Wellington Scoop

They’ve got a plan to make buses quicker and more reliable, with 8 “priority corridors”

News from WCC
A plan to make buses more reliable and quicker on the busiest routes in Wellington City has been released today. It names eight priority bus corridors for improvements and estimates that, with a programme of long-term investment, bus journey times on some key routes could be reduced by up to a third in the morning peak.

The programme would include improvements such as more bus lanes, and changes to bus stops and intersections on key routes.

Mayor Andy Foster says bus priority will help deal with the bottlenecks that undermine our city bus service’s reliability and efficiency. It is about getting buses past and to the front of traffic queues.

“Obviously we will be focusing on the areas where we know the buses are significantly delayed. Technology now gives us excellent information about where and when major delay occurs. Reliability is key to making the bus service more attractive.”

Chair of the Regional Council Daran Ponter says reliability is the holy grail of public transport. A strong partnership with Wellington City Council focussed on delivering bus priority, as part of the Let’s Get Wellington Moving programme, will go a long way to delivering it.

“Operators tell us that no two days in our city are the same and that drivers are locked in a constant battle against the city’s layout as they try to get from one side to the other.

“Bus prioritisation is important. For more impact we need a broader package of changes to road layouts, the spacing between bus stops, bus priority at traffic lights, and making room for buses at the kerbside. These will make a big difference to making buses more reliable in Wellington City.”

Deputy Mayor Sarah Free says: “Some of the straightforward improvements are underway, including making it easier for buses to pull in and out of bus stops by trimming trees and changing road markings. More significant changes – such as alterations to intersections, bus lanes and bus stops – will take a bit longer to be put in place because we want to hear from the public on many of these proposals before making changes.”

The Bus Priority Action Plan was commissioned by the City Council and the Regional Council earlier this year.

The eight priority bus corridors identified for improvements in the plan are:

· Johnsonville to Ngauranga Gorge

· Karori to city

· Kelburn to city

· Brooklyn to city

· Newtown/Mount Cook to city

· Miramar/Kilbirnie/Mount Victoria to city

· Miramar/Kilbirnie to Newtown

· Newtown/Mount Cook to city.

Chair Ponter says: “Last year we took Greater Wellington and City Councillors and public transport and community advocates on a double-decker tour across the city so they could experience first-hand what drivers were up against. This proved a catalyst for this great programme of work and we will continue to work with our partners and the community to realise this work.”

Both councils will be asked to agree that bus priority improvements will be part of Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) – a joint initiative between the two councils and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency focused on moving more people with fewer vehicles.

This is because much of the work will be funded and delivered through LGWM’s City Streets package which will deliver improvements to bus priority, alongside improvements for people walking and on bikes, on key routes into and through the city. LGWM will seek feedback from the public in the new year to inform design of the improvements.

Mayor Foster says: “We are taking a whole-of-streets approach and will look to include improving conditions for walking and cycling, and improving the local urban environment.”

The councils will vote on the endorsing the direction of the Bus Priority Action Plan at their meetings on 12 December.

The joint council Bus Priority Action Plan is separate from, but closely aligned with, the GWRC Bus Network Review report that will also be considered by GWRC on 12 December.


· 70,000 bus trips every day in Wellington (nearly a third are for education).

· Buses often take twice as long as cars for the same journey.

· About 97% of Wellingtonians live within easy walking distance of a bus stop (400m) but just 37% of people travelling to the central city in the morning peak use the bus.


  1. Ross Clark, 5. December 2019, 22:40

    This is so overdue … with a decent bus priority system, public transport works much, much better – and this would also help restore some time-competitiveness with the private car.

  2. Mark J, 5. December 2019, 23:45

    When a car is faster, even when factoring in finding parking then something is wrong. The buses need to be faster, with consistent journey times and reliability. The only way to do this is to make sure they have proper priority. Making space for people on bikes and scooters so they’re able to ride safely and not hold up buses would help too.

  3. Casey, 6. December 2019, 7:24

    I am looking forward to reading the details as to how the plans will perhaps get the buses moving faster at peak times. However the proof will be in the implementation of these schemes which one hopes have been compiled using transport planning engineers rather than the suck it and see trials of the very recent past.

