They spent $9.7m but their real-time system is a 50% failure

by Lindsay Shelton
Many of us have been wondering this morning why Wellington Airport doesn’t have the necessary systems to enable flights to keep landing when there’s fog. (Like big airports do.) But some of us have also been puzzling about how the Regional Council could spend $9.7m on a real-time information system that isn’t working.

In recent weeks, waiting at bus stops and looking at the real time displays, I’ve wondered if I was going mad. Bus services have been listed, and have failed to arrive. Buses have arrived without appearing on the screens.

But today we learn it’s the system that’s at fault. Not the customers.

The DomPost reports details of how the Regional Council’s real-time bus information system is faulty. Really faulty.

Just half of Wellington’s signs showed real-time bus arrivals this week. Hutt Valley signs reached a low in December of 46 per cent accuracy, but the figure had bounced back to 79 per cent this week …

The signs are supposed to tell passengers how many minutes till the next service. But … their performance significantly deteriorated in December and January because the memory cards bus drivers used were being overwritten too often, and corrupted.

Council public transport portfolio leader Paul Swain said memory cards were regularly replaced in Britain’s real-time systems, but nobody in Wellington had realised the need to do so. Go Wellington and Valley Flyer real-time systems were also corrupted when the two fleets were switched at times of bus shortages

They spent $9.7million on the real-time system but didn’t know how to run it?

And it could have been done – without the breakdowns – for a fraction of the cost, as Ian Apperley describes this morning,



  1. IanS, 20. February 2014, 20:20

    And of course this is small compared to the waste of $40M being spent on installing ticket gates on the rail stations just so that they can automate the ticket ‘punching’ service. This stupidity adds to the problems of not allowing ‘all-door’ loading of buses. The problem is that the law in NZ requires the transport company to ensure that every passenger has a ticket. In the EU the law is that it is the passenger who has responsibility to have a ticket. For example this allows for the range of affordable tickets to be much higher – monthly tickets are cheap and monthly ticket holders are allowed to take the family for free during the weekends. All-door loading speeds up transfers – but penalties for not having a ticket need to be high. In the EU it can be Euro100 if you were caught without a ticket by the mufti inspectors.

    And yes – many NZers will try and cheat. So a culture change is also needed to match the cheaper ticket options. Young people in the EU are not buying cars, the change in culture is already happening (in NZ too). Why are we determined to use dinosaur techniques – change the law in NZ and avoid all that stupid ticket barrier technology.

  2. Alana, 20. February 2014, 23:51

    Many of the routes seem to run at whim. Two buses right after each other, then none for half an hour.
    And Wellington Regional Council report that bus ridership is down and they plan to raise the fares.
    Infratil/Go Wellington lose money because people aren’t riding buses because they are frustrated by the unreliable service but Wellington Regional Council (thanks, Fran Wilde) ensure that their profits remain the same?

  3. Albert Tatlock, 21. February 2014, 12:18

    Integrated electronic ticketing is the politician’s wet dream. An Orwellian “all modes/operators are equal” concept that hides cost differences, obscures the fare per trip, tracks everyone and costs millions but adds little on a simple paper trip issued by a guard or bus driver since most people’s trips are simple wtih only 8% doing the politicians intermodal dream trip in mini city NZ). of course this statistic will be spun by the Politicians and planners to claim its low because we don’t have an integrated, seamless, sustainable, robust public transport system. Blah…

    So its the ‘Euro concept’ for transport in NZ then with all the waste that this entails. Can we stop it? No we can’t . So sit back and watch your rates and taxes flushed down the dunny and your movements tracked all the way to the sea.

  4. Cr Paul Bruce, 23. February 2014, 8:13

    An updated Regional Transport Plan and draft annual plan are going out to consultation this next month. We urge you to make submissions.

    We do have a very unreliable bus service in Wellington, and real time information should lessen the need for a timetable. However, this also fell over sometime before Xmas. I was appalled with the time it took to acknowledge the fault. I contacted the GW Transport division in the first week of January after I realised that indeed something more was amiss. However, I wasn’t able to see a proper identification of the problem (a corrupted memory card) till this months Council meeting. Some staff were on leave, but I felt that more resources could have been shifted into resolving the problem expediently.

    Unreliability of Wellington’s bus service results from delays as up to 138 buses move through a one lane CBD corridor during peak hours causing heavy congestion. It also doesnt help sharing the corridor with vehicles.

