Note to Isabella; Crew: No need for attribution / byline for Stephen. Can just roll with an intro paragraph.
Isabella – am thinking we could share the selection (you could pick one of the four?) and change/ mix up the ‘voice’ more. No need to keep using Tahi, Rua, Toru, Wha if it gets constraining .. keep evolving, yeah?
After a relatively ‘slow news week’ last week, it’s a safe bet there could be some fireworks this week if the new bus routes cause any major disruptions. Watch those routes!
Here are some pointers to three stories that caught the roving eyes of the crew at Talk Wellington since last Monday:
Technology and ‘scope changes’ are not cheap. Good on Damian George at the DomPost for running a ruler over the costs for “smart motorway construction” between the Terrace Tunnel and Johnsonville that came into operation two winters ago in 2016.
The cost was going to be $55.8m but the final pricetag “jumped” about $25m to $81m.
NZTA’s explanation is that the extra cost went into expanding technology – primarily speed and lane control signs and the overhead structure to support them – on the section of SH1 from the Ngauranga Gorge to the Wellington CBD and extra equipment for better traffic flow northbound into Horokiwi.
George’s story ended by noting that benefit-cost ratios had not been reviewed since 2016 but while traffic has kept growing NZTA is satisfied that southbound travel time reliability has remained constant, and that northbound travel times from the CBD to Johnsonville had “improved”.
According to the article the best figure for an improvement in journey time might be only as much as 30 seconds.
It’s not really reasonable to suggest that the new computerised system that sets changeable speed limits based on predicted traffic flows has failed. To be fair this is more a case that heavy congestion is its own disease and in every city around the world it eludes quick fixes.
Students and their long commutes. Students living further out in the region and commuting to study is one of the key reasons that the Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association (VUWSA) lobbied the Greater Wellington Regional Council so hard to get a tertiary discount on public transport.
Supporting VUWSA’s rationale is the story of university students and Wairarapa commuters Anna Rossiter-Stead and Ngahuia Huirama, as featured on Stuff yesterday.
Breaking news: Inquiry into local authority cost pressures announced. The pace of inquiries and reviews the current government has been rolling out hasn’t hit a Stop sign yet.
It was only a matter of time before it announced an inquiry into Local Government funding and financing, given this written into Labour’s Coalition Agreement with New Zealand First.
And sure enough the Productivity Commission was charged with undertaking this Inquiry just yesterday by Finance Minister Grant Robertson, with the aim of receiving “recommendations for how councils can maintain and deliver services and infrastructure in cost-effective ways into the future”.
Although the Inquiry’s terms of reference were yet to be released, the announcement’s media release stated it will include investigating current frameworks for capital expenditure decision making, including cost-benefit analysis, incentives and oversight of decision making.
Grant Robertson: “Since the Shand report into Local Government rates in 2007, Local Government cost pressures have grown significantly and by more than other costs faced by ratepayers. The pressures faced by local councils vary significantly (and) the scale of this issue means an in-depth look is needed into whether our current structures are fit for purpose”.
Among other issues this will put a spotlight on, it promises to be an opportunity to weigh up where transport sits 10 years after the Shand report and within wider central and local government thinking.
If you’re keen to start gaining a perspective on what should be an enlightening debate, you can download a copy of the Shand (Local Government Rates Inquiry) report here.
Talk Wellington will be keeping a close watch on this as it unfolds.
While the story of a whale – also known as a whale of a story – rightly captured the hearts of Wellingtonians this week there were no shortage of ripples across the newsfront for transport.
Tahi: Expressway toll “on the table”
Between his Ministerial portfolios of housing and transport Phil Twyford is seldom out of the news.
He made the front page of the DomPost last Monday for having given his “blessing” to a NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) recommendation to investigate the option of a toll charge for users of the $852 million four-lane Transmission Gully motorway when it opens in 2020.
The basis of the story was information that journalist Jared Nicoll dug out from an NZTA briefing document that identified a toll as a way to “shape demand” – which Nicoll related to an NZTA concern that the opening of the motorway would likely decrease demand for public transport, primarily rail. In that sense one desired effect of a toll would be to balance demand across modes of transport.
In addition it was noted that a toll serves as a practical tool for raising revenue and Phil Tywford was quoted as saying that having the extra revenue from a toll would make sense to “off-set” costs over the life of the public-private partnership that was put in place for Transmission Gully under National.
As reported that arrangement will see an annual bill of $125 million paid to the private sector partner for the construction, maintenance and operation of the motorway, including interest payments, for 25 years.
In the same story Brett Hudson, National’s associate transport spokesperson, called the prospect of a toll “disappointing” and conflated the idea of a toll to Greater Wellington Regional Council’s desire for a regional fuel tax. Others voicing early objections to a toll in Nicoll’s story were the NZ Automobile Association and Porirua Mayor Mike Tana.
In swift fashion it only took a day for a former spokesperson for the Transmission Gully Action Council, Russell Morrison, to escalate the controversy value of a toll with an opinion piece arguing that a toll would “compromise the objectives and significantly reduce the benefits of having the new road”.
