This is a Guest Post by Generation Zero Wellington member Paul Young

Following an 18-month process, the Wellington Public Transport Spine Study was finally released in June and picked bus rapid transit (BRT) in favour of light rail as the best option for a new high-quality public transport system in Wellington city. Greater Wellington Regional Council is currently taking submissions on where to next, closing tomorrow. On one hand it’s positive that things are progressing.

However, the results and many assumptions of the study are highly dubious and have raised the eyebrows of many in the transport world. World-renowned transport academic Professor Peter Newman (also a board member of Infrastructure Australia) weighed in on it while in Wellington recently, saying the study “doesn’t do justice to light rail”.

Generation Zero has put together a quick submission form for people to easily have their say along the lines of our views, as explained in this handy little graphic.


Now there is nothing inherently wrong with BRT, and we aren’t blind light rail evangelists – in fact following the release of the study I was pretty convinced BRT was the way to go. But having read up and considered the evidence we believe it’s a short-sighted and problematic choice for Wellington. Light rail is a future-proofed option that we believe would deliver more benefits.

Here are some key points from my perspective about the study and the two options.

Cost and route

The study gave an extremely high cost for light rail ($940 million) because it chose a split route which involved building a whole new tunnel through Mount Victoria. Meanwhile the BRT option got a free tunnel by sharing the second Mount Vic car tunnel proposed to be built following the Basin Flyover. Doing this, by the way, would no doubt cause problems and delays by buses getting caught up in traffic congestion.


We believe cheaper options that avoid the need for a tunnel are feasible. In particular, a single line from the Railway Station to Newtown and then to Kilbirnie over Constable St and Crawford Rd was unduly dismissed in the study. The original reason cited in the study was just that it was “too slow”, but this later evolved into “you’d have to demolish a row of houses”. A quick play on Streetmix suggests otherwise, so long as we could find a way to remove the on-street parking.


Constable 2

Based on a similar cost per kilometre used in the spine study (~$56 million/km), this route would cost less than $400 million (compared with the study’s $207 million for the BRT option).

This route also doesn’t depend on building big new roading projects first, and avoids destruction of town belt land to widen Ruahine St. It would mean adjustments such as loss of parking on Constable St and slightly slower travel times to the CBD for Kilbirnie passengers, but benefits would include higher frequency service for Kilbirnie and Newtown residents and hence shorter waiting times.


In narrow corridors  typical of Wellington, light rail has a much higher maximum capacity than BRT – approximately 10,000 passengers per hour in each direction, compared with just 3,000 for BRT. This is primarily because of smaller vehicle capacity (Wellington could handle buses for about 100 people, but trams for up to 300) and restrictions on how many vehicles can use the corridor per hour in order to give them full priority at intersections and maintain reliable service.

Retired transport engineer Kerry Wood gives a detailed explanation in this post on Scoop, and you can read his full 30-page submission here.

The study actually found that for the proposed BRT route, service from Kilbirnie through the proposed second Mount Victoria tunnel was at capacity from day one – let alone with any patronage growth. Information about service in the Golden Mile is unclear in the report but it seems BRT may be overloaded from the beginning here too. [1]

What is certain is that BRT doesn’t allow for significant future growth in ridership without compromising the service reliability and quality. Why invest hundreds of millions in a short-term option that will struggle from the beginning?


The modelling done in the study made no consideration for the higher ridership appeal of light rail over bus rapid transit, when there is strong international evidence demonstrating this.

A recent meta-study by Peter Newman and colleagues [2] shows rail outperforming bus in attracting trips from 1995-2005 throughout Australia, the US, Canada, Europe, Singapore and Hong Kong. Another meta-analysis for North American cities found that from 1996-2003 public transport trips increased by an average of 16% in cities that built light rail versus just 1.7% in  cities that built bus rapid transit. [2] For a range of reasons, people tend to find light rail more appealing.

The study concluded that light rail would only attract as many extra PT riders as an enhanced bus service – overall growth of just 1% by 2040 – and that bus rapid transit would attract a lot more riders. This is way out of line with international experience and warrants strong scrutiny. The low predicted patronage growth in general needs to be questioned in light of NZ evidence shown on this blog of annual growth on the order of 16-20% following the opening of Britomart and the Northern Busway, vastly exceeding projections.

Transfers and the wider network

The main reason given for light rail coming out so bad compared with BRT is transfers. The study says light rail requires a lot more of them because – in theory – the BRT buses can continue out the ends of the corridor.

The modelling used a “transfer penalty” of 5.5 minutes – which is added to the actual expected waiting time – to capture the “inconvenience of transferring and boarding another service”. [4] Apparently this is actually a lower value than often used overseas. But again, the results are strongly at odds with observed outcomes in New Zealand and overseas and need to be questioned. Another point to note is that feeder bus services were not optimised.

It seems questionable whether BRT buses will really be able to continue outside the main corridor – at least without considerable adjustments and cost. Remember  these will be big, articulated “bendy buses” (I suspect double-deckers may be a hazard on the infamous windy days!). Will Wellington’s tight streets really be able to handle these big buses as is, and will local residents tolerate it? It appears the study assumed no extra infrastructure cost outside the main spine route(s) despite the suggestion that “BRT” buses will be doing this:

BRT routes

Note that the dedicated corridor only operates between the black dots.

Perhaps the bigger question this raises is about reliability. If you have a light rail or BRT system operating entirely in a dedicated corridor with priority at intersections, the service can be very reliable and maintain regular frequency. If BRT buses are venturing out of the corridor they are bound to get delayed in traffic causing variable trip times. This was not considered in the study.

And while we’re on the topic of buses mixing with traffic, will the BRT really have dedicated right of way through the proposed second Mount Victoria tunnels? If not, will the supposed 3 minute time saving of the split route to Kilbirnie simply be eaten up by buses getting stuck in car traffic?

Economic development

The spine study suggests approximately equal overall land value uplift from light rail or BRT of about $240 million, but again this seems at odds with international evidence that light rail offers larger and more reliable increases in property value.


Calculations by Tom Pettit as part of his postgrad research on the PT spine gave an expected land value uplift for light rail of $2.5 billion based on an an international review of over 50 installations across the world – an order of magnitude higher than the study’s estimate. He also estimated the increase in rates and fare recovery over 30 years would be $712 million, nearly paying the capital cost back twice. [5]

Wrapping up

 So that’s some of the key points, leaving aside some of the more intangible things around benefits to the urban environment, benefits of electricity as a fuel source, and so forth.


I guess a good note to end on might be to return to another nugget from Peter Newman, reported by Tom Pettit: There are 170 cities around the world with less than 150,000 residents that have light rail that is working. Why can’t Wellington?

 We encourage readers to make a submission by Monday either using our form or the one on the GWRC site.



[1] Wood, K. (2013). Submission on Wellington Public Transport Spine Study. See “BRT capacity” section, p15.

[2] Newman, P. et al. (2013). Peak Car Use and the Rise of Global Rail: Why this is happening and what it means for large and small cities, Journal of Transportation Technologies, Vol. 3, No.4.

[3] Henry, L. & Litman, T. (2011). Evaluating New Start Transit Program Performance: Comparing Rail And Bus. Victoria Transport Policy Institute.

[4] GWRC, PTSS Short List Evaluation – Modelling Report. See pp79-80.

[5] Pettit, T. (2013). Bus Rapid Transit or Light Rail? Presentation at Exploring the Spine Study event, 23 September.



