Why we should be worried about Wellington’s proposed bus route changes

This post was written in a hurry to try and get my friends to submit on something where the consultation closes in three days. Sorry if it’s a little jumbled, but I am really worried that the people who put this review together haven’t paid enough consideration to how the system they want to set up will impact groups of people who are already marginalised in our city. Someone’s pointed out that the concerns I had for students having all uni campuses by busses may not have been so necessary, but I think there are still serious issues about accessibility and safety at night.

This afternoon Greater Wellington Regional Council gave a presentation to students at uni about their upcoming review and overhaul of the city’s bus system. Their approach to the task of rethinking our city’s main public transport network surprised me to say the least. I don’t make public submissions on that many things, but my concerns about what this means for women, students, and people who experience disability in Wellington are enough that I’m going to take part in the consultation process. If you’re concerned you should too – but you need to submit by Friday 16th March (3 days from now!). Fortunately submissions can be made online.

Given that this is the largest review of the Capital City’s public transport in 20 years, you’d think that it would aim to take an inquiring eye to the multitude of different ways the structure of a public transport system can change a city and its culture in a holistic way. However, from what I’ve gathered of the review’s focus, this wasn’t done at all.
        The main problem the review seems to focus on is that most of Wellington’s bus routes run down the Golden Mile. The Regional Council says this causes delays and congestion resulting in inefficiency, and have set out a number of proposed changes to get around this, saving money and increasing economic productivity. The main things they’re doing to achieve this are making major changes to bus routes and fares, including a new concept of “transfer stations” where many passengers will have to switch busses along their journey.
        Congestion in the CBD is a legitimate thing to address, but my problem with the review is that it seems to focus entirely on that sort of economic cost. It’s really disappointing that the focus of such a major review is so narrow when so many social problems can be addressed (at least in part) with a well-designed public transport system.
        Even more worryingly, the review’s failure to take broader questions of equity in to account seems to have resulted in proposals (like the new routes, and concept of transfer stations) which are going to make Wellington a lot less safe and accessible for a huge number of people. It’s frustrating that in an area of policy where so much positive change could be made, tunnel vision seems to be actually taking our city backwards in terms of how inclusive a place it is to live.

I’m going to have to think about this more before I write my proper submission, but for now I’ll list three main areas of concern I took from today’s presentation.

Why the proposed changes are concerning for women
It doesn’t sound to me like the proposal, if implemented, would make Wellington a safer place for women. The idea of “transfer stations” where people traveling between the city and suburbs have to swap busses at least once during their journey becomes problematic once services reduce in frequency after peak hours (as I’m assuming they would do). People are more likely be waiting for longer, with fewer people around, when it’s a lot darker. I would personally feel unsafe in these situations. I don’t think it’s acceptable to be constructing new public infrastructure which creates what is pretty much the opposite of safe spaces for women trying to go about normal routines of everyday life like commuting.
        I raised these concerns with one of the Regional Councillors at the meeting and the response wasn’t particularly heartening. He agreed with my concerns and didn’t seem convinced that the sort of money people had talked about spending on these transfer stations was anywhere near what would be needed for the sort of security and upkeep that would be needed to make them safe spaces. An example he gave to highlight his concern was that people could end up having to wait alone for quite a long period of time at night, in places like up by the Karori Tunnel which is really quite isolated.
        There is something I can add to this which is hopefully positive! I recently travelled to Montreal in Quebec. It was the middle of Winter so it was usually dark before 5pm, and there weren’t usually that many people out and about because it was like -20 degrees celsius. Like most cities in North America it was waaay bigger than Wellington in terms of population, and I was traveling alone, so I was apprehensive about getting around at night. To my surprise I only once found myself feeling slightly unsafe at night, even though I was out and about until at least midnight most nights I was there. The Metro stations and the areas around them (and leading to them from major public venues) were really well-lit, and I never felt alone or as though I didn’t know what was going on around me, even in the underground bits. After reading about the city’s history a bit I found that local authorities have put considerable time, effort, and resources in to ensuring their city is a safe space. The approach seems from what I’ve read to have involved talking to women about how they feel in public spaces and how rape culture affects their day to day lives, and using the information gathered to guide decisions about how to design places like the Metro stations, and what sort of information and responsibilities to give businesses in the city. There’s some basic background on this page and the ones it links to: http://womensenews.org/story/international-policyunited-nations/020531/urban-design-and-womens-safety-wed-montreal.
        I understand that Canada is generally thought of as being leaps and bounds ahead of Aotearoa New Zealand in terms of social progressiveness. But I’d like to think that if there’s anywhere in this country where attempts at such projects by local government wouldn’t be written off as “PC bullshit” by the general public it’d be here in Wellington.

