How to fix Welly's transport woes

Last updated 05:00 23/12/2012
ROBERT KITCHIN/The Dominion Post
LOG JAM: Less cars on the road would make a more pleasant commute for everyone.

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I probably ride, drive and bus in to work an even amount so I'm keenly aware of the pros and cons of each.

The car is by far the easiest of course, and I turn to it whenever I'm running late, have errands to run or get stuff in or out of work. But of course it's expensive.

The bus is OK for wet weather, but it's uncomfortable, claustrophobic and runs to its schedule, not yours or even Go Wellington's.

The bike is free and I just feel so much better after a good ride. It's my fitness regime too. It baffles me why others drive in to work early and go straight to the gym. It's uncomfortable in the wet though and Wellington's lip service to bicycles really grates. It's easy to find reasons not to bike. The weather offers some excuses but the infrastructure certainly provides lots more.

So what do we need to fix?  We should make commuting by car more expensive, but in a targeted way such as toll roads and congestion charging. We should offer real alternatives to driving, and make the expensive driving experience superb when you need it. Think about integrated travel options, not just one mode at a time. For instance, recognise that the cheapest way to fix the urban motorway would be to put a proper bike path in from Porirua and Upper Hutt. If you could get a 5 per cent reduction in car commuters it would be like driving during the school holidays every day.

I moved here from Melbourne where I needed to commute out from the CBD to a Johnsonville-like mid-way suburb every day. It was a short 10-minute drive on the near-empty motorway for A$7 in tolls. Ouch! Or a $3.50 train ride. Or a 45-minute cycle on purpose built cycleways completely separated from traffic. Expensive, but way cheaper than adding another lane to the motorway, for instance. Services like that meant something like 14 per cent of commuter traffic was by bicycle, which equated to tens of thousands of cars off the road.

In Wellington there's no integrated thinking. I don't think the designers of the cycle tracks here have even seen a bicycle or used one to commute, what with the broken asphalt, power poles in the middle of the path, and blind driveways feeding in to the Old Hutt Rd cycle path in particular. A modern road bike has tyres about 5 millimetres wide and cruises about 60 kilometres an hour. It needs a better surface than a roadway, not a worse one. The funniest option is the short piece of green paint right in the middle of the Old Hutt Rd-Ngauranga Gorge-Hutt Rd lights, where you have to somehow swing across two lanes of 80kmh traffic to access, and then sit between two fast flowing streams of traffic.

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The obtuse fragmentation of public transport makes it unusable for many, too. A friend once showed me the 15 or so different tickets he had to carry, all at once, to use the various public transport modes at various different times to get from Newtown to Trentham and Porirua. Again, it baffles me why with the nine-figure sums being spent on trains and stations, implementing Snapper or an alternative integrated system at the same time wasn't part of that. Or why I have to carry a different ticket for each train line, plus a snapper card to get from the railway station to my final destination (and pay twice, of course).

Fixing cycle tracks and fixing public transport is expensive. But adding lanes to the urban motorway, building tunnels and flyovers, and increasing parking and local road capacity in the CBD is even more expensive, not to mention disruptive and degrading to Wellington's unique village feel.

Tax some motorists off the road, but offer real alternatives to the road and provide great motoring experience in return, and everyone wins.

Got an opinion on whether bikes, buses, cars or just plain old walking is best? Click the big green button to contribute.

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