Wellington Scoop

What must be changed, to fix the problems with Karori’s buses

by Mike Flinn
Last week I attended the meeting in Karori where local residents and residents from adjacent suburbs told Regional Council representatives what they thought of the new bus services. All services to Karori were criticised, including the peak-hour ones along Karori Road with full buses and extended waiting times.

Here’s why these services are not up to passengers’ expectations.

It starts with the Draft Transport Plan issued by GWRC in 2014 in which Route C (now Route 2) was proposed to run between Karori Park and Seatoun with AM and PM Peak period services having a 5-10 minute frequency and a 10 minute frequency between the Peaks. Services from Karori West and Karori South were to have 20-30 minute frequencies in each Peak period to or from Wellington (unspecified as to where). The Draft Plan went out for consultation and no changes were made in the final Transport Plan 2014.

In August 2016 GWRC issued a document titled “New Bus Route Descriptions” which updated route proposals in the Transport Plan. The proposed Route C was unchanged but the Wellington terminal for the Karori West and Karori South services was identified as Brandon Street, with similar frequencies.

In the middle of 2018, an updated description of Route 2 (now called East West Spine) was issued in which the Peak Hour frequencies of Route 2 were still listed as 5-10 minutes but there was a warning that “bus frequencies are indicative only and may change”. The Peak Hour period frequencies for both Route 33 (Karori South) and Route 34 (Karori West) were then shown as 20 minutes.

The final change was the issue of the Public Timetables in early July this year – they listed the Peak Hour period frequencies of Route 2 as 10 minutes and Route 33 and 34 as 20 minutes with their city terminal as Brandon Street.

As soon as the services started, there were complaints of full buses and extended waiting times for passengers.

Comparison of these services with those before the change soon identified the causes of the complaints.

In the AM Peak period a similar number of trips (26) to the city was provided but following the route changes from the creation of the Karori Tunnel Hub no extra capacity had been provided for over 200 passengers who had used Route 17 through to Kelburn which also went along Karori Road – but who now had no option other than the Route 2 buses to the city.

With the patronage level of around 1,000 already on Karori Road trips, full buses and delays were inevitable. Making the situation worse was the use of Brandon Street as the terminal for Routes 33 and 34. These trips were timetabled to provide a 10 minute service which, when combined with the 10 minute Route 2 trips, would give a 5 minute frequency service along Karori Road to the city. Although two additional trips were included just after 7.30AM from Karori Mall (to Brandon Street only) all other trips were provided on the equal interval basis.

However, passengers do not leave home for work on a regular time basis and high peaks in demand are not met from the trips now offered on the regular interval timetable. Clearly extra trips are needed now to reduce delays and overcrowding.

And the use of Brandon Street as the city terminal should be stopped as the reason originally given (reducing bus trips through the CBD – which has been applied to western suburb trips only – means that for a reasonable proportion of Karori Road passengers half of the trips do not provide a destination near their workplace.

The PM Peak services also have overcrowding and delay problems. Last week an analysis of the services through the Lambton Quay North stop between 3.50 PM and 6.15 PM showed 18 trips on Route 2 of which eight trips left full up (65 to over 70 passengers) and seven more had over 50 passengers on board. Overall the average load was 58 per trip.

There were 11 trips from Brandon Street which picked up passengers there and at two other stops in Lambton Quay which had an average of 49 passengers per trip. The previous timetable (updated in early 2017) had 31 trips through the CBD, (15 from Lyall Bay and 14 from Courtenay Place and 2 from Lambton Quay) for Karori Park, Karori South and Karori West.

The new timetable has only 12 trips from Seatoun through Courtenay Place to Karori Park plus 10 trips from Brandon Street to Karori South or Karori West, a total of 22, a reduction of nine trips.

Not only was there a reduction of nine trips, but the arrival of Route 2 buses at Courtenay Place was not at the 10 minute intervals intended in the timetable. Gaps in the service through the CBD were variable and were up to 19 minutes at times so that passengers between Courtenay Place and Willis Street had longer waiting times and fuller or full buses when they arrived.

Passengers at the two Lambton Quay stops served by the Route 33 or 34 services needed these buses to get home. It appears that two extra non-timetabled trips are now being run on Route 2 (presumably from Courtenay Place) but more are needed to provide proper resilience for all these services. All Route 2 buses in service were 3 axle type, higher capacity buses.

The use of Brandon Street as the terminal for Routes 33 and 34 should be stopped immediately and the terminal should be returned to Courtenay Place.

The decision to use Brandon Street as the terminal for Karori West, Karori South and Mairangi services was blamed on perceived peak-hour delays because of too many buses in the CBD. However, the new timetable not only includes some reduction in trip numbers but has, at long last, better spread out the times for trips departing from Courtenay Place and as all trips now use the updated Snapper tag on and off system, flow through the CBD has improved.

In 2016, I recorded 400 passengers on board trips to Karori South and West (and Wrights Hill on Route 21) and Mairangi arriving at Lambton Quay/Brandon Street between 4PM and 6PM, most of which now only have the options of either the Route 2 buses or of boarding other buses to get to Brandon Street or the Railway Station before changing to another bus to get home. These enforced transfers must stop, and with the new departure sequences and sensible spreading through time of the trips brought from Brandon Street to Courtenay Place, little increase of CBD travel time will occur through their transfer.