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  1. Sadly the study also ignored the current “congestion free” corridor through the Hataitai bus tunnel which bypasses congestion on SH1. Being a former tram route this could still provide a very workable and direct light rail line to Kilbirnie.

  2. Thanks Paul! You have managed to succinctly capture the essence of why light rail is so much better than Bus Rapid Transport.

    We need reminding that we are investigating a high capacity vehicle primarily to resolve the chronic bus congestion of up to 140 buses per hour in the CBD during peak, which results in timetables that are worthless around that time.

    Fewer high capacity vehicles in the CBD enables a public transport service to function reliably and at a higher average speed. A network approach with transfers is then needed for this to be cost effective,
    and the success of this model can be seen elsewhere.

    The public accepts transfers, when they know they’ll get a higher quality and faster service overall, with attractive interchanges. Initial benefits come from the CBD through the growth spine along Adelaide Road to a Hospital hub, and this could be at a lower cost more like 2-300 million dollars. Further benefits come from extending east to Kilbirnie, perhaps through a combined cycle/walking and public transport tunnel Zoo to Coutts Street, and north along the main rail corridor.

  3. I agree that the spine study appears to have made a lot of shoddy decisions and assumptions but you need to be careful of not doing the same. For example where on earth do you get that BRT only has a capacity of 3,000 people per hour. The basic bus lanes on Fanshawe st manage 8,000 incoming over the two hour peak (of which most will be in a one hour period) and that isn’t grade separated. Likewise the Symonds St bus lanes manage over 6,000 over the same time period. Further both routes have the capacity for more. It’s also worth noting that both of these figures don’t include any capacity increases from the use of double deckers.

    My understanding is that dedicated busway infrastructure that is grade separated could perhaps do 200 buses an hour while a busway with at grade crossings should be able to move 120 buses an hour providing the stops are sorted out. Even without Double Deckers or Bendy buses, normal large buses could easily be carrying 60 people and that gives the BRT solution over 7,000 people per hour.

    Likewise while trams will have more capacity, to get 10,000 people per direction per hour on light rail you would need to be running some pretty high frequencies.

    This is not to say that light rail isn’t worth considering or that it won’t be the best option but the reality is the two options are likely to be much closer to each other capacity wise. One option that should perhaps be considered is the use of BRT initially to get things going and get the patronage up then upgrading that to light rail in the future.

    1. Matt very true. Further to that the actual numbers travelling into the city along the two corridors (via Cambridge Terrace and Hataitai bus tunnel) each only move around 1000 passengers per hour in the am peak according to the city cordon counts. So decisions about mode really aren’t about capacity as either high capacity bus or LRT would easily cater to demand with ample capacity for growth. Just 12 high capacity buses per hour would be sufficient to move all current passengers down each of the corridors (a bus every 5 minutes).

  4. The BRT would still require transfers though perhaps less. There are many buses that serve the bays around Seatoun and Miramar. These would need to be cut back to join the BRT network, otherwise BRT route would get too congested with small buses.
    One main issue I have with the LRT proposal at the moment is it places too high a weight on the airport, when should be better focussed to give quicker journey for Miramar suburbs and beyond. This can be solved with 1km spur to Miramar. LRT service would alternate with services every 10 minutes to both Miramar and airport, giving 5 minute service from Kilibirnie. In peak times this could be doubled.
    However this extra transfers could be made up for by running these suburban services at higher frequencies with smaller (battery/electric) vehicles, and potentially to more destinations. For example Seatoun – Miramar – Airport Shops.

  5. I think trams are nicer for the overall ambience of an area, especially given that they seem to work as a traffic-calming measure (they’re much more intimidating to car-drivers than buses,) but I’m also a curious as to the assumptions made in the image. How will it run at capacity straight away? Where does the 3000 figure come from?

    1. Hi Konrad, there was a section on capacity missing from the post when first posted but it has now been added in. Other comments here have also discussed it – does that answer your questions?

  6. Thanks Matt, good to get critical feedback. We certainly don’t want to be putting dodgy info out there.

    Can you tell me more about the Fanshawe St situation and how it compares with the Wellington CBD? Are there buses stopping along it and, if so, are there passing lanes to avoid other buses getting backed up?

    Ah ha, I just noticed that the section of this post on capacity got cut out (was that deliberate Patrick to try to get the length down?). Have pasted it below. It should go some way to explaining the rationale, and the links to Kerry Wood’s article and submission do so in more detail. Would be interested to hear any critique of this.


    In narrow corridors typical of Wellington, light rail has a much higher maximum capacity than BRT – approximately 10,000 passengers per hour in each direction, compared with just 3,000 for BRT. This is primarily because of smaller vehicle capacity (Wellington could handle buses for about 100 people, but trams for up to 300) and restrictions on how many vehicles can use the corridor per hour in order to give them full priority at intersections and maintain reliable service.

    Retired transport engineer Kerry Wood gives a detailed explanation in this post on Scoop ( and you can read his full 30-page submission here (

    The study actually found that for the proposed BRT route, service from Kilbirnie through the proposed second Mount Victoria tunnel was at capacity from day one – let alone with any patronage growth. Information about service in the Golden Mile is unclear in the report but it seems BRT may be overloaded from the beginning here too. [1]

    What is certain is that BRT doesn’t allow for significant future growth in ridership without compromising the service reliability and quality. Why invest hundreds of millions in a short-term option that will struggle from the beginning?

    (Possible to get this added into the post? Was meant to be second section after ‘Cost and route’)

  7. Low end of BRT capacity = 100 buses per hour * 50 pass per bus = 5,000
    High end of BRT capacity = 120 buses per hour * 100 pass per bus = 12,000

    Seems like everyone’s telling porkies …

    1. Hey Stu, would be keen to hear your response to my comment posted above, and the analysis Kerry Wood has done on this.

      I’m a non-expert wading in and trying to get my head around things, but I find Kerry’s work convincing. It seems the key thing is to recognise that “BRT” comes in many shapes and sizes. Probably didn’t make it clear enough in the figure that capacity was specifically referenced to the Wellington corridor rather than a general statement.

      1. Paul, first let me make it clear that I simply don’t have time to engage in detail with this issue right now, but I do hope to write a post articulating my views (and evidence for them) in a later post. So don’t think I’m just a negative noddy.

        Second, I am deeply saddened that Generation Zero have taken this line with respect to the future of PT in Wellington, i.e. turned it into a debate about technologies rather than wider transport investment priorities and service levels.

        Third, as I noted in an earlier post on Wellington’s CFN network I have not seen any credible academic evidence to support the contention that 1) LRT and BRT have the capacities quoted above nor that 2) land value uplift around LRT is higher than BRT. As noted earlier, in all but quite specific cases LRT brings relatively marginal operating benefits compared to BRT. But LRT does have significantly higher operating costs.

        For example:
        – LRT vehicles cost $5 million each versus $750,000 for a high-capacity bus. LRT vehicles are larger (300) but not that much larger. Hence we have *diseconomies* of scale in vehicle size; and
        – LRT has higher labour costs. Not only are LRT drivers more specialised (and hence more expensive) but they often also require more ticket issuers and/or revenue protection staff.

        The end result is that you need really concentrated corridors of high demands to make operating LRT worthwhile. Generally, I’d suggest Wellington focus first on nurturing PT demands by implementing bus priority measures and thereby step their way towards BRT.

        Jumping to a particular technological solution (and in the process undermining our primary PT mode) seems counter-productive in the context of us trying to get a wider shift from private vehicles to public transport.

        Bonne nuit.

