Wellington Scoop

Strange behaviour

by Lindsay Shelton
Our “greater” regional council is behaving strangely. It’s asking us to tell it what we think about its new bus service, though it’s already had 12 months of being told – every day – about the problems.

It not only wants to be told what we think about the buses. As RNZ reported this week, it also wants us to offer solutions.

Hard to believe that the regional council doesn’t already know what Wellingtonians think of the buses. Its Metlink staff have been diligently responding to complaints every day since the new bus systems were introduced a year ago. On twitter they have been consistently asking for details – where was the problem … what time … what was the bus number. But perhaps they haven’t been maintaining a database of all the information about their bustastrophe.

How else to explain the need to ask commuters to tell them what’s going on.

“Help us to fine tune your local bus service,” states the regional council introducing its list of drop-in sessions where commuters are invited to talk about their experiences on the buses.

And its online forum tries to imply (“it’s usual”) that everything is normal.

As with any project of this size, it’s usual to review outcomes to check how we did against key objectives, what we learned and what still needs to happen.

Slow learners, that’s for sure.

None of the people sending complaints to the online forum are getting any reaction to what they are complaining about. Instead, they are mystifying told: “It’s just the type of input we need.” One of the early complainants got this response:

We want to know the good and the bad so we don’t change anything that is working well with the design of the bus network.

Wellington.Scoop readers have also been saying what they think of the regional council’s request for more information.

Local: I think the public should be paid to be consulted again and again. Take the hubs and transfers out, go back to the previous system, give the drivers decent wages and working conditions and stop asking us over and over what is wrong with the system.

Commuter: Have they had a computer meltdown? Have they lost 12 months of data? Or didn’t they bother to keep records of all the complaints …

Ruth: Unbelievable. Have they been under a rock for a year? They’ve been told. They know. Just fix it.

Kara Lipski: Why does GWRC/MetLink think they need to “consult” with us again. We have already given that organisation plenty to work on during the past 12 months or more. But given their record of repeated use of consultants on the bus issue, I have little faith in this latest effort to give us back a decent bus service. Marks for effort by Metlink: 2/10.

Lim Leong: GWRC has run so many consultation sessions, surveys and public meetings since 2012 that I have lost count. For the record, here is the initial 2012 consultation …
• 57% of the respondents strongly dislike the proposed network change. 17% dislike the proposed change so a total of 74% viewed the change negatively.
• Transfers, change of routes, timing and frequency are major issues for respondents.

Customers were clear what they wanted from Day 1, but GWRC pretty much ignored feedback from that study and pretty much all subsequent consultation sessions, public meetings and surveys. So the question is: what is GWRC trying to achieve by asking the same questions over and over again but expecting a different result every time? Isn’t that the definition of insanity?

Without commenting on that last sentence, consider the message on the regional council’s website today:



  1. michael, 11. July 2019, 18:34

    Surely this is a wind-up! Not only has the GWRC clearly not been listening or registering the massive number of complaints over the past year, but now they want us to do their job and provide solutions!! Well, here’s the ideal solution – sack GWRC and replace them with a transport authority of experts, not politicians.

  2. Henry Filth, 11. July 2019, 19:45

    Once you have done consultation, you can blame any suboptimal results on those who were consulted. Then say with a straight face “We consulted the public, did what they wanted, and look at the mess they made of it.”

  3. RH, 11. July 2019, 20:05

    You’re so right Lindsay and so frustrating. They have plenty to listen to. I don’t feel like giving even more time to attend a meeting to say what I’ve already said. Much better now if all the expensive experts they pay to spend time doing this come up with solutions for the public to discuss. I’m not sure what we are paying them all for.

  4. Russel C., 11. July 2019, 20:27

    Well said Michael, I second that motion!

  5. Ms Green, 11. July 2019, 21:23

    On your bike GWRC.

