Yesterday Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) released four options for consultation on the future of transport in the city and it represents a change in focus from previous plans, though whether any of it will actually happen remains to be seen.

Before anyone asks why we as Aucklanders are interested in this or have a view on it. Many of us have friends and family who live in Wellington, we want the city, and all our urban areas in New Zealand, to succeed, to have better options for public transport and active modes, more and better housing choices and public spaces. Furthermore, if Wellington or other towns and cities are doing good things, it can help sharpen the focus on getting better outcomes in Auckland.

A couple of things that is notable about all the options released is there’s clearly a shift in focus away from serving the airport. This is manifested in two ways.

  1. There is a much stronger focus on public transport and as such, the “four lanes to the planes” thinking has been dropped. That means there are no additional traffic lanes being planned through Mt Victoria
  2. The primary focus for rapid transit options is now about serving the Island Bay corridor rather than the Airport and Miramar.

A big part of this appears to be that like with light rail in Auckland, a much great emphasis is being placed on using the investment to unlock housing growth and the Island Bay corridor allows for more houses.

The four options presented represent a couple of key decisions.

The Rapid Transit mode used

LGWM are looking at two potential rapid transit modes, Light Rail or Bus Rapid Transit.

  • Light Rail – this would be similar to the surface option proposed in Auckland with modern low-floor vehicles. LGWM are suggesting capacity of these up to 300 people per vehicle

  • Bus Rapid Transit – this would use modern electric bendy buses that can hold up to 110 people each.
The BRT option on the Waterfront Quays.

The type of new Mt Victoria tunnel and how the Basin Reserve is dealt with

In two of the options a new four lane tunnel is dug through Mt Victoria with two of the lanes dedicated to buses and the other two cars. In this option the existing tunnel would also be converted for use by active modes.

The other two options would see cars continue to use the existing Mt Vic tunnel and buses using the existing Haitaitai bus tunnel and a new dedicated walking an cycling tunnel would be built

Separately but also related, three of the options would see the Arras tunnel in front of the National War Memorial extended to separate the state highway traffic from one side of the Basin Reserve. The fourth option removes rapid transit from much of the roundabout simplifying things that way.


Here are the options. In all the maps this is the legend.

Option 1

At $7.4 billion this is the most expensive option of the lot and includes both light rail and the new Mt Victoria Tunnel. One concern with this is the shared lane running south of the hospital which has the potential to introduce a level of unreliability.

South coast light rail + new public transport tunnel – Moving the most people possible to and from Island Bay and surrounding suburbs, beautifying the Basin Reserve, supporting the most housing and urban development, and making our streets better for everyone

Here’s a breakdown of the costs

Option 2

This option swaps the light rail for bus rapid transit and is the second most expensive option on the list at $7.0 billion. It’s hard to know if in reality there would be much of a difference in performance or in the amount of road space needed between the dedicated BRT lanes and continuous bus priority. I suspect there’s not much as they the travel time savings from the airport and Miramar are the same as on Option 1.

Bus rapid transit to the sea and skies – Moving more people to and from Island Bay and surrounding suburbs, eastern suburbs and the airport, but with less housing and urban development than option 1.

And a cost breakdown.

Option 3

This option is for light rail but drops the new vehicle tunnel for a total cost of $6.6 billion. This suggests the new road tunnel that adds no extra capacity is estimated to cost about $800 million

South coast light rail – Connecting the most people between Wellington Railway Station, Island Bay and surrounding suburbs, encouraging the most housing and urban development, making our streets better for everyone, and providing some public transport improvements to Hataitai, Miramar, and the airport.

The breakdown of costs

Option 4

This is the cheapest option at $5.8 billion and achieves saving over Option 3 by dropping the basin reserve tunnel by only needing minor improvements to the Basin roundabout. Going via Taranaki St also has the advantage that the land around much of it likely has more potential for change than the housing alongside Mt Victoria.

South Coast light rail via Taranaki – Light rail to Island Bay and surrounding suburbs but via Taranaki St, bypassing the Basin Reserve, beautifying streets and encouraging the most housing and urban development, for the lowest cost.

The cost breakdowns. It’s not clear why the Rapid Transit option is more expensive than in the other options

A table summarising of each of the options is below

All up these options are suggested to have the potential to enable 21,000 new homes which is a significant amount for Wellington. It’s also interesting to see how this measure is becoming more prominent in the assessment of big projects. We should be doing this kind of analysis on more urban projects.

Given they add no car private vehicle capacity, it’s hard to see how LGWM can justify spending nearly a billion dollars for new road tunnels.

