More buses or less buses? A problem with truthiness at the regional council

Nicky Hager isn’t the only one uncovering dodgy dealings through email – we’ve recently come into possession of a couple of documents that seem to indicate the Greater Wellington Regional Council might have a problem with truthiness.

You’ll recall that the Regional Council had a big consultation conflab earlier in the year about the buses. The chief element of note was whether Wellington should retain its iconic trolley buses, and many column inches were expended on both sides of the divide as the merits or otherwise of keeping a portion of the public transport fleet emissions-free were hotly debated. If you somehow missed the debate, the trolleys are toast – perhaps the planet will follow.

But the trolleys were only part of the show. The Regional Public Transport Plan also covered significant changes to the bus network, and the Regional Council trumpeted improvements all round. Our contact in the field has helpfully provided the following table about what was planned for the Eastern suburbs … which turns out to have a little bit of cognitive dissonance:

What the web pages say What’s the draft plan actually proposes
more frequent service *reduction in buses per hour of 40% (Miramar weekdays), 43%/33% (Miramar Sundays),
service as now *reduction in frequency of 50% (Strathmore Park Sundays),66% (Miramar weekday evenings)*last bus 30 minutes earlier (Miramar Saturdays), 1 hour earlier (Oriental Parade; Miramar Sundays), 2-2½  hours earlier (Strathmore Park)
no change to hours of operation *50% reduction in hours (Miramar North express)-start and finish times changed by 30 minutes (Beacon Hill shuttle)
some adjustments to specific bus times *29% reduction in hours (Seatoun expresses)
no change proposed to service hours *29% reduction in hours (Marine Parade)

In addition, it’s said that hours of operation of peak-only services will be largely unchanged. Many of them currently finish at 6.30/7.00/7.30, but all the proposed ones finish at 6.00, which is a significant reduction in hours at a busy time of day.

It looks as if the Regional Council might have been a little economic with the truth in order to sugar-coat things. Still, the errors were in the draft of the Plan, and after all the purpose of public consultation is to pick up these kinds of errors and correct them, right?  After all, the person who did the analysis apparently provided a submission to the Regional Council to point out some of the factual deficits, so you’d expect some hasty back-pedalling to tidy up the problem.

However a quick look through the feedback provided by officers to the submissions turned up this gem in response:

Amend the PT Plan to clarify that the proposed network will not reduce service levels, where the services are well-patronised and that corrections be made in the final plan to make clear that the proposed hours of operation do indeed have no change where this is the case.

Which has to win some sort of award for sheer bureaucratic incomprehensibility.

What we think they’re saying is that the Regional Council are simply going to continue pretending that the service reductions – spelled out in black and white – aren’t actually happening, or that they don’t matter, or that there’s nothing to see here so please move along. It looks like a brazen attempt to simply skate past reductions in service levels on major bus routes whilst pretending that things are being improved.

There are some private sector businesses that do this all the time – sometimes the fish-hooks in the deal can only be discerned once the fine print has been read, and there’s a long and celebrated history of companies going “aw shucks, you caught us out!” when it doesn’t work. But a regional council? Surely we’d expect the public servants at the council to … you know, actually tell it like it is. There’s a fine line between spinning the story and simply denying reality, and it looks to the naive observer that the council’s statements are well into the land of fiction.

So should we expect the bureaucrats to be straight about changes to the bus services? Or is truthiness now the order of the day at the Regional Council?



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