  6. Trevor H, 11. July 2019, 21:40

    The GWRC strategy is obviously “consult until they drop”. The GWRC are intent on overwhelming people with meaningless process until they submit.

  7. Traveller, 11. July 2019, 21:48

    What’s “greater” about the Regional Council?

  8. Keith Flinders, 12. July 2019, 9:17

    As well as the list of names on the voting papers for each electorate, come the October elections, this should added:

    Do you wish for the GWRC to be abolished Yes/No.

    This would a very minor cost to gauge the feeling of the voting public about an organization that has proven itself to be inept and wanting. The fact that they now have one of the architects of the bus fiasco managing without success the patches, proves that the GWRC is lacking professional management and the elected representatives are all devoid of practical solutions. Twelve months of this debacle is more than enough.

  9. greenwelly, 12. July 2019, 10:01

    @Traveller, Nothing. The use of “Greater” is a self applied vanity “nrand” that they use…..a lot like the University is trying to do.
    Under Part 1 of Schedule 2 of the Local Government Act 2002, they are legally the “Wellington Regional Council.”

  10. Val Aldridge, 12. July 2019, 10:24

    Well said Lindsay, the Regional Council is a disaster.

  11. Kerry, 12. July 2019, 11:08

    Henry. You are only too right. They seem to be actively listening to submissions they should be ignoring.
    The 2011 Bus Review was gutted, with 20 proposed routes cancelled and another 20 modified, all apparently in response to consultation. It was followed by the 2013 Spine Study, which came up with a clearly unworkable split-route. The main route went under Mt Victoria and along a low-density corridor, while the secondary route took the much denser corridor and gave up when it began to look difficult. The choice was BRT but with no capacity calculations done. It was a classic case of ‘BRT creep,’ a fancy name for another clogged-up bus route. This was realised and a ‘secondary spine’ was proposed, but that looked difficult too, and it quietly vanished. The result is 80 buses an hour, each way, on a route that the Bus Review had shown to have a capacity limit of 60 single-deck buses an hour. Officers reported to the Council that the limit was ‘aspirational.’

    Capacity was obviously inadequate, so double-deck buses were introduced. That increased passenger capacity but further reduced bus capacity on the route, because the internal stairs make them slow at stops. The peak-hour overload is now about 40%. I recently took a bus from Courtenay Place to the Railway Station, in the early afternoon, at an average speed of 7 km/hr. It should have been at least 15 km/hr. Bus stops don’t cause much delay in the interpeak; the problem was traffic and traffic signals.

    Both the Bus Review and the Spine Study seem to have suffered from interference by GW, but with no clear policy direction. The Bus Review contractor, MR Cagney, wanted to know how much of the funding was to go into ‘service’ routes, and how much into faster and more frequent ‘ridership’ routes. They seem to have been given an informal answer, and reported on that basis, but nothing formal has ever appeared. In the Spine Study, the interference seems to have been a last-minute change from route option 1 (Hataitai and Newtown) to Option 2 (Hataitai and a stump-route to about Constable St).

    MRCagney had pointed out that hubs are unpopular but necessary, and in practice acceptable when implemented. They offered workshops to explain why but were turned down. Ten years later, the golden mile is as overloaded as ever, with no GW plans for improvement. Now MRCagney have done an excellent report for LGWM, but it will inevitably fail if GW listen to all the demands for through-running buses, with no hubs. If there is no funding-split between service and ridership, there is no rational criteria for express services. I live on the Ngaio-Johnsonville corridor, where the housing is typically about a kilometre wide; most people would be within about 500 m of a single-route stop, and two routes should be fine. There are five routes: the Johnsonville Line, a high-frequency bus route, two standard bus routes and a peak-only bus route. Why?

    With no guidance on service and ridership, GW’s planners seem to have played safe and gone for the traditional approach; minimise walking distance to stops, to minimise objections, add a sprinkling of faster routes and don’t worry too much about timed connections. The results are plain to see: a grossly overloaded golden mile, minimal services at weekends (to control costs), and ridership growth that is way behind Auckland. The two first things to do are formally reject the Spine Study, and formally re-write the objectives, with assistance from MRCagney.

