Wellington Scoop

Buses, trains and time – what’s really happening


by Alex MacGibbon
You and I owe a lot to geeky people who spend their leisure time hunting down data, parsing and interpreting it, and producing insights – all in The Public Good.

Meet them at parties, and they may make you wish you’d never mentioned buses (or light rail / cycling / national rail funding / footpaths / economic evaluation manuals).

And if you’ve ever worked for a public agency that’s the subject of their interest, you may’ve been tempted to put their photo on the office dartboard as a tiny petty revenge against the hours you’ve spent fulfilling their endless LGOIMA and OIA official information requests.

Anorak of Fire

But it’s this super geek tribe who inevitably lead the charge when it comes to keeping the Establishment honest. This is typically because the rest of us simply don’t know whether the Establishment is telling us the truth. (Sure we could in theory find out for ourselves, but “ain’t nobody got time for that”. And mainstream media do their best, but in these straitened times it’s hard for them to keep abreast of all the nuts and bolts of every locally important issue – especially complex ones like transport and landuse.)

So where public officials’ or private companies’ communication about important issues is less than helpful, it’s often our geeky friends who come to the rescue with good information for us – the ignorant but interested public. Auckland’s Transportblog, now Greater Auckland, is a stellar example of the power of the independent subject-matter-experts who can cut through official comms and rose-tinting (or just silence), and call it like it is when we need to know.


We’re proud to present for you some crispy fresh statistics on our bus and train punctuality. Sadly, these haven’t been helpfully produced by Greater Wellington, committed to transparency and accountability. Maybe that will come in time.

The stats have been patiently analysed by longstanding progressive transport expert Mike Mellor, who regularly dives in to the nitty gritty data of Metlink’s network performance figures (which it should be noted, is usually reported a month late and in a very non-user friendly format.)

They make sobering reading, especially in contrast with the official rendering.

(They’ve got this cynical writer speculating that but for scrutiny like this, Greater Wellington might have tried to show improved punctuality statistics since the cancellations from recent staff shortages – a train or bus that’s cancelled can’t be late can it?)

Bus and train punctuality: stats don’t lie

Train punctuality was improving, but then started to decline.
– The ten most used bus services are becoming more reliable, but the average reliability has yet to reach target levels
– Average bus punctuality is getting worse
– NZ Bus operations are more reliable than for Tranzurban, but Tranzurban’s are much more punctual
– Routes 7, 24 and 22 are consistently unreliable
– Routes 3 and 83 are consistently unpunctual, with route 2 close behind
– The November timetable changes for routes 1, 7 and 24 did not appear to have had a great effect on performance
– The performance of routes 1, 2, 7, 21, 22 and 30x are particularly important because they are scheduled to make connections, meaning that the effects of poor performance extend across the wider network

First published today on the Talk Wellington website


  1. Andy Mellon, 5. March 2019, 20:15

    A nice card at home in the post today saying that “Bus replacement services will not stop at Ava station during upcoming trials.”
    What I really want after having to work overtime (which I don’t get paid for) to get the job done is not to be able to use the public transport I have paid for. On top of that, I will now get the opportunity to walk from Petone or Western Hutt to Ava.

    The detail on the card is as follows:
    “To improve the services, we’re trialling something new – a train from Wellington to Melling with onward bus replacement service to Upper and Lower Hutt. These new trial services will bypass Ava station.”

    Why Ava? When I’ve had to catch the rail replacement buses, there’s usually more people getting off at Ava than Petone at that time. Another experiment playing with our tolerance thresholds.

  2. Chris Baxter, 5. March 2019, 20:27

    You haven’t told us what’s really happening. Mike Mellor’s stats are a month old and don’t take into account timetable changes introduced by Metlink early February. You can’t work on historic information to give current statistics and allow this to go to print. Even Metlink is not reporting cancelled services any more.
    Your report says – stats don’t lie for bus and train punctuality. So where are the train stats – there are none. Tell us about the KPL stats, the cancellations over the last few weeks. Not to mention the unreported bus cancellations. [We have added a graph on train punctuality – apologies for its omission when the story was first published.]

