Tunnel visions. Getting Welly moving under a new Mayor.

Andy Foster

Congratulations Andy Foster. You ran a good campaign. You’ve earned the right to be Wellington’s next mayor. Now the real work begins. You want another road tunnel under Mt Victoria. The majority of your councillors probably don’t. Where do we go from here? The Traffic Jam has some potentially radical ideas.

It didn’t take long. The word from The Hill is within a few hours of special votes confirming Andy Foster pipped incumbent Justin Lester in the city’s mayoralty race, transport minister Phil Twyford was talking about revisiting the timeline for work on Let’s Get Welly Moving.

By Tuesday, Twyford had gone public with RNZ’s Morning Report saying he’d be  prepared to discuss Let’s Get Welly Moving’s agenda, which currently prioritises construction of a new rapid public transit system to Wellington’s south and east, ahead of a second road tunnel under Mt Victoria.

Foster claims his victory is a mandate for the latter. Other far wiser and experienced political observers have blogged on why he defeated Lester, but I agree the desire among some voters for a few more lanes to planes was a factor. However, there is another potentially longer term election trend running contrary to that – and which I’ll come to later.

Twyford’s willingness to revisit the LGWM timetable comes as no surprise. Under his watch the NZTA has delayed Light Rail in Auckland (a Labour Pledge in 2017). Labour is even less invested in expanding Wellington’s PT network. Besides, it’s slipping in the opinion polls.

His insistence the amount of taxpayer money on the table for LGWM remains the same (around 60 percent of the estimated six billion dollar bill) only makes things worse for Light Rail (or whatever else it might be) to Newtown and beyond.

Foster’s promised to keep a lid or rates. Build your second tunnel under Mt Vic and there’s not much left in the bank.

Yes I know tunnel supporters argue it’ll be “multi-modal”. It’ll have space for bikes and pedestrians. But let’s face it, the people who voted for Foster on the tunnel issue expect it to be for cars. Their cars.

Mt Vic tunnel
I hope that footpath isn’t what they mean by “multi modal”.

And this is where it gets messy. Foster may claim he has a mandate to push through a second road tunnel, but he can’t do that without the support of his council. Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan has written an excellent piece on the hurdles the new mayor faces in bringing Mt Vic 2 forward.

If we look at the new Wellington City Council, I can see six votes  (including Foster’s) for a second road tunnel; Diane Calvert, Simon Woolf, Sean Rush (from the tunnel friendly Wellington Party) Malcolm Sparrow and Nicola Young. Not enough. Iona Pannett won’t have a bar of it. Based on their campaigns, previous voting in council and post-election statements, Sarah Free, Fleur Fitzsimons, Jenny Condie, Teri O’Neill, Rebecca Matthews, Laurie Foon, Tamatha Paul and Jill Day all appear to be road tunnel skeptics.

By the way, you can listen to a Traffic Jam analysis of the local election results with Talk Wellington’s Isabella Cawthorn and PT advocate Roland Sapsford here.

Of course councillors under pressure can flip-flop, as can Labour-led governments, but to do so would fly in the face of that other key trend in the 2019 local election; voting on climate change.

Off the back of the national school climate strikes and rallies, New Zealanders elected candidates committed to cutting the nation’s carbon emissions. I would argue in Wellington City alone, three new councillors, Condie, Paul and O’Neill all rode that wave into office.

Smart road lobbyists noticed it too. In the wake of Foster’s Wellington triumph and second tunnel trajectory, I spoke with Geordie Cassin from the AA’s Wellington Council.

The interview begins with his answer to my question as to whether he thinks a second Mt Vic road tunnel is now more likely – which he does. But I recommend you listen closely to what Geordie has to say.

There’s recognition climate concern isn’t going to go away. In fact, with every new story of record high temperatures in the arctic, droughts in Australia, and forest fires in the USA, it’s likely to increase. Geordie saw the kids marching, and how they kept on coming.

While the Wellington Chamber of Commerce keeps up the same old rhetoric over limiting rates while asking for more corporate welfare, I sense a change with the AA.

I think the AA can see that even if Foster is able to persuade enough of his fellow councillors,  and the government, to go back on the commitment to begin the PT work on Let’s Get Welly Moving first (and let’s remember folks, PT first was what the majority of submissions to LGWM asked for) pushing on a with a road tunnel under Mt Vic is likely to buy a fight in the Environment Court, and a fair amount of protest in the streets.

Here’s Roland and Isabella’s thoughts on the mandate voters gave Wellington’s local leaders.

Foster could bank on a change of Government next year, but what if the cavalry under Simon Bridges fails to arrive?

I think there’s one thing all sides of this debate agree on; we’re sick of the mucking around.

Is there a way through this?

I think it’s time for a bit more ambition. Forget about a 60/40 taxpayer/ratepayer split in funding. Addressing The Capital’s congestion is a state job. We’re expecting Wellingtonions to stump up with almost half of the money needed to cope with traffic created by years of national road building projects.


If central government wants another road tunnel, then it can pay the whole of the LGWM bill itself.

And if the AA wants a second road tunnel for its members, it should insist work on rapid mass transit to Newtown and beyond, begins at the same time. That’s the best way to avoid another potentially drawn out battle in the courts and on the streets.

Because if you want to signal you don’t give a stuff about climate change, building another road at the expense of PT is the good way of doing it.

That’s Foster’s best hope for his Mt Vic ambitions too; unite the council behind a plan which puts PT on an equal footing with another road tunnel.

By the way, if that road tunnel is to be truly multi-modal, then you’d better make sure you limit its use to electric vehicles, because we already have a tunnel full of exhaust fumes.

And yes, if you want any chance of avoiding the usual result of widening the state highway on one side of the city – that we’re back in the same place dealing with congestion under The Terrace in 15 years time – then you’d better make sure your rapid transit linking the region’s rail system with Newtown and beyond, is up and running when that second tunnel opens.

Metlink line up Wikipedia
The rapid transit shouldn’t end here.

In fact, given car ownership is likely to decline relative to ownership of e-bikes and scooters, we could even plan for a next stage which re-configures one of those road tunnels for buses only, while converting the existing bus tunnel to a shared cycle and footpath.

Would the progressive transport mob support it?

I don’t know. But could the Government afford to ignore a united front from City and Regional Council, the AA, and the active and PT transport lobby? Maybe even National’s Wellington MPs would support it?