        1. Thanks Stu. I’ll look forward to your post.

          I’m not prepared to die in a ditch for light rail either, and if it could be shown that BRT could be delivered in a way that addressed these issues (capacity in particular) then I could be convinced. I agree with others the most important thing is the dedicated corridor and BRT would certainly be a lot better than doing nothing (which is not really an option being seriously considered, thankfully).

          I confess I’m not well-versed in the evidence on land value uplift so welcome you to point us to more. As for the capacity stuff I’d again encourage you to read Kerry’s analysis of the specific Wellington situation, which draws on work done in the Wellington City Bus Review.

          I think you’ve misunderstood where we’re coming from on this though. We didn’t jump to a particular technological solution. As I’ve said multiple times (and Tom and Paul Bruce will vouch for!) we thought BRT seemed the way to go from the outset and were sceptical of the light rail arguments. The view that light rail was hard done by and at least deserves a fair hearing was formed based on the evidence. This IS about service levels rather than just technology preference, although I acknowledge we are bringing other factors into play (mainly ones I think are relevant to the goals of attracting more PT users and cutting carbon emissions).

          I fail to see how we are undermining our main PT mode. And I don’t see how this is that different to the arguments over the CRL vs alternatives like a bus tunnel, etc. (although I acknowledge the case is probably much more clearly in one side there). At some point if there are significant issues with a particular mode you have to determine which mode is best and go into bat for it, rather than just sticking to a mode-agnostic argument – right?

          It feels like you’re really just arguing BRT is the better choice here – and if that is the case then by all means try to convince us!

          Finally if you look at our form and the other stuff we’re saying, we are advocating for starting with bus priority measures immediately in any case. And as you know this is part of a much broader vision that certainly engages with transport investment priorities, rather than just a narrowly focused light rail campaign.

        2. One point that’s very important to make Stu – capacity is only relevant if the people want to use it. BRT definitely attracts ridership, but LRT on balance attracts much more. In that sense you’re getting what you pay for.

          You do note that LRT vehicles are more expensive – no denying that! By your costs around six times as much. But given they can carry as many as 300 people and buses max out at 100 – you’re really only paying double per-person. But the advantage it conveys is you’re buying three times the road space with that extra capacity – and road space is a seriously scarce commodity in downtown Wellington.

          You also note that bus priority is important – yes! Everyone agrees that is the next step. But when the relative difference in price between BRT and LRT is only around ~$200m because the study done was of so-so quality, why not go for a meaningful change in context rather than just add BRT.

        3. Without checking, I would assume the serviceable life of LRT vehicles is longer than buses by a large margin?

    2. Stu –

      What are your thoughts on this paper on BRT capacity maximization –

      It goes into great detail about the best ways to achieve high capacity for BRT. At one stage it notes that a single-platform single-lane BRT system can serve a maximum of 60 buses an hour because of dwell times, etc. Would this not mean that Wellington was effectively limited to such an option, at least through the CBD zone where congestion is trying to be alleviated? This is particularly compelling to me given 90m stations to accomodate a second platform would seem a bit impractical in Welly’s constrained CBD.

      I choose that particular paper since I know the Transmilenio is considered the gold standard – and this was made in cooperation with Transmilenio and other Bogata entities.

  8. It’s interesting that the graphic shows a single-length bus when many BRT systems use articulated buses – on a dedicated busway I would agree with Matt L that there is probably little between the two in terms of capacity.

    The “Urban Design” comparison is also a bit simplistic. I can only think of a couple of examples I’ve seen where LRT/trams have actually been put on grassy spaces (most are just in the street as would much of Wgtn’s be presumably) and I’ve also seen examples of BRT in grassy corridors too (you only need two wheeltracks concreted). I also fail to see how either is better at mixing with pedestrians; largely it comes down to overall street design and how fast you want the LRT/BRT to run.

    Likewise with fuel – if they could both be electric then how is one better?

    I agree that the Wgtn spine study has produced a somewhat distorted view of LRT vs BRT. But they’re not that different if you’re comparing them for the SAME urban context. I confess that I find a lot of the debate over PT vehicle options rather tiresome – what technology you use largely doesn’t matter (why don’t you throw in the rubber-tyred but LRT-looking Translohr for good measure?). Getting a dedicated priority corridor is the key – worked for the Akld Northern Busway. But traditionally we’re crap at doing that…

    1. Fair call re the graphic, the reason for that was I didn’t have a graphic of an articulated bus, am not a designer, and was on short timeframe!

      And yeah, urban design comparison might be a bit inflated in the graphic – originally had “potential for grassy lanes” but cut it to keep words down. Was hoping people would understand that. Would still hold that light rail is generally better in heavy pedestrian zones (didn’t you say the same on our previous post, Stu?).

      Fuel comparison was just to emphasise that LRT is guaranteed to be electric, whereas there’s no guarantee with BRT… I guess I’d add that avoiding need for batteries is a plus due to current life-cycle emissions being relatively high.

      Agree the dedicated corridor is the key, and if you look at the submission form we’re saying either light rail or an improved BRT option. As I said, I started from exactly this position and thought BRT was best, but have become concerned that in the Wellington context it is really going to struggle for capacity to handle any significant ridership growth. Yes we can do BRT first and then invest in LRT later, but from the numbers I’ve seen I don’t see the rationale – making a big investment in BRT buses that might be overwhelmed within a few years when you could pay more up front but save money in the long run.

    2. “I can only think of a couple of examples I’ve seen where LRT/trams have actually been put on grassy spaces (most are just in the street as would much of Wgtn’s be presumably)”

      Melbourne has wide streets and some have grass separating tram tracks from other road users. But Wellington’s current city center bus route is narrow and twisting, and there isn’t much you can do about it unless you start demolishing buildings like the old BNZ. That means you’d be threading large trams through tight bends with the sort of wheel screech you get in Melbourne. That sounds pretty horrible.

      I wonder what issue the LRT people are trying to solve. The current bus system doesn’t seem to be at capacity, and neither the living or CBD working populations are increasing much. The buses are quick, frequent, and cheap and there isn’t much need to change unless it is at the railway station in order to travel out to the distant suburbs. One of the reasons that the bus system isn’t at capacity is that a lot of the working population de-trains at the station and walk to their jobs, or live in the CBD-edge areas and also walk to their jobs. I get a feeling that the LRT boosters are rail enthusiasts who’d favour a tracked solution regardless of the problem. Or, in this case, the complete lack of any problem.

      1. Obi, I don’t know how familiar you are with Wellington but let me tell you, at peak times the bus service is far from quick! In my experience it is often faster to walk through town than be on a bus.

        The spine study predicted time savings from 15 to 11 mins for Newtown – Railway Station and 21 to 13 mins for Kilbirnie – Railway Station.

        This doesn’t touch on reliability though. See Paul Bruce’s comment near the top – up to 140 buses per hour in the narrow CBD corridor, which leads to bad congestion and resulting unreliability in service times. The purpose of the spine study was largely about addressing this through higher capacity vehicles and the kind of network approach Paul B describes.

        By all means debate the solution, but don’t suggest there isn’t a problem!

        1. Hospital to Railway Station is timetabled at 22 minutes, even at peak times: I assume that if they were missing the timetable by a large margin all the time, then they’d change the timetable. I’d be really sceptical about a claimed saving of 11-15 minutes on a 22 minute service. And if you did achieve that saving, you’d have trams rocketing around the CBD and that would make for a very unpleasant pedestrian environment.

          Kilbirnie shops to Railway station is also timetabled at 20-22 minutes depending on time of day: If you save 21 minutes on that then you’re not looking at a tram. More like a giant catapult.