Why the proposed changes are concerning for students
EDIT:
Cheers to Tui for pointing out that there are some services being created which may cater to some of this – check the comments section for her info
There’s currently an excellent bus service in Wellington called the ‘Campus Connection’. It’s the #18 and runs between Karori and Miramar, servicing along the way all the major university (both Victoria and Massey) campuses in the city, as well as many of the suburbs students flat in. The changes put forward in the review propose to cut this service.

According to the Regional Council students will still receive a decent bus service because busses will run along The Terrace from the Railway Station, stopping at the bottom of Salamanca Road. The decision to cut the service, and its proposed replacement seem silly and inadequate to me for several reasons:

  • Firstly the service doesn’t run along the Golden Mile, and it’s not under-utilised (in fact it’s almost always been running full when I’ve caught it). So it doesn’t even play a role in causing the problems the Regional Council wants to get rid of.
  •  I don’t know numbers, but I’m guessing an equal number if not more of students live in inner-city or southern suburbs rather than ones where they commute to Wellington by train. The proposed new service would only be useful to those students who begin their bus trip at the Railway Station.
  • It wouldn’t even be useful to all students in that group who need a bus from the Railway Station, because as a bus which runs along The Terrace it’d only service the Kelburn Campus of Victoria University. Even if students are in a position to get on the new “student” bus in the first place, it’s not going to take them to places like the Karori Campus, or Massey and the New Zealand School of Music.
  • Even though there’s a stop on The Terrace for the Kelburn Campus (as opposed to the current Campus Connection stop for that place, which is actually outside the building on Kelburn Parade – quite a long way from The Terrace), there are serious accessibility issues with it which I’ll cover in the next section.

Why the proposed changes are concerning for people who experience disability
Last year I broke my foot and had a cast up to my knee for six weeks. I was non-weight-bearing for this whole period of time, meaning that I could barely get around on crutches. I also work a lot with people who use wheelchairs in my part-time job. Both of these experiences have made me a lot more aware of the many barriers to accessibility that exist around Wellington.
        The proposed bus stop for Victoria University’s Kelburn Campus is completely inadequate. It is at a busy intersection of a main road, which once students cross turns in to a very steep hill (Mount St.) which is badly sealed, slippery when wet, and badly lit when it’s dark. Even with just a temporary cast on my foot I know I would have found it near impossible to get to my classes from here. For the many people who are more affected by disability I can’t even imagine.
        Again, when I raised this concern the response I received revealed the approach taken in putting the proposal together was extremely questionable. Turns out they’d set a standard that a bus stop is “accessible” if it is 5 or fewer minutes’ walk from a main road. Let’s think about the proposed new stop for the Kelburn Campus. Firstly, I don’t know if anyone could walk from there to their classes in five minutes, so even by their own standards the people who wrote the review are wrong. But far more problematic than the fact that it may not have been strictly adhered to, is the standard itself and the way it completely privileges an able-bodied experience of the city. It ignores that what is a 5 minute walk for an able-bodied person will often take much longer for someone who experiences disability (in any situation, let alone in Wellington where the landscape is seldom what anyone would describe as flat or gentle).
        It seems that the process of planning new routes has been gone about in a way that meant even if stops do meet the test of “accessibility” for able-bodied people, they’re more than likely to fall far short of it for those to whom accessibility matters the most because instead of it being a matter of simply getting to class on time, it’s a matter of having access to an education and everyday society at all.

So that’s what I have to say on that. Not an issue I’m an expert on or even that familiar with but what I heard today made me feel like people should be doing something about this, and we only have three days left. Let’s get to it!

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11 thoughts on “Why we should be worried about Wellington’s proposed bus route changes

  1. I’m pretty hopeful about the changes for some reason (mostly because they’re finally introducing a Eastern/Southern suburbs loop, i.e. direct Newtown-Brooklyn bus), but I strongly agree with what you’re saying about losing the 18 – it seems like there won’t be a bus that runs up past Vic at all except that bus that currently runs like five times a day, and your points about accessibility are pretty valuable.

