Add a Rapid Transit option based on Light Rail
The LGWM Scenarios A to D make no provision for a “rapid transit” option — where “rapid” means public transport fast enough to compete with private car travel. Designating the Golden Mile (Lambton Quay, Willis St, Manners St, Courtenay Place) as the “mass transit” corridor, an area crowded with pedestrians and with many narrow sections, excludes the possibility of rapid transit through the central city. Perhaps LGWM expects a future light rail line will run underground through the CBD — a very expensive option.
The scenarios do not include any measures designed to grow public transport’s mode share, by offering people an attractive and inviting alternative to the private car. Fair Intelligent Transport (FIT) Wellington proposes that LGWM properly assess the case for investing in rapid transit based on light rail now, rather than bus “mass transit” now, upgrading to light rail at some unspecified future date.
LGWM presents no credible proposal for how a future upgrade from bus “mass transit” to light rail rapid transit would be carried out. Evidence from overseas cities strongly suggests that such an upgrade will be difficult and expensive at best, impossible at worst. FIT proposes that in the long run it will be cheaper and less disruptive to build light rail now. FIT estimates that current patronage on Lambton Quay is already close to justifying light rail, assuming buses would carry 25% of all passengers.
This means taking a more strategic approach to public transport than LGWM’s narrow focus on capacity, to include targets for mode share and travel time savings. The primary aim for light rail is to maximize demand by mode shift from private cars. To achieve this: choose a string-of-pearls route, serving locations with high demand all day; foster transit-oriented development along the route; and make the service predictable, frequent and well-connected, with competitive travel times. See Light Rail on a String of Pearls.
Light rail on a waterfront route to Taranaki St offers fast service for through trips, while reducing the number of buses on the Golden Mile to about ¼ of current numbers. Bus trips through the CBD will be faster because the route is no longer overloaded. Suburban bus trips will be faster because CBD delays no longer disrupt the timetables. Connections at hubs will be faster and more reliable because local buses face fewer delays and pulsed timetables become practical.
LGWM also needs to consider measures for managing travel demand. This could include a congestion charge for car trips entering the central city during peak times, to reduce traffic on city streets and make it easier to get around. In addition, review parking strategies around pricing and options for progressively reducing the number of on-street car parks in the CBD.
FIT proposes Scenario A+ as an alternative to the LGWM Scenarios A to D. Scenario A+ is Scenario A plus light rail rapid transit and congestion charging. Completing Scenario A+, FIT endorses calls for multiple safe places for people walking and cycling to cross SH1 between Willis St and the airport.
FIT supports the proposal in Scenario C to move eastbound SH1 from Vivian St to a tunnel on the Inner City Bypass route, provided that this is in addition to Scenario A+. This would facilitate grade-separation between SH1 and FIT’s suggestion for light rail on Taranaki St. The string-of-pearls route proposes a rail tunnel under Mt Albert between the Zoo and Kilbirnie; with Scenario A+ a second Mt Victoria road tunnel for “mass transit” in Scenario B is not needed.
Implementing Scenario A+ will offer many more people the option of congestion-free travel and grow public transport’s mode share. It will make public transport more effective for more trips, including those by bus. Scenarios A to D will not do this. Light rail is a mature, proven, low-risk solution available from a range of suppliers, thus giving maximally competitive procurement. LGWM may wish to consider joint procurement with Auckland, depending on project timing.
FIT proposes that LGWM investigate options for changing current transport funding models so that urban rapid transit projects are funded on the same basis as state highways. Move to a polluter-pays model for solutions that relieve congestion: invest revenue from road congestion charges in public transport. Value uplift capture from transit-oriented development is another potential funding stream.