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

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Busway? No way!

I'm not going to get too involved in the "bus rapid transit" (BRT) vs rail debate for the Johnsonville line, as I lack the detailed technical knowledge (and time!) to weigh up the competing arguments, but I'll point you towards some of the protagonists. John Rusk has created a blog in support of the busway (Better Bus), while Gareth Hughes has an in-depth article (on his blog WE Aotearoa) that investigates international examples of BRT and comes down firmly in favour of rail.

John raises some interesting points, but I get the impression that his main focus is on improved reliability of existing bus services for the suburbs north of Johnsonville (such as Churton Park and Newlands) rather than maintaining and improving transit along the Johnsonville corridor itself. The former is a worthy goal, but even if BRT would deliver those improvements, I think that the latter is a better fit with the council's long-term strategy of concentrating development along a compact "spine" (Johnsonville - CBD - Newtown - airport). Even if the busway options improves travel times or reliability along the busway itself, the buses will still have to meander through the sprawling suburbs at the end of the route, and those suburbs will never have the density to support truly frequent services, especially off-peak. A light rail route from Johnsonville to Courtenay Place, with transit oriented development around the stations, is a much better match between transport infrastructure and urban form.

I think that Gareth sums it up best in his conclusion:
BRT and busways are a technology still in its infancy and there are no shining examples internationally to act as a model for Wellington. Other cities such as Curitiba and Adelaide have a different operating context that is radically different from our situation of a small compact and steep corridor that would only allow one-way busways. Busways are applicable in some circumstances such as far-flung low density suburbs not in Wellington's circumstances.
It's also worth noting that while BRT is often promoted as "just like rail, only cheaper!", Auckland's busway project is estimated to cost $325m for 6km, which is much more expensive than usual light rail costs per kilometre. In any case, we already have most of the infrastructure for a light rail system, and to rip that up for a busway would be a backwards step. BRT may be a "better bus", but it's a "worse train".


At 2:58 pm, July 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The J'ville line busway seems to provide a winding indirect route for buses from Newlands and Churton Park. I can't see buses having a top speed of more than 40-50km/h anywhere.

What about bus laning the Hutt Rd from Ngauranga to town. It would probably annoy car commuters - but is that a bad thing? Things could get a bit tight around Thorndon Quay, but then the busway has this problem too. This might speed up the Newlands & Churton buses without ripping out the J'ville line.

At 10:49 am, July 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

$120-$130 million is a lot of money to construct a half arse busway for use on weekdays peak only in one direction. The Adelaide O-bahn busway, which seems to be a popular example of a sucessful busway, is a two way, "double track" busway that provides an all day service in both directions - maybe this is comparable to a rail option - but has little in common with the J'ville line busway proposal. No one seems have provided examples that seem to be particularly relevant to Wellington (oneway peak only guided busway through rugged terrain).

The idea of having to sit in traffic for 12-18 months during construction is not appealing either. Why should the nearly 50% of public transport users who choose to use the train have to put up with a sub-standard service for the benefit of those who choose to live in the suburban sprawl beyond?

At 10:04 pm, July 20, 2006, Blogger John Rusk said...

For existing rail commuters, there's nothing "sub-standard" about the busway at all. Compared to rail the busway offers:

1. A more frequent service - a bus every 5 minutes. Compare that with the current rail service, which offers trains every 13 or 26 minutes (it varies).

2. Transport right into the CBD, as far as Courtenay Place. Compare that with the current rail service ;-)

As you say, the biggest benefits of the busway are for the 57% of commuters who currently take the bus. But the above advantages apply to existing rail users. Everybody wins, and there's nothing wrong with that!

At 10:37 pm, July 20, 2006, Blogger John Rusk said...

> I can't see buses having a top speed of more than 40-50km/h anywhere.

Actually, on the non-tunnel sections, an average speed of 50km/h is predicted. In other words, the top speed is higher - over 60km/h.

The Council's technical report even indicates that average speeds of 60km/h may be achievable, but further investigation will be required. That's why current projections are (conservatively) based on the 50 km/h average.

As for the tunnel sections, the report is based on buses going through tunnels at 35km/h, which is the same in-tunnel speed as the current trains.

At 9:54 am, July 21, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spending 12-18 months sitting on buses stuck in traffic seems sub standard to me.

