Wellington Scoop

After a chaotic start, issues with the buses remain

by Brent Efford
After a chaotic start, the new pattern of bus services in Wellington and the Hutt Valley is starting to settle down – although incomplete hubs, driver discontent with the Tranzit company’s rosters in the Hutt Valley, and the real issue that the new ‘hub and spoke’ pattern makes things worse for passengers and does not produce faster transit along the spine, remain.

One ‘promise’ that was made was that introducing ‘fewer but bigger’ (i.e. double deck) buses along the spine routes would increase capacity and speed up services so much that the inconvenience of transferring at suburban hubs would be compensated for.

Well, that theory works OK for rail services in the north of the region but grinds up against reality when only buses on the spine, mixing it with other traffic, are concerned.

And double deckers, known to be clumsy slow-loaders, will prove to be the problem, not the solution. As I was emailed by a friend last Friday:

“Afterwards I caught a double decker bus, it took forever to board. Was sitting upstairs and as people were standing in the aisles upstairs (which is actually ‘illegal’) it was difficult to get off …”

A mandated further slowing of loading procedures, following the death of an elderly woman who fell down the stairs of an Auckland double decker, can be expected.

Yes, double-deck buses are fun for tourists, kids and SuperGold Card-enabled transit geeks, and I look forward to the handful of electric ones when they finally enter service, but they are a long way short of articulated electric trams as a solution for trunk transit service.

Gordon Campbell has written a witty and trenchant commentary on the situation:

In defiance of political correctness, Wellington has just deployed a bus system that seems designed to drive people off public transport. As befits the art capital of New Zealand, this new system poses a spiky postmodern challenge to bourgeois notions of “service”. Not for this cool city the mundane traditions of Italian realism, which boringly made sure the trains ran on time. Instead, Wellington now offers more of a Samuel Beckett experience: waiting for a bus that never comes is surely a poignant signifier of much else that’s lacking in modern society. At the bus stop as elsewhere, we can but yearn to be transported. …

And more from Gordon:

.. despite the excuses about teething problems and how we should be grateful a bus service of any sort is still being delivered – at higher fares – one has to question the wisdom of launching a new network (a) at the height of mid-winter (b) before all the hubs central to this new system had been built and (c) right in the middle of an industrial dispute that required bringing in out of town drivers some of whom (d) didn’t know how to get where they were trying to go, even with GPS.

Is the result a better, safer, cheaper, quicker and more convenient service than what it replaced? You must be kidding. This has to be the only public transport network in the developed world that formally – online – suggests you take a 13 minute walk uphill as a part of the new service that replaces a bus that previously used to drive you all the way there.

Brent Efford is the New Zealand agent for the Light Rail Transit Association,


  1. Elaine Hampton, 26. July 2018, 16:03

    Go Gordon, well said. Daran (Ponter) can you clarify for us why we have a poorer service with less and slower buses on the wrong routes. We tried to take a bus from Lambton Quay on the first Sunday, confusing. We walked. Hopefully less people on buses will mean more walkers and e-bikes.

  2. Concerned Wellingtonian, 26. July 2018, 16:37

    I join Elaine Hampton and Brett Efford in wondering what is meant to be better about the new service. Please could Daran Ponter gave a list of “better services” and “less satisfactory services”.
    Most of the buses, if they come at all. are full.

  3. Roy Kutel, 26. July 2018, 17:03

    Elaine – but more diesel buses cluttering up the city centre, wasting fuel and pumping out diesel fumes.

  4. Mike Mellor, 26. July 2018, 22:42

    As confirmation that issues remain, the service on route 2 today was pretty poor, and this on a route run by NZ Bus – no Tranzit issues here. This route supposedly has a 10-minute headway, but this morning I noticed that it varied between zero minutes (three buses within a minute!) and 25 minutes. This is on a core spine route that is supposed to make timetabled connections at both Kilbirnie and Miramar, so that passengers can get to and from northern Miramar and Strathmore Park (both of which had all-day through services until a couple of weeks ago) – but those passengers would have been forced to wait in the desolate incomplete new hubs, worse in every respect than the stops that they have replaced.

    Running buses to time and providing stops that are fit for purpose are basic bus operating skills, but NZ Bus now seem incapable of the former and GWRC of the latter (it beggars belief that precisely zero of the new bus hubs are complete).

  5. Ralf, 27. July 2018, 7:16

    It all depends on how to you define better.
    If your goal is to increase the share of people who use cars, increase dependency on fossil fuels and reduce the amount of money they spend on public transport, then the new network seems to be successful and indeed be much better than the old network.
    It also gives you another chance to build a four-lane highway through the city center to the airport with all those new car users now also hopefully supporting this option.
    Our new tourism motto: Wellington, where you can see failed 50s transport solutions still in action.

  6. Jonny Utzone, 27. July 2018, 11:22

    The Tramways Union will ensure that Tranzit’s wage bill goes up and Tranzit will ask for its contract price to go up so fares and rates will go up.