All this becomes irrelevant if Phil Twyford sticks to the current LGWM timetable, and if National fails to win office next year.

However, I still think it’s time for the AA and the progressives to talk. Whatever happens with LGWM, from late next year we will have to start dealing with the extra traffic generated by Transmission Gully.

As micromobility disrupts old ways of getting around, the AA needs to think about representing the owners of e-bikes and scooters, and improving the experience of those members who still choose to drive.

The best way to do that, is lobby for better alternatives for those of us who would prefer – at least some of the time – not to.

Jam 2

Happy Jammin’.

  • This will be the final blog for The Traffic Jam in its current form. I had to decide between my choir, The Doubtful Sounds, or this. I went for the music. That gives me a little more time for my partner and son. I owe them. There’s a chance I can persuade RNZ to fund The Traffic Jam as one of its podcasts, although we’d have to shift our focus beyond Wellington. Whatever happens, I’ve really enjoyed writing these Jams, as I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them. I started the Jam not because I hate cars, but because I love driving and fear, unless Wellington changes its ways, we’re headed for gridlock, and we’ll have to spend a tonne of money getting ourselves out of it. I believe there’s room on this planet for motor vehicles which don’t pollute, but failure to provide ourselves with alternatives is literally kicking the can down the road. I’ll continue to share an observation or two via my Twitter account and you can be sure of a thumbs up from me at the lights if you stop on a yellow, and a friendly wave if you let the bike go first, once it’s safe to let you pass… Cheers! Bryan Crump.



Before you vote for them, how did they vote for you?


talking-transport.jpgThere’s been a bit of talk about candidate scorecards, and how well they reflect the actual intentions of our would-be representatives once they get into power.

The Traffic Jam’s been thinking about this too, and decided to do a little research of its own to compliment the two Transport Hui it helped to organise last month.

The task was simple; go through the full Wellington City Council minutes from the past term, tallying where representatives had supported motions with a public or active transport agenda against those addressing the needs of private motorists.

I didn’t count votes where the motion’s beneficiary was unclear (“is this a cars first thing or not? If I was in doubt I left it out). I also ignored motions where the votes of individual candidates went unrecorded.

I then calculated a “score” – Heaven help me – based on the ratio of pro-public/active transport votes to the number of pro-road votes. A score of one or more, means over the past term a councillor has gone public/active more than they’ve gone motorcar, at least in the open sessions of full council meetings.

The numbers in brackets (*/*) represent votes for a public/active transport agenda verses votes supporting the interests of car users.

This is what I found, from highest to lowest. If you’re after a lobbyist for the private motorist, scroll down.

  • Iona Pannett (Lambton Ward) 16.0 (16/1)
  • Fleur Fitzsimons*  (Southern) 2.75 (11/4)
  • Chris Calvi-Freeman (Eastern) 2.4 (12/5)
  • David Lee** (Southern) 2.4 (12/5)
  • Simon Marsh (Eastern) 2.2 (11/5)
  • Peter Gilberd (Northern) 1.83 (11/6)
  • Justin Lester (Mayor) 1.67 (10/6)
  • Sarah Free (Eastern) 1.29 (9/7)
  • Nicola Young (Lambton) 1.29 (9/7)
  • Diane Calvert (Onslow -Western) 1.13 (9/8)
  • Brian Dawson (Lambton) 1.13 (9/8)
  • Jill Day (Northern) 1.0 (7/7)
  • Andy Foster (Onslow-Western) 0.88 (8/9)
  • Malcolm Sparrow (Northern) 0.88 (8/9)
  • Simon Woolf (Onslow-Western) 0.55 (6/11)

* Fleur Fitzsimons replaced Paul Eagle in 2017, when the latter became a Parliamentary MP.

** David Lee is standing down as a Wellington City Councillor, but you can still vote for him on the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

A few trends I’d expected, but also a few surprises. Iona Pannett tops the list by a clear margin. Chris Calvi- Freeman has been public in his support of the Let’s Get Welly Moving programme, but Peter Gilberd’s and Simon Marsh’s voting records were more in favour of public and active transport than their statements at the first Talking Transport Hui suggested.

Justin Lester’s in the upper middle of the pack, as is Sarah Free. Her support of the Island Bay Cycleway, was balanced by her advocacy for free weekend parking.

Despite being one of the most vocal supporters of a second Mt Victoria Road Tunnel, Diane Calvert comes out on the active/public side by virtue of her endorsement of the revised Island Bay Cycleway.  Along with Andy Foster and Iona Pannett, she also voted for Let’s Get Welly Moving to investigate better use of buses and rapid transit, and lobby central government for a regional fuel tax.

Jill Day’s voting record didn’t quite match her strong public/active talk at the Transport Hui. Perhaps politics – and Day’s position as deputy mayor – played a role in this. Iona Pannett was prepared to join Calvert and Foster in some renegade votes on Let’s Get Welly Moving. Jill Day stayed with the pack.

Andy Foster’s support for a second road tunnel, and his advocacy of free parking during the weekends, puts him on the road side of the equation, along with Malcolm Sparrow (another advocate of free weekend parking).

The strongest supporter for the roads lobby, or at least leaving the roads as they are, was Simon Woolf. He joined Foster and Calvert in calling for a second Mt Victoria Tunnel, voted to keep free parking at the weekends, and was a lone voice against the revised Island Bay Cycleway plan.

Based on voting records, advocates of public and active transport are fairly evenly spread across the city’s five wards, with the exception of Onslow-Western.

As an exercise, this survey of one term’s worth of full council minutes has its limits, but it does throw a bit of extra light on the position of some candidates, and maybe underlines the need for more research on others, of which plenty is available.

You can try here for a start, but also here and here.

For a regional perspective, especially on policies addressing carbon emissions this one from The Common Climate Network is well worth checking.

The rest is up to you.

orange man


Oh, and one last thing.

I would have liked to have done the same thing for the last term of the Greater Wellington Regional Council, but its minutes don’t record who votes for what. Perhaps that lack of public record (and the discipline which comes with it) was one of the reasons its councillors were so careless over the introduction of Wellington’s new bus network and the premature removal of its electric trolley buses (turns out those new battery electrics weren’t ready after all).

I think about that every time I wait at a hub facing away from the shops and into the wind, or take in another breath of diesel filled air downtown (while blocking my ears to keep out the noise).

