The Eye of the Fish

August 5, 2015

Bus route options

Seeing as a grey murk of impenetrable gloop has descended over the prospect of a PWC report actually making sense, then I thought that I might have a look to see if I could untangle what the report was actually about. Firstly: the nameless PWC report examined options: 5 of them, by the look of it.

That’s not really 5 options now, is it, but more of just a series of gradients between doing nothing and doing a full Bus Rapid Transit. ie option 1 do hardly anything, option 2 pretend to do a little, option 3 actually block a road off etc. But where exactly is the detail of what they would propose to do? Remember that every cent of this has been costed out, so they must have based it on something. So I read on.

There is a fair amount of pointy-headed accounting-speak gobbledygook in the report – the humanoids at PWC obviously very keen on TLA, as the following sentence says in their “introduction”:

“It is anticipated that this IBC will be followed by a DBC, which will develop the preferred BRT option in detail…”

Hmmmm….. I’m going to need to keep a glossary handy, as well as a bucket. More fully, it says:

“This business case assesses the case for a proposed investment in BRT in Wellington City.
This business case follows the Transport Agency business case approach. This approach is based on the Treasury Better Business Cases guidelines, which are organised around the five case model designed to systematically test whether an investment proposal:
• is supported by a robust case for change – the ‘strategic case’
• will deliver optimal value for money – the ‘economic case’
• is commercially viable – the ‘commercial case’
• is financially affordable – the ‘financial case’, and
• is achievable – the ‘management case’.
This document is an Indicative Business Case. Its objectives are to confirm the preferred way forward for the proposal and to develop a short-list of options for further detailed analysis. It focuses on developing the strategic and economic cases for the project and includes an outline of the financial, commercial and management cases.
It is anticipated that this IBC will be followed by a DBC, which will develop the preferred BRT option in detail, including detailed design and a detailed economic evaluation, as well as detailed consideration of financial, commercial and management aspects.”

Oh for God’s sake, get on with it! Heavens above, are they just being paid to stall indefinitely?
Do you get my point? They don’t actually know a single thing about transport – all they know about is money, and what stacks up – or what doesn’t stack up. Anyway, be that as it may, they identify the problem areas as:

Problem 1: Congestion, within the constrained PT Spine corridor, will continue to adversely impact levels of service.
(Gosh, congestion – how glad I am that we hired these geniuses to point this out…).

Problem 2: A failure to grow bus patronage, due to unattractive and unreliable PT services compared to private vehicles.
(Yes, and so your proposal is for…. More of the same? And that is a good thing, how?).

Problem 3: A failure to maximise the capacity of the PT Spine corridor is restricting Wellington’s economic potential.
(Brilliant. Just brilliant. I would never have thought of that).

and the corresponding benefits:

Benefit 1: Improved road and PT network efficiency.
Benefit 2: Increased bus patronage.
Benefit 3: Improved bus user experience.
Benefit 4: Increased economic activity in the proximity of the PT Spine.

I’m amazed that they have come out with such gems of knowledge. So glad that we are paying them vast sums of money for their wisdom. So, we increase passenger numbers exactly how? Show us the figures? Vast increases in people using buses?
However, none of this is borne out in PWC’s projections of passenger numbers:

So after 20 years without BRT, we end up with a few hundred people less using the buses. And if we spend millions on a PWC BRT, we see a small increase, but after 20 years, we get… A couple of hundred less people using buses. Thats not a massive success story really, is it? That’s….. less than startling. In fact, the more common term for that level of “improvement” is a simple 4 letter word: Crap.
Projected usage is actually going backwards, not forwards. How is that good? In what world does that ever make sense? We spend tens or even hundred of millions of dollars, and get a worse service, with less people using it? Our city population is projected to increase, yet our use of public transport is projected to decrease? No, I don’t buy that.

Let’s take first things first. Where does it go?

