Wellington Scoop

The facts about the new bus timetables and routes

By Mike Flinn
Now that I have been able to find nearly all the new printed timetables, I can look at the suitability of the new Wellington bus routes and timetables to provide a good service for passengers, rather than dwell on the initial teething problems with the introduction of the new contracts.

I have been able to match the proposed trips to passenger loadings that I took in March, to calculate the anticipated average loadings in several corridors in the city during each peak time. I have also been able to schedule up the departure times from the Railway Station and Courtenay Place during the evening peak to see if the flows are now likely to be improved and if they will help reduce travel times and delays.

CBD Departures.

In the old timetables, departure times between 4PM and 6PM for trips from both the Railway Station and Courtenay Place were the source of many complaints for slow trip times. The new timetables have reduced numbers of trips in the busiest period between 5PM and 6PM with 72 departures from the Railway Station and 51 departures from Courtenay Place and Taranaki St combined.

From the Railway Station the departure times remain spread out but with even with the amended times there are now 4 occasions when 3 buses are due to leave the Station at the same time and on one occasion 4 buses are timed to leave. These levels can lead to delays through the CBD as there are only 2 or 3 spaces at most CBD bus stops.

Departure timings from Courtenay Place and Taranaki St are now more significantly spread out compared to the old timetable and with fewer trips and all buses now using the Snapper fare system, a reduction in travel time through the CBD should be obtained.

However, the peak time services from Karori West, Karori South and Mairangi have been shortened to go to or from Brandon St (ostensibly to reduce overall CBD trip numbers and travel times). With the improvement from the spreading of the departure times and reduced trip numbers, the 400 passengers who caught these services in the PM Peak before Brandon St (2016 count) now deserve less discrimination and a return to a better service so selected trips on each of these services should be reinstated to and from Courtenay Place.

Until this happens these passengers will have the option of walking through the CBD or, in the PM Peak, catching buses twice within the CBD with resulting delays. GWRC’s ideas that double deck buses will help quicken CBD travel times are illusionary as time at bus stops depends on the volume of passengers boarding not the capacity of the bus.

Corridor Loadings.

By applying the passenger loadings I took in March I have calculated the average loadings likely on these corridors during each Peak period.

The Draft Transport Plan in 2014 forecast the expansion of evening and weekend services to several suburbs in 2017, now 2018, and indicated that savings had to be made to finance this benefit. As a result there were several routes cancelled and new “hubs” were to be created to make savings. From these changes a proportion of passengers including daily commuters have to change buses to reach the CBD and others have extended travel times of 10 minutes or more on each trip.

Now the extent of the new timetables has been made public it is possible to see the extent and scale of trip reductions and judge the scale of savings sought. The increases in most average loadings suggests to me that the savings are now needed not only to finance the expanded services but to finance a lot of the new buses required for the contracts, including a lot of expensive diesel and electric double deck buses which Wellington, as a small city, does not have the population and passenger numbers to support.

The average loadings cover the 2 hour periods (7AM to 9AM or 4PM to 6PM) in which most routes have trips provided at equal time intervals but the passenger turnout can vary from day to day and within each Peak period and some capacity has to be provided to cope with the high demand days and times as well as the quieter days. Bus capacity is about 60 (seated and standing) for a two-axle single deck bus, about 70 for a 3-axle single deck bus and around 80 for a 3-axle double deck bus. Up till now about half the buses were 2-axle single deck buses with the rest being 3 axle single deck buses. Now the likely spread seems to be less than a third of buses being 2-axle single deck buses, the rest being 3-axle with double deck buses on trips to Island Bay and Johnsonville. The allocation of different sized buses has often varied by route and day by day.

To allow for this and for variations in passenger demand, realistic trip volumes and timings have to be provided to avoid recurring over-crowding and complaints. Of the results for the 7 corridors, Karori Park has the highest estimated average loadings of 60 in the AM Peak and 66 in the PM Peak (all buses will be single deck) while Johnsonville services have the lowest estimated average loadings with 39 in the AM Peak and 40 in the PM Peak and most trips there will be operated by double deck buses.

The average load is a measure that varies from route to route and is an indication of the robustness of the new timetables. I think that about 50 is the maximum reasonable average loading level for a mix of 2 and 3-axle single deck bus routes to minimise passengers being left behind and without too many buses appearing to be lightly loaded. A higher average load would be expected on double deck routes. Loading demand can vary within each 15-minute peak period so trip timings are crucial.

