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

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

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?


At 5:46 pm, May 15, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The question now is will the National Party notice this swing in favour of PT investment. Last election they promised big on roads while PT didn't even get a mention.

Maybe using a bus or train just wasn't "mainstream" enough.

They could well be controlling the treasury benches after the next election and the current momentum to improve PT could easly be lost if an incoming government didn't recognise the value of PT investment.

At 8:16 pm, May 15, 2007, Blogger Will de Cleene said...

And when exactly are they planning on doing the obvious and linking Upper Hutt and Pram by rail?

At 10:22 am, May 16, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Zippy, I think it'll be a loooong time before anyone considers that: based on the terrain in between, there'll have to be a lot of very expensive tunnels.

At 12:35 pm, May 16, 2007, Blogger phil_style said...


Surely not? You must be having a larf? I'd be very interested to see exactly what kind of route is obvious. ..


The rail network is crying out for the recently announced investment. There's gotta be pull factors to get people onto the trains, rather than simply push actors (gas prices) gettign them out fo cars. Upgrading the network is a good start.

hnntfz - hunting for Zebras, where else would I be?

At 1:12 pm, May 16, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

If there were any route that would justify a new rail tunnel, I'd suggest a tunnel from Newtown to Kilbirnie, so that when we finally get a light rail system to the airport, one of the most difficult stretches could be avoided.

And yes, the rail network has been crying out for this investment for a long time. It's also been crying out for improvements to capacity and extent as well as comfort and reliability: while I agree that pull factors are worth investing in, at the moment the main problem has been dealing with the existing demand. So it's certainly a good start, but we've a long way to go.

Nevertheless, 610 extra seats could make quite a difference at peak time. Potentially, that's another 470 cars off the road (based on current stats of about 1.3 people per car at peak time), and that's got to be good for congestion. And for the environment, too, especially if they source power from our own local windfarm.

At 8:58 am, May 17, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

After two months living at Karori Park now (moved there from the Terrace), I have become very familiar with the route 3 bus service there (as I catch it to work every day and often at other times, and I am usually out for my morning run by 6am and so even see the first few buses of the day).

My observations seem to confirm my earlier suspicions that whether a trolley bus is used on a trolley-capable schedule is at the option of the driver.

Frequently, I see that the early buses out of the Karori Depot are diesels, even though trolleys are sitting in the depot and may or may not be taken by a later driver. On other days a trolley will operate an early service that the day before was a diesel.

The same happens in peak hours. There is a totally random pattern to whether a trolley turns up for the timetabled runs to Lyall Bay from Karori. This week the 7.50am that I often catch has been a diesel when for several weeks it had been a trolley. Today one of the Courtenay Place 3s that have always been diesels was a trolley (so naturally I hopped that to avoid the Lyall Bay 3 diesel that was to be next away but which yesterday was a trolley).

During the day at least one bus in four, and often more, on the 3 are diesels - my office window overlooks Bowen St so I notice them. I often dash home by bus at lunchtime (yes, the 10-min service is that good, usually, that I can do that!)and I see there are sometimes as many diesels as trolleys running on the service).

The evening peak sees hardly any trolleys going to Karori Park. At my Bowen House stop, there is usually one just before 5pm, then one (and sometimes two in a bunch) about 5.30, then one at about 5.55, then none till nearly 7pm.

I presume this lack of evening peak trolleys to Karori (which is a new phenomenom) is because the February 4 driver roster change (which was a disaster for passengers) bases only six trolleys amid what is now a sea of diesels at Karori depot, and at times there are not even six, so only six trolleys max need to go up there on runs that go on to the depot.

In the evening, sometimes there is a solitary trolley operating but usually there are none, even when there are trolleys in the city running on other routes.

The last two evenings, Coffins (the drivers' name for the ghastly diesels with numbers around 175) have been providing many post-peak services on the 3 which is really scandalous. The most worn-out trolley is preferable from a passenger comfort viewpoint to one of these clapped out, noisy, uncomfortable Coffins. The fact there are Coffins out when there would be many new low-floor buses idle in the depot, not to mention trolleys (including the three new low-floor trolleys 301-2-3)suggests to me that some drivers actually like Coffins and take them rather than a trolley (or a new diesel).

My view is that, as the ratepayers and taxpayers of Wellington pay Infratil-owned NZ Bus (and formerly Stagecoach)more than $4 million a year to operate trolley buses, then trolley buses should be used whenever one is available, which most certainly means between peaks, at nights and at weekends.

NZ Bus now also receives millions of dollars in diesel subsidies ($2.1 million so far in 2006-07 according to a report to GWRC on May 8, based on a per-litre formula for price rises over the cost when the diesel contract was last set. Every time a diesel runs on a trolley service when a trolley could be used, the company not only gets the per-litre diesel subsidy for each litre that bus uses, it pockets the trolley subsidy which is a flat amount and not per-km run. This is double-dipping into the public purse and should not be allowed.

The new trolley contract signed last week (I attended the signing) requires trolley buses to be operated at nights and weekends. Ian Turner of NZ Bus told me this at the signing and they damned well should be!

At 7:58 pm, May 18, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I highly doubt that there will be a rail route between the hutt and porirua any time soon. I think busses were trialled to see if there was any demand for such a service and pretty much no one used it. There was a proposal of a railway line there in the past but this was part of a region wide plan that was never implemented that included new suburbs inbetween porirua and the hutt meaning there would be far more people and most likely taking the train all the way to wellington. So theres almost no demand for such a service.

At 4:12 am, May 22, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Tom's post on the regional petrol tax is getting close to identifying the real cause of the run down of land transport services. The petrol tax has not kept up with inflation so that it can't fund public transport without further reducing funding for safe roads. This has already been reduced to provide more money to deal with urban congestion. And safety doesn't just mean crashes. Have a look at the lifelines studies for the West Coast and Wairarapa regions. They know which bridges need seismic retrofits but the money simply isn't there. Increase the petrol tax to 45cents as was done 1927 and 1954 and intermittently up till 1974.
Only then will we be able to afford to fund major rail upgrades without further compromising road safety, and after all it is road users who are providing the money so don't ask them to give an arm and a leg as well.
Incidently, roads lost their public works funding in 1930 when the government decided to use the petrol tax instead. The railways continued to recieve PW funding but had to compete with development of power stations and state housing suburbs. Perhaps it was the housing lobby not the roading lobby that stopped the development of urban railways in the 1950s. Note also that the petrol tax paid a subsidy to local authorities to spend on roads under their control, whereas railways investment was directed by central government. Local authorities may have been inclined to base their development around roads simly because that gave them more control over their destiny. This was an era when local authorities were often mini-empires or at best proudly independent of their neighbours and central government.


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