One of my personal projects in dealing with Metlink and Greater Wellington Regional Council is the Real-Time Information system. Over the years, I’ve come to the opinion that the system is either poorly specified or poorly implemented, but it’s hard to imagine that a replacement could happen before 2020, or even a fix before 2017. The system doesn’t fit passenger’s needs. I’m pleased to see Ian and Hack Miramar pushing for position information to be released for free. It’s shameful that NZ Bus would want to hold the position data as a source of revenue instead of letting it be used to promote better service and increased patronage.

Originally posted on strathmorepark:

gowellingtonI have been holding off writing this blog, in the faint hope that someone would be able to convince New Zealand Bus in Wellington to adopt a position deserving of the 21st Century as opposed to the monopolistic behaviour they appear to be displaying. Let’s face it, everyone has tried to get them to join the latest century, but they remain stubbornly stuck in the past.

Here comes the rant.

In Christchurch and Auckland Public Transport data is openly available. Apps have been, and are being, written to allow passengers to see where their bus is, the time it will take for it to arrive, and how long it might take to get to their destination. However, in Wellington, New Zealand bus refuses to release it’s data apparently citing “commercial” reasons. The old “commercial reasons”…. Many a Official Information Request has been turned down on this weak basis.

Why is…

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Posted by: Gregory | November 18, 2014

2WalkAndCycle presentations


For those of us who didn’t attend the 2WalkAndCycle conference at the end of October, PDF copies of the presentations are available. There’s a wealth of information in there from a wide range of sources and I’ve only started skimming the surface. I’ll hopefully be able to track down some of the more interesting slides that were tweeted under the #2walkandcycle hastag.

Posted by: Gregory | November 10, 2014

Post-mortem: Skyshow bus services

Did anyone else have problems catching a bus into Wellington for the fireworks on Saturday night?

Metlink had been announcing the service notice for several days before the event, warning of road closures and promising increased capacity. Right up until the day of the event, Metlink was pushing out their message. Interestingly, the relevant information within the tweet is no longer addressable:

Luckily, Google has a cached copy.

Additional Bus Services

Mana Services
Normal timetabled services will run as scheduled. Larger buses will be put on routes with expected increased demand pre and post event. Extra buses will be on standby should demand increase significantly.

Go Wellington and Valley Flyer Services
Normal timetabled services will operate with additional buses available to be added to support existing routes and scheduled services on demand pre and post event.

NO additional services are being scheduled over and above the existing timetabled services; limited additional capacity on bus services will be available on demand to support scheduled services and managed by NZ Bus pre and post event.

So what happened when we got to the bus stop?

A route 1 bus was due about 5 minutes after we arrived. A few people had been waiting before we arrived and a couple more came along after us. The bus came and went without stopping because it was obviously full. A few of the people waiting joined the flow of pedestrians walking down Adelaide Road.

The next bus was a route 3, due about 10 minutes later, and was also full. By this point, nearly a dozen people had given up on the bus and walked into town.

The next bus was due in another 6 minutes. There was no way to know whether any bus coming along might have room. We ended up walking back to the house and driving to our destination on the far side of town.

On our way back to get the car, we noticed a route 1 bus marked for Courtenay Place, which must have been NZ Bus responding to demand. Fitting for this story, there was no indication of this additional on RTI, so not only was the bus not going where we needed it to go, we also didn’t know about it at a time which could have let us make a decision about catching it.

At the very top of Metlink’s service announcement for the skyshow:

Please consider using public transport to travel to and from the city centre as parking will be limited and there are road closures in place.

Posted by: Gregory | May 29, 2014

Easy Bits: Adelaide Road Bus Stop

One of the reasons behind the Easy Bits series is that small tasks are often more easily handled than large tasks. The end result should be a series of resolved problems. In this case, WCC has already logged the issue and I may see results soon.

The back-story is that with Metlink having updated the timetables for the Island Bay services, the stop nearest my house gets more frequent buses during peak hours. It’s not my favourite bus stop – there’s neither shelter for waiting passengers nor space for the bus to pull in – but it’s nearby. When I got there, I was prompted to send this tweet:

and within minutes, someone at council was on it:

To be fair, there’s a bit of cost associated with this change. There would be 1 or 2 car parks removed to make space for the bounding box for the bus stop. However, I’m tempted to think that the lack of bounding box was an oversight, so the change will be more along the lines of righting a historical wrong.

Posted by: Gregory | May 26, 2014

Easy Bits: Hutchison Road Crossing


Easy Bits will hopefully become a series of posts describing simple changes that would result in nothing-but-benefits. This one is in my neighbourhood, so is etched into my awareness. Any readers with issues like this are more than welcome to recommend a post, either by commenting below or preparing a guest-post.