Overall Option 4 seems to be the best for me. It is not only the cheapest and would allow the most housing. In fact perhaps they could use the $1.6 billion saved to build thousands of houses to lock in some of stated the benefits. However none of the options seem to stack up all that well from a BCR point of view

Consultation on the options is open till 10 December but whatever option is chosen, don’t expect anything to happen anytime soon as LGWM suggest construction won’t start till 2028.

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  1. Mass transit not operational till sometime between 2036 and 2043. In 2019 we were gonna get to the hospital by 2029. Ludicrous.

  2. Nice to see Greater Auckland take an interest in greater Wellington at last. Good post too, although I come to a different conclusion than you – not looking at the costs yet, but Option 1 seems to have the best transport outcomes. We look at it over on Eye of the Fish –

    One of the posters (Chico) on that article notes that: “A huge amount of tunneling to add no road capacity. Yes cars are bad for cities – not totally bad but generally bad – but I can’t see that a 2 lane tunnel will cut it when it needs to be part of the existing 4/6/8! lane bypass of the city. It’s not like there’s a 4 lane tunnel and they’re trying to expand it to 6. There will be bottlenecks in the merges up to the new tunnel just like there is now, and just like the Terrace Tunnel. The social benefits of all this will be ruined by the idling merging cars.”

    I suspect that is going to be a common theme of complainants…

    1. Glad to hear your blog is still running. For some reason I thought it had been wound down. Was always a good read on all things the Capital. Look forward to catching up on posts.

      1. thanks KLK – it comes and goes…. different writers over the years. Haven’t got the awesome audience / participants that the GA has up here!

  3. Love how in Auckland people fall over themselves to get rid of Eden Park, but in Wellington it’s a huge pain in the backside for a city planning point of view and no one would dare contemplate the city without it! Love a city that values its sporting history as a placemaking exercise.

    I would love to know how the Wellington Light Rail systems proposed stack up with the Dominion Road/Mangere proposal on a cost/km line. Also, why Auckland needs extensive tunneling while Wellington’s narrower corridors are seemingly fine with surface level running.

    Finally, there is no Option 5 which is disappointing: All of the transport options from Option 1) but with the return of the Nissan Mobil 500 Wellington Street race around the waterfront. Too late for a wild-card proposal?

    1. They propose running an in-traffic street car from Newtown to Island Bay? 3.8 km of that – half the ultimate route.
      Presumably, that is a stage 2 or 3 idea for 2049-

  4. I look at the connection with the railway station and think why don’t they have LRT platforms parallel with the railway, and extend the LRT to the cake tin and ferry terminal?
    At the airport end and especially considering Option 2, why not put the tracks under the runway, and run more directly from Kilbirnie – Rongotai – Airport – Seatoun.

    1. Anthony – we’ve actually been debating that down here for the last approx 10-20 years, but particularly in the last 2 years. We have been reliably informed that no-one would ever tunnel under an existing airport runway, in case of collapse or even the slightest subsidence, and so sadly, going under the airport is forbidden. But for much of the last few years the thought has been that indeed the main focus would be on getting to the Airport – it has only just been in the last few weeks/months that we have been made aware that the focus is to be more on the South than East to the airport.

      Re extending LRT to the cake tin and ferry terminal – not needed, that’s why. People simply walk from the cake tin to the train station – not a problem (and usually quite a social occasion). There is a shuttle bus to take pedestrian passengers to the Interislander – and of course there is also another rival ferry service, the Blue Bridge, which is right opposite the front door of the railway station.

      1. Not sure whether you heard, but there is a plan to unify the two ferry terminals into one and while KiwiRail wanted it near the city it seems that now the thinking is it will be near the InterIslander terminal.

        Also since it looks like you don’t think there is a thing like transfer penalty, why not end the LR at the hospital and have busfeeders south of it (since in any case, PT is shared with other traffic south of it anyway). Everyone can just transfer.

      2. nemo – This has been debated since the De Leuw Cather 1963 Report was released when the the trams were still operating.

  5. We must build rapid mass transit to build houses in an existing residential area.

    Why not seek to intensify along existing rail lines in Wellington (Kapiti, Johnsonville and Hutt) before embarking on this risky, costly boondoggle?

    There are great possibilities for densification along existing rail lines in Wellington.

    1. Intensification 1km from the CBD will always trump intensification 10 – 15km from the CBD. There’s so much more amenity around Taranaki St than say Waterloo or Tawa, people are much more likely to go car free in the former.