  3. luke, 5. March 2019, 21:45

    the Ava anomaly should be rectified by allowing free transfer onto other metlink buses between petone & cuba st.

  4. Mike Mellor, 6. March 2019, 9:40

    Alex M, some comments:
    – the detailed comments that you quote are from an analysis I did a month ago, so are not up to date;
    – “network performance figures…usually reported a month late” is not correct. GWRC generally puts weekly reliability, punctuality and patronage data for the top ten bus routes online on the following Thursday (so last week’s should be available tomorrow), with other data on a less regular basis; and the former “very non-user friendly format” has been addressed by producing data in Excel format.

    Chris B: as noted above, the data and comments are not up to date (though they’re hardly “historic”!). My latest analysis, for the period up to the week before last (the latest data currently available) is that there has been a slight drop in reliability since the week before the 3 February changes were made (and still below target), and that punctuality in terms of departure from the first stop has improved to being just on target, but Tranzurban being worse than it was achieving pre Christmas or in mid January. What we don’t know are how the network is performing in terms of bus arrival times or connections, because no data is being published for those. Similarly, as you note, there are no train reliability stats, and the most recent train punctuality stats are for January.

    luke: what a sensible idea!

  5. Keith Flinders, 6. March 2019, 11:28

    The next report many would like to see must be the “Sardine Statistics,” detailing the overcrowding on peak hour services. I am advised that there are still lack-of-capacity issues with the 2 route both east and west from the CBD; other routes may also be having capacity issues.

    I stopped using the 2 during the evening peak, as holding on to handrails as bus drivers tried to keep to unrealistic timetables and hurtled around bends towards Karori, had me concerned for the safety of my 72 year old frame. I note that the Donaldson cattle class buses are still on route 2 with seats removed.

  6. Mike Mellor, 6. March 2019, 19:22

    Last week’s reliability and punctuality figures for the top-ten bus routes are now available at https://www.metlink.org.nz/on-our-way/measuring-progress-on-improvements-to-the-bus-network/
    A quick update: average reliability (whether a bus runs) fell slightly so that it’s only just on target, and average punctuality (on time is when the bus leaves its origin between one minute early and five minutes late – data about lateness en route is not published) fell too, but still on target.
    Reliability is worse than immediately before the 3 February changes; punctuality better, running at the same level as before Christmas.

  7. moss, 7. March 2019, 10:42

    Thanks Mike; actual analysis is more interesting and useful to me than Alex’s pontificating.

  8. Paul Clutterbuck, 8. March 2019, 21:53

    @Benny: I would like to remind you for future commenting that the alternative to electric is diesel, not petrol.

    @Keith et al: I am still waiting to hear from Daran Ponter why articulated buses were ruled out on routes that use the Karori tunnel, including the #2. Unless the height of the tunnel can be increased to at least 4.5 m across a width of approx 6 m, bendy buses seem to me the best option.

    @Keith, what you call “Donaldson cattle class” is in fact standard for accessible urban buses and rail vehicles in most countries. Directive 2001/85/EC of the European Commission, and Regulation 107 of the UN Economic Commission for Europe, both refer to it as Class I (the layout we are more used to here is Class II, and non-accessible seating-only layouts are Class III). Admittedly, Class I isn’t safe for some of us (myself included), but it does have the highest capacity.

  9. Keith Flinders, 9. March 2019, 12:18

    Paul Clutterbuck: Former GWRC councillor Paul Bruce was involved in a study of bendi-buses for use in Wellington. As I recall one of the negative aspects of using them on our narrow roads and tight corners was that when turning they could knock cyclists, unseen by the bus drivers, off their bikes. The trailing section of a bendi-bus doesn’t always follow the same exact turning arc as the front section.

    I’m sure that Paul would share his findings if asked.

    Thankyou for the EU bus seating directives information. I’m not sure that the EU would approve of Class 1 buses, packed with more people than the carrying capacity that faded notices some NZ Bus vehicles state. All public transport buses should have clear notices displaying the max number of passengers permitted.

    I expect that it will take an accident involving serious injury before anything is done about the overcrowding on route 2.