In March I took passenger loading assessments (darkened bus windows make actual counts more difficult) and found higher loadings on some routes than in 2016. Whether this is a seasonal factor or a result of patronage increases due to high fuel prices I do not know. However higher averages than before 15 July are a warning that some extra trips are likely to be needed. Where there is clearly a shortfall in the trip numbers now being proposed, a fast upgrade will be needed to attempt to keep passengers using public transport. If the higher loadings in some corridors are a seasonal factor there will be more time to react. (I hope that there are sensible clauses in the new contracts for variations to make cost changes reasonable.)

Corridor Loadings, Details.

1 Karori Park and Glenmore St to the CBD

The previous timetable had 26 trips passing through the Karori Tunnel between 7AM and 9AM on the No 3 routes. On 20 March I recorded 28 trips in that period and assessed 1315 passengers at an average of 47 per trip. In addition, 6 trips came down Karori Rd on Route 17 which turned off after the Tunnel for Kelburn, The Terrace north and Molesworth St with 280 passengers – but this route is now cancelled. From Wrights Hill came 6 trips on Route 21 which went to the CBD via Glenmore St and carried 245 passengers. It too is cancelled and replaced by new Route 21e via Kelburn, The Terrace north to Brandon St.

The new timetable in that period totals 26 trips for Glenmore St including 12 to Miramar/ Seatoun, 12 from Karori West and Karori South (only as far as Brandon St) and 2 on school days from the Mall to Brandon St. With Route 17 being cancelled there are potentially up to 280 extra passengers for the new service to carry either to the Tunnel to transfer or to Bowen St or Lambton Quay because most of the passengers on Route 17 continued through Kelburn to The Terrace north or Moleworth St. Some passengers for Kelburn may now use Route 18e which has 5 trips in the period along Karori Rd so I have assumed that 250 extra passengers will need to be carried. This results in 1565 passengers to be carried by the 26 trips, at an average over the period of 60 passengers per trip. Not included are any passengers from Route 21 who want to continue to travel via Glenmore St and will need to transfer at the Tunnel.

This average of 60 passengers per trip over this Peak period is not achievable and several additional trips will be needed to provide a reliable service and avoid delays leading to complaints. An extra 5 trips would be needed to achieve an average of 50 and their timings will be crucial to avoid passengers being left behind.

To get an average down to 50 passengers per trip (if this is an acceptable target) will need an extra 4 trips.

The PM Peak service from the CBD through Glenmore St has other factors to take into account.

The old timetable had 30 trips through the CBD to Karori Rd and my assessment of loadings on 20 March at Lambton Quay North was 1327 passengers between 4PM and 6PM. After allowing for a lower number of 200 extra passengers from Service No 17 this gives a likely total of 1527 passengers.

The new timetable has only 23 trips (12 fron Seatoun/Miramar through the CBD) and 11 to Karori West and Karori South (from Brandon St) and this would result in an average of 66 per trip. If an average of 50 was desired another 7 trips would be needed.

The use of Brandon St needs to be reassessed as the theory was that CBD trips had to be minimised to reduce delays in the CBD, particularly in the PM peak. With the new upgraded timetable this is not needed.

The complete terminating of Karori West and Karori South services trips results in passengers between Courtenay Place and Brandon St either walking to Brandon St or catching another CBD bus and alighting at Brandon St and boarding again for the Karori bus. If a passenger caught a No 2 bus to Karori Park the other realistic transfer option is Karori Mall but there is no shelter there (and one is needed). In 2006 I counted 145 passengers on board buses at Brandon St for Karori West or Karori South and 120 passengers on board Route 21 buses.

Selected trips should be run from Courtenay Place rather than Brandon St to reduce forced transfers to a minimum and retain passengers rather than lose them especially, as most are commuters for whom transfers in each direction daily will soon turn them off bus travel.

