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.