Wellington Scoop

More than just a bad joke: the bustastrophe and the government

Local MP (and ex-councillor) Paul Eagle has raised the prospect that central government will have to step in to the Wellington Regional Council’s self-made bus-tastrophe. It appears even the Beehive is running out of patience with GWRC’s inability to make the network function effectively.

Quoted today by RNZ, Paul Eagle said:

“What we need … is pace in terms of saying, ‘these are the options to change’. They’ve only got a small window now to get this right. [If they don’t], my fear is that central government will be pressured to act.”

The Labour party in particular must be getting increasingly nervous about the political risk from the Regional Council’s self-inflicted disaster. With the new coalition less than a year into the job and issues circulating about Ministerial misjudgement, the last thing the Government needs is an industrial-strength disaster in its political heartland. Particularly one that didn’t need to happen, and which potentially has Labour/Green fingerprints all over it.

It’s no secret that Wellington is a pretty left-leaning town, and one that’s traditionally been fairly strong supporters of the Greens – both of the last two male co-leaders have been Wellington based. And while national politics doesn’t correlate directly to local body politics, it’s easy to spot the former MPs and party hacks in the ranks of the Regional Council and start wondering if there’s a party-level problem.

No-one in the Beehive wants that strong whiff of incompetence wafting in their direction, so there’s probably some nervousness – the bus debacle is becoming more than just a bad joke.

In practical terms, it’s not really obvious what central government could or should do. Sure, there are structural fixes – like taking responsibility for Wellington’s public transport network off the Regional Council and putting it into a purpose-built organisation – but that takes lots of time and legislation, and it won’t fix the bus network in the meantime.

Part of the problem seems to be that GWRC designed a network with some pretty fundamental flaws in it, and then proceeded to straightjacket itself into the new design by putting a too-rigid contract in place with the operator. When the council has to go into negotiations just to be able to add a few additional buses to a few routes, then it’s pretty clear there’s not much flexibility to change things. And adding some central government pressure isn’t going to fix a contractual mess of that magnitude.

Central government could always fire the regional councillors and put in commissioners, as happened with Environment Canterbury – but that was a decision that was bitterly criticised by Labour and the Greens when they were in opposition. Plus, they would be firing a council that had some of their own ex-MPs on it, which might be a bit politically fraught. So that’s probably not the first choice either.

No matter how you look at it, the Regional Council has made a real mess. They took the minor problems of the bus network and succeeded in turning them into a major disaster, which the Beehive is increasingly concerned about. How they fix this in the small window of time that Paul Eagle has identified – without tearing up the contract with the operator and costing the ratepayers many more millions – is anyone’s guess.


  1. Stressed, 7. September 2018, 15:59

    I’m worried the GWRC are going to try and tweak the new system rather than look at it again properly. And the more they tweak the more out of control it will all get. For example this talk of adding extra buses sounds great but doesn’t that just put pressure on the Golden Mile which was one of the main reasons given for needing to change? We’ll never get a good system with this one. It’s fundamentally flawed. Let’s just go back to the old system and adapt that. At least we know it was fundamentally right and it suited most Wellingtonians who have built homes and lives around the previous transport routes.

  2. Diane Calvert, 7. September 2018, 17:31

    The bus fiasco was long predicted by a few. It’s not down to govt, PTOM etc but due to inappropriate design ideology, lack of community engagement, socially lacking procurement practices & poor oversight. [via twitter]

  3. Lim Leong, 7. September 2018, 18:09

    @Stressed. I am completely with you on that. Having done some major data transport network implementation, I know from experience that sometimes you just have to admit that the design is flawed. The more you try to patch a flawed hub and spoke network, the higher the risk you are going to make it even worse. A hub and spoke network has a lot of inter dependent variables. Tweaking those inter-dependent variables in a physical transport network is hard especially given Wellington’s single lane, narrow road, steep hills topography. In data transport design, there are quite a few network simulation and analysis programs one could use to help guide the design.

    In a physical transport network design exercise, especially for Wellington, it is almost down to a trial and error because I will bet my bottom dollar that there is not a simulation model that exists which fully reflects Wellington’s topography and infrastructure parameters. If such a model exists, GWRC would not have got itself into this mess. In network engineering, one has to have the humility to recognize that the design is wrong, roll back and not cause the public more angst. However, I think saving face and politics seems to be taking priority over the public interests for GWRC.

  4. Glen Smith, 7. September 2018, 18:42

    Diane. I disagree. The features you mention (poor design, engagement, oversight etc) are all important but the basic underlying ‘elephant in the room’ is Government funding. A logical optimal regional transport design can’t be implemented without significant funding, equivalent to the massive subsidies enjoyed by car users. Both capacity, function and logical network design paradigms require a rail based solution, not just tinkering around with the buses.

  5. judi, 7. September 2018, 21:43

    if there were too many buses in the Golden Mile, why didn’t they just take off all the buses that never used to go through the city such as Eastbourne, Hutt, Wainui, Newlands, Woodridge etc and run a free city bus service through the city to catch them at the Thorndon terminus. Problem solved and I’ll forgo the consultancy fee for a few more Karori buses thanks!

  6. kiwi_overseas, 8. September 2018, 5:31

    Clearly there have been contractual issues and resulting operational issues which have significantly affected the smooth roll out of the new bus system. Given the massive change to the PT network, at least 1) & 2) below should have been undertaken (they may been, but the info isn’t publicly available). 3) would have been ideal.

