The Eye of the Fish

June 18, 2013

Basin Pavilion and Spine Study

I did have a small post scheduled for tomorrow morning, but the release of both of these today sort of takes precedence! It never rains, but it pours! Seems kind of appropriate, considering the weather we have been having lately.

So: seeing as the Basin Reserve “mitigation” study / blatant bribe to the Reserve Trust has been released, and the Passenger Transport Spine study, and the material for the EPA from NZTA have all been released today (there is no coincidence here, it’s all been carefully planned out), and that’s just al too much for me to post on – I thought I’d just throw it open for you to comment on.

I’ll throw in my 2c worth to start the ball rolling – on the cost of the Spine Study options – and how they have gone up fivefold in under a year. It’s amazing what a report can do when someone is told to kill an option. I don’t for a minute believe that this was a coincidence – there’s nothing in the report that wasnt known a year ago, but Fran or Gerry has got to the “independent” report writers and nobbled them. It is the cost of the apparently previously unthought of dedicated tunnel for a light rail option that has pushed the cost sky high, despite the fact that arguably exactly the same cost would apply to a dedicated bus-way. Obviously the status quo option was always going to be cheapest. But isn’t it amazing how our cash-strapped forebears could build and install a tram system throughout Wellington without the need for a $940 million cost tag for something far, far smaller?

Erentz has noted on the Scoop site that he thinks this was always going to be a waste of time, but I think that it has been worthwhile. Even if the results are deeply suspicious – ok I’ll say it – blatantly pre-judged because of government bias, then at least we have done it, can read it, digest it, and then just get on with it. Wellington needs a good high speed, high quality public transport system, and needs I now, to grow. Let’s face it – we will never have Light Rail, despite it being a better system, and more popular amongst users, but let’s move on and get a Bus way working.

Over to you – your views welcome….

18 - 06 - 13

Oh. My. F#cking. God. So much ridiculously bad news in one day. The good news is I have a solution. It involves petrol and the GW building.

I’m trying to catch up on the PTSS. But what I’ve read so far is: it’s a flawed load of bullshit.

People should get pissed off when consulting companies come in, take millions of our dollars, and produce worthless outputs. It’s time to move back to doing this stuff in house. Fire these MBA-school CEOs. Hire more decent planners. And burn the politicians.

19 - 06 - 13

Same old story isn’t it, it costs too much so lets do something cheap and nasty that we’ll regret later on. While somehow $800 million on road spending from Ngauranga to the Airport is worth every penny? You’d think that motorway expansion was tried and trusted the world over. Just off the top of my head, I can’t think of any major city I’ve been too with a motorway going into the city centre that hasn’t had traffic carnage..

Light rail feels a good fit for Wellington with our pokey streets and undulations, not a massive scar right across it – thats more Wellywood.

Peter Henderson
19 - 06 - 13

Looks like spitting the coffee over the keyboard while reading the BS stuff on Stuff was par for the course. How come the bus options don’t have to pay for a tunnel? How come the earlier tram regime didn’t need an extra tunnel? When trams can last for 50+ years, how come they are so much more expensive than buses that last for maybe 10 to 15? If a tunnel is essential for light rail, why is shared use precluded? Why stop short of Miramar which was configured for trams (may still even have the old tracks underground) and not include the airport like in most civilized cities? If thousands of taxi trips could be avoided each week, how would the cost savings stack up for light rail? Is AECOM a subsidiary of Go Wellington/Infratil?

So many questions!!!

19 - 06 - 13

There really is something dodgy here. “The study found that, in order to attract enough passengers to make light rail viable, it would have to run between the CBD and Kilbirnie, rather than stopping at Newtown, as was the original intention. Getting to Kilbirnie required a $300m tunnel to be carved through Mt Victoria.”

But the dedicated busway, which by its very name alone patently requires a dedicated bus lane, is to share the new Mt Vic car tunnel, which means one of two things – either it has a dedicated lane, and so is fast, and the cars stay in one lane, and thus the cars go No faster than before. But that’s dumb, so then the only other option is for the bus lane to be shared with cars, and so it will be even slower than present, where at least it has a bus tunnel.

19 - 06 - 13

Not a fair comparison. We need a report which compares light rail vs buses not light rail+tunnel vs buses.

Where is the Mayor standing up for her vision? The Dom Post reckons she has already capitulated

Looks like Welliington is going to end up with a flyover, noisy buses along the golden mile and John Morrison as Mayor. Shudder.

