Wellington Scoop

Getting moving, with what we can afford – Diane Calvert

by Diane Calvert
We can get Welly actually moving on transport – if we get back on track now.

Three years ago we had visionary thinking on our transport needs but it was not grounded in realistic and achievable plans.

The problem we face now is that we can’t afford it all. We went too big on ideas and that’s blown out the cost and time making the government’s package unaffordable and unworkable.

To get back on track we need to cut back the transport programme to a manageable level, be transparent and engage better, action NZTA advice and re-prioritise and re-sequence the big stuff – tunnels, roads, mass transit

Three years ago….

Three years ago, Wellingtonians were adamant that they had waited too long and wanted to see a decent transport network providing for all modes but most importantly sorting out the bottle necks along State Highway 1 (SH1) from The Terrace through to the eastern suburbs.

Three years ago, the mayoral candidates promised sorting out the transport including more lanes to the airport and additional tunnels at The Terrace and Mt Victoria.

Three years ago, light rail advocates started intensively lobbying. Ideological values started to drive the agenda. Grand plans started to form around light rail and a large urban regeneration/ intensification programme to help justify the cost with the development of another main transport route servicing a small geographical area.

Three years ago, Wellingtonians were asked what they wanted in terms of transport. It was like kids in a sweet shop. We wanted it all plus more. Money seemed unimportant especially if taxpayers were picking up the tab.

From what I saw, the initial drawings were impressive. However neither the Council nor the public got to see the details, costs and trade-offs until the Government’s indicative package was announced by the Minister of Transport, the Mayor of Wellington and Chair of Greater Wellington in May 2019. There continues to be a lack of real details, engagement on and transparency about what is planned.

What’s gone wrong?

We all know what we want and what we can afford are two different things. We went too big and that’s blown out the cost and time.

The Let’s Get Welly Moving (LGWM) team (made up of NZTA, WCC and GWRC) decided they would ask the government for it all without any compromises. I’m not sure what planet they were on but it looks like they were captured by the light rail movement, ideological views and wanting to reshape the city out to the south and east. The infrastructure challenges coupled with a route out to the east across earthquake prone land adds even more challenges, complexities and cost. Needless to say, the National Transport Fund (which funds transport projects) couldn’t afford it all.

It was at this point that the LGWM governance group, which included the Mayor, determined not to get guidance from its members (ie the full set of elected members) on what should or should not be put forward including sequencing of projects. According to the Chair and CEO of NZTA, final negotiations occurred between the Minister of Transport Phil Twyford (who also held the Housing portfolio at this point) and the Mayor.

So now we have ended up with a programme that is much wider than its original scope, with very limited funding options and a very unhealthy ratepayer burden. Despite the fanfare, all that the government and Councils have effectively committed to is a series of ‘early improvements’ and to complete business cases for the big stuff. Future funding is not certain.

Business cases are still two years away at least and any funding is not guaranteed. The expected funding of 100% for the SH1 improvements has been whittled down to 50% (the other 50% to be picked up by the ratepayer). It also looks like that 50% from the SH1 funds has been applied to prop up a seemingly unviable mass transit investment. The additional Mt Victoria tunnel may only happen after mass transit is put in place (10 years at least) and the additional Terrace tunnel is off the radar.

The government’s indicative package is ultimately flawed in terms of the projects, the sequencing of those projects, the funding burden on ratepayers and the sucking dry of available transport funds for the wider Wellington region.

How do we get it back on track?

Cut back the programme to a manageable and achievable level, action NZTA advice and re-prioritise and re-sequence the big stuff – tunnels and roads.

NZTA have advised that the extra Mt Victoria tunnel should be built before mass transit. New leadership in both Wellington City and Greater Wellington will better support this expert advice.

As Mayor, I will get SH1 improvements back on the agenda and ensure they are not continually side-lined. Anything less will mean that businesses and people will walk away from the eastern side of our city.

