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

Monday, February 19, 2007

No Go Wellington

Where is When Infratil took over Stagecoach Wellington, I was cautiously optimistic: after all, who wouldn't prefer our buses to be owned by a local company rather than a multinational with an atrocious industrial relations reputation? The service was rebranded Go Wellington and got a bright new livery; they sponsored the Cuba St Carnival and promised us smart cards and extra services. What we got was chaos, angst, blame, embarrassment and recriminations.

It's all supposed to have been caused by a botched new rostering system, but one has to wonder: what about the recent industrial action? What about Infratil's threats to get out of the local market if the regulatory system isn't to their liking? Is this part of the sort of brinksmanship and infighting that saw the fate of the trolleybuses go to the (ahem) wire? I haven't the energy or the inside knowledge to speculate, but it's pretty clear who suffers: us.

If that's not enough, we're so short of trains that we're raiding the museums for replacements. With the half-finished bypass still in a confusing limbo, it may be too early to blame it for recent traffic congestion as some have done, but it hardly looks like $40m well spent at the moment. It's flattering when visitors from other parts of New Zealand say things like "public transport that actually works! Wellington feels like a proper city: the sort they have in other countries", but it really looks like we're throwing away our geographic advantages and the investments of previous generations.

I can't offer any solutions for the short-term cockups, but one thing's for sure: the Regional Council needs to stop setting insipid goals about "convincing commuters to get out of their cars" while spending all their money on new roads. Commuters already want to get out of their cars and onto trains and buses: the problem is that there aren't any.


At 10:48 am, February 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was on a bus the week before the new rostering system was implemented and overheard some bus drivers talking about it. It seems (as typically happens) the people at the coal face *knew* it was going to be an absolute disaster before it happened, but management wanted it anyway. The real reason for it (as they saw it) was apparently Infratil wanted to stop having to pay overtime.

At 10:50 am, February 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Which kind of makes sense, since all of a sudden they implement it and "oh gosh" they don't have enough drivers.

At 10:56 am, February 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And in regard to the museum trains. What worries me is two things.

1) Nothing has been learnt by this! The council is still keen on more roads, and has not shifted its plans on underinvesting in rail. It does not take a brain surgeon to work out that as oil gets more expensive demand will only continue to rise from now on.

2) Here we are suffering because of that very underinvestment and piss-poor forecasting in the past, and I have not seen people loosing their jobs over it. In a commercial setting people responsible for that screw up would've lost their jobs. The Wellington Region is a business, it has an economy, how much damage (or potential damage) has this done to the economy.

At 2:03 pm, February 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Use your vote in the regional elections if you want people to loose their jobs (i.e vote out those responsible).

I find it very interesting the link between fuel prices and PT use demonstrated by last years monthly figures. Nice to see hard facts (compare table on p11 to graph on p16 at http://www.gw.govt.nz/council-reports/pdfs/reportdocs/2007_52_2_Attachment.pdf). They show a clear relationship between fuel price and patronage growth. Growth peaked at 11% during the fuel price hike but some later months had negative or almost zero growth. Overall thought patrongae grew just over 4% last year, up on the five-year trend of just over 2%. Interesting patronge grew more with rising fuel prices than it fell with reducing fuel prices.

I commend GW for trying to do something, even if they need museum trains in the short term. GW are investing significantly in improved PT with three suppliers (Bombardier, Rotem /Mitsui and CAF) invited to tender for over 50 new units (refer above report).

I must say that although I support PT (and use it to get to work) there is a balance that includes further roading investment. Buses rely on roads, pedestrians/cyclists rely on roads and freight relies on roads. I wonder though if there is a way to make freight use PT???

At 2:06 pm, February 20, 2007, Blogger R Singers said...

Trolley buses aren't the answer, because they're a point solution and don't give any wider benefit to the region. In my opinion the WRC should take a bold move and help fund a bio-ethanol (there may still be a podcast on RNZ about the Salix trials in the BoP). Not only could you convert the entire Wellington bus fleet, you could also convert the council fleets in the region.

At 3:13 pm, February 20, 2007, Blogger R Singers said...

That would be a bio-ethanol refinery. Damn people talking to me.

At 4:19 pm, February 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

dunno about the bio-ethanol idea. sure, it will help move the technology into the mainstream, but they'll still be using large amounts of the 'bad' fuel.

how about extending the eletrical network, and maybe some light rail. all that would be powered by new zealands (relatively and hopefully improving) low-CO2 electricity generation.

At 4:55 pm, February 20, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Glassboy: I'm not sure what you mean by "point" solution. They currently only run in part of the greater Wellington region, that's true, but they still do cover quite a wide area. They won't be "the" answer, but they should be an important part of it. For a regional solution, I'd much rather see some of the train services converted to light rail and extended through the city areas (e.g. Railway Station to Courtenay Pl and aiport; a Melling-Waterloo loop).

All of that could be driven by a small number of wind turbines: the Greens estimated just two for the entire existing electric train and trolley bus network. If you make it four turbines, Wellington could export to the national grid for much of the time while using the grid a s backup on these rare (but lovely!) windless days. Some sort of biofuels could play a role in fueling the rest of the buses, but I'm a little sceptical of the environmental benefits of biofuels, and think that in the long term, fuel cells, batteries or compressed air could power any buses that can't run on wires, and as Che said, then we could really be doing something towards reducing emissions.

In the meantime, I think most commuters would settle for a bus powered by crushed pandas, just as long as there's room for them to get on!

At 7:35 pm, February 20, 2007, Blogger Triple T said...

bring on the crushed pandas... staring at me with their beady little eyes... they're really asking for it...

At 7:44 am, February 21, 2007, Blogger Triple T said...

monkey butlers can crush the panda.

jokng aside, the virtues of a carless city far outweight any attempt to convert them to biofuels.

not that this isn't a good thing for use of motor vehicles outside the city limits.


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