The other Karori area services were changed by the unnecessary Karori Tunnel “hub” and these were also criticised at the Karori meeting. These routes do need to be reviewed with any necessary time changes made immediately but GWRC need to have a rethink and return to the Karori community, probably in November, with more practical proposals of new route and time proposals to start in early 2019.

Already accepted for introduction are weekday services on Route 18e and the possibility of some weekend trips. This change will remove the need for the Courtenay Place “Hub” and for Route 21 direct to the University which will then open up the possibility of a coordinated service from Mairangi and Wright’s Hill past the University and through the CBD to Courtenay Place. This will restore a service suitable for residents as well as for students from those areas at weekends as well as weekdays.

Clearly the Highbury service is unsatisfactory for residents as the Aro Street routeing has never been their access corridor compared to Kelburn. More rethinking and a further meeting with resident is needed here.

Other Bus Services

After looking at the bus passenger flows into Courtenay Place in the AM Peak period and outwards in the PM Peak period, it is obvious that many routes in corridors to other parts of the city are under strain, sometimes because there were not enough timetabled trips or because of missing trips. It will take several months for the services to improve and become resilient and patience will be needed.

The most obvious change needed immediately is the Mount Victoria service which has been truncated at Courtenay Place. In contrast to this change, which affected 120 or so passengers in each peak period, the route was extended to Kilbirnie down Alexander Rd and the SPCA with the potential of only a small number of passengers. It was of no surprise, but of concern, that the four trips to Mt Victoria in the PM peak I saw last week carried only 34 passengers. A meeting and discussion with residents is needed urgently to restore some sense and confidence, such as links to other suburbs through the CBD as before.

We should all be worried at loss of patronage and fare revenue as the Operator contracts are all “Gross” contracts with all revenue going to GWRC to meet its 55% recovery objective (or any updated %) and any shortfall will come from fare or rate increases.

With petrol price rises taking place and further increases likely later this year, let us hope that improvements to services can allow for the likely increase in patronage to be met successfully.

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


  1. Michael Gibson, 10. September 2018, 18:31

    This morning I sent the following to GW:
    “This is a formal application to speak, as a member of the public, at the beginning of the Sustainable Transport Committee Meeting scheduled for Wednesday 19th September. The subject is to be: “The advantages of applying to the Minister of Local Government to have a Commissioner appointed to administer the Council’s transport responsibilities.”
    I will be seeking help on this from our Wellington City representatives who have, regrettably, been out-boxed by Councillors from places like Porirua and the Hutt. Any other help would be most welcome.

  2. Jonny Utzone, 10. September 2018, 20:11

    Wellington is not alone in NZ in going for a silly hub based system. Christchurch introduced one in 2013 after the earthquake reduced much of the CBD to rubble.

    But its been far from popular. And guess what, having not been able to make it work they are going back to the old radial system to stop inconveniencing people with transfers.

    Surely its time to cull 50% of GWRC staff. They they wouldn’t have to dream up silly systems to keep themselves busy. Some of the redundant planners could become bus drivers and learn something about providing a bus service.

  3. MetLink, 12. September 2018, 18:32

    Hi #Karori, thanks for putting your questions to us about the recent changes to your bus services, from public meetings and Metlink Live sessions. You can find the responses on our website. We’ll continue to answer questions and those from other suburbs. https://www.metlink.org.nz/customer-services/heres-what-were-doing/q-and-a/

  4. Michael Gibson, 12. September 2018, 19:08

    Dear Metlink, one of the many questions you leave unanswered is why people are kicked off buses at Vic when they want to go to the top of the cable-car and the bus is going there anyway.

  5. Ben Foden, 12. September 2018, 20:12

    Another very well done assessment Mike – thanks for the write up.

    Network design mess aside, it beggars belief the reduction in actual services; that the GWRC thought it sensible to spread out the reduced capacity into even time increments as if the peak demand is evenly distributed (a known fact being that is isn’t); and curiously that GWRC keep blaming NZ Bus for providing ‘smaller’ buses than per contract. Yet you’re observing the peak services were all high-capacity 3 axle buses – so GWRC are falsely trying to blame NZ Bus, despite cutting the scheduled services by around 30%. Unbelievable. Just unbelievable.

    As for capacity problems through the CBD, sure the CBD had a heavy flow of buses previously, but it did flow… until a Newlands bus held up a long queue of buses because of the ticketing processes that company used. Solve that (and some bus stop layout changes and traffic / traffic light changes) and suddenly the CBD would’ve coped just fine. The delays and inconvenience from the new network are far worse for most passengers, than the previous small CBD delays.

  6. NigelTwo, 12. September 2018, 21:35

    @Michael Gibson. See the answer in the Q-a-A: Design->Ref#27.
    In short, “It’s for students”, so you don’t exist 😉

  7. Michael Gibson, 13. September 2018, 7:12

    Thank you, NigelTwo. Metlink’s ignorance in its reply takes one’s breath away. It says: “No specific demand has been identified requiring buses to travel from the university to the top of the Cable Car.” But the whole point is that the flaming buses go to the top of the cable-car anyway – they go there to turn around and invariably pause there before coming back downhill (also refusing passengers, even “students” wanting to go to Vic!!!).
    Metlink’s P.R. people obviously do not know this.
    By the way, Cr Laidlaw has yet to acknowledge my email on the subject.

  8. NigelTwo, 13. September 2018, 13:07

    Mike, With the battle raging between bus users and their elected representatives, I’m reminded of the saying:
    The first casualty when war comes is truth.