          I’m a fairly regular traveler on the airport bus (91). It’s always quick around the suburbs, and reasonably quick through the CBD. I really don’t want it to speed around the CBD since that’d be like building a bus motorway down the Golden Mile. I like a city that is friendly for pedestrians.

        2. Sorry obi I read the wrong numbers just now and the way I wrote it was unclear. See the table at the end of this:

          They’re predicting a bus travel time of 18 mins from Newtown to the RS and 24 mins from Kilbirnie to RS in the reference case. Under LRT these are reduced to 11 and 13 mins respectively (and basically the same for BRT). So estimated savings of 7 and 11 mins (n.b. our proposed spine route would be slightly longer for Kilbirnie).

        3. I don’t see how you can make significant time savings through the CBD. There are frequent intersections where pedestrians need to cross, you need to stop to pick up and drop off passengers, and you really don’t want high-speed trams in the CBD. Outside the CBD, the only significant choke point I can see on the Newtown routes is the Basin. That should ease with the flyover removing some of the at-grade traffic that gets in the way of the bus from the roundabout. The flyover is a pre-requisite for a tram or BRT, so it may be worthwhile waiting for that to open and seeing what bus travel times are like afterward. I don’t see any choke point on the current Kilbirnie route, except at the intersection with St Pats where the bus needs to cross over the vehicle traffic headed to Miramar, and that isn’t going away with a tram service.

          The other thing you have to think about with LRT time savings is that a lot of them are eaten up with transfers from bus to tram. If you live near a tram stop then you have a trip that is 7-11 minutes faster. If you don’t, then you have a trip that is 2-6 minutes faster, plus 5 minutes sitting in the cold at a transfer point. To be honest, for a negligible time saving I’d rather sit back and read a book on an uninterrupted bus trip rather than be forced to climb on and off trams and buses.

          One thing you could do to speed up the current service is to disallow cash fairs and then have less stops in the CBD. Some of them are ridiculously close. Stop every 5-600m and your service would run much smoother.

        4. Buses may be easy, frequent and cheap, Obi. But they are also unreliable, often-cancelled and hopeless with timetables due to the golden mile being far overcapacity. Because of cascading delays the buses have no hope of keeping their timetable during peak hours, and that actually brings capacity down substantially. There’s a reason the bus review and Spine Study were undertaken – Wellington and the region all know about this issue.

          But the fact is that the engineers working on the argument for both modes (AECOM and the LRT engineers) all agree that these massive time savings can be achieved(around 11 minutes from Kilbirnie, per the difference Paul notes – not 21 minutes). No need to hem and haw about the time savings. The transfer question is a legitimate point – however if the vision for the future is a larger light rail network limiting transfers, it is a temporary problem, solved by the expansions that come with time. Plus the problem is in current analysis transfers are greatly overhyped. People dont mind bus-to-rail connections, as rail tends to be more reliable. bus-to-bus transfers are misery.

        5. I take the bus through most of the golden mile very often, from Manners st at Cuba street right through to the western suburbs. The hold-up during the evening can be ridiculous – it can take 2-3 times the timetabled time to get to the end of lambton quay depending on circumstances. There are just too many busses using that corridor – this has been recognised for a long time.

        6. To me, the airport bus feels like it takes a lifetime to get through the CBD, although this was at peak times, however, peak times shouldn’t make any difference to speeds for quality PT.

        7. Bryce P: I agree. Don’t think that Bus Rapid Transit will give the same experience as bus-on-street. Like the Light Rail option, it is based on having a continuous PT lane each way so peak times won’t make any difference to speeds for quality PT.

          In fact, because the BRT option can use the planned duplicated road tunnels through Mt Vic, it will either cheaper or faster for commuters coming from East Wellington. BRT will be either cheaper because BRT from Kilbirnie to the CBD can go direct without needing it’s own tunnel or faster because the spine studfy showed the non-tunnel light rail option forces Eastern Suburb commuters heading to Wellington to travel first to Kilbernie and then to Newtown (Light Rail from Kilbernie via Newtown is 6 minutes slower than BRT/LRT directly to the CBD through Mt Vic).

        8. As a some time resident of Wellington it’s amazing to see what locals consider to be a “problem” on PT. Sop of course the solution is the most expensive, unnecessary option when a few tweaks of the existing system would be just (if not more) as effective at considerably less cost.

          Why not reroute express bus services through the Quays rather than via Lambton, Manners and Courtenay? No? Why not? the extra 75metres walk too much for some?

          One busted tram in the inner-city (it happens, even with the newest trams) and just about the entire PT system crashes. Versus one broken bus – one route suffers an annoying but ultimately minor delay.

          I don’t know what it is with Wellington and its delusions of grandeur – it doesn’t have the population, the geography or the cash for the schemes that get proposed. A bigger runway – for flights that don’t and won’t exist. Light rail – to replace a perfectly adequate, cheap and maintainable system. Tweak the system, by all means, but wholesale replacement is ridiculous.

          Does this “study” even account for LRT maintenance costs? Or the displaced capacity of buses removed from the network because of the trams?

      2. Also, just to reiterate, I started off pro-BRT before looking into the situation in detail and would happily revert to that if a case for it that addresses the points raised here could be convincingly made.

      3. There are capacity issues at certain times of day, try taxi-ing in from the airport at 8.30am. When I last lived in Wellington there were also capacity issues coming down from Karori. In addition, the CBD itself gets pretty clogged with cars in the am and pm peaks. And cars are the issue in Wellington, precisely the issue that the proposed motorway developments will exacerbate.

        Reduce the cars and then the buses will work better and be able to carry more people. Add more cars and the opposite will occur. As others have commented, the key to reducing cars is to provide sections of dedicated PT ROW in a manner sufficient to reduce journey length and obviously, traffic from the airport is an important component to address.

        PT should aim to be electrically powered using renewable energy. However, both buses and trams can achieve this and Wellington already has a trolley bus network that could be made much faster and with higher capacity through the use of dedicated ROW sections, and with “overtaking” lengths of overhead trolley wires which should address some of the issues raised about trolley buses in the past.

  9. Hi Stu and Matt,

    I’m not the one who did the capacity work – that’s Kerry Wood – but I concur from a different angle. I’d like to point out first that the 10,000 and 3,000 number are per direction, per hour. That’s 40 trams per hour, versus 40 articulated buses(300 per tram, 100 per bus, just over 80% capacity).

    In a central city zone, with 100-120 buses an hour you would have to turn off signal priority(as shown by Kerry Wood’s work and the existing status quo), meaning that service quality for the BRT would be destroyed, as well as destroying quality of service for cars. Thats around the number of buses currently travelling the golden mile at peak times, and quality of service sucks for everyone.

    It’s not that BRT can’t be huge and capable of carrying as much as 40k per direction or more. But in a central city where you don’t want to build a fully grade-separated route(as is the case in Wellington) or take more than one lane, or turn off signal priority that is a realistic capacity number.

    Lets leave the nonsense about porkies out of it, shall we?

    1. Is there anywhere in the world where 40 trams per hour are run during the peak around, let alone on one line which I believe is whats planned for Wellington?

      1. Melbourne’s Swanston St is claimed to be the busiest tram corridor in the world, they run around 50 trams an hour per direction at peak. However that corridor is operated by Z, A, B, C and D class trams (but not C2 or D2) ranging from 15m to 22m long, each with capacity for about 70 to 130 people.