I’m hoping for more openness from the GWRC next term, for their sake as well as ours.

Happy Jammin’.


The Transport Hui goes East (South and regional)

Orange Guy Mt Vic

The Traffic Jam went beyond the Basin for the second of its Transport Hui, inviting regional council candidates along with city council contenders for Wellington’s Eastern and Southern Wards. Here’s a summary of where they stand, and whether it’s on a road, footpath, cycleway or station platform.

Regional round up

Let’s begin with the regional councillor candidates, as they straddled two meetings. You can hear all of them speaking here.

You can probably guess, all of them will “fix the buses” but they do differ on how much priority they would buses compared to parked cars , or even moving ones.

Cars first

I’ve listed contenders in terms of their support for private verses public/active transport, with the private motor lobbyists first. The further you scroll down, the more public and actively minded your candidates get, starting with…

  • Philip O’Brien: Without doubt, the strongest roading advocate at either meeting. Wasn’t afraid to revisit the “four lanes to the planes” mantra Wellington Mayoral candidate Jo Coughlan coined in 2016. Uses the bus, but thinks the city has to cater for the majority who prefer cars. Says he’s a keen walker, but again doesn’t see many other on the footpath. Whether you think that’s because other users see him coming first, probably depends on how your views line up with his. If you want more space for cars, and a bloke not afraid of the odd controversial quote (see below) O’Brien is your man.
  • Lesleigh Salinger: Like Philip O’Brien, wanted to see a road tunnel under Mt Victoria built ahead of a new rapid public transit system to the city’s east. An advocate of on-street parking in the central city. “You can remove everything and make it absolutely people friendly and businesses collapse and fall apart.”  Not a supporter of the old electric trolley buses with were “dongas”. Would like to see new battery electric ones though.
  • Gavin Bruce: For another road tunnel under Mt Victoria ahead of rapid transit. He was also against removing too many car-parks in the city to make way for buses or cycleways. “If you can’t drive your car into town you’re probably going to go to free parking in Porirua or Queensgate”.
  • Anand Kochunny: Vague on detail, but wants priority given to another road tunnel under Mt Victoria.
  • Tony De Lorenzo. Wants a second tunnel under Mt Vic. Whether it is for buses, mass transit, cars “or whatever”.
  • David Lee. Retiring Wellington City councillor and urban planner. Pragmatic rather then radical. Wants to shift the balance away from cars. Blames a lot of the problems with the buses on PTOM: The Public Transport Operating Model, introduced by the previous National Led Government to guide regional councils in how they contracted services from bus operators. Wants a single Wellington wide transport body, a bit like Auckland Transport.
  • Tony Jansen. Advocates change towards mass rapid transit, but wants councillors to recognise funds are limited. Suggests selling the city’s stake in Wellington Airport to fund major transport projects.
  • Bryce Pender. A taxi driver with “everyday experience of traffic congestion” who supports extending the city’s heavy rail system further east to Courtney Place, and extending the current electric train network to Masterton, Otaki and eventually Palmerston North.
  • Ray Wilson. Currently works of one of the bus companies. Wants better pay and conditions for bus drivers.
  • Helene Ritchie. Former Wellington deputy mayor. Supports removal of on-street car parks to make way for bus and cycle lanes. “I want to fast forward rapid mass public transport, probably light rail”. However, had an idiosyncratic voting history at the Wellington City Council. Voted against a 30 kilometre an hour speed limit in inner Wellington when the council considered it during Celia Wade-Brown’s mayoralty.
  • John Klaphake. Advocates a regional focus on the city’s transport problems. Wants light rail from Johnsonville, Porirua and the Hutt all the way to Mirimar, based on using the existing rail system.
  • Sam Somers. A young man “with a plan”. Supports light rail, not just to the eastern suburbs, but also to Karori.
  • Alexander Garside. Wants continual adjustments of Wellington’s bus network based on public feedback. “I’m not going to fix the buses. You are.” Wants bus priority lanes to improve reliability.
  • Darren Ponter. Sitting regional councillor. Highly visible (unlike some) in his work  consulting the public over the new bus network. Wants to reduce the number of hubs, pay drivers a fair wage, and allocate more road space to bus priority lanes.
  • Roger Blakeley. Sitting councillor. Supports Let’s Get Welly Moving with space for bus priority and cycle lanes ahead of more room for cars. However, reluctant to address an issue which bothers some voters – that GWRC minutes don’t record how each councillor votes on a motion – something which frustrates The Traffic Jam. Argues commercial confidentiality trumps the public’s right to know on some occasions.
  • Jill Ford. Wants action now on allocating more road space to bus and cycle lanes ahead of “Let’s Get Wellington Waiting”, removing on-street parking where necessary. Supports a second Mt Vic tunnel only for public or active transport. Wants a single transport agency for Wellington.
  • Thomas Nash. Says Wellington needs to address its “car addiction”. Strong supporter of Let’s Get Welly Moving’s plan to prioritise public and active transport ahead of the private car.
  • Victoria Rhodes-Carlin. Strongest speaker among the younger candidates. Says the current crop of regional councillors failed to understand the needs of bus customers. Wants an electric bus network by 2030.

Did not show up.

  • Phil Quin. Shame because he says he’s going to fix the buses.
  • Troy Mihaka. Member of the same political group as Philip O’Brien, called The Wellington Party.
  • Glenda Hughes. Also a Wellington Party member.
  • Yvonne Legarth.
  • Deane Milne.

South of the Basin

You can hear all of the Southern and Eastern candidates speaking at the Hui here.

Only four candidates are standing for the city council’s Southern Ward, and there’s not much between them on transport, with all supporting a shift from the private motor car to active and public transport.

  • Thomas Morgan. Suggests “raising the Basin Reserve” and having the roads pass underneath.
  • Fleur Fitzsimons. Sitting councillor. Sat on the fence over a question regarding an extension to the Wellington Runway.
  • Humphrey Hanley. Couldn’t make it to the meeting. Sent a written statement. Strong advocate for the disabled.
  • Laurie Foon.  Advocates opening up Kent and Cambridge Terrace and Adelaide Road to higher density housing, with more road space allocated to public and active transport.

Through the tunnels

More to choose from in terms of candidates for Wellington City’s Eastern ward, and more diversity in attitudes to transport. Again, I’ve listed those tending towards space for the motor car first.

