by Brent Efford
I avoid the Wellington Regional Council these days, such is my loathing for its institutional dishonesty and its prioritising of cars before public transport in its planning processes.
However, a friend with a stronger stomach imparted a new snippet of information the other day over coffee.
He had appeared as a public participant before the council’s Sustainable (no trolleys, more diesel buses, no light rail!) Transport Committee, and asked about the status of the bus rapid transit (BRT) plan, which was the outcome of the 2013 Public Transport Spine Study, and which was used to trick the then-Mayor away from her previous support for light rail.
He was told that it was officially off the agenda – now downgraded to just ‘bus priority’, which of course requires minimal infrastructure (which is why the trolley buses are going). The BRT illusion served its bait-and-switch purpose in 2013 but can now be quietly forgotten.
The Regional Council continues to delude itself that changes to bus routes in southern Wellington city will make public transport more competitive with regional car commuting over billion-dollar motorways, while the rail system continues to lack the essential downtown reach that is the first stage for rail transit everywhere else.
The 1990s attitude of a more enlightened regional council is summed up by this March 2015 message from its former Transport Manager Dr David Watson:
… We always came to the same conclusion. Light rail as a stand alone service (station to airport) was not a winner. We needed to extend it to Johnsonville or even the Hutt. We looked at operating standard units and light rail on the same tracks and then allowing the light rail to extend into the city. We saw no problem with this.
Public transport doesn’t have a hope of alleviating the congestion that the new motorways will exacerbate – unless there’s a fast, unbroken, through-CBD rail service which can compete with car commuting. Light rail is the affordable way to ensure that.