      1. currently, PT journey times to Lambdon Quay/Cuba Street at peak are comparable between Newtown (3km away) and Waterloo (15km away) because the train does 90km/h non-stop for most of the route, between Petone and Wellington, while the urban buses stop often and lack full priority. This will change as Wellington’s PT improves, but much of the Hutt is handier to Wellington city centre than much of Wellington itself.

        I’m just hoping the NPS-UD triggers Waterloo going from a dairy and a couple of shops to a proper town centre.

        1. To the north end of Lambton Quay by the train station the times are about the same, But to the south end or Cuba Street, Newton to far closer by PT. About 11mins on the bus then a minute or two walk from where you get off.

    2. You’re just multiplying travel distances, and therefore long term expense.

      But I’m sure as you know with the NPS-UD those stations will have significant intensity zoned, 6 story’s ish within 800m. But thats not enough, there needs to be good public transport options in other areas of New Zealand’s cities. The housing crisis cant be mitigated fast enough.

    3. At the risk of drifting a conversation.. IMO we don’t just need intensification along current lines, but also some kind of public transport that connects the Hutt Valley & Porirua-Kapiti “Branches” of the network directly & reliably.

      It’s a horrible state of affairs when the only way to take public transport from (say) Porirua to Lower Hutt is a train all the way down to Wellington, then up the other line.

      The “all roads lead to downtown Wellington” approach to our public transport network is an outdated model in the post-covid era now that work-from-home has reduced commuting demand.

      IMO Greater Wellington needs a set of inter-connected nodes, not a system that funnels trips towards one CBD.

      What if we build Petone to Grenada (for instance) as just a mass transit corridor that links into the Hutt & Tawa-Porirua networks? No cars, just public transport.

  6. Surface light rail here costs $3.5 billion (at minimum) for approx 8 km. Auckland light rail they costed it at $9.1 billion for approx. 25 km. Maybe the Auckland scheme isn’t so ridiculous now?

    1. doesn’t that 3.5b include the bus rapid transit to the airport, tunneling for that bus, and 30 years of operating costs?

  7. The picture looks like a bus lane rather than Bus Rapid Transit. I understand Bus rapid Transit may be too wide at stations to fit but should not call it Bus Rapid Transit if not planning to have an overtaking lane at stations.

    1. The beauty of BRT is that at the high end it is very similar to LR (in quality but also in cost) but that on the low end it is very similar to a bus (just put a label on your existing bus calling it BRT, done). That is why politicians love it, since it can be adapted during your sales pitch whatever your voter wants to hear. And treasurers love it since they can downgrade it to save money (to get to the outcome of relabelling an existing bus).

      A full BRT solution obviously won’t work in Wellington, the roads are too narrow. And none of the plans have dedicated bus lanes (or LR lanes) south of the hospital anyway, they are shared with cars (that is actually a good argument against LR, since light rail cannot navigate around a parked car on the tracks, whereas a simple bus can).

      1. Ralf – Wellington does have a so called ‘BRT’ being ‘high frequency’ bus services on core routes between Seatoun, Miramar and Karori and between Churton Park, Grenada Village, Johnsonville, Newlands and Island Bay which are suppose to reduce non-essential car traffic through the central city area.

      2. Wellington’s main streets are generally sufficiently wide from building line to building line for BRT or light rail, it’s just that most of the space is taken up by providing for private vehicles (moving or stationary). Road space reallocation is the key!

        None of Wellington’s bus routes go anywhere near resembling BRT. One of the major failings of the previous GWRC’s new bus network was the complete lack of any provision for bus priority (there has been no significant bus priority added for 10 years): without that most basic building block of BRT, using that term to describe the current situation is just a flight of fancy.

        Fortunately LGWM is working on (non-BRT) bus priority along the Golden Mile and along non-MRT routes as well as the MRT proposals.

  8. I’m a bit concerned that they are not tunnelling the entire light rail line to Island Bay. Surely Wellingtonians also deserve to have few and far away underground rail stations so that door to door trips can be slower than the existing bus service.

    And how will the government be able to tender more debt to keep the financial markets alive if we don’t also blow out the cost of this line by a factor of 2-3x ?

  9. On your paragraph about why greater Auckland should care about what wellingtons housing and transport should look like, fully agree, just to add one more point:

    The councils have tried for years to minimise growth in their area and not have to build anything, trying to make that growth happen somewhere else. Every NZ city dweller should care about what the other cities are doing, they end up picking up the slack if the other city is lagging or acting only in its self interest. Some councils actions harm others.