    1) Macroscopic PT Travel Demand – The strategic macro level model Wellington travel demand model should have been applied to the existing travel demand (with some careful matrix estimation if required) supplemented by bus patronage data & cellphone data to ensure a reasonable matrix of PT demand. The existing travel demand could have then been assigned to the new network – this may have shown up some issues depending on the model’s ability to flag overloaded routes & poor level of service for PT users between certain origin/destination pairs where they previously had direct routes. I suspect the business case focussed on the economics and future PT flows, not existing individual route loadings or existing demands.

    2) Simulated Vehicle Interactions – A traffic simulation should have been run to ensure that traffic/bus interactions were not an issue in the new layout.

    3) Simulated Travel demand + vehicle interactions – Ideally a full travel demand / vehicle simulation model would be used, given the massive PT network change proposed & would be individual agent based modelling, i.e. individual person simulation which is leading edge tech in transport. With a full simulation model, the operation issues could have been modelled (e.g there were some wrong sized buses used) to see the effect. The issue with PT is that demand needs to be simulated not just the vehicles, unlike traffic schemes. [Abridged.]

  7. Lim Leong, 8. September 2018, 6:53

    I agree with Glen Smith on the design front. The new hub and spoke bus network design has pushed way way beyond what the current underlying roading infrastructure can support. I honestly do not believe the current hub and spoke model will ever work correctly even if you build some nice bus hubs/shelters.

    To have hub and spoke model working efficiently, you need multilane roads and/or dedicated bus lanes. None of this is cheap either. You have to weight up building more roads against other options which might give you a better outcome.

    Above all else, please do not design something which requires multiple transfers for short journey. This is insanity at its best and stupidity at its worst.

    Right now the number 1 priority has to be network stability. Rolling back to the old network will bring stability and buy you time to consider design options. Will common sense prevail with the new Programme Manager or not is anyboby’s guess.

  8. Jonny Utzone, 8. September 2018, 7:33

    Diane C. I wondered what the last C in WCC meant and now I know. It’s Clairvoyants! I wondered what our clairvoyants were doing back in 2016/17. They were forecasting the future and not saving our Trolley Buses.

  9. TrevorH, 8. September 2018, 8:28

    Yes PCGM this disaster will blow back on the government given the fingerprints of Labour-Greens local government politicians are all over it. For too long local government in Wellington has taken a “we know what’s best for you” approach and ignored the views of residents – cycleways are another example. [Abridged]

  10. Benny, 8. September 2018, 9:28

    PTOM, which is one if not the biggest culprit in this fiasco, was established under the previous government, cutting huge slices out of public transport subsidies. Saying Greens and Labour have fingerprints all over the debacle is not accurate, unless you’re talking about public perception.

  11. Douglas N., 8. September 2018, 12:39

    Not content with ruining our bus system, GWRC has now shot the rooster I used to drive past on SH2! What is wrong with this organisation? I liked the rooster- he was doing nothing wrong and lots of locals liked him too.
    RIP Riverstone Terrace Rooster.

  12. Marion Leader, 8. September 2018, 15:22

    I agree with Diane Calvert. I would also like to add another reason which is the incompetence of the retired ex-politicians who are meant to represent Wellington City on the Greater Wellington Regional Council. They have been easily outwitted by the out-of-town Councillors who have actually got improved services, and they have put the transport committee into the hands of somebody from Porirua who wants Wellingtonians to stand on their buses instead of sitting. Keep it up, Diane!

  13. Mike Mellor, 8. September 2018, 16:03

    Lim Leong: I fully agree that the number one priority has to be network stability, but rolling back to the old network will create more instability. It wasn’t just the routes that changed, but also the operators, the drivers, the vehicles and the depots, and changing back will create disruption that we can do well do without: for instance, drivers will have to be trained on routes that they don’t know, depots will have to change, vehicles reallocated, and contracts renegotiated. All of this will take time, money and energy that could be spent in finishing the job properly – it certainly won’t buy any time. And those suburbs that have got new weekend and evening services will lose them, which would be bad news for Kowhai Park, Maupuia, Evans Bay, Owhiro Bay, Broadmeadows, Vogeltown etc.

    In my view a much better way towards the essential stability and reliability is to get the new network operating as planned (that hasn’t yet happened) as quickly as possible, then tweak it (perhaps significantly) to get an acceptable result. That is the common sense that should prevail: we are well past any reasonable point of no return for going back to the old network.

  14. Lim Leong, 8. September 2018, 20:31

    @Mike Mellor. I am afraid I have to disagree with your diagnosis. On what engineering basis do you say that this new hub and spoke network is going work when it has none of the design prerequisites (multi lane roads, dedicated bus lanes, purpose build hubs, excellent time keeping). Could you show us an example anywhere in the world where hub and spoke has worked successfully in a city similar to Wellington’s topography and without all the prerequisites? A network built without following sound engineering design principles is doomed from the outset. My point is that when the “planned” is wrong it will never work right. And this is speaking from experience in implementing real world complex nationwide data transport networks.

    Unlike a point to point network (old network), tweaking a hub and spoke network is high risk as any change on the spoke can have an unintended/unforeseen effect on the whole network. You have to rebalance the entire network every time you make a change to a hub and spoke network. This is going to create more chaos/hardships for commuters.