At 10:22 am, July 21, 2006, Blogger John Rusk said...

>Spending 12-18 months sitting on buses stuck in traffic seems sub standard to me.

It's not as bad as spending the rest of our entire working lives sitting in buses stuck in traffic - and that's exactly what rail supporters are asking of the 50% of commuters who live too far from rail stations. That's why we take this personally and get a bit upset sometimes.


I've replied to your TOD comments on my own blog.

As for the Auckland busway, one significant difference is that in Wellington the basic route is already formed, in nice solid ground - it's just got some tracks on it at the moment ;-) In Auckland, they have to form a completely new road, along side the edge of the harbour. This makes construction much more difficult, involving bridges (one 360m long), plus "over 1800m of bored pile, ... soil nailed and gabion retaining walls and piled raft ground improvements" - which I think is engineering speak for "expensive stuff that will stabilise the ground".

By the way, it's actually 8.5 km's in total, and only $205 million is the actual busway cost. The rest is building stations (which we already have) and a motorway interchange upgrade (which is not just for the busway)

At 12:02 pm, July 21, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

Maximus: we have a railway, and the council's considering ripping it up. If we do that, we relinquish our god-given right to call Aucklanders losers.

John: I've responded to your ToD comments on your blog.

None of the people I know who use the J'ville line consider the busway to be an improvement. Light rail would offer transport to Courtenay Place, thus reducing the main (only?) disadvantage that the current train service has compared to buses. Generally, people who have the option and work close to the railway station will take the train rather than the bus, whereas those working further along the golden mile tend to take the bus or drive.

Getting rid of rail would require an extra 30-40 buses per hour. Can you imagine what that would do to congestion along the Golden Mile? Rail is inherently a more efficient use of space (and labour, which is just one reason why it has lower operating costs that buses). LRVs could thus justify priority measures along the Golden Mile (such as traffic light preemption) that would be impractical or impossible for buses.

"It's not as bad as spending the rest of our entire working lives sitting in buses stuck in traffic - and that's exactly what rail supporters are asking of the 50% of commuters who live too far from rail stations. That's why we take this personally and get a bit upset sometimes."

I can understand that, and I definitely think that the far northern suburbs deserve better (perhaps through a bus/HOV lane on the motorway with peak-time congestion charging). However, I don't agree that a busway is the way to do it. Making a shift from private to public transport is a long-term process that involves more than transport infrastructure: it requires a change to the way we live and the way we build our cities.

At 1:20 pm, July 21, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Think outside the busway.

Off the top of my head, some other ideas for improving Northern suburbs buses:
- bus lanes on Hutt Rd
- reducing traffic along J'ville Rd - maybe off ramps at Helston Rd?
- Express buses from Churton Park that get on the Motorway at Glenside so they avoid the Middleton Rd roundabout queue.
- Motorway hard shoulder running for buses to allow them to jump the queue. Maybe between Ngarunga and the Thorndon Motorway Viaduct. Also possibly in the Gorge from the quarry exit up the off ramp to the Newlands overbridge.
- traffic light priority

... the list could go on.

At 10:18 am, July 24, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the USA BRT is used by the highway lobby to add extra lanes to freeways and highways. The "bus" part is then never really implemented or implemented as a 3 trip per day lightly used line.

Hence the huge cost is the highway construction, including overpass and bridge refurbishing ( for the rest of the cars) the actual BUS
components (park+ride lots, buses) are typically a small fraction of the total cost.

After a couple years the lanes are given over to automobile traffic and the farce begins again.

At 8:22 pm, July 24, 2006, Blogger John Rusk said...

You write as if that's what happens in all BRT projects, which is clearly not true.

Consider Auckland's current BRT project. There are indeed car-related costs, but the cost breakdown (which I mentioned above) makes it clear that the majority of the costs are bus-related

Besides, there's no way to convert a guided busway as narrow as that proposed for J'Ville into a public raod.

At 10:46 pm, August 05, 2006, Blogger Br3nda of coffee.geek.nz said...

whatever is chosen, will have a big impact on whether we'd ever consider moving to Jville.

I've lived in Petone, which is well served..

without public transport, it's just not an option

(and i don't mean pub transport just into the welly cbd, it needs to go to supermarkets, and doctors, restaurants and recreation also.)


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