Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dom-Post dismisses light rail in Wellington

Wellington's Airport Flyer - despite commuter rail from Hutt Valley to Wellington city, this NZ Bus Ltd service shows a quality bus service can win patrons - so much so a year or two back there were squawks about the amount of travellers using Gold Cards (free pensioner travel outside peak hours) to access Wellington and the Public Hospital via the Airport Flyer costing the taxpayer too much. Despite appearance could this bus be green - indeed far greener than light rail! NZ in Tranzit suspects as much! Photo NZ in Tranzit 2010

An editorial in Wellington's main newspaper, the Dominion Post, Buses the way to get city moving has dismissed outright the fantasy of light rail through the business area of central Wellington. 

This is one of three options, reported here, up for considerations by the City Council, Greater Wellington Regional Council and NZ Transport  to improve the central public transport spine from from railway station to the public hospital in Newtown. It appears to arise, in part at least,  to a survey carried out last year.

 Says the Dom  
"Mayor Celia Wade-Brown and others who favour a light rail system, while clearly delighted to find it is still on the table, are ultimately bound to be disappointed.
There is no argument light rail would not be nice to have. However, at a cost of $172 million to $392m, it is simply too expensive for the region's ratepayers to fund on their own, and the contribution that would be required from taxpayers in the rest of the country is too high to justify."
NZ in Tranzit agrees, totally!!

There has been a huge distortion of public transport infrastructure expenditure in New Zealand, and Wellington has already received several hundred million taxpayer dollars, for upgrading its commuter rail system, whilst Christchurch and other centres have received almost nothing.
The case for light rail in Wellington seems on shaky ground for several reasons - one is literally shaky ground. Built on a fault-line it is only a matter of time before Wellington suffers a severe earthquake again as it did in 1855, similar to those suffered by Christchurch. The canyons between high rises, even without the rubble of collapsed older buildings, could be closed for months, just to allow adequate engineering checks of buildings. The shut-down of New Zealand's administrative hub could cost billions, effect the whole country. Why spend millions on a system that can not be disaster proofed, indeed will see post disaster streets jammed with difficult to remove tramcars as power and wiring systems are destroyed. It could be months or years before rubble or cable systems can safely be repaired, or rubble or broken tracks and twisted concrete beds repaired, especially if continuous aftershocks pose constant danger to anyone working in that area. 
Another reason that weakens Wellington's case is weak, is that the greater Wellington area has already had far above its share in public transport funding, with a major upgrade of its commuter rail network, refurbishment of stations and supply of new Matangi electric units.  All in all a city only marginally bigger than Christchurch has received over $600 million towards its public transport system. Back in 2010 NZ in Tranzit estimated that 13 times more per capita, in taxes has been spent on public transport in Wellington than in Christchurch. And this doesn't even address providing quality public transport in other cities and large centres. 
And arguably Wellington does public transport so well on a world scale that any genuinely green policy would be far better directed at looking at ways of lifting public transport patronage in other centres towards the same benchmarks. With 35 million unlinked passengers trips per annum Wellington ridership is far ahead of any other similar size city in the comparable low density, high car ownership cities of Canz (Canada, Australia, New Zealand). 
To give some perspective here are some stats from my past research (some slightly out of date but not likely to change essential pattern; population (GMA = greater metropolitan area), unlinked passenger trips per annum; transport modes
Public Transit Ridership in cities between 300,00 and 600,000 metropop in CANZ
7. Sunshine Coast Queensland - 312,908 A fast growing  area recently consolidated into one city  - 
8.  Windsor Ontario  323,342 GMA - 6 million + (2011) [bus] Across river (and south of!) Detroit,USA

9.  Victoria British Columbia GMA; 335,000 - 25.3 million (2011-12) [bus]
10. Oshawa Ontario (2008)GMA 330,594 - 8.5 million [bus]  city at edge of greater Toronto area 
11. Canberra Australian Capital Territory  GMA 342,000 - 16.9 million [bus]
12. Halifax Nova Scotia  GMA 372,679 - 22.5  million [bus & ferry]

13  Laval Quebec 376,845 18.7 million largest adjoining city (and de facto suburb) of Montreal
14. Christchurch New Zealand  GMA c390,000 - 17.1 million (2008) - pre-quake

15. St Catharines-Niagara Ontario  GMA 390,317  5.6 million (2008)
16. Wellington New Zealand GMA 415,000 - 35.1 million   (2010/11 FY)

      [commuter rail 11 million; cable car 1 million,  bus 23 million,  ferry 500,00]
17. Brampton (Peel Region) Ontario 433,806  16.3 million (2011)  contingent city to Toronto 
18. Kitchener (Waterloo) Ontario  451,225 - "nearly 20 million  (2010/11 FY) 
      three interlinked cities Waterloo, Kitchener and Cambridge in southern Ontario
19. London Ontario  457,456 - 22.8 million
20. Newcastle New South Wales  493,466 (Lower Hunter Valley) 12.42 million (08-09 financial year) also 2.7 million on commuter rail services, mainly to Sydney or Newcastle from same area 

21. Gold Coast Queensland  554,000 - 17 million (2008)

For total patronage (unlinked passenger trips per year); for passenger trips per capita; for percentage of people using public transport to travel to work; and for farebox recovery (amount of total costs met by fares) Wellington, New Zealand appears to a world leader amongst low density small city public transport systems. Most of that is linked to history and geographic footprint, some of it kudos for Wellington. 

But given 17% of peak hour commuting  is by public transport - ahead of Melbourne and many, many other far larger cities, Wellington punching far above its weight - isn't it time the public transport  dollar got out to the rest of the country??

ADDITION - SEPTEMBER -checkout Kiwiblog for a lively debate on Wellington light rail, a few good laughs in there too.

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