  12. Joanne Perkins, 12. July 2019, 12:43

    Let me fix that for you Henry. “we consulted and gave them what 74% (see Lim’s comment) didn’t want and look what a mess we’ve made of it.” Of course they won’t say that because they refuse to accept any responsibility at all. Chris Laidlaw told the GovSelect Committee that he would do nothing different despite the chaos, and Barbara Donaldson – chair of the regional transport committee – refused to attend public meetings in case anyone was upset with her. The whole council is responsible for this bustastrophe and they should all go. Daran Ponter is the only one who has regularly fronted to the public and seems sincere in his desire to fix things. As for the rest of them? A plague on all their houses is what I say.

  13. Curtis Antony Nixon, 12. July 2019, 12:45

    Right on Keith. Abolish the GWRC, split up and re-distribute their budgets, resources and authorities to the existing territorial councils. Done!

  14. David Mackenzie, 12. July 2019, 13:14

    They have an adequate and workable solution to improving the bus network substantially. Namely the previous timetables and routes that were in place up to July last year. Once these are re-established it may be possible to improve them to give better service in some less well provided for areas, by adding new services. It would only cost 20 odd million to re-erect the trolley wires, a derisorily small fee compared with other council costs for vanity projects. Then we could have electric buses without the dubious and polluting technology of EV batteries and systems.

  15. Sarah Free, 12. July 2019, 14:48

    One of the first things the Regional Council needs to do is stop hiding behind the brand name “Metlink”, they need to be upfront and totally own the bus debacle they have created. [via twitter]

  16. Georgina Campbell, 12. July 2019, 14:59

    Is the management of Wellington’s transport in such a state the city needs a regional transport authority? Or does it sit tight and wait for a clean out of Greater Wellington Regional Council in this year’s local body elections? [via twitter]

  17. Frances Ross, 12. July 2019, 15:12

    Appoint a commissioner. With common sense and her or his listening ears on. And DON’T let GWRC get their hands on any of the Get Wellington Moving money. They are incompetent.

  18. greenwelly, 12. July 2019, 17:01

    >DON’T let GWRC get their hands on any of the Get Wellington Moving money
    heh, the Councils are being asked to carry 40% of the LGWM budget, so the chances of Treasury letting them have any of the crown’s money before they come up with a firm plan to wring a couple of billion out of regional and city ratepayers is pretty low.

  19. Victor Davie, 12. July 2019, 18:38

    The GWRC is 100% responsible for having caused the citizens of Wellington inconvenience and stress by having destroyed the former perfect reliable bus service. It’s time for the Government to step in and remove all aspects of public transport from GWRC. Time also to trust and involve the Wellington Branch of the Tramways Union, whose understanding and knowledge of the network has been ignored for too long.

  20. Michael Barnett, 14. July 2019, 21:24

    I listened to Kathryn Ryan interview Greg Pollock of Metlink on Friday morning, and I felt he was defending the indefensible. Who would know better than the public that the new bus system is not working. The hub and spoke system discussed is workable, but not in the way it has been implemented to date.

    That said, the problems with Wellington City’s bus services are not recent: they go back several decades to the time when the Wellington City Council sold its buses and network to the Scottish company Stagecoach. Subsequent government policy emphasised a profit-making operating model and a transport authority whose emphasis focused on road development to ease traffic congestion into Wellington. Such a model simply does not work, it just attracts more cars.

    I say sack GWRC, WCC and NZTA form a single transport authority along the lines of Auckland Transport and get on with implementing the priority items recently published by LGWM

  21. Brendan, 16. July 2019, 17:47

    Its has to be a Public Transport Authority. Leave the roads to the Councils and NZTA. Keep it simple. AT doesn’t do the motorways, NZTA does.