        They couldn’t operate 40 trams an hour if the vehicles had capacity for 300 people each, the stops wouldn’t be long enough and they couldn’t clear them through intersections quick enough.

    2. Tom, I’ve read Kerry’s article and he hasn’t paid the same dillegence to LRT as he has to BRT.

      Now I’ll state that I do love LRT on an emotional level, and on another level I recognise they have a lot of advantages in particular applications. I’m currently pushing for them in one corridor here in Auckland. However, BRT is a very good solution in other applications, and I think you (or Kerry) are not giving a valid evaluation.

      To start with your figures:

      A bus with a crush load capacity of 100 people (and a comfortable capacity at 80%) requires either a 22m long single articulated bendy bus (like the old ones we have in Auckland), or a 12.5m long double decker (like the new one we have in Auckland). That’s not an especially large capacity vehicles as BRT buses go, but the key point is the length. Really Wellington should look at double deckers, but if they don’t then you are fitting 100 people in a 22m long vehicle.

      An LRV with a crush load capacity of 300 people (and a comfortable capacity at 80%) requires a very long vehicle at about 45m. By comparison the the D Class trams in Melbourne have five sections and four articulations, they’re 32m long and carry 209 people at crush load. So you’re 300 capacity LRV would be more like they run in Dresden, which look like this:

      Now let’s consider the stops. With 40 vehicles an hour on average, you’re BRT or LRT stops need to accommodate at least two vehicles at a time. With traffic light phases around 2 minutes you will routinely have two vehicles arriving on the same phase and having to unload and load simultaneously (you would probably see three at the same time quite commonly). For those articulated buses you’d need to lengthen the stops on Lambton Quay from the current 40m to about 50m.

      What this means for your LRVs is a stop that is about 100m in length to accommodate two vehicles. Each stop would need to be two and a half times longer than what you currently have (I.e. such a stop could take four of the articulated BRT buses at a time). Now that might be perfectly possible, but this is the bit I disagree with:

      If the claim is that the Wellington spine corridor, intersections and stops can support 40 extra long light rail vehicles an hour, then the same corridor wouldn’t be limited to 40 bendy buses an hour. More like 80 if you keep things in line, or over a hundred if you can go wider than one lane each way in places to allow for more queuing at intersections and stops. Or to put it the other way, if the corridor can only support 40 bendy buses an hour then it could only take 20 around LRVs an hour.

      For transit running at street level biggest constraint isn’t the number of vehicles per hour, but rather the space to queue vehicles at intersections and stop them at stops. If you have one 45m long vehicles or two 22m long vehicles in the same space you end up with about the same throughput and about the same capacity.

      Now this changes if you are talking about light rail that runs in a tunnel like a metro, or elevated, or on it’s own 100% dedicate right of way with full stations. But the same goes for BRT, and in the case of Wellington you won’t see either like that.

      1. I agree with your logic, especially that it is stopping capacity that is likely to be the key contraint in the Wellington CBD. I do want to point out one further option available to BRT that is not available to light rail . . . peak hour express services (sometimes called skip stop). Because buses can pass each other, they do not have to stop at every stop. “Skip Stop” is very common (I recall it is used in the Adelaide CBD for example) and even have it’s own chapter in the TRP Bus Capacity Manual used by consultants. This can increase peak hour BRT capacity significantly, especially important for the Wellington CBD as we have a higher percentage of commtuers in the peak than most cities (unlike Auckland, we don’t really have off-peak congestion, it is only peak commuting that is a serious issue).

        Now the Spine Study BRT option does not propose using this approach, they have gone more “light rail-like” with larger peak hour vehicles but I tried to cover this in my presentation on last Monday. This is not to say that such an option could not be included in the next phase of building Wellington’s CBD Rapid Transit PT service (assuming the BRT recommendation is upheld).

    1. No but then Albany doesn’t have any bus priority at all. Bus services to the shore (busway and others) are at their peak capacity wise along Fanshawe St where they have simple bus lanes with indented stops. In the built up area of the CBD itself there isn’t actually any priority at the moment.
      Probably a fair enough comparison. Fanshawe St =

      As I mentioned above I’m not opposed to light rail and think it would be great to have but I am worried there is a comparison of the best case scenario for one mode against the worst case scenario of another. I think just that the focus should be on the corridor first rather than the mode. A proper BRT corridor is probably light years better than what exists now and can could probably be done quicker and easier politically. That can be used to build demand then upgraded later and is effectively the approach we took with the CFN.

        1. Yep this is a good point. But – and sorry to sound like a stuck record here – from everything I’ve seen we have to look really closely at the capacity. The BRT option looks seriously in danger of not being able to handle reasonable patronage growth without deteriorating service. This is an even more likely outcome if we can build an excellent transfer amenity at the Rail Station driving more demand (would be a great problem to have!).

          Obviously we’re not talking about the end of the world – but to reframe a question from the post – why would we want to spend a bunch of money to end up with a network that’s already approaching deteriorating level of service from day one and will be compromised under even moderate growth?

      1. I think the thing is that in Welly you have to deal with this kind of grossness – – It’s a much more restricted corridor.

        The thing is when the alternatives are build BRT for $200m, then built LRT later for the future equivalent of $400m. Why not build the LRT now for the same price, get better benefits out of it, and get on with it? The demand will come if built.

        1. To be trite there are two hundred million reasons not to build LRT upfront if the BRT option of half the price will do.

          If you work out the time cost of money your extra $200m is worth about $400m ten years later (at an 8% discount rate). That extra $200m either has to be borrowed and have interest paid, or it needs to be taken from some other project/investment where it would be generating returns, so by the time you get ten years down the track it has actually cost you $400m. If you ‘future proof’ $200m extra of infrastructure you don’t need yet, you are borrowing money and paying interest for zero return.

          In other words, if you spend $200m on a BRT scheme now and another $400m on an LRT scheme eleven years later, you’re actually spending less than if you paid $400m for just the LRT upfront and nothing extra eleven years later. It’s more money spent on less infrastructure. The difference is eleven years of interest/opportunity cost on $200m.

          Building extra transport capacity that isn’t needed for ten or twenty years isn’t future proofing, it’s actually future inhibiting.

          The only way you could justify spending double on the project up front would be if it generates double the ridership or whatever other benefits you are concerned with.

        2. That presumes that an 8% discount rate makes anything close to sense. The UK, France, OECD, etc. all recommend certainty-equivalent discount rates closer to 3%, which upends that particular calculation. And there’s no denying that LRT has better ridership attraction – definitely not double the ridership, don’t get me wrong – but more than 10% more. That’s alongside generally better property value benefits. (Compare say 41% for Perth’s new Railway and the 20%ish that Brisbane’s busway saw.

          It’s not really a capacity question for me(as you can tell elsewhere that I’m not super into the capacity and engineering issues). The economic benefits of rail are far superior. Combined with the above point that the discount rate in NZ is just unrealistic, the other benefits overwhelm any phantom cost savings.

  10. Some comments:

    * The Wellington CBD has about 55 thousand (?) jobs in it, more or less, or about a third of the wider region’s workforce. It has been at this size for quite some time, and Wellington City’s population has been pretty well stable over time as well. So, what is the basis for the assumption that traffic into the CBD will grow over time? (This is an issue for the road proposals as well).

    * Some hard experience has taught me to be very sceptical about proposed costings. Nottingham’s light rail extensions have been costed at £50m/mile ($NZ100m/mile; $60m/km), so well within range of what is suggested here (and the costing here of LRT at about double the costs of BRT is intuitively correct as well); but it will remain to be seen if Nottingham can be delivered at that.

