Wellington Scoop

Action plan for better Wellington buses includes fewer transfers, and network improvements

News from Greater Wellington Regional Council
Regional councillors will on Thursday consider an action plan of key fixes to the bus network on the back of the results of its comprehensive city-wide community engagement process.

More than 1,700 Wellingtonians took part in workshops and online submissions to give their thoughts on the city’s network and council chair Daran Ponter says the resulting action plan is an ambitious yet realistic blueprint for short, medium and long-term improvements.

“We won’t be changing everything at once, we’ve certainly learnt that lesson. Over time, customers will see fewer transfers, access to key destinations, and an improved network that grows to meet current and future passenger growth,” says chair Ponter.

Overall there has been a 4% growth in bus boardings in the region from 2017/18 to 2018/19, with 3.8% of that growth being within Wellington City where boardings have grown by 5%.

Benefits of the July 2018 changes and subsequent improvements have included 45% more services at weekends, more regular off-peak services in 26 suburbs, more services earlier in the morning and later into evenings, free transfers making travel cheaper and easier, fare concessions for students and disabled customers, many new buses including double-deckers and electric vehicles, bike racks on buses and better facilities and protection from weather at key transfer points.

“There’s no doubt that many bus customers experienced positive outcomes from the bus changes in Wellington City, with customers traveling through the Northern corridor reporting good levels of satisfaction. We now have the opportunity to improve services for communities in the Eastern and Southern suburbs through these proposals,” says chair Ponter.

Wellington City Council Deputy Mayor Sarah Free, a champion for communities throughout the engagement process, says it is important to see the Eastern and Southern suburbs prioritised in the early improvements planned for January and May 2020.

“It will be great to see action for people in these communities, who rely on public transport with no real alternatives,” says Deputy Mayor Free.

“I know many people took part in the consultation and it’s great to see their feedback accurately reflected in the recommendations that the regional council is looking to take forward.”

Chair Ponter says that while the recommendations were not constrained by funding considerations, there were other very real constraints, such as driver shortage, bus availability and implementation of the new meal break legislation, and that fairness and equitable access to services was a driving factor.

“There’s no right or wrong answer in public transport, for every recommendation there’s always a compromise or trade off. Some recommendations will require further due diligence or consultation but others will be able to be actioned relatively quickly, as soon as January. The action plan has been developed taking into account the resources expected to be available over the next three years.”

The paper to council includes provisional costs for the proposed improvements with $0.8m expected in 2019/20, $1.34m in 2020/21 and $3.4m in 2021/22.

The bus network review results, council discussion paper, and recommended action plan can all be found at: metlink.org.nz/on-our-way/bus-network-review/

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  1. Concerned Wellingtonian, 10. December 2019, 9:42

    This is spread over far too long a time. Keep it simple and go back to the pre-July 15 2018 timetable immediately. And ban the old smelly, noisy, diesel, purple buses from Auckland.

  2. Mike Mellor, 10. December 2019, 11:52

    CW: GWRC appears to be learning from experience, and part of that learning is not to do too much at once. And nothing in transport is simple: going back to the old timetable would be pretty complex, and would mean that those parts of the city that benefited from the changes would lose out – not a good idea.

    But the proposal going before GWRC this Thursday does right many of last year’s wrongs. Look at p59 of https://www.metlink.org.nz/assets/Uploads/Metlink-BNR-Wgtn-City-Recommendations-Report.pdf and you’ll see, for example, that the proposed route A is effectively the old 2; the southern part of the proposed B the old 43/44; the proposed R is essentially the old 10; and forced interchanges are replaced by through buses (albeit with 30-minute frequencies generally reduced to hourly). Overall, looks pretty good to me.

    Now to get rid of those old diesels!

  3. Dave B, 10. December 2019, 15:29

    Great to see the proposed new Airport Express will be routed via the Quays rather than the Golden Mile. This way it stands a chance of actually being an express, and helps reinforce its role as a regional transport connection rather than an all-stops, local one.
    It is pointless that the current Airport Flyer runs “limited stop” through the CBD, whilst still going via the “Slowdown” Mile.

