Windows on Wellington

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.

On other channels, George’s article was turned into a dramatic clip on Youtube by NZ News, and generated a good round of comments on a local Reddit forum.

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.

ENDS

 

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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!

ENDS

From this week, Windows on Wellington is on the beat!
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It’s Talk Wellington’s way of  keeping tabs on stories that catch our eye in regional media and other sundry related sources – to deliver a timely wrap of what’s up and what’s down, town and around.
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Interesting fact: Windows on Wellington used to be a premier restaurant in the city, located on the penthouse floor of what’s now Plimmer Towers – and was then the Williams Centre – Wellington’s tallest building from 1977 to 1984. 

A BUMPER REVIEW…

Until 7 July The Dominion Post masthead reads Te Upoko-O-Te-Ika (“the report of the head of the fish”). It’s a commendable recognition of the Māori new year, Matariki, and of WCC’s newly launched te reo Māori policy.
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This and the transition of Wellington’s daily newspaper to a tabloid sized format are a fresh new look that has a noticeable community newspaper vibe.
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Looking across a week’s worth of Te Upoko-O-Te-Ika and other sources turns up a wide catch of eclectic (and electric) topics for Talk Wellington readers.
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School gate-gate. Talk Wellington contributor wrote about school gate wars on 8 June [link: https://talkwellington.org.nz/2018/school-gate-parking-wars-the-battles-continue-do-we-actually-enjoy-it/ ] and sure enough the issue was front page news on Wednesday 20 June, with the focus on how to allocate pick-up and drop-off zones. WCC is promoting the idea of a ‘school travel plan’ that sustainable transport co-ordinator Hilleke Townsend is working on. When children are asked they’re telling her that they’re really keen to walk, scoot or bike to school independently. The latest residents survey showed children aged under 13 who walk to and from school every day is up to 53%, from 26% five years ago. Kaboom!
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Looking for a dose of transport futurism? Journalist Tom Pullar-Strecker pulled out all the stops last week to summarise flights of transport fancy like “hyper loops” [link https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/104611779/rubber-hits-the-road-on-the-fourth-transport-revolution ] It ends well, with an aspirational mention of plans for Norway’s capital Oslo to be carfree by 2020.
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One ticket to ride for all. That was the front page headline on Tuesday last week, with news that a group called Project NEXT is leading a rollout of integrated public transport ticketing with Wellington as the first city off the rank in 2021, and the rest of the country five years after that. In reporting by Damian George there’s a note that the 2021 date is just a best guess. Very few countries in the world use a nationwide system, exceptions being the Netherlands and Switzerland.
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Google madne$$.It’s easy to sympathise with the lack of notice Metlink got from Google for a change in price for using the Google Maps API from $1,000 a month to a whopping $30,000. Not surprisingly they’re looking for a new map provider for the Metlink service that allows journey planning.
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“We need to move as fast as we can to get rid of diesel buses”.So said Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) councillor Sue Kedgley at a meeting convened last week by ReVolt Wellington to air mounting concerns about increases in noise and pollution since trolley busses were replaced by diesel buses. Rongotai MP Paul Eagle has offered to get a local group together to meet Transport Minister Phil Twyford about the concerns, especially given the number diesel buses is expected to multiply when new operator Tranzit takes the steering wheel in July. GWRC is assessing the merits of a proposal to replace up to 10% of the diesel bus fleet with full-electric vehicles each year from 2019, and ensure no new diesel buses enter the fleet.
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Go figure. In another story it seems that the old trolley buses – owned by NZ Bus – could be converted to electric battery engines but re-deployed to NZ Bus territories in Tauranga or Auckland. Our loss, their gain?
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Major investments. On Thursday coverage of the plans of the GWRC to commit $5.8 billion to regional infrastructure were headlined in the Cook Strait News. Midway through the article it was noted the money allocated in the GWRC’s 10 Year Plan for mass transit and public transport components of the Let’s Get Wellington Moving programme makes up just $67 million. The meeting to adopt the 10 Year Plan takes place on Tuesday 26 June.
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Love letter to fellow commuters. Wellingtonian Beryl Skipper, 82, took the time to write a letter that appeared in last week’s Cook Strait Newsto thank a young man and woman who heard her plea for $2 to pay for a bus trip. Beryl had caught short after the Gold Card time limit ran out, and with an underloaded Snapper Card. Beryl: “I will probably never meet them again but words cannot express the gratitude I felt”. Arohanui to Beryl’s fellow commuters!
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Re: Cycling. Plans to develop a connected citywide bicycle network got a boost last week with news the Government will contribute $15.3 million for cycling projects approved by WCC in the eastern burbs, including a new two-way bike path around Evans Bay.
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Do you live in a heritage character suburb? Planning and design consultancy Boffa Miscall will be reviewing and reporting on character areas of Wellington such as Mt Cook, Newtown, Berhampore, Thornton, Holloway Road, Aro Valley and The Terrace for WCC by November. Their study will feed into a city growth plan and is intended to be a stocktake of good and bad development, with an eye to intensification and streetscape infill. Residents’ groups have rightly called for community input.
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Social housing in Rolleston Street.Redevelopment of Housing New Zealand’s site in Rolleston Street, Mt Cook, could see 20 of 90 planned units provided as “supported living”, and may be considered for the Government’s Housing First scheme, which aims to house and support the long-term homeless. Plans are being shared with the community month by month, and development strategist William Pennington is heavily involved.
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Ship shape on housing?Last week Wellington city councillors gave some attention to their Strategic Housing Investment Plan (SHIP), which aims to deliver 750 new social and affordable housing units over the next 10 years. Concern surfaced about the prospect of projects not materialising till year 10. A councillor-only workshop is planned for August or September. Meanwhile Te Upoko-O-Te-Ika front page lead story last Thursday was the 2017 discussion document it obtained under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act that showed many tenants cannot afford the rentals on their council/ social housing. A rental review is going to be carried out regardless and the Government is being asked to extend income related rent subsidies. As also covered by journalist Collette Devlin it’s not 100% clear how safe funding for the WCC’s award-winning Community Action Programme and its tenant support will be.
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Wairarapa Line issues investigated. GWRC has used consultants SNC-Lavalin Rail and Transit PTY Ltd to give a report on weak points in the Wairarapa Line’s performance. There was a media release [link: https://www.metlink.org.nz/news/sustainable-transport-committee-to-receive-wairarapa-rail-investigation-report/ about this at the beginning of last week and a story in Friday’s Dominion Post, but no sign of the report online. Its recommendations need to be accessible.
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A one way track to Happy Valley. How long does it take to rip apart an asbestos filled train carriage? According to WCC waste operations manager Darren Hoskins that would be 25 minutes, after heavy steel parts were removed for possible recycling. About 50 discarded Ganz Mavag / Tranz Metro carriages arrived at the end of the line at Happy Valley at the start of June. One carriage survived after being  bought up for $1 by Upper Hutt’s Marmorn Railway Society who are now wrangling members to restore it.

