Moving our city with free public transport

photo by
The Dominion Post reported; “Round-the-clock gridlock has been predicted if The Terrace and Mt Victoria tunnels are closed for five weeks to kickstart a $80 million project to remedy serious safety problems.”

Could we use this sense of crisis to achieve immediate improvements in public transport services and safe cycle and walk ways between Wellington CBD and its suburbs?
A report to the Greater Wellington’s Transport and Access Committee is proposing that all fares be increased from 1 October 2010, to take account of the GST increase, and to produce a 3% increase in fare revenue to balance increased costs

Fare increases: bad timing

Greater Wellington Regional Councillor Paul Bruce said that coinciding Public Transport fare increases with the Mt Victoria tunnel safety upgrades is bad timing. “If we are going to close off routes, we must provide some counter balancing measure to help people move freely about Wellington city.
One of these measures could be moving the subsidy for free weekend public parking to zero inner city fares. Mr Bruce said that many other cities provide zero fare services, including Auckland, Christchurch and Invercargill.

Use the business levy

Shifting some of the Wellington City Council business levy to cover bus fares in the central business district ties in with a move towards integrated fares, allowing people arriving from outer suburbs to proceed through to Courtenay Place without any extra cost.
This will attract extra riders and lead to fewer cars in the inner city area, which in turn will improve traffic flow and air quality and thus ambience and … retail sales. Convenient public transport will also give an added pull to tourists.

Other advantages to alternative transport

There are also health, social and environmental advantages to funding alternative modes of transport such as cycling, walking and public transport.
Physical inactivity accounts for almost 10 percent of New Zealand’s 20 leading causes of death. It is a contributor to obesity and type 2 diabetes, which together cost the health system over $500 million per year. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency is now promoting “car reduced” communities.  And the British government’s 2001 planning document says: “Development comprising jobs, shopping, leisure and services should not be designed and located on the assumption that the car will represent the only realistic means of access for the vast majority of people”.

Car parking

Wellington is an extreme case in terms of provision of car parks, with the highest number of parking spaces per job, according to figures collated by Kerry Wood. We outrank Christchurch and Auckland, and well known US cities, Phoenic, Denver, and Detroit.
Wellington City Council “free” weekend car parks cost a lot in foregone revenue, in fact four times more than the inner city public transport weekend fare, and about half the total weekend bus revenue take. Free parking contributes to vehicle pollution and traffic snarl ups as cars search for parking spaces, and may actually diminish retail sales. In a time of diminishing resources, a subsidy for free parking isn’t the best plan.

Creative solutions

Improving Wellington’s transport network can happen with some creative solutions. Our transport network includes every bus, car, skateboard or pair of feet that people use to get around, each with different requirements, whether in use or not.
Wellington’s compact size means space is at a premium downtown.What goes unnoticed are the ways in which we prioritise and even sponsor car use above every alternative. Private cars are the part of that network that take up the most space and energy, for the least return.
Instead, providing some real alternatives, such as zero inner city public transport fares combined with safer cycling after the removal of some parking, enhances the village atmosphere that we all seek.
Paul Bruce concluded that the closure of the Mt Victoria tunnel for safety upgrades should be seen as an opportunity to promote our public transport system. “Greater Wellington provides a free connecting bus service on the Kapiti Coast to connect with train services, and has found this to be a great success. What about moving towards zero weekend fares for Wellington city?”

Number of CBD parking spaces in 1996 per 1000 CBD jobs

(figures collated by Kerry Wood)
Wellington 1050
Christchurch 940
Auckland 650
Sourced figures:
Phoenix 910
Denver 730
Detroit 710
Perth 630
Houston 610
Los Angeles 520
Portland 400
Melbourne 340
Brisbane 320
Sydney 220
Copenhagen 220
Zürich 140
London 120
New York 60

Zero fare public transport services

Auckland Free downtown bus loop, ‘City Circuit’
Christchurch Free downtown bus loop, ‘The Shuttle’
Invercargill Free downtown bus & free off peak buses
Adelaide Free downtown tram route
Sydney Free downtown city bus loop
Melbourne Free downtown tram and bus loop
Chapel Hill , USA Free area-wide bus services
Hasselt , Belgium Free area-wide bus services


Economic benefits of people-friendly streets

Parking lots to parks – designing livable cities by Lester R Brown
Paved with gold – the real value of street design – by CABE, UK
Economic value of walkability – Victoria Transport Policy Institute [PDF, 233KB]
Bachels, M, Newman, P and Kenworthy, J (1999). Indicators of urban transport efficiency in New Zealand’s main cities. Perth: Murdoch University, ISBN 0 86905 669 7
Newman, P and Kenworthy, J (1999). Sustainability and cities — overcoming automobile dependence. ISBN 1 55963 660 2.
The High Cost of Free Parking, Donald Shoup estimates that off-street parking subsidies in the United States are worth at least $127 billion a year.

Paul BruceFor more information

Contact Regional Councillor Paul Bruce
phone: 04 9728699 cellphone:021 02719370

From Wellington Greens website 26/7/2010: