The platform in Featherston, sparsely populated for Wednesday morning’s service to Wellington, could start to fill up from yesterday. PHOTO/ARTHUR HAWKES

ARTHUR HAWKES
arthur.hawkes@age.co.nz

With the region poised to go back to work, and a substantial proportion of this work taking place over the hill, Metlink services are set to fill up again.

With Alert Level 2 arriving yesterday, Metlink said that physical distancing “will still apply on board which reduces the number of passengers we can carry, so avoid travelling during peak when possible”.

“You may need to wait for the next service if you are unable to exercise appropriate physical distancing on board.

“Wairarapa services will return to regular carriage numbers with continued restrictions such as wheelchair access, luggage and bikes.”

Daran Ponter, chairman of the Greater Wellington Regional Council, and Roger Blakeley, chairman of the GWRC transport committee, held a public Q and A on Tuesday night.

Questions were in large part dominated by queries about the busy Wairarapa line.

“We’re running the maximum number of buses and trains that we can run,” Ponter responded to one question. “We don’t have any more trains, and we don’t have any more drivers.

“What you will experience because every second seat can’t be used is that there’s less ability to carry people on the services that we’ve got.

“The hope that we have is that we don’t have a complete rush [yesterday] and today, and during next week when everybody is going back to work, but we think that’s highly unlikely.

“Most big employers are looking to bring back less than 50 per cent of employees.”

Despite requests for more trains from many Wairarapa commuters, Blakely said the system would be running at maximum available rolling stock, and that they couldn’t “magic” trains into being that weren’t already there.

“We don’t have extra services currently scheduled, but we will be monitoring what happens on the buses and the trains, so if people can spread out their travel patterns, then that might help in spreading peak demand,” Blakely said.

In response to this, Jenny Williams made the comment that off-peak travel “isn’t an option” on the Wairarapa line.

Zebulin Walker, who is a regular commuter to his job at the Commerce Commission in Wellington, said he was holding off going back into the office until the travel situation seemed more feasible.

“The travel disruptions will kick in for me next week when I would have otherwise returned to the office,” Walker said. “I am one of the ones who will be able to continue working from home and will choose to do so in order for others to use the train.

“But I would prefer to be catching the train in and having a vastly more productive day.

“Whoever runs the trains has known this day is coming for more than six weeks, yet seems to have thought amendments, and reductions in seating, to the existing arrangements would somehow work.”

For the morning services from Featherston on Wednesday, there was only a smattering of commuters, and with numbers set to rise from yesterday, this could cause problems.

Walker suggested a shuttle service to Upper Hutt, where there are a lot more options for getting into Wellington.

Commuter Karen Shaw said that she assumed, “the first of us will just have to be guinea pigs, and make sure you have a back up to get home from Upper Hutt if it comes to that”.

With Wairarapa line services running at reduced capacity, and no more trains on the line, it seems that the message is to wait and see and to prolong going back to work if possible.