    The old network is a known baseline from a design perspective. Operationally the old network has been in operation for well over 25 – 30 years. If the operators NZ Bus and Tranzit do not know how to operate the old network then I am afraid they should not be in the business.

    IMHO, rolling back to the old network is the safest/quickest way to achieve stability. Tweaking a flawed network will only introduce more problems. Once we are back to the old network it is not hard to introduce routes to suburbs which need them, as tweaking a point to point network is far easier.

  15. TrevorH, 9. September 2018, 8:36

    @ Benny: I may be wrong but I don’t think PTOM was the cause of the disastrous hub and spoke design? I also seem to recall that leading members of the GWRC pronounced themselves to be very happy working with the PTOM process at the time.

  16. Mike Mellor, 9. September 2018, 10:33

    Lim Leong: fully agree that a connected network requires precision operating and the necessary infrastructure, and that needs to be fixed, and fast (though I doubt whether building multi-lane roads is required – using existing roadspace more efficiently is a much better option).

    Rolling back to the old network would be neither quick, easy nor cheap, if in fact it were possible: all the supporting infrastructure (operators, drivers, buses, depots, contracts, etc) has changed to at least some extent, not just the routes, so what would actually be required is the creation of another whole new network (with all that implies) that looks like the old one on the surface but is very different underneath.

    I’m sure that experience in data transport is helpful, but the physical world of passengers, drivers, contracts and buses has another level of complexity.

  17. John Rankin, 9. September 2018, 10:47

    @LimLeong: I think @MikeMellor is right to be sceptical of the practicality of reverting to the previous network design. Normally when implementing a major system change, you develop and test a back-out plan before implementing the change, so you know ahead of time how to do it and avoid doing anything that would make a roll-back impractical. AFAIK GW did not do this.

    A big part of the problem is that scheduling in a point to point bus network is not the same as scheduling in a hub and spoke bus network. There is always random variability is bus trip times — the actual trip time is distributed about a mean (it’s not a normal distribution because drivers generally slow down if running ahead of schedule).

    In a point to point network, you tend to schedule tight to squeeze out more service for a given cost and accept that some trips will run a bit late. But if you do that in a hub and spoke network, a lot of people will miss their connections, so you schedule a bit loose. More buses will slow down to avoid running early, but fewer people will miss their connections. Did GW make this change to its scheduling policy?

    But all the routes have changed, so we don’t have good data to know what actual trip times are and hence don’t know how loose to make the schedules. The people most likely to know from real-world experience are the folks driving the buses, but most of the experienced ones have gone. (When I worked for Edmonton Transit in Canada, one of the first cities in North America to introduce a hub and spoke network, they hired experienced bus drivers to design and maintain the schedules; they had probably driven every route in the city in all weathers.)

    @LimLeong is right that Wellington currently does not have suitable infrastructure to support a hub and spoke design. Given Wellington’s topography and road system, the most critical requirement is probably to introduce a comprehensive suite of bus priority measures, to reduce the natural variability in trip times and especially to reduce late running. Not just big stuff like bus lanes wherever there’s room, but little stuff like requiring other traffic to yield to buses signalling to leave a bus stop. I would also introduce a flat rate bus fare, so people only need to tag on, not off.

    And I’d implement Vancouver’s Compass Card immediately — it’s totally brilliant.

  18. Miss Sensible, 9. September 2018, 11:28

    Hold on! I think the ongoing cost to the public of this continuing debacle must be calculated first, before a reset to the old system or a Commission is appointed. We are all paying more for this right now in dollars & time, so times _that_ by the tens of thousands who need to use PT every day, every week, for the foreseeable future.

    As an individual PT user: bus stops are now closed/in ridiculous dangerous spots/nearest ones up steep hills a long difficult walk away (try carrying shopping ha!), my trip to work is three times as long, requires that I wait longer exposed in the rain/wind/cold/dark for transfers (getting in & off from cattle-packed unsafe buses), the buses no longer go to where I need to get to doctors/shops etc (with loss of revenue to those businesses), the hub system doesn’t work as promised & gets me to work/home much later than it says it will (& won’t ever… it’s flawed). Plus, how much would it cost to get rid of the Rural-Wairarapa Tour Bus Co (who thought THAT was a good pick for the city!) that buggered up the driver supply & seems to be holding the GWRC over a barrel. Trans(not very)urban are as much part of this problem as GWRC planners and need to go.

    There’s some pretty clued up (& pissed-off) people reading this… any idea on how to count the economic cost to Wellington? My time has a value to me just as it has to my employer, and they ain’t going to pay me for being late, and I put a cost on not being able to be with my family as much because of GWRC’s failures. Businesses that are too difficult for their old customers to get to are obviously suffering too. These are the real costs – could some economic maven put it into numbers? It’s all the Govt understands. [abridged]

  19. Kerry, 9. September 2018, 13:55

    Lim Leong. The 2011 Bus Review ( MRCagney) used a model, with preliminary results presented in enough detail to show confidence. A spreadsheet was used to analyse routes and costs, and computer modelling of routes. The study noted:
    “It is critical to note that whilst the modelling processes used offer valuable statistics regarding the existing and proposed network, they are not a substitute for detailed assessment that can only be undertaken through a combination of in-field route testing, and computerised network scheduling.”

