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Wellington.Scoop opinion: the bustastrophe decade

The roots of Wellington’s current transport problems go back more than a decade, and can largely be attributed to avoidance of a rail solution, argues BRENT EFFORD in an opinion for Wellington.Scoop.

Content from 4 September provided by Wellington.Scoop. Read more writing about Wellington issues, with reader feedback at

The roots of the bustastrophe go back over a decade, when Fran Wilde took over the GWRC and the transport chair and the visionary transport manager Dr David Watson was, essentially, fired (and replaced by a succession of dreary managerialists with neither passion nor much understanding of public transport.)

Building the Transmission Gully Motorway and implementing the National Government’s Roads of National Significance (RoNS) road building programme became the central focus. (Even now, “four lanes to the planes” excites most regional councillors far more than creating the electric public transport (PT) network that a sustainable Wellington needs.)

The light rail extension of the rail network into the Wellington and Lower Hutt CBDs, planned in the 1999 Regional Land Transport Strategy for implementation in 2004-19, was forgotten.

To spin this change of direction, it was necessary to create the belief that a complete regional rail spine was unnecessary and that “bus rapid transit” could be “just like light rail but cheaper”.

The New Zealand Transport Authority imported a Norwegian transport network expert, a Professor Neilson, to spread the story that bus-only networks could work so long as there were trunk, hub and spoke routes.

This was in spite of copious evidence, including many decades of Wellington suburban rail system experience covering most of the region, that the trunks need to be rail with regular services operating utterly reliably with only one train at a time meeting a very small number of feeder buses operating only in congestion-free suburban streets.

The ill-conceived and incompetent Public Transport Spine Study of 2012-13 sealed in this bus-only myth, and until the change of central Government, the Let’s Get Wellington Moving exercise seemed likely to go the same way. This envisaged Wellington remaining just about the only metropolis in the world with a main regional rail transit system which stops at the edge of the CBD (while Transmission Gully is bound to increase the amount of road traffic into the CBD!)

Trying to pretend that mode doesn’t matter and that buses = trains (or trams) started this debacle – and then GWRC hubris, and the determination to conform to the ideology of privatisation and cost-cutting via their Public Transport Operating Model – has completed it.

As has been suggested by comments on other articles on Wellington.Scoop, a priority now is to create a proper Regional Transit Authority to plan and run PT, and get the “roads first” mob out of it.

To read comments on this article, visit the original at Wellington.Scoop.