The need to include passengers from Route 17 highlights the fallout from the changes to Peak period Karori services which are illogical and are not necessary, leading to either forced changes of buses, longer travel times or further walking distances, all applying to daily commuters who will have these issues in each direction and which could add 100 minutes per week to their commute. The Karori Tunnel Hub has gradually been reduced from its original role of 400 commuters forced to transfer there, then reduced after later route changes (Route 37 commuters diverted from Glenmore St to Kelburn) to end with only Route 17 cancelled and no option other than Route No 2 trips with a Tunnel transfer. Now the new timetables show that in evenings and weekends Route 21 and Route 22 trips are timetabled to meet and swap passengers at the Victoria University stop leaving the Tunnel Hub to do nothing more that it has done until now as a transfer point to or from Karori Rd services, now perhaps some Route 17 passengers will try that option.

2. Mairangi Services to the CBD

The estimated average loadings for these services have marginally increased. The AM Peak increases from 43 to 47 passengers per trip while the PM Peak increases from 34 to 41. While these levels are not extreme the real issue with this service is the cutting back of the route to the Railway Station (at all times) or Brandon St (Peak services) and the daytime extension hourly to Johnsonville. This turns the primary purpose of the route to be a University feeder route not a service for residents, a lot of whom have to change buses at the Railway Station to access the central CBD at all times. This is not satisfactory for even when University demand is low at nights and weekends transfers at the Railway Station are required.

3 Newtown, Adelaide Rd and Taranaki St corridor

This corridor and the Hataitai corridor (No 5) are hard to assess individually due to the nature of the route changes. The Seatoun service via Taranaki St is cancelled and is now an extension of the Miramar service via Hataitai, the Lyall Bay service is diverted via Taranaki St and the cross-city services to Houghton Bay, Southgate and Strathmore are cancelled.

Although there is uncertainty over how passengers will adapt to the revised routes, I used the March 2018 loadings to see the average loadings for the trips on the new timetables. Some of the results are unlikely (eg. 101 passengers on PM peak trips through Adelaide Rd) so I have produced overall summaries of corridors No 3 and 5 to get an overview which covers over 5,000 passengers in each peak period daily and has 96 AM trips and 74 PM trips timetabled.

Including Express services, overall the AM average at 54 may mean there may be enough trips but the timing will determine whether passengers are left behind. The PM peak average at 68 indicates that more trips could be needed but it may take a fortnight of actual services to pin down the real numbers and routes as well as timings for the extra trips. Trip reductions on Express services require that 3 axle buses are used and assume the timings are suitable.

4 Kilbirnie Area.

One of the major cost saving changes was the cancellation of the Seatoun service (Route No 11) and its replacement by new Route No 2 combining Miramar and Seatoun into one service via Hataitai. Back in 2016 I took passenger loadings at Kilbirnie and from these it is possible to estimate average loads on arrival at Kilbirnie towards the City in the AM Peak. In 2016 there were 37 trips and 588 passengers giving an average of 15 per trip. After 15 July the number of trips arriving at Kilbirnie is 14 which would give an average of 42 per trip. This indicates that the number of trips will be adequate however even though some passengers may transfer at Kilbirnie to go to Newtown, the trips to the City via Hataitai will be fuller than before and although additional trips from Lyall Bay on Route 36 will also run, the test will be whether there is enough room left at Hataitai for the 3 trips from there to cope with demand there towards the City.

5 Hataitai corridor

Remarks concerning this corridor have already been made because of the uncertainty of passengers transferring between corridors with the new route structure. This means that the average loadings of stopping services increasing from 40 to 51 in the AM Peak and from 46 to 55 in the PM Peak can only be an indication that additional trips will be needed. In the AM Peak selected additional trips could be made from Kilbirnie or Hataitai. In the PM Peak, route timings are at equal intervals and so there is opportunity to introduce extra trips at busy times including trips on No 5 route to provide space for longer distance passengers beyond Hataitai.

6 Johnsonville corridor.

In March 2018 I took loadings on both AM and PM Peaks on these services. In the AM between 7AM and 9AM there were 970 passengers on 19 trips (24 were timetabled) at an average loading of 51 per trip. The new timetable now has 25 trips which would give an average of 39 passengers per trip. Unlike other routes there was no increase in patronage compared to previous counts so if I use the highest level of 1140 passengers from previous counts this would be an average of 46 passengers per trip, still low compared to most other corridors.

In the PM Peak there were 1,000 passengers and with 22 trips the average was 45. The number of trips after 15 July increases to 25 which gives an average of 40 passengers, also at a low level.
Not only are additional trips timetabled which reduces the average per trip but double deck buses are being used with a higher capacity than other buses in the City. Residents should consider themselves very fortunate and privileged.