    Because of the Bus Review, GWRC knew, or should have known, these points in 2011:
    — Reasonably reliable modelling was available, with 270 examples of existing and proposed timings, covering peak and interpeak periods.
    — GW policy was inconsistent and in conflict with the 2012 GPS.
    — A crucial conflict was between the objectives of providing an alternative to car use (radial, ridership) and providing for those who do not own a car (anywhere to anywhere, coverage). Resolving the conflicts need explicit hard-choices, to optimise a compromise system. In practice ridership/services compromises disappear when route design is done well.
    — The golden mile was overloaded.
    — The city has unique public transport opportunities.
    — Five opportunity areas available in the GPS, notably health benefits.
    — The strategic advantage of choke-points.
    — Good advice on hubs.
    — Route timings would need critical “in-field route testing, and computerised network scheduling.”
    It is not obvious that any of this has been done.

  20. Jonny utzone, 9. September 2018, 14:27

    The consultants weren’t Wellington based and probably just looked at a map and didn’t factor in our hills. But that’s what you get when you get a regional council that wants to do the glamour bits but not the mundane operations. Had they just done what a humble governance organisation would i.e. a timetable specification by area and asked the bus operator to plan the rest we would have got a practical solution,

  21. Lim Leong, 9. September 2018, 16:11

    @Kerry. Good insight. I can almost guarantee that “Route timings would need critical in-field route testing, and computerised network scheduling.” is not done or not done to a proper standard at all.

    If in-field route testing was done properly, the following obvious flaws would have been known:
    – Journey time is now 2 – 3 times as long to get to the final destination.
    – Time table scheduling is such you have a more than 50% chance of missing your connection.
    – Peak time congestion
    – The deleted routes are actually critical to people.
    – Most important of all – nobody wants to do multiple transfers for short journeys (cf. @Neil Douglas Transfer Penalty study). Eg. A transfer at the Railway station to get to the CBD from Northland is insane and making the journey twice as long.

    In my view, even without field testing, the flaws above would have been obvious at the theoretical design stage if good practice design principles were followed. Also during the so called consultation round, people had been saying the above is important. It is obviously a case of both blind faith and incompetence. The empirical evidence is that the public/commuters are the unfortunate guinea pigs doing the “critical in field testing” right now and discovering all the flaws.

    To @Miss Sensible’s points. The economic costs at a personal level and at a city level are huge with this debacle. Full stability is needed now and not in 3-6-12 months time. I retain the view that a rollback is the safest and quickest way to achieve network stability. However this is a case of personal interests vs organisational interests vs public interests. Are all parties prepared to put public interests as the top priority and working together in a rollback? Can GWRC put aside saving face and politics? Can the bus operators be more flexible with the contractual terms?

  22. luke, 9. September 2018, 23:17

    Hard to blame the current government, this ptom was Steven Joyce’s baby. Also his idealogical 50% farebox recovery ratio. Loosen that up and there’s scope for the gwrc to improve things substantially.

  23. Glen Smith, 9. September 2018, 23:58

    I agree with Lim. The primary consideration here is whether we want, or need, to have a ‘Hub and Spoke’ paradigm, with multiple transfers and related commuter delays, as our ultimate transport network design. The answer to that is clearly NO. Continuing along a design route which is illogical just because we have started in that direction makes no sense. As an analogy if you are taking a car trip to Masterton but find yourself passing Tawa offramp you don’t think ‘oh well, I’ve started so I’ll just carry on’. You instead recognise you’ve made a mistake, backtrack and take the right route.
    Hub and Spoke is fundamentally flawed. We need to backtrack, re-evaluate, then instead take the right direction. That is solving the across town capacity problem by adding a second corridor in the form of a seamless extension of our existing high quality rail network. Despite the evidence that this is not only logical (and inevitable) but achievable and would likely pay for itself by savings in secondary societal costs, this is an option that our planners have doggedly refused to even investigate let alone present to the public they are supposed to represent. It is clear that ideology rather than long term strategic or objective planning is driving decision making.

  24. Cecil Roads, 10. September 2018, 10:01

    Glen Smith – actually you could carry on at Tawa and still get to Masterton via Haywards or the Akatawara! Nice scenic drive too. Example: I was at the BP self-service station on SH2 (just after the Ngauranga Interchange) last Saturday and two guys from Christchurch who’d got off the ferry approached me as I was filling up. They were driving to Southward’s car museum up on the Kapiti Coast and had missed the turning at Ngauranga. I said they could either do a U turn at Petone or go on the Manor Park interchange and cross over at SH58. They’d see some new countryside and could drive back via SH1. They thought this was a good idea. So the moral of the story? The SH road network provides choices and for Wellington this choice will increase with Transmission Gully.

    Public transport provides choices too but you always have the hassle of having to get off your behind at an interchange. And most people are rather lazy and that’s why they use cars.

  25. John Rankin, 10. September 2018, 10:11

    @GlenSmith: the really depressing thing is that if the 2011 study had done the obvious and recommended adding a second corridor for rapid transit, it could have been close to opening by now.

    It’s not clear to me that the hub and spoke design as delivered was subjected to proper testing. A pretty standard test is that one should be able to get to or from any major destination with at most one transfer. I would have said it’s a no-brainer that the hospital is a major destination. That some people have to make 2 transfers to get to the hospital ought to have set off some alarm bells at GW before now. I’d have thought it’s a basic requirement of a small-scale hub and spoke network design that at most 2 transfers will provide anywhere-to-anywhere service, at most 1 transfer will provide anywhere-to-major-destination service. And Wellington being a small and compact city, the most common trips ought to require no transfers.