    * As I remarked to Kerry Wood on a Scoop posting, the issue is not the number of buses in the CBD, it is the number of cars, and if something could be done about CBD parking, *now*, everything would work a lot better. Unfortunately, talk of controlling CBD parking is so politically toxic that no-one is prepared to go there, as far as I can see.

    1. Hi Ross!

      On your first point – 76,000 jobs in the catchment between Railway and Courtenay, which excludes the Hospital and Newtown obviously, which will also be on this line. As for Wellington city’s growth – it has grown 5% since 2006 and is anticipated to grow 25% in the next 30 years, so I’m not really sure where the idea that it is stable is coming from. On top, 60% of the population increase before 2040 is indicated to be on the growth spine between Johnsonville and Kilbirnie, partly because the district plan doesn’t allow infill development that results in densification anywhere but the CBD, Johnsonville, Kilbirnie and Newtown.

      Proposed costings need to have an eye kept on. But though there are many examples (like edinburgh’s blowout due to politics) of bad costs are out there, theres the counterexample of good costs – Perth’s $17m AUD/km railway, Lausanne’s $130m/km underground light rail. But it is pretty safe to assume there’s a broad spectrum. But that’s the case with any investment.

      You’re absolutely right that the number of cars in the CBD is a problem. But there’s just no political will to change that. So if we have to work within the existing confines, the constraints of such much be acknowledged. Maybe if you drive ridership growth with Light Rail a time will come when you can discuss potentially reducing the parking capacity downtown.

      1. Hi Tom, thanx for that – what share of the 76,000 jobs use walking or cycling to get there, or are people working from home? (when in a former life I used to analyse these numbers, I excluded walking-and-cycling because we wanted to understand our (rail’s) market share against our direct competition).

        More generally, the rule of thumb used by most of the consultancy fraternity is that an LRT scheme will generally have twenty percent more passengers than its BRT equivalent. Now, twenty percent more patronage for twice the cost?

        1. Ha! Good point. I’d say your 55k number is around correct if you exclude peds and cyclists. Well, when you get 20% more passengers every day over 30 years, the value tends to add up. I’d venture a guess to say that while the BCR would be marginally lower, the net profit of the system(or net subsidy required) would actually be somewhat lower when you account for the additional fares AND the additional rates driven by better property value uplift.

  11. Paul Y: “I started off pro-BRT before looking into the situation in detail and would happily revert to that if a case for it that addresses the points raised here could be convincingly made.”

    I support the for Bus Rapid Transit for Wellington as the Spine Study recommends and, like Tom Pettit, I also presented at the Spine Study meeting last Tuesday. Have a read of my presentation in support of the Wellington Spine Study BRT recommendations which is available here and perhaps this, and some of the other valid points made by Matt L and others, may show BRT will deliver the PT step change needed for Wellington.

    It is a pity that so many public transport advocates have been convinced by light rail fans (they are not the same) that it is the only solution with the many shortcomings of this approach being skipped over. I am particularly concerned that the opinions of light rail fans like Kerry Wood about the capability of bus rapid transit is being accepted without question . . . Of course his view is important (just as mine is about light rail) but really I would give Kerry’s view of BRT capability the same weight the view of the Auckland Blue’s captain would have of the Wellington Hurricanes before a big match 🙂

    1. Tony Randle – Your rugby analogy is dated by about 20 years (much like your transport ideas – zing) as the Hurricanes and Blues have been pretty evenly matched for the last few seasons.

      1. Nice Frank. I do agree with Tony, by the way, that BRT – viewed globally – is very evenly matched. There are certain places where it may even be better than LRT – for example developing countries, financially deprived areas where a minor difference in cost will be huge. Or areas where you can cut some corners for huge cost savings (for example taking over an existing road as your right of way rather than defining a new segregated guideway). Or areas where there is so much space available that 4-6 lanes of BRT is practical(like Bogata).

        That said, the evidence I’ve seen indicates it is wrong for Wellington. I think the phenomenon Tony may be that because the Spine Study so poorly evaluated the LRT option, people have a little bit of underdog love for it?

        Either way, a year ago I would have said light rail has no place in a modern city – it’s either BRT or proper underground Metro. I’ve been convinced otherwise.

  12. I know Wellington CBD streets very well and something that should be kept in mind with this discussion is that most parts of the PT spine route are very unlikely to ever have a grade separated, rapid transit route. Despite what the PT spine study says, Bus Rapid Transit (like in Auckland) will not be happening in central wellington. But that’s OK we don’t want elevated PT corridors or fences to stop pedestrians crossing the road.
    The challenge of PT in central wellington is trying to move the very high numbers of people on PT and maintain a quality and safe pedestrian environment.
    The Golden Mile is a narrow slow moving corridor made slower and unreliable by the congestion. My bus this morning arrived at work about 12 minutes late, and it’s the school holidays. What is required in central wellington is more reliability, less vehicle movements but higher capacity PT vehicles and the potential to grow. This could be done with buses or trams.
    But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s going to be BRT or grade separated Light Rail. And don’t compare with Auckland examples as they are unlikely to be a meaningful comparison.

  13. Just a comment on LRT drivers being more expensive than bus drivers: the Vancouver Skytrain system is driverless and has been for a number of years.

    1. AFAIK, the Vancouver Sky Train operates on an elevated track and never comes near pedestrians. Therefore it is possible to run it without a driver.

      However, the LRT in Wellington would be more like the trams in Melbourne and run at grade. I dont think there is any way that could operate safely without a driver. Though apparently Google driverless cars can be trusted at grade so why not Google driverless trams? Or would Google cars only be able to operate on motorways?

    2. The “light rail” plan is intended to be trams which will mostly be running on surface streets, so it needs to have drivers. It’s nothing like Skytrain.

      I don’t think either BRT nor LRT will ever make more than a couple of minutes difference. Even if boarding were instant, the vehicles will still suffer from the low speed limits, intersections and tight corners going down the Golden Mile. I’d rather wait until we can afford a proper underground heavy rail extension under the CBD, Te Aro and out to the eastern suburbs and the airport. Wellington’s small enough that you can walk pretty much anywhere around the central city anyway – the main benefit from a PT spine would be for regional trips (from the Hutt and Porirua etc) that go completely through the CBD to the hospital, airport, universities, etc.

      In the short run, what Wellington needs is integrated ticketing and extended bus lanes, ASAP, not in a decade’s time once someone’s finally convinced the government to stump up a couple of hundred million bucks.

        1. Well, the earlier phase of this study costed heavy rail to Courtenay Place (about 2km) at $625m-$1,125m all up. The airport is 5km farther away, but I suspect there’s space for at-grade running farther out. It seems like it’s worth getting a detailed idea of the costs, rather than reflexively saying “too expensive, now and forever!” the way the PT spine study did.

  14. @Frank it looks like most places in North America cap out at around 33ish(via various transportation research board reports). I shouldn’t have said 40 – I was just basing that off the BRT numbers relating to the signal timing. My apologies! With 33ish the number decreases to say 8000 at 80% capacity. (I don’t really want to look at crush loads, because if you’re crush loading chances are it’ll screw up your dwell times).

    @Nick R Don’t call em mine – I’m operating off better men’s work! I just wanted to start by thanking you. It’s good to see someone who is (on balance) being pretty fair to both.

    Evaluating double deckers for Welly is tricky. Boarding times would be higher and you’d have to evaluate every route you want to use them on for windy effects to see whether its practical to avoid this – ( That isn’t to say that double deckers should be ruled out, but they have challenges like any other option.