EXTRA, EXTRA

Boho all the way. Wellington – not just liveable! Wellington recently topped a Deutsche Bank list for most liveable cities, worldwide. Then, Wellington-based economic consultancy Infometrics re-ran their Creativity Index [link: http://www.infometrics.co.nz/chart-month-new-zealands-creative-city-2017/ ] and sure enough Wellington topped that too. Infometrics use the Boho (yep, short for bohemian) measure popularised by academic Richard Florida. The measure concentrates on the proportion of a city’s workforce that is involved in creative and artistic occupations and industries. At 6.4% Wellington is out in front of Auckland by 1.7%. Impressively five of the other top spots in Infometric’s reckoning of NZ’s creative cities and districts are in the Wellington Region – with spots taken by Kapiti Coast (#4), Porirua City (#6), Lower Hutt (#7), South Wairarapa (#9) and Carterton (#10).
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On another creative note, it’s heartening to see that Big Weatheran anthology of ‘poems of Wellington’ first published in 2000 is now up to its third edition as of this month. It’s got some all-time favourites – from Chris Orsman’s Ghost Ships to Jenny Bornholdt’s We Will, We Do.
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Matariki buzz. Two arts projects [link: https://wellington.govt.nz/services/community-and-culture/arts/projects-and-opportunities/waituhi-matariki-public-art-project ] were commissioned by the City Arts and Events team this year to mark Matariki: Puawānanga – Stars of the forestby Angela Kilford and Aliyah winter, and Toitū te Whenua -The land remainsby Sian Montgomery-Neutze. Viewable now at Jervois over bridge, Central Railway station and Frank Kitts Park.
ENDS