Wellington Scoop

Transport issues: Jo Coughlan

We’ve been asking mayoral candidates to tell us their views about transport issues in the city. The questions were prepared by the Transporting Wellington blog. Here’s the sixth response, from Jo Coughlan.

1. In what ways do you think transport in Wellington will change over the next twenty years?

As a city we are going to be faced with two major transitions. One is demographic. This includes more people, more of them will be living in city centre and the population as a whole is aging. The second change – and the really exciting one – is that the nature of transport is going to evolve, and probably evolve quite quickly.

We’re already on the cusp of autonomous cars, and the impacts of climate change mean that we’re going to likely electrify much of the fleet, including buses and the freight sector. So the mix of vehicles on the roads could change quite radically – we may own fewer cars but use them more often for brief trips. Thanks to autonomous vehicles we may be able to fit far more of them in a given road space. They may well be much quieter than current cars, and some of the things we do with vehicles at the moment – like small high-value deliveries – may transition to other technologies, such as drones. And in an increasingly health-conscious world, many more people may opt for active modes like walking and cycling. Biking to work could be far more attractive if there’s far less exhaust pollution and safer roads.

We are moving fast to an electric fleet of cars, and I want to accelerate this trend by ensuring we have the best infrastructure for these vehicles. I commend NZ Bus for their plans to transition to a fully electric bus fleet – this is exactly the sort of solution Wellington needs, and everyone agrees we need those noisy and polluting diesel buses off our roads. I will work with the Regional Council wherever possible to help ensure that our bus fleet is 100% electric within 10 years. The environmental impacts will be significant and positive.

Buses are facing the same congestion as cars, and our road system is not as safe as it should be for cyclists and pedestrians. So I want to ensure Wellington has a first-rate transport network that relieves congestion on key corridors for both bus and vehicle users, and which safely separates cyclists and pedestrians wherever possible. The reality is that our topography makes this challenging from a practical point of view. We need to be pragmatic about the solutions

It’s apparent that we need plenty of flexibility in our transport network. My transport plans are designed to give us the adaptability in our key transport corridors that we’re going to need to thrive. We have physical constraints in Wellington, and our geography dictates many of our transport solutions – so we need to plan accordingly.

2. Do you believe there is traffic congestion in Wellington? If so, to what extent does it affect Wellington residents and the wider economy?

Congestion is a reality in parts of Wellington during parts of the day. We’ve all seen the negative impacts at the choke points including the Terrace tunnel, the Basin Reserve, the Mt Victoria tunnel. We’ve all wasted time in traffic in Wellington. These congestion points are a consequence of our landscape and our history, but they’re relatively easily solved – and we can solve them with high quality solutions that will improve our city and our quality of life.

However, we need to be clever about how we add road capacity, as it’s easy to undermine the quality of life we’re trying to improve if we build impractical solutions that don’t fit our topography or our preferred way of living. That’s why I’ve proposed a balanced portfolio of transport improvements. We need to make sure there are four lanes to the planes – because until we resolve the major congestion issues on our major corridor, the rest of the transport network in the CBD won’t work effectively.

I want to see innovative solutions at key points. We’ve all seen how successful the undergrounding at Memorial Park has been, so it seems sensible to see if we can potentially engineer a similar solution at the Basin Reserve – which could give us a better cricket ground as well as a better transport network.

I’ve proposed a strategic investment in a harbourside cycleway, so people on bikes have the same level of service as people in cars. Like most things in life, good transport solutions are about balance.

3. People believe it is unlikely major transport projects in Wellington can be completed without the help of Central Government. In what ways have you shown you can work constructively with Central Government to deliver on major projects?

I have spent over 20 years working in and around central government in a professional capacity, so I have excellent trusted personal relationships across the political spectrum and to the highest levels. I am very familiar with how the public sector works and understand its nuances, and the importance the public sector places on collaboration and joined-up thinking.

Most of the city’s engagement with central government has been the purvey of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor for the last 3 years and transport issues have been dealt with through the transport committee. However in April I met the Minister of Transport Simon Bridges, to get central government on-board to achieve better outcomes for Wellington over cycleway funding. I was concerned about Wellington frittering away Government funding for cycleways in a piecemeal way, without a strategic long term vision. As a result of the meeting he agreed to give the city a “window of opportunity” to review other cycleway options, without any negative impact on government funding.

The concern had been that if we didn’t move quickly, we would lose the funding. The Minister agreed to give us more time. Following a review, the Miramar to city leg of the harbourside cycle way is now on the agenda. After some hard work with my colleagues to convince them of the merits of the idea, I received unanimous support to support the building of this significant cycle way asset and retain government funding.

So I have a track record of engaging well with central government, and getting results that matter for our city. That constructive engagement will continue if I become Mayor. Unblocking our key transport corridor is going to require some serious funding – up to a billion dollars, by some estimates – so I will be engaging again with central government and the Minister, NZTA, Treasury and others on the funding necessary to double-tunnel the Terrace and Mt Victoria tunnels. Based on my experience of working collaboratively with central government, I am hopeful about their likely response.