    The design GW has implemented seems to require a lot of journeys to make a change at an intermediate hub (“local – hub – change at intermediate hub – hub – local” trips). Perhaps someone more knowledgeable can enlighten me.

  26. Lim Leong, 10. September 2018, 11:22

    @John Rankin. I will bet my bottom dollars that no proper real-world testing been done on this new design, otherwise GWRC would not have got itself this quagmire.

    My personal experience is that my son who is at Wellington College has to incur an unreliable transfer and a severely overcrowded bus to get back to Northland. A journey of over one hour. We now have to chauffeur him and that is a complete waste of my time and adding to congestion in the CBD. Whereas before there was a direct bus home. I myself now incur a long walk from the Terrace to the CBD for work because I just don’t want to waste even more time on a stupid transfer at the Railway station.

    If you follow other social media like Facebook, Neighbourly, Twitter there are so many examples of 2 -3 transfers required to get to destination and journey time of 1.5 hours to travel 5 – 6 KMs. And this transfer requirement is pervasive everywhere in the city. If you count the Railway station, there are up to 8 Hubs in the city. It is the most stupid design that I have seen, and it is never ever going to work no matter how GWRC spins the story. Wellington is such a compact city for goodness sake. Tweaking this stupid design is tantamount to arranging deck chairs on the Titanic!

  27. Kerry, 10. September 2018, 11:26

    Jonny. There was no need for the consultants to factor in our hills, because a full evaluation would have had reliable bus timetable data from practical trials.

  28. Mike Mellor, 10. September 2018, 11:53

    It seems that we are unanimous in identifying stability as an immediate short-term goal, with disagreement as to whether that would be achieved better (or is actually feasible) with the previous route structure or the current one. Behind this is universal agreement that implementation has been poor, and that there are significant design deficiencies.

    Looking at the pros and cons of each scenario:
    a) “rolling back” would require major logistical changes, with all relevant inputs having changed, now being designed to support the current structure not the old one. Hubs would be gone, but the Golden Mile would be continue to be very unreliable, with 100% overload of buses at peak times. Service to some suburbs would improve, but many would lose their evening and weekend services. As we have seen, major change is difficult and disruptive, and it would take a long time (and lots of dollars) to get back to this situation. And we shouldn’t forget that it was the subject of constant criticism: it was by no means perfect.
    b) “moving on” would require significant tweaking to identify the concerns identified in comments above (and elsewhere), but the logistical support structure is there (albeit not as nearly effective or complete as it should be). GWRC has a number of change packages up its sleeve, which would address some concerns, and others are being considered, such as splitting the 2 at the eastern end to provide through services as happens with the 1 at its northern end. These would result in gradual improvement rather than another big bang, and the Golden Mile would still have 50% overload.

    The Golden Mile overload is key, but a proper solution to that has to be in the long-term basket – it will take years. In the meantime we need to get the buses working “right” (however we define that), looking deeper than what appear to be quick wins but could well turn out to be the opposite.

  29. Josie B., 10. September 2018, 12:30

    Luke – the 50% fare box recovery rate for buses and trains dates way before Stephen Joyce (Nat) was Minister of Transport. The subsidy excludes Gold Card and contract school bus funding too but the bus and train commuters who do get the subsidy are generally on average incomes so it can be argued to be regressive (and that’s not popular with the Labour party).

  30. Roy Kutel, 10. September 2018, 12:43

    John Rankin – the Spine Study did have a split spine and anyway if they had come up with two full corridors both would have been for ‘rapid’ diesel buses.

    I recall that LRT returned 3 cents on the dollar for 3/4 of a corridor to the airport. So spend a billion and waste $970 million. And note the Wellington based peer review gave the study a tick. Would you really expect GWRC to recommend spending $2 billion and waste $1,940 million? They are not NZTA for goodness sake and don’t have ‘strategic fit’ as a justification for wasting people’s money.

  31. Lim Leong, 10. September 2018, 15:00

    @Mike Mellor. There is a major flaw in your summary. Tweaking a hub and spoke network is very difficult/very high risk in a transport network. GWRC does not have a realistic modelling tool to make hub and spoke design changes. GWRC is basically using the public as guinea pigs on testing. Do you really want to make life even more difficult for the public by live testing the tweaked hub and spoke network?

    Your golden mile argument is also flawed. Did you notice how many extra cars and UBER/Taxi are now going through the golden mile because of the failed network? Tweaking a failed network will only lead to more failures and it does not make sense. Another important point, the old network works for 80% of people and new network is the reverse. In the new network 20% are happy and 80% are badly impacted. Technically it is far easier to add routes once you are back to a point to point network.

    Rolling back is imminently feasible and this is speaking from real world experience. I have been involved in far more complex network implementation than this Wellington Bus Network (Eg. nationwide mission critical data transport network to over 2000 schools/700,000+ students in 6 months) involving dozens of major contractors and sub-contractors with contractual documentation which can fill a library. When things did fail, we all sat down and put customer interests as the top priority, rolled back and changed the design and then moved on.

    With the Wellington Bus network. this is a case of personal interests vs organisational interests vs public interests. Are all parties prepared to put public interests as the top priority and working together in a rollback? Can GWRC put aside saving face and politics? Can the bus operators be more flexible with the contractual terms?

