Wellington Scoop

The buses: don’t look back

by Lindsay Shelton
With only two days till the local election results are announced, the Regional Council has congratulated itself on a year of “challenge and success.” But it chooses its words evasively when it describes its bustastrophe, looking hopefully ahead and referring instead to a “future focussed bus network.”

A press release from outgoing chair Chris Laidlaw spends most of its energy describing its efforts to fight climate change and pests, to boost flood protection, to develop a natural resources plan and a biodiversity network and a regional investment plan, and to build “a more resilient infrastructure.”

It is pleased with the number of trees that it has planted (with help from others) and it notes that it now has three committees caring for clean water.

But Chris Laidlaw says that such a solid performance has been “obscured with the problems associated with the bus services in Wellington city.”

“The launch of the region’s new bus network, a complex and ambitious challenge, didn’t go as smoothly as we had hoped,” says Cr Laidlaw. “For a variety of reasons we were unable to meet many of our performance targets. But to the council’s credit we quickly acknowledged the issues confronting the network – some of which were outside our control – and worked face to face with the community and stakeholders to resolve problems and adjust services to meet needs.”

Not a word of sympathy for unhappy bus travellers. Instead, he makes it all seem to have been inevitable:

“Overhauling an increasingly out-of-date network was never going to proceed without issues. Difficult though the experience was, we believe we have rebalanced the network to align with regional growth and demand. Time will show that we are on the right course for Wellington.”

Bus travellers on malperforming routes may well observe that time has not yet shown them that things are on the right course.

But everyone who has voted (you’ve still got time…) will be anticipating that new leadership at the regional council may at last signal that bus services will be getting better.


  1. Ms Green, 10. October 2019, 20:30

    Who writes the ridiculous media statements that come out of the Regional Council? For me this has been another aspect of the bus fiasco. This one is no better and like many others has poorly served Cr Laidlaw and the Council and the public.

  2. Wellington Commuter, 10. October 2019, 23:21

    This attitude from Chris Laidlaw that the Wellington bus changes were medicine we all had to take is further emphasised in his Forward to the Annual Plan:
    “Difficult though the experience was, I am confident that we are on course to do the right thing for Wellington and frankly, with some modification, we would do it again.” Council Meeting Agenda page 22. No mention about why the GWRC did not proceed with the basic infrastructure needed to support the new hub-and-spoke design, such as building bus lanes, even though there was millions of dollars in their own Regional Transport Plan.

    People should remember Chris Laidlaw as the boasting GWRC Chair from the announcement in May 2017 that Transit had won the new bus contracts including:
    “Regional Council chair Chris Laidlaw says the decision is great news for Wellingtonians with significant benefits for ratepayers, taxpayers and bus users… The outcome of the tender is expected to reduce operating costs by several million dollars a year, paving the way for new public transport initiatives such as fare discounts.”

    But the most disappointing element of his last press release is his continued denial that the GWRC got it wrong with both the new bus network design and the awarding of the PTOM bus contracts. We can all only hope that the new Chair of the GWRC will do better than Cr Laidlaw.

  3. Alan, 11. October 2019, 8:27

    Ms Green: The answer to your question is of course “Spin Doctors”. People who have got some sort of media studies piece of paper at a university and then are employed by the likes of large businesses and government organisations to write tripe in the finest weasel words they can construct that they expect the public to believe. One wonders if Cr Laidlaw will now go seeking some other board to sit on?

  4. Ellen, 11. October 2019, 8:38

    This is the attitude that played a key part in bustastrophe! Laidlaw says they acknowledged the problem quickly. But his regional council denied the problem for months and were not prepared for the issues. And second, Wellington buses are for Wellington passengers not for regional growth or demand! But only a few regional councillors are bothered about Wellington issues, not where their voters come from. This was not an issue in the Hutt or on the coast.

  5. Derek G., 11. October 2019, 8:52

    George Orwell would not be surprised!

  6. David Mackenzie, 11. October 2019, 9:39

    They have replaced a relatively cheap, effective service with an inefficient mess and called it the emperor’s new clothes.

  7. Roy Kutel, 11. October 2019, 12:46

    Its time to abolish the GWRC and replace with a Public Transport Authority with political representation from city and district councils. Save a level of government!

  8. Curtis Nixon, 11. October 2019, 16:13

    Yes Roy, that’s what my application to the Local Government Commission asks – abolish GWRC. If you agree please sign my petition in support: http://chng.it/BTPnhd9Q

  9. Neil Douglas, 11. October 2019, 17:47

    Curtis – well done on your survey – I’ve signed it.

  10. Dave B, 11. October 2019, 18:07

    I’m not so sure that we need to abolish the GWRC. It worked OK in the past. It is a particular crop of leadersrecently who have let us down. Some new personalities with new skills and some fresh vision might be all that is needed to turn things around. Total reorganization like major heart surgery takes a long time to recover from.

  11. Ross Clark, 11. October 2019, 22:10

    One option with the GWRC would be to move responsibility for organising local bus services back to local councils, as is done in some non-metropolitan regions. So Wellington City would manage its bus services, as would the other local councils – given that there are not many tendered bus services which cross council boundaries. The regional council would remain responsible for rail, which does need to be planned on a cross-council basis.

  12. Curtis Nixon, 12. October 2019, 12:01

    Ross – I still think that we need a cross-council transport agency. But it needs to be under the direct control of its stakeholder councils. It is obvious to me that the indirect governance structure we currently have is leading to the dis-functionality. And now that Wellington Water has subcontracted the operation of its sewerage plants to multinational Veolia they are showing that they are redundant and councils could contract directly to Veolia and cut out the other levels.

  13. Ms Green, 22. October 2019, 20:59

    Do we have a Regional Council? They seem to have quickly reverted to their bad old way … invisibility. Have they fixed the buses yet? Waiting waiting….

  14. Dave B, 22. October 2019, 22:43

    They are still finding their feet Ms Green. Don’t panic.

  15. Ms Green, 23. October 2019, 9:54

    Oh no Dave B-excuses excuses…the entity has had its feet under the table since 1980, and reformed in 1989.
    Four of the elected councillors said they would fix the buses, the other said she would look at the contract.
    Two have had their feet under the desk for years….why can’t they find them?
    Meantime…we are going to build a tunnel because they can’t fix the buses? Especially in the Eastern Suburbs! Really???

  16. Dave B, 24. October 2019, 19:34

    Daran Ponter and Roger Blakely are the two re-elected GW councillors from Wellington, and they have both been on council for one term only. They were not there when the decision to scrap the trolleybuses was made, nor when the seeds of the bustastrophe were sown. They did their best to remain visible and helpful as the disaster unfolded, unlike the other incumbents who have since resigned or been booted out. With these two, plus a crop of fresh faces, there is the opportunity to draw a line under the shambles of the past and start charting a course in a more-intelligent direction. We need to give this new team time to get up to speed and prove their worth. I am optimistic that things will improve, now that the old-order has gone.

  17. Michael Gibson, 25. October 2019, 7:19

    At a fairly recent meeting I was most appreciative of Roger Blakeley’s reception of a “Lower Fares” policy.
    He knows that more buses and more frequent and reliable buses are needed if such a policy is implemented and that this will help counter the awful increase in car traffic we have had since July 15 last year.
    Keep it up, Roger!