Light rail for Wellington still in the mix
The Government may help fund light rail in Wellington after it was one of the final three public transport options chosen for the capital.
Light rail is still in the running despite a price tag of up to $392 million.
Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, who campaigned on bringing light rail to the capital by 2020, will now have to convince central government that it would have the same transport and economic benefits as upgrades to the city's bus lanes, which could cost as little as $16m.
Wellington City Council, Greater Wellington regional council and the New Zealand Transport Agency announced three options yesterday for the city's public transport "spine" between the railway station and the hospital - a distance of between 3.7 kilometres and 5km, depending on the route chosen.
Those options are a light-rail network, a bus-priority system (better bus lanes) or a bus rapid-transit system (better bus lanes and bigger buses).
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said he was pleased to see bus options in the mix as well as the "higher-cost option" of a light-rail network.
The Government had not ruled out helping to fund light rail, he said. "We would need to see a detailed business case, and comparisons with other options considered, before making any decisions. That is some time into the future."
But Ms Wade-Brown said she was confident a solid business case could be made for light rail, which would probably involve private investment in addition to rates and taxes.
Overseas examples showed that developing railway stations with commercial, residential and retail property above would offset the high cost, she said.
"I'm feeling pretty positive about this . . . There's a couple of different mechanisms that you could use to help fund a [light-rail] network."
Transport Agency central regional director Jenny Chetwynd said the remaining options would now be assessed on their value for money before going out for public consultation in April.
"While I hear the mayor's enthusiasm around light rail, it's important to remember that it's just one option, and it's the most expensive option."
Wellington Tramways Union secretary Kevin O'Sullivan doubted the Government would have the appetite to fund light rail.
"We've always thought that light rail was so expensive that it really wouldn't be a runner," he said. "In Auckland maybe, because that's where there's growth and public transport is expanding, but Wellington public transport [growth] is actually pretty static."
NZ Bus general manager of strategy Scott Thorne said the short list had identified the most pragmatic options for Wellington.
There was plenty of scope for developing a bus rapid-transit system, he said. It could be anything from more bus lanes through to fully segregated lanes and platform infrastructure.
"I think they should be thinking about 'like rail' rather than 'light rail' . . . Buses can deliver the same benefits as light rail with greater flexibility."
The three options were reduced from eight announced in May, which included an underground extension of the city's rail network at a cost of more than $105m a kilometre.
The final study report is expected to be completed in April next year, when it will be put out for public consultation.
Light Rail ($172m to $392m)
Light rail vehicles, or trams, run along steel rail tracks laid in the ground.
Pros: Increased capacity by complementing bus network, less impact on the environment than diesel buses.
Cons: More restrictions on where pedestrians can cross the road. Rail tracks may hinder cyclists.
Bus Priority Network ($16m to $35m)
Building on the current bus lanes, adding more between Lambton Quay and Adelaide Rd. Some sections of Golden Mile could become bus-only. Buses would also get priority at traffic lights.
Pros: Cheapest option. Flexibility where stops are placed.
Cons: Only partial priority at intersections could be allowed on the majority of the route. Only partial separation from other traffic.
Bus Rapid Transit ($98m to $319m)
Expanding on the bus priority system by giving greater priority to buses at intersections. Lanes can also be segregated from other traffic.
Pros: Buses move quicker by getting priority at all intersections. Increased capacity through articulated or double-decker buses.
Cons: Segregating the bus routes can disrupt cyclist and pedestrian movement.
The Dominion Post