Chris Calvi-Freeman

Chris Calvi-Freeman

Standing for Wellington City Council


  • Connecting communities – improving roads and transport
  • Better local government, working for YOU!

About me

Wellington is in my blood. I was born and raised here and have lived in Hataitai all my life, except for 1996-2013 when I lived overseas. I was educated at Hataitai School and Rongotai College before I enrolled at Victoria University, graduating in due course BSc BA after spending too much time motorcycling around New Zealand.

I have always loved Wellington, even when those northerlies blow for days at a time. (Okay, maybe not so much then, but you quickly forget about the wind when Wellington has one of its unbeatable fine days.)  My father was a master mariner and spent the last years of his career as a tug-master on Wellington harbour. I tagged along during the school holidays and still cherish those memories of being out on the harbour, especially at dawn.

I have always been interested in community and civic affairs. I chaired the Hataitai Residents’ Association for several years in the 1980s. Highlights of that time include envisaging and lobbying for the pedestrian bridge that spans Ruahine Street near the mouth of the Mt Victoria traffic tunnel, and appearing before the Planning Tribunal to challenge the Harbour Board’s plans to sell off all of the land at Greta Point. (We managed to retain Cog Park and the Kainui Road Reserve above Treasure Grove.) I’ve rejoined the Residents’ Association as a committee member, and attempted to pay my subscription until reminded that I was made a Life Member back in the 1990s.

I also secured a seat on the Automobile Association’s district council in 1993. I enjoyed encouraging my fellow councillors to take a more balanced look at transport in the Wellington region, but also helped lobby for Transmission Gully, principally as a resilient alternative to the current State Highway 1 route along the coastline. A few years earlier I was also a board member of the Wellington Civic Trust. This was the period in which the waterfront was being developed (amid some controversy), and at that time early interest was forming in possible new uses for Shelly Bay.

I’m a transport planner, which isn’t quite as exciting and windswept as going to sea for a living, but I’ve been lucky enough to have held a variety of challenging and fulfilling roles. My career has encompassed transport policy, funding and promotion, traffic planning and management, roads and intersection re-design, road safety, railway management, bus/rail interchanges, parking design, bus priority and cycling schemes. I’ve taken enormous pride and satisfaction in getting things right and improving people’s lives by providing better and safer infrastructure and services.

After graduation, I joined New Zealand Railways and was involved in research leading to improved freight and passenger services. NZ Railways changed enormously while I was there, transitioning from a government department to a state-owned corporation with an independent board, before being privatised about the end of my time there.

Following several promotions I became responsible for the planning, funding and marketing of the Wellington suburban rail network and Railways’ local bus services in Khandallah, the Hutt Valley, Porirua and Paraparaumu. I transformed the suburban train services in the late 80s, introducing new timetables with faster peak express services and increased off-peak frequencies. I started to bring a customer-focused culture to these services, which had traditionally been managed on an inward-looking “supply” basis rather than as a service to passengers. I had a seat “ex officio” on the Wellington Regional Council’s transport committee, representing Railways’ chief executive, where I presented many papers to secure funding and review fares and services.

Perhaps the most bizarre moment in my Railways career (and one of the most enjoyable) was when I travelled by jigger along the Johnsonville railway line one sunny day, pondering with some engineering consultants whether it should be turned into a guided busway, which would have seen the buses run through from the railway station to Courtenay Place and beyond. This didn’t happen, but the report was considered alongside other long-term proposals including light rail, which has incidentally become a topic of recent conversation. I also started to scope out the requirements for an integrated electronic ticketing system, long before these become universally popular.  Disappointingly, thirty years later Wellington still doesn’t have one!

Another challenging but successful project was organising the rail transport to Kiri te Kanawa’s “homecoming concert” at Trentham Memorial Park in January 1990. 65,000 people attended, despite the pouring rain, with many travelling by high frequency express suburban train from Wellington – New Zealand’s biggest single day train “event” since World War II.

I joined the Regional Council in 1990 and established and led the team responsible for reviewing all the region’s bus and train services in preparation for “deregulation” in 1991. Under this process, services were registered commercially or competitively tendered for Regional Council subsidy. In this role, I was responsible for more than half of the Regional Council’s overall budget.

