Posted by: Gregory | March 12, 2012

Wellington Bus Review

This has been cross-posted to Wellingtonista.

Greater Wellington Regional Council is currently consulting on the Wellington City Bus Review. This is mandated by the Regional Public Transport Plan, which requires a review of transport services at least once every five years. The current shape of the network has existed for decades and the city has changed dramatically in that time. For this review, GWRC has chosen to work with MRCagney to produce a recommendation, which brought Jarrett Walker, author of Human Transit, into our region.

Although the public transport network works, it’s susceptible to reliability problems. Wellington City Council has tuned some of the road network, generating more than enough controversy, and continues to look at adjustments. The proposed routes are a more radical departure from the status quo. The basic assumptions are being questioned. As expected, there have been complaints.

Disclaimer: this post is my personal opinion. Other opinions are valid, but I ask that any points of discussion be backed up with rationale instead of just emotion. My goal for this post is to encourage people to voice valid concerns to Greater Wellington. The bus review is not an all-or-none situation, you don’t vote for or against it, and this certainly isn’t my word versus yours. It’s up to each of us to be constructive.

The most important part of the proposed changes is the definition of the core network and a promise to keep it for the long term. The core routes operate at 15min intervals or better, all day, all week. The goal of this is to take away the schedule. In a high-frequency network, passengers can show up and get on, rather than planning for when the next bus may arrive. As Walker suggests, frequency is freedom. Core routes in the south and east cross over each other, allowing for those high-frequency services to connect town centres in a way that direct buses can’t justify.

The concept of connecting services is woven deeply into the proposal. It is probably the biggest change to the bus network. Transfers are rare within the Wellington regional network and greeted with anything between suspicion and malice. They are a penalty on travel times and directness, and paying for a second ticket would drive passengers away from a service. However, transfers allow for much more efficient service – both coverage and frequency – for the same transport dollar. They also allow for a simpler system overall; the details of a many-to-many network is hard to keep in your head. The counter-argument is simple: “If I only ever use one bus, why should I care about network complexity?”. The answer is also simple: you’re meant to be able to use the whole network.

GWRC has indicated that transfers between buses on the same network will be free. Snapper already handles transfers from one bus route to another for Valley Flyer, so getting Go Wellington transfers in place is simple. Transferring between operators is harder, but not impossible. People who travel longer distances may be able to use daily or monthly passes across services until we have an integrated ticketing scheme in place, which GWRC has signalled for 2016 (see page 11).

There are a few factors that go into making transfers acceptable. After price, timeliness and environment are probably equally important. While it’s easy to show that a connected service, including wait times, may in fact be faster than a direct service, time spent waiting is more strongly felt than time spent travelling, especially if the weather is raging. GWRC promises to provide adequate shelter at transfer points, which must be large enough to hold a reasonable number of connecting passengers. These connection points offer an interesting opportunity for nearby businesses to pick up customers. Being on the core network has definite advantages, especially on the edges.

Outside of the core network, residential services cannot run at core frequency and should not try. Undoubtedly, residential passengers are going to feel put out if their service frequency is listed as lower than present. This was summarised quite elegantly by a friend. People couldn’t care a less if their service improves, but they’ll scream if they are any worse off. Frequency for the secondary and peak services were derived from ticketing information provided by the operators. (See section 3 in the MRCagney report, part 1 and part 2.) There are areas that are truly worse off, but it may be difficult to justify the extra costs to fill in the expectation gap, knowing the patronage isn’t there. Walker simplifies the point in an interview:

You explain that low-density suburbs must choose between cost-effective transit or high-quality transit. Why can’t they have both?

Because the design of the typical low-density suburb makes it geometrically impossible. Yelling at your transit agency or elected officials won’t change the facts of geometry. Once you see that, you can move beyond blame and start thinking about what kind of transit is reasonable in each situation.

In the face of higher demand, increasing the frequency of a secondary service is possible. It’s merely a question of the higher patronage justifying the cost of the extra bus and driver.

