A line of capital importance

CAPITAL COMMUTE: The Capital Connection runs from Palmerston North to Wellington, but faces the axe.
CAPITAL COMMUTE: The Capital Connection runs from Palmerston North to Wellington, but faces the axe.

The Capital Connection train service faces the axe. That is not a smart outcome for commuters and congested State Highway 1.

The Capital Connection is a weekday commuter train run by KiwiRail, which starts at 6.15am from Palmerston North and arrives in central Wellington at 8.20am. Along the way, it collects people at Shannon, Levin, Otaki, Waikanae and Paraparaumu.

Given the long haul, the carriages include toilets, comfortable seats, tables and power outlets for laptops, and the train has a cafe.

A total of 13,458 passengers were recorded in June.

Many people worried about losing the service say communities have a right to be able to access public transport.

If the service is dropped, passengers face driving to Waikanae, the closest station offering trains into Wellington.

But this will exacerbate the parking shortage at Waikanae train station, so they might decide to drive all the way to Wellington.

For many years, the service operated successfully without subsidy. No form of public transport does this, anywhere.

The game-changer was the extension of train electrification to Waikanae last year, which resulted in a reduction in numbers because people in Kapiti had the option of the unit into Wellington.

The Capital Connection is the only unsubsidised form of public transport in New Zealand. The subsidy required would be $1.50 a person a trip - not that much given the distance travelled.

The NZ Transport Agency has no rational basis on which to define which public transport services should be subsidised and which left to commercial operators such as KiwiRail, but councils are keen to help save the service and willing to meet the NZTA halfway.

If the Capital Connection goes, it will surely be replaced by increased congestion on SH1, which, ironically, is the Government's reason for spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the Roads of National Significance.

With road congestion comes safety implications and negative environmental impacts.

A 50-vehicle convoy from Palmerston North to Waikanae recently provided a visual reminder of the many negative impacts of the Government axing the service.

Greater Wellington regional council and Horizons Regional Council said they were willing to meet half the cost of subsidising the service if the NZTA would pick up the other half.

Another compelling argument for supporting this public transport is that commuters' wages earned in Wellington come directly into our local economy, which would be well into the multimillions of dollars.

These are job opportunities and wages not easily replaced or equalled in provincial towns.

The decision sits with the NZTA to front up with a 50 per cent contribution to save the Connection. Given that it has indicated it is a political decision, the Capital Connection's future is in the hands of Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee.

If the road congestion argument is insufficient for the minister, or the environmental impacts hold no weight in determining Government policy, surely the economics of the productivity of these people and the significance of their monetary contribution to their provincial communities should sway him to retain this public transport.

Penny Gaylor is an Otaki councillor on Kapiti Coast District Council.

The Dominion Post