Ummm, yes, that’s it, apparently. I think we knew that already. In this tiny, grimy little toerag of a map, grey with an almost invisible blue line at a scale deliberately where we can see nothing of any detail. I can see that it goes down the Golden Mile, but that’s about all. I can see that the existing bus tunnel, the one part of the current scheme where the buses can move faster than the general Basin traffic, is steadfastly ignored. All traffic must go through the Basin, and so the report makes clear that none of this will work out unless the Basin Bridge flyover goes ahead, and a second Mt Vic tunnel is bored through the hill. I think that NZTA made sure that line was in there….

But so there are two “branches”, one to Newtown, and one to Kilbirnie. Except that in an effort to save some money, the Kilbirnie branch can be considered to be dropped in some cases. So that’s really going to work for an active route to the airport then, isn’t it? How brilliant is this business case exactly then?

Look, honestly, in case you hadn’t picked up on my subtle murmurings, this report is shit. PWC’s knowledge of transport is lower than low. Their level of actual detail in what might be planned is less than robust – or simply non-apparent. That all comes in another report, still to come, which will cost us more money, and still get nowhere. Because there has to be another report after that. This is just the IBC. The next report will be the DBC. I think I will be long dead and buried by the time something actually happens on the ground here.

You asking me what I would do? Well, you’re not, but I’d tell you anyway. I’d stop right now spending money on a project which says that after 20 years we’d have less people taking buses than we do now. I’d employ some actual traffic engineers to start looking at what we can do about major junctions in the city, and how we can get more buses through. I’d stop looking at a scheme which professes to be Bus Rapid Transit and yet has to share the same tunnels as the cars going through Mt Vic. While I agree that the Mt Vic tunnel is badly outdated and needs to be redone to get better, more modern safety standards for cyclists and pedestrians as well as car users, having the buses share this tunnel is an act of stupidity, forcing them to go the same speed as the average driver. That’s not Rapid Transit. That’s Average Transit.

5 - 08 - 15

The Kilbirnie segment between the Basin and Kilbirnie Crescent will not pick up or drop off passengers. It’s an express route that Fran had painted up as a public transport spine and Paul Swain is happy to play along with her definitions.

5 - 08 - 15

Thanks GMB – so that means that in reality, the BRT route is primarily aimed just at Newtown. Which is great if you want to go to the Hospital (although I suspect that if you’re in a hurry to the hospital, you’ll not be waiting for a bus) but totally useless if you want to go to the airport (which really, surely, should be a primary aim of any Rapid Transit route, surely?)

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5 - 08 - 15

Gawd that report is such a POS,

I mean it claims “health benefits” for having to make PT users walk further to the bus stops, as the new proposed stops are double the distance currently..

I wonder how many PT users will simply say “bugger it” and decide to drive,

You can potentially justify wider stop spacing if you are actually offering a decent BRT solution, but simple bus lanes and possible light priority ( which is not much better than what exists now between Newtown and Wgtn) is not really much more of a better service,

Oh and what happens to this plan if the High court toss out NZTA’s dodgy appeal, will is simply go an gather dust like all the other proposed imprvements to wellington’s buses.

The regional council have spent 100’s of million upgrading the train network, but are trying to pinch pennies on the buses,

6 - 08 - 15

And now this:

“The new hybrid double-decker buses touted as the future of public transport in Wellington could prove too heavy for the capital’s roads, and may not fit in some of its tunnels. The multi-level diesel-hybrids are the current vehicle of choice for the capital’s proposed new bus rapid transit network between the CBD and southern suburbs. But after roughly four years of investigations, which have cost taxpayers and ratepayers about $2 million to date, there is still uncertainty over whether some of Wellington’s roads will be strong enough to support them. This has raised concerns that smaller diesel buses may have to initially operate the bus rapid transit route from Wellington Railway Station out to Newtown and Kilbirnie, despite past promises that more environmentally friendly hybrids would do so. City leaders previously talked up one day extending the route out to Karori, Island Bay and Miramar, but it is also not clear whether the double-deckers will be able to fit through the Karori and Seatoun tunnels.”