4. In Wellington’s Urban Growth Plan 2014, there was a transport hierarchy where some people inferred cycling would be given higher priority than public transport and roading. . Do you agree with that transport hierarchy?

We need to take a balanced approach. As everyone knows, the key challenge is our topography – so we need to be practical and adaptable rather than ideological about transport. For instance, parts of Wellington are too hilly for cycling to be an everyday transport option for most people. So let’s not spend money on inappropriate solutions, or put the wrong infrastructure in the wrong place. This is why I voted against the Island Bay cycleway – not because cycleways are a bad solution (they’re not), but because it was the right idea in the wrong place. Having a high-quality harbour cycleway is a much better way of improving how more cyclists get to and from and around the city.

And the same thinking applies to our major road corridor. We need four lanes to the planes and to double tunnel The Terrace and Mt Victoria because that’s how and where much of the vehicle traffic moves, and we need a high quality solution for that stretch of road. So if I’m elected Mayor, I’ll look to have a balanced network that delivers good quality service to the full range of transport users, rather than pursuing ideology to the detriment of common sense and practical solutions.

5. Do you support the airport runway extension? Will your support/opposition change depending on how it is to be funded?

These sorts of public infrastructure assets are very long-term investments – whatever decisions we make about the airport extension will have implications in 100 years time, and so we need to step back from some of the short-term statements from some of the airlines, who are much more concerned with next quarter’s profits. We need to think and plan carefully, and part of that is taking a considered approach to all aspects of the extension, and following the assessment process.

I have supported the resource consents process to date, because without a considered and fair assessment of the impacts, the project can’t proceed. We are still awaiting the business case finalisation, so it’s an open question whether there is a long-term business model. And if the business case demonstrates that the extension is a good investment for the region and the nation, then funding becomes the next step. The project will only work if the airport company and the Government are heavily involved – and if the city contributes financially to the extension, our shareholding in the airport must reflect that. It cannot be purely a donation.

So my view is very much that we need to take this one step at a time. First, let’s see what comes from the resource consent application. Then let’s see if the business case stacks up. And after that, we can discuss the regional and national funding requirements. So while I support the extension in principle, there’s a lot of water to flow under the bridge and a lot of people to be consulted before there’s a final decision.

6. What would you like to see done to improve movements for pedestrians, bikes, buses and cars around the Basin Reserve?

There is a process of consultation underway, which I strongly support. We need to find a way of resolving the congestion and contentious issues at the Basin, and – as Memorial Park has demonstrated – there are ways of doing this that could improve the Basin Reserve itself. There has been some discussion about tunnelling and cut-and-cover approaches that should be explored, because one of my objectives for improvements at the Basin Reserve will be to protect and enhance the cricket ground.

The objections to the flyover came about because people were concerned that we could lose the things that make the Basin iconic. Whatever solution we come up with has to ensure the enjoyment of sitting on the embankment in the sun and watching a great game of cricket isn’t lost. At the same time, we need a sensible and practical approach to the traffic issues. I’m optimistic about the community engagement, and there are a lot of smart people working on the problem. With effective leadership we can end up with both a great transport solution and an iconic sporting precinct.

7. What do you believe should happen with the Island Bay Cycleway?

As a Council, we rushed at the Island Bay cycleway, and the result was a pretty unhappy community which is partly why I voted against it. I’m not going to pre-judge this one – we agreed unanimously to go back to the community and find out what the people in Island Bay really want, and we need to stick with that process. I’ve had people express strong views both for and against the cycleway while I’ve been out campaigning, and it’s unfortunate that what should have been a relatively straightforward piece of infrastructure has divided the community.

We need to be practical and pragmatic about solutions. If I’m Mayor, a priority will be to make sure we put the right cycleways in the right place, get as much investment from central government as we can and do it with input from the community.

8. For cycling, given the choice of prioritizing either CBD cycling routes, suburban cycling routes or the Great Harbour Way, what order of priority would you choose?

This is a bit a false dichotomy – as was outlined in the Cycling Strategy, a number of projects can be pursued concurrently, because the intention is to end up with a joined-up cycling network. That’s a long-term commitment that I’m standing by, and I think in 10 or 20 years, when Wellington has a network of great cycleways, the order in which they were completed will be a bit academic. It’s not really about the journey so much as getting to the right destination!

But if I had to pick an immediate project, I think the new harbour cycleway should be one of the first cabs off the rank. After my discussions with the Minister of Transport, the Government has committed to assist with funding, and if there’s the promise of a cheque, why not use it?

9. In what ways would you like to improve public transport in the Wellington area? If you think public transport is already good enough, tell us why it is the case.

