Part Two of a six-part series, compiled by Talk Wellington, that outlines a sensible vision for transport. This is a space that needs filling even as Let’s Get Wellington Moving prepares to spend $4 billion on transport in the capital.
Having been introduced to the series, Part Two finds regular Wellingtonians hungry for better transport choices – echoing what thousands told Let’s Get Wellington Moving.
We’re often reading about proposed bus lanes, bike lanes, slower speeds, parking removal getting “backlash” from “Wellington motorists” , and seeing our decision-makers acutely tuned to noisy opposition. Yet the tens of thousands of responses to Let’s Get Wellington Moving consultation showed both frustration with traffic and a desire to rely less on the car and all that goes with it.
Talk Wellington asked our fellow Wellingtonians how they want to get around their city, and they too showed this hunger for a different transport setup. As Pablo Gomes (aged 39, Island Bay) put it, “I wish I didn’t need a car in the city.”
Overwhelmingly, people wanted more choices. They felt three things would be transformational: good public transport that goes beyond simply serving commuters, cycling that feels safe for parents and kids, and a conscious decision by politicians to plan a truly future-proofed transport network.
What they have right now, though, is quite different.
Many people feel Wellington hasn’t progressed beyond an adequate commuter-focused bus and train service, to a network that caters to the range of everyday transport needs. Right now, in the words of Bronwyn Brown (63, Khandallah), Khandallah’s choice is between “a ten-minute car ride – and you bite the bullet and deal with the parking – or a potentially long and complicated public transport experience including an often hilly walk to a bus stop, before your 20-minute bus ride to the city”.
For Joey Shannon (33, Roseneath), it’s a similar story. “Our off-peak 30-minute bus interval is okay-ish as an adult but not with kids. It’s fine when things are going well, but when you’re having a bad trip out and you just miss a bus, and now you’ve got to kill forty minutes, because the next bus is late, with two unhappy children, it’s enough to make you want to just drive everywhere, like all your peers seem to be doing.”
This theme recurs often: many people are trying to use public transport as much as they can, but the “doability” gap between driving and taking the bus or train is often too great to bridge – especially for people with children, and for weekend and evening travel. “I moved to Wellington because it has a thriving arts and culture scene,” says Sarah Lee (23, Kelburn), “and being part of this often means I am out way past 8.32pm, the end of regular buses. When taxis or Uber aren’t an option I’ve been stranded in town for 40 to 60 minutes waiting for a bus or braving a walk home that I’m a bit exhausted for, and that’s through a few spots in town that definitely don’t feel safe.”
Parents – unsurprisingly – want to live in a city where their kids can be independent. That, according to James Harris (fiftysomething, Newtown), means “a bus network that’s so good that my teenagers don’t need to drive or be driven everywhere – they should be able to get themselves to school, to sports, and home again without all the parents working as unpaid taxi drivers and clogging up all the roads.”
Parents also point out that when their kids can catch the bus, they love it. “[My son] is obsessed with buses in general, and ‘decker busses’ in particular, so it’s great for him,” says Joey Shannon. “I’d much rather sit next to him talking about what we’re seeing out the window together than sitting in traffic with him strapped in behind me.”
The people Talk Wellington spoke to aren’t looking for a personalised service – just a more affordable, reliable and frequent one. “If I miss a train, I’ve jeopardised our careful sequence of juggling work, school and kindy pickup, dinner and so on,” says Miriam Freeman-Plume (40, Plimmerton). “If I could turn up and know there’d be no more than ten minutes’ wait for a train, I’d use it as my primary transport.”
Along with public transport, people look to cycling as an obvious choice – but feeling unsafe is a real impediment. Alison Howard (43, Miramar) puts it simply: “I’d like to be able to bike to work but it feels dangerous and that really puts me off. I’d like the kids to be able to ride bikes to school when they are old enough – that would be really neat.”
Many of our interviewees want to see planning for the future start now. “We need to think about the future, the possibilities – the possible that is already happening now,” says Nicci Wood (41, Oriental Bay). Or, as Kara Dentice (28, Wainuiomata) puts it: “Ultimately it’s about building for me and my neighbours to be interdependent instead of independent. We all love the sound of independence, but it’s gone overboard.”
In short, Wellingtonians are hungry for the chance to do transport differently. Local leaders will be soon choosing how to invest billions of transport dollars, in an election year. Will they be frightened by predictable noisy opposition, or ride the rising tide of support for progressive change? We’ll leave the closing words to Steve Dixon (52, Hataitai): “Wellingtonians needs a chance to make better transport decisions – because it’s not that we don’t want to, it’s that we’re prevented by the stuff around us. We need a little political bravery.”
With special thanks to the many Wellington people who took the time to tell us how they’d like to get around.
UPDATE: so many great people told us what they wanted from transport, that we couldn’t feature them all in the DomPost word limit. See the richer picture here, in Smart Moves: Voices of Wellington
Talk Wellington compiled this series with various subject-matter experts (in economics, engineering, and planning of transport and landuse), and with help from great communicators. We do this because Wellington people deserve to be better informed, so people – and our politicians – can do better in the big and small decisions that shape our towns and cities.
Read about us here.
Feature image – Isabella Cawthorn