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Two bus options and one light rail option through the centre of Wellington and along Adelaide Road to Newtown have been found to have the most merit for a future high quality public transport spine between Wellington Railway Station and the Regional Hospital.
These three scored the highest out of eight ‘medium list’ options evaluated against a range of criteria as part of the Wellington Public Transport Spine Study being carried out by Greater Wellington in partnership with Wellington City Council and the NZ Transport Agency. The study started with 88 possible options.
The three short-listed options which will be further assessed are:
AECOM, the study consultant, has made three recommendations based on the evaluation:
Fran Wilde, Chair of Greater Wellington Regional Council, says the three short-listed options and recommendations don’t come as a surprise. “From previous studies that have been done, particularly for the Ngauranga to Airport corridor plan, we expected bus and light rail to be the most likely options for the region’s public transport spine. And our transport planning predecessors plainly got it right when they decided the route should be through the centre of the city. We’ll now await further rigorous and detailed assessment of the three options.”
Celia Wade-Brown, Mayor of Wellington, says, “Good transport choices for Wellington mean public transport congestion, attractiveness and reliability must be improved.
“I’m delighted but not surprised that light rail is still firmly on the agenda. There are opportunities for development at stations and exchanges that must be explored among other funding models.”
Jenny Chetwynd, the NZ Transport Agency’s Regional Director, Central says the announcement of the three options is great progress towards determining a long-term solution that will meet Wellington’s future public transport needs. “The next phase of the study will look at how each option stacks up from a value for money perspective, as well as other important considerations like resilience and transport integration.”
In addition to the three options above, the other five medium list options evaluated were:
The eight options were evaluated alongside a ‘base case’ option that involves already committed public transport projects in the study area and the changes proposed as part of the Wellington City Bus Review that is under way.
The next step in the study will be to analyse the three short-listed options in more detail including land use evaluations, social, environmental and planning assessments, transport integration and feasibility, and capital and operating estimates.
The final study report is expected to be released in April 2013. The Regional Transport Committee will then carry out formal public consultation, including hearings, on the short list options. Submissions from this consultation will inform the Committee’s final decision on the best option for the long-term future of the region.
Q: How were the eight options assessed?
A: The options were assessed against five key criteria: passenger benefits and perceptions, how they fitted with Wellington city and region’s strategic transport objectives, financial and technical feasibility, environmental and safety impacts and resilience. They were scored on a range of performance measures relating to these criteria. The three short-listed options were those that scored positively, i.e. above zero, overall.
Q: Why has a waterfront route been ruled out?
A: The waterfront corridor was ruled out primarily because it wouldn’t be as accessible to as many people as a central city route. It would also require many people to walk further to reach their destinations. Also, this route does not provide the opportunities that the central route does, for public transport patronage to grow through increased residential and commercial development.
Q: Why has heavy rail been ruled out?
A: The heavy rail underground option assessment found there were significant benefits for passengers in terms of faster travel times and the convenience of not having to transfer to another mode to or from the railway station. However, these were outweighed by the substantial costs, including construction of the tunnel, taking account of seismic considerations and lighting and ventilation requirements, coupled with the high risks of building underground in a potential liquefaction zone and ground water issues next to the harbour. The option rated particularly poorly in terms of resilience as it was deemed to be the most complex and most costly to repair.
While the option for heavy rail along the waterfront route was found to be significantly cheaper than the underground option, it was ruled out largely because of the effect it would have on the waterfront, both in terms of urban design and how it would restrict access to the waterfront from the CBD.
Q: Why was an underground heavy rail option investigated in the first place?
A: An option which extended heavy rail through the centre of the city was considered worth investigation because of the large numbers of people who commute by heavy rail into Wellington City from the north. An underground option was investigated, as an alternative to a ground-level heavy rail option because the latter would likely create major issues in terms of reducing people’s accessibility to parts of the city centre and would have a negative impact on the look and feel of the city.
Q: How much would the three short-listed options cost?
A: This next stage of assessment will focus closely on the cost of each option as each is scoped fully. A very rough estimate of the capital costs, at this stage, are:
Bus priority – between $16m - $35m
Bus rapid transit – between $98m - $319m
Light rail - between $172 - $392m
Q: To what extent has funding and affordability been taken into account?
A: Focus on the financial viability of the options will become increasingly sharper as the list of options gets further assessed. Key financial factors include development costs (including land acquisition and vehicle manufacture), ongoing operating costs, and economic benefits from a highly efficient public transport system. These factors will be researched and analysed thoroughly as the study progresses.
Q: What has the process been so far?
A: Initially the study identified and assessed a wide range of possible options involving various routes and modes. Criteria for assessing the long list of route options included accessibility, potential to grow patronage through development opportunities and environmental impacts. Criteria for assessing the mode options included attractiveness to users, engineering feasibility and safety. The list of options was refined to eight route and mode combinations. These eight options were then assessed, and resulted in a short-list of three options.
Q: What happens after the study?
A: When the study is completed, the Wellington Regional Transport Committee (RTC) will be responsible for the next steps. The RTC includes all the study partners as well as mayors from all the other councils in the region and some other community and regional agency representatives.
At this stage the intention is that the RTC will carry out formal public consultation, including hearings, on the short list options in early 2013. Submissions from the consultation will inform the RTC’s final decision on the best option for the long term future of the region.
Q: When will the results of the study take effect?
A: The study is looking at the best public transport options for Wellington in 20 to 30 years time. The evaluation process for the short-listed options will include an implementation plan for each option which may involve some early interventions and other later ones.
There are some issues in parts of the study area that need immediate attention. These include severe traffic congestion around the Basin Reserve and severe bus congestion along the Golden Mile. Shorter term solutions, including roading improvements around the Basin Reserve and bus route changes coming out of the Wellington City Bus Review, will address these issues. Effective communication and collaboration between the people responsible for the various projects will ensure that none of the shorter-term changes will hinder the outcome of the Spine Study.
Q: What is the problem the study is trying to fix?
A: The study is looking for the best public transport option to meet the needs of the Wellington region in the future. If we continue with the current system, within the next 20-30 years public transport along the spine is likely to be increasingly inefficient and ineffective in supporting the function of the central city and the region.