  • Sean Rush. Member of the same political grouping as Philip O’Brien, the Wellington Party, which advocates for “common sense” on transport policy. Did seem a little nonplussed by some of Philip’s statements.
  • Steph Edlin. High school student. Strong advocate for the buses, but also for a second road tunnel under Mt Vic. Against giving up on-street parking for cycle lanes.
  • Bernard O’Shaughnessy. Supports a second road tunnel under Mt Vic ahead of rapid mass transport to the airport.
  • Teri O’Neill. Another well spoken candidate under the age of 30. Favours public transport ahead of another road tunnel under Mt Vic. Critical of the Council’s consultation around cycleways in Island Bay, and has doubts over removing parking from central Newtown to make space for bikes or buses.
  • Sarah Free. Sitting councillor. Spoke strongly on advocating cycling in answer to a question from the floor. Would “consider” a second tunnel under Mt Victoria, “if we’ve really got a need for it, because I do believe we need some more connections even if it’s just for cycling and walking.” Says council needs to be careful about removing parking along Newtown’s main corridor.
  • Chris Calvi-Freeman. Sitting councillor, who’s taken on the transport portfolio. Against a second road tunnel under Mt Vic. Supports the priorities outlined in Let’s Get Welly Moving but wants light rail sooner than the current plan. In answer to a question, from an opponent of more cycleways, says “consultation is not the same as a referendum” and that councillors are elected to make decisions on the public’s behalf.

Did not show up.

  • Ajay Rathod. A strong roads advocate, to the extent of opening up the bus tunnel to motor cars.

The Traffic Jam would like to thank the following for their support organising, podcasting and blogging these transport hui: The Wellington Council of the AA, Cycle Wellington, Rubber Monkey, Save the Basin, Bicycle Junction, Living Streets Aotearoa, Valley Audio, Pete Busby (sound engineer), and the Common Climate Network. A special big thank you to Co-organiser,  Mark Johnston, and to the MC for our second Hui, Dave Armstrong.


Democracy in Action: The Transport Hui 1

Talking Transport

The candidate meeting season for the 2019 local body elections is in full swing. Everyone wants to be on the right side of history, although they also like be on the right side of the crowd. Last Wednesday, the Traffic Jam managed to get a fair number of them on the right side of a microphone.

The Traffic Jam and Mark Johnston from Cycle Wellington had a dream; all of Wellington’s city and and regional council candidates talking transport, at the same time in the same place.

With support from the Automobile Association’s Wellington Council, Cycle Wellington, Rubber Monkey (sound gear), Bicycle Junction, Save the Basin, and Living Streets Aotearoa, we did it – well half of it. The other half is this week.

Meeting one, in the Loaves and Fishes Hall, heard from candidates standing in the city’s Wharangi/Onslow-Western, Takapu/Northern and Pukehinau/Lambton Wards. Mayoral and regional council hopefuls were there too.

Robes and baubles at the Loaves and Fishes

We began with the would-be Mayors, including the incumbent. You can hear highlights of the debate here.

Each had 90 seconds to make their pitch.  Andy Foster (sitting Onslow-Western Ward councillor) was first, arguing his track record pushing for what cycle and bus lanes Wellington already has, is reason enough to vote for him.  Foster is also a supporter of adding another road tunnel between the city and its eastern suburbs to the top-priority list of public works in the Let’s Get Welly Moving programme.

Conor Hill began his pitch by stating he’s never owned a car and can empathise with the victims of the city’s bus crisis. He wants more trains too. He says his time living in Amsterdam showed him how a city could be. Transport is about moving people, not cars, he told the crowd.

A more pedestrian friendly environment anyone?
Jenny Condie mentioned her Treasury background, and experience in accountancy and entrepreneurship, although she’s primarily running for mayor because of her kids. She doesn’t want them to inherit a fried planet. Her transport priority is to get people out of fossil fueled cars.

Jennie Condie
Dr Jenny Condie

Norbert Hausberg wants Wellington to be carbon neutral by 2022. “If we don’t aim at the stars we aim at a hole in the ground”. However, he also wants the city to begin a “managed retreat” from the current coastline.

Incumbent Justin Lester recalled his childhood and those halcyon days when kids walked and biked to school.  His kids don’t – at least not on their own. Like Foster, he argued his track record on cycle-ways was reason to re-elect him. He talked about balance, and not looking  “a gift horse in the mouth” when it comes to the central government money on offer through Let’s Get Welly Moving.

Diane Calvert reminded the meeting she was a sitting Onslow-Western ward councillor; a very big ward which she “pretty much needs a car to drive around” in.  She also used her ninety seconds to mention the “shocking bus service” and the vague nature of the “Let’s Get Welly Moving” plan. She argues a second road tunnel through Mt Victoria should get a higher priority, not just for the benefit of cars but for buses as well.

Pass around the mic.

That second Mt Vic road tunnel was the subject of the first question from the floor, from the AA’s Geordie Cassin. It’s been delayed. Its delay will have a negative impact on other modes in the city, he said. “Are you worried?” He asked.

“Yes” said Calvert. It’s been cherry picked out of the Let’s Get Welly Moving list of priorities for “political” reasons.

Lester’s been in all the discussions. The priorities are what Wellingtonions asked for; “Mass Transit, Basin Reserve and the Mt Vic Tunnel”.  Everyone in the city and regional councils voted for it. Save the Basin’s on board as is the Chamber of Commerce, he said. “Now we’re seeking to deliver it”.

Hausberg described LGWM as a plan from the past for the past. He supports a second Mt Vic tunnel “but not for cars”, rather walkers and cyclists. As for a new rapid transit mode – too expensive – stick with buses.

Condie argued mass transit has to come before roads. Hill isn’t worried about a Mt Vic road tunnel being taken out of the mix. He says when a second tunnel is built, it will be for walking, cycling and public transport.

Foster worries about the rates bill involved with LGWM, and says the delay in another road tunnel for at least ten years will trap more traffic inside the city.

In answer to a question on active transport, Condie argued for walker friendly policies in the suburbs. Calvert is worried about e-scooters cluttering the footpath, and the time pedestrians often have to wait at traffic lights for the crossing signal.

Do they all support a 30 kilometre an hour speed limit in the central city? Yes.

What about the Let’s Get Welly Riding vision of cycle-lanes (little roads – for all the slower modes of wheeled traffic, including scooters and e-bikes) put forward by Oliver Bruce and Brett Skinner?