Intersection of Hutchison Rd with Wallace St and John St

This is the most recent satellite image of the area around John St, Wallace St and Hutchison Rd. There are a few bus stops in the vicinity and an increasing amount of pedestrian traffic, partly due to the new Countdown store less than 100m away. The majority of the vehicle traffic follows the bend between John St and Wallace St, but a small number of vehicles take Hutchison Rd to or from Vogeltown. So with all that in mind, I’m completely baffled why the pedestrian crossing stops short of getting pedestrians all the way across from the north side of John St to the south side of Hutchison Rd. Extending the crossing would keep pedestrians in a single context all the way across the road. In the current situation, pedestrians get across to a median and have to watch for downhill cars that would be stopping approximately 2 meters further on and then watching again for uphill cars leaving John St. The cars may be few in number, but it’s easy for anyone to be inattentive to their surroundings.

As near as I can tell, the net result to vehicle traffic would be negligible and the result to pedestrians would be increased safety. Why hasn’t this been done? I’m tempted to think that it’s not been done because no one has suggested it.


Posted by: Gregory | May 13, 2014

Schedule updates around the region


Service notices have gone up indicating that a bunch of timetables are being adjusted. In all cases, the notes indicate that adjustments are being made to reflect actual travel times. This has been expected for a while, with enough RTI data being collected to highlight travel-time realities. In theory, this should help with routes that are consistently late and also help with drivers minimising their lateness by leaving early, which is a worse problem in my opinion.

Routes 1, 4, 32

Routes 13, 22, 23

Routes 81, 83, 84, 85

Posted by: Gregory | April 9, 2013

It’s Your Transport

Greater Wellington and Metlink are inviting passengers and potential passengers to get involved with their transport, an idea which I heartily agree with. The full details are at Metlink, but here’s the short story. They’re looking for artwork that can be used in promotions and as wraps for the exterior of buses and trains, and on the interior of the ferries. The work should describe what public transport means to people, whether it be the journey, the destination or the stops and stations themselves.

I believe that public involvement is an important part of public transportation. Not just for the obvious patronage aspects, but also for a sense of ownership of a system. This promotion gives residents a chance to highlight the positive aspects of the network in a very public way. I’m looking forward to seeing what Wellington’s creative minds come up with.

The entry period is already open and submissions are welcome until 5pm on Friday, May 3, 2013.

Posted by: Gregory | January 22, 2013

Why passenger transport is so important

I am posting this on behalf of Kerry Wood, who describes himself as a retired engineer with an interest in transport and sustainability.

The quality of peak-hour travel by car tends to equal that of public transport.

This simple observation is a formal statement of the ‘Downs-Thompson effect’, a useful way to think about traffic and ‘car dependence’.

London’s M4 motorway opened on a Saturday in 1965 and came to a standstill on Monday morning. It did not relieve congestion on the parallel Cromwell Road. The same thing had happened when the Cromwell Road Extension opened 30 years earlier.

Downs-Thompson effects don’t always come as quickly as this, but come they will. They usually wipe out half or all the expected benefits within three to five years. Other names for the process are induced traffic or triple convergence: existing trips converging from other times of day, other routes and other modes.

  • Another time of day may be as simple as leaving home a few minutes later, or not waiting so long for homeward traffic to ease off. The result is a shorter and more intense traffic peak.
  • Another route may be a switch from back-streets to the new highway, or to another destination. It may be a more distant workplace or shopping centre, or a new home more remote from the same destination.
  • For a new mode, the most common change is to using the car, or using it more often.

While there is real traffic growth, most growth is existing trips filling up the new road space. Triple convergence is a drag on the economy, delaying everybody but supporting only car and petrol sales.

Some drivers will always use their car but others actively explore their options. As triple convergence progressively slows traffic they may try the bus again, but find it worse than ever.

  • Delays in re-entering a fast-moving traffic stream on leaving a stop.
  • Consistently missing traffic signals set to give motor traffic a ‘green wave’.
  • A more indirect route to pick up passengers, such as bypassing a flyover.
  • Degraded access because a busy road is hard to cross and stops become inaccessible.

If there is a parallel rail service the ‘explorers’ will also try the train, but may find it is also worse. Operator responses to lost traffic may include higher fares or less frequent services. Older trains may have been neglected and become unreliable. By the time road traffic stabilizes—at the same overall speed as travel by train—the train service may itself be degraded. Everybody is worse off, unless subsidies have maintained standards.

The pressure eventually builds up and something is done. Suppose that this time the railway is chosen: greater capacity on faster, more comfortable and more reliable trains. Now some explorers find the train suits them best, and some non-explorer friends may also be convinced. As more drivers take the train, road traffic speeds up until the quality of peak hour travel by car again equals that of public transport.

In reality there is no simple either-or here. Traffic surveys in London have shown that about 15% of cars in a morning peak are missing the next day, but the total number is much less variable. Train users often take the car sometimes, just as drivers sometimes take the train. A good central area cycle-hire scheme may remove some of the reasons for taking the car. Other options include car-sharing, cycling, school buses and tele-working.