  32. Mike Mellor, 10. September 2018, 16:47

    Lim Leong: thanks, I was trying to find common ground – but clearly I’ve failed!
    a) you seem to think that creating a new network (which is what “rolling back” effectively means) is relatively risk free. It certainly isn’t – and certainly not “immensely feasible”, because all the supporting infrastructure has changed.
    b) “the old network works for 80% of people and new network is the reverse. In the new network 20% are happy and 80% are badly impacted” – your source for this information?
    c) and your source for “technically it is far easier to add routes once you are back to a point to point network”? (It isn’t. Adding new bus routes is the same for either option – there’s no technical difference.)
    d) Physical transport is very different from data transport. The logistics of getting everything in the right place are complex, and you can’t just roll things back. (I speak from 40 years’ experience in logistics management, including managing and implementing complex freight and passenger networks.)
    e) “this is a case of personal interests vs organisational interests vs public interests” – no, actually it’s a case of agreeing what is a good, feasible solution and implementing it.
    f) you don’t specify how the Golden Mile argument (it’s not mine, it’s based on generally accepted transport management principles) is flawed. If you’ve data on increased Uber/taxi use of the Golden Mile and its effect on bus operation, please share it! (But a first step should be to make the Golden Mile bus and pedestrian only, irrespective of the route network, which eliminates that “flaw”.)

    I would expect that all parties are willing to work to put the public (including ratepayer) interest first, but the assumption that that means “rolling back” is just that, an assumption. There’s more than one way to skin a cat!

  33. Lim Leong, 10. September 2018, 18:05

    @Mike Mellor. We have to agree to disagree as I do not believe tweaking a failed hub and spoke network is in the best interest of the people. It is like re-arranging deck chairs on the Titantic …

    a) Creating a network is not easy otherwise there wouldn’t be highly paid network consultants around. A roll back is not easy but it should always be part of an implementation plan. The old schedule has been around for over 25 years and it is a proven design. As I have said before, if the bus operators NZ Bus and Tranzit cannot operate a proven schedule, they should not be in the transport business.

    b)80/20. Have you been to any of the public meetings and seen how many angry people whose livelihoods have been so badly affected by this debacle? There are well over a thousand people who have attended the public meetings so far, with 3 more to come. This demonstrates the underlying anger of the population. Can you show me stats on anyone who is happy with the new network?

    c) Every time you make a change to a hub and spoke network you have to re-balance the whole network. This is in addition to the effort in adding a route as per point to point network. There is a big technical difference in changing point to point vs changing hub and spoke. This is a well understood network engineering concept. This is not the forum to discuss technical network design. Dr Google is a good starting point .

    d)Yes. Data and Transport networks are different but the underlying network design principles are the same, right down to design language. A data transport can involve even more complex logistics than a physical transport network.

    e) What is good is to ease the pain of the people who are suffering daily. Do you believe tweaking a failed network which is not built on sound design foundation? If a house is not built on a solid foundation, no matter how you decorate it, it is still going to collapse.

    f) I do not have stats on the golden mile but I observe more cars on the roads now and also from the media and feedback at the public meetings.

  34. kiwi_overseas, 10. September 2018, 21:42

    What the rest of my abridged 8 September comment went on to say was:
    4) The processes around PTOM funding (road user excise tax input) need to be strengthened to ensure this doesn’t happen again (i.e. massive changes to PT systems should be properly modelled before funding is approved)
    5) Substantial potential changes to the Christchurch PT network are being proposed in the draft 2018 RPTP. If these changes are rolled out in one go like Wellington’s, its essential that the same issues don’t arise.

  35. Kerry, 10. September 2018, 22:08

    Roy Kutel: Not the least of GW’s problems is that they are still defending a thoroughly discredited spine study. Until it is officially written off, there remains a risk of taking some part of it as correct, as you have done. For example, Appendix B shows cross-sections, and the last one for the southern route shows light rail terminating at a single platform, presumably with the usual buffer stop. The other side of the platform was for buses, in both directions, and would have needed buses with doors on both sides. A second example is: what is the route taken from Kent/Cambridge Terraces to the Mt Victoria Tunnel? Not at all obvious, and no clues. A study without route plans, such as the Spine Study, is likely to commit some very silly errors, such as these.

  36. Wellington Commuter, 11. September 2018, 1:34

    The new Wellington City bus network is not working and has to be fixed. I want to dispel a couple of myths about the problems.
    @Glen Smith: Government funding is NOT “the elephant in the room”. The Wellington City Bus Review was done as a “zero budget” project and, although it was done wrong, it saved the GWRC about $5.4M/year in subsidies (already budgeted to meet increased rail costs but they should give it back if needed).
    @Benny: PTOM is just a contracting arrangement under which groups of PT services/routes can be bundled as a contract package to a bus operator. It is relatively flexible but the GWRC used its PTOM tender approach to drive down the cost of paying bus service operators to provide the bus service you see today. These long term contracts seem to lack the ability to easily change the bus services – which now seems to be a big, expensive mistake.
    @Luke: The GWRC WAS heavily involved with NZTA in developing the PTOM framework and supported its introduction. Also, while the NZTA aims to have fares fund 50% of PT operating costs, it is GWRC policy to require fares to pay for 55%. Our regional councillors have mandated that Wellington bus riders pay the highest fares in the country.

    There appear to be two major operational issues:
    1) the GWRC did not contract enough buses. It is ridiculous that significant numbers of commuters cannot get onto a bus. The GWRC’s inability, under contracts they negotiated, to quickly add more bus services is an appalling failure of management.
    2) the design based on “core-routes with interchange hubbing” is not working and it cannot work where bus services between the hubs are unreliable … especially at evening peak times when people are trying to get home yet cannot catch their connecting bus.