Yes, except Calvert, who endorses the idea, but thinks it’s too ambitious in terms of how quickly Bruce and Skinner want it introduced.

Are we living in a climate emergency? All but one agreed. Calvert describes our time as one of “Climate Crisis”.

I attempted to put an either/or question to the panel. If they had to choose between rapid public transit to the eastern suburbs, or a four lane road – which one?

Hill, Condie, Hausberg, and Lester put their hands up for rapid public transit.

“Silly question” said Foster. State highways are funded 100 percent by the Government, Mass Transit won’t get 100 percent funding from the central government.

“Why not?” yelled a voice from the crowd.

“Well good luck” replied Foster.

Calvert put her hand up for the road.

When it came to levying a congestion charge for busy roads, Calvert was the one voice opposing the idea.

Calvert was also alone in supporting a ban on e-scooters on footpaths.

No more of these on the footpath if Diane Calvert becomes Mayor

In answer to a question about the buses, a Wellington Regional Council issue, Condie made the point the City Council could still do a lot to improve the reliability of the bus service by setting aside more space on the roads for buses only.

On the issue of what rapid transit system each candidate supported, Foster wanted more done on the buses, Hill supports light rail, Condie would like to take a business case, for light rail or a “gold plated” bus rapid transit system, to a citizens assembly “and let 50 of our fellow Wellingtonions learn all about the expert opinions, and make their own judgement”.

Hausberg wants to get the buses “rolling”.

Lester will defer to his transport engineers for advice on light rail or trackless trams.

Calvert supports more resources going into the buses, especially the Airport Flyer.

Going west

At this point our mayoral candidates had to leave for another meeting. Not a moment too soon for Onslow-Western candidate Michelle Rush, who, despite having worked as a facilitator for many years, was running out of patience.

You can hear what she, and other Onslow-Western candidates had to say here.

Rush referred to recent reports of the NZTA casting doubts on the transport benefits of the current Let’s Get Welly Moving plan (because it had more to do with enabling denser urban living than getting people around town).

Those reports  “miss the point”, she told the meeting.

“Transport…and the livability of our cities are inextricably linked. It’s been our failure to recognise that, since the car lobby stared down mass transit and won…mid last century, that’s left us in our current mess”.

Rush wants to see action on congestion by doubling the number of occupants per car. “We can all do that”, and she wants LGWM implemented in its entirety, although if there were to be a second Mt Vic tunnel, it would be either for rapid public transport, or walkers and cyclists, not cars. She’d like to see the staged removal of on-street parking on some arterial roads (Karori Road for example) beginning with clear-ways for peak hour traffic, leading to the eventual phasing out of parking altogether. Getting children to walk, bike and scooter to school, rather than being driven, was another priority.

Onslow/Western ward Candidate Michelle Rush wants more of this.
Ray Chung put in a good word for the buses in his part of the city; Broadmeadows, which now has a decent service during the weekends and evenings.

Rebecca Matthews has never driven a car. She’s against contracting out public transport to the lowest bidder, and as a trade unionist wants drivers paid a fair wage. She’s not worried about a delay in another road tunnel under Mt Victoria.

Richard McIntosh, the Green candidate for Onslow-Western wants to get Wellington riding. He’s still lamenting the digging up of the Bolton Street cemetery for the Thorndon Motorway in the 1970s.

Rohan Biggs told the meeting he stood for fiscal conservatism. Light rail doesn’t stand up, but he’s a huge fan of the buses, and wants more safe space for cyclists. He wants a second Mt Victoria road tunnel sooner.

The incumbent Simon Woolf says LGWM “didn’t go far enough”. Petone/Ngauranga to the Port is equally as important. He’d also like to see a “switch lane” for public transport on State Highway Two. A “switch lane” involves dedicating one lane of the motorway to a particular type of traffic for part of the day.

All candidates in the Onslow/Western ward supported a 30 km/hr speed limit in the central city.  They were almost unanimously in support of the Let’s Get Welly Riding vision with the exception of Biggs, who wasn’t prepared to endorse the idea without more analysis. There was strong support for a ban on e-scooters on the footpaths, apart from Rush. On the issue of a congestion charge, Chung was against. Rush said any charge had to take into account the financial position of poorer people who relied on their cars to get around the city.

Northern exposure

The deputy mayor Jill Day kicked things off for the Takapu/Northern Ward contenders.

You can hear her views, and the views of other Takapu/Northern and Pukehinau/Lambton ward candidates here.

Day made a pitch for active transport and a “step change” in the use of public transport. One of the key problems for voters in her ward is having to switch modes if they travel by public transport to Wellington Hospital. She hopes a light rail system would make switching modes easier. On-street parking is increasingly an issue in the suburbs, which could be solved if there was more car-sharing.

John Apanowicz is standing in the Northern Ward for the Wellington Party. He wants a second Mt Vic road tunnel, but supports trackless trams “but not all the way to the airport”.  His party supports a pedestrian only Golden Mile, with more parking facilities built on the edge of the central city.

Malcolm Sparrow is another sitting councillor. He wants a four lane Terrace tunnel and second Mt Vic tunnel, sooner rather than later.  He also supports more bus lanes, especially at peak times – along Newlands road for example.

Fellow Northern Councillor Peter Gilberd is a supporter of Let’s Get Welly Moving and  thinks Trackless Trams could be a viable rapid mass transit option. He thinks a second Mt Vic tunnel is needed and the sooner it comes on stream the better.

Heading Downtown

Finally, the Pukehinau/Lambton ward, where sitting councillor Brian Dawson was the first to speak. He wants cars out of the golden mile and bus priority lanes as soon as possible. Like Ray Chung, he’s very happy with the new bus service in his part of the city – the Aro Valley.  He wants to see Caro Drive underground so there is no longer a busy road splitting Te Aro in two. He says locals are struggling with non-residents parking in the Aro Valley, then walking to work in the central city, but also says no issue is more vexed than parking – apart from cats.

Iona Pannett is another incumbent and a Green Party councillor. “We need to put climate action and livability of our city right at the centre of every single thing that we do”. Urban planning and transport planning must be integrated. She wants a “full” light rail system right out to the Hutt and out to Johnsonville, and doesn’t support any more tunnels. “I tried to stop the by-pass and we did stop the flyover”. She supports “intelligent” removal of on-street parking. “Instead of parking your vehicle for 90 percent of the time…..we should be able to have a fleet of cars that take people when they need to go somewhere”.

