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Two forces will shape Wellington’s transport future: whether we use our scarce resources efficiently or inefficiently; and whether people have high choice or low choice in how they meet their mobility needs. The status quo, inefficient resource use and low choice, is not sustainable. Under the current paradigm, more people means more cars. FIT Wellington envisages a future of efficient resource use and high choice, in which Wellington becomes a city of well connected communities. Shaping urban form illustrates four possible futures.

 Low choiceHigh choice
InefficientPresent policy: a city designed around the needs of cars, increasing congestion and unreliable journey timesPresent planning: more roads and better public transport, but cars remain the preferred option for many trips
EfficientShared, self-driving cars rule the road: roads are busier and more free-flowing, but difficult to cross, reduced public transportA city of well connected communities: walking, cycling and public transport take priority, becoming the best options for most trips

The root cause of Wellington city’s congestion problem is the inefficient use of a constrained resource—road space. One lane of cars can move about 1200 people per hour. A dedicated bus lane can move up to 8000 people per hour, dropping to 3000 people per hour in mixed traffic. Our current reliance on cars inevitably results in peak hour congestion, leading to increased and unpredictable travel times. Yet many people have little choice but to travel by car, as they live too far away to walk and are poorly-served by public transport. We have become a city of captive drivers.

In the morning peak, about 82,000 people travel to or through Wellington’s CBD, of which some 42,000 come from outside the city. In the next 25 years, over 75% of the region’s projected population growth will be within Wellington city. The only ways to add more road space are to take space away from other uses (demolishing buildings or paving over green spaces like the town belt) or by tunnelling.


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An efficient resource use, high choice future will have a high frequency, high speed, congestion-free public transport network anchored by light-rail, initially between Wellington Railway Station, Newtown, and the Airport. Future light rail stages could include a Miramar extension, a Karori to CBD line and a Queensgate, Petone, ferry terminal and railway station line.

Connecting urban electric buses and suburban trains, along with shared electric bikes and self-driving cars, will give people a wide range of mobility choices. Two lanes of road space currently allocated to cars will be reallocated for light rail: one dedicated light rail lane can move about 12,000 people per hour, ten times as many as cars and about twice as many as buses.

The growing number of people living in Wellington’s CBD are choosing to be close to where they work, study and play. Transit-oriented housing development around light rail stops will open up this choice to more people. Moving to more space-efficient forms of transport means that the existing road network can absorb the 25% city population growth over the next 25 years, and reduce the number of cars in the central city. Making space for public transport and safe cycle lanes is much easier than for cars.


Light Rail
A rapid transit system, segregated from general traffic as much as possible, frequent and fast, with wide spacing between stops.
A local system, mainly running with general traffic, slower, with closely-spaced stops. Wellington’s original tram system was a streetcar system.
A generic term for a light rail vehicle or a streetcar vehicle.

FIT is proposing a light rail system for Wellington, not a streetcar system.

There are two further variations for Wellington’s transport future: an inefficient resource use, high choice future; and an efficient resource use, low choice future. The PTSS proposed essentially the inefficient resource use, high choice future. It assumed Wellington will continue to build more roads to accommodate more cars and recommended incremental improvements to make public transport more attractive, including higher capacity buses with priority over other traffic, among other measures.

This leaves the efficient resource use, low choice future. Some people predict that a future of self-driving, shared electric cars will eliminate the need for public transport. A lane of self-driving cars could move about 3500 people per hour (more with ride-sharing). In this future, nobody owns a car; we rent mobility as a service. When a person needs transport, she will use an app on her phone to call a car. Inter-vehicle communication will let cars travel in convoy, doubling or tripling the capacity of existing roads. This will not reduce congestion.

A feature of the latter two scenarios is that both offer a one-seat journey. The Spine Study severely penalised light rail for requiring some passengers to connect with other services to complete their journeys. The conventional wisdom is that people in Wellington don’t like making connections (transfers). Our public transport planners go to great lengths to avoid them. The trouble is, eliminating connections is expensive: you need more routes and more overlapping services, so for a given budget, fewer connections mean lower frequency service. Instead of service every 15 minutes, we get service once an hour.

Counter-intuitively, well-designed interchanges, with coordinated timetables offering connections between multiple services, reduce travel times by letting us operate more frequent services for the same cost. More frequent services make public transport more attractive, attracting more ridership and thereby increasing revenue. “Requiring a transfer” is a problem. “Offering connections” is an opportunity. Worse, our current fare structures penalise connections, by making passengers pay twice. In an efficient resource use, high choice future, people buy travel time on a joined-up service, not distance on a fragmented service.

Scenarios are not predictions; they are a way to explore possibilities and understand which interventions will be robust under a range of plausible futures. They help us identify and avoid futures we don’t want. LGWM is about to offer scenarios to Wellingtonians to solve our transport woes. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Wellingtonians to korero about the kind of city we want. According to LGWM surveys, people in Wellington want better public transport, fewer roads and cars, a more pedestrian-friendly city, and protection of the natural environment.

Wellingtonians have asked for a city designed around the needs of people, not cars. Get it wrong and we are stuck—motorways last for about a century (four generations). Which scenario best meets our requirements? To secure a future in which light rail remains an option, we need to identify and protect the optimum light rail route.

Page last modified 10 March 2017 at 01:46 PM