  4. greenwelly, 10. December 2019, 15:44

    These plans are great, but just looking at the statements on Transport over the last few days, we have
    “$415m needed to avoid rail commuters being packed like sardines” and “Start to $196m upgrade of Wellington commuter rail systems”
    and then there is this one which notes
    “provisional costs for the proposed [bus] improvements with $0.8m expected in 2019/20, $1.34m in 2020/21 and $3.4m in 2021/22.”
    So that’s plans or desires for over $600 million of rail spending and $5.5 million on the buses …. people wonder why Wellington bus users get grumpy.

  5. Wellington Commuter, 10. December 2019, 16:33

    @Greenwelly, so true. Our new regional council chair Daran Ponter was elected by Wellington City but he’s championing getting hundreds of millions for rail because train commuters might be “packed in like sardines” some time in the future … But right now he can see commuters packed in like sardines any workday if he rides his local bus at peak times.

  6. Dave B, 10. December 2019, 20:29

    Guys, guys, think for a moment. Much of the large investment required by rail is for the maintenance of its network. Buses by contrast, run on the public road system and pay only a small annual charge for the privilege. This represents a massive leg-up for buses, on the backs of other road-users. Bus-operators (and bus-users) get their network paid for, but via a different channel. Don’t try to play buses off against trains as if this very-real benefit for buses didn’t exist.
    Bear in mind also that although rail vehicles cost much more than buses, they last much longer and require replacement far less often.

    I can understand bus users wanting more funding for better services but if this has to be extracted from something else, it should come from the huge amounts continually showered on private-car users, not from rail funding.
    And where ever-rising demand requires that bus-services become so intensive that they are no longer appropriate or efficient on the public road system, then the answer is to replace them with rail. This is particularly true over the intensive city-to-airport corridor. Give bus-users there the opportunity to become rail-users.

  7. Clr Daran Ponter, 10. December 2019, 21:28

    @ Wellington Commuter – Looking to address the situation on the buses, starting with decisions we are taking as a Regional Council on Thursday this week. Public transport patronage is growing on buses and trains.

    When I and my fellow councillor signed our Councillor pledges, it was to be REGIONAL COUNCILLORS. You are a bus user, with little time for rail – I don’t have that luxury – I have to manage the Council to deliver on both the bus and the rail front. And I and Clr Roger Blakeley, Chair of the Transport Committee, have started to do just that.

  8. Clr Daran Ponter, 10. December 2019, 21:37

    @ Concerned Wellingtonian. I recognise the sentiments to go back to what we had previously. But are you really asking for that upheaval to be visited on the City once again? Wouldn’t measured improvements to what we have be preferable? There is really no going back, just further improvements and a more concentrated focus on how we can generate mode shift. That is now the focus.

  9. Clr Daran Ponter, 10. December 2019, 21:47

    @ GreenWelly. As Dave B alludes to, rail and buses are funded in quite different ways – not something GWRC has much control over. The reality is that the Government funds 50% of your local roads, and the City Council the other 50% (that would be called track upgrade in the rail sector). Then the Government pays approx 25% for the operation of buses, with approx 25% from regional ratepayers and approx 50% from fare revenue).

    Of the $415 million for the Lower North Island Rail Project, approx $300 million is for new rolling stock (approx $115 million for track upgrades). That’s for rail units that will be be funded approx 90% by Government and 10% by the Regional ratepayer and which are likely to last twice the life of buses.

    Never fear, more electric buses are around the corner – and of course they ain’t cheap either.

  10. greenwelly, 10. December 2019, 21:56

    @Dave B, The regional council are looking at spending ~$200 million on long distance units, (not the network) that they will own…..and then tender for an operator. Buses on the other hand have to rely on private companies raising their own capital (presumably at a higher borrowing cost) thus making the service more expensive to run. Surely if the playing field was level, the regional council would use its cheaper access to capital to provide a high quality low/nil emission set of buses and then get an operator to run them them.