    The idea of “transfer stations” where people traveling between the city and suburbs have to swap busses at least once during their journey becomes problematic once services reduce in frequency after peak hours (as I’m assuming they would do)

    I did want to mention that from what I’ve read of the proposal bus times shouldn’t reduce in frequency after peak hours – additional peak buses should run (like really peak, 7.30-9 and 5-6) but otherwise buses should run on an “every 10” or “every 15” or “every 30”, all the time. Whether this is going to be adequate remains to be seen – I think in some areas, where they’re used to being serviced by LOTS of buses (thinking particularly of Newtown), they’re going to see a real drop in service, which is probably OK at two in the afternoon but really crappy at 3:30. Other areas it’ll probably improve quite a bit.

    I’m guessing an equal number if not more of students live in inner-city or southern suburbs rather than ones where they commute to Wellington by train. The proposed new service would only be useful to those students who begin their bus trip at the Railway Station.

    Since you mention the southern suburbs – the bus that runs along the Terrace will actually come from the southern suburbs (and run along Mt Cook) – it clearly is supposed to be a joint 11/18 replacement. I agree for the reasons you suggest that it’s not completely adequate, but in terms of getting from the suburbs to roughly the right area the service doesn’t change, might actually run more frequently.

    • Ahhhhh cheers, I totally missed that part about the one coming from the Southern Suburbs. From what the guy was saying today it sounded as though a bus “along The Terrace” was just that. Interesting that he didn’t point this out when he was asked about the #18 cancellation!

      As for times spent waiting, as you’ve acknowledged, if it’s the middle of the night even 10 or 15 minutes can still be a really long time.

      • Wasn’t trying to hide anything in my explanation. There is simply a lot going on in the proposals.

        The C is effectively a replacement for a whole range of services – Part of the 10, Part of the 11, Part of the 18. The C has raised a range of concerns across the City, namely:

        – traversing the Terrace rather than the Golden Mile, which is historically where people from the Eastern Suburbs have wanted to go to.
        – desirability of a core route on a road – The Terrace that has significant peak hour traffic.
        – the fact that the C effectively delivers people to the back door of the Uni whereas existing services deliver people to the from door.

        You will recall that in relation to their last point there was a discussion about how disabled students will get on being dropped off on the Terrace.

        It is worth noting that the 18 also has a big catchment in Karori and connects to the Karori campus.

        For my money services like the 18 and the 23 are really useful cross city connections which the C doesn’t really match. A possible answer is to have a core service that actually goes up past the university and through to the Western suburbs – (i.e. a bit of 11, 10, 18 and 23).

  2. I’m thrilled you posted this (and cheers to Wellingtonista for bringing it to my eyeballs). It’s good to see that you have specific issues and are ready to stand for them. I think it’s critical for people to get involved with something that is meant to be people-focussed.

    Safety of transfer points isn’t solely for women. Safe means safe regardless. On the plus side, WCC’s draft submission (http://www.wellington.govt.nz/haveyoursay/meetings/committee/Strategy_and_Policy/2012/15Mar0915/pdf/15_March_2012_Report_1_Appendix_2_Bus_Submission.pdf) brings this up. As far as I understand, this has to do with jurisdiction of issues. GW is responsible for the routes, but doesn’t have much control over shelters and their safety. That appears to fall more onto WCC, who’ve mentioned well lit areas, covered by CCTV, with weather-proofing. See paragraph 3.3 in the PDF. Even still, talking to my partner this morning, she didn’t think that would be enough for her, if she were transferring late at night. Perception of safety is hard and this discussion is important. My guess is that dairy/convenience stores can help, by setting up some sort of very-nearby business that operates over the whole bus schedule. Living eyeballs are always better than CCTV, in terms of perception of safety.

    I’ve been studying the maps, looking for answers to your question of student access. It appears to me that Kelburn Pde is covered by 16/17, from the Station via the Terrace at 15min intervals, and by the 19, from Mt Vic via Aro at 30min intervals. Hopefully, this is adequate for people who can’t or aren’t interested in walking up from the Terrace. The deficiency I see there is the lower frequency of the 19, which would cover students that come from the Courtenay Pl end of the core network. It forces them to pass through the station, if the 19 isn’t due soon. For access to the Karori campus, the B route looks to connect the 16 & 17 from Kelburn or from the Station for everyone else.

