WellUrban

Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Back on track: derailed?


While nature seems to be doing its best to destroy the Johnsonville rail line, the Dominion Post is giving it a bit of a helping hand. Their headline on Saturday (not online) about the North Wellington Transport Study says "Rail service under threat", the subheading says "Support for plan to replace Johnsonville railway line with bus route", and a sidebar is headed "Glory days long gone". All of this seems to give an air of inevitable demise, especially when combined with the disappointing fact that a measly 56 of the 1606 respondents supported a light rail extension.

Except that's not a fact: there were actually 456 light rail supporters. Let's give the Dom Post the benefit of the doubt and put it down to a typo and poor proofreading (hooray for quality print journalism!), but the tenor of the article is at odds with the actual press release from the regional council, which refrains from jumping to conclusions such as "Another rail service faces the axe, with a public survey finding widespread support for ripping up the Johnsonville line and replacing it with a bus service".

Let's look at that "widespread support" in more detail. First of all, it wasn't a "public survey", but a submissions process, and thus it reflects the views of those with the time, energy and passion to put in a submission, rather than being a true snapshot of public opinion. And in this case there's a factor that massively influenced people's ease of submitting: the Bus and Coach Association ran an aggressive campaign that included handing out pro-forma submission forms. The DomPost does mention that "most" of the pro-busway submissions came on those forms, but doesn't mention that it's an overwhelming majority: 87%.

That doesn't mean that you can ignore the opinions of those who used the campaigners' form, but even the city and regional councils, who haven't exactly gained a reputation for being rabidly pro-rail, are suspicious. As Regional Councillor Glen Evans said:
We accept the sincerity of the views put forward on the "Support the Busway" form, however the form does not include the information available on the standard consultation form. For example, the standard form allows you to comment on other scenarios, the Bus and Coach form does not.

And it goes without saying that the form omitted to mention the downsides of the busway (changing direction every 12 hours, increasing congestion in the CBD etc). Here's the full breakdown of submissions, both for and against, from the Regional Council's website:

Submissions on the North Wellington Transport Study
You'll notice that the councils were concerned enough about the Bus and Coach form that they've separated them out from other pro-busway responses. Take those out, and you get a very different picture indeed! Of course you can't take them out entirely, but if you give them a weight of half that of a submission from someone who was presented with balanced arguments and had to go out of their way to make themselves heard, it's no longer the preferred option. It's also noteworthy that apart from the ridiculous "nothing" option (i.e. replacing the railway with a walking/cycling track, so that there's no public transport at all along the line), the busway option got by far the most opposition.

You can also see that the pro-rail support was split between the rail and light rail options. You can't quite add the two together, because each submitter was able to support more than one option, but all of a sudden the "widespread support for ripping up the Johnsonville line" looks very shaky indeed. Combine this with support for light rail along the Ngauranga to Airport corridor, and it it's clear that the pro-rail movement has much more support than the DomPost article suggests.

16 Comments:

At 6:32 PM, August 28, 2006, Blogger John Rusk said...

Hi Tom,

One important thing, which you and I didn't see (because we don't catch the train) is that TransMetro also influenced the submission process. They handed out fliers to their passengers, encouraging them to support rail on the standard submission form. So, an unknown number of the pro-rail "standard" submissions can be attributed to TransMetro's (biased) pamphlet.

 
At 10:38 AM, August 29, 2006, Blogger Baz said...

I do catch the train, and I didn't see fliers being handed out. When did this happen, and how many were distributed? Was it done by Tranz Metro or motivated individuals?

Regarding the Dom Post: if the facts don't support a case, you can always make stuff up and have a quiet mea culpa later. The damage will have been done and the retraction won't change much. Advertisers aren't allowed to do this, but tabloids get away with it all the time.

Wait for a few lines of correction to buried away in the paper, possibly in the letters page.

 
At 12:17 PM, August 29, 2006, Blogger John Rusk said...