    Growing public transport potential and demand has to see mass transit implemented – as adding yet more buses to the confined number of streets which make up Wellington’s CBD is not an option no matter what the mayor thinks. The sheer number of buses, and the dwell times of the double decker ones, are the main cause of congestion.

  4. Ralf, 6. December 2019, 8:16

    On one hand I am surprised there is movement. On the other hand when reading this release it is kind of shockingly low on information. The identified bus corridors could have been identified by secondary school kids (perhaps even primary school kids) and the only concrete thing in there is that there will be a consultation phase sometime.

    Also note that they identified “8” corridors, list “8” corridors, but “Newtown/Mount Cook to city” is twice in the list, so there are only 7 unique corridors.

  5. Kelly M, 6. December 2019, 9:05

    If it takes longer by bus it is because buses are always stopping – that is why they take so long. It’s not the spacing between bus stops that effect reliability. Most people in cars will give way to buses pulling out into traffic so there is no delay there.

  6. Chris Horne, 6. December 2019, 9:20

    The “B” bus-priority traffic lights at bus stops – e.g., those on Lambton Quay at Brandon St, and those in Courtenay Place at the St James Theatre and Reading Cinema sites – are excellent. What we now must have to prioritise the movement of our buses is “bus traffic-light pre-emption”. This enables buses approaching traffic lights which are RED to change them to GREEN. This requires buses to be fitted with traffic-light pre-emption equipment, and the traffic-light signal boxes to be similarly equipped. Thus fitted, our buses would no longer be delayed by cars flowing down Taranaki St across the Courtenay Place/Manners Street Golden Mile intersection, and by cars descending Boulcott St across the Manners St/Willis St Golden Mile intersection.

    Private and company cars must be banned from Willis St between Manners St and Lambton Quay. Later, Waring Taylor St, Johnston St, Brandon St and Panama St should be closed to private and company car access to and from Lambton Quay.

  7. James F, 6. December 2019, 10:21

    That’s a terrible idea Chris. Its not a city where the unreliable bus system is the only way people are getting to work.

  8. James, 6. December 2019, 10:21

    Two easy ideas:
    (1) get rid of cash fares completely – Snapper only would really speed up boarding.
    (2) more education on car drivers so they let the buses pull out straight away. Even ‘please let the bus pull out’ notices on the back of the bus would help. But the drivers also need to indicate clearly when they are ready to leave the stop.

  9. Kay W, 6. December 2019, 11:03

    James it’s not payment options that are problematic . And I’ve been ripped off by the snapper card more times than I can remember, telling me I went further than I did. So snapper for me was a problem. Paying cash does not slow down the buses.

  10. Brendan, 6. December 2019, 11:08

    I’d ban diesel buses from the Golden Mile. Buses are worse than cars in terms of emissions and noise. It would be healthier for everybody if people had to walk between Courtenay Place and the railway station.

  11. Catlin Makery, 6. December 2019, 11:40

    But everybody can’t walk Brendan. I agree though that it is insane for the Council to buy fleets of diesel buses, run the management of the bus system poorly, then talk about giving diesel buses “priority” + banning cars.

  12. Marion Leader, 6. December 2019, 11:54

    Brendan, that is an excellent idea. Surely the City Council has the power to do this. I am fed up with their saying it’s all somebody else’s fault when they could do something about the smelly and very noisy old buses which the operators seem to like so much and which should be forbidden on our roads.

  13. Catlin Makery, 6. December 2019, 12:50

    Then eight express bus routes are needed, no stops = faster buses.

  14. Guy M, 6. December 2019, 13:07

    I’m thinking that the Johnsonville to Ngauranga corridor must be already there? Just a short stone’s throw from one to the other? Or are they planning on installing a bus-lane all the way up and down Ngauranga Gorge? Surely not?!? We already have a public transport route that does that, called a train…. So, is that another one we can cross off the list already?

  15. luke, 7. December 2019, 0:54

    I’ve thought for years a peak time buslane between the Botanic Garden and Bowen St (say 7 to 9am) would speed up a good number of buses and make them more competitive with single occupant cars. Removing carparking on key arterials would do wonders for traffic congestion. Ban cash fares, they slow buses down no end.