The Wellington region was the only one that made a real success of deregulation. In 15 months we reviewed every bus and train service, prepared and managed the tendering and contractual documents and finally achieved a new network for introduction on 1 July 1991, the government’s deadline. This process resulted in a revitalised bus network in Wellington, with cross-city through routes and better off-peak services, at a lower overall cost to ratepayers. This network has had very little change in the intervening 25 years, although the buses themselves have changed ownership and livery several times and of course a number of new buses have been introduced on the same routes. New routes and services at lower cost were also introduced in the Hutt Valley, Porirua and Kapiti. Throughout this process we managed to protect the trolley bus network and support the new harbour ferries. We also introduced a telephone enquiry centre and uniform-format timetable leaflets under the RideWell brand, which has since been rebranded as Metlink.

I moved to Sydney in 1996, where I joined the Roads & Traffic Authority’s senior management team responsible for developing and managing the new Transport Management Centre that underpinned the successful 2000 Olympic Games and supported the efficient operation of Sydney’s roads and buses 24 hours a day. I will never forget being at the very heart of the Olympic transport operation and the oversight of the fabulous Millennium celebrations. And of course the nail-biting time when the clock ticked past 11.59pm on 31-12-99 and naysayers predicted that the Y2K bug would see the power grid fail and aeroplanes fall from the sky. (They didn’t!)

From Sydney I moved to London, where I initially worked on the groundbreaking congestion charging scheme that was introduced in 2003. I then moved to the London Borough of Hounslow, one of greater London’s 33 boroughs. As Head of Transport at Hounslow (population c250,000, about the size of Wellington) I was responsible for a number of award-winning bus and cycling schemes, as well as many improvements to a complex and congested road network. I created the first outer London mass-participation cycling event, and rode the route alongside Boris Johnson, Mayor of London. (I met him again by chance a year later and he still remembered me! We ended up walking down Whitehall together, discussing the future of transport in London.)

I also organised the Hounslow leg of the Olympic torch relay (a huge event attracting over 150,000 spectators) and worked closely with Transport for London to ensure that the borough’s arterial roads and major public transport services would continue to function efficiently during the London Olympics 2012. I oversaw the creation of the borough’s first 20 year transport strategy.  During that time I was also project director for a multi-city research project funded by the EU, which gave me the opportunity to see progressive transport services and best-practice cycling infrastructure in several leading European cities and even took me as far afield as Lithuania. Hounslow was recognised as London’s transport borough of the year in 2011 for innovative work in improving the roads and transport in this part of the city.

Another event I will never forget was 7-7-2005 – the London bombings, when 52 people died in tube and bus explosions in central London. I was contacted half an hour after the first explosion and immediately met with the borough’s chief executive and emergency management team to plan our initial response to a terrible and unpredictable series of unfolding atrocities. And I will never forget the inspirational, compassionate and determined speech given later that day by Ken Livingstone, the then Mayor of London, calling for calm, unity and city-wide resolve to rise above the escalating terrorist threat.

In 2013, after I had been successfully treated for locally-advanced prostate cancer, my wife Jo and I decided to return to New Zealand. Our two young children, Cameron and Isabel, were born in London and were thriving there, but we decided that the fresh air and safe environment of New Zealand held a better future, so Jo and I gave up rewarding jobs and returned to Wellington on New Year’s Day, 2014.

We currently live in Kio Bay, in a house with 66 stairs to the front door and 99 to the top bedroom. (I’d bought that house in 1990 and we’d let it out while we were away, expecting to be overseas for just a few years.) Those steps didn’t seem quite so steep in 1990!

Jo now works for Massey University as Director of Stakeholder Management and I have established a small business owning and operating several beachside holiday houses. Now that these have been refurbished, I have the time and energy to contribute to creating and running a better Wellington city council. After a successful career, I still have boundless energy and determination, tempered by wisdom and patience. My kids keep me young at heart and I subscribe to several simple maxims:

    • The grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence; it’s greener where you water it. (Gandhi)
    • It was only impossible until it was done (Mandela)
    • There’s no problem that can’t be solved, one way or another (me!)

After 16½ years overseas I’ve returned to my beloved Wellington, finding it vibrant and revitalised. But cities don’t stand still: they prosper or they decline. I want to help Wellington move forward, retaining its place as the “coolest little capital” and continuing to attract and retain talented people, proud to call this city their home.

CCF