Wellington City - Traffic & Public transport issues
Keith Flinders: Wellington resident since 1972. Retired electrical services consultant.
Keen to see extended public transport in Wellington, especially improvements to the bus services.
In the longer term the introduction of a light rail/tram system.
Topics covered, in the following order.
Basin Reserve traffic congestion.
Trolley buses. 58 pollution free trolleys gone, replaced with old Euro 3 diesel ones until 2028. Ten years away.
Bus tenders. $5 - 7 million of rate payer funds just to vet the tenders.
Bus route changes 2018. Not designed with the commuter in mind.
Public Transport (buses and light rail)
Rates affordability. Increase percentage over triple the after tax increase for the average wage.
North Island Main Trunk rail line going all diesel from present electric. I participated in this opinion paper click here
(Plans were abandoned in November 2018 and existing electric locomotives will be rebuilt to serve another 20 years.)
Most of this was written in 2016 when I unsuccessfully campaigned for a seat on the GWRC
Updated 2 February 2019. Click on this letter icon to email your comments to me.
Basin Reserve traffic congestion.
It seems to me that every solution offered to date focuses on having all north, east, south and west bound traffic converge on this area as it always has. Why not use some lateral vision instead and separate out at least some of the traffic.
Can we have a solution that does not require a flyover, and one that does not require town belt land from being taken to widen Ruahine Street. We can.
Can we have a solution that incorporates a second tunnel through Mount Victoria that NZTA have in their budget, albeit longer that the present one, and which separates east and west bound traffic. We can.
click here Rearranged traffic layout around the Basin Reserve area
click here Rearranged traffic Newtown layout around Adelaide Road/John Street incorporating an underpass and the new west bound tunnel.
click here Rearranged traffic Ruahine Street, Wellington Road layout and new west bound traffic tunnel
Sketches are very preliminary, do not take account of all the gradients, geological conditions, and would require removal of parking on at least one side of Wallace Street. West bound traffic from the eastern suburbs and airport would totally bypass the Basin Reserve, local Newtown traffic would be largely unaffected apart from Wallace Street.
New tunnel will also serve as a backup for the existing which is now about 90 years. Earthquake rating of it not determined.
This is a concept for others to comment and improve on. There are a multitude of options, especially for Newtown entry and exits points.
Comments received so far:
Should there be an exit from new tunnel near Adelaide Road for quicker access to the hospital
Should there be an entry from John Street for local Newtown traffic who want to get to Karo Drive or Taranaki Street
Should Sussex Street extend to Taranaki using one of the three lanes in the Arras Tunnel.
Can Wellington High School and Massey University have traffic lights to allow safe entry and exit as the road slopes at this point.
Where will cars displaced from parking in Wallace Street park.
Will light rail (trams) with vastly higher carrying capacity than cars and two tunnels be a less expensive option over time.
First we saw the deliberate running down of the trolley bus service in order to get rid of it by claiming it needed total infrastructure replacement, or it would become totally unreliable after June 2017. Meanwhile other cities around the world are expanding, re-introducing, or starting from scratch, with trolley bus transport systems. Wellington has done the reverse.
In 2014 the demise of the trolley bus system was announced followed a few months later by the expenditure on upgrading the overhead wiring. Certainly this overdue maintenance has increased the reliability of the trolleys buses, but became redundant after just 2 years of service.
In 2014 we were informed that the trolley buses were going to be replaced by expensive hybrid buses. Hybrid buses that still pollute although not to the same extent as 100% diesel ones.
Later information stated we were/are to get double decker buses to reduce the number on the busy streets, but as these will not fit through the Northland, Karori, Seatoun of Mt Victoria bus tunnels bus routes had to be substantially altered. Health and safety issue arise, if to keep to timetable passengers use the stairs whilst a double decker bus is in motion.
We then read that the trolley buses were going to be converted into Wrightspeed hybrid ones, not electric as some publicity suggested. NZ Bus claimed that the buses converted to Wright Speed technology (as yet unproven for Wellington conditions), will run only 17% of the time on LPG or diesel, but the figures appear not to tell the entire story. 17% of the time represents the two x two hour peaks each business day, so for most of this peak time the buses will be running on LPG, meaning all 150 buses per hour passing through the city will be running on fossil fuels.
Fast forward to 2018 and the news is that the Wrightspeed conversions have been abandoned and the Karori - Seatoun new No 2 route will be serviced by old Euro 3 diesel buses, many ex Auckland and set to be in service until 2028. Euro 3 is an old standard and banned in much of Europe.
Many battery buses currently in operation overseas are using lithium-ion batteries which are far from being enduring technology, and there is a growing mountain of failed ones which are very expensive to recycle. However technology continues to advance and we must look forward to a quantum leap in battery design, hopefully in the very near future.