In a circular argument Morrison suggested that “arguably, many people will find the (existing) route more interesting” than the new motorway, and that this was just one of the reasons he believes a toll would be a negative disincentive for using the motorway – adding the view that it won’t markedly shorten the distance or time of travelling between Wellington and the Coast.
This type of staking out of ground for and against an option like a road toll, even if it hasn’t even been investigated yet, isn’t unusual and often brings out a wave of public opinion.
That wasn’t very apparent last week, apart from a scattering of three letters to the editor, and interestingly all three were focused on the issue of how to maintain a balance of support for public transport after the motorway opens.
In his letter to the DomPost published on 5 July, Ron Beernink of Petone took the line of supporting road tolls and congestion charges as options for penalising non-essential use of roads. He made a constructive call that one lane of the new motorway should be restricted to use by buses and commercial traffic such as trucks.
Local Labour MPs aren’t shying away from the progress on the motorway, with the Independent Herald running a story last Wednesday showing a photo of Paul Eagle (Rongotai), Greg O’Connor (Ohariu), Adrian Rurawhe (Te Teai Hauauru) and Kris Faafoi (Mana) on site at the project and all decked out in high-vis. A classic example of high-vis public relations.
Time will tell how the case for putting a toll on the Transmission Gully motorway proceeds – or not.
If it did cross the line it would be the fourth toll road in New Zealand – joining the Northern Gateway, north of Auckland, the Tauranga Eastern Link, and the Takitimu Drive toll road, also near Tauranga. And the average cost each way? About $2 a car and $5 per truck.
Rua: Public transport in the news
In amongst the continuing countdown to changes to public transport due to happen around the Wellington region, there were some less positive headlines last week.
A fold-out guide inserted into the weekend DomPost highlighted the main changes from this Sunday 15 July as new fares, new ticket types and changes to Metlink bus services.
It also trumpeted the arrival of electric double deckers which will operate on the main north-south route in Wellington and which were officially launched outside Parliament on Thursday 5 July.
As Parliament’s speaker of the house it was Trevor Mallard who gave permission for having the double-deckers drive in front of the Beehive. But as a local MP he didn’t attend the event, citing his solidarity with bus drivers who may be facing potential hardship in the change-over in bus operators from NZ Bus to Tranzit.
Journalist Hamish Rutherford reported on Mr Mallard’s objections at the weekend, as well as on a report by Wellington consultancy TDM that showed Tranzit’s contracts are actually likely to be better for drivers with less than five years experience although not as favourable for drivers with greater than 10 years service. This disregard for experience was one of Mr Mallard’s beefs on behalf of drivers.
Separately bus operators copped more bad press recently, beginning with a story on Monday 2 July about South Wellington Intermediate School students, under the print edition headline of ‘Students told to get off the bus’.
And on Saturday, it was reported that three pupils from Lower Hutt’s San Antonio school, aged between 7 and 9, have written to Metlink about poor treatment by drivers on their school bus route under new operator NZ Bus. Incidents referred to included refusals to pick students up and forcing a pupil off the bus, through to drivers shouting at students and parents.
An initial response to the DomPost was handled by Metlink. Why Metlink and not NZ Bus? NZ Bus told journalist Matthew Tso that it’s a contractual condition that they can’t talk to the media without Metlink approval.
No one is saying that being a bus driver is an easy job. Indeed journalist Amanda Cropp put the perils of being a bus driver into high relief in a feature article about a rise in serious bus crashes published by the Sunday Star-Times.
As Cropp reported, using Ministry of Transport (MOT) figures, in 2017 there were 161 serious bus crashes resulting in casaulties – 25 of them in Wellington. And yet MOT’s mobility and safety manager told Cropp that the numbers are too small to indicate any trends.
Cropp’s article covers a push by unions to change legislation which currently allows bus drivers to work up to 5.5 hours without a break, a ‘rule’ the unions say was made for truckies not bus drivers.
In a union survey drivers themselves are blaming accidents on heavy traffic, fatigue, long hours, insufficent rest, pressure to take extra shifts, and stress.
This all comes at a time when, according to NZ Bus and Coach Association CEO Barry Kidd, more than 1400 new buses have been registered in just the last three years nationwide.
Cropp reports that actions being taken to lower the bus accident rate include a campaign to prevent red light running, priority lanes separating buses from general traffic and new technology to monitor driver fatigue and performance.
Have you seen or experienced risks around bus safety?
Toru: A different type of bus
It was encouraging to read advocacy for walking school buses in the viewpoint column that Fiona Barber contributes for Fairfax’s Your Weekend insert on Saturday.
It was a heartening counterbalance to a lot of the writing about school drop-off congestion and bumper-to-bumper snarl-ups outside schools, to read Barber’s reminder that changing behaviours is also about changing mindsets. Worth a read.
Whā: Prepare for landing
The changing face of Wellington Airport got another lift during the week with news that the main terminal space will receive a $15 million upgrade.
Two months ago the completed extension to the Airport’s south terminal came away with two wins from the Commercial Project Awards run by Registered Master Builders, and no doubt the airport company will be aiming high again.
It’s been an impressive change, especially for Wellingtonians old enough to recall the longstanding joke in NZ that the Wellington terminal was for many decades little more than a moderately repurposed airport hangar!