    We can no longer play the “this is what my area should look like, you worry about yours” game.

    1. I have to say: wouldn’t it be great if the Government decided to put in a bulk order for Light Rail systems: two of them, for Auckland and Wellington. Even could go for Christchurch too if it ever decided to get its transport act together. There just seems a logic to having the exact same equipment in both cities, even if they never end up mixing. Having two different, competing systems on the tracks would seem to be a tragic, boring mistake…

      1. I think this would end up being a case of penny wise, pound foolish.

        Even within Auckland, even on the dominion road to airport corridor, there are different problems that would ideally require different solutions. To force the entire country to attempt to use the same light rail systems could end up with an O-train esque issue in Ottawa. Where they are trying to use light rail in a situation that would be suited to a (light) metro system. And having huge issues, in part because of that mismatch.

        The cost savings I think would be pretty minimal with bulk stuff too. If we go with standard light rail stuff from Alstom etc then its not like it gets cheaper for them to make 40 LRV’s vs 100 LRV’s for NZ. They make 1000s anyway.

        1. There would however be a case for Waka Kotahi establishing a standard set of LRT specifications for NZ, in much the same way that Transport for New South Wales did (albeit retrospectively). This would make sure that there were common standards for vehicle dimensions, wheel and rail profiles etc for future interoperability and to ensure that as wider range of suppliers are able to tender to supply LRT equipment to NZ as possible. It was surprising to me to learn during a brief stint working on the Canberra Light Rail project a few years ago how much variability there was in LRT equipment – not just between suppliers but between legacy systems around the world.

        2. Counter point: even such basic things like standardized loading gauge might not be a good idea though.

          For an automated light metro that was fully grade separated there is a reasonable case to be made about having pretty wide rolling stock, like Vancouver’s Canada line, to make better use of the width of modern bored tunnels. Such wide rolling stock means the trains, platforms, and stations can be shorter and cheaper.

          But Auckland’s surface routes cant have 3m wide rolling stock, they would just take up too much room.

  10. The proposed shared lane running of light rail south of the hospital is dire. They must do detailed work on how this can be avoided with the removal of every parking space on the route looked at as the first option and consideration of making parts of the route PT/active mode only where vehicle access can be preserved via other routes. Cars delaying LRVs on half this route would be a terrible outcome.

  11. Looking at these proposals for what will effectively be two mass transit sytems (I hesitate to include the word “rapid”, looking at all the 90° bends the Island Bay line will have), I can’t but feel that it would make more sense to make both systems the same – either both LRT or both BRT, thus having only type of equipment to install and maintain.
    By far the greatest population and level of commercial-activity is in the eastern suburbs rather than Berhampore/Island Bay (hence the long-standing pressure for better transport links to the former and not the latter), and I struggle to see how whatever new housing is envisaged in both areas will alter this basic established fact. LRT to Island Bay would be nice-to-have, but would be a far lower priority than better links to Kilbirnie/Lyall Bay/Rongotai/Miramar/Seatoun/Strathmore and (last but not least) the airport. The Eastern suburbs could justify a connection to the existing regional rail system instead of an expensive new road tunnel, whereas Berhampore/Island Bay seems largely content with its present high-frequency bus service.
    LRT to Island Bay has only recently popped out of the woodwork. I suspect it has been tossed in to mollify those who have for years campaigned for eastern suburbs LRT, which the powers-that-be appear not to want. I doubt it will actually happen as it makes little sense when the much-more needful eastern suburbs are being offered a couple of bus-only lanes in a big new road tunnel. How long into the design-phase before pressure from the cars-first brigade forces those planned bus lanes to accommodate general traffic – i.e. 4 lanes to the planes, and watered-down BRT?

    1. Wasn’t the current bus network especially the ‘high frequency’ bus services between Seatoun, Miramar and Karori and between Churton Park, Grenada Village, Johnsonville, Newlands and Island Bay are suppose to the the BRT core routes to reduce non-essential car traffic through the central city area?

      Do forget, the Kilbirnie isthmus is prone to land rise during a major earthquake.

      1. Seismically speaking, both the Rongotai / Kilbirnie flat areas are just as equally prone to a tsunami as is the flat land up Island Bay. Any giant wave from the Kaikouras will hit both equally. And geologically, both of those areas are not very stable ground, although Rongotai would be more liable to liquefaction than Island Bay.
        Island Bay has a delta of Holocene alluvium, while Rongotai has a mixture of that and Holcene marine sediments (source: Dellow, Perrin, Ries, (2018) GNS Science report 2014/16: Liquefaction hazard in the Wellington Region).