Trolley buses (now history, sadly)
The cost of updating the neglected existing trolley bus electrical infrastructure was grossly over stated by the GWRC, seemingly to suit their argument. The presentation from Allan Neilson in the link below received a 3 minute hearing from the GWRC and was dismissed out of hand. As you will read Allan's costs of $15 million would have extended the life of the system for 12 years or more. The current trolley buses had 12 years life left in them. Part of the $15 million was spent after the decision to scrap the trolley buses, in upgrading the overhead lines. $15 million over 12 years was not a great cost. Excluding the overhead lines now brought up to a satisfactory standard, another $9 million would have extend the trolley bus service for 10 to 12 years.
$9 million spent divided by 240 million passenger trips on all buses over the next 10 years equates to 4 cents per bus passenger carried.
The non technical response by Chris Laidlaw of the GWRC can be seen here.
At the The Future is Electric in 2016 speaker Malcolm McCullough questioned the decision to rid this city of trolley buses and predicted that within 5 years Wellington would regret the dismantling of the infrastructure. He is correct, as eventually light rail will be introduced and some of the present infrastructure can be used, or at least the the real estate it requires can be retained. Modern trolley buses that run on and off wire, hence needing small battery capacity are on the increase. The poles are attached and detached without the driver needed to leave his/her seat.
With trolley buses gone we must urge for the removal of polluting diesel buses and replace them with battery powered ones. Certainly battery buses are not cheap, but consider the social and environmental damage being done by diesel ones.
This is estimated to be in excess of $7 million per annum on the Karori - Seatoun No. 2 route alone.
The latest US Proterra electric bus has a battery capacity of 660 kw/hrs so could run most of the Wellington routes for many hours between recharging. The cost to replace the 35 polluting diesel buses needed for the No 2 route is in the region of $40 million. About the cost of 10 lives cut short through the health effects of traffic pollution. 9,000 Londoners die each year from the effects of traffic pollution.
The GWRC does not own the buses, their operators do, but we as users and ratepayers do ultimately pay for them.
Tenders were called for the North - South routes in Wellington City, covering some presently operated by NZ Bus, part of Infratil. Tenders are now in and the Greater Wellington Council is going to employ 6 legal firms at a cost of $5 - 7 million to vet them. One expects that this isn't fake news by the Dominion Post 13 March page A3.
I thought we as ratepayers paid millions in salaries to the permanent GWRC staff to carry out tender compiling and vetting ! Seems to me that this current process is purely a backside covering attempt to cover lack of competence within the organisation.
Concerned that ratepayers, who heavily subsidise public transport being some 61% of Greater Wellington rates income, appear not to be getting the best value, in my opinion. I had this letter published in the DomPost 3 October.
Much has been written in recent weeks about the WCC and its “secret” sweet deal with Singapore Airlines, but nothing about the bus contract between the GWRC and Infratil owned NZ Bus Ltd from 2018.
Many readers may not be aware that the GWRC currently has out to tender invitations to companies to provide competitive prices, to supply bus transport in the region from 2018 for 9 years. Excluded from this process is NZ Bus Ltd who automatically retain a substantial portion of the routes they already operate within Wellington City. This raises the question as to why one company is being favoured over all others, and how ratepayers can be assured that directly awarded routes will bring savings and better service. Ratepayers have a right to know and be satisfied with answers given.
Such deals are bound to raise concerns about ethics and accountability, let alone governance.
Wayne Hastie - General manager, public transport, Greater Wellington Regional Council responded with his DomPost letter 5 October.
A letter (October 3) stated that NZ Bus has been excluded from the bus contract tenders and will retain a substantial portion of routes. It was questioned why one company was being favoured over all others.
NZ Bus has not been excluded from the bus contract tender nor has it been favoured over all other companies.
The Government's new framework for contracting transport services requires regional councils to directly appoint incumbent operators in recognition of the historic investments they have made in growing bus services in the region. In Wellington, this is NZ Bus and Newlands Mana Coach Services and it covers only a portion of their existing business.
The region's future bus services have been split into 16 contracts: five have been directly appointed to NZ Bus and two to Mana . Neither company is excluded from the tendering process for other contracts.
The Government's framework means pricing for the directly appointed contracts to NZ Bus and Mana will be negotiated after all tendered contracts have been awarded. The provision is to ensure the directly appointed contracts reflect the same pricing and value of the open tenders.
Surely if commercial reality was to prevail all routes would be up opened up and the offer/s that represents best value to ratepayers selected. Whilst existing companies have historically invested in the routes they have, they have been rewarded well, financially, and will have the opportunity to sell their assets to any new operator should they not be successful. I find Hastie's explanation somewhat confused, and not in the best interests of the ratepayers he is meant to serve.
The contracting background I have been associated with always worked to secure the best value for clients, which may or may not equate to lowest price.
Sentiment based on historical association is not a commercial imperative.
Bus route changes 2018
Numerous people asked for the reason/justification for route changes, and need to change from one bus to another on a journey that presently requires just the one bus. The reason is that too many buses travel through the CBD causing congestion, some almost empty of passengers at times. Have you ever stood at the Pastoral House bus stop and seen empty buses, one after the other, heading to the Railway Station. As a bus user I see some of the route changes as not being necessary, and can only conclude those who planned them are not not users themselves.
