Wellington Scoop

US consultant says bus problems are not his fault

Report from RNZ
The American transport consultant behind Wellington’s new bus network blames the capital’s bus chaos on the implementation not the design.

In July, Wairarapa bus company Transit took over the contract for half of Wellington city’s bus routes, which was also when the city’s bus routes changed. Since then, commuters have vented frustrations about overloaded buses and buses not stopping because they were too full.

Consultant Jarrett Walker told RNZ the system does work but Wellington’s implementation was flawed and caused the problems faced by passengers.

“It does work, however, there are many, many things that can go wrong and it sounds like some of them are going wrong in Wellington,” Mr Walker said. “If I were in Wellington living through this right now I’m sure I would be as furious as many as the customers are.”

The sign-up of a new bus operator only added to the problems from the execution of the new plans, Mr Walker said.

“All sorts of things have gone wrong at the same time, which is why you can’t really judge the network design based on the unfortunate things that are happening around the implementation.”

Regional Council chairman Chris Laidlaw last month said the council wouldn’t have done anything differently in its implementation of the city’s new bus services. “The process was correct. There were some unique things that we had to deal with, one of them was a driver shortage, one of them was a large change in tender provision that was not a natural outcome but what the process drove,” Mr Laidlaw said. “It gave us a combination of events to manage with and we’ve just managed them as best we can.”

Since the changes, bus passengers have also frequently complained about “hubbing” – which requires users to make multiple bus changes to complete their journey.

Mr Walker said he last worked on the network plans six years ago, and it was the original hubbing scheme that he defended.

“I can tell you how it should work is that connections should be fast, they should be timed so that you wait only a few minutes at a connection point, and that’s certainly what we intended when we designed the network.

However, he did acknowledge that not everyone would view the hubbing model as an improvement from the old network.

Wellington’s constrained paths and original bus problems were what triggered the development of the new system, he said.

“We make an argument about where this needs to be done… in that particular geography it made sense that we could not run a direct bus service from everywhere from every bus stop in the city.”

The council said it was looking at a review over the next eight weeks to figure out what could be done to manage passengers’ concerns and fix parts of the network that were not working for commuters.

“Doing nothing would be even worse” – Jarrett Walker duration 4:40 from Morning Report – click the link to play audio (or right-click to download) in MP3 format


  1. Michael Gibson, 8. October 2018, 12:47

    It is incredible that the Council told the Parliamentary Select Committee that the new system “only” required five per cent of journeys to involve transfers and that this was little more than the four per cent under the old system. Who is fooling whom?

  2. Victor Davie, 8. October 2018, 13:01

    Jarrett Walker should apologise to all Wellingtonians for designing this ridiculous transport system. There was absolutely nothing wrong with it before, and scrapping the trolleys without public consultation is another GWRC blunder.

  3. Manny, 8. October 2018, 15:33

    It is both the consultants’ design plans and the council to blame. Council for consulting with a US consultant, for agreeing to it, for ignoring public input, for poorly implementing it, for pulling down the trolley lines and for fleets of diesel buses etc. Lots of big mistakes made by the council and their hired consultants and what are they doing – running around pointing fingers.

  4. Mandy R. Davis, 8. October 2018, 15:49

    He would say that wouldn’t he.

  5. Curtis Nixon, 8. October 2018, 16:34

    All the things wrong with GRWC and Jarrett Walker’s position:
    “I can tell you how it should work is that connections should be fast, they should be timed so that you wait only a few minutes at a connection point, and that’s certainly what we intended when we designed the network.”
    Any statement from a transport planner that contains the word ‘should’ is suspect. His sentence uses three ‘shoulds’. Unbelievable!
    “Wellington’s constrained paths and original bus problems were what triggered the development of the new system, he said.
    We make an argument about where this needs to be done… in that particular geography it made sense that we could not run a direct bus service from everywhere from every bus stop in the city.”

    No city’s bus service runs a direct service from every bus stop to everywhere, that is a specious, straw man argument. Wellington’s geography, trip distances, tunnels, bottlenecks, the Golden 1.6 kilometre; is less suitable for hubbing because hubbing relies on services being frequent and on time, whereas Wellington’s geography precludes those conditions. Walker wants to defend his design with the flawed hubbing so he blames the implementation of the bus changes which is a sop designed to distract us from his design failure.
    GWRC has its own straw man argument – “it’s not the implementation -“the process was correct” cries Chris. No Chris, to be correct NZ Bus drivers would have been included as vulnerable workers under the ERA. That may have made Tranzit’s business case more marginal, and their subsequent tender higher, whereby GWRC wouldn’t have been compelled to swing towards Tranzit and away from NZ Bus.

