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FIT Wellington: Public Transport Spine Issues

These are the issues arising from the Public Transport Spine Workshop, held on 16 July 2016, 1–4pm, at Wharewaka, on the Wellington Waterfront. Thanks to Te Wharewaka o Pōneke for the use of the fabulous room.

Context for Workshop

The workshop was organised by Paula Warren (Trams-Action and Living Streets), John Rankin (Fair Intelligent Transport for Wellington) and Cr Daran Ponter (Greater Wellington Regional Council). The Workshop arose from conversations across Wellington transport and community organisations about how to better prioritise public transport.


Sixty-one people took part in the Spine Workshop, representing a broad cross section of sustainable cities, public transport, and community groups. Observers were present from The Get Welly Moving Programme and Greater Wellington Regional Council.


The workshop provided some pre-prepared questions and proposals, and allowed participants to express their views on as many of those as they wished. The workshop was designed to encourage one-on-one and small group conversations, rather than using a plenary or fixed group approach. This provided a high degree of dynamic interaction between individuals. The comments provided in response to the questions reflected the range of views and the range of conversations.

Overall strategy

Invest in high quality public transport, walking and cycling

All participants indicated that a motorway/private car focus would not be an effective strategy for Wellington. A range of reasons for that were provided, particularly lack of space for roads and parking; effects on urban form; and the fact that roads do not solve congestion.

A strategy that used high capacity public transport, particularly light rail, plus support for walking and cycling, was favoured.

Urban form

Urban design first. Public transport designed around urban form

Bring more people to Wellington without adding more cars to clog up the city

There was strong support for the principle of “designing the PT spine around the needs of people not cars”. There were interesting debates between participants about what the Golden Mile would look like. A fairly common vision for Lambton Quay was to remove cars, and allow public transport and pedestrians, with the ends of the side streets closed off and providing the loading zones and disabled parking. 

Some argued for allowing freight vehicles in outside business hours. But others considered that rather than excluding cars the WCC hierarchy should be applied, with cars allowed if there is room for them.  No participants saw a need to remove public transport in order to better provide for walking or cycling. A common view was that this type of city would be better economically, as well as in terms of liveability. Relying on PT would allow more people to be brought into the city without clogging it up with cars, and allow the street spaces to be made attractive and useable for things like cafe tables.  Agglomeration1 benefits were cited, as was the need to provide affordable, dense housing along the growth spine. 

A general view was that much of this vision should be put in place now, and wasn’t dependent on changes to the PT system in the short term.

Rapid Transit

Bus congestion can be reduced by closing side roads on the Golden Mile/bus only lanes from Railway to hospital 24hours/day all door boarding/transferable tickets

Light Rail is the only mode that will deliver capacity and be pedestrian friendly

There was strong support for reducing congestion on the Golden Mile, including bus congestion. There was probably more support for doing that by introducing higher capacity modes (notably LRT) rather than by route changes that reduce the number of routes through the CBD, although that wasn’t fully explored. A split spine was not identified as a solution.

As noted above, there were varying views on the Lambton Quay section, with one person arguing for a separated high speed transit corridor, others for an improved version of the status quo, and most for a PT/pedestrian spine. There was unanimous support for PT having priority over other vehicles and measures being taken to ensure buses/rail were not delayed by lights, congestion, etc.

There was strong support for LRT, but varying views on when it would be affordable to introduce it (e.g. some noted that passenger numbers are already sufficient), and how much of the system should be converted (e.g. some argued for it to also be used in the Hutt and Porirua). There was unanimous agreement that the ability to move to LRT or another type of rapid transit in future should be preserved in any developments now. There were also comments about the need to retain the potential for “tram-train” (i.e. integrating the LRT and heavy rail networks). In terms of funding LRT, many noted that this was cheaper than motorways.

Key improvements to the PT system

Get fast, frequent, predictable PT with high capacity

Predictable transit times and timetables most important

Predictable transit times were identified as a key need. This was linked to concerns about the effects of the Golden Mile on transit—private vehicle, intersection and bus congestion impacts—and lack of bus priority. The need to be able to trust timetables was a common comment, and buses leaving early were a particular concern. Slow boarding due to inefficient ticketing systems was also identified frequently.

Higher frequency of services was also sought. It was noted that with very high frequency (e.g. 5 minutes), no timetable would be needed. Where that isn’t achieved, accurate RTI was seen as essential (and not yet being provided).