    2. C’mon Dave, it’s only five 90 degree bends in 900m. Rapid as, not to mention quiet and comfortable.
      I wonder what was wrong with that Taranaki street plan, that would be straight down to the end.

  12. It seems that a hybrid option that kills 2 birds with 1 stone isn’t being looked at. Instead of tunnelling through Mt Victoria, instead tunnel from Newtown to Kilbernie.
    That way you cover most of the new development out towards Island Bay (although not Island Bay itself), you cover the hospital, the airport too.
    If there is still a need a much smaller and cheaper pedestrian/cyclist tunnel could be added to Mt Victoria. All of this shouldn’t cost any more than any of the other options (and possibly less than the first 2).

  13. Whilst I am a light rail supporter and see benefits of light rail in mass public transport settings, but these proposals are ridicules. Other than the possibility of a new Mt Victoria tunnel which could be needed to complete the missing inner city bypass of SH1/2 between the Terrace and Mt Victoria tunnels, this is expensive gold plated fantasy based on theoretical through here and now planning and doesn’t factor in the disruptive effects of a warming planet including natural disaster/s.

    The GRWC has already spent $60 odd million on introducing and fixing issues of the current Wellington city’s bus network, so why spend $1 billion plus to introduce a 1 route light rail system when this money could be used to upgrade capacity on the NIMT between Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki?

    The cheapest option is to have more dedicated bus lanes on core existing bus routes using 100 passenger, 3 door, low floor, 14 mtrs, tandem axle single deck hydrogen/battery buses. This gives operational flexibility plus it doesn’t require expensive engineering works, house removals, disruptions, etc that would be required for light rail construction including a new depot.

    I am not sure why LGWM is focusing on Island Bay, Miramar, Seatoun, Kilbirnie, as so call ‘potential’ population growth in the Wellington region will be north of the Wellington city boundaries where nearly 60% of non-essential vehicle traffic passing through the Wellington central city already comes from.

    1. It would be nice if they concentrated on fixing the basin reserve road, Vivian street (state highway 1) going through 10 sets of traffic lights and looked at doubling the terrace tunnel to allow people to enter the city but by the time they sort that out it’s unlikely any of us will still be around

      1. Lets hope they don’t waste endless money making things easier for drivers instead of putting in high quality public transport that those people could use instead of their cars

      2. Corey – I agree with you. The Basin Reserve needs to be sorted first then look at fine tuning the exit bus network.

  14. a good little summary from the RMtransit youtube channel about why BRT is rarely a good idea. Remember with Auckland’s Northern Busway it only got across the line because of the promise that it *might* become an express lane for cars.

    1. I think RMtransit really loves the higher capacity / bigger stuff about transit. But that’s not the political realities on the ground in a smaller city like Auckland, especially the time when the busway was built. We needed the northern busway because it was what got PT off the ground. We never, never would have got a north shore rail line in the early 2000’s. The busway was the best option available.

      And on that particular alignment and geography a busway that can merge with motorway traffic genuinely has huge short – medium term advantages over a bigger rail based system.
      The northern busway allowed the most congested / important bits of the northern motorway to be bypassed, without the cost of a new bridge or tunnel, a huge upfront geographical barrier. It allows motorway running to a satellite city much further north. Even today only 41% of the route from the city to Albany runs on the actual busway.

      The eastern busway again is a piece of infrastructure that has to deal with unideal geography. It has to cater for busses from Howick, its not all that busy and likely wont fill up for a number of decades to come.

      I think Reece takes the more pure, if everything fell into place, housing policy etc and we had unwavering political support, what would be the best thing to have on that corridor for the next 100 years. But that’s just not what we deal with, here at least.

    2. Interesting the Blog says a good thing with Busway is one seat rides reducing the need for transfers.
      Something the Northern Busway easily could provide (and used to) , but currently does not.

  15. So, $20 to 28 Billion for 2 light rail solutions.

    That is a lot of coin to spend for not much geographical coverage.

    Does Auckland and Wellington want these limited reach showpieces or network solutions needed address global warming.

    1. Don’t worry bro, its not going to happen, Michael Woods will have to face the fact that its too expensive for the average tax payer and will have to go for other cheaper alternatives!

  16. Interesting the Blog says a good thing with a Busway is providing one seat rides and that this reduces the need for transfers.
    Something the Northern Busway easily could provide (and used to) , but currently does not.

  17. In my 30s at the moment just realised I’ll almost be retired by the time this is implemented, assuming no further delays.

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