However there was no need to buy expensive double deck buses for this route as passenger loadings , even in the Peaks, do not justify them and with a round trip time of just over two hours and fewer than 30 trips in each Peak, utilisation of their capacity will be low.

7 Newlands corridor.

In March 2018 the AM Peak loadings were 935 passengers on 18 trips with an average of 52 passengers and the PM Peak loading had 810 passengers with an average load of 43 passengers. The new timetable has 19 trips in the AM Peak which would be an average of 43 passengers while the PM Peak retains the 19 trips and the average of 43 passengers. As long as the trip timings are suitable the number of trips now provided should be adequate.

Mike Flinn is a former assistant general manager of Wellington City Transport.


  1. luke, 24. July 2018, 9:36

    i’ll be interested to see what happens to the airport bus when its new fares kick in; who is going to pay $12 from the station for that? Ill use the Seatoun bus & walk from Hobart St but it will be good for uber i suspect.

  2. Andy Foster, 24. July 2018, 11:43

    Thank you Mike for a comprehensive assessment.

    What feedback (mostly from the Karori/Northland services) I have heard says that there are some services which really are too crowded. One of the important questions for GWRC who will undoubtedly be analysing patronage, timeliness, transfer data etc, will be capacity. The loading levels do, as you say, seem unsustainably high on some services. The question for GWRC there is ‘at what occupancy level is another bus warranted’?
    Some of the services also do not go where most of the passengers want to go. Clearly there is an issue with trying to reduce the number of buses getting in each others’ way along the Golden Mile, but this also needs to be one of the things that GWRC looks at very carefully over the next few weeks.

  3. Gillybee, 24. July 2018, 11:51

    GWRC especially Wayne Hastie (I refuse to use the term “Dr” when his doctorate is in geology, not transport) should heed Mike Flinn’s assessment and remedy for Wellington’s transport woes.

    Interesting that Metlink have hired one Alan Seay as their chief spin doctor.
    Until recently he headed up NZ’s office for Texan oil giant Anadarko. This is a man who likes polluting diesel guzzlers.

    First the 95% fleet of dirty diesels instead of the promised “electric future”, then the debacle over drivers’ pay and conditions. Now the vandalism of a public transport network that wasn’t broken, in a city with the highest uptake of public transport use in the country.

    It’s time for questions to be asked in Parliament Messers Eagle and Robertson. We need an inquiry as to how this was allowed to happen.

  4. Jonny Utzone, 24. July 2018, 23:23

    How about a simple assessment by route along the lines of: Big improvement; Can’t spot much difference; Needs a bit of homework; total madness?

  5. Keith Flinders, 25. July 2018, 14:40

    Weeks, Andy ?
    In the interim the cost to the Wellington economy increases daily with people late to work as well as late getting home, and people stressed by some an ill-conceived routes. The health impact on those jam packed into overloaded buses breathing in all sorts of airborne nasties from others, as well as the fumes from old buses on the east – west routes. Middle of winter and most shelters at transfer hubs not yet built. Not to mention the dramatic increase of noise at bus stops since 1 November 2017.

    This chaos was predicted as early as 2015, and there was time to mitigate against it. An obvious first step would have been to have professionals, including Mike Flinn, doing peer reviews before implementation. Interesting that Mike prepared his report without millions of dollars worth of IT equipment at his disposal, without a cast of dozens of managers, senior managers, under managers, consultants, and so on.

    The GWRC is as dysfunctional as Environment Canterbury became, resulting in its elected members being stood aside in 2010 and replaced by commissioners. Wellington might be better served by same.

  6. James, 26. July 2018, 7:15

    There will be further delays caused by the Airport Flyer not taking Snapper, so longer wait times at CBD bus stops – delaying all buses behind.

