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Ghost buses, and real-time failings

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Fran Wilde says the city’s real-time bus information system is working reliably. But Dave Armstrong writes about waiting for eight “due” buses that never arrived. Who do you believe?

On August 6 last year, Fran Wilde defended the $9.7million real-time system::

I acknowledge there was a significant glitch with the system earlier this year, due to unexpected failures of RTI equipment on buses. However, that was resolved by the system supplier at their cost as soon as the cause was identified. The system now operates reliably and to expected levels of performance.

But what levels of performance are expected?

Dave Armstrong yesterday wrote in the DomPost about his experience of “ghost buses” after he (and 30,000 other people) left the Cricket World Cup quarter-final:

My mate and I arrived at the empty bus terminal by the railway station – not one bus there. I would have thought 8.30pm on a Saturday was a time when quite a few Wellingtonians would like to catch a bus, especially with the new drink-drive laws…We made our way down Lambton Quay. We passed some very expensive-looking electronic billboards that displayed when buses were about to arrive. They brought good news. Apparently there were at least eight buses that were “due”. Trouble was – there was still not a bus to be seen. Finally, halfway up Willis St and about 20 minutes after we left the railway station, a solitary bus arrived. Trouble was, though it was heading our way to Newtown, it was full of cricket revellers heading to Courtenay Place, so no one could get on. Not to worry, according to the electronic billboard there were more “due” buses in the deserted street.

And more.

A couple of weeks ago I had to drop my car off late at night and decided to catch a bus home. According to the electronic billboard, my bus was due in 10 minutes. Twenty-five minutes later, the “due” message was replaced with one saying my next bus was 15 minutes away. Does Wellington’s new bus technology extend to invisible buses?

Dave Armstrong asks:

Perhaps the ownership model – a private company getting subsidies from the public local bodies – means that we get the worst of both private and public worlds? We live in a city where a lone, admittedly disgusting, racist rant by a bus passenger is major news, yet the frequent failure of full or invisible buses seems to hardly raise an eyebrow. What can hapless bus commuters do besides giving up?

Retired engineer Kerry Wood reported another breakdown of the real-time system, just one day after we published Fran Wilde’s “all is well” article.

I was unable to use RTI at all, and it still wasn’t working when my bus ran through town ten minutes late. The Metrolink tweets showed no notification that RTI had shut down, but claimed it was working again a couple of hours later.

Still some way to go, he wrote. A response which is shared by anyone looking glumly at the un-real “due” messages on the real-time information panels.