Unbelievable. Un.Bloody.Believable.
And then this:
“The weight problem has worried some members of Wellington City Council, which yesterday agreed to spend another $375,000 on a detailed business case for the bus rapid transit network.”

6 - 08 - 15

@Levi, and the offered solutions, are to ” take out some seats”- or “change the rules on heavy vechicles” this has been a b@lls up from day one, and just continues to get worse,

I am now wondering if this debacle is the reason that there has been no regional council general mangagers’ transport report tabled since March… It is such a huge embassesment,

6 - 08 - 15

How embarrassing. Sometimes, you should just say “um, lovely thought, chaps, but this isn’t really our game, we’re more about minimising tax and liquidating businesses”.

The ridiculous thing is the crapness of the BRT (eg. it doesn’t go to places which have lots of full buses, like Karori (you know the one, great big suburb with bad roads, miles away from anywhere that NZTA might be looking at tarting up), or to the airport) mixed with a ridiculous cost and inconvenience. There will more annoyance to bus and car users and no extra passengers. A big pile of money and annoyance for… nothing.

6 - 08 - 15

I don’t live in Wellington (yes, I am a Jafa), but I am always interested in the items you guys cover. I am really concerned about Council decisions which seem to be made with a rush of blood to the head, followed by a commitment to introduce some concept that will be funded by the ratepayer, whether they agree or not. The publicity about your new buses focuses on weight, but it seems London Transport also has a similar debacle. Boris (the mayor) is keen on new hybrids and I was interested in this item from the BBC regarding the batteries and the reaction from the drivers. You may end up with a very expensive and totally unreliable bus system. I hope not though.

6 - 08 - 15

Mike: Jafas always welcome. So tasty….

Yes, I don’t think the bus selection process has the right people on the team yet, especially if they are using this team from PWC. But who knows what advice they are getting. Time to scrap the GWRC – that’s for sure !

6 - 08 - 15

Hi Leviathan, not sure you have the right target blaming GWRC for all this. They just contract the buses. WCC and NZTA are the actual road controlling authorities. So if WCC say on-street parking and providing for cars or cycle lanes is a bigger priority then there will be no busways. What can GWRC do about that? Fran and Paul Swain probably won’t publicly dissent from the WCC NZTA position for fear of pissing them off and notgatting any improvements for bus passengers. NZTA seem pretty big on using buses as a way to greenwash the Basin and Mt Vic tunnel duplication regardless of whether if provided a route best positioned for bus passengers.

9 - 08 - 15

Good point Mark, although my understanding is that GWRC were the ones who actually commissioned the report? But perhaps I’m wrong – maybe WCC and NZTA commissioned it with them as a three way initiative?

My issue is that the writers of the report have no practical experience of what they write about. I wouldn’t go to my doctor for tax advice, nor to my mechanic for brain surgery. Going to an accounting firm for transport advice is, to all intents and purposes, a pointless exercise. It’s no use talking about whether you are going to spend $100m or not on BRT, if you don’t understand how that will actually impact on the city streets. Option 5, for a full time, fully separated, permanent BRT route along the whole way, would have a massive, massive effect on Wellington’s fragile street network. It’s not just the issues with how to fit it into places like Willis Street and Lambton Quay, but also places like Adelaide Road and Newtown. Full time 24/7 BRT would mean, as far as I can tell, that all side roads would have to be cut off – you can’t have cars and trucks and bicycles in the same road space as BRT or it simply isn’t BRT. But I don’t think that the authors of the PWC report understand any of those subtleties.

12 - 08 - 15

And now aparently there are no actual buses in existence that will meet the weight and height requirements for Wellignton’s Street and Tunnels,

this just gets better and better, I can now see why WCCL is spending millions upgrading the Trolley bus overhead, they have absoutely no belief in the “2017 trolley bus end date”

Also if they can solve the Karori and Seatoun Tunnel issues, perhaps they could solve the Mt Vic Bus tunnel problem at the same time to allow the “east-west” route to bybass the peak hour congestion around the Basin Reserve.