Hataitai Tunnel To Be Bus Only


Should buses only be allowed to use Wellington’s Mt Vic bus tunnel, which runs between Pirie Street in Mt Victoria and Waitoa Road,Hataitai?

It’s been a hotly debated issue - just like Auckland’s debate about when cars should be allowed to use Grafton Bridge.

Just as cars have been caught using Grafton Bridge during bus-only periods, pedestrians, cyclists and motorists have been sneaking through the Wellington tunnel and there’s been virtually no enforcement.

Currently pedestrians and private motor vehicles are prohibited from using the bus tunnel at all times. The only vehicles that are permitted are scheduled public transport service vehicles.

And for good reason - it’s dangerous.

There is very little street lighting in the tunnel, just a few lights at each end to help the transition. There’s also very little opportunity for a pedestrian to get clear of passing vehicles.

There are a few recesses available but these are not lit or marked, and are therefore not safe to use.

And, while everyone knew this was going on,  the issue finally came to a head when a pedestrian using the tunnel as a short cut from the city to his home in Hataitai was struck by a car also illegally using the tunnel and was seriously hurt.

Buses not in service have also been sneaking through when they shouldn’t.

The local (Mt Victoria) residents’ association raised concerns about the amount of illegal use of the tunnel by buses not in service. The non - scheduled buses tend to be those relocating during the day.

The tunnel is generally used by buses between 6am and midnight, although at weekends there are three late night buses that leave Courtenay Place at 1, 2 and 3am.

Go Wellington have expressed concern about the unnecessary delay to buses that have to give way to cars illegally using the tunnel.

Cars mainly use it late at night when they think buses aren’t running but have certainly been sighted by locals using it during the day.

Taxi companies have also badgered the council for permission for them to be allowed to use the tunnel.

Residents, especially in Pirie Street, have also complained about the number of motorists – including taxis, shuttle vans, other commercial vehicles, and ‘boy racers’ - who ‘hoon’ through the tunnel at all hours.

The accident prompted the council to run a survey.

This showed about 500 vehicles per day use the tunnel, in both directions - around 40 illegally, namely about 70 cars besides the 430 buses using the tunnel everyday. The number of pedestrians and cyclists using the tunnel throughout the day were “very low” numbers.

There have been months of a hot local debate about the best thing to do including whether to let any bus use the tunnel including scenic buses.

The council got 92 submissions on the proposal - only three of these supportive of a suggestion to allow any bus to use the tunnel.

Other options canvassed:

  • Leave the tunnel as it is now, with speed humps to control vehicle speeds and signs prohibiting the use of the tunnel to pedestrians and all vehicles except in-service buses
  • Gates closed at night to allow after hours pedestrian access
  • Status quo but with increased enforcement
  • Install a mechanical device that only allows bus use at all times
  • Allow all bus movements to use the tunnel
  • Allow taxis to use the tunnel

The Hataitai issue has finally been resolved with a council committee voting by a comfortable majority to recommend that a traffic resolution be enacted to make the tunnel officially a bus-only lane.

Motorists, if caught, would be fined $150 for driving through the tunnel.

And the council decided on enforcing the move - and cracking down on cars using inner city bus lanes as well.

It’ll engage Armourguard, which already use tripod-mounted cameras to monitor the ‘T2’ lanes on State Highway 1 at Paremata. The staff, warranted by the Commissioner of Police, will also work in Wellington and use the cameras to catch motorists using bus lanes and the enforcement cameras will be set up outside the tunnel on an “as needs” basis.

No doubt mindful of the Auckland media row over fines for motorists using bus lanes, Wellington’s mayor  Kerry Prendergast said about the cameras: “Contrary to what some cynics might think, this operation will certainly not be a major ‘revenue-earner’ for the council. We would be happy if there is no revenue because motorists have got the message to keep away from the tunnel.”

On the issue of  ‘out-of-service’ buses that use the tunnel, the committee also voted to ask Council officers to draw up a memorandum of understanding with NZ Bus to agree circumstances – such as major congestion in the city – under which ‘out-of-service’ diesel buses would be allowed to use the tunnel.

The committee also asked officers to investigate the possibility of a pedestrian crossing in Pirie Street, and also look at a possible speed reduction in the street.




  1. James Pole says:

    Frankly I don’t understand the argument for banning not in service buses from using the tunnel. I think they should be allowed to use the tunnel because (1) it will reduce operating costs for the bus company and (2) reduce the amount of delays attributed to having to route empty buses through congested streets. And on top of that it would reduce the amount of not in service buses on general traffic streets. So a win-win for both PT and road users (and a win for the bus company) I would have thought?!

  2. Colin says:

    @James - there are a couple of arguments for not allowing NIS buses.

    First, the tunnel is one way, and takes a little under two minutes to cycle the lights. Therefore, more buses (and there are a LOT of NIS buses) will increase congestion, and decrease the ability for in service buses to run to time. At the worst timing, (your bus gets there just as the lights turn red, then wait for buses going the other way), this can add five minutes to the run.

    Secondly, the bus tunnel on the Mt Vic side is at the end of a very narrow street, and (during that five minute wait) you can get a number of buses backed up. Those buses take up the majority of the street, blocking the ones coming in the other direction. Again, an increase in buses increases the bottle neck.

    This is quite apart from the residents argument that NIS buses will add to noise and danger in their quiet suburban street.

  3. Ross says:

    As a non frequent user of buses, it amazes me when I do catch the bus from Hinau Street bus stop on the Hataitai side of tunnel, the amount of NIS buses that pass you by, waitng for a No. 2 or No. 5 bus. It would be a nice WCC gesture to carry passengers on those NIS buses to the other end of the tunnel as a community service.


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