I will get the planned improvement to the Golden mile bedded in, along with providing as much support as possible for as stronger bus network. I will de-couple the mass transit/urban re-generation project from the LGWM programme so it becomes a standalone programme and better managed accordingly with the focus on housing. I will work with the Government and our Councils with openness and transparency that will give them confidence that their contribution is truly welcomed. All Wellington city council elected members will be allowed to have a strong voice in the future shape of the programme.

Underlying all these actions, I will ensure that our carbon footprint continues to decrease by less congestion, more active ways of travel, more public transport and more encouragement of non-fossil fuel vehicles.

Diane Calvert for Mayor


  1. Henry Filth, 1. September 2019, 14:05

    “Business cases are still two years away at least . . . ”

    That’s it. I’m moving.

  2. John Rankin, 1. September 2019, 15:19

    This is an informative and revealing post, although perhaps not in the way Diane intends. I learnt 3 things in particular.

    1. Diane believes, contrary to over 50 years of evidence, that building more roads in the city will result in less congestion. Do I want a mayor who will apparently operate inside an evidence-free bubble?

    2. By promoting a roads-first, rapid transit one day in the distant future, investment programme, Diane has rejected LGWM’s core purpose: “moving more people with fewer vehicles”. Or perhaps Diane believes that enabling more people to drive will reduce the number of vehicles on our roads. Who knows?

    3. Saying that those whose views differ from her own are driven by “ideological values” does not give me confidence that Diane will be able to lead and work constructively with a council made up of people with a range of views. Can a mayor build consensus on difficult issues if she behaves as if other people’s positions are somehow less valid than her own?

    Keep up the good work, Wellington Scoop.

  3. Citizen, 1. September 2019, 16:28

    You write about an announcement by the Minister of Transport, the Mayor of Wellington and Chair of Greater Wellington in May 2019.
    These are all Labour people! Didn’t you know that Government policy is focussed on Auckland, not Wellington?

  4. TrevorH, 1. September 2019, 16:35

    A second Mt Victoria Tunnel and a second southbound lane in the Terrace tunnel are urgently needed. The Eastern Suburbs, which contribute strongly to Wellington’s prosperity, have been ignored under this Council. For example the decision to progress the over-scale Shelly Bay development without ensuring adequate transport capacity was in place for the construction phase and to accommodate hundreds of extra residents was totally irresponsible. Apart from cycle lanes the only transport deliverable we have been promised is a pedestrian crossing on Cobham Drive which is absurdly dangerous and frankly insulting, but apparently the East isn’t worth an over-bridge or the expense of a subway. Your proposals are encouraging Diane, keep them coming.

  5. Tim Jones, 1. September 2019, 17:45

    Diane Calvert appears to be living in a parallel universe in which climate change isn’t a problem, and more cars can be poured into and through a space-constrained city with a major shortage of housing, without affecting Wellington’s liveability.

    Unfortunately, that’s not the universe we live in. We need to reduce emissions urgently and use Wellington’s limited space better. The way to do that is by investing in walking, cycling, micromobility, public transport and mass transit, not continuing to pour billions of ratepayer and taxpayer dollars into even more roads, which in turn will fill up with even more cars, leading to the Diane Calverts of the future calling for yet more roads.

    Filling Wellington with motorways has failed. It’s time Diane Calvert acknowledged that.

  6. Guy M, 1. September 2019, 19:38

    Diane, you’re standing for the wrong Council. If you want to get done what you say you want to do, you need to be standing for the GWRC.

    “I will de-couple the mass transit/urban re-generation project from the LGWM programme so it becomes a standalone programme” – this is not in the scope of the WCC. Mass Transit is solely a GWRC decision. I’d fully support you devolving Transport OUT of GWRC, to become a separate body, but you can’t do that from the WCC. If you’re not aiming to do that, you’re just wasting your time.