There is a looming question of where the buses travel through the CBD. Traditionally, everything runs through the Golden Mile unless it cannot. At peak hour, there are in excess of 120 buses per hour in each direction of the Golden Mile. Averaging one bus every 30 seconds, it’s common to see buses queueing as bus-to-bus congestion causes a minor delay to cascade backward. While there is room for rationalising bus stop distances and positions relating to intersections, or to speed up boardings with technical measures, the Golden Mile cannot scale to higher capacity. The proposal aims for about 60 buses per hour along the Golden Mile – most core routes and most secondary routes. GWRC has not followed the proposal from MRCagney to create peak transfer points with the core network, opting for complete separation of the peak buses from the Golden Mile. This is a point of contention that I have with the proposed changes. Moving peak buses out to the quays leaves passengers isolated and exposed.

Finally, it is tempting to bring the argument of technology into this review. The number of complaints about the future of the trolley network prompted Walker to write a blog post (see point 4), which was then followed up with a full post on the issue. I think it’s wrong to let the existing trolley lines design the network by virtue of existing. Lines were moved during the Manners Mall redevelopment and lines can be moved again. I think the issue is to get the geometry right. After that, we can argue that trolleys are worth running. Similarly, the routes don’t depend on light rail, nor do they exclude the possibility. That’s the benefit of defining the service quality first. How to implement the service should always be a subsequent question.

The bus review consultation is open until March 16, 2012. Follow GWRC’s instructions about giving feedback, or write something free-form and send it in. All I ask is for you to be constructive. We’re building something here.



  1. […] This has been cross-posted to Sustainable Wellington Transport. […]

  2. During public consultation of the Golden Mile Plan the options were removed from the public by the stakeholders some with commercial interests in the route, they were : Option A: Do nothing – Option B: Wakefield Street – Option C: Dixon Street – Option D: Manners Mall – Option Di: Manners Mall – Lower Cuba Street shared space.

    After the stakeholders chose Option Di and what was meant to be “public consultation” turned into major marketing campaign funded by the ratepayers. In addition the Statement of Proposal sanctioned by Garry Poole was rife with false measurements and incorrect scaled maps and deluded the public into thinking there was plenty of room for buses in Manners Mall when in fact there was not. This then goes against the principals of consultation according to the Local Goverment Act 2002 when the road controlling authority withheld legal bus measurements. Ultimately it took an innocent life and maimed 7 more with safety audits by 2 reputable companies, Statham Ltd and Beca Infrastructure, showing significant and serious safety concerns the length of the Golden Mile before and after completion.

    This Bus Review continues to ignore safety on the routes particularly in the Willis / Taranaki Street precinct and what still is a popular pedestrian precinct due to population explosions in Te Aro of 75% in the last decade.

    Notwithstanding the Land Transport Act stipulates road controlling authorities like GW and WCC are to integrate safety at planning, not after. Council ignored its own Walking and Cycling Policies to push what was advertised as a “world class” public transport system for Wellington. We further question whether redundancies in the public sector have been featured into this review.

    Bus reviews are essential, not addressing safety is a crime and according to the Traffic Institute of New Zealand who in their own goals state; “That none of us should be injured or killed by New Zealand Transport Systems”. Congestion was by design when WCC put the route together and drew a double yellow line in Manner Street meaning “no overtaking” as was already the case in Willis Street. In addition the City is Ours Inc served Greater Wellington and asked them to attend the proceedings in the Environment Court to help Judge Thompson make a fair ruling.

    The ruling was that city bus lanes should be 3.25 meters wide, Venessa Green never stood a chance on a bus lane in Willis Street measuring 3 meters wide only………


  3. Greater Wellington declined the opportunity extended to them by the City is Ours Inc to attend the proceedings in the Environment Court in April 2010.

  4. Reblogged this on Cyclechallenge’s Weblog.

  5. There’s a lot right with the direction the council is going with this review. Congestion wasn’t created by the choice of route for the bus system. Any route – Wakefield or Manners or anywhere else – would face congestion simply because there are too many buses. Getting the number of buses down by having a more efficient network is essential. It will make the bus system work better, and mean it is easier for me to cross the street outside my workplace.

    But there are a few things that need improvement in the proposals.

    Some of the proposed new routes won’t handle peak passenger numbers unless they add some extra buses in the peak. And some of those extra buses should start from intermediate suburbs like Hataitai so people there can get a seat.

