Back on track: catching up
It's been a while since I've had the occasion to write a "back on track" post, but there's been a recent spate of good news for public transport users. Most of it has been signalled for a long time, and it's generally just catching up with maintenance that's been deferred for decades, but it's worth celebrating nonetheless.
Yesterday's inaugural trip of the first new carriage on the Wairarapa Line in 60 years is just a small start, but I'm sure that the improvements in comfort and reliability will be warmly welcomed by commuters. The real benefits will take a while to arrive, though, and won't come until enough of the new trains are available to enable an increase in actual capacity.
Earlier, I was a little sceptical about news reports of improvements to the Western Line, since they'd all been mentioned before. However, things seem to be progressing more quickly than we'd expected, and work (on double-tracking from MacKays Crossing to Waikanae Bridge and electrification between Paraparaumu and Waikanae) may start as soon as this summer, with completion expected in time for the arrival of new trains in 2010.
Closer to the city, the first of the 61 revamped trolley buses will start to arrive this August, with the remainder being rolled out gradually from February. Again, we've known for nearly a year that they should be on the way, but the latest news is actually quite a breakthrough in what seemed like endless negotiations and has been welcomed across the political spectrum. The new buses will be more reliable (due to better poles and backup batteries) and will have ten extra seats. The additional 610 seats across all trolley buses may not seem much, but on the most popular services they will be a huge relief.
On top of all this, there are hints that local, regional and central government may be changing their attitudes. According to Brent Efford's "Transport 2000+" newsletter (the source of much of the information in this post):
"Caught out by the overwhelming reaction against the conservatism and 'business-as-usual' orientation of the draft Regional Land Transport Strategy, the Greater Wellington Regional Council and Regional Land Transport Committee are engaged in a complete re-think of the approach to the Strategy and the mode share targets. Prime change is that the old assumption of no real change in public transport vs car mode share is out, and some quite ambitious sustainability targets are to be adopted."Even the Kapiti Coast District Council says that "A further shift of priority from Transmission Gully to rail investment is sought", and "Transmission Gully should not take precedence over provision of an improved rail system". At today's Regional Council Passenger Transport Committee meeting, we may at last get some commitment to real time information and integrated ticketing. That'll be a welcome move into the 21st Century (or at least, into the late 20th Century). Given that Transport Minister Annette King was keen to enjoy the positive publicity of the new Wairarapa trains, perhaps we can look forward to a budget that is less roading-focussed than last year's?