  7. Douglas C, 2. September 2019, 5:43

    Nothing’s changed – the Council’s still “not grounded in realistic and achievable plans”. It’s all borrowed money, borrowed for projects we didn’t need and couldn’t afford.The Council is still not grounded in sound, realistic or achievable plans that benefit the ratepayers. They cannot even make a decision after multiple consultations with engineers.
    I’m always unpleasantly surprised at the content of these politicians’ election campaigns.
    Eastern business and people won’t “walk away” from Miramar and Kilbirnie if they do not build a flyover and another Mt Vic tunnel.

  8. Diane Calvert, 2. September 2019, 10:05

    Thank for your comments so far.
    John R – My opinion post was exactly as intended. To clarify, it is not new roads but making our current roads better albeit if some of them are wider. The only new roads being built is that for mass transit. What we have at the moment is traffic avoiding the SH1 and dissecting the rest of the inner city as people try to get to and from the east and south. If we can improve SH1, we can then move a lot of traffic off the others roads i.e. The Quays, Victoria St etc and get it back on SH1 creating better space for pedestrians and other active modes. The Mt Vic tunnel currently does not offer a great experience at the moment for these groups.

    LGWM is also based on a population increase of 50-80k more people and the reduction in % of actual cars vs other modes of transport. This does not necessarily equate to less numbers.

    At present, the indicative package is solely based on ideological views. I want all views taken into consideration so that we get a workable solution. This means that no-one will get everything they want. There is also the big question about how to fund and bring enough people along that they will happy to support the required funding using a carrot rather than a stick

    Tim – I’m living in the universe that is here and now with climate and environmental impacts very real. Wellington is the centre of my universe. While we continue to procrastinate, we are seeing more and more congestion, vehicles idling and burning off unnecessary fuels while they queue. We are also seeing less safe and usable space for pedestrians and active modes of travel in our inner city.

    Only a few of us (myself, Sarah Free, Simon Woolf & Chris Calvi-Freeman) strongly advocated for more government support and action by GWRC in respect of the re what we could see where fundamental issues. There was little demonstrable action from other politicians (both central and local government). More people have gone back into their cars and generally the public has lost trust and confidence in the public bus service. Surprisingly the Greens have been quiet throughout, still focused on something 10-20 years away.

    Guy – I’m standing for the right Council. It needs stronger leadership not tied to the government’s apron strings. The proposed new mass transit will only be able to reach the projected benefits if it can happen in tandem with more housing along the route. This is why the LGWM is a joint program between NZTA, GWRC and WCC. This project is massive with many risks. It is prudent to decouple it from more specific transport projects.

  9. Kerry, 2. September 2019, 14:35

    Diane – You say that “the indicative package is solely based on ideological views.” Presumably that means you believe that the NZTA’s traditional approach was and always will be the way to go. That is largely the United States approach. Some highways now have more than 20 lanes, but still have stop-start traffic, both ways, twice a day. It makes no sense in anybody’s terms, so it must indeed be ideological.
    NZ’s Roads of National Significance were also ideological, and few projects will prove worthwhile. Where will Wellington put all the extra cars when Transmission Gully opens? And how will they get into the city?
    Many cities in Europe are much less reliant on cars than Wellington, and some claim that light rail is cheaper than buses. It may be ideological, but it works, and is much better for the environment.

  10. Marion Leader, 2. September 2019, 17:16

    I agree with Diane about the need for stronger leadership. WCC should have made much more of a fuss about the buses.

  11. steve doole, 3. September 2019, 2:48

    Diane repeats the obvious fallacy that ‘we can’t afford it all’.
    Transport spend has been about 14% of total NZ household expenditure since 1988.
    $21bn per year (to Mar 2018) by households might seem to Dianne to be a low amount. We can afford good city transport, oodles of it, with a fraction of the population switching from cars to something else.

    Diane seems to be advocating increased government spend on roads. Something will have to give – maybe she is happy to compromise our environment further.

