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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Kia ora!

Kia ora and welcome to our new blog!

As the description to the right explains, we’re a flat of feminists living in Aro Valley, a suburb of Aotearoa New Zealand’s capital city Wellington. You can find out more about us by clicking the “Who are we?” tab above.

We were recently disappointed that our country re-elected a government led by the centre-right National Party and extreme right wing ACT party. Such leadership flies in the face of most – if not all – of what we believe in. Because of the election result we don’t foresee things getting any better for our country on the equality front any time soon.

Our original response to this was to start a blog critiquing the developments in New Zealand government and society which cause us daily dismay. However there are already plenty of political blogs which provide thorough and articulate analyses of why John Key and his ilk are pretty bad and spell doom for most of Aotearoa, particularly the vulnerable and marginalised.

We don’t feel we’d have any unique or constructive contribution to make to that area of the blogosphere. Additionally, when the things going on around us make us so angry, being negative really isn’t going to help us feel much better. So instead we’re going to try to focus on and highlight the positive things that are happening… there must be some! We want to provide some sort of hope instead of the fear and resentment which make up our default response to the way things are currently going. Think of it as making the most of a bad situation.

We also want to set some personal goals around things like becoming more sustainable, creative, and involved in the cool little community we live in. We’re lucky to be surrounded by like-minded people here (check out the diagram below of what the make up of Parliament would look like if only the votes from our local polling booth counted!) so hopefully we’ll find some things to do here which will be worth writing about.

With all the mischief we get up to together you can expect many stories of the fun we have. These may range from the political to our attempts to grow a garden, adopting cats from the Cats Protection League, thoughts on films we see and books we read, Sam’s exploits as a hair model, Polly’s rapidly expanding collection of vintage clothing and home décor, or Nicola’s upcoming expedition to Canada. The next and first proper post we’re going to put up will be a list of our goals for 2012.

We’re looking forwards to sharing our adventures with you!

Love,
Polly Sam and Nicola
(Pictured above: our flat’s festive family portrait, a la awkwardfamilyphotos.com)

(DISCLAIMER: We’ll still probably rant about how bad John Key is from time to time)