    One solution is utilising high capacity light rail vehicles along the high density dedicated transport spine, in addition allowing room for further growth in patronage. Those who have travelled in Europe will have seen cities such as Freiburg, of similar population size and density to Wellington, achieving very high public transport patronage with low subsidies, through this network approach. It involves transfers, to smaller buses at hubs, but results in overall faster travel and improved reliability.

    Instead, a Regional Transport Transport subcommittee has just recommended a Bus Rapid Transit system, which allows for minimal growth, but still allows conflict with vehicle traffic along some of its route including a proposed second Mt Victoria tunnel. I dont agree with this proposal as reliability will not be guaranteed. We will also have lost a major opportunity to improve passenger comfort and safety, pedestrian space in the city, and lower long term running costs.

    The speed of our bus service could also be improved by moving to off line ticketing. However, as noted by others, this needs the law to be changed so that every passenger has responsibility for his own ticket – as in Europe. Gating is a major cost item associated with integrated ticketing, so it is really important that we get this changed before we are pinged with another cost.

    Your thoughts on these issues are welcome …please contact me at and make a submission.

  5. lindsay, 4. March 2014, 9:16

    The failures continue. Yesterday, I waited 20 minutes in Victoria Street for a number 7 bus which was listed on the sign. When the arrival time came, the bus failed to show up. But its listing vanished from the screen. After a few more minutes, I decided to walk away. And then the bus arrived, though there was nothing on the screen. Annoying …

  6. Alana, 4. March 2014, 16:32

    I use the 7 and 8 line as well.The reality test fails with the electronic schedule notice most of the time. It appears that when the bus matches the electronic notice it’s just coincidence.
    My favourite was one flashing the pending arrival of two 7s and one 8 in 20 minutes just as one arrived.

  7. lindsay, 5. March 2014, 16:30

    The failures continue. This afternoon I went to the bus stop outside Unity Books. A number 7 bus was due, but it wasnt listed on the big real-time sign. What to do? As I know the signs aren’t reliable, I waited for a few minutes. And then a number 7 bus turned up. With not a mention on the electronic screen. How much did they spend on this system?

  8. Graeme Sawyer, 25. March 2014, 23:16

    I won’t tire you with my tales of woe, but I bet I have more examples of what an unbelieveable #$%&-up the Real Time Information System is than almost anyone. It really is irredeemable crap.
    And i just don’t believe the yarn that it can all be done for free via apps – partly because of what they are doing in the cities around Silicon valley – which is, they are buying, in increasing numbers, a real-time information system that does work, which is state of the art – and is made in Christchurch by Connectionz (listed on the NZ ‘Unlisted” market).
    After they missed out on the GWRC contract years ago, I phoned their CEO & asked “Why?”. Poor guy was nearly in tears, and spoke with honesty that was genuine & obvious. The answer was “Money”, of course. The crap system we have been swearing at & hateing for years now was clearly inferior to the Kiwi-made product – so the crap from overseas was slashed in price to about $1million less.
    That would have been for the initial purchase of a couple or three $million. Time goes by – systems are expanded – more money is spent for motre boxes – and before you know it’s crap, you’re utterly committed to it & cant turn back….

    But now we see the difference between price and value, don’t we?? Especially when the jobs – and profits (though meagre) would stay in NZ – how much is keeping that $ 9.7m in NZ worth to NZ?? A lot! (maybe even over $8million…)

    Please , GWRC – its not too late! Make the tough call please. Dump the crap that doesn’t work, will never work – and go back to Competenz cap-in-hand and ask to an upgrade to a REAL RTIS system, and let us plebs on the trains and busses enter the 20th century!!!

  9. lindsay, 26. March 2014, 15:15

    It’s still not working. I turned up at the bus stop outside Unity Books this afternoon and the realtime sign said the number 7 bus would arrive in 6 minutes. I waited and watched the message move to the top of the electronic list. It said the bus was “due.” This was not true. No bus arrived. The message vanished from the board. Next, the realtime system told me another number 7 but would arrive in 12 minutes. So I waited a further 12 minutes as the message moved up the board. After 12 minutes, the bus was “due.” Again, it didnt arrive. This time, the message was pushed down the screen, ending below another 12 “due buses. They all arrived. Then the “due” message for my bus again vanished from the screen. A few minutes later, the bus arrived. “You can’t believe those realtime signs,” I said to the driver. He didnt respond.

  10. LyallBayNZ, 10. April 2014, 10:52

    Both the Seatoun and Lyall Bay buses were no shows through Kilbirnie this morning in spite of realtime saying due.

  11. Mike Riversdale, 26. September 2014, 17:39

    Number 31 bus was on the list but now NOTHING! MetLink Wellington can’t you sort out your your shit RTI system? [via Twitter]


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