  7. Elaine Hampton, 27. July 2018, 16:48

    Yes, Roy, more fumes, particulate matter, more lung disease, kills more people than accidents according to the NZTA website. More cost to the health service but, a positive here, shorter lives, less pension pay out. May be people in cars think they don’t breath it in. Civilized I am not sure.

  8. Andrew Fruean, 27. July 2018, 19:25

    MetLink please, I plead with you to address the issues of overcrowding with buses to Karori. The system was fine before the changes and now you’d be lucky to catch the first bus through in Lambton Quay, including off peak. Why did you guys have to ruin it all? [via twitter]

  9. Metlink, 27. July 2018, 19:27

    Andrew, the old bus routes were increasing congestion in the inner city, and did not meet the growing transport needs of outer suburbs. We can understand how people get frustrated when their bus doesn’t show up or it’s overcrowded and doesn’t stop. We are carrying out analysis to find out why this is happening, and once we understand what is going on we will be able to identify what we need to do to fix it. This is a priority for us. [via twitter]

  10. Ms Betlink, 27. July 2018, 20:18

    Something not quite right here Metlink…Perhaps just check with what u were doing before…and reinstate it? Congestion in the inner City not meeting the needs of the outer suburbs?? So now you change it all and you really don’t meet the needs of the outer suburbs!

    Analysis?? Didn’t you do any analysis before you created a non service for Karori people..or is Karori now “inner City”?

    What is going on?
    I caught a bus at a non bus stop the other day (in the inner City) ..I know because the bus driver told me it was no longer a bus stop..even though it still had a bus shelter..unlike the real bus stops “hubs”?? wherever they are. Identified now by orange cones and no entry signs. But was I to believe the driver who then went on to tell me he didn’t know what he was doing..but on further questioning did say he knew how to drive the bus!

  11. Ross Clark, 27. July 2018, 21:56

    I have seen going around a petition for the restoration of the direct service from Vogeltown to the city (#21?). People do not like transferring in their journeys, a principle which applies pretty well across the transport spectrum – no matter how good the physical or ticketing integration. This is why we still have direct bus services from the Hutt, despite the rail system, and why park-and-ride is so popular – even, oddly enough, for the North Shore Busway in Auckland.

    What this exercise is showing us, though, is that where bus-to-rail integration in the suburbs will work, bus-to-bus integration, anywhere, does not. That is why bus companies avoid it.

  12. Neil Douglas, 27. July 2018, 22:27

    Tried catching a bus from C.Place to the railway station at 10pm and gave up – walked the whole golden mile and up to Tinakori Rd without spotting a bus going in my direction. The info at the stops was completely false news!

  13. luke, 28. July 2018, 9:46

    @ross, parknride is popular because it is ‘free’ except its not really free just the motorist doesnt pay directly. Prime realestate used to store cars and a housing crisis at the same time. I imagine if air nz started giving away free flights it too would be popular and bigger planes soon required for the demand but hardly sustainable.

  14. Peter Kerr, 28. July 2018, 10:09

    The Real Time Indicator at Karori Mall was fluctuating wildly yesterday afternoon with variations of up to 20 minutes every minute. What the passenger could be sure about was the worthless accuracy of the information. My bus arrived as the screen showed 4 minutes to go before it was due, followed by a 20 minute gap to the next.
    For those who live north of the Karori Tunnel (Glenmore St/ Tinakori Rd) the new bus service is a sorry successor to what was a great amenity, only a month ago. The former route (3) served me well for employment, hospital and gym, all without having to change service at a desolate wind-blown bus stop downtown. The Wrights Hill – Vogeltown service no longer exists, and it too was a service I patronized two or three times a week, both ways.
    I regret to say that it is now more efficient for me (time-wise and comfort) to use my car for these trips.
    It’s time to confront our Councillors and demand that the previous services be re-instated. There has been no improvement, rather a deterioration.
    The train scene from the film “1984” has become a recurring thought these last weeks.

  15. Ross Clark, 30. July 2018, 9:01

    Luke – I agree that park & ride is, effectively, a subsidy, but if that is what is needed to get car drivers to switch to public transport, then I think that we are “still ahead on points” by providing it.

    On a related note, one option used in Britain is bus park & ride (drivers get to carparks on the outskirts of the city, then take a bus the rest of the way). While it would probably not work in NZ conditions, it does work in British ones.

  16. greenwelly, 30. July 2018, 11:14

    @Ross, Bus P+R works fairly well on the NEX in Auckland, in fact some would argue too well.

  17. luke, 30. July 2018, 14:26

    the evidence i’ve seen suggests parknride generates fewer transit riders per sq metre than transit-oriented developments in which case it’s a less than optimum use for the scarce resource (land). It reduces the walkup catchment as it gobbles up land near the transit stop. It does have a role further out but not in the urban environment.

  18. Roy Kutel, 30. July 2018, 18:50

    Give it 5 years and parking at P&R stations (bus and rail) will be added to the HOP card in AKL. AT will need every dollar they can get their hands on.