  10. Dave B, 9. March 2019, 15:50

    If Melling becomes a train-bus transfer point during Hutt Valley Line bus-replacements, perhaps the answer for Ava is a minibus shuttle between Melling and Ava like the present one between Ngaio and Crofton Downs when the Johnsonville Line is bus-replaced.

  11. Justin Lester, 11. March 2019, 23:19

    Buses are the city’s and my biggest issue right now. It’s hugely frustrating, but we don’t hold the contracts or the staff to make changes. That’s the reality and no amount of advocacy, complaining or criticism by me changes that. GWRC has to do it. [via twitter]

  12. Andrew, 12. March 2019, 6:45

    That’s the thing Justin. Looking from the outside it appears you used those reasons to sit on your hands during the trolley debacle and the current bus issues. As a Wellington resident I think we deserve someone who will get their hands wet.

  13. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 12. March 2019, 9:59

    God we’ve tried. The Mayor, city councillors & senior WCC staff have had innumerable meetings with GWRC councillors & senior staff. We’ve had presentations, face-to-face discussions, email correspondence. We’ve offered help and support. But in the end, only GWRC can do GWRC’s job. [via twitter]

  14. Andrew Mahoney, 12. March 2019, 10:01

    If this were a company, these levels of failure & incompetence would not be tolerated & Chris would be forced to step down. But such are councils & regional councils these days, that incompetence gets rewarded. This is not the message as a country we should stand by. [via twitter]

  15. michael, 12. March 2019, 11:27

    Andrew, don’t forget . . . it is election year, so from now on we can expect all our elected representatives to start responding to our concerns and trying to convince us they are listening and doing something about it. Up to us if we fall for it.

  16. NigelTwo, 12. March 2019, 15:10

    @JustinL You state “buses are the city’s and my biggest issue right now.”
    Yeah. In an election year the biggest issue for all the politicians is make sure that that there is no mud on them from the bus disaster. So just keep pointing out it’s all the GWRC’s fault.
    The WCC is a big and powerful lobby group in this situation, yet it is looking quite lame.

  17. Justin Lester, 12. March 2019, 23:33

    I met with GWRC again this morning and have conveyed my frustrations and those of commuters. They accept and acknowledge the problems. There are between 20-30 services being cancelled each day. I agree – it’s not good enough. [via twitter]

  18. Dave Dustin, 13. March 2019, 8:36

    There are kids being left in the rain waiting for buses that don’t turn up, with no notifications, and no alternate options other than being late or completely missing school. [via twitter]

  19. Tony Jansen, 13. March 2019, 9:26

    And here’s me thinking the free market was the most efficient way to deliver public goods……
    Oh for a pearl of wisdom from Steven Joyce or Simon Bridges about now.
    Of course none of this is ideologically driven. Yeah right!

  20. michael, 13. March 2019, 9:30

    All very well to finally join in with the public to convey your frustrations Justin but, as Mayor of Wellington, what are you going to do about it?

  21. John Rankin, 13. March 2019, 10:04

    @TonyJansen: “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten” — Benjamin Franklin.

    Wellington seems to be stuck in a Triangle of Frustration with no obvious way out. As Tania Wegwitz explains:

    – Transit customers always want more frequency and more consistency, which requires either more system resources (which may or not be possible given available funding) or may wind up impacting the buffer time that keeps a system reliable.
    – A reliable system (and happier drivers) means building in more buffer time into trip running times (as the vehicle goes from point A to B) and recovery time at the end of trips. However, doing this requires either more system resources or – if funding is constrained – reducing trip frequency or consistency for customers to find and reallocate the time necessary.
    – Transit system funders always want as much service as possible for their investment and there are limits to the number of vehicles and hours available in each system. And if a system is constrained in resources while ridership and traffic congestion grows, then customer trips or service reliability will be impacted.

    What we see in Wellington is the inevitable result of under-funding. Unless we invest more in public transport, we are just rearranging the deck chairs.

  22. michael, 14. March 2019, 15:24

    Would you believe I have just been standing on the corner of Lambton Quay and Whitmore street waiting at the lights and FOUR buses with “not in service” were waiting at the lights. One can only assume they were coming from one destination and going across town empty to start somewhere else?? Great scheduling if this is the case.
    Unless “Not in Service” is a new suburb in Wellington??