Wellington Scoop

Rebooting Wellington’s transport

by Ian Apperley
Mayoral candidates are promising everything from second tunnels to a billion dollars in new roads, flyovers, more cycle lanes, cheaper public transport and an end to congestion. All well and good, but not achievable and old thinking.

There has been a lot of moaning and whining on social media about my views on how ineffective Wellington City’s transport networks are. Let’s face it, the traffic in the city is getting worse and it is clear the politicians have no idea how to improve things or where to start, and often have an agenda that belongs back in 1970.

The cycling shambles has proven three things to my mind.

First, separating people and creating zones where only pedestrians, or cyclists, or other traffic can move is silly. It creates conflict because separation creates entitlement. For example, a cyclist can’t get down the Island Bay cycleway at speed so they use the road. The road users complain because the cycle is “on their road.”

Two, consultation with the Council is stuffed. I got into a long debate with someone who decried my position on this because I should be “engaging,” and a councillor told me that “just because you don’t get what you want doesn’t mean consultation is not working.” I’ve engaged on everything in the past five years and I can tell you now, consultation isn’t working. Island Bay proved it.

Finally, the council’s bull-headed ideology and intractable positions do it no favours. This is not an organisation that can say “hey, we got it wrong.” That’s a problem.

Anyway, back to transport. I think there are a range of things that the city can help with if they choose.

First, public transport in this town is way too expensive. I can still have a small car, park in town, and it is faster, cheaper, and more convenient than the bus. Worse, the bus still operates on 1970 principles. Turns up when it turns up, can be full, gets stuck in traffic, and the bus driver is sometimes grumpy. Point is, it doesn’t encourage me to get on and use it. In fact, if I did, I’d probably go broke.

That has got to be fixed. Any modern city has a good public transport system at its heart. We don’t. The WCC will blame the GWRC for that, but why not get radical instead of just pointing the finger? Why not contract for our own bus services, using modern facilities, and stop paying the GWRC the subsidy?

We need more shared spaces. As I mentioned above, road apartheid is the path to hell. If you look at cities of our type and size around the world, the shared space works well. Basically, you remove all the barriers, traffic lights, roundabouts, curbs, warning signs, and you just let people negotiate the intersection. Weirdly, it works. So why can’t we pick a couple of intersections or suburban villages and try that? The WCC missed a massive opportunity to try this with the lower Cuba Street rebuild.

Spending money on cycleways out in the suburbs is weak. What would be brave is to start having the conversation about cycleways in the CBD. I have said it time and again. I can get to the edge of the CBD on my bike quite happily, but there is no way I am going to cycle down the quays. Be brave and visionary.

Open up all the transport data. CCTVs, the devices that capture smart phone movements, real-time public transport, traffic counters, the works. Then let the community get on with creating the applications that exploit so we can see when the bus is coming, so we can see the best time to travel, so we can see real time information. What happens now is that the data is locked away until it can be “monetised”, which it never will, because, well, Google.

Why aren’t we moving to make Lambton Quay pedestrian only? Or at least bus only to start with? It’s madness that we have a road that puts traffic right through the heart of the city. (And there’s more than one of them…)

Why aren’t we working with autonomous car makers and the NZTA to build roads that will support robotic vehicles? London is about to put the first cars on the road in Greenwich, this is not a technology that is coming in 50 years, it’s here right now and we could open our arms and embrace it, which in turn will get us international media coverage for free.

Autonomous cars will ultimately: cause public transport to become a lot cheaper (or die), give more independence to the less able-bodied, allow for car sharing, allow lower income workers to move more, reduce congestion, reduce accidents, and reduce emissions. So why aren’t we investing in this?

City wide traffic management by robots, AI, is also becoming commonplace. You could see the Smart Motorway as the first baby step to this. Rather than relying on humans to figure out traffic patterns, it will use a smart system to manage the entire city as an organism. Most traffic congestion is due to erratic movement of vehicles. A car driving too fast, a car driving too slow, a cyclist holding up a lane of traffic, a broken down bus, and the like. Modern systems account for that and provide much smoother traffic management than humans will ever be able too.

None of these initiatives is particularly radical or revolutionary. Bill English is right about one thing, our transport thinking isn’t progressive. But then neither is his. More roads are not the answer. But neither is transport disintegration and sitting back and letting the city come to a standstill so people are forced to get on bicycles.