Lee Orchard, wearing lycra, stood before the meeting “exasperated” and in solidarity with his fellow cyclists. He nominated the median strip between Kent and Cambridge Terrace as a potential cycle and walkway from the city to the Basin Reserve.

The other sitting councillor, and Mt Victoria resident, Nicola Young, talked up her credentials as a “very good” pedestrian, and an advocate for cheaper bus fares and bike racks. She says footpaths are for feet. She thinks it’s hypocritical of the Wellington City Council to declare a climate emergency while supporting a longer runway for the city’s airport. She describes herself as a light rail skeptic. She has doubts about the a 30 km/hr speed limit in the central city. She questions whether a blanket speed limit for the CBD is practical.  She would like to see the removal of some parking from one side of Tory Street to make it more cycle and pedestrian friendly.

Tamatha Paul is currently the Victoria University Students’ Association president. She based part of her pitch on better street lighting. She argued for better located bus stops (on Wallace Road waiting passengers spill out onto the street during the rush hour peak) and wants the council to recognise micromobility (e-bikes and e-scooters) will play a big part in the city’s future.

What did I learn from the meeting?

Mayoral candidates first.

In terms of having the courage of her own convictions, even if it meant going against the prevailing mood in the hall, I’d give Diane Calvert a special commendation. She made no secret of her desire to see a second road tunnel built under Mt Victoria. If more space for private motor vehicles is your priority, she’s your candidate.

Andy Foster expressed similar sentiments on a second tunnel, but was unwilling to engage in an either/or scenario over road verses public transport to the Eastern Suburbs.

Justin Lester talked up the consensus reached over LGWM. He leaned towards better public transport for the east and south, ahead of catering for more cars, but he remains cautious in terms of what form that public transport might take, deferring to his engineering advisors.

If you want a fresh thinker in the Mayor’s robes, Jennie Condie was the most impressive,  but she too would leave that trackless tram/light rail issue to another group; in her case a special assembly of our peers – a sort of grand transport jury.

Only Norbert Hausberg and Conor Hill were unequivocal in terms of a mass transit choice, the former opting for bus lanes, the latter for light rail.

If active and public transport are your priorities, Hill and Condie are your best bets. If you think climate adaptation is as important as mitigation, Hausberg is ready to beat a retreat from Wellington Harbour on your behalf.

If you want a change in direction towards active and public transport in Onslow Western, Michelle Rush presented the strongest credentials. If the current rate of incremental change is good enough, try incumbents Woolf and Foster, although Foster also has your back if you want more motorway space to the airport.

Diane Calvert was most prepared to raise her hand in support of the private motorist, although in her ideal world, those motorists would also have to negotiate the e-scooters she’s banned from the footpath. If you think it’s all too expensive, vote Rohan Biggs. Roads and buses make the best dollars and sense to him.

Up the road in Takapu/Northern, Jill Day was the strongest advocate for the public transport user. Fellow incumbent Peter Gilberd represents the current rate of incremental change. If you feel nostalgic for the idea of “four lanes to the planes” Malcolm Sparrow’s support of a four lane Terrace Tunnel as well as another Mt Vic Tunnel, will be music to your ears.

Electing John Apanowicz would shift the balance back towards catering for the private car. Under his scenario, the pedestrian friendly Golden Mile would be a sort of giant outdoor mall, with new car-parking buildings at either end.

In Pukehinau/Lambton, Iona Pannett has been a consistent advocate for a shift away from private motorised travel towards active and public transport. Brian Dawson represents incremental pragmatism – remember his remarks on how fraught the issue of on-street parking is? Nicola Young walks her talk when it comes to pedestrians. With her business background she’s more cautious about sacrificing on-street parking for other road users.

Lee Orchard looked splendid in lycra, and will certainly push a strong cyclist agenda.

Lee Orchard
Lee Orchard sans Lycra.

Tamatha Paul, along with Jennie Condie, was the freshest new voice in the city council mix. If you want an alternative to the middle aged, middle class Pakeha perspectives which dominate Wellington City, Paul is streets ahead. In terms of political organisation, Paul is close to Lester’s team. Too close for some? Depends on your view of Lester.

tamantha paul
Tamatha Paul: Wants to make the leap from student politics.

Where to next?

Along with the City Council candidates, last Wednesday’s Hui also featured candidates standing for the Wellington ward of the Regional Council.

I’ve decided to save my analysis of their pitches and priorities until after our second gathering, on Wednesday September 25th.

If you live in Wellington’s south or east you might like to as well.

It’s in the Maitairangi Room of the ASB Sports Centre, from 6.30pm. Stuff writer and Newtown renaissance man Dave Armstrong will chair it.

We’re expecting a good turnout of candidates for the city’s Eastern and Southern Wards, and we’re expecting most of the Regional Council hopefuls to be there as well.

And if you can’t make it, there’s always next week’s Traffic Jam.

The Traffic Jam 17: Micro Management


The Billboards are up, the slogans are out. This year’s local election campaign is underway. But as I’ve said in previous blogs, the debate on shaping Wellington’s transport arteries (and Capillaries) has been timid. In the face of a slow down in road construction, what alternatives are there? I managed to track down a visionary for my latest podcast. He’s not standing for council, but he might influence others who are.

Oliver Bruce isn’t afraid of the future. Just as well, given he’s the right side of 30.

Oliver Bruce

He’s not afraid of Micromobility either. Some of us may struggle with the e-scooters, the e-skates, even the e-bikes. Oliver’s embracing them all. You may already have heard his work as one of the voices behind a podcast of the same name. His enthusiasm for the future may be one of the reasons he’s prepared to put time and energy into a plan re-jigging Wellington’s street system to make room for the modes of the 21st century.

It’s called “Let’s Get Welly Riding”, co-created with fellow futurist, Brett Skinner. The details are in this post on the Talk Wellington blog.

To explain, here’s a map of the proposed Wellington Cycleway system after 2028.


Much of the network; the orange, won’t be completed until 2028, the pale blue, after that.

Oliver and Brett want work to begin on the whole network now.

Wellington mayoral candidate Conor Hill comes closest to echoing the duo’s sentiments, but even he stops short of a push into the city’s northern and western suburbs – at least in the next three years.

