It's official: Buses get vote over light rail

MICHAEL FORBES
Last updated 12:07 04/03/2014

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Wellington

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Faster, bigger buses have been officially chosen as the future of public transport in Wellington, snuffing out any chance of having light rail in the capital for the foreseeable future.

The Regional Transport Committee - a collective of Wellington's mayors and the NZ Transport Agency - voted today to push ahead with plans to build a $268 million bus rapid transit network between the Wellington CBD and southern suburbs.

Detailed plans are yet to be drawn up, but it will involve hi-tech articulated or double-decker buses running along a dedicated busway between Wellington Railway Station and the suburbs of Newtown and Kilbirnie.

The route forms the southern part of Wellington's public transport "spine".

Today's decision brings down the curtain on the Wellington Public Transport Spine Study, which began in 2011.

The Wellington city and regional councils jointly-commissioned the study along with the transport agency to find the best solution to Wellington's public transport needs for the next 30 years.

It began by looking at 88 combinations of routes and types of public transport, which were effectively whittled down to light rail and a bus rapid transit network in June 2013.

At that point, the study revealed light rail could cost as much as $1.2 billion, largely because of the need to build a dedicated rail tunnel through Mt Victoria.

That prompted the Regional Transport Committee to declare its preference for bus rapid transit. It heard the public's view on the options late last year, and confirmed its initial decision today.

The vote was unanimous. Hutt City mayor Ray Wallace, Kapiti Coast mayor Ross Church and Carterton mayor Ron Mark were the only ones not at the meeting.

Committee chairwoman Fran Wilde said the ability of rapid transit buses to go beyond the dedicated spine and continue to suburbs like Island Bay and Karori made it a winner.

"With some of the bus technology that's now on the books, the difference between what people consider light rail and bus rapid transit to be is getting smaller and smaller."

Building a light rail network through the middle of Wellington would have also caused severe disruption to those living and working in the city for a number of years, she said.

Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown, who was first elected in 2010 on the back of campaign promises to push for light rail, said today she had also been swayed by the ability of buses to go further than trams.

She welcomed the decision to proceed but cautioned that Wellington's topography and road layout would make it impossible to build the type of busways seen oversees, which were generally isolated from all other traffic by concrete barriers.

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"This is not going to be the highest quality bus rapid transit network in the known universe because that just wouldn't work."

Ms Wade-Brown said all options had been thoroughly considered as part of the spine study. The $380m cost of a rail tunnel was not the critical element holding back light rail, she said.

In a statement, Ohariu MP Peter Dunne said the decision had been made on a flawed study that bloated the cost of light rail.

"Wellington had trams for decades and one of those tram routes followed Constable St between Newtown and Kilbirnie," he said.

"To suggest that modern trams will not be able to use Constable St and will need a separate tunnel under Mt Victoria just shows the dense thinking that went into the spine study."

BUS RAPID TRANSIT

How it works:

  • A dedicated busway for new higher-capacity articulated or double-decker buses along the Golden Mile to Newtown and through the duplicated Mt Victoria tunnel to Kilbirnie.

Benefits:

  • 11-minute travel time saving from Wellington railway station to Kilbirnie during morning rush hour.

  • 6-minute time saving from Wellington railway station to Newtown during morning rush hour.

  • 8 per cent increase in morning rush-hour patrons from the south and southeast to the CBD.

  • Time-saving benefits equating to $95m.

Impacts:

  • 36 per cent fewer public transport vehicles along the Golden Mile.

  • Need for users to access median stops along parts of route.

  • Reduced number of stops in the CBD to speed up travel time.

  • Loss of some on-street parking and restricted access to some buildings in the CBD.

  • Some general traffic redirected away from the Golden Mile.

  • Some localised road widening required, with more significant widening along the State Highway 1 corridor affecting the town belt.

- The Dominion Post

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