  22. steve doole, 16. July 2019, 19:39

    Calls for councillors to be voted out are unlikely to fix transport woes, as council structures are a problem that isn’t going to change soon.
    Collectively councillors only employ one person, a chief executive. The CEO employs everyone else. This results in weak democratic processes, which is often beneficial to council operations, ie seldom can one councillor pull councils to her/his agenda, and council officers should have a single set of directions to work to. Councillors decide strategy, and approve priorities, plans, and budgets. Most other things are for the CEO. In times of poor outcomes for the public, the benefit of this structure can become an impediment, as at the Regional Council. Councillors on WCC and WRC are fairly ineffectual, partly as ‘operational’ matters are controlled by management. Almost no CEOs are fired by councillors, but they are appointed for fixed terms, supposedly for re-evaluation and potential change. WRC councillors passed on a recent opportunity for change.

    Calls for a Wellington Transport Authority are misguided too. With present arrangements the travelling public gets to fume and rant and complain. Imagine what will happen if a Transport Authority takes over – something like NZTA, almost separate from government – the public will have less representation, less influence, and see less accountability, if that’s possible. Replacing councillors with a Commissioner is a short term almost totalitarian option for government for when a council becomes disfunctional, such as the Rodney district in 1999. WRC is not disfunctional.

    An alternative approach is to increase democracy. Don’t the Swiss have frequent local referenda? Don’t Americans vote on whether to fund transport services and projects through sales taxes, usually for a limited time, say 10 years? NZ could go a similar way, with voters deciding what tax level they are prepared to pay for results they want. Why shouldn’t say Hutt consider a tram? Central and regional transport organisations would become more enablers than promotors or restrictors. Four lanes to the planes might attract voters like Ray from the Hutt, but perhaps people would vote for alternatives.

    Auckland’s fuel tax is a simple example, but taxes that councils are allowed to charge are way too restricted. Could NZ move toward a local variation of some types of tax, say GST or income tax? What about other taxes? A business case for trolley buses might have positive numbers if a tax charging vehicle owners including buses by the amount of pollution they leave for us to breath was separated from other taxes. Increasing local democracy is likely to address transport issues better than changing councillors or decrease.

  23. John Rankin, 16. July 2019, 19:54

    @Brendan. The performance of the bus system starts with the roads the buses run on: bus lanes, traffic signal priority, layout of bus hubs, giving buses right of way over cars, etc. If a Public Transport Authority doesn’t have control over the roads the buses run on, the Authority would be responsible for PT performance, without having the necessary authority to deliver. Responsibility without authority would set it up to fail.

    One good thing to come out of the current bus problems is that WCC and GWRC are at last working together to work out how best to give buses priority over other traffic. NZTA can keep state highways, provided that SH1 ends at the Terrace Tunnel until eastbound SH1 traffic shifts from Vivian St to an extended Arras tunnel. Rapid transit on Taranaki St as LGWM proposes will require Vivian St to become a regular 2-way city street, with rapid transit vehicles physically separated from SH1 traffic.

    It seems to me that the councils and NZTA understand the overlapping responsibilities quite well now as a result of the LGWM work. What governance arrangements is LGWM proposing for the programme’s implementation stages? @Michael’s suggestion has merit and deserves to be considered.

  24. Brendan, 16. July 2019, 21:16

    @JR – roads are more than bus lanes or paths for Light Rail to run on. On my road, I never see a bus except ones with “NIS” on the front.

    Margaret Thatcher got rid of the Metropolitan Counties. They were replaced with more limited but more focussed PTAs to look after buses and trains. I suggest you have a look at Manchester which is the largest. The authority has control over the Urban Traffic Control Unit (traffic signals) but doesn’t fill pot holes which is left to the ten boroughs. TfGMC and its subcommittees are made up of a nominated pool of 33 councillors from the ten metropolitan boroughs of Greater Manchester who manage TfGM and create transport policy in Greater Manchester.