The flyer has TransMetro's logo all over it. As for timing and numbers, I don't know (yet).

What exactly is the DomPost "making up"?

 
At 12:42 PM, August 29, 2006, Blogger Baz said...

"56 of the 1606 respondents supported a light rail extension". I'm less willing than Tom to give the Dom Post the benefit of the doubt that it's a typo: they have an editing team to pick up on these things, and the Dom Post only ever seems to make errors that support its ideological bent.

An entire article has been skewed by a figure that is an order of magnitude wrong, giving readers the idea that there is near-zero support for light rail. If you think that's far-fetched, imagine how easy it would be to write a pro-rail but equally wrong article around the idea that only "81 of 1606 respondents supported a busway".

 
At 1:31 PM, August 29, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There lies, damned lies and statistics ...

Stats can be manipulated.

It seems that the notable difference between the Tranz Metro approach and the Bus & Coach Assn is that in encouraging submitters to use the GWRC forms, submitters at least got to see reasonably unbiased info on all the senarios, whereas those using the Bus and Coach Assn forms did not.

 
At 1:31 PM, August 29, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The bus on street scenario is not exactly a "nothing" option as you term it. This scenario would actually result in more buses travelling closer to more homes with a higher frequency than either the rail or light rail options.

 
At 3:45 PM, August 29, 2006, Blogger Baz said...

Given the overwhelming rejection of scenario 2, I'd say that 'nothing' is too lenient a term -- it implies the status quo, but it would be worse for almost all commuters. As well as the additional buses on the roads you would likely see an increase in car use, and as the roads are presently at or near capacity during peak hours this would be a bad, bad thing.

Few additional people will cycle in, and fewer will walk in. And if the walkway/cycleway isn't heavily used, expect much of the land to be repurposed later on.

Finally, the time taken for a road-bound bus to arrive in town during rush hour will negate any frequency advantage over the train service. Or to put it another way: I'd rather have the choice of only 4 trains between 8am and 9am that take 7 minutes to travel from Crofton Downs to Wellington, than one bus every ten minutes that takes half an hour to do the same journey.

 
At 4:14 PM, August 29, 2006, Blogger Jo Hubris said...

I don't get the idea of using the tracks as a walkway or cycle route - it goes through the middle of nowhere, and while I'm not the kind to panic about oh my god the crime, the crime, I'd seriously be worried about walking it by myself at night.

And I'm with Baz about the time that it takes the train to get to town - it's so much quicker than by bus or even by car. Err, assuming that the train actually shows up of course, but you have that problem with buses as well.

 
At 4:50 PM, August 29, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

By "nothing", I mean that there would be no public transport at all along what is now the Johnsonville line. All of the proposed options get more bus services, but this is the only one that actually proposes to remove an existing public transport corridor.

Calling it a "walking and cycling lane" would be to buy in to their greenwashing, as in real life virtually no-one is going to commute along it. Calling it an "enhanced bus scenario" would imply that it gets some extra bus advantage over the other scenarios, whereas as Baz points out, it would actually be worse. I suspect it was only put in so that if they choose the busway, they can say "at least we didn't close the line entirely, like we could have done".

 
At 5:47 PM, August 29, 2006, Blogger John Rusk said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 8:10 PM, August 29, 2006, Blogger John Rusk said...

in encouraging submitters to use the GWRC forms, submitters at least got to see reasonably unbiased info on all the senarios

To correct my previous (now deleted) comment: the Council did produce unbiased information to accompany their submission form. Can anyone confirm that TransMetro did indeed hand that material out to people who asked for a submission form?

 
At 9:28 AM, August 30, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here goes some spin on the stats:

Enhanced rail senario receives least opposition. Only 59 of 1606 submitters objected to this senario...

Of course that doesn't tell the full story, but then I'm not the first to do that.

 
At 10:30 AM, August 30, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the low opposition to the rail options is due to the busway forms not giving people a chance to identify those options they did not support. I have to say at least the process is NOT a vote.