Surely not all Karori buses need to run through the CBD at peak times, rather some could be routed through Ballance - Stout - Whitmore then back to Karori. Some eastern suburbs buses could be routed through Wakefield - Taranaki - Courtenay Place then back to the eastern suburbs. I am talking about some buses on these routes turning back earlier than now, not all. If one gets on the "wrong" bus then transferring to another going the full journey is an option, especially when the charge for the second trip is removed, eventually, as promised.
The introduction of double decker buses will slow all traffic down as they are slow to load and unload, with passengers unable to use the stairs unless the bus is at a standstill. I see such buses as a disaster waiting to happen.
Talking with bus drivers they labelled the Karori route as "cattle runs" in the peak hours. Too many passengers, not enough capacity. Bus transport has become the Cinderella service whilst hundreds of millions have been lavished on the Matangi suburban trains.
Each year 24 million passenger trips are made on the buses whilst only 11 million are made on suburban trains.
Trolley buses were withdrawn in October 2017 and replaced with used Euro 3 dirty diesel ones. Wellington is the only city in the civilised world to be going back to polluting public transport. What a reputation to have.
In 2010 Seattle, Washington, were contemplating the complete removal of trolley buses (decision reversed in 2011) and the item at
http://humantransit.org/2010/05/seattle-the-end-of-trolleybuses.html makes interesting reading, especially the reader comments.
See item at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolleybuses_in_Seattle and
A report concluded that the annualized life-cycle cost for the trolleybus fleet is $11.8 million, compared to $15.5 million for a hybrid diesel-electric coach fleet, a saving of $3.7 million per year.
After the results of the evaluation, Metro placed an order in June 2013 with New Flyer for 141 Xcelsior trolleybuses to replace the Gillig and Breda trolleybuses. The Xcelsior XT40 & XT60 are the first trolleybuses in King County Metro's fleet to have a low floor design, a wheelchair ramp (instead of a lift), air conditioning and an auxiliary power unit (that allow buses to operate off-wire for up to 3 miles). Metro says that the New Flyer buses use 25 to 30 percent less energy than the electric trolley buses they replaced, partly because of a regenerative braking system will allow coaches to capture the energy generated during braking and feed it back into the overhead wires.
We have seen a massive investment in the suburban rail services, some $500 million, after years of neglect and have a world class service made available. However the same cannot be said for Wellington City buses.
As I write this update it is announced that $300 million will be sought to provide 14 new diesel/electric units for the Wellington - Masterton service which carries only a few hundred passengers per day. Logic would dictate that the bus service to Upper Hutt would be a better use of ratepayer funds.
This I see as a requirement in about 10 years hence, as the population of the city grows, we see more intensive housing and buses themselves are a major contributor to congestion.
Light rail will run in conjunction with buses. Buses will still ply the main feeder routes to the light rail stops.
Click here If you are interested in historical household income information that will put the 2016 light rail costs into context.
1911 Wellington voters = 40,000
2016 Wellington voters = 140,000
1911 wages = 12 cents per hour (48 hour week)
2016 wages $30 per hour (average)
Increase 250 times in 105 years.
1911 tram debt $1.3 million is about $350 million in 2016 terms on straight hourly income comparison. Actually more in real terms because most households relied on a single income back then.
2016 tram debt would be $700 million if started tomorrow, but it won't until mid next decade..
Increased debt between 1911 and 2016 is 100%, but debt serviced by over five times as many people including those from the region. Plus there will be input from NZTA, we would expect.
What people forget, or Matangi users want to forget, is the heavy subsidy Wellington ratepayers also provide for the $500 million suburban rail system upgrade. This includes the Paraparaumu to Waikanae upgrade which in purely economic terms could have been serviced far less expensively by buses, especially after the Kapiti Expressway was opened. However we have it and I don't argue against it. Kiwi Rail charge the GWRC $20million a year to allow the Matangi units to use their tracks.
Click here for a review of the early days of Wellington trains and trams.
Click here for one suggested light rail route Railway Station to eastern suburbs and airport. This is a very large file and will take time to load.
Click here for argument for new light rail tunnel instead of using Constable Street - Crawford Road
A lot has changed since the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, but this has apparently escaped the notice of the current GWRC who continue to increase the rates far in excess of the earning capacity of some ratepayers on low or fixed incomes. Investment returns have halved, with single pensions not enough to live on and still maintain property.
In the five years to 30 June 2015 GWRC rates were up 21.2% on 2010. Average wage in same period rose 15%.
The 2016/17 financial year saw a rates increase of 8%, yet the average wage rise 2015/16 was 2.8%. Rates increase 2017/18 will be 6%, whilst average wage increase 1.3%
Inflation is running lower than the average wage increases, according to Statistics New Zealand, but not at my supermarket.
The GWRC payroll is budgeted to increase 4.8% this financial year, why? Are we getting value for money is what I intend to question if elected.
The region needs to be affordable to all who live here, including those on pensions, low and fixed incomes.
Ratepayers are the ultimate owners of the substantial GWRC assets but are we getting a fair commercial return and can we expect better? As a ratepayer I do not have the answers, but intend investigating this aspect.