19 - 06 - 13

I am really disappointed in Celia. This obviously spells the end of her mayoralty, so why wouldn’t she go out guns blazing? Weak Celia, seriously weak. The pro-PT councillors needed to build up and use all of their political capital to get LRT through and they have failed to do that. They needed to be all over this study to ensure it was scoped right and was consistent. But they failed to do that too.

There needs to be some serious review of this study – I wish I had the time but I am smack in the middle of moving countries again. Pretty saddened by what this will mean for Wellington which has stagnated over the last decade. I suspect what it means is nothing happens for public transport, but all wasteful road projects are green lighted. Because to be frank the proposed BRT option doesn’t fit into any sensible PT network plan and people will realise that. But good news NZTA can now say their 6-lane highway is the best option for PT! Oh and the reports conveniently come out at the same time? Oh yeah like there’s been no influence on that.

The dom post is reporting that the new tunnel now apparently includes a “shared” slow vehicle, bike, and pedestrian lane. Instead of what was before in NZTA plans a bike/pedestrian only way. WTF? They must surely be reporting that wrong. Who the hell wants to be a pedestrian in an enclosed tube with cars crawling along behind you trying to push you out of the way.

When I return I wonder if it will have to be to Auckland. They have jobs. And a council producing good plans and a rapidly improving public transport system.

19 - 06 - 13

Why did the spine study not go all the way to the airport instead of stopping at Kilbirnie. Surely this would be the only way to make a light rail system economical? Greater Wellington must have known this when they did the figures.

And a light rail not increasing public transport patronage sounds rahter strange.

Kent Duston
19 - 06 - 13

In Celia’s defence, the first step towards getting light rail into the city was always going to be about creating a dedicated corridor. If there are electric buses running on it in the meantime, then that’s hardly a bad outcome – and it does allow a more rational discussion about whether the buses should be changed over to light rail at some point in the future, when there’s neither Greater Wellington nor the NZ Transport Agency poisoning the well by gold-plating the light rail solution.

Remember, the study had to be a joint venture between the three agencies – WCC, GW, NZTA – so it was always going to be an uphill battle to get from where we are today to light rail in one step, particularly when both Fran Wilde and NZTA have a long and illustrious heritage of ignoring their constituents. But if there’s a dedicated PT corridor running through the city, then light rail looks a lot more viable.

So in my view Celia may not have won this particular battle, but she’s made pretty good progress towards winning the war.

Peter Henderson
19 - 06 - 13

Kent: At over $1m each, a trolley bus is probably not far from the price of a light rail unit, which has much greater carrying capacity. That, along with rewiring etc. for a subsequent conversion makes anything other than more diesels highly unlikely. Also, does anyone really believe for half a moment that a dedicated corridor will be established? Only the demise of GWRC, Intratil losing the golden goose bus contract, and a Mayor who won’t make compromises to secure another term in office will see Wellington PT planning geared toward future needs. That aside, isn’t AECOM, the brains trust outfit that gave us the dubious Real Time Passenger Information System.

Kent Duston
19 - 06 - 13

Peter – There you go, using that whole logic thing again! We know that particular super-power doesn’t work on transport engineers!

In the words of the inimitable Brent Efford, “It is also obvious that the study team has no first-hand knowledge of light rail, and has fallen for the road lobby’s spin that there is no difference in passenger attraction and productivity between bus and rail. There is no reference to urban design or development considerations, such as the City Council’s Growth Spine strategy which is a perfect fit with a light rail route from Johnsonville to Kilbirnie. There is also zero consideration of the interchange with heavy rail at Wellington Railway Station – even though it adds 10 minutes to the average PT trip down the broken spine connecting 75% of the region’s c 500,000 people with their CBD (and hospital, and airport). Overcoming time penalties like that is justification for $billions of road spending but not worth it for PT users, it seems.”

The study has more holes than a Swiss cheese, yet that’s what you get when GW and NZTA stick their political oars into the process. But what the study does do is provide the rationale for a dedicated PT corridor south of the railway station, and that alone has justified the time and effort it’s taken, in my view. Now – as you say – we just need to get rid of the dinosaurs and put light rail in place of the buses on that new corridor.

19 - 06 - 13

I had a quick read of the report. It seems that routing light rail around a compact city center was going to be an issue. Long straight wide roads are no problem. But squeezing it around the old BNZ and through the Willis and Manners corner was going to be an issue. I’m not willing to lose inner city buildings, lose footpath, and have giant intersections that allow trams to turn just so we can replace buses with light rail.

However the killer seems to be the transfer problem. At the moment most people can take a single bus in to the CBD. Transferring from suburban feeder buses to light rail negates any light rail speed advantage and pisses people off as they wait around in the cold.

