Wellington Scoop

Why the Regional Council should be abolished: the state of public transport

by Kent Duston
The exponents of a super city for Wellington are very vocal about the benefits of regional coordination – better outcomes! an integrated approach! able to negotiate better deals! But the reality is that a single council with a regional mandate is no guarantee of better results. The proof of this is the appalling state of Wellington’s public transport system, which has had the benefit of a single coordination body for two decades – the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

The Regional Council is charged with coordinating and funding public transport across the region. This activity makes up 70% of the Council’s budget, so you’d assume that it also consumes a similar amount of focus from the Council’s officers and politicians. But judging by the results, perhaps not. Despite having two decades to sort out how we travel around, it’s still impossible to use a single ticket to travel from one end of the region to the other on multiple services. Changing bus companies part way through your journey? Sorry, you’ll need to buy another ticket. Want to use the bus to get to the train? Two tickets required.

It’s a byzantine system of unnecessary complexity and bureaucratic disorganization – some public transport advocates have unfavourably compared Wellington’s ticketing and scheduling mess with Soviet-era bread queues.

Not that it’s a difficult problem to solve. Go to a major city anywhere in the world and you’ll be able to use a single ticket to move around, irrespective of mode or operator. It’s a problem that Sydney solved in the 1960s, but which the Regional Council is unable to get to grips with 50 years later. And we don’t need some flash electronic system to make it possible – as public transport advocate Paula Warren notes:

“The Greater Wellington Council has always treated integrated ticketing as an electronic ticketing issue. There are ideal outcomes that probably need electronic ticketing, but I’ve always said we could do a lot right now by adding some bulk fare products:
1. A cheaper off-peak day pass that is usable on any service;
2. A monthly pass for a particular part of the network, regardless of what service you use. So Courtenay Place to the Hutt, or to North Wellington. With use in the CBD on any service.

“Another option would be to issue a certain number of free passes for other services when you buy a monthly pass. So when I buy my train monthly pass from Kapiti to Wellington, I get a book of 20 tickets that I can use to travel one zone on any bus in the region. I show the associated pass and hand my ticket to a driver and Greater Wellington reimburses the bus companies proportionately to the number of tickets they collect.”

So the simple problem has a simple solution that could dramatically improve the quality of public transport for tens of thousands of Wellingtonians – but the Regional Council lacks either the political will or the intellectual ability to solve it.

Of course coordinating an integrated ticketing solution for Wellington requires a certain amount of commercial acumen to negotiate a workable solution with the commercial operators. Once again, the Regional Council has proven to be incapable of stepping up to the plate.

As everyone knows, Wellington’s trolley buses don’t run on weekends, though the contract with Go Wellington was specifically negotiated to allow this to occur. The reason is that the Regional Council forgot to extend the wiring maintenance contract to cover Saturday and Sunday – which means there’s no-one on call to repair the wires should they be damaged on the weekends. So as a ratepayer you’re subsidizing Go Wellington to run the trolley buses seven days a week, but they’re only able to run five days a week thanks to a contract negotiated by the Regional Council – and presumably it’s the same officials who managed to mess up the two contracts.

As Juvenal noted a few thousand years ago: “it is difficult not to write satire”.

So if you want a cast-iron guarantee that a Wellington super-city will fail to achieve any of the benefits recently espoused by Fran Wilde, you need look no further than the track record of the Council that she chairs. If the Greater Wellington Regional Council can’t implement a simple integrated ticketing system for public transport despite decades of having the authority, the staff and the money, why on earth does she think a super-city will improve matters?

Kent Duston is a past-President of the Mt Victoria Residents Association and Wellington’s leading advocate for the disestablishment of the GWRC.

Read also:
Why the Regional Council should be abolished – part one

The government wants to abolish the Regional Council

Bus service: congestion and inefficiencies


  1. Tony, 1. March 2012, 9:06

    A “Bullseye” article Kent !

  2. Daran Ponter (Wellington Regional Councillor), 1. March 2012, 16:56

    Kent, I think you will find that the Fran Wilde solution proposes the abolition of the Regional Council (i.e. what you are seeking) to be replaced by a new organisation, funnily enough probably called the Wellington Regional Council! You’ve got to be careful what you wish for.

    I agree that integrated ticketing is a mess and I have made it one of my key priorities. You will be aware that Cr Paul Bruce is hot of this topic as well. As long as we rely on the government subsidy (from NZTA), the regional council, or whoever, is beholden to the policies and “rules” that they set. They are putting their faith in electronic integrated ticketing but won’t release any funds for us to roll it out in Wellington until the Auckland trial is completed.