  1. checkpoint charlie, 22. June 2016, 11:26

    …allow lower income workers to move more – are these autonomous cars $5999? I think it will be quite sometime before the masses have one.

    However, your article has some good points. I love PT! It is my preferred method for anywhere I need to go and Welly is pretty good at where its PT reaches. I love that it is clean and socially cohesive as it brings all sorts of people together. But yes, way too expensive to make it a first option for people. Needs to be cheaper and more of it.

    Most cities I have lived in have a free city loop bus so you pay to get to the city outskirt and then it is free all day to go around the city along a couple of route options. Should be free buses from say Courtenay Place or the Basin to the train station for example.

    For me, PT is number one choice followed by walking or biking, and car last. I love my car, but unless I am going out further to another town on the weekend or need to pick up something bulky or hook up the trailer for garden supplies, no need for it during the week.

    Shared space as you suggest could work but may not appeal in a western society that likes order, predictability and we also live in a highly risk adverse and “legal” society where someone has to be blamed if there is an accident. So if we remove all the stop signs and rules, then who is at fault when someone is killed? We cant even get simple behaviour change on many issues, so shared space is big jump. I am not against it, just its a big call. And yes, certain areas of Welly city could be 100% traffic free or bare minimal bus only. That I would like to see – much more pedestrian friendly and make more green spaces, street art etc

  2. Alexandra, 22. June 2016, 11:33

    The unnecessary roading projects are earmarked to be toll roads (undisclosed privatisation/LTP). Public transport is not cheap and there has been much mismanagement to make it profitable for private businesses.

  3. Ben, 22. June 2016, 11:46

    I agree – we need to think outside the square.
    I don’t know why we have to retain the Basin Reserve which is hardly ever used, but if we do, why not consider raising the level of the Basin Reserve up and have an underground traffic system running below it – that would sort out so many problems.
    At least this way the Basin stays and traffic congestion gets fixed.

  4. Ian Apperley, 22. June 2016, 12:11

    As an example of what politicians and community can do together when they connect, see this example of a Transport Hackahon run in late 2014. http://www.hackmiramar.org/hack-v1/
    What was interesting was that, with the exception of Jo Coughlan, every councillor turned up, plus some from GWRC, and the Mayor. The GWRC CEO met the group afterwards and the entire Council made time to hear presentations. It showed that cross political agreement can be reached when the community facilitates. Unfortunately, the wheels of the machine ground it all to death, rather than grease it along.

  5. barry, 22. June 2016, 13:25

    “and the bus driver is sometimes grumpy”

    Pay them more than just over the minimum wage and you will have happy workers/drivers.

  6. Mikey, 22. June 2016, 17:31

    @barry: Money doesn’t make people happy.
    @Ben: promoting ideas of removing the basin reserve or roading under it is not a solution .

  7. Ben, 22. June 2016, 17:34

    @ Mikey what’s wrong with promoting all ideas?
    Eventually a solution may just be formulated

  8. luke, 22. June 2016, 17:52

    Most of the mayoral candidates are only interested in building flyovers and roads. I could potentially see the Terrace Tunnel duplication being good if it was accompanied by pedestrianising large chunks of the cbd.
    Why do all buses have to funnel down the pedestrian spine? Some buses should be express along the quays to Courtenay Pl, with 2 of the 6 lanes converted to buslanes (or even better light rail).

  9. Concerned Wellingtonian, 22. June 2016, 18:09

    I am worried that Jo Coughlan did not turn up to the meeting mentioned by Ian Apperley. Does she make a habit of not attending important meetings?

  10. Rumpole, 22. June 2016, 20:15

    Jo Coughlan is too busy running her household. Attending meetings, important or otherwise makes things difficult.

  11. CPH, 22. June 2016, 20:39

    Concerned Wellingtonian – why would Jo Coughlan need to turn up to a meeting of mere residents when she already knows all the answers?

  12. Diane Calvert, 22. June 2016, 21:58

    So I have heard and seen her disappear at an important part of debate on her own amendment resolution to Hutt Rd cycleway proposal

  13. falken, 22. June 2016, 22:13

    @ben – Agree. Pay them more. treat them with worth and dignity and look at the benefits they bring to the city.

    but let’s talk about the elephant in the room – privatized transport, anywhere in the world, does not result in fair pricing (not necessarily cheap – but fair). they have only an obligation to shareholders, owners and investors. Devolution of neo liberal policy resulting in public ownership of our assets that are focused on a service that cannot be priced or quantified due to the benefits it brings is a better option than a for-profit user-pays system that diminishes social equity, accessibility and affordability for the people. The reality is that the loss made by a public owned system is offset by people using the transport to get to work and add to the GDP or to go shopping and spend money or to access services which better livelihood.

