Wellington Public Transport Spine Study findings


A future Bus Rapid Transit system through central Wellington has been found to have the most benefits of three possible options, according to the final report of the Wellington Public Transport Spine Study.

The report will be presented to the Regional Transport Committee tomorrow, marking the completion of the 18-month study. The study, investigating the most feasible options for a future high quality public transport system through central Wellington, was carried out by consultant AECOM on behalf of study partners Greater Wellington Regional Council, Wellington City Council and the NZ Transport Agency.

The three options, evaluated on their feasibility in the report, are:

  • Bus priority, which involves more peak period bus lanes and priority traffic signals for buses, along the Golden Mile and Kent Terrace, through the Basin Reserve and along Adelaide Road to Newtown and through the Hataitai bus tunnel to Kilbirnie.
  • Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), which involves a dedicated busway, for modern, higher capacity buses separated from other traffic as much as possible, along the Golden Mile and Kent/Cambridge Terrace then around the Basin Reserve and along Adelaide Road to Newtown and through the (duplicated) Mt Victoria tunnel to Kilbirnie.
  • Light Rail Transit (LRT), which involves new tram vehicles running on dedicated tracks along the Golden Mile, Kent and Cambridge Terraces then around the Basin Reserve along Adelaide Road to Newtown and through a separate Mt Victoria tunnel to Kilbirnie.

The study findings show that the BRT option has the highest benefits, followed by LRT and Bus Priority. All options result in shorter journey times between the south/south-east locations of Newtown and Kilbirnie through to the Wellington CBD. The most significant reduction is under the BRT and LRT options which almost halve the travel time between Kilbirnie and the Wellington Railway Station.

An increase in the overall number of people using public transport region-wide is achieved under all three options. However, from the south/south-east area of Wellington through to the CBD in the morning peak, BRT attracts a 7% increase in passenger numbers compared with a 3.2% increase under the Bus Priority option and no change under the LRT option. A key factor for LRT is the need to transfer between LRT and bus services for travel beyond Newtown and Kilbirnie.

The forecast benefits to public transport users for the three options are equivalent to $35 million for Bus Priority, $95 million for BRT and $56 million for LRT in 2012 dollars.  The benefits are calculated using NZTA guidelines. These apply a monetary value to travel time savings experienced by existing and new public transport users and are offset by ‘disbenefits’ experienced by motorists because road space has been allocated to public transport.

The cost of delivering each of the three options has been estimated as part of the study. The most expensive option is LRT at $940 million, which is almost five times that of BRT as the next most expensive option ($207 million). The option with the lowest estimated cost is Bus Priority at $59 million. These costs include both infrastructure and any new vehicles required.

The annual cost of running the Bus Priority option would be around $88m. For BRT the operating cost would be about 6% lower, mainly due to reduced overall bus kilometres travelled. The cost of running LRT would be around 1% higher due to running a mixture of light rail and bus services and the additional maintenance costs for light rail tracks.

The physical feasibility of the three options was also investigated through the study. Cross sections were developed to show how the different options might look and to understand the extent of impacts on parking, access and property. While all three options could be built, removal of on-street parking would be an element of all options. In addition, there would be impacts on some properties where limited road widening is needed outside the existing road corridor and more significant impacts under the BRT and LRT options along State Highway 1 Ruahine Street and Wellington Road, particularly on the Town Belt.

The report recommends that if the Bus Priority option is selected as the preferred option, it could be developed incrementally as opportunities arise. The optimal time for implementing the BRT and LRT options would be around 2021-22, with planning, approvals and procurement activities carried out in the preceding years. This is based on forecast demand and timing of relevant road improvement projects such as the Basin Reserve upgrade, Mt Victoria tunnel duplication and Ruahine Street improvements. Ideally the entire BRT or LRT network would be developed all in one stage to maximise benefits and avoid integration issues with existing bus services. 

After receiving the final report tomorrow (Wednesday 19 June), the Regional Transport Committee will decide the next steps, leading to a decision on a preferred option.

Fran Wilde, Chair of the Regional Council, says the study provides some extremely useful information for decisions about the best form of public transport to meet the needs of population growth, reduce congestion and improve economic productivity in Wellington.

“The public transport spine through Wellington City has a crucial role as part of an efficient transport system to support growth and economic development for the city and the region. The spine study findings make a significant contribution to our understanding of what public transport in the city could look like in future and provide greater investment certainty. They give us a springboard for an informed debate about future public transport through this important corridor.”

Jenny Chetwynd, NZ Transport Agency’s Regional Director – Central Region, says “Wellington needs a flexible, practical and effective public transport solution that will increase patronage, deliver clear time savings, and integrate well with our wider transport system to provide travel choice for Wellingtonians.

“Whatever the preferred option is, it’s also important that it provides good value for money and is affordable for ratepayers, public transport users and road users. At this point it seems that the BRT option provides the best balance between transport benefits and value for money.”

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says defining and designating a corridor for significantly improved public transport from the Railway Station is essential. Urban redevelopment and growth in Adelaide Road and Kilbirnie are also a critical part of interconnecting smart transport and urban development.

“Let's build a better public transport system now starting with more bus priority lanes in 2014. This will follow on from the new bus lanes in Courtenay Place and Kent/Cambridge terraces.”

Mayor Wade-Brown says she will welcome informed input from the public on the study findings, including its assumptions about costs, routes and timing.

“While light rail is attractive, bus rapid transit may be a more immediate and pragmatic step and I want significant progress well before 2021. The study indicates real opportunities for the west and south as well as the east.”

She says the decisions and information about public transport options and RoNS for the Ngauranga to Airport corridor will feed into Wellington City’s transport strategy consultation, which will consider the role of all modes of transport.