OPINION: Nobody can accuse Greater Wellington regional council of taking a narrow approach as it investigates the future public transport needs from Wellington Railway Station to the hospital.
No fewer than 88 combinations of routes and modes of transport were on the table in its original scoping study, including the unlikely option of small driverless pods whizzing along special tracks and developing the Terrace as a main thoroughfare.
That original list has now been whittled down to eight, with three types of transport and two main routes – along the waterfront or down the Golden Mile.
The shortlist includes the option of an underground railway on a route yet to be considered, heavy rail at street level along the waterfront, two routes for light rail and various options for buses.
It would be remarkable if an underground railway made it on to a final shortlist, to be decided in the middle of this year. At a cost of more than $105 million per kilometre, and with Wellington's earthquake-prone terrain and small population, it will struggle to compete against the likes of dedicated bus lanes, which could be just as efficient, less risky and certainly much cheaper to build and run.
That does not mean the council should have precluded the underground option from further consideration, however.
It has rightly used a range of criteria on which to progress the scores of proposals it has so far examined, and an underground railway meets most of them.
None of the eight options now remaining should be discounted until each has been more thoroughly investigated and their pros and cons weighed against others on the table.
What is more important is the need for the council to ensure that once public consultation on the final shortlist early next year is completed, it makes quick decisions on which option will be implemented and moves immediately to start construction.
Wellington has seen what happens when councils, central government and transport authorities dally over important roading projects.
The result, in the case of the inner-city bypass, was decades of delay before the road was built and, in the case of the airport to Levin corridor, the potential loss of funding for a project of vital importance to the region's economy.
That cannot be allowed to happen when it comes to public transport, which is an integral part of Wellington's overall transport infrastructure.
Last year, there were more than 35 million bus and rail passenger trips in the region, an average of more than 96,000 a day. Every day, one in five people travel to work by public means.
Around 15,000 arrive in Wellington city by train in the peak hour, and thousands of them continue to travel across the CBD by bus. Thousands more traverse the city on bus routes from all points, many of them travelling down the hospital to railway station spine.
Making those trips hassle-free, convenient, cheap and above all, quick and reliable is the key to ensuring public transport continues to be well patronised, congestion is eased and the region keeps moving.
- The Dominion Post