15 March 2012

Bus Review submission to Greater Wellington Regional Council


The Wellington Civic Trust welcomes the opportunity to make a submission on the Wellington City Bus Review.

We are pleased that two regional councillors held public meetings to hear first-hand the concerns of the users of these services. We would have wished that all the Wellington regional councillors had taken the opportunity to engage directly with the public on this important issue.

Our Civic Trust interest is in how the proposed network would help make Wellington the best of all possible places to live and work. We welcome initiatives that promote greater use of public transport because it:

  • reduces traffic and pressure on road widening at the expense of other land uses,
  • increases the attractiveness of the CBD by letting more people get there, and
  • helps induce the urban vitality and people-based activities which make up the character of the city,

We support the concept of a core service network, giving those routes a sense of permanence and encouraging transit-oriented development, and we note the other benefits that the review proposal is expected to generate.

We would like to comment on the following particular aspects:

The Golden Mile and the CBD

Bus congestion along the Golden Mile is a significant issue, and one of the ways of addressing this would be to remove some routes to other roads. While this could improve the situation, GW needs to work with Wellington City Council to safeguard the benefits of concentrating all public transport along the Golden Mile, in that it creates an easy link between every suburb and every CBD business, giving a strategic advantage for Wellington city and region. To help protect this, other ways of alleviating bus congestion also need to be considered, such as:

  • reducing dwell times, e.g. by off-bus ticketing and all-door boarding and alighting,
  • removing 9 of the 15 traffic lights (pedestrian crossings are only necessary because of cars on the Golden Mile and bus drivers do not leave gaps between buses when stopped),
  • giving buses priority at the remaining traffic lights,
  • closing side streets (e.g. Mercer Street could become like Grey Street), and
  • removing private cars from single-lane sections such as Willis St northbound.

The principle that we understand is used in Zurich – that the only time buses and trams stop is for passengers to board and alight – would be a good one to introduce.

If some services are to be transferred to The Terrace, all pedestrian links between The Terrace and the Golden Mile need to be identified and upgraded, and links through buildings checked to ensure that they comply with any relevant resource consent conditions (e.g. 24-hour safe access and signage). These links would be vital to ensure the viability of any re-routing, and we would like assurance that the routing is feasible both operationally and from a passenger access point of view.

We view the proposed peak-hour routing along the quays with some concern, both in principle and in detail. It seems to have the following disadvantages:

  1. it uses roads that are already heavily congested at peak time;
  2. it is along the very edge of the CBD, maximising walking distance;
  3. having bus stops on the far side of the multi-lane Jervois and Customhouse Quays, difficult and very slow to cross, may create significant safety risks with people in a hurry to catch their bus;
  4. having to choose between a short walk to a frequent regular bus and a longer walk to a faster (perhaps) but less frequent peak-only bus may well create a barrier to bus usage.
  5. putting extra traffic along the quays conflicts with the Wellington City Council’s objective of improving pedestrian access across the quays to the waterfront.

While not perfect, the routing proposed in the consultants’ report seems to be better in most of these respects than the route in the consultation document, but we wonder whether the cure would still be worse than the disease.

The trolleybus network

We note that trolleybus wiring should not stand in the way of an optimum transport network, but we have concerns about substituting diesel buses for electric ones. The environmental and health effects of extra diesel bus operation along The Terrace, and of the withdrawal of trolleybuses from Taranaki St, Constable St and suburban routes are important issues, and we urge that wiring the gaps on proposed Route C along The Terrace and Ghuznee St and through Miramar Cutting be pursued as a matter of some urgency.

To help with the provision of new wiring, we suggest that the question of ownership of the trolleybus overhead be examined carefully, with a view to rationalising the current arrangements.

Proposed interchanges

An essential feature of the proposed network is that the interchanges operate effectively. This means emphasis on:

  • the physical environment (comfort, convenience, accessibility and safety);
  • the duration of wait;
  • the quality and immediacy of information;
  • passenger-focused operating practices;
  • effective bus priority to ensure that timed connections are met;
  • having no financial penalty for interchange, irrespective of mode or operator.

Free transfers are long overdue: it is notable that Wellington is the only city in the region that does not already have this facility between services run by the same operator. Extending this concept to all transfers, regardless of mode or operator, will be an important step.

Relationships with the WCC Johnsonville–CBD–Kilbirnie Growth Spine and the GWRC/WCC/NZTA high-quality public transport spine

It is not clear how well the review relates to these two “spines”. The growth spine requires a seamless high-quality public transport route between Johnsonville and Kilbirnie, and the public transport spine similarly between Wellington Station and Wellington Hospital. This review does not appear to deliver on the former, and may well be overtaken by proposals resulting from the latter. We suggest a co-ordinated approach between the three parties to ensure that the three projects are aligned.

Alan Smith, Chairman

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