Thursday, March 01, 2012

More on Wellington Transport: the Bus Review

The Wellington Regional Council is undertaking a second round of consultation on its review of bus services. After a first round of consultation, it has prepared some proposals for how to reorganise routes to respond to people's desires for greater frequency and more services in the evening and on weekends, within the current budget.

The WRC reports that it has followed "best practice public transport design principles" in designing the new routes. The main change is that routes are divided into three tiers: 'core', 'secondary' and 'peak only'. The core routes would run along main corridors with a 15-minute frequency, 7 days, early morning to late evening. The secondary routes are more suburban-oriented branches and loops, most with an all-week 30-minute frequency. The peak-only routes are a combination of local loops to fringe areas and more direct routes from suburbs to the CBD in peak hours.

The trade off for the increased hours and frequency is that more journeys will require a change of buses than at present, many through major connection points such as the Cable Car, Wellington Station, Johnsonville, Kilbirnie, Brookly and Karori Tunnel. WRC says connections will be free for travel on the same company, and major connection points will offer shelter

After having a look and applying the proposed new system to places I or people I know have lived, I'm cautiously positive. The Brooklyn area in particular would be much better served than at present. On the other hand, some of the idiosyncratic northwest-southeast routes will go: it would no longer be possible to get a bus from right outside by house in Northland to a couple of blocks away from my friends' house in Berhampore.

Nevertheless, I think the trade offs are probably worth it. Frequency and extended hours are a major selling point of a public transport system, making a difference between it being a convenient, consumer-centred service and something you're relegated to when you don't have a car. One of the things that I like about the metro systems in large international cities is that you can just show up at the station and be confident that the next train will be along soon. It's a different experience from having to organize your day around being at bus stops at very specific times or facing an interminable wait in the wind and rain.

So, I'll provide a qualified endorsement of the WRC's proposal, with the following conditions:

-- the frequencies and extended hours are as promised
-- the connections are as seamless as they promise
-- cash-paying passengers get the same transfer rights, i.e. it isn't some mysterious process available only to those with a Snapper card
-- the Cable Car should also be a free transfer

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