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The 5 most common myths

  1. What if we have an earthquake? Can LRT get back up and running quickly?
    • There is no reason why light rail should be any more vulnerable than a road to earthquake. Yes, both would suffer if a fault movement crossed the road or rail line. But the main Ohariu – Wellington fault runs along the line of Thorndon – Kaiwharawhara – Hutt Motorway. So that is a well recognised vulnerability of the motorway and heavy rail into and out of Wellington. But of course light rail is proposed from the Railway Station to the Eastern Suburbs and Airport, which does not cross that main fault-line. Yes, there may be movements on other faults, but that is a fairly low risk and that would require the same reconstruction effort for road and light rail if the fault movement crossed the carriage way. No doubt the light rail operator would want to check the integrity of the tracks and support infrastructure after an earthquake, as the heavy rail operators do now.
    • A contingency plan would be put in place to get LRT back up and running as soon as possible — likely to be a matter of months not years. In the meantime additional buses can be brought in within a few days to replace LRT for a short period, so there would be no advantage in opting for a bus based system in the long term over an LRT system. The heritage tram tracks in Christchurch, built more or less to light rail standards, were undamaged in the recent earthquakes. Light rail might recover from an earthquake more quickly than buses, although another risk would be power supplies. A contingency plan for buses and light rail would be a necessary part of recovery. Light rail is likely to be running before all bus routes are fully restored, leaving spare buses available for light rail replacement services. In the event of a very major earthquake, the roads may be as impassable as the LRT alignment and Wellington may be cut off from the rest of NZ for days or weeks; survival rather than commuting will be uppermost in people’s minds.
  2. Our streets are too narrow — there is no room for trams and cars.
    • LRT will only run on a few streets, where width is available and much greater capacity is needed. We are not proposing to replace the entire bus network with trams — merely to supplement the buses with an additional high capacity cross-city corridor. Light rail will never run up to the summit of Mt Victoria. In France, light rail runs on streets as little as 9.1 metres wide, wall to wall.
    • The narrowest section of the proposed route is Mansfield Street, leading to the Zoo, 15.1 m wide: the proposed solution is to make it one-way for southbound motor vehicles, using Daniel Street as the return route. More difficult is the wider section of Riddiford Street between Emmett and Normanby Streets, 20.1 m wide. Seperate tracks for light rail will be practical with narrowed footpaths, narrow trams and taking out one parking lane. The trams will be 2.4 m wide (the narrower of the two most usual widths), and the footpaths 2.5m. In practice this is wider than some of the existing gaps between shopfront and verandah support poles. A possible configuration is: 2 × 2.5m footpaths, 2 × 3.25m traffic lanes, 1 × 2.5m parking lane, plus 6.1m for 2 centre-running segregated light rail tracks. Safety clearances will be as given in the UK standard: there is at present no NZ Standard.
  3. We don’t have enough population — Wellington is too small.
    • Wellington city has a population just over 200,000, predicted to grow 25% over the next 25 years. Tampere in Finland is about to let a contract for its first tram line with a population of just over 200,000. Ulm in Germany has just let the contract for its second tram line with a population of 120,000. There are many cities in France with light rail systems for similar or even lower populations — Angers, Aubagne, Avignon, Besançon, Brest, Caen, Dijon, Le Havre, Le Mans, Limoges, Mulhouse, Nancy, Reims and Rennes.
  4. Wellington is too hilly for light rail.
    • LRT can climb hills, such as those found in Zurich’s extensive light rail network. But the most probable LRT spine route could quite possibly be pretty well flat except perhaps for Tasman Street if that route is chosen and maybe climbing up to pass over the platforms at Wellington railway station to provide a closer interchange than Lambton Quay. Wellington’s old trams went up Glenmore Street, Chaytor Street, Lennel Road and Brooklyn Road, all built for trams, and modern light rail is equally capable. The chosen gradient was more about trams going downhill safely than about going up, but modern electromagnetic brakes come on if the power fails (there is a battery) and eliminate the risk of a runaway.
  5. Light rail is too expensive and just unaffordable.
    • This is potentially a major issue as there have been a number of LRT project cost overruns, especially in those running in city streets like Wellington. Grade-separated systems, while more expensive to build, are generally delivered on time and to budget, as there are fewer project unknowns. However, New Zealand and Wellington can afford anything it wants in the field of transport — look at the $3bn+ being spent on Transmission Gulley and $1bn+ on the Ngauranga to Airport road corridor. The relevant cost comparison is between LRT and urban road projects. The prime minister and finance minister have repeatedly stated that finding money for infrastructure projects is not a problem.
    • We know that the systems which cost the least to build and came in on budget all explicitly adopted a “no-frills” construction approach:
      • lay tracks in existing roads, avoiding costly tunnels and flyovers
      • combine track-laying with other works, so only dig up roads once
      • put stops every 800 metres on average, closer in the centre, further apart in suburbs
      • build simple station platforms to a standard design
      • use public roads and rights-of-way, avoiding private land purchase
      • buy uncustomised, off-the-shelf vehicles
      • move parking off-street to free up lane space