There also must be an issue with trolleybuses since we can’t have trams and trolleys sharing the same overhead wires. I think the wires are really ugly. They sort of foul up our view of the sky and buildings in the CBD. I’d like to see them gone one day, replaced by buses that use batteries or fuel cells or something. I don’t want to see new wires for trams… Yuk!

It’s my job to derail and divert comment threads here, so here are a couple of unrelated things…

This ( is on over the weekend and I think it could be cool on a cold winter evening. I have no connection with them, but thought I’d mention it since I hadn’t seen any advertising.

Also, can anyone tell me what the story is with the single story stand-alone brick building in Tennyson St? It’s really derelict, it seems to be on a great site, but it’s just sitting their waiting to fall over in a medium-sized earthquake.

19 - 06 - 13

Yes, I’m more than a little confused over reading the details in the Technical Study, which shows that according to their calcs, Light Rail will be attracting less users than Bus Way. Which is pretty much the opposite from all the studies I’ve read, where it is shown how many more people are prepared to take Rapid Public Transit if it is Tram or Light Rail, than if it is Bus. I don’t have the figures on me, but the numbers are significant.

So, my question is: why are those numbers so low? Why is Rail projected to draw less passengers than Bus? One answer could be that the mode change needed to go from bus to LR is losing passengers in their model, who when their suburban bus meets the interchange, simply get off and walk (this would be expected at Wellington Central, as happens now). With a BRT, of course, at least some buses lines could run right through. Is this the reason? Would someone from NZTA or Aecom like to chip in?

19 - 06 - 13

Davidp, yes, similar thoughts to mine – and hanks for the link to Lux.
Re the building in Tennyson St – did you mean the one (7th pic down) in this post from way back?
I think a spokesperson from the Church said that they were fighting with the Council.
Presumably: still.

19 - 06 - 13

Max>One answer could be that the mode change needed to go from bus to LR is losing passengers in their model, who when their suburban bus meets the interchange, simply get off and walk (this would be expected at Wellington Central, as happens now)

That was my reading of the situation. Wellington’s compact CBD means that a hub and spoke system (like we have currently) is attractive and efficient. Any system that forces transfers is going to be unpopular.

I wonder if, in the long term, there would be benefits from extending the current heavy rail system from the current station in to the city. There is a cluster of employment down the station end of town just because it is easy for Hutt Valley and Porirua commuters to get to. What if we tunneled the system a couple of kilometers and had stops at, say, the corner of Willis and Lambton Quay and in C Place? Does that make the whole CBD more attractive for office type employment rather than just Cuba St-type retail and fun?

19 - 06 - 13

Max>did you mean the one (7th pic down) in this post from way back

That’s the one. Which church? The Elim church in the same street? And what are they fighting about – knocking it down or doing it up?

Talking about demolition… The Christchurch Town Hall news from a few days ago had the architect saying “How could we not save it? If Wellington had an earthquake do you think they would just knock down the Michael Fowler Centre? No. We can’t do that here.” I disagree. I’d be quite happy for someone to knock down MFC if it were knackered in an earthquake and it was going to cost me a few thousand bucks worth of extra rates to mix it up. I don’t dislike it. But I don’t get all weepy eyed thinking about it either.

19 - 06 - 13

Some thoughts…

– A dedicated busway is probably going to mean bus priority at certain points of the network
– If PT transfers/mode changes lose passengers, why the heck did we have consultation about introducing that exact model for Wgtn’s bus network last year (and what exactly happened to that review anyway??)
– At least the flyover blocks the view of the new grandstand for the rest of us

19 - 06 - 13

Couple of quick points for davidp:

Trolley wires and Light Rail wires can coexist, it does in many cities, and obvious one we all know is San Francisco. There are numerous ways to solve any conflicts like this.

The transfer “problem” is a complete and utter fallacy. It doesn’t have to exist for most passengers if the network is designed right, we’ve had that discussion before. And if they think it should for LRT, why does it magically not for BRT when BRT is a dedicated line with dedicated vehicles anyway? That’s not consistent.

19 - 06 - 13

David, the argument over knocking down either Chch Town Hall or MFC is more than just one of looks. It’s also over modern heritage, and acoustics, as well as the quite real question over whether such a building could actually be built again these days. In the same way at the old Town Hall in Welington could not / would not ever be reproduced these days, as we just don’t have the ability to build that way any more, with the timber in the ceilings of Chch and MFC, it’s unlikely that you’re ever going to be able to recreate those nowadays. We don’t have the native timber available any more.