This is largely a Regional Council responsibility rather than anything the Wellington City Council can lead, but if I’m elected Mayor I’ll take the advocacy role for public transport users very seriously. One of my key priorities will be to lobby for integrated ticketing so that commuters can have a smooth and effortless experience around the Wellington region. Other cities have implemented this, so there doesn’t seem to be any show-stopping reasons why – with some better thinking around technology and fare setting – we couldn’t have a single fare and ticket that gets you from one end of Wellington to the other, irrespective of how many trains or buses you need to take to complete your trip. Public transport can always be made better, and wherever possible I’ll work with GWRC to help make it happen.

10. In a world where funds and political support is of no issue, what one transport related project or policy would you choose to approve?

We’re big enough and capable enough to move forward in multiple areas at the same time. So I’d like to see the double tunnelling of Mt Victoria, The Terrace and four lanes to the planes at the same time as I want improvements to the cricket ground at the Basin Reserve, at the same time that I want to push forward with the harbour cycleway as a step in a joined-up cycling network across the city, as well as integrated ticketing on our public transport. All these things can be done in parallel, and I’m hopeful that – with some close collaboration with central government – we can get funding for a pretty big part of it. One of the keys will be stepping away from unhelpful political labels and rigid ideologies. I want to see an improved roading network. I want to see more cycleways in the right places. I want to see bus and train users travel on a single ticket. I would like to improve the urban environment is Wellington. I want to see more people on foot, and more on bikes.

Our challenge as a Council – and one which I will fully embrace if I’m elected Mayor – will be to work collaboratively on the full range of transport solutions our city needs, so that Wellington continues to grow and thrive.


  1. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 21. August 2016, 21:06

    Probably the most comprehensive (certainly the longest) response, from the current race-leader.

    A bit light on cycling: electric bikes make cycling in hilly terrain easy and these bikes will become more popular. (Remind me to lend you mine.) But yes, a balanced transport network is what we need, addressing congestion hot-spots but encouraging more people to use modes other than the single-occupant private car by investing in new technology and best practice in public transport and by providing safe and well designed cycling infrastructure.

  2. Warren, 21. August 2016, 22:40

    CCF, I agree with you that this comprehensive and thoughtful piece demonstrates why Jo Coughlan has emerged as the leading candidate for mayor. In this response she shows she is mindful of all interests but what emerges most is a capacity and desire to make things happen which is what has been so lacking in recent years in transport. Jo has led the economic growth committee which is the area in which the city has been progressing most.

  3. Traveller, 22. August 2016, 9:44

    But … unlike the other mayoral candidates … she has nothing to say about light rail.

  4. time for change, 22. August 2016, 9:54

    Probably because light rail is a symbol of failure and excuses from the CWB era. People know it’s a white elephant that will just hold up progressing transport solutions for another decade while feasibility reports are prepared trying to justify it. Like the airport extension, there will be dreamy projections in favour and airline-style projections against. And citizens will sit longer and longer in their cars wondering why nothing is happening.

  5. Mosey, 22. August 2016, 12:16

    Yes, light rail is not feasible with such a small population. Electric buses are best until we get to autonomous electric vehicles. Coughlan is getting my vote based on the above. Most thoughtful.

  6. CC, 22. August 2016, 15:12

    Mosey, what was the population of Wellington in the 1950s when there were light rail (tram) services all over Wellington?

  7. Kerry Wood, 22. August 2016, 15:47

    Here’s details of a new light rail network that’s recently been built in a French town with 115,000 people.

  8. time for change, 22. August 2016, 16:01

    Thanks Kerry. I am wary of looking at examples of systems being applied in flat towns and comparing them to here. But based on the numbers reported in that article, it would imply a cost of about NZ$400-500 million to build a light rail from the railway station to the airport. I still believe the sensible and immediate solution is sorting out the failed roading network and electrifying the buses.

  9. IanS, 22. August 2016, 16:04

    Rubbish Mosey. Many cities of the same size or smaller, and regions the same size or smaller, have light rail systems.

    Freiburg in Germany is the same size as Wellington city, in the same sized region. It has at least 5 well used light rail routes, plus regional trains and many (100+) bus companies – all of which use an integrated ticketing system. (GW can not even manage to integrate 4 bus companies.)Its public transport subsidies are smaller than Wellington, and fares are cheaper. Fare-box revenue is now about 80% of transport system costs.

  10. Stephen, 24. August 2016, 21:18

    I don’t share her faith in autonomous vehicles. How do you fit more into a given road space given that most (or a large number) of vehicles will be self drive. Also despite frustrations with traffic volumes most people like to drive themselves. What incentives are there to switch to electric vehicles? Delivery by drones is pie in the sky (pun intended).

  11. Russell Tregonning, 7. September 2016, 23:18

    Transport is the most rapidly increasing source of greenhouse gases globally & in Wellington. All- electric mass public transport is a major solution. Wellington’s narrow compact CBD is very suitable for light rail. It can be provided from rail station to airport via the hospital for about half the cost & 3 times the capacity of ‘4 lanes to the planes ‘ which is last century’s solution.
    Light rail needs to be planned for our progressive city right now.

  12. Silvana, 20. September 2016, 13:30

    Where are the questions supporting the voice of elderly, children and people with disabilities?