Why is an e-scooter enthusiast (he’s got his own in his Oriental Bay apartment) so keen on cycleways?

You might have heard the phrase Rori Iti, the Little Road . It’s the street space we need for all the wheeled traffic too fast for the footpath, but too slow or fragile to mix it with the cars, trucks and buses. The arrival of share schemes for e-scooters is only the beginning. Oliver argues the real change will be in e-bikes, flattening hills and cutting through headwinds in a way which will revolutionise mode choice in Wellington.

E-scooters are fun – for some. They’re handy if you can find one (and when walking would take too long) but unlike e-bikes, your can’t carry much on them, apart from yourself and maybe a friend – probably a close friend.

Sales of new e-bikes are increasing at a greater rate than new electric cars, and until recently, e-bikes didn’t have the advantage of any government subsidy or support scheme.

For Oliver, it makes no sense to be spending hundreds of millions of dollars on more big roads, when the demand for new space is coming from the little road users.

Given the conclusion of Let’s Get Welly Moving was big roads are going to have to wait, a lot of voters want to know what they’ll get instead.

Oliver Bruce and Brett Skinner are two of the few offering a bold alternative. They’re  not even running for office. Elsewhere mayors are campaigning to get a few of the previous Government’s Rons back on the table. Ray Wallace is promising Hutt voters the council will start work on a new Melling Interchange. Mayors from Horowhenua to Whanganui want the Kapiti Expressway extended to Levin. Even Justin Lester is trying to bring forward the central Wellington road construction, LGWM put back a decade.

My suspicion is being told you’re just going to have to wait in traffic, won’t cut it with a lot of voters.

Perhaps I’m missing something. Perhaps there are candidates putting forward public transport alternatives; extending our electric suburban rail service to Levin and Masterton, a rail link from Plimmerton to Silverstream, or even a dedicated busway from Wellington to Mirimar (via the airport) in time for the opening of Transmission Gully, not at the end of the next decade.

I’d love to know.

Meantime, I agree with Oliver;  demand for Rori Iti space looks likely to outstrip supply. The walker in me doesn’t want to see a “Hunger Games” situation developing on our footpaths. As more Wellingtonions get riding, we may need more than public service announcements telling us to be nice to each other.


Although it’s still important we try.

Happy jamming.







The Gimp is back, and it wants you to vote

orange man

This year’s local body elections are going to be a block buster. But there’s one thing worse than not voting, and that’s an uninformed vote.  Fear not – the Traffic Jam’s got your back.

If you could bet on such things, and if I was a betting man, I’d wager transport will dominate the debate on who should lead Wellington and its region into the third decade of the 21st century.

But it’s an issue which is bigger than any one suburb or residential meeting.

From the “Bustastrophe” to the railway yards, from cycleways to the Basin Reserve to the Mt Victoria Tunnel(s), people want to know who will move their city in the right direction.

Which is why The Traffic Jam, that little podcast dedicated to smart discussion on getting from A to B in the Capital C, is giving you two chances to ensure your precious votes go to the right candidates.

One city, two meetings, one topic.

Meeting one: For central, northern and western suburb voters. Wednesday September 18th; 6.00 to 8.30pm. Loaves and Fishes Hall (next to the Anglican Cathedral in Molesworth Street). MC: Bryan Crump.

Meeting two: For voters in the southern and eastern suburbs. Wednesday, September 25th, 6.30 to 9.00pm. Upstairs meeting room, ASB Sports Centre, Rongotai. MC: Dave Armstrong.

We’ll be inviting city and regional council candidates, but that won’t mean a thing if you don’t turn up as well.

Do you trust the people who signed off on Wellington’s bus revamp to do a better job next term? Do you want to get rid of them all? Are some worth keeping?

Do you want representatives prepared to make difficult decisions about reallocating road space away from private motor vehicles, or maybe even more challenging, away from on street parking?

Or maybe you want more off-road parks, and more roads to fill them?

The plans outlined by Let’s Get Wellington Moving have shifted priorities from the private to the public, from the motorised to the active.

But it’s timid. We know what we are not getting (more space for cars) but we don’t know what sort of rapid transit system the city will get instead.

Out in the Hutt, there won’t be a new road from Grenada, or a new Melling Interchange. But where are the public transport alternatives?

What do we need more of here?

Who’s talking about extending the Melling Rail Line across the river into Hutt City? Or a rapid busway over the hill to Tawa? Or even a rail link from Plimmerton to Haywards?

Change has a better chance of success when it comes with a mandate. From an alternative to car point of view, the best one can say about the current situation is that it’s delayed some major roading projects. We’re waiting for word on most other stuff.

Those roads could easily be back on the agenda with a change of leadership.

Wellington’s National MPs are campaigning to reinstate them. They believe a significant chunk of the voting public want the tar seal and the process was thwarted only by the meddling of a Green associate minister .

October’s elections may prove them right.

So whether you’re a bus or rail user, a pedestrian, a cyclist, a motorist or (most likely) all of the above, you can’t afford to miss the opportunity to make sure your vote goes to the candidates with the transport solutions you want for your city.

And it’s why you have to put at least one of those Transport Candidate meetings in your diary, and tell your friends while you’re at it.

Those dates again:

Meeting one: For central, northern and western ward issues. Wednesday  September 18th; 6.00 to 8.30 pm. Loaves and Fishes Hall (next to the Anglican Cathedral in Molesworth Street). MC: Bryan Crump.

Meeting two: For southern and eastern ward issues. Wednesday, September 25th, 6.30 to 9pm. Upstairs meeting room, ASB Sports Centre, Rongotai. MC: Dave Armstrong.

See you there.

Image credits:

  • Melling – Rob Kitchin / Stuff
  • Parking lot: the internet, multiple sources none with attribution
  • Orange Gimp: Elections NZ.

Episode 15: Off the Rails

trackless tram Create Digital

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester is keen on forgoing steel wheels for rubber tyres when Let’s Get Welly Moving decides how it will link the central rail station with Newtown and beyond. He reckons our creative little capital could shine as an early adoptor. Why are many public transport advocates worried? 

The timetable for Let’s Get Wellington Moving might be as vague as a long range weather forecast but it has placed Rapid Mass Transit at the centre of its strategy. Problem is, we don’t know what form that RMT will take.

Should we, as our Mayor has been suggesting,  become one of the first to embrace the newest kid to run around the block, the so-called Trackless Tram?