But also, the Chch Hall is completely repairable. Being next to the Avon, it has subsided in one corner about 400mm into the mud, but jacking and micro-piling are common place in the construction world. It can be releveled and be put back into action again. All it requires is political will, of which there is none in Brownlee. He is more a kind of political won’t.

19 - 06 - 13

Guy>All it requires is political will, of which there is none in Brownlee.

Political will, and $127million worth of other people’s money. If jacking and micro-piling are common place then they shouldn’t cost vast amounts of money.

I don’t understand why lack of native timber precludes building a modern concert venue. Why not just substitute pine? It isn’t as if the sound waves are able to determine country of origin. And it isn’t as if other countries aren’t able to built concert venues.

19 - 06 - 13

erentz>And if they think it should for LRT, why does it magically not for BRT when BRT is a dedicated line with dedicated vehicles anyway? That’s not consistent.

I assume the proposal is to have both a high capacity bus service and all the suburban buses using the same route through the CBD. That way you’d increase capacity through the CBD and on a couple of key routes, like to the hospital. But you’d retain the convenience of the current bus service with its lack of need to disembark from a bus, wait a while, then embark on a different bus or tram.

Just as an aside, one think I don’t understand is people obsessed with the airport as a destination for high capacity public transport. I take the 91 bus most times I need to get out there and it is rarely full. If we can service the destination just fine with a single bus route and buses that aren’t super-frequent, then why do we need to increase capacity by an order of magnitude?

20 - 06 - 13

Interesting discussion but perhaps a little one-sided in discounting Bus Rapid Transit as the long term solution.

Like Brent Efford, I have also been a member of the Public Transport Spine Study (PTSS) Reference and can point to some significant deficiencies with this study. It is important to note that the PTSS DID consider extension of LRT to Johnsonville in both the Medium List and Short List Evaluation. WRT the latter it stated (page 34-35):

Whilst patronage on the Johnsonville line is sufficient for it to be considered as a rapid transit corridor, this option was discounted … for the following reasons:
* Johnsonville and Newlands are already well served by frequent and fast PT services and have a relatively high PT mode share. Increasing this any further would be difficult;
* the rail service has recently been upgraded and provides fast access into Wellington. Given the levels of investment undertaken during this upgrade and the additional investment / modifications required to convert the line to LRT, it would be difficult to justify such additional investment in the medium term;
* it is unlikely that converting the line to BRT / LRT would result in substantial travel time benefits as the current rail service is akin to a timetabled BRT / LRT service;
* most rail passengers arriving at Wellington station walk short distances to their final destination. Whilst providing a through BRT / LRT service between Johnsonville and Newtown might encourage more through trips to be made, the number of such trips would still be low relative to terminating trips; and
* conversion from heavy rail to LRT would likely take a number of years and cause considerable inconvenience to current users, resulting in loss of patronage with persons shifting from PT to car. It might then take a number of years to get patronage levels back up to pre-LRT levels.

Most of these points can be refuted but the main reason is probably the 2nd one … the GWRC has already spent the money on heavy rail to Jville and nothing else, including superior BRT or LRT, will be considered.

Finally, I agree with Brent Efford that the PT studies have been fixed . . . examples include the North Wellington PT Study and the original Rail Business Case that both all removed the benefits of a seamless service through the CBD to South Wellington from their benefits scope.

21 - 06 - 13

For those who are let down by Celia but also can’t stand a petrol-headed plagiarist, Jack Yan might just fit the bill.

22 - 06 - 13

I hope Jack Yan has some better ideas this time. The whole “wifi zone will transform Wellington into a high tech hub!” thing was quite sad last time. I think we should make Maximus run.

23 - 06 - 13

Why thank you Erentz. Although I don’t think that I am really suited to public body politics ( I have no patience with the current crop of idiot Councilors, and would probably just take some of them out the back and shoot them ) I do think that we need people with architectural training both at local gov level, and central gov as well. A replacement for Brownlee, with someone who actually had a brain, and understood the issues better than he, would be great.

Deep red – Jack Yan has got a few good lines, but so far he really hasn’t been too inspiring. I’m still waiting.

DavidP – you worry me with some of the things you say. Do you really not understand the difference between pine and rimu, or where you just trolling? Sound waves do indeed know the difference between pieces of timber – pine is very soft, and would react acousticly very differently – as well as looking bad. But the rimu etc in the MFC is pretty much irreplaceable – it just couldn’t be done like that nowadays – architects these days just don’t chop down trees like that anymore.