Wellington Scoop

How to describe the bus failures?

by Lindsay Shelton
An omni-shambles or a bustastrophe? Those have been the two most memorable descriptions of Wellington’s continuing bus problems.

Brent Efford came up with bustastrophe, in his article two weeks ago.

And Gareth Hughes introduced omni-shambles on Saturday when he demanded that regional councillors and staff turn up to a parliamentary select committee to explain why there’s been two months of confusion.

Earlier, there were more routine descriptions – such as fiasco and diabolical and “real failure” (the last from Phil Twyford), and “a real mess … a major disaster…” from PCGM. Not forgetting “debacle” from the Tramways Union. Saturday’s DomPost referred to the problems as a “horror.”

Then there was “unnecessary and unacceptable,” from Barbara Donaldson, who is the highly paid but mostly invisible chair of the regional council’s transport committee. But she wasn’t talking about the transport problems for which she and her committee are responsible. She was complaining about the behaviour of members of the public at the first public meeting – she then failed to turn up at the next three meetings.

Of course, there’ve been other descriptions as well. Notably the extraordinary sentence from regional council chief executive Greg Campbell, who said “the complex programme of work has been managed well.” He must be the only person in Wellington who believes this.

And there’s no doubt that the problems are continuing for a third month.

Here’s a tweet from Aimee Bell on Saturday:

what a joke thinking I could catch a bus to the game tonight. Bus said due in 9 minutes, been waiting for 20. Have had to catch an overpriced uber instead in order to get there on time. @metlinkwgtn I thought you were sorting this out.

And three from Friday. First from Jane Little:

It’s 7:30pm and this no 2 bus hasn’t even left the CBD. We will be driving past people and the next bus is in 30 minutes. We need more buses.

From Corrina Connor

Because the 18e consistently departs Kelburn early, a colleague just told me, students are asking permission to leave class early to be sure they can get this service. 5.03pm bus left 4.58pm today

And from Rebecca Priestley

Just waited 15 minutes for a bus that’s meant to run every 10 minutes and the electronic display said would come in 4 minutes. Now three buses all at once. Passengers all becoming quietly resigned to the new bullshit system. Please fix it

And from MP Paul Eagle on Thursday:

“Kei whea te pahi?” Ka pai, finally some kupu hou [new words] for the 42 people waiting on Rintoul Street in Berhampore yesterday morning! I’ve got a few more to add, “Ka hoatu e ahau” [I give up] Or, “Ka hoki ahau ki te kāinga” [I’m going back home]

More adjectives or nouns will be welcome.


  1. Kerry, 17. September 2018, 9:01


  2. stressed, 17. September 2018, 9:06

    “Notably the extraordinary sentence from regional council chief executive Greg Campbell, who said “the complex programme of work has been managed well.” And this is the man GWRC have charged with sorting it out. How can he do anything effective when he is in such denial?

  3. Wellington Commuter, 17. September 2018, 9:42

    The next Regional Council meeting of its “Sustainable Transport Committee” is at 9.30am on Wednesday at the GWRC Council Chamber, L2, 15 Walter St, Te Aro. Its policy is that meeting agendas must be out 2 days before. [via twitter]

  4. Tony Jansen, 17. September 2018, 10:08

    Greg Campbell – paid 400K but has been allowed to take an external paid role. Does this imply:
    a) He is not productive enough in his GWRC role and/or
    b) He is being underutilised and overpaid.
    It is inappropriate to take a second paid role, because the GWRC are paying him for his full attention and focus as CEO.
    He now seems like a man who is believing his own hype, as now taking on a third role, he is going to solve the bustastrophe. Just like that. Because he is going to give this his full attention. Something he seems unable to do so far.

  5. Peter Kerr, 17. September 2018, 10:34

    Copy of an email sent to Metlink, and Councilors Laidlaw and Donaldson on Friday:

    Good Morning, Your bus service remains broken and unacceptable. I arrived at the above stop at 11:11 am intending to travel north. The RTI indicated a bus in 11 minutes and a second in 11 mins (i.e. two buses should arrive at 11:22). A third bus was indicated as arriving at wildly varying intervals of 19 and 49 minutes later.
    A bus arrived at 11:25 and was immediately followed by a bus that showed “Not In Service”. I took the first bus which had standing room only once it had loaded passengers. There were elderly women who boarded at subsequent stops and for one of whom I, a Gold Card bearer, gave up my seat. The ride from the intersection of Old Karori Road to Glenmore Street requires flexibility of knee and leg joints if one is to stay upright through the bends. There are no overhead grips to hold, only railings which require the standing passenger to alter their grip, stance and direction to offset the inertia of the bus’ movement. I suggested to a fellow passenger that assuming a surfing posture was one possible way of overcoming the danger of a fall. This ability is not available to everyone, I’m sure you will agree.
    The impression that an extra bus was due, at the same time as the one I caught, was illusory. The indiscriminate times that were displayed for the third bus were pointless and an indication of chaotic organization. An RTI is not to be relied on.
    The bus system as it has existed from July 15 2018 is unacceptable. It is worse than what we once enjoyed. No amount of announcements from the public relations staff gives passengers any confidence. It only convinces people they are being fobbed off.
    I have already demanded that services to Karori, Northland and Wilton be restored to the standard we once enjoyed, but have been met with obstruction and excuses. Citizens of Wellington are let down by the present arrangements; we require knowledgeable people to restore the old, or design a properly functional bus system.