    Welly needs a Tony Benn big time. You can google him for those with no political understanding of left and right.

  14. Troy K, 23. June 2016, 10:36

    @ Ben the stupid WCC ideas about the flyover do not need to be proposed over and over.The Basin Reserve is not a public transportation problem.

    Wellington does not need another politician, it needs to see clearly and disengage with the big business funding structure that is the WCC.

  15. Ian Apperley, 23. June 2016, 10:52

    Hey Checkpoint, the point with autonomous cars is that no one owns them. If you look behind Uber you’ll find Google and the fact that Uber is trying to get rid of drivers. By my estimation an Uber from Eastern Suburbs to the CBD in that model could cost about $3.75. If you share, that cost is reduced, which means that it is cheaper than PT. Yeah, some of this is edge thinking, but we kind of need to start debating it now.

    Barry, yep. What they did to bus drivers a few years back was borderline criminal. It’s been a disaster ever since and the changes they are talking about in the future will compound it.

    Luke, you’re not wrong. We’re not seeing a lot of fresh thinking from candidates yet.

  16. Concerned Wellingtonian, 23. June 2016, 14:09

    Oh dear! I have opened a hornets’ nest! Jo Coughlan should surely be much admired if she is having to run a household as well as issue media releases. She is definitely too busy to stand for her ward again as well as the mayoralty.

  17. Andrew, 23. June 2016, 18:11

    Autonomous cars might hit the same speedbumps that the Segway did when it came out in the early 2000s. The Segway had a huge amount of hype surrounding it before the launch, promising to change the way we travel. Problem was that city authorities had different ideas about heavy electric vehicles riding on footpaths. That is why they have been relegated to foreshore PC patrol in Taupo. And because you look like a dork riding one.

    The liabilities surrounding autonomous cars must be massive. Who signs off on software? Who guarantees the routing reliability? Insurance? I feel sick thinking about it, especially with wellingtons narrow streets. I’m sure issues will be overcome, but I really doubt we will be seeing widespread auto cars soon.

  18. Ben, 23. June 2016, 21:16

    @ Troy . .. I disagree that the Basin is not a transport problem but I am not advocating a flyover for the Basin Reserve. It would be worth thinking outside the square and considering the logistics of redesigning it at a higher level so traffic could go underneath it.

  19. Troy K, 24. June 2016, 7:20

    @Ben: the Basin Reserve is not a problem. Creating bottlenecks for the growing number of cars is not problem solving. With the increasing number of cars, traffic jams are a fact of life for inner cities at rush hour. If you are trying to solve the problem of “traffic” ( hahaha) let people who can work online at home, work from home and come in a hour later.

  20. Ross Clark, 27. June 2016, 21:27

    Do something about the availability of commuter parking!

  21. Wellington Commuter, 28. June 2016, 9:46

    @Ross Clark: The GWRC IS spending millions on commuter parking … just last week they announced “470 extra car parks to meet growing demand from commuters.” This is totally in line with their continued investment programme for rail users from Lower Hutt to Kapiti.

    And what about Wellington City you ask ? Oh we only use buses so the GWRC spends nothing, which also the amount of their investment in bus commuter parking … Perhaps GWRC Chair Chris Laidlaw can comment on the apparent bias against investing in communter parking for Wellington City PT … after all he was elected to represent Wellington City.

  22. Mike Mellor, 28. June 2016, 11:19

    Wellington Commuter: as I’ve tried to explain before, GWRC’s expenditure is subsidising car, not rail, users – it benefits the majority of rail users not one jot, but they (and all of us) are paying to benefit this minority.

    The sensible “doing something” about commuter parking is to price it so that the beneficiaries pay, not making everyone else pay for yet more of Wellington to be paved over, and investing in things that encourage people to use public transport, walking and cycling – not effectively paying them to drive.

  23. Ross Clark, 28. June 2016, 20:15

    Wellington Commuter: soz, what I should have written was, “Do something about the availability of *CBD* commuter parking”.

    Also, bus park & ride can work quite well (park outwith the CBD, get an express bus in from there). I can provide examples if anyone is interested.