    Interestingly, one possible answer to integrated ticketing is already with us, in the Supper Gold Card. While acknowledging the time restrictions for travel, the fact is that here is a product that allows seamless transition from one mode to another, across the region, across the Country (other than long distance services). Perhaps the answer to integrated ticketing lies in the extension of the Gold Card or simply an aging population!.

    The following article on the Auckland integrated ticketing debacle may be of interest: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10786678

  3. CC, 1. March 2012, 17:40

    Not a Snapper extension thanks Daran – Infratil mucked up the Auckland system and already have their hands too deeply in the pockets of Wellington commuters with excessive fares, subsidies and the never ending raising of charges at the airport.

  4. Kent Duston, 1. March 2012, 18:55

    Daran – Fran’s ambitions are pretty transparent: she wants to spray a new logo on the side of the existing Regional Council whilst consolidating decision making to the centre. The whole phrase “one ring to rule them all …” kinda springs to mind.

    But this is the polar opposite of what Wellington needs and what I’m proposing. The region doesn’t need a central local government authority at all, particularly of the unnacountable-and-expensive variety that Fran’s proposing. We can simply disestablish GWRC, set up a few coordination agencies and we’re done. We’ll save many millions of dollars a year, lower the rates burden and retain local decision making.

    And while I hear what you’re saying about NZTA currently driving the integrated ticketing approach, that’s a relatively recent change. I mean, what’s the excuse for GWRC sitting on its hands and not solving the problem for two decades before NZTA came along?

  5. Daran Ponter (Wellington Regional Councillor), 2. March 2012, 11:52

    Hi CC,

    I hear you re Snapper. I would be hopeful of a new system that would be fully tendered and be universal to the network.

  6. Daran Ponter (Wellington Regional Councillor), 2. March 2012, 12:03


    A unitary authority could certainly work well from Wellington, especially given that Wellington City does not have some of the bigger environmental and physical issues that often consume regional councils’ attention (e.g. erosion control, flood control, pest management etc).

    But I think it is more than simply about bolting on a few parts and creating a few new entities. Wellington has to see itself as the Capital City. It has to make that distinction clear if the unitary authority idea is to make any headway. Simply putting the walls up around Wellington may not be enough to stop the regional governance steamroller.

    What about a true Harbour City – Wellington – Hutt Valley – Eastboune – Wainuiomata?

    With respect to why GWRC has been sitting on its hands re integrated ticketing for 20 yeas, you will need to pose that question to some of the kaumatua councilllors (I’m a spring chicken – 18 months on the Council).

  7. The City is Ours, 4. March 2012, 23:17

    The Land Transport Act requires Regional Authorities to review the public transport network every 3 years. We admire Councillor Daran Ponter and Councillor Paul Bruce for braving this issue and facing the public on behalf of the hand sitters. Taking trolley buses out of service because they are unsuitable for the Terrace is one thing, not having enough diesel buses to fill the gap is another. Option B: Wakefield Street.

    Wellington loved Manners Mall

  8. Trish, 5. March 2012, 20:04
  9. Maximus, 6. March 2012, 8:15

    “Wellington loved Manners Mall” ? Really? I don’t think that’s right. I think it was tolerated, but had an unpleasant feel for much of the day. Cuba Mall – now that is a place that Wellingtonians love. But not Manners.

    Interestingly, seeing as Manners is now a bus route, it seems to be even more popular with retailers – which would seem to reflect that more people like it as it is now – ie with traffic flowing through.

    ‘The City is Ours’ seems to have a bee in your bonnet over something that the rest of the city just doesn’t care about. Give it up already….

  10. The City is Ours, 7. March 2012, 8:39

    Correction: Wellington loves Manners Mall.

    You would be surprised how many Wellingtonians lament Manners Mall which was compensation for the destruction of 50 hectares of heritage land and buildings in Thorndon to progress for the motorway. It seems a shame this open space with sunlight protection formerly known as Manners Mall is gone while Cuba Mall now awaits a new faith under the upgraded earthquake regulations imposed by WCC. Cuba Mall is quirky that’s true but it’s slowly becoming a second cousin to Courtenay Place with booze barons popping up everywhere.

    In the meantime buildings in Cuba Mall are being vacated, unsure if they will ever be tenanted again and its glory days are coming to an end. In a survey amongst the retailers in MM, 27 out of 31 retailers said NO to buses through MM and preferred Option B: Wakefield Street.