  16. Sarah Free, 12. December 2019, 17:31

    Happy the Bus Priority paper was endorsed by both ourselves and GWRC! Thanks to colleagues for supporting an amendment by myself/Cr Rush to get improvements on the Seatoun-City corridor considered for high priority. A tunnel will take years but bus priority can be much sooner! [via twitter]

  17. Dave B, 12. December 2019, 20:10

    Unfortunately Guy, the Johnsonville train suffers from the problem that it takes far longer than the bus. Wellington-Johnsonville by train is timetabled at 23 minutes (and this can stretch out to 28 minutes before it is officially counted as “late”). The bus is timetabled at 14-15 mins (most of the time) and 18-19 mins (peak).

    The galling thing is that for decades with the old English Electric trains, Wellington to Johnsonville was timetabled at 21 minutes. When the EE units were replaced by the more-powerful “Matangis” there were promises of faster journeys, but what eventuated was a slower service than before. The reasons for this are complex and varied, but the crux of the matter is that only punctuality is incentivized in the train-operating contracts. Journey-times are not. There is a view out there that passengers don’t mind if a train takes ages as long as it’s on time. I suggest that the time-disparity between bus and train to Johnsonville overwhelms this theory.

    The Johnsonville line could be significantly speeded up by a variety of small improvements, both technical and operational, saving a few seconds here and a few seconds there, which could add up to minutes. But no-one seems interested in doing this. Because most trains do not exceed 5 minutes late, the line’s performance is considered “excellent”, and therefore “nothing needs to be done”. Meanwhile, its patronage continues to bleed away at a time when the other rail lines are booming.
    I fear the day may come when a future Laidlaw or Swain will decide that the Johnsonville Line is not worth keeping and rip it out just like the trolleybuses. But this threat could be substantially avoided if action is taken now.

    Of course the boost the line really needs is to be extended, along with all the other lines, through the city and beyond. But that’s another story.

  18. Guy M, 13. December 2019, 9:49

    Dave B – would that 23 minute travel time be due mainly to the fact that most of the line is one track, and thus only possible for one train at a time? I was out there yesterday at Mitre 10 on Churchill Drive – surely the most bucolic station on the entire route, with hardware store and coffee shop right on the platform – and none of the hustle and bustle of traffic up and down Ngauranga Gorge. If the route was improved, surely it would be faster than the bus – the bus can only ever get stuck in traffic whereas the train has little to obstruct it.

    I see a future where the line is not ripped out, but upgraded, possibly dual tracked or passing bays installed, and converted to Light Rail that is then extended south through the city, at first to Te Aro, then to the Hospital, and later to Kilbirnie and then the Airport and Miramar.

  19. Dan Tosfery, 13. December 2019, 14:24

    Guy M – have you got a few billion dollars lying around to double track the J’ville line! It’s got 7 tunnels which would require widening.

  20. GrahamCA, 13. December 2019, 16:34

    Guy M there are currently 3 passing points (Khandallah & Ngaio Stations and the Gorge passing bay) on the line – which facilitates a 15 minute frequency. I doubt the line could cope with a higher frequency.

  21. Dave B, 13. December 2019, 17:37

    Guy M – No, the slower timetable was implemented as an expedient after the Matangis appeared to have trouble keeping to the timings which worked fine for decades with the old trains. It was actually combined with a timetable re-cast with more peak-time services added, but the slackening to 23 minutes was not inseparably required for this. There were umpteen reasons why the Matangis showed this problem, some of which have now ceased to apply, and others of which are perfectly solvable, but the culture of taking things cautiously became locked-in. Officially the Johnsonville Line is now working well so “why rock the boat”! But for those who know what the trains ought to be capable of and what the line could achieve, this is frustrating.
    Significant improvements could be made without going to the length of double-tracking. But to compete with 14-15 minutes taken by most buses would be a big ask. The J’ville line services 7 intermediate stations not served by the high-frequency bus, and as far as I know patronage at these stations is holding up. The problem is Johnsonville itself.

    As for conversion to light rail – this option is bound up in the much broader question of how to enable all the lines in Wellington to serve the “rail-less quarter” of the region south of the present station. The Johnsonville Line is only a small part of this, but cannot be considered in isolation from the wider needs of the region.

