NZ Govt Set to Mothball Economic Powertrain

In a myopic move the New Zealand Transport Agency has nixed a proposed rescue package that could have saved the long-running Capital Connection rail service. In the process they will be killing-off a productive little economy that has been thriving for over 20 years.

Their excuse is that removing the service won’t lead to traffic congestion between Palmerston North and Waikanae, but blindly ignore the fact that the 150 people on that leg of the journey are not heading to Waikanae, but Wellington (a further hour away). This part of the Wellington motorway already has congestion at peak hours.

They also mislead the public by repeatedly quoting a figure of 150 passengers, which actually excludes the extra passengers who hop on the service at Waikanae and Paraparaumu. So the actual number of people affected at any one time is more like 200-300.

But what they’re actually doing here is axing, not a train service, but a living and thriving community of mainly business people. I liken it to wiping out an economic powerhouse of hundreds of people, which, in an economic downturn (let alone any time) is madness.

In fact, the owners own website purport the business-friendly nature of this very service:

“Turning commuter time into office time… The Capital Connection makes the trip to and from the office easy and comfortable, traveling non-stop between Paraparaumu and Wellington Station. You’ll have time to sit back and relax, sleep, read, take in the view from large, panoramic windows, or use the time productively to catch up on your work.”

Here’s my reasoning as to why I believe ditching this service is economic madness…

From a personal perspective I catch the Capital Connection from Kapiti as it’s very reliable (almost always on time) and I’m prepared to pay a premium to have this.

In previous years (and even recently) when I’ve taken TranzMetro trains I’ve frequently been delayed, hours late or even stranded in Wellington.

I’m fortunate in that I have an agreement with my employer that I can arrive at work a bit later and leave a bit earlier and then make up the time by working on the train on my laptop.

This isn’t possible on a TranzMetro train as there are no desks. An iPad won’t cut it for the sort of work I do (User Experience Design). Vitally, it means I get home at a reasonable hour (6:30pm) to see my young children before bed-time.

Since having this arrangement it has been much better for my family, but also my employer. I’m actually doing more productive hours even though I’m spending less time in the office.

And I’m not the only one…

I’ve noticed that a lot of other people do productive work on the Capital Connection – it enables this as the train has large desks and power outlets for laptops etc.

This work cannot not be done as effectively or at all on a bus, TranzMetro train or while driving.

Unlike other public transport, many people on this train communicate with colleagues, friends and strangers. They discuss, debate and even conduct business. How many great ideas or business deals might have come from these networking opportunities over the past 20 years this train has been running? Impossible to measure but the point is, the Capital Connection is a hub of intellectual and business activity – that has to be good for the economy right?

I’m wondering, what would be the economic cost of all these people not being able to do an extra hour or more of work each day on the train?

I worked it out for myself – the Capital Connection commute for me creates an additional 4-8hrs a week where I’m usually working on a project, idea or pitching for new work – much of this is work I would not get around to doing otherwise. It would be delayed or not happen at all, so taking away this train will have a real impact.

The productive capital from this over a year is in the tens of thousands of $ for the economy. And that’s just for my output alone.

Now extrapolate that out across the other working commuters – many who are senior business people.

Even assuming just 10% of the train is doing productive work, that’s worth much more than the $2,770k per person the Government has estimated as the annual cost of subsiding the service (note, NZTA’s figure ignores commuters from Kapiti, so the amount per head is actually far less).

And besides, other similar train services such as those from the Wairapapa are subsidised, why not the Capital Connection?

If the Capital Connection is removed I’ll have to make up some of the lost hours a day I spent working on the train elsewhere, which makes my day longer and not at all good for my young family. I’m sure most other people on the Capital Connection will be in a similar situation.

Refusing to subsidise this train service will cost the country in more ways than one. It will be bad for the environment, bad for the economy and has a social cost as well.

Greater Wellington
Save the Capital Connection
KiwiRail publicity shot for the Capital Connection