  12. John Rankin, 3. September 2019, 15:09

    @DianeCalvert: you say “This does not necessarily equate to less numbers” but the LGWM documentation in front of me says “moving more people with fewer vehicles”. Your vision of road widening freeing up space on other roads is a fantasy, I’m afraid, as it ignores induced demand. When the supply of a good free at the point of use goes up (in this case road space), the demand increases. Your additional road space will fill up with new trips. If you widen a congested 2-lane road to 4 lanes, the result will be a congested 4-lane road.

    It is entirely practical to meet all the transport demand arising from projected population growth by using our existing road space more efficiently. That public and active transport are more spatially efficient than the private car is a geometric fact. Given a budget that’s too small to do everything, if we want to “move more people with fewer vehicles” we need to make spending on space-efficient modes a high priority and spending on space-inefficient modes a low priority.

    If it’s ideological to spend scarce money on things that take me towards my goal and not spend money on things that take me away from my goal, then I guess that makes me an ideologue. Diane, you seem to be arguing against setting priorities to achieve a goal, instead spending a bit on everything. Or perhaps you disagree with the LGWM goal. I put it to you that one of the mayor’s jobs is to build consensus that makes hard choices among competing priorities within a tight budget. This rarely means doing a bit of everything, because then nothing gets done well.

  13. Diane Calvert, 4. September 2019, 16:02

    Thanks for the additional comments.
    Kerry- exaggerating by referring to such things as 20 lanes will not convert people’s hearts and minds. Transmission gully will bring more cars into the city especially if the current train and bus network continues not to be fit for purpose. This is where more resources need to go now. Many European cities offer parking on the outskirts and or in basement parks underneath city streets.
    Steve- its not just about moving people but also building in resilience. There still needs to be a place for vehicles.
    John R- yes demand will likely increase somewhat due to increased population. People want convenience and flexibility over anything else. The current LGWM indicative package is simply not affordable. We need to look at alternatives and it may well be better making such investments to the north where there is more capacity for growth.
    My priorities will provide for the early improvements (as agreed) followed by the basin improvements, Mt Vic tunnel and widening Ruahine St/Wellington Rd all funded by the NLTF. This could either provide more road space for vehicles or better still a bus or mass transit route out this way rather than cutting though Newtown. The route through Newtown is simply an urban intensification project in disguise and should be decoupled from the main project.

    I agree with you that one of the Mayor’s job’s is to build consensus, something which has been lacking. All people’s voices need to be heard including the silent majority that will be agreeing with me but do not voice their opinion in the media.

  14. Northland, 4. September 2019, 20:51

    Kerry – Transmission Gully provides a key arterial route into and out of Wellington and will replace the woeful coast road that crawls through Pukerua Bay and Mana. It also provides resilience for Wellington -and I assume it will have also been built to the latest safety standards for roading.

    It enables people from all parts of Wellington make journeys to and from the wider region that are simply not possible by PT alone.

    John – yes if you widen a 2 lane road to 4 lanes, it allows for additional road trips – isn’t that the point? It increases the utility of the road.

    Wellington needs good connections north to the Hutt and Kapiti, and east to the airport. Road and rail.

  15. Kerry, 5. September 2019, 10:04

    Diane. Twenty lanes is not an exaggeration: I believe the Katy Highway in Houston, Texas, now has a total of 27 lanes, and is congested as ever. More lanes are never a long-term solution. Wellington’s Hutt Road originally had two lanes, later doubled to four lanes, the old SH1. It wasn’t enough and was more than doubled with another six lanes, carving through Thorndon, on the new SH1. Wellington is already half way to 20 lanes, and you seem to want more. Where will they go? How will all the extra cars fit onto Wellington’s streets? How will they make streets more pleasant and less polluted? How many more Wellingtonians will be killed by the extra cars and their extra emissions? Motor vehicle emissions in New Zealand kill twice as many people as crashes. How will all this contribute to climate change?
    The answer is new policies. More traffic lanes are the least effective way of either reducing emissions or moving people. Walking, cycling and public transport all have better people-moving capacity. The alternative approach, at least partially adopted by LGWM, is very effective in many cities; safe cycling routes, better buses, fewer car parks, traffic lanes closed, trees in streets, lower speeds and so on. It is far cheaper than ever-more roads, and makes Wellington a far better place to live. Isn’t that worth something?