I would also want to make some comments on the “walking and cycling” track element of the bus only scenario. While this option has been almost universally dismissed (possibly rightly so) there are some subtleties that seen not to have been properly appreciated. Firstly, I don’t think that decision makers expect large numbers of rail users to convert to cycling into the city for work. Secondly, the rail line could serve as a significant linear park providing greater public open space and recreational opportunities (including cycling) for residents. I concede there are safety issues but basic CPTED principles could be applied such as fencing and closing the park after dark. Thirdly, the rail line could become a rail heritage trail similar to the Rimutaka Incline and as is common in the UK and US. Fourthly, the line could eventually be converted to another mode (e.g. bus/light rail) in the future without too much problem - it may actually be easier starting from scratch.

Another point that people may not have realised is that the bus on street scenario will have to operate anyway during construction of any busway as rail services would have to be halted as soon as construction started.

While I don’t actually think the bus with walking and cycling is the best option for the northern suburbs I don’t agree that it is a complete lemon. It this scenario was adopted significant bus priority measures would certainly be implemented. These will impact on private car use but would allow reliable bus services. These services would serve the existing rail catchment – if you don’t believe me refer to routes X,Y and Z showing in page 39 of the Scenarios Report prepared by Wellington City Council and Greater Wellington.

 
At 12:05 PM, August 30, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The comment about the low opposition to rail was meant to point out problems in the Bus & Coach Assn forms (mainly not allowing people to comment on or rank the other senarios) and also have a poke at some reporting of the results. It was not particularly serious.

I would hope that future consultation of this sort will have council staff distributing the forms and info on public transport services to get away from the bias of operators distributing their own propaganda. This might lead to some more useful results from the submissions process.

 
At 1:56 PM, August 30, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

> I would also want to make some comments on the “walking and cycling” track element of the bus only scenario... I don’t think that decision makers expect large numbers of rail users to convert to cycling into the city for work.

Exactly. So they'll either have to take the bus (adding more buses to the streets) or drive (which seems likely given some of the comments I've heard).

> Secondly, the rail line could serve as a significant linear park providing greater public open space and recreational opportunities (including cycling) for residents.

That part of town is hardly lacking for open and recreational space. There's already a very nice walking track along the Ngaio gorge, and a "linear park" that winds through steep terrain is going to be of limited recreational use. What it would be lacking under that option is a dedicated public transport corridor.

> I concede there are safety issues but basic CPTED principles could be applied such as fencing and closing the park after dark.

Do you mean closing off the whole corridor, or just the areas surrounding the track while leaving the track open after dark? The former would make it completely useless as a commuting corridor; the latter would be at least as dangerous, as anyone using it would be trapped between the fences.

> Thirdly, the rail line could become a rail heritage trail similar to the Rimutaka Incline and as is common in the UK and US.

Isn't it depressing to think of rail as "heritage"? It should be our future!

> Fourthly, the line could eventually be converted to another mode (e.g. bus/light rail) in the future without too much problem - it may actually be easier starting from scratch.

I don't see how going to the trouble of converting it to a cycle lane (which would surely involve ripping up the tracks) and then changing it back would be any easier than just leaving it as it is.

> I don’t agree that it is a complete lemon. It this scenario was adopted significant bus priority measures would certainly be implemented. These will impact on private car use but would allow reliable bus services.

Many of the bus routes would have to be through two-lane suburban roads. I don't see how you could implement "bus priority measures" without completely closing one lane to cars. To my mind that might not be a bad idea, as no-one would be able to drive into town at all, but it's hardly practical or politically tenable.

 
At 3:10 PM, August 30, 2006, Anonymous simon said...

thanks Tom, I was just brewing up for a rant as I was scrolling and reading the post when you addressed all points far more eloquently than I!

Really since when was fencing and closing off parks sound CPTED advice. Its the complete opposite!! And your right Tom the crucial point here is this route is our future…any rush to turn this into low value recreational or 'heritage' land would be a huge waste

 

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