  6. Gary Froggatt, 8. October 2018, 20:11

    New company Tranzit and owners Snelgroves had 9 months to prepare for taking over the new routes, hiring and training drivers and checking the timetables to see if they were going to work or not. They did nothing until the last minute then blamed other factors and everyone except themselves. Greg Campbell, Barbara Donaldson, Chris Laidlaw and Wayne Hastie did not make sure the timetables were going to work and did not follow to see if Tranzit knew what they had to do. Now they want to blame the drivers and the Unions.

  7. Chris Baxter, 8. October 2018, 20:40

    Gary Froggatt. I’m curious. Did you get a knock back with employment with Tranzit?

  8. Andrew Bartlett, 8. October 2018, 22:03

    Gary, If the problem was all Tranzit, why did GWRC say in the submissison to the select committee that it was even more the Go Wellington services that were causing difficulty.
    “NZ Bus was contracted to operate 43% of services in Wellington City and GWRC had been given continued assurance that it had sufficient drivers and vehicles to deliver the required services from day one. NZ Bus has subsequently advised GWRC that it commenced the new contracts with a staffing contingent lower than desired.”
    “From a Programme and risk management perspective, Council believes that interventions were made as quickly and effectively as possible under the circumstances. One risk management failure is acknowledged. Council’s risk management assessed that the incumbent operator (directly appointed and running 43% of Wellington City routes) would perform to a high standard and early on. However, performance today is still not to the required level.”
    If your thesis is to hold, there would be evidence with Tranzit routes in difficulty and Go Wellington routes holding strong. Perhaps even “a tale of two operators”. On the contrary, the complaint data (3.7 Customer feedback, Figure 6: Top 5 routes by complaints) seems pretty even by operator, with 1 + 7 (tranzit I understand) perhaps even less complained about than 2 + 3 (NZ Bus)

    More broadly, and rhetorically: Did NZ Bus offer (or were they required under their agreement to provide) too many redundancy packages? Were the experienced hands that would make such a transition smooth let go? What was NZ Bus doing in the preparatory period? I ask this not because I’m against the drivers or NZ Bus, but the press has all been one-way, and it feels like there is more to tell here. While it may well be that workers would be much better off (financially and in their work/life balance) with the conditions enjoyed at NZ Bus, the end customer doesn’t seem to be seeing that. That in turn makes it hard to argue that doing the right thing by the drivers, while very reasonable to argue on moral grounds, will make any difference to the bus network performance.

  9. Gary Froggatt, 9. October 2018, 7:52

    NZ Bus employed 400 bus drivers prior to PTOM and the redesign.They now know they let too many drivers go. However my point is that Greg Campbell and Wayne Hastie along with Chris Laidlaw and Barbara Donaldson did not follow through and make sure all the bus companies knew what was going to happen on opening day. There appears to have been no trialing of the new routes and timetables, the bus hubs were not ready, passenger feedback was not listened to, capacity not correctly calculated, the bus drivers were not consulted, public and union submissions were ignored and the bus and route infrastructure was insufficent to meet demand.
    Yes, NZ Bus probably hasn’t performed as well as expected but council officers and staff failed to check and recheck that the bus companies were ready to go. The GWRC is financed and owned by the ratepayers. We expect better. Local communities are forming action groups and are working to change their elected representatives and others who have failed to perform.

  10. Farmer Bill, 9. October 2018, 8:12

    A good hub would be a road/rail logging hub near Featherston so that all the logging trucks trudging over the Remutaka Hill can be put on a train! Do we need an overseas consultant to tell GWRC this bleedingly obvious fact or can Kiwi Rail and the forestry owners just build it for us and make some money at the same time?

  11. greenwelly, 9. October 2018, 11:12

    @Farmer Bill. There is already a large road rail log hub at Waingawa, and it is constrained by a lack of additional log wagons, so another one would not really help much. However extra storage yards at the Wellington port should allow more stockpiling there, reducing the JIT requirements.

  12. Farmer Bill, 9. October 2018, 12:01

    Green Welly Thanks but I know there is a road/rail terminal at Waingawa as I get stuff from suppliers along the log siding. What is needed is the same thing near Featherston since there are as many trees being chopped down in the Martinborough forest area. I think there is one planned for Carterton too. The powers at be just need to get one with and get log trucks off the roads!