    Northland. Sure, extra lanes increase the utility of the road, but they reduce the utility of the city. Better public transport makes more trips practical without a car (which is why weekend bus services are important). Some people will always need to come by car, but they will have to choose between a slow trip or an early start.

  16. Guy M, 5. September 2019, 13:32

    Northland, re: “if you widen a 2 lane road to 4 lanes, it allows for additional road trips – isn’t that the point? It increases the utility of the road.” That’s the way people used to think. Now we understand differently – what is called “induced demand”. Basically, if you provide a bigger, wider road, to give extra space for the existing amount of people, then that does not work. Soon after the road is widened, more people find that there is now an extra road width, and more traffic is created / induced / arrives, until the new road is just as full as the old road. More roads just equals more traffic.

    Ironically, there is one proven way of reducing the amount of people on a road – provide a different means of transport. If the road is full of traffic, and you build a cyclepath, more people will cycle, thus there are less people in cars. If the road is full of traffic and you build a light rail system, lots more people will take the train and less people will drive, thus potentially less cars (although of course, as soon as there is more space on the road, the traffic will grow to fill that space). So now you have as many people stuck in cars as before, but you also have many more people getting to work on time via the train.

    Some people will advocate for buslanes – which of course, if the buses are sharing the traffic lanes, will go no faster than the traffic and get just as stuck in the traffic. There’s only the one answer then: completely separated lanes for completely different means of transport. That’s why, all around the world, cities are installing cycle paths and light rail systems, to improve everyone’s way of life.

  17. John Rankin, 5. September 2019, 16:40

    @Northland: the point, according to LGWM, endorsed unanimously by both the city and regional councils, is to “move more people with fewer vehicles”.

    @DianeCalvert: if the second Mt Victoria tunnel and additional lanes are for rapid transit as you advocate, will the NLTF fund it? Wouldn’t funding have to come from the new rapid transit fund, which I think only covers 50% of the cost? What evidence do you have that there will be enough ridership to justify rapid transit via Ruahine St and Wellington Rd, rather than the route LGWM recommended?

    As far as I know, most cities find that the business case for rapid transit only stacks up if you use the fixed nature of the line to promote medium density transit-oriented development. Treated solely as a transport project, the benefits of rapid transit rarely justify the cost. There is also the opportunity cost of the lost economic value creation.

  18. Northland, 5. September 2019, 22:35

    Kerry – building 4 lane roads does not decrease the utility of the city. For instance, how has the Kapiti Expressway decreased the utility of Wellington city?

    Guy – sorry but my old thinking allows people to travel round the region, see their aunt in Foxton or their cousin in Whitby much more easily and safely than before.

    John – I agree that in Wellington we need to move more people with fewer vehicles. And we need more than just endorsement by the Councils – we need action after 5 plus years of dithering and dallying. Ratepayers and commuters deserve better from WCC and GWRC.

  19. Kerry, 6. September 2019, 8:59

    Northland. The Kapiti Expressway is only indirectly a problem for Wellington, because it has created an unrealistic expectation. The Wellington problem is at the Wellington end. Where to run the old and new SH1, and SH2, as well as converging traffic from all the inner suburbs? Where to park all the extra cars? How to justify all the extra cost, pollution, deaths and injuries? How soon will we have to do it all over again?
    All these problems have traditionally been ignored, but the 2018 Government Policy Statement has changed all that.
    Climate change and liveable cities are now on the agenda, as well as the sheer practicality of the transport mode that uses limited space least effectively.

  20. John Rankin, 6. September 2019, 10:21

    @Northland says: “we need action after 5 plus years of dithering and dallying”. Agreed!