There were varying views on the importance of rapid transit times. Potential negative effects on pedestrians of speeds above 30kph were noted. Comparable times with car travel times seemed to be the key point in that discussion.

Another key point of discussion was fares. Many considered high fares to be a barrier to PT uptake, and that lowering fares (or even removing them altogether) would increase patronage. Congestion charging was a common alternative funding model, that would generate income and reduce car use.

Things to make transfers easier were sought. Integrated ticketing was a common point, including a need for immediate integrated day or month passes.

There were also comments on bus comfort, related to both vehicles and driver behaviour.

Transfers and hubs

Make transfers easier

Timetables synchronised between different PT modes e.g. rail/bus

There were mixed views about the requirement to transfer between services within a journey. Many recognised that as inevitable, and some argued that it could be made a positive part of the journey if hubs were the core of town centres. Ease of transfers were essential, particularly for less mobile passengers—short distances, shelter, good signage, etc. Short waits between services was also seen as essential. 

A number of people commented negatively on the focus on park and ride, rather than facilitating bus/cycle/walking transfers. It was noted that each park and ride space is a high cost, so why not provide free bus services instead (cf Kapiti Plus). 

Network design

Bus priority at traffic lights. Same for Light Rail when it comes

Need good accurate real-time PT arrival and transit time information; efficient transfers; integrated ticketing (why the hell is this so difficult?)

A key focus in comments was on the railway station hub being in the wrong part of the CBD, and the fact that the network did not always reflect the importance of destinations (e.g. Te Papa, some suburbs). A fully integrated network, connected well by pedestrian networks, was also emphasised.

There were comments on a number of the other cities, often noting the need for a PT/pedestrian focus in their CBDs, pedestrian links to PT (e.g. Porirua) and better PT links to their CBDs (e.g. in the case of Hutt City).

Demand management

A number of groups that could be targeted to get them to move to PT were identified – school run traffic, commuters, single occupancy vehicles.

Cost was seen as a factor in people’s choices, and the idea of caps (e.g. cheap family passes, monthly caps), free travel on the spine, etc were often cited as useful measures.

The need to make it easy for households to become car-free was identified, including the need to allow them to easily deal with movement of goods, luggage, etc. 

The need to make it safer for children to walk to school and events, and to use PT, was identified, but so was the need for a culture shift so perceptions of risk and actual risk are more closely related, and driving kids to school becomes seen as strange rather than normal.

Ways to make car driving less pleasant (e.g. by allowing congestion to develop, getting rid of convenient car parking, etc) were seen by some as legitimate demand management strategies.

Associated infrastructure

There were numerous comments about stops and stations. Themes included shelter, toilets, seats, safety, amenity.

Pedestrian and cycling routes to hubs/stations was also noted as important—existence, safety, directness, wayfinding, etc.  It is the entire journey that needs to be considered.


There were comments, particularly in the “what one thing would you change” about the need to replace NZTA with a multi-modal agency, and to change the overall funding system to favour PT ahead of private cars.

Initial Actions

Initial actions identified by the organisers, drawing on the feedback from work shop attendees and recent studies (e.g. the Opus study, bus route consultant report, etc) are:

  1. Close Lambton Quay to cars, and close the ends of the intersecting streets. Reconfigure the islands to make it easy for buses to overtake each other. 
  2. Implement the recommendations of the consultant on the bus routes, including the numbering of routes to improve legibility. This will provide an efficient network that maximises the benefits of the current bus capacity, and may go some way towards reducing bus congestion in the Golden Mile and therefore improving transit reliability.
  3. Ensure the new bus and rail contracts allow for flexibility to move to light rail options.
  4. Get integrated ticketing. If we can’t have the full thing, at least some bulk passes (day pass, monthly pass) that are multi-operator and more transfer tickets (including Kapiti plus style free transfers).
  5. Start a focused programme of sorting out stops and stations (shelter, cleanliness, safety, toilets, amenity, pedestrian connections, etc).
  6. Start a focused programme to significantly improve main hubs (e.g. Kilbirnie, Johnsonville). Start with one as a demonstration of how a hub can become an attractive and core part of a town centre.
  7. Use RTI to identify the key points in the network where buses are delayed and therefore where transit time reliability is lost, and begin to address those.

1 Agglomeration economies are the benefits that come when firms and people locate near one another in cities and industrial clusters (↑)

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