    One day when I get a moment, I hope to write a proper thesis on this whole subject.

  22. Guy M, 14. December 2019, 8:02

    Thanks Graham, Dan and Dave – much appreciated for the feedback. And a quick answer – no, not proposing widening tunnels, but there are areas where double tracks could be easily implemented – like through most of Trelissick Park, I would have thought? The limiting factor, obviously, is that only one train goes up at a time and another can’t go up until the first one comes back down. It’s a pleasant journey, but a relatively slow tootle through the jungle, and ever-so-much nicer than being stuck on a bus going up or down the gorge.

    But it should not be beyond the realms of humankind to figure out that if we can launch a space ship to go to Mars, we could also get a train to go faster from here to Johnsonville and back. A couple more passing bays at strategic locations, enabling more than one train to go on the track at one time, and a service time of under 15 minutes should definitely be achievable. Dave B – I look forward to your thesis resolving this issue!

  23. John Rankin, 14. December 2019, 11:59

    @DaveB said: “One day when I get a moment, I hope to write a proper thesis on this whole subject.” I second @GuyM’s comment that “I look forward to your thesis resolving this issue!” Perhaps DaveB could submit his thesis to LGWM as a contribution to the mass rapid transit business case.

    A draft published on this website would attract constructive comments from many knowledgeable readers. We are here to help.

  24. Glen Smith, 14. December 2019, 23:13

    Dave B. Johnsonville/ Newlands is an interesting topic. Part of this issue is that this area is small enough that you would have thought it could all be serviced by a single major line of one mode (just as the Hutt is essentially serviced by rail). Instead we have two modes – bus and rail – competing with each other and halving the passenger load on each, which impacts on frequency and financial viability. Rail is handicapped by terminating at the Station (which would be solved by seamless extension of rail along the Quays), but also by terminating at Johnsonville requiring a potent 17 minute ‘pure’ bus/rail mode transfer penalty for large numbers of commuters if rail were to be the primary ‘arterial’ mode for this whole area.
    Extending rail into Newlands would be impossible. However unlike the Hutt and Kapiti lines which have to remain as rail due to freight requirements, the mode of the Johnsonville line is not fixed in stone. It could be converted to ‘light’ rail but this still couldn’t get to Newlands.
    I have wondered if there could be a case for this line being converted to the first ‘trackless tram’ line which could extend seamlessly into Newlands and also (to fit into the ideal ‘radial connective’ regional design) then continue seamlessly across the city to a destination to the South or East (Island Bay would seem a good choice since rail is unlikely to reach there). Any thoughts? This would add an additional ‘mode’ to the city’s repertoire but as long as each ‘line’ is the same mode from start to finish I don’t see that matters. On a ‘horses for courses’ basis, trackless trams could be a good fit for Johnsonville/ Newlands.

  25. Dan Tosfery, 15. December 2019, 9:50

    J.R. you could submit your elevated rail thesis to LGWM too. And we Wellington.Scoop readers could comment since yes, we are here to help.

  26. D.W., 15. December 2019, 19:05

    @GlenS – 17 minute penalty – where have you got that figure from?

  27. Glen Smith, 15. December 2019, 21:24

    D.W. It is from empirical research data. See my article ‘Getting it right with minimal transfers’ from April 2.

  28. D.W., 16. December 2019, 7:32

    Looks like you got it wrong Glen as the transfer penalty is 5 minutes in the GWRC model. I think GWRC is spending loads of money on Jacobs and SMEC to build them a new transport model so maybe the penalty might be reduced to 2 minutes to justify GWRC’s new bus hub policy.

  29. Michael Gibson, 16. December 2019, 8:28

    Glen – many thanks for drawing my attention to your April 2 article. With its 38(!) comments it is so illuminating and simply must be hoist aboard by the regional council. The councillors (significantly from Porirua) who allowed the mess in our neck of the woods were terribly misguided – the two worst examples being at VUW and having Mairangi buses turning left at the bottom of Bowen Street instead of right, not to mention there being no stop at that juncture. How soon will these be fixed? Your contribution can only help.