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A bad week for our “greater” council

by Lindsay Shelton
It’s been a bad week for the Regional Council. (The one that refers to itself as “Greater Wellington.”) It had to deal with scores of unplanned bus cancellations, and there was derision at its request to be told what’s wrong with its bus services. Then came its announcement that it was increasing the rates by 6.5 per cent, which was quickly followed by the discovery of something it had chosen not to mention: for Wellington city the increase was to be much more than that.

Much much more. If you had the time and the patience to read the 144 page agenda for this week’s meeting, you discovered a table which revealed that the rates increases in Wellington were planned to be more than 16 per cent.

Hard to reconcile that proposal with the later statement from chair Chris Laidlaw who said “It’s been our consistent position that we must minimise the impact of rates on regional ratepayers.” Perhaps he overlooked the 16 per cent in the 144 pages of information.

Consistent or not, councillors yesterday refused to accept the rates proposal including Wellington’s 16 per cent. It was sent back to the drawing board, and they’ll be given a new rates plan to look at next month. No doubt with a reminder from Chris Laidlaw about minimising the impact on ratepayers.

The “need to know” request came from the council’s transport committee chair Barbara Donaldson, who has been barely visible during the months of disruptions since the council reorganised Wellington’s buses last year. She announced more public consultation – “an opportunity to engage in a meaningful way … that gives the community a range of options to work through and prioritise.”

It was a puzzling request from the person who’s supposed to be in charge of the council’s transport plans – and whose Metlink staff have been receiving, and no doubt logging, hundreds of complaints from bus travellers, specifying every detail of the continuing frustrating failures. There was a most reasonable response from Kara Lipski, one of our readers:

Wellington bus users have been telling the Regional Council what we think of the bus system since July last year. When will they actually listen? And when will they act on what we have asked for?

And from another reader:

They consulted for 8 YEARS setting up this shambles, and they have had comprehensive feedback for the past 8 months, what more do they need?

As for the cancellations. Here’s a summary of the week from Roger Blakeley, who (with Daran Ponter) is one of the few regional councillors who gets involved with the bus problems:

But there’s more to come – planned or unplanned, and whether they’re called suspensions (how do you suspend a bus?) or cancellations, there’s no difference in what is continuing to happen.

And let’s not forget the chief executive’s performance review, that’s being carried out this week. As a reader relevantly noted:

how did the CEO go with personally fixing the bus problems before Christmas? A “Not Achieved” for that section of the review.

(A reminder that in September last year Greg Campbell announced he was taking over direct leadership of the troubled bus network for three months, and “we will solve the problems.“ As everyone knows, the problems have not been solved.)

7 comments:

  1. James S, 22. March 2019, 9:45

    Great article, thank you. And don’t forget this is the same council that wanted to abolish all the city and district councils in the region, and establishing a super-city. Fortunately that plan ended up on the scrap heap.

     
  2. David Mackenzie, 22. March 2019, 10:45

    Unfortunately, the GWRC has already ruled out considering the only valid solution to the bus problem, viz. to return to a similar set of routes and timetables as before July (with some minor modifications and improvements), supplied by a single company, using up to 60 low emissions trolley-buses on suitable routes. The cannot easily bring the trolley buses back. But surely they can fix the rest.
    As Kara (cited in the article above) noted, they have enough information to act.
    I guess further consultation will be a face-saving exercise, and a chance to blame any further difficulties on any changes that result from it.

     
  3. Traveller, 22. March 2019, 12:04

    I think they should give up their grandiose claim about being “greater.”

     
  4. Michael Gibson, 22. March 2019, 20:08

    “Perhaps he overlooked the 16 per cent in the 144 pages of information.”
    This is a pretty astute guess about my friend Chris Laidlaw.

     
  5. Northland, 22. March 2019, 21:54

    If they really need to consult, they should just spend a week visiting the various bus stops and talking to the beleaguered commuters. Far quicker and more effective.

    GWRC should ditch the hub and spoke model as soon as possible, and revert back to the service as it stood before July. And then issue an apology to the general public for wasting everyone’s time and money.

     
  6. Alana, 25. March 2019, 13:03

    A great summary of the many problems with Regional Councillors, CEO, and staff.
    For consultation, councillors could stand outside Unity Books, outside the hospital, or around the schools for accurate feedback from bus users – rather than asking bus riders to make another effort to contact THEM.

     
  7. greywarbler, 25. March 2019, 14:30

    Don’t ask for heaven and earth to be moved for a real bus service. Northland says GWRC should ditch the hub and spoke model as soon as possible, and revert back to the service as it stood before July. That first is what is needed yesterday.
    And then issue an apology to the general public for wasting everyone’s time and money. Just settle for a quick change, with compensation to the contracted bus company. It will be costly but if the planning has gone on for eight years, and the authorities could afford that, then they can afford to bring in the massive clean-up program that’s required. Wellington is going to get a rise in rates, even after re-drawing the figures downward, you hope. So what are a few more millions to get a workable bus service for your needs.

    But you may like to carry through and put a bill through parliament so there is no demand for councils buying-in services from private operators as at present. Just let the Council run it and compare them with similar cities’ services overseas as a means of evaluating their efficiency and effectiveness.