    As for the phasing – I think the plan for the city center is to have priority phasing for either mode, so as to avoid just what you’re talking about(having multiple buses or trams stacking atop each other).

    Per your numbers assuming a 45m stop – to accommodate one LRV or two BRT buses – you’re right! With double the BRT buses, you’re getting the same capacity. But the light timing priority is getting triggered twice as much. And the 22m 100-person buses are carrying 200 people per pair versus 300 for the LRV. Meaning the capacity is different by around 50%?

    But I come back to the 30ish trains per hour, so assume 60 buses per hour, you’re still triggering the lights 2x as much (or the buses are queueing).

    Not fussed either way, but its good to hear your stuff!

    1. @Tom, I think you’re either putting a bit too much faith in the priority phasing or you don’t quite understand how it works. The systems generally roll forward a green signal for PT vehicles, or they extend the green signal at the end by a few tens of seconds at most. What they don’t do, and can’t do, is provide constant green for all buses or trams. Not at least while you have other traffic, cross streets and pedestrian phases. They’re more about making sure PT vehicles don’t just catch the red signal. If it is well red already they won’t suddenly change it, just might make it go green a bit earlier.

      Really these things work best on routes that aren’t too busy. If we are talking about forty or more an hour that is one every 90 seconds on average. They aren’t going to make much impact because even if you extended the PT signal priority big time you’d be lucky to get it to a 90 sec cycle. At 40 vehicles an hour you will never get them all on a green. You’ve got a whole city running on roughly two minute cycles. I can 100% guarantee that at that level you will routinely see two or more vehicles arriving at the stop together. Even with half the number of LRVs and shifting to a 90sec cycle time, there is no way you could reliably ensure that exactly one LRV arrived on every cycle. It would never happen in practice.

      It is incorrect to say that you’d be triggering the light timing twice as much with double the buses than trams. You’d trigger it just the same amount by the leading bus but you’d have another bus or two following directly behind it. At those frequencies it really doesn’t matter if you have one long vehicle or two short vehicles running one behind the other, they still occupy the same amount of space at intersections and the same real estate at stops.

      It is accurate to say that the light timing priority would be shut off at those sorts of frequencies, because it would be doing nothing anyway. You would get more throughput by designing for vehicles to be stacked at each light phase and arrive at the stops together.

      On double deckers, yes they can have a longer dwell time, but if you are constrained to how many vehicles you can stop at any one time they will still load and unload faster overall. There is no benefit having a greater number of faster boarding single deckers stuck behind a red light or backed up waiting to get to the stop. In practice your dwell time will be constrained more by the stop design, roadway and intersections than the vehicles themselves.

      For example two double deckers could board a hundred people each at a double stop during in a two minute cycle time. Two single deckers could board fifty people each at a double stop during a two minute cycle time, or half as much as the doubles (the fact that they theoretically board faster doesn’t really matter if you can’t get more that two buses into the stop at each cycle).

      My suggestion of the priorities before even talking about what kind of vehicle will operate the spine:
      1) Secure a public transport corridor that has minimal or no traffic access, streamline the cross streets to cut out all the turning movements across it at intersections. That is far more valuable than leaving in all the various phases and traffic congestion and trying to massage it a little with signal priority.
      2) Build station style stops in the right place to suit the catchment and connections, institute all-door boarding with offline fare collection. Get your vehicles dwelling for short times and moving through quickly.
      3) Run the routes directly where they need to go, focus on regular frequency over splitting for catchments.

      If you want to promote LRT, do it in terms of the attractiveness, the look and feel, the low noise/emissions, the interaction with high pedestrian numbers, the placemaking etc. That is where it’s strengths lie and that is how we are promoting it in Auckland. Arguments about capacity, speed and efficiency don’t really hold up to scrutiny when you’ve got a fixed corridor in an on-street environment, particularly not when you have a fixed budget!

      1. Fair enough comments – and plan. You’ll note that I’m more focused on the economics, ridership attraction and congestion benefits- where light rail is clearly superior. There’s too much mushiness about capacity – how much roadspace, size of station, light timing, how segregated, route bifurcation, etc – all of it related to the specification of the system built. Sadly, the existing study does very little of that so there’s a lot of room for ridiculous claims from BOTH sides.

        I’m only an LRT booster in that I like ridership and economic benefits, and it’s substantially better there. Practically I dont care what is built as long as I can ride it.

        1. The ridership question is an interesting one. Often those claims are made by studying Rolls Royce LRT and Toyota BRT.

          An interesting though experiment would be to work out the ridership impacts of spending $200m on LRT vs. spending $200m on BRT. My gut tells me you get more bang for buck with the latter. Trams may be better like for like, but if you’ve got twice as much BRT network for your money you’ll get more riders.

        2. Keen to see the research when you publish it! That said, you’re effectively saying that a munted LRT should be compared to a golden BRT by adding extended busway.

          Not exactly apples-to-apples. When you add up the congestion alleviation value to other drivers, the additional ridership fares, the better property value increases, rates, and the like…. you’re better off just spending more to have the same extra LRT as the extended busway.

          No one denies the cost advantage of BRT. The benefit advantage of LRT is pretty hard to ignore, though.

        3. @Patrick I think what he’s saying is extend the busway to the airport, island bay, and maybe Karori on the other end for more $$. The thing is, then you have to look at what an LRT would cost for the same extension and the potential benefits there….

          It’s all interesting. But the fact is we just need better PT options. LRT and BRT fighting each other is an Ouroboros.

      2. @Nick. If I can once again supplement your valid point about PT priority at lights. I understand that many (most ?) Intelligent Traffic Systems (ITS) priority at traffic lights is not focussed on providing increased speed or even thoughput to the PT services. Usually, priority at traffic lights is focussed on providing reliability of PT service. ITSs do this by detecting late running PT services and holding the light green until the are through the intersection (this also requires PT stops on the “far-side” of intersections). In holding the lights to green they “borrow” time from a future green cycle that they “give back” later on. In this way the overall traffic intersection capacity is preserved.

      1. Yes it is possible for trolley buses and trams to share the same overhead wire system. The critical thing is to ensure that whatever mode is selected in the meantime, that the trolley bus network and the overall electrical supply system (sub-stations etc) is maintained.

        While buses powered by storage batteries, fly-wheels, euro5 diesels, hybrids etc are from time to time sold as the “new solution”, I am not convinced they are better than electric buses or trams, powered by “mains power” generated from New Zealand’s mostly renewable electricity. Unfortunately BRT advocates have been noticeably quiet to declare their support for trolley buses forming the mainstay of the new BRT fleet.

        I am also aware that as with the NIMT electrification, the “overhead” costs of Wellington’s trolley bus wires and the electrical supply system are from time to time subjected to cost-benefit analysis to typically narrowly focused criteria…….

  15. Wellington can never really have true BRT in most corridors. What ‘BRT’ would really mean is something like the Symonds St corridor through the CBD, or that to be built down Dominion Road. Only real BRT option is following the Sh1 corridor from Mt Vic Tunnel to the airport, using the extra lanes in the Ruahine St widening for buslanes not motorway lanes. But have to get NZTA onside for that.
    But in most places corridor is too urban, no space for Northern Busway type corridor.

    The other real big issue here is the bus review failing over, this would have helped reduce buses on the spine. However it seems GW didn’t have buy in from the City Council, so didn’t have any money to spend on transfer stations, and had crap PR. A dual corridor is really required, the obvious solution is moving most diesel buses to Jervois Quay. To keep things easier maybe stick to Mana and Hutt services going down there. This would give a quick trip from station to Courtenay Place.
    If LRT proceeded this corridor would be required as bus lanes anyway due to construction disruption.