    While I agree that Wellington cannot simply go back to the old routes, I think it is important that the interchange model is dumped and some of the smaller hubs are shut down. Yes, this will mean more buses through the Golden Mile but this is better than having commuters waiting and wondering when they will get to where they want to go. And there ARE things that can be done to improve Golden Mile capacity – Let’s Get Wellington Moving had better include some measures to improve Golden Mile bus capacity be they bus lanes, better bus stops or am intelligent traffic system.
    Fixing all this will be expensive so funding is an issue. The GWRC is providing this “service” for about $5.4M LESS than the subsidy for the previous design. The council should commit to giving this funding back to ensure the Wellington City bus service returns to the previous levels of service for all the main suburbs. The path to fixing our bus service must start with a clear agreed goal to return our bus service back to the levels before these changes. We then need a team with real bus operations expertise who will work with communities and come up with a plan that will convince an angry and sceptical public that PT services to their suburbs will be restored. But does the regional council have the capability, commitment and leadership to do this difficult job ? I am yet to be convinced.

  37. Roy Kutel, 11. September 2018, 7:04

    @Kerry – The study cost ratepayers over one million dollars, so wouldn’t you expect GWRC to defend it! And GWRC continues to seek advice from the same consultants who did it and peer reviewed it. So how do you expect a different result from GWRC? If you want to see steel wheels along Lambton Quay and off to the Airport in your lifetime, then I think GWRC will have to be abolished first.

  38. Lim Leong, 11. September 2018, 8:14

    @Wellington Commuter. I agree that the “the path to fixing our bus service must start with a clear agreed goal to return our bus service back to the levels before these changes.” In people’s minds, the old network is always the benchmark of service level. Why spend millions introducing a fancy new network which makes life more difficult for people is the question that everyone is asking GWRC right now. The number 1 question is how to achieve network stability quickly and bring back the old service levels. People probably know that I have strong views around not randomly trying to patch a failed hub and spoke network as that will simply create more failures. Using the old network as a baseline is a sensible starting point. Your point – “does the regional council have the capability, commitment and leadership to do this difficult job ? I am yet to be convinced” is key to the whole debacle. To be able to move forward, GWRC first have to acknowledge that they have got the network design wrong, and then start to assemble a team of people who understand physical transport networks (instead of PR Spin people) and can genuinely (instead of lip service) work with the community to address the issues.

    I am doubtful that the leadership, commitment and technical capabilities are there. All I am seeing is saving face, shifting blame and hope that people will put up with the “New Normal”.

  39. Benny, 11. September 2018, 10:47

    I read the biggest difficulty that Metlink tried to overcome with this new network was the overcrowding of the Golden Mile. Call me stupid, but couldn’t we “split it” across two sets of streets, one for one way, and one for the other, when road estate is not enough? For example Featherston parallel to Lambton, Victoria parallel to Willis, etc? You’d drop off on Courtenay in the morning and jump back on the bus on Wakefield in the evening, with some dedicated lanes in places? When Manners was for pedestrians, buses had to go one way (Dixon) and back the other. I’m in no way an expert in traffic analysis, but would be interested to hear why it would not work.

    Also, sorry to bring this “detail” back in, but for the sake of people’s lungs living on that Golden Mile, electric buses everywhere can’t come soon enough.

  40. Expert Driver, 11. September 2018, 19:22

    So many experts. So much frustration, wasted time and money. Keep it simple. Bring back the previous system and drivers. Let people buy tickets elsewhere. Have spot on bus inspectors. Get on front and back ( to speed up with fewer holdups). Replace Realtime – not really realtime – with paper
    timetables on posts at busstops telling people exactly when the bus is coming. (Can be changed easily without a consultant needed.) Repurpose the hubs…Cover them in and make them into little homes.

  41. Reg Varney, 11. September 2018, 21:42

    In Sydney, when the planners changed the rail timetable and didn’t get the train drivers to agree, the drivers took industrial action. The result? The Minister of Transport was fired, the old timetable was brought back in and things went back to ‘normal’. I guess the bus drivers don’t have enough muscle in Wellington.

  42. Newtown, 11. September 2018, 22:29

    Oh, the irony… The GWRC went with the cheapest option that might now end up being the most expensive one.

  43. Glen Smith, 13. September 2018, 6:57

    Just been in Athens- another European city with a functional clean quiet electric trolley bus network. Economics and sensible planning clearly works differently over here.