Trucks and diehard car-users do not need more road capacity: there is already space for them. The question is how to keep it clear for those who need it.

The standard solution is queuing: the most inefficient method there is. Who was it described roads as the last refuge of Stalinism? Road users like to believe they have paid for congestion-free travel, but they are not stuck in traffic: they are traffic. Traffic behaves the way it does because users can game the system; what is the economic value of an extra two minutes in bed?

Nothing can be done while road users make trips having external costs greater than the internal benefits. Fixing it needs not RoNS but road pricing: far cheaper, far more effective but politically unpopular. In Britain, the Royal Automobile Club now supports road pricing.

What can be done to introduce it here?

Posted by: Gregory | December 5, 2012

Reactivating a bus stop

Bus stop 7918 was closed during the construction of the Countdown store in Newtown. I don’t remember how long it was down for, but it was a significant length of time. With the store opening today, I’d asked Metlink when the stop would be reopening. I think we were both surprised by the answer: Also today.

Encouraged by this, I went down to the stop this morning and caught the next bus coming along. The driver insisted that the stop wasn’t open yet. The paint is down and the sign is up, but the bus stop isn’t really a bus stop. She let us on anyway.

A couple questions fall out of this instantly:

  • Why wasn’t Metlink advertising the reopening of the bus stop?
  • Why didn’t Metlink have forehand knowledge that the bus stop was reopening?
  • Why is there different information coming from Metlink and Go Wellington?
  • How are passengers supposed to know what is or isn’t a bus stop if all the markings are there?

This highlights a common failure for Wellington’s public transportation system: communication. Metlink doesn’t handle public communication overly well, which is also hindered by the disconnect between Metlink and the operators. I shouldn’t have to ask when a stop is opening. Everyone should know the details well in advance. We need to do better than this.

Posted by: Gregory | November 4, 2012

Frequent Airport Flyer

I first noticed the news of the changes to the Airport Flyer in an article that appeared in the DomPost. The article is very matter-of-fact – quite refreshing compared to the quote-laden GWRC and NZ Bus media releases. Beginning Jan 14, 2013, there will be a 10-minute frequency between the airport and the Wellington Railway Station as well as a 20-minute frequency between the airport and Hutt city centre. Direct service to Upper Hutt will be replaced by a connection with route 110 from Queensgate.

Achieving a high frequency service takes some trade-offs. In order to have enough buses, service to Upper Hutt will be sacrificed, as well as travel through the Rongotai Retail Park. The media release indicates that the bus will take Cobham Drive to the airport instead of Moa Point Road. This implies that Kilbirnie will be bypassed, but fails to state this clearly. This is my expectation for the route after January 14:

Route from Hataitai to Airport via SH1

Using route 30 as a model, we can expect the travel time from Courtenay Place to the airport to be approximately 13 minutes, making a total travel time from the railway station 25 minutes, down from 30 minutes currently seen at peak hour. It’s still longer travel time than in a taxi, but also much cheaper. Frequency is key, though. Every 10 minutes means that no matter when you’re ready to go, you’ll be there within 35 minutes.

Although the route is more direct, dropping Kilbirnie from the Airport Flyer route would be a disappointing shift, especially in light of the Wellington City Bus Review. The network is being redesigned with the idea that making connections will allow for more frequent services than our current direct-service model. As a core route, the Airport Flyer should be targeting the major connection points. Kilbirnie is a hub for the east and south-east  Although a direct route along SH1 may be faster for city passengers, a stop at Kilbirnie allows for much better connectivity. For the cost of around 2 minutes, I would rather see this:

Hataitai to airport via Kilbirnie and SH1

Access through Rongotai and to the retail park will be picked up by extending route 14. Normally, the 14 terminates at Kilbirnie, so an extension to the service is logistically easy. Timetables for the Airport Flyer indicate that it’s only a 2 minute extension to go as far as the retail park. Personally, I find that hard to believe, so I hope that Go Wellington factors in some extra time for its headway calculation. Although the 14 has several partial runs, the full route is run at half-hour intervals. This is less frequently than the current Airport Flyer, but probably adequate for the purpose. More importantly, passengers to Rongotai are treated to normal city bus fares instead of paying the much higher price of the airport service.

Overall, I think this is good news for the city. A high-frequency service through the city centre and to the parliament precinct should put bus service on near-equal footing with taxi services for business and tourist trips. The free WiFi on board is icing on the cake. I had initially expected that longer travel times for the 14 might lead to an adjustment of either the frequency or the staffing. Having looked at the current schedules, I think my fears are baseless. It appears that the extra few minutes of travel won’t substantially affect the running of the route. It appears to be a net win for Wellington.

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