  16. Regardless of the statistics, I believe a huge factor to consider is that young urban people will be far more attracted to using light rail as their main transport solution.

    1. Sorry Daniel you must have missed the memo that NZ (and especially its government) doesnt give a rat’s @r$e about young urban people. The most important people in this country are the Baby Boomers who will all be retired or dead by the time any of this matters.

      Apparently all our wealth will come from roads and selling more milk not from these crazy innovative ideas that you young people have. With your tight skin and your…hope.

  17. It seems like it should have been a fairly close call between BRT and LRT. But for some dumb reason the consultant overblew the LRT costs by choosing a stupid route. Therefore we have become suspicious of all the findings.

    Fact is, Wellington is not growing much and the RoNS destroys the market for PT. Maybe neither are required?

    1. I’m not /quite/ sure that RONS would wreck the market for PT. Here’s why: if you build the RONS and there is a lot of development to the north of Wellington – and Kapiti are greedily putting their hand up already – then there would be more journeys and more car use into Wellington City … which would be self-defeating, because of the congestion all the additional car use would create south of about Linden (or where I used to live). So people would go back to using the train. Put another way, outside the peak rail has a very small share of the overall travel market, less than ten percent, but that is because the roads are uncongested … but I don’t think anyone would expect the RONS to do the same.

      The support of the GWRC for Transmission Gully was always politically motivated. Years ago, I can recall Dave Watson being asked at a transport seminar what the GWRC wanted for Wellington, more roads or more rail, and he replied, “We want BOTH!” This was in large measure because the Kapiti Council wanted desperately to be kept separate from the WRC as-was, and probably the Manawatu-Wanganui regional council as well. Supporting Transmission Gully was the quid pro quo to keep them on board. Had I tackled Dave at that point (asking, “if you could have roads or rail, *but not both*, what would you choose?”), it would have been an interesting answer which would have come back.

  18. To put the actual transport task in perspective I tracked down the city 2013 cordon count numbers showing how many bus passengers and cars are entering the CBD on each of the corridors being discussed.

    For the two hour morning peak 7-9am:
    Elizabeth Street = 2122 bus passengers and 421 vehicles
    Cambridge Terrace = 2057 bus passengers and 1750 vehicles

    These are low numbers for a high capacity transport mode.

    Larger buses, route rationalisation and more through routing of buses to reduce duplication between the station and Courtenay Place could do a lot to reduce pressure on the Golden Mile and improve throughput.

    Given our low growth rates maybe we would get a better bang for our buck simply investing in decent segregated cycle lanes and building a respectable cycle mode share to complement PT and walking?

  19. To sum up, my twopence worth:

    * BRT and LRT systems can both be analysed by scale. Small includes bus priority lanes/streetcars; medium includes most median running schemes, across both modes; and large (significant grade separation).

    * What we are talking about for Wellington is a scheme with significant median running (either mode). We’re not talking about Ottawa- or North Shore-style BRT, or Docklands Light Rail.

    In terms of capacity – for a midrange scheme with significant median running the maximum # of passengers you can carry on BRT is about three thousand per direction per hour. It’s a function of the number of vehicles as they interact with other vehicles in the traffic flow. The equivalent for LRT is about six thousand; the same number of vehicles, but the vehicles are a lot longer. After that point, significant grade separation is required. Now, to put the latter # in context, Wellington’s heavy rail at the peak of the peak is handling about six thousand passengers/direction/hour. I did a big research exercise on this a couple of years ago, and found out that there were not many LRT schemes anywhere, handling more than three thousand passengers/direction/hour, per line.

    Also, how is Wellington City’s population expected to trend in the next thirty years? From what I recall, most of the population growth in the region is expected to be north of the CBD, but wd appreciate it if someone could confirm this.

    1. Its supposed to be about 30% CBD, 30% other spine (Kilbirnie, J’Ville, Newtown) and I dont remember the breakdown for the rest between greenfield and other areas. Some in Karori.

      1. Wellington’s residential growth plan is, I understand, broadly as follows:
        25% CBD
        25% Suburban Medium Density Residential Areas (MDRA) starting with Johnsonville (+3,000), Kilbernie (+1,000) and Adelaide Road,Newtown
        25% Greenfields, almost all to occur under the Northern Growth Framework around Johnsonville in Jville West, Churton Park, Stebbings Valley, Grenada Village, Woodridge.
        25% Suburban in-fill across all other suburbs.
        As North Wellington has elements of the last three, it’s overall residential growth target is higher than the CBD . . . not that this will necessarily be achieved. Of course, all this residential growth planned by the WCC for North Wellingoton also makes a mockery of the GWRC led Spine Study’s focus on South/East Wellington.

  20. A possibility is that the Feds could have offered the GWRC the money for a busway, and then told them on the quiet, “If you want light rail, we’ll still give you the $200m but we won’t give you any more”. If the city or region was facing the full marginal cost for light rail (that is, a minimum of $200m if not more), it would hardly be a surprise that the idea has fallen off the table. All the politicians’ rhetoric in the world won’t get over the problem of the city and region not being prepared to put that much of their own hard cash into LRT. This is alongside the problem I noted above; that of the complete unwillingness to tackle central city parking provision.

    1. Yes, ITDP, there is a direct correlation between government TOD initiatives and TOD investment…. *sigh*. They are really great and their BRT standard is awesome, but come on now. That hasn’t a thing to do with mode.

  21. I am absolutely for light rail in Wellington- particularly to Newtown. The 8% to 25% increase in property values probably only relates to those very close to the stops but of course the cost of light rail is always so high that all rate payers have to cough up for it. That can make it a hard sell. Even harder when you consider that in Washington DC it is rents close to metro stops that go up when wages rise with more distance apartments behaving as inferior goods.
    Not sure if the link will work but it is p74 of Ben Bernake’s Principles of Microeconomics. So good PT can adversely affect property values for houses located away from the stops. But as I said above I am all for it in Wellington as I own a rental in Newton (of course the rent will be going up if they build it.)

  22. So after reading all this the two solutions offered here cannot meet the sort of time savings you could make with a heavy rail line running in a dedicated tunnel through the CBD and under Mt Victoria and over Cobham drive to go back into a tunnel to the airport. Getting money out of central government for anything other than roads would be far easier if you can produce public transport that can get a parliamentarian to the airport faster than a government limousine.

    Once you have a rail route with a station at Courtenay Place and at Haitaitai, those stations can be used as nodes for surface public transport, Light rail or bus could be used to provide feeder services to the rail line.

    The rail route from the airport should provide a shuttle to Palmerston North Airport, so that alternate airport use can occur during poor weather at Wellington. Such a service would probably remove the need fro the basin flyover and the transmission gully route. he money saved can be used on the rial route.

  23. Lloyd you make a good point. Has heavy rail even been properly been considered? Sure it would be ugly but nothing stops you building it elevated all the way to the airport above sh1. All you need is a tunnel. Could be underground or elevated through the cbd. We have all these new trains why not put them to use and get rid of the broken spine.

    In the meantime why not get some bending trolley buses (who likes those noise dirty diesels blowing smoke at you while your waiting?) which could be used as a test for how brt could work, have an interchange in Kilbirine and Newtown and it would greatly reduce the amount of buses along the golden mile
    If some routes were routed along featherston st or the terrace that could also help.

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