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Wellington has several public transport and cycling improvements underway.
Wellington has several public transport and cycling improvements underway.

OPINIONPoliticsApril 22, 2024

A list of transport projects Wellington could actually deliver in the next 10-15 years

Wellington has several public transport and cycling improvements underway.
Wellington has several public transport and cycling improvements underway.

Metlink is warning Wellington commuters to expect buses to replace trains on weekends for the next 10-15 years. But there are a few things to look forward to while we wait.

Thomas Nash is a Greater Wellington Regional Councillor.

Ten to fifteen years. Four little words that sparked a mini media storm. Metlink manager Fiona Abbot told councillors buses are likely to replace trains on many weekends and public holidays for 10-15 years while Wellington’s rail infrastructure is brought up to standard. That spicy soundbite was picked up by Newstalk ZB’s Azaria Howell and quickly became national news. In response, The Spinoff published an insightful list of things you could do in Wellington while waiting 15 years to catch a train on the weekend.

I found this list so inspiring that I wrote my own list of all the actual transport improvements we will see if we continue to invest sensibly in Wellington’s network over the next 10-15 years. Many of these things are definitely happening, while others are still in progress and need more work and investment.

Lastly, there are some bonus entries; improvements that have had some degree of planning, but would require either a change of government or a change of heart by this government. They are all possible and within reach – no flying cars, giant long motorway tunnels, monorails or other far-fetched ideas here. Just good old standard issue, value for money public transport that connects people, builds communities and supports economic development.

  1. An improved bus replacement service, which we will need for the next 10-15 years while the rail network gets fixed. That means better buses, a timetable on the app with bus replacements showing on the real time information system, better signage at stations and stops and smoother transfers.
  2. A new ticketing system linked to your bank card so you can tap on with Paywave. This is happening – the national system is due to launch in Christchurch later this year with Wellington following at the end of 2025. It will finally mean all trains and buses use the same ticketing system, and we can introduce fare capping.
  3. A safe bike network around Wellington with plenty of protected bike lanes. This is also happening, but it could happen faster. That all depends on funding decisions and the relative political importance of residential car parking on arterial routes over more efficient and cost effective transport options.
  4. An all-electric bus fleet. This is happening. We currently have 120 electric buses out of a total fleet of about 500, and we are on track to be fully electric by the end of the decade.
  5. Articulated “bendy buses” offering more capacity for our busiest route, the mighty number 2 running from Miramar to Karori. We hope to have them in place by 2026 to accommodate a doubling of annual ridership on the route from three million to six million in the next decade.
  6. A new Real Time Information System to better reflect the reality of bus movements and, helpfully, to show how much room there is on each bus. This will be live by the end of this year.
  7. New bus depots in public ownership, with seriously grunty electric charging capacity. We are consulting on this in our Long Term Plan at the moment. The first council-owned depot would be in Lyall Bay.
  8. More bus lanes on key arterial routes in and out of the city, including a new city busway along the harbour quays, adding bus stops serving the waterfront at Post Office Square, Te Ngākau Civic Square, Tākina convention centre and Te Papa.
  9. Bus priority changes at traffic lights. We already have bus lanes in place on Adelaide Road and on Cambridge and Kent Terrace, but buses still get stuck in traffic around the Basin Reserve. We need to change the traffic light phasing to let buses go first. That could happen quickly with very little cost and would make a huge difference.
  10. New trains from Wellington to Palmerston North and Masterton are on their way and as long as the government funds the rail track infrastructure it owns, we will double and triple services to and from these two heartland capitals by 2030.
  11. A new set of trains will eventually replace our existing Matangi electric trains. Planning is just getting started for this, but they should be in place sometime in the 2030s.
  12. A new Melling station. The Melling Line currently carries only a few hundred people a day, but once a new station is linked directly to the centre of Lower Hutt by a new bridge that people can walk or ride to, the rail line will be a much more attractive option. This is all in advanced planning and design and is definitely doable by the end of the decade if funding gets confirmed.
  13. In the meantime, the Hutt Valley is being linked to Wellington via a relatively cheap shared cycling and walking path being built on top of a quite expensive but very necessary new seawall defending the road and rail links. Construction is on track for an opening in 2026.

Plus, some other things that are in the mix if we dream big, but can’t quite be promised yet, include:

  • Double tracking pinch points on the main trunk line, especially North-South Junction between Pukerua Bay and Paekākāriki. All of this work is set out in the Wellington Strategic Rail Plan to triple passenger rail numbers over the next 30 years, but needs a funding commitment from central government.
  • An even better upgrade for the Melling line would be to link it up with the Hutt Valley line via a loop with a new rail line crossing the Hutt River to the north of Melling Station and connecting with Manor Park. This is in the very early aspirational planning stage, i.e. it’s just a line on a map in an unfunded strategy, so it needs a lot of work.
  • A night train between Wellington and Auckland – market research says this would totally work, but the money to set it up would need government backing, much like a new State Highway.
  • A more accessible public transport network including stations, vehicles and information. This is a long term plan with a lot of cost so needs phasing in.
  • More public toilets at railway stations and bus hubs. This also will take time and is linked to the accessibility plan and has a big price tag.
a train in wellington
Trains train trains
  • More staff at railway stations. This depends a lot on the funding model and contracts, but we know it is something people who use the train want.
  • Full peak hour style servicing for all major events, like the Phoenix home semi-final coming up at Wellington stadium (or an All Blacks test).
  • A new ferry terminal at Kaiwharawhara and new ferries to connect the North and South Islands. This looking a bit uncertain at the moment but very important.
  • More electric cross-harbour ferries, including to Miramar. The current electric ferry in the Metlink network was built in the Hutt Valley, and you could probably build another two before the new Interislander ferries materialise.
  • Now that Wellington City Council has deemed the Johnsonville rail line rapid transit and upzoned along it, we might as well convert it to light rail and extend the line down Lambton Quay, Willis Street and Courtenay Place to the hospital and Newtown. Famously, light rail is no longer in the government’s plans, so if you want it, write to your local councillors and MPs.
  • Lastly, because transport and housing and urban development are inextricably linked, we should look forward to the new higher-density neighbourhoods that will emerge in Wellington in the next 15 years, because they are connected by new high capacity public transport services. Something housing and infrastructure minister Chris Bishop has said he wants.

So there are a lot of transport things that can, should, or will happen in the next 10-15 years that aren’t catching a train on the weekend. Happily, many of them could be even better than that train.  

Keep going!