Bigger buses get the nod over light rail

ANDREA O'NEIL
Last updated 05:00 06/02/2014

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Light rail is officially off the table for Wellington, with even mayor Celia Wade-Brown voting against it.

Bus rapid transit was backed yesterday by a cross-council committee appointed to assess public transport choice for the capital, with the $268 million option winning out against the $1.2 billion light rail option.

Ms Wade-Brown had campaigned on bringing light rail to the city when she was first elected in 2010, but yesterday joined regional council chairwoman Fran Wilde, New Zealand Transport Agency regional director Jenny Chetwynd, Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett and Upper Hutt Mayor Wayne Guppy in backing the cheaper bus option. Cost aside, light rail was Ms Wade-Brown's preferred option for Wellington's future, but bus rapid transit was the best choice now, she said.

"Bus rapid transport is cost-effective if you do it well. This is a significant step."

Wellington's population growth meant by 2041 bus rapid transport may no longer cope with commuter demand, and if light rail was cheaper then, it could be introduced, she said. Bus priority features would be introduced this triennium.

Light rail advocate Brent Efford of Trams-Action said bus rapid transit was unworkable and the public transport debate would be had all over again in five years' time. "It's doomed to fail. It's going to be over-capacity by the time it's started," he said. "It's an absurd situation."

What the city needed was a continuous rail line from Wellington Railway Station into the city, Mr Efford said. The current corridor ignored the needs of commuters from Wellington's northern suburbs and surrounding cities, he said.

Under the bus rapid transit option, dedicated bus corridors, intersection priority for buses, longer bus stops and integrated ticketing will feature in the rapid transit system. Larger buses carrying 100 passengers will reduce the number of buses on the road from 100 an hour to 60. To relieve congestion at peak times, a secondary route through the city could be introduced, and shorter loop routes would carry inner-city traffic.

The corridor from Wellington Railway Station to Wellington Hospital was deemed the first priority, with a second arm to later branch from the Basin Reserve, through a second Mt Victoria tunnel, to Hataitai. Wellington Airport was made a key bus destination but was not on the corridor itself. A third option, bus priority, was yesterday chosen as a transition phase to bus rapid transit.

The Wellington city and Greater Wellington regional councils will now consider bus rapid transit. 

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Bus rapid transport - what happens next 

On February 21 Celia Wade-Brown and Fran Wilde will present the case for bus rapid transit to their respective councils.

If practical issues with the plan are raised, there will be a reconvening of the cross-council Wellington Public Transport Spine Options Hearing Subcommittee.

A final report will then be submitted for approval to a committee of all the region's mayors.

Before implementation can begin, detailed design and costings will need to be done by Wellington City Council staff.

To view the bus rapid transit recommendations visit gw.govt.nz/ptspinestudy.

- The Dominion Post

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