    Metlink replied and commiserated with me. They then told me that they had forwarded my complaint to the bus operator.
    I had to remind them that the complaint was directed at the GWRC as designer of this fiasco, and not the operator. The impression I got was that Metlink believes it acts as a clearing house for complaints to other agencies, rather than being the origin of the problem.

  6. Roy Kutel, 17. September 2018, 11:40

    Well said Peter! And take a bow for making the effort to communicate with GWRC! Yes, GWRC wants to do all the glamour bits: the routes, the timetables, the fares and employ lawyers to write 600 page contracts to enforce its power over the ‘successful’ tenderer (that GWRC determines). But any problems are due to the operator and not GWRC which employs 500 staff averaging over $80k. GWRC needs to be abolished forthwith and replaced by a Public Transport Authority responsible for buses and trains and their operation but managed by professionals with appropriate skills, and experience.

  7. Keith Flinders, 17. September 2018, 11:53

    Kerry: Very predictable. In September 2016 I attended along with another GWRC candidate a presentation put on in Karori to explain the wonderful new bus service Wellington was to get two years hence. All new buses, all buses in the same livery, drivers in designer uniforms, were the proclamations. Handed out were expensive glossy brochures showing the revamped routes, “innovative” hubs, and descriptions on how we might change our bus usage habits. The text used appeared to have been written by someone not yet mature, but then I am an aged baby boomer so out of touch.

    We, the soon to be disappointed GWRC candidates, left the meeting agreeing that major troubles loomed for bus patrons. I immediately thought of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and see the situation thus today.

    Lack of planning, lack of oversight, and no regard to the safety and comfort of bus patrons. Surely alarm bells rang in the minds of GWRC councillors and senior staff at how the same number of people were to be carried on dozens fewer bus services per week. Seemingly all were deaf.

    Peter: As one with an artificial hip, I now avoid bus travel where I can’t be assured of at least a strap to hold on to. Travelling back from Seatoun on the last service Friday night I was on one of the buses with multiple seats removed. Reminded me of the virtually no seat buses used to get passengers from the planes to the terminals at major airports, before air bridges became common place.

  8. Hmmm, 17. September 2018, 14:35

    I see the agenda has come out for Wednesday’s transport committee meeting. Check the recommendations in the review – they are all to do with implementation and not a single question about the basis for the network – the hubs. If you want a review to tell you the right answers, you need to start with the right questions. What about this for a question: is the hub and spoke method the best method for Wellington?

  9. Nora, 17. September 2018, 14:37

    Just come in from my Probus meeting and believe me the bus fiasco is top of the pops and it is to be hoped the meeting on Wednesday listens to the public and goes back to the old routine…so many of my friends cannot believe how full the buses are and the removal of so many seats, not to mention the “not in service”.

  10. Lim Leong, 17. September 2018, 15:18

    @Hmmmm. From a network design’s perspective, hub and spoke design is doomed to fail because Wellington does not have the infrastructure pre-requisites to make it work. The pre-requisites are multi lane roads, dedicated bus lanes, purpose-built hubs, excellent time keeping. Random patching of a failed hub and spoke network will only lead to more failures. In network engineering 1+1 does not equal to 3.
    In any case why do we need 8 hubs in a compact city like Wellington, forcing multiple transfers even for a short journey (< 3kms). This is pure stupidity.

  11. Paddleboarder, 17. September 2018, 18:25

    Metalink? Megastink

  12. Hmmm, 17. September 2018, 21:45

    @Lim. Yes I totally agree. My point is that the review is not asking about the process the GWRC went through to get to such a wrong decision. Feels like they’re fudging the review to me.

  13. Lim Leong, 18. September 2018, 7:48

    GWRC Councillors and Management clearly deserve to be booted out immediately. It is now a full propaganda war not dissimilar to that of North Korea’s.
    On Day 1, blame the WCC for construction of the hubs. On Day 2, blame the bus operators, On Day 3, sing the “New Normal” song. On Day 4, blame the public for being impatient with teething problems, and on it goes.
    This bus network design flaw is akin to the leaky house shambles. The architects/engineers blame the builders and the building materials suppliers. Are the builders and building materials to be blamed? Yes, to varying degrees. However, the root cause of the problems is a design which has flat roof, internal guttering, monolithic cladding etc which guarantees that water can get into the house but cannot get out causing rotting from the inside.
    Substitute GRWC’s hub and spoke network design with the leaky house debacle and you will get the picture. A leaky house is always a leaky house no matter how you patch it. When there are fundamental design flaws, more likely than not the only way to recover is to demolish and rebuild.
    Oh, by the way. Did anyone notice the new PR spin language – “The old network is no longer fit for service”. The old PR spin used to be “The old network is no longer fit for purpose”. This new PR spin language change is likely due to GWRC’s realisation that the new network is actually not fit for purpose!