Or is the spine linking the central city with its southern and eastern suburbs served best by a more tried and tested light rail approach?

For a start, what’s the difference? Basically, light rail runs on steel wheels rolling over steel rails. It’s what we used to call a tram, and some still do.

Light rail differs from heavy rail in that its vehicles can negotiate tighter curves and steeper grades, and they don’t weigh as much – funnily enough. Heavy rail’s greater mass enables it to carry heavier loads and run more powerful locomotives. This makes it ideal for freight and higher speed passenger services.

A trackless tram operates much like a light rail vehicle does. If differs from light rail in that it rolls along a road on rubber tyres.

So what’s the difference between a trackless tram and a bus? Well, that’s when things get a little more subjective.

Ideally, your trackless tram has its own designated road way and uses an automatic guidance system to follow a pre-determined route, as our trackless example in ZhuZhou does. Its interior space is similar to Light Rail. You can board or exit from any door, and like light rail, the vehicle runs in either direction.

However, at least one of the trackless examples cited in my research, runs like a bus, and steers like a bus. To paraphrase somebody’s remark about walking and talking like a duck, doesn’t that make it a bus?

To sling another cliche at you, why bother dressing mutton as lamb?

Firstly, say its supporters, because it’s cheaper to build than light rail. Secondly, because when a bus looks and behaves more like a tram, it’s funkier and more people want to use it.

It’s not entirely clear how the trackless tram idea reached Wellington. I first noticed  it entering the conversation last year. In fact one of the first articles in this part of the world extolling the virtues of trackless traction appeared in this Australian blogsite last year, written by Peter Newman, Sustainability Professor at Perth’s Curtin University.

A few months ago one of Newman’s colleagues, Marie Verschuer, was in New Zealand with a similar message.

I tracked her down by phone for an interview in Perth,  in which she described Trackless Trams as the “evolution of the bus”.

You get something that looks and feels like light rail with less disruption (less digging up streets to lay tracks) which means lower initial cost, which means less pressure on rate and taxpayers.

Marie argues if you want to increase the uptake of public transport and reduce reliance on cars, the trackless tram offers easier pickings.

When local media published Marie’s comments, FIT Wellington’s John Rankin was one of the first to respond. He reckons we should stick with the steel wheels, at least for the initial line through the central city to Newtown and the eastern suburbs.

FIT stands for Fair and Intelligent Transport. It’s a collection of engineers, planners and health professionals trying to increase this country’s transit IQ. This was his initial response to the Trackless Tram excitement here.

You can listen to John’s reasons for sticking to the tracks in the podcast above, but I’ve also listed them below.

First, longevity. Steel rails last at least 25 years. Roads need resealing. Some will need strengthening. Chances are we’ll still have to dig up a lot of road to enable it to handle a trackless tram load.

Second, light rail currently has greater capacity.  Trackless tram fans can point to the currently experimental set up in the Chinese city of Zhuzhou, but a more established version could look like this. Marie describes this as an example of a trackless tram. Others regard it bus rapid transit. Whatever you call it, it doesn’t offer the same capacity as  a typical light rail setup, such as this one currently going into service in the capital city across the ditch, a city which just happens to be about the same size as Wellington.

Third: light rail uses less energy to operate. Simple physics. Steel wheels on steel rails encounter less friction. Rubber’s greater grip does enable trackless trams to climb steeper hills, but for the planned route run from Wellington Rail to the eastern suburbs, steel rails eat up less juice. Light rail literally is greener. It can even run in the grass.

Tram in grass John Rankin

That’s nice. In fact that is Nice.

Fourth: Whatever option you choose – and here Marie and John are in agreement, it has to have its own designated right of way. If you’re supporting Trackless Trams because you think they can just slip in and out of ordinary traffic, you’re doing the rest of us a disservice. If it gets bogged down in existing congestion you’re no better off than you are in a conventional bus. You might as well stay in your car, if you’re not prepared to walk, cycle or scoot.

Fifth: The investment effect. Light rail encourages residential and commercial development along its route and the people who move into those developments tend to use light rail instead of a motor vehicle. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare the two kinds of trams just yet, given the trackless technology in its higher capacity form has only been around for a few years. Still, is it wise to use a new technology for such a key part of the city’s transit spine?

In my conversation with John I suggested steel wheels have another potential advantage over rubber; access to the heavy rail network. If we build it to the same track gauge, what’s to stop us running a light rail service from Johnsonville or Melling to Mirimar?

John is unconvinced. The conventional wisdom is light and heavy rail don’t mix. When a heavy rail vehicle collides with a light one, the results are disastrous for the latter, and anyone inside it.

Still, I’m curious, and hope to revisit that possibility in a later Traffic Jam.

But I’m getting off track. Back in the world of rubber wheels there is potential Wellington could tap into. John sees Trackless Trams as an option for Karori, a route that doesn’t have the traffic to justify investing in light rail. Interesting to see at least one local body candidate is already on board with that idea.

Then there’s the issue of retro-fitting rapid mass transit inside our post 1960s suburban sprawl. Just think of all the development around Whitby, Paraparaumu, and Waikanae that’s only going to grow in response to Transmission Gully and the Kapiti Expressway.

Perhaps trackless trams are the future for lower density suburbs? Perhaps, if we really want to link  Petone and Grenada we use rubber wheels to get the tram over the hill?

John Rankin shared a quote with me. It’s from Peter Newman, the academic who got the trackless conversation rolling in this part of the world; “If a Trackless Tram is to be able to attract value capture opportunities it must be more like a train than a bus. It must be more like a fixed service that will not be easily removed from serving a station where developers are needing to see a return from their investment.”

Which brings this post to its final point.  A lot is made by some politicians, and even a few bloggers, of how trackless trams can deviate from their route; no worries about a disabled train blocking your way, and if there’s an earthquake, you don’t have buckled rails shutting down the system.

However, fixed rails and wires, and even earthquakes haven’t stopped existing trains and even our dear old departed trolley buses from working in a Wellington setting. Sure, it might be handy to pass a disabled unit every now and then, but if that’s happening on a regular basis, you’ve got a crap system.

bus lane parking

Worse, what if the knowledge the “trackless tram” can get around an obstacle gives others licence to sneak onto its path?

People tend not to park on rail lines.

The thought of them or their car being taken out by a train (no matter how light) puts them off.

Happy Jammn’.