    In terms of accessibility, I’m hoping that the Kelburn Pde buses help, but perfect accessibility is pretty much impossible. You can’t afford to connect every single place to every other place. The consultants considered two rest homes as stakeholders for disability groups. WCC also brings up accessibility in terms of shelters, information and driver training. (3.3 and 3.4)

    I don’t want to dissuade you from making these comments in a submission. I think it’s very important for GWRC to get this sort of feedback. But I also hope that I’ve helped allay your apprehensions somewhat. At the end of the day, I want a network that works as well as it can for as many people as possible.

    • Thanks very much for your response Gregory! I’m definitely feeling a lot more comfortable with some of the options students will have now. However as you say safety and accessibility are still very complicated issues that it’s going to take a lot of thought to deal with adequately. Let’s hope there’s lots of discussion of it in the consultation process.

      • I like the idea of CCTV and will be pushing for this at the hubs…..but be aware. The Regional Council does not currently monitor the CCTV cameras it has installed at railways stations and on the Matangi trains.

        If CCTV is installed by either WCC or GWRC then I strongly believe that it should be a monitored system.

  3. On the question of investment in Transfers, I asked the GWRC how much has been budgetted for the Bus Review and ,in particular, for the Eight Transfer Stations acros Wellington. There response (OIA 2012/009) as follows:
    “The following information has been identified as relevant to your request. The information has been prepared by officers but as yet has had no formal approval from Council. The budget information is to be recommended to Council by officers for inclusion in the draft Long Term Plan. …”

    [In other words, there is no approved budget for these changes only recommendations.]

    “The investment in better bus stops and facilities at connection points is included within proposed regional budgets, for example:
    * the regional signage budget (officers recommend a budget of $960k (un-inflated figures) for 3 years 2012/13 to 2014/15)
    * the shelter capital budget (officers recommend a budget of $1.25million (un-inflated figures) for 3 years 2012/13 to 2014/15) which includes an extra $500k specifically for additional improvements at the connection points and other infrastructure requirements”

    Again, the Regional council has recommending only $0.5M for interchanges (only $62,000 each!). Just for comparison, this same council is also budgetting $1.4M to expand and improve the Porirua Station Car Park and $80M to refurbish more trains !!

    The WCC proposed submission (see March 15 Strategy & Planning Meeting) states:

    “Council’s expectation is the infrastructure investment required will be provided by GWRC.”

    so there is no funding planned from the WCC.

    At the moment only 3% of commuters transfer. This will rise to 13% with the additional bus commuters who currently travel directly but will have to transfer.

    The Regional Council may seem to have promised high quality, safe and protected interchanges as part of this plan but they are not planning to allocate the funding to deliver them. Feel free to point this out in your submission.

    • Nicola,

      I concur with Tony’s assessment and you will recall that I remarked at the meeting that I was uncomfortable with the low budget that has been allocated for the transfer hubs.

      If these hubs are going to provide the comfort and security that transferring passengers deserve then I do truly struggle to understand how $62,000 per transfer station is going to cut it. The types of things I envisage a transfer facility requiring are:

      a) good all weather shelter capable of handling large number of people – in some cases a whole bus will transfer to another service;
      b) monitored CCTV
      c) prison grade lighting (lighting is often subject to vandalism)
      d) possibly a two way intercom with a service operator.

      In addition most of the hubs will require significant road works.

      I have made my concerns know to my Council colleagues but urge you to submit in this issue. It is the single biggest concern across the City.

      • Hi Daran. It’s good to hear confirmation of that. I was planning on adding financial concerns already. From what I understand, releasing of extra capex is different to allocating opex. Could there be an adjustment in capex closer to the implementation time? Also, would GWRC bear the full cost, or would it be shared with WCC or other stakeholders?

      • The plan is for GWRC to bear the cost of the infrastructure at the hubs. But of course road realignments etc will probably also bring the WCC into the picture.

        As you have noted the WCC usually does the bus stops but as I understand it their budget only stretches to about ten bus stops per annum and the review could result in a need for many more than that (and some removed in places).

        Yes, this would be capex. And yes, there could, and would most likely to be an adjustment once the actual designs have been confirmed. But the starting fgure does not bode well for quality infrastructure at the hubs.

      • Thanks for making those concerns known Daran – it’s good to know that there are good people there advocating for the right things!

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