    Wellington Commuter. Reread my comment which states that central funding is the ‘elephant in the room’ inhibiting implementation of a logical REGIONAL transport design, of which the Wellington bus network you mention is a subset. I am sure when the stewards rearranged the Titanic’s deckchairs they did fantastically with their small budget but fixing the hole in the boat’s side required far more dramatic action on a ship wide scale. The Hub and Spoke will temporarily eek a little more capacity out of the Golden Mile, albeit at the cost of forcing transfers, inconvenience and major dysfunction on commuters. But with ongoing growth it is ultimately doomed to fail – capacity requirements will swamp the small gains and a more definitive solution is inevitable. More importantly, the bus changes will do nothing to solve the largest and most pressing regional transport problem which is the tens of thousands of commuters, from the 75 percent of the population living north of Wellington, who want to get across the city to the southern CBD and southern suburbs (including the Airport) but are unable to do so by PT due to fundamental design flaws with a truncated rail network and all across town commuters having to traverse congested multipurpose streets that are already over capacity. Our planners seem incapable of seeing how fundamentally stupid this design is because, despite having it repeatedly pointed out to them, they show no signs of trying to fix it by adding a second corridor. Instead they tell us if we just build a few more roads and tinker with the buses a bit more, everything will be all right. Yeah right.
    In the meantime our motorways and city streets are increasingly choked by the commuters’ cars (perhaps you’ve noticed them – look out your window one day), encouraged into their vehicles by the National Party and NZTA who poured billions into roads, ignored the congestion they produced, and who still seem unaware that the ship is sinking.
    A Hub and Spoke design is a step in the wrong direction. The most efficient design, used by almost all overseas cities, is point to point ‘lines’ of different modes crossing the city (and in our case I mean region) that start from one peripheral location, traverse the CBD without interruption, then continue to another peripheral location. The danger is that once a Hub and Spoke design is established, the temptation will be to continue it. The LGWM plan is to then somehow replace buses with light rail, still as a Hub and Spoke design requiring even more transfers, still down the single overcrowded Golden Mile corridor and still as a separate network to our current rail system requiring transfers at the Station. Pardon me while I bang my head against this brick wall here.

  44. Dave B, 13. September 2018, 13:02

    @ Glen – A good summation of the problem we face and the inability of the current authorities to get their heads around it. My suggestion is to extend the rail spine – trains-to-the-planes, Matangis-to-Miramar or whatever – and bring all the benefits of our reliable and effective regional rail system to this ‘missing quarter’ of the region. Then where appropriate, reorganise the buses to feed into this, rather than into congestion-prone, other bus routes.

    . . .Oh, but it would cost a fortune, it can’t be done, Wellington is too small, it wouldn’t work, blah, blah, blah. . . Well let’s acknowledge that it would transformatively benefit Wellington if this could be achieved, and let’s seriously investigate all avenues by which it might be made possible. The 2013 Public Transport Spine Study had the opportunity to do this but dismissed the concept with no proper investigation. And Glen, I also was in a modern European city with trolleybuses recently – Geneva. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that according to our GWRC, they were clinging to an outmoded and inefficient means of transport that should be ripped out without further ado.

  45. Traveller, 13. September 2018, 13:06

    And I was in two very different cities – Shanghai and Limoges – earlier this year. Both had trolley buses. Regional Councillors would have been appalled.

  46. Jonny Utzone, 13. September 2018, 14:39

    Shanghai intended to take the trolley buses out but found the replacement battery buses didn’t work as well as planned. The sensible thing Shanghai did was to leave the wires up until the battery buses had been tested. As they failed the test, they went back to trolley buses. Whereas GWRC banked everything on NZ Bus’s WrightSpeed, took down the trolley bus wires and guess what? It didn’t work.

  47. Boaz, 13. September 2018, 18:57

    We don’t want Light Rail it is a costly waste of money. But at a cost of under a billion dollars, you could restore 4 trolleybus lines with ultra modern XT trolley-battery buses. And the trolleybus fits in with traffic and can swerve around obstacles. Modern trolley-battery buses can even detour off wire for considerable distance. Wellington’s fleet has gone from 50 clean electric trolleybuses, operating on a city owned system, to two battery electric clunkers amidst the smog created by 200 diesels. [abridged]

  48. Lim Leong, 14. September 2018, 7:38

    @Boaz. I am afraid you are missing the point in this discussion. The point is that: It is generally accepted the the main transport corridor (ie. Lambton Quay) linking all the suburbs will be hitting capacity soon. The question is then what is the most sensible and cost effective way to introduce additional capacity?

    One cheap and nasty option is to introduce hub and spoke network design and hope (in blind faith) that demand aggregation at the hubs will solve the capacity problems. We are all now seeing the debacle as a result of this fundamentally flawed network design. What Glen Smith and other people are arguing is that another corridor may bring a better outcome for long term economic, productivity and livability. Your suggestion of bringing back the trolley buses does not address the capacity issues.

  49. Kerry, 14. September 2018, 8:47

    Lim Leong. Lambton Quay is already way beyond the capacity of an effective public transport system. It an important reason why bus timekeeping is so bad, and the most difficult timekeeping problem to fix. The only options are:
    — Double-deck buses: ineffective.
    — A second route, soon to be followed by a third route: toyed with, and rejected.
    — Large-scale Bus Rapid Transit, likely to need road-widening and flyovers: toyed with, and rejected.
    — Light rail on a separate route from the buses: rejected by an almost unbelievably bad study.
    — Light rail replacing the buses: unacceptable because of too many connections.
    — Any combination of these options, in tunnel.
    — Mess about and hope: current policy.
    The answer is obvious: choose one of more of the solutions deemed unacceptable .

  50. Citizen Joe, 14. September 2018, 10:41

    Kerry – The answer is a Hugo Chavez solution: make bus users walk to either the Railway Station or a Manners Street bus ‘hub’ (I hate this overused term!). This would force people to walk a bit and would declog the streets of diesel buses. Rail passengers do it everyday and benefit from it so why can’t bus passengers?
    Car users? Wack on a parking levy of $3 to everyone bringing in their car to the city and parking it for more than 4 hours.
    That’s the city centre sorted. What’s next?
    [As we’ve reached capacity on our system, this correspondence is now closed.]