  7. Glen Smith, 26. July 2018, 9:27

    Almost all of the flaws in the new transport arrangements are due to a failure to get the basic transport design right. Specifically
    1. Failing to address the long term lack of capacity on a single across town PT corridor and
    2. Continuing to force all across town commuters to take a long slow bus trip down the most most crowded pedestrian streets in the city (meaning they all stay in their cars).
    I have a daughter age 14. Lets pretend we give her class a basic exercise in logic and common sense. They have a dedicated PT corridor that is 100% over capacity in term of units per hour and we want to transport a lot more people- (perhaps double the number in the next 20 years due to ongoing growth and expanding PT share). Should we A. Try to continually stuff more and more people down the crowded single corridor or B. Add a new dedicated corridor.
    For members of the NZTA, GWRC and WCC who are struggling with this, I’ll give them a subtle clue – the best answer is B (give yourself a smiley face sticker if you got it right).
    Sadly our transport planners continue to choose A (including the most recent proposals by the LGWM team). The only way of doing this is to run larger units (hence the double deckers). But larger units only work if you aggregate demand so you then have to, over time, force an ever increasing percentage of commuter to transfer during their journey. They report this is only a small percentage at present (any comments on that Mike) but this will logically have to increase as PT demand increases. Each transfer imposes a likely 3-5 minute disembark/ wait/ embark penalty but also a 13 minute (bus to bus) ‘pure’ disincentive penalty (based on Neil Douglas’s research). Faced with a 16-18 minute transfer penalty an ever increasing number of PT users will go back to their cars.
    All of this stupidity goes away if you run 2 transport corridors- one the existing Golden Mile for buses and a second a high quality extension of our existing rail network (a direct extension to avoid the large rail to bus transfer disincentive at the Station). The only viable route for rail (unless you pay the cost of going underground or overhead) is the Quays. The logical first destination for rail is the Airport (based on the predicted 59,000 daily transfer trips by 2031) but once an across town rail corridor, free from freight trains and other ‘heavy’ units, has been established other routes can be added- Lyall Bay and Miramar (both areas likely to experience large growth) should both be easily achievable (wide roads with the neccesary corridor width). The freed up Golden Mile bus capacity can then be used to run more units from other areas, so avoiding the transfer disincentives.
    As part of my presentation to the Basin Board I stated ‘A second across town PT corridor is inevitable. Where will it run, what will it look like, and how will that influence what we do at the basin’. The board seemed to get this. It’s unclear why our transport planners fail to comprehend it.

  8. luke, 26. July 2018, 16:59

    Along the Quays, down the central reservation of cambridge/kent, cutncover under the basin.

  9. Kerry, 27. July 2018, 21:16

    Mike, thanks for this
    I did a count this morning, southbound at David Jones, 7.20-9.00. I got the same 72 bus/hr in the morning, 7.30-8.30, as you did in the evening. But there might be some coincidence there: breaking down my figure into buses every ten minutes, I got 7 buses and 15 buses in adjacent ten minute periods, with the rest in the range 10–13.
    There was plenty of bunching. Two buses were standard: I could see them forming pairs at the Stout St and Midland Pk traffic signals. Bunches of four formed three times (it is a three-berth stop), five buses once and six buses once (at 8.12). The six-bus bunch got worse when the first bus left and another joined the queue, but with no moving up because passengers were boarding. The queue seemed to be blocking Waring Taylor St.
    The six+ bunch was the only bunch NOT led by a double-deck bus.
    At least four buses were right behind another bus on the same route, including two double deckers on route 1.
    Not included in my total is four buses not in service, one of them dropping off passengers not in uniform.
    I had come up with the same figures as you for typical full loads on two- and three-axle buses—60 & 70—but I was surprised to see that your double-decker figure is only 80. If it is that low, my guess is that the double deckers are wasting more time at stops than the route gains from the extra ten passengers.
    Still one or two things to sort out then…

  10. Kerry, 28. July 2018, 20:37

    A correction. Riding on one of the new two-axle buses today, I saw a notice giving its capacity: only 55 including standees, so a peak hour average capacity might be only about 45.

  11. Andrew, 29. July 2018, 17:09

    Luke, you might want to keep the water table in mind when tunneling under the Basin. I bet it’d be a nightmare job to keep a cut and cover dry.

  12. Citizen Joe, 30. July 2018, 7:30

    Andrew – could take an inside track and ‘cut and cover’ under the Basin Reserve grass mound and then replace the grass. Would need some clever traffic lights though.

  13. Andrew, 30. July 2018, 15:40

    Citizen Joe, yep that’d work. I use to catch the train through Lansdowne Rd stadium, it literally went under the grandstand.