Heard on the radio

  1. We got rid of the trams because they were too slow. What is the difference between trams and LRT?
    • LRT is the modern version of the traditional tram. In most parts of the world trams have been continuously developed into modern transport systems. In some countries, such as New Zealand, trams were not developed and eventually were discontinued — so now need to be introduced in a different and modern form.
  2. The problem with trams is that they are inflexible.
    • The strength of LRT is the lack of flexibility — it says to passengers this is a permanent route that you can rely on to base living and working decisions on. It also says to car drivers — do not park on the rails — and to road engineers — give this route priority. And it gives investors and businesses long term certainty. In short inflexibility works.
  3. If LRT costs hundreds of millions then you have a problem — when there are other things like the runway and convention centre to pay for.
    • There is no point bringing international visitors to the airport and convention centre without an efficient way of connecting them. What LRT does is provide the city with a suitable international image to complement other needed investments to grow the economy. LRT is an essential part of the package.
  4. Is there public support for LRT?
    • Support is growing but more needs to be done to explain how LRT will work and what the benefits will be. People know that what they have is not satisfactory — they donít like smelly and noisy diesel buses clogging up key shopping streets. As public support grows political support will follow.
  5. You want to use roading money but do we need more roads I think we do.
    • Roads are necessary but they do not help in the very centre of the urban area — look at Auckland. We canít knock down large portions of the city centre to put more and more big roads in — this simply makes the problem worse — we need to be smarter than that.

Heard at the public meeting

  1. There is a long-standing roads lobby bias against PT and in particular rail based systems as they require considerable capital expenditure and ongoing public subsidy.
    • Roads are also heavily subsidised and generate much greater negative externalities in central urban areas than PT systems. Roads alone cannot serve the needs of a city. Without rail the CBD would be greatly weakened and decentralisation would have to occur.
  2. Buses are better value.
    • Buses are cheaper it is true but they cannot fully replace the need for a rail based system. Buses perform essential tasks but they do not attract the same patronage as LRT. It is not a case of either / or but rather, what combination of PT modes is needed.
  3. The PT spine study showed that BRT is far better value than LRT.
    • The PT spine study was a biased and incompetent waste of public money. The basis of the study was flawed and the method and findings needs to be independently reviewed. A much better assessment needs to be undertaken.
  4. There is a roads bias in the transport funding allocation process — stemming from the reasoning, if money comes from motorists, it should go back to motorists in the form of road building.
    • This fails to acknowledge the environmental damage from roads and traffic. Cities need to be liveable for people — and this needs to be established through authoritative urban design and interview surveys of pedestrian activity in the central city. Why are people there and where are they coming and going to? The road builders do not know and are not interested.
    • This also fails to acknowledge the fact that PT may be the best way to help motorists by giving them a choice.
    • PT is not really about reducing congestion — although there may be some marginal effects these are likely to be temporary and be overcome by induced traffic effects and general traffic growth in a short period. If you want to reduce congestion the best way is to restrict parking and road space for private motorised traffic.
  5. LRT is for the long term — Wellington is not dense enough for LRT.
    • Experience elsewhere shows this is a red herring. Rail based systems are often introduced in what look to be unsuitable situations but development occurs around rail nodes and density increases along rail corridors over time. If Wellington is dense enough for heavy rail — why would it not be dense enough for light rail?