  14. Jonny Utzone, 18. September 2018, 8:36

    Just listened to Paul Eagle Labour MP for Rongotai at 8.30am being interviewed by Suzy Ferguson. He didn’t seem to know anything (including what is happening to the Island Bay cycleway). The only straight answer was how he got to RNZ for the interview. He used his car!

  15. Brent Efford, 18. September 2018, 8:54

    In all modesty I should point out that ‘bustastrophe’ was invented by Dominion Post columnist Dave Armstrong – but it seems so apt that it is worth repeating.
    As is the point that it arises from our railtastrophe: Wellington being one of the very few cities in the world whose core regional rail transit spine doesn’t penetrate the regional CBD where most transport demand is located. Until we achieve that, our PT won’t even be up to a normal standard, let alone ‘world class’.
    Hub and spoke (actually, ‘hub, spoke and spine’) works just fine for the north of greater Wellington where 75% of residents live – because the spine is rail. It’s time Greater Wellington went back – not to the old bus network (impossible) but to its plans and promises of the 1990s which envisaged light rail to complete the rail spine.
    But because the GWRC no longer has the institutional smarts to achieve that sort of transformation if it can’t even get bus changes in one corner of the region right, a new Transit Authority with properly skilled leadership and staff must be part of the solution.

  16. Curtis Nixon, 18. September 2018, 13:13

    Busaster? Busaclysm? Bushap? Busageddon?
    I feel that the best versions (omnishambles and bustastrophe) have already come out.

    Apart from that it shows how unhelpful it is having a city council and a regional council managing important infrastructure like transport. Get ride of GWRC and split its powers over the other councils. They are perfectly able to combine forces when necessary to provide regional scale services along the same lines that Wellington Water operates.

  17. Dave B, 18. September 2018, 14:10

    All this makes me glad I am from the northern suburbs where our principal public transport service is the train (Johnsonville Line). By comparison, the rail system seems to have survived the regional council’s re-tendering process relatively unscathed.

    But fair to say, I have not heard any complaints about the new bus routes in our area either. This could be because they are somehow better-organised than their southern, eastern and western counterparts. Or it could just be that having the rail-service takes the pressure off the bus network so that it doesn’t have to carry the whole public-transport task, as it obviously has to in those areas where there is no rail.

  18. Angela, 18. September 2018, 15:56

    So over it taking an hour to go from Lambton Quay to Lyall Bay on the number 3 bus. Bus always over 10 mins late, then takes over 40 minutes to get to Lyall Bay. Why do we pay for this “service.” [via twitter]

  19. B. Dover, 18. September 2018, 16:50

    It’s an abusmal failure. And everything else others have said

  20. Sarah Free, 18. September 2018, 17:24

    18e was meant to be restored to full 7 day service but GWRC staff suggest it stops at 6 pm! I’ve emailed that this won’t help safety issues around late transfers, later Gold Card users, students or hospital shift workers. Some GWRC councillors appear to be listening…let’s hope. [via twitter]

  21. Paul, 18. September 2018, 17:32

    @Sarah Free, after 6pm GWRC staff are all in their cars, heading home so why would anyone need a bus?

  22. michael, 19. September 2018, 9:19

    How about China’s new plan? According to the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper, the local public transport authority is setting up a “quasi door-to-door” bus service, that will enable passengers to go online and detail what their individual needs are for a bus journey. It will focus on serving large, residential communities, with the aim of providing bus routes more catered to where there are large groups of people, rather than serving existing stops and making people sit through a pre-defined route.

  23. greenwelly, 19. September 2018, 9:59

    @Michael, Sydney has a similar scheme of “on demand” buses, (mainly small shuttles), but it’s expensive to run,

  24. Neale Jones, 20. September 2018, 9:12

    Reading Laidlaw and Donaldson‘s piece on the bustastrophe in the print edition of the DomPost. Lots of excuses: “We had no choice” ”There are so many variables” “Best-laid plans” frustrated by “unforeseen factors.” But not a single word of apology. Just resign already. [via twitter]

  25. Alan Smith, 20. September 2018, 10:00

    The Regional Council’s defence of their bus efforts in the DomPost on Tuesday says all the right PR words but deserves some analytical probing. If in fact the Council planned “the biggest change to Wellington public transport in decades” then its CEO should have ensured that the skills and manpower were in place to make it happen – it was always part of his job to anticipate major problems. If some buses don’t run because of driver absence, then why were dozens of competent drivers made redundant at the change? Where are the modern-day equivalent of the old Inspectors whose job was to be on the ground dealing with such issues? Predictably, would not starting a system which depended on transferring at hubs before any hubs were ready – and in mid winter – annoy passengers? There are indeed “many variables that don’t show up on a computer model” but which should have been obvious – like the fact that double deckers take longer to load than single deckers, or that Wellington has many narrow, steep and winding roads. Understandably, Cr Donaldson has ducked for cover about all this, but should not the Council’s Chair put someone else in place to give the needed political leadership?