OPINION: The three options for improving Wellington's public transport and confirmation a flyover will be built north of the Basin Reserve provide a clear idea of how the city's congestion problems will be eased.
Few will be surprised by the Transport Agency's decision to proceed with Option A for the flyover. It was the cheapest of the two, and can be built with least disruption.
- Live chat on the Basin Flyover decision at 12.30pm with Wellington councillors Andy Foster, Iona Pannett and John Morrison, and Greater Wellington regional councillor Peter Glensor.
The three proposals being considered for improving the public transport spine from the railway station to the hospital in Newtown were also those that most obviously warranted further consideration.
However, Mayor Celia Wade-Brown and others who favour a light rail system, while clearly delighted to find it is still on the table, are ultimately bound to be disappointed.
There is no argument light rail would not be nice to have. However, at a cost of $172 million to $392m, it is simply too expensive for the region's ratepayers to fund on their own, and the contribution that would be required from taxpayers in the rest of the country is too high to justify.
The reality is that public funds are limited, and must therefore be used for necessities, not luxuries. The necessity for Wellington is to develop public transport links that can move as many people as possible, as quickly and efficiently as possible, across the city.
The initial cost is not the only question mark hanging over light rail. There are serious doubts about whether the region's small population is sufficient to sustain it without significant subsidies, especially as it would be used only by travellers moving between the railway station and the hospital.
Buses, on the other hand, already move significant numbers of passengers from all points of the city across town. Many of those routes pass the hospital. It is doubtful many, if any, of those coming from the north would get off at the railway station to change to light rail to complete their journey, especially if their bus is already going to Newtown.
The only viable option is to concentrate the limited resources available on freeing up space for buses. The proposed rapid bus transit, which would essentially provide dedicated roads for buses, is an idea worth exploring further, though again the cost - $98m to $319m - could be prohibitive. There are also questions about whether introducing articulated or double-decker buses to increase capacity would come at the cost of frequency, which is an essential part of enticing more people on to public transport.
Building on the existing bus lane system, at a cost of $16m to $35m, also has its downsides, not least that buses would be only partially separated from other traffic and the ability to give them priority at intersections would be severely limited. It might be possible, however, for elements of the two bus options to be combined. That is something the Transport Agency, Wellington City Council and Greater Wellington Regional Council should explore as they consider which option will get the green light.
Whatever they decide, work on putting it into action must begin immediately.
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