Moving Our City With Free Public Transport

Published: Sat 12 Jun 2010 01:00 PM
Moving Our City With Free Public Transport
The Dom Post reported; "Round-the-clock gridlock has been predicted if The Terrace and Mt Victoria tunnels are closed for five weeks to kickstart a $80 million project to remedy serious safety problems."
Could we use this sense of crisis to achieve immediate improvements in public transport services and safe cycle and walk ways between Wellington CBD and its suburbs?
A report to the Greater Wellington’s Transport and Access Committee next Tuesday (June 15) is proposing that all fares be increased from 1 October 2010, to take account of the GST increase, and to produce a 3% increase in fare revenue to balance increased costs
Greater Wellington Regional Councillor Paul Bruce said that coinciding Public Transport fare increases with the Mt Victoria tunnel safety upgrades is bad timing. “If we are going to close off routes, we must provide some counter balancing measure to help people move freely about Wellington city. One of these measures could be moving the subsidy for free weekend public parking to zero inner city fares. Mr Bruce said that many other cities provide zero fare services, including Auckland, Christchurch and Invercargill.
Shifting some of the Wellington City Council business levy to cover bus fares in the central business district ties in with a move towards integrated fares, allowing people arriving from outer suburbs to proceed through to Courtenay Place without any extra cost. This will attract extra riders and lead to fewer cars in the inner city area, which in turn will improve traffic flow and air quality and thus ambience and … retail sales. Convenient public transport will also give an added pull to tourists.
There are also health, social and environmental advantages to funding alternative modes of transport such as cycling, walking and public transport. Physical inactivity accounts for almost 10 percent of New Zealand’s 20 leading causes of death. It is a contributor to obesity and type 2 diabetes, which together cost the health system over $500 million per year. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency is now promoting “car reduced” communities. And the British government’s 2001 planning document says: “Development comprising jobs, shopping, leisure and services should not be designed and located on the assumption that the car will represent the only realistic means of access for the vast majority of people”.
Wellington is an extreme case in terms of provision of car parks, with the highest number of parking spaces per job, according to figures collated by Kerry Wood. We outrank Christchurch and Auckland, and well known US cities, Phoenic, Denver, and Detroit.
Wellington City Council “free” weekend car parks cost a lot in foregone revenue, in fact four times more than the inner city public transport weekend fare, and about half the total weekend bus revenue take. Free parking contributes to vehicle pollution and traffic snarl ups as cars search for parking spaces, and may actually diminish retail sales. In a time of diminishing resources, a subsidy for free parking isn't the best plan.
Improving Wellington's transport network can happen with some creative solutions. Our transport network includes every bus, car, skateboard or pair of feet that people use to get around, each with different requirements, whether in use or not. Wellington's compact size means space is at a premium downtown. What goes unnoticed are the ways in which we prioritise and even sponsor car use above every alternative. Private cars are the part of that network that take up the most space and energy, for the least return. Instead, providing some real alternatives, such as zero inner city public transport fares combined with safer cycling after the removal of some parking, enhances the village atmosphere that we all seek.
Paul Bruce concluded that the closure of the Mt Victoria tunnel for safety upgrades should be seen as an opportunity to promote our public transport system. “Greater Wellington provides a free connecting bus service on the Kapiti Coast to connect with train services, and has found this to be a great success. What about moving towards zero weekend fares for Wellington city?”
Number of CBD parking spaces in 1996 per 1000 CBD jobs (figures collated by Kerry Wood) Wellington 1050 Christchurch 940 Auckland 650 Sourced:Phoenix 910 Denver 730 Detroit 710 Perth 630 Houston 610 Los Angeles 520 Portland 400 Melbourne 340 Brisbane 320 Sydney 220 Copenhagen 220 Zürich 140 London 120 New York 60
Zero fare public transport services
Auckland Free downtown bus loop, 'City Circuit' Christchurch Free downtown bus loop, 'The Shuttle' Invercargill Free downtown bus & free off peak buses Adelaide Free downtown tram route Sydney Free downtown city bus loop Melbourne Free downtown tram and bus loop Chapel Hill, USA Free area-wide bus services Hasselt, Belgium Free area-wide bus services
Links to research about the economic benefits of people-friendly streets:
Bachels, M, Newman, P and Kenworthy, J (1999). Indicators of urban transport efficiency in New Zealand’s main cities. Perth: Murdoch University, ISBN 0 86905 669 7 Newman, P and Kenworthy, J (1999). Sustainability and cities — overcoming automobile dependence. ISBN 1 55963 660 2.
The High Cost of Free Parking, Donald Shoup estimates that off-street parking subsidies in the United States are worth at least $127 billion a year.

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