Seen in newspapers and statements by politicians

  1. Light rail is an overblown, expensive and unnecessary solution using yesterday’s technology — which will be a drain on our resources.
    • Modern light rail is a more efficient, smarter, better value, futuristic computer-based high-technology system — which will generate and support economic growth. It is more in keeping with the city’s aspiration to be a place where talent wants to live.
  2. There are no spending buckets available from Government.
    • Governments and buckets change. Did this stop Len Brown? Another weak excuse.
  3. NZTA wonít come to the party.
    • Yes they will if the lobby is strong enough — they are just an agency trying to survive. They will bend to a mixture of reasoned arguments, evidence, public opinion and political will. They have just appointed a new CEO with a PT background.
  4. BRT is the answer.
    • It has been acknowledged that the BRT system proposed is so low grade it is not Gold, Silver or Bronze and does not even qualify as “BRT light”. The system will make a very small marginal difference to operating conditions in the centre. It is cheap but ineffective. Even when more comprehensive BRT is implemented it does not achieve the ride quality that a rail based system delivers. As a result, many people are not prepared to get on a bus but they will get on LRT.
    • BRT is a very poor substitute and rarely produces anything like the benefits of LRT. Whenever it gets difficult the traffic engineers give up and send the bus into the general traffic lanes — if it’s a tram it has to be engineered from end to end. Don’t waste time and money developing solutions that won’t produce the benefits.
  5. Double decker buses are the answer.
    • The downfall of double deckers is the super slow boarding/unboarding times at busy stops. They have capacity but will clog up the shopping streets even more than the current bus fleet does. The upper deck is unpopular with many passengers and does not meet accessibility criteria.
  6. Buses are more flexible.
    • The flexibility of buses is their downfall. They can always be diverted or rerouted so there is no certainty in the minds of the public about where they operate. Car drivers and delivery vehicles can park in priority lanes in the knowledge that the bus can always drive round them. At signals buses usually have to blend in with other road traffic to get through intersections — they are rarely awarded special priority and are treated as just another road vehicle.
  7. Electric vehicles are coming soon and will eliminate the need for diesel buses.
    • They may do, but the time frame is uncertain. The time horizon to achieve full replacement could be much longer than expected and it may be at a high cost. In the meantime a massive step backwards will be taken. Wellington already has an excellent electric bus network; don’t follow the British and throw it all away, it will be regretted later.
  8. The new diesel buses will be better.
    • They may be — but this will be marginal improvement and not the step change the city needs to improve air quality.
  9. More people on PT is the aim.
    • There is no room on existing PT services in the peak periods — especially in respect of overcrowding on rail — which accommodates most long distance commuting by PT. There is no prospect of improving this situation unless additional rail investment is made. If you seriously want to get more people on PT, it will be much easier with tram/LRT than with any bus based system. Look at any city with a new tram system and look at the patronage trends. Then look at the trends in cities that rely on buses.
  10. We want to get people out of their cars.
    • Then for longer distance trips — you need additional rail based capacity — with feeder services and major park and ride investments. A PT system based on double decker buses will not achieve substantial mode transfer.
  11. LRT is not in the current 10 year transport plan.
    • Adjust the plan so LRT is included.
  12. There is a big demand for Transmission Gulley and the expressway on the coast.
    • There is also a big demand for better PT throughout the region and in Wellington city in particular.
  13. We are doing a lot now.
    • There is much more that could be done
  14. We compare well in PT patronage.
    • It depends who you compare yourself to — there is no point in looking at other New Zealand towns — they have all made the same mistakes.
  15. We will do better in the future.
    • I canít see this happening — the main plan is to build more roads and continue with the PT system as it is. This will simply lock us in to a future very similar to the present.
  16. We need road pricing.
    • This would be helpful but you canít wait until it arrived before planning better PT — this has to be introduced first. Best to assume road pricing never arrives as it is so contentious it has been difficult to introduce almost everywhere.
  17. Some say we are anti car some say we are too pro — that means we have got it about right.
    • Wellington is clearly based on car priority. Cars are allowed in almost every street including Lambton Quay and Willis Street when there is no reason for them to be there. Central city speeds are high, car parking is plentiful and PT priority is ineffective. On what basis could Councils be said to be anti-car?
  18. LRT and BRT can co-exist.
    • It is true that BRT could grow into LRT in some circumstances but this could also be used to put off the evil day forever — if LRT is the answer then the time to act on it is now not in 10 or 20 years.
  19. The cross city bus routes have been decided — so LRT would need to build on these.
    • Reconsideration of the suitability of these cross city routes for LRT is needed. You can’t simply replace a bus route with LRT.

Technology will save the world

We don’t need light rail because self-driving electric cars will do away with public transport. Light rail will become an expensive white elephant. This is because self-driving cars will roughly double the capacity of the existing road network at no cost. By communicating with one another, self-driving cars will travel closer together, allowing more cars to travel on existing roads. People will just summon a self-driving car when they need one, using an app on their phone.

Vehicles travelling closer and more evenly together won’t radically affect urban road capacity. Even if there were 100% self-driving vehicles on the network, traffic lights and pedestrians tend to be the limiting factors in central areas. The proportion of congestion on links that is caused by vehicle headway irregularity is only 30% — even if it could all be ‘removed’ as a problem, the capacity increase would not be as great as people are predicting.

Cars (whether self-driving or not) are good at enabling travel to a diversity of destinations from a diversity of origins — hence they are the friends of urban sprawl. Cars are not good however when a lot of people want to end at the same end destination or to start from the same origin — e.g. the city centre. This is why larger capacity vehicles are needed — and electric self-driving large buses that run on public roads in urban areas are science fiction. People have been saying self-driving buses are 5 years away since the 1960s. And even if they worked they would still be stuck in a traffic jam of self-driving and possibly human-driven cars — you need fixed-link segregated public transport, i.e. either full guided bus, light rail or heavy rail to carry the required numbers in an efficient transport system.

What is the timescale for getting 100% take-up of automated vehicles? Not just the odd vehicle coming in — there would be no impact on capacity or congestion at all until the 20% mark is reached. The last first world country to get self-driving cars will be New Zealand, as we depend on other countries’ cast-offs to stock our very old vehicle fleet. So if Japan is 5–10 years off playing around with the first deployment of commercial self-driving cars, New Zealand will be 20–30 years off — plenty of time to get a light rail system in.

In fact, segregated light rail would work very nicely with self-driving cars, as they provide complementary services. We need multiple transport modes to meet our transport needs. Anyone who thinks one mode is the solution doesn’t understand transport problems.

Page last modified 15 October 2017 at 02:23 PM