde

by Kerry Wood
Fran Wilde wants to refute (I think she means deny) comments about her Regional Council’s Real Time Information system (RTI). She seems to be meeting resistance.

On the following morning I was unable to use RTI at all, and it still wasn’t working when my bus ran through town ten minutes late. The Metrolink tweets showed no notification that RTI had shut down, but claimed it was working again a couple of hours later. Still some way to go.

If RTI is one of several major improvements over the last few years, what — apart from the rail upgrade — might the others be?

And what does Fran imagine is still to be done?

With the Basin flyover plan in ruins, it is time for a rethink. Where was the sense in abandoning the Bus Tunnel in favour of sharing with heavy motor traffic around the Basin Reserve and through a duplicated Mount Victoria tunnel? Hasn’t the Regional Council understood that Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) needs bus priority? Hasn’t it heard of ‘triple convergence’, efficiently and reliably consuming purported time savings? Doesn’t it understand that a slower secondary route on Oriental Bay makes a second Mount Victoria tunnel a sitting duck for triple convergence?

The Bus Tunnel should be easily able to handle the proposed traffic in the Public Transport Plan — easily checked by modelling. If greater capacity is needed there are options. Buses occasionally running through in pairs would not be a disaster, or guide wheels would allow drivers to increase capacity by going faster. It would be much quicker, more effective and more reliable than a doubled Mount Victoria Tunnel.

The other branch of the spine was little better, with an interchange 300 metres from Wellington Hospital; hospital passengers would have had to change. Did nobody understand that putting it at the hospital would be far better? Or did nobody notice? The layout has since been revised: the interchange is now 200 metres the other side of Wellington Hospital…

We are told that Transport Agency computer modelling is accurate for public transport. But many cities insist on proper studies and here is one reason why. An interchange just outside walking range of Wellington Hospital is exactly the kind of error you would expect from a motor traffic model adapted to crudely model public transport. The Brisbane BRT system was studied properly and has a stop within the main hospital building.

But the really pressing problem for public transport in Wellington is the inner-city route. The Regional Council have chosen BRT on a route that lacks capacity and thrown in extra—non-BRT—buses for good measure. How far will the council go before finding it won’t work?

Given adequate priority, the planned bus numbers are workable on a four lane busway, but the Wellington City Council says it can’t find space for four lanes. Light rail will work on two lanes but not on two lanes shared with a proliferation of buses. Light rail options need either four lanes (two light rail, two buses) or exclusive use of two lanes.

Memo to WCC: perhaps you could take another look?

The broad inner city public transport choices seem to be:

• Four busway lanes with good priority. This looks impractical on a single corridor so two corridors might have to do; one each way.
• Separate corridors for buses and light rail, each with one lane each way.
• A single exclusive light rail corridor with good priority. This leaves very little bus capacity in the city, so most passengers will have to interchange to or from light rail, and many will have to interchange twice, say at Kilbirnie and Wellington Station.
• Abandon any pretence that city bus delays will improve.

The light rail option is not as bad as it looks (but tram-trains are a very costly way of moving the problem, not solving it). Interchanges have advantages too, totally ignored by the Regional Council:

• Anywhere-to-anywhere trips are much easier, attracting new passengers to public transport.
• More efficient route design saves time and money, making public transport much more productive.

Another pressing problem is: what happened to the spine study, and how to stop it happening again? It should have been obvious to officials that the sole option for the final stage of the spine study was a nonsense, whether bus or light rail. The obvious solution was delay and a rethink but nothing was done.

Is this an example of groupthink, or something worse?

The Basin flyover debacle is a huge opportunity for a rethink. It could be well under way by 2015.

Fran Wilde: Real time information is reliable
PCGM: Trolley buses versus climate change policies
Kerry Wood: Public transport plan riddled with errors