  11. Dave B, 11. December 2019, 0:13

    Greenwelly, so what you are wanting is for bus fleets to be owned by GWRC on the same basis as the trains? Would that be possible under current legislation? Remember that past libertarian governments privatized all public transport (trains included), and it is only in more-recent times that trains have been allowed back into public-body ownership. I’m not sure where the buses stand in this regard.

    I would certainly like to see a return to council-owned buses though I wonder if they would be more-appropriately owned by the local councils, given that NZ urban bus operations tend to be confined to local-body areas rather than regions. I believe it was a mistake to debar local authorities from owning and operating their own PT services just because in times past these were badly managed. The problems could and should have been tackled by other means than privatization, since as-has-been amply demonstrated, bad management can occur under any ownership.

    As for the $300 mill for new rolling stock, this is for the benefit of everywhere from Wellington to Masterton and even Palmerston North (I’m not sure how costs will be shared with the adjoining regional councils, but they should be). This initiative is in-part inspired by government policy for new regional rail links, and also by the need to reduce reliance on roads for regional mobility needs. There is a big contrast between this and the situation faced by Wellington buses, but I agree that a level playing-field should apply. The government might be open to addressing this.

  12. Concerned Wellingtonian, 11. December 2019, 7:16

    Dear Clr Ponter, thank you for going to the trouble of answering. Much appreciated. I can’t remember the people from Porirua ever doing the courtesy.

  13. Kara Lipski, 11. December 2019, 20:59

    From a discussion with another bus user today . . the 12 from Strathmore Park is still only traveling to Kilbirnie. High time to correct this and enable residents to access the medical centre opposite the Basin Reserve without having to use 3 buses. Should be simple

  14. Ross Clark, 12. December 2019, 2:52

    This debacle confirms that transfers-based models for bus services don’t work, and that they only work for rail services where there is a high frequency and corresponding minimised transfer times across both modes of services. I agree that more use should be made of the Quays, especially for regional/express buses (e.g. Eastbourne, Kapiti, the Hutt).

  15. D.W., 12. December 2019, 8:56

    Ross the Quays is a very congested road and will get worse if cars are banned from the ‘Diesel Mile’.

  16. John Rankin, 12. December 2019, 11:44

    @RossClark: transfers-based models for bus services can work fine, provided that the bus service is sufficiently frequent, fast and reliable. Sadly, none of these conditions is met in Wellington. Without adequate bus lanes and bus priority measures so buses can run reliably on-time, transfers-based models cannot succeed.

  17. Dave B, 12. December 2019, 12:49

    The Quays route is only briefly congested at peak times. The “Golden Mile” route , by its very nature, is slow most of the time. It is not a suitable route for bus services that purport to be ‘express’.

    The Quays route could be significantly de-congested if the ICB-Karo Drive-Arras Tunnel route was made 2-way, as the Terrace Tunnel is currently. The width is there to achieve this with no major alteration needed. However I suspect NZTA is not interested in this option because it would not conform to modern gold-plated standards. So poor-old Vivian Street continues to be a State Highway (hardly modern standards either), the Quays route carries more traffic than it needs to, and the buses crawl and belch through what should be the city’s prime pedestrian areas.
    And – like the incomplete rail system that fails to service a large part of the city – it has been like this for decades.

    I fear there is insufficient transport-planning awareness amongst New Zealanders to plan their way out of this. Building more roads will just make things worse.
    Time to bring in the Swiss perhaps.

  18. luke, 12. December 2019, 14:43

    I like the idea of two waying the bypass, removing all that thru traffic from Vivian and some bus lanes along the quays for genuine express buses. Not every (potential) public transport user wants to go to the golden mile so why make everyone crawl through it.