    The ticketing systems need sorting, so there is no fare penalty for changing between buses or from bus to train.

    Wellington City needs to get serious about bus priority along the routes.

    And we surely don’t need to lose as many trolley bus services.

  6. We are still not addressing safety!!!!!

    Wakefield Street also known as Option B was always the safer out of the two. Venessa Green would still be alive had council employees, WCC and GW, been able to equally share the burden of our public transport system outside their front doors, everyone else does why can’t they?

    Precious ratepayer dollars were wasted killing a pedestrian precinct, one of the busiest in New Zealand and Wellington, and our compensation for the destruction in heritage Thorndon to progress the Urban Motorway in the sixties ultimately bisecting the Bolton Street Cemetery.

    Near misses are a daily occurrence because bus drivers are too busy tracking when entering this narrow precinct. Wakefield Street already had a road wide enough for an extra passing lane and might have been connected a short distance with Victoria Street to enter Lambton Quay via Williston Street.

    Had Greater Wellington shown leadership and attended the proceedings in the Environment Court at CIO’s invitation we might have had a different outcome, who runs the buses anyway? On the other hand had the public seen the options made available to the stakeholders only, they would surely have chosen option A: DO NOTHING.

    Wellington City needs to get serious about safe bus routes and adhere to the Environment Court ruling for City bus lanes at 3.25 meters wide.

    As we surely don’t need to lose another fellow citizen.

    In the meantime this government is busy cleaning out their departments with a big fat broom and may reflect badly on the 4% annual increase predicted by GW re: public transport patronage let alone a pipe dream called light rail.

    Please check your balance………

    • I disagree with a number of points.

      While there are bus drivers who don’t drive to the speed limit or to the conditions of the road, they are not 100% to blame for pedestrians that fail to look before stepping onto a road. I spend a lot of time watching behaviour and I’d aim for 50/50. I voice a complaint to the operators every time I see a bus driver failing to be safe. Metlink knows me well. Unfortunately, I can’t really do much about anybody else.

      Safety is not a measurable concept. Had Willis St or Manners St been made wider, would it be 100% safer? Of course not. 50%? 20%? Measuring the road is easy. Making it meaningful is not. People are surprising, even to professionals whose job is to make people safer. The best approach we can take is to reduce the rate of dangerous impulses, such is running red lights or stepping out into small breaks in traffic. That’s an economics problem, one that the bus proposal actually approaches.

      A major effect of the CBD route mapping is to limit the number of buses along any one corridor. Peak buses are moved away from the core buses and one of the core routes runs separately. This allows for manageable frequency along each of the corridors. While this is intended to improve reliability along the CBD routes, it also has the effect of regularising traffic along the Golden Mile. This is where the safety improvements come in. Predictable movements reduce the benefits of deviation. Cars and buses are less prone to running red lights or speeding, and pedestrians are more able to look both ways before crossing.

      Moving the buses off the Golden Mile would not solve all the safety issues. In fact, given the traffic priority applied arterial intersections, I would expect to see more pedestrians running out into traffic. The problem is that New Zealand culture celebrates ad hoc behaviour and near misses. Fix that. Otherwise, we can get back to connecting people to places and mitigating risk as best we can.

  7. What Gregory talks about is another concept by design as was pointed out by visiting Professor of Urban Design Jan Gehl in 2005 when he talked about the jay walking culture in Wellington. This has now been made even worse with the opening of Manners Mall to traffic.

    The Beca Infrastructure Safety Audit a must read, is available here:

    The Jones Lang LaSalle 2008 report to Council using the overseas experience about the disadvantages of opening pedestrian malls to traffic; page 16 is here.

    Population explosions in Te Aro between Cambridge Tce and Willis Street from the waterfront to Webb Street saw a 75% increase in inner city dwellers in the CBD in just one decade. A survey of inner city apartment dwellers in 2009 revealed 75% of them walk to work and/or study every day, reason why the Willis/Taranaki Street precinct is used by 40.000 pedestrians daily.

    Manners Street was always to narrow reason why Garry Poole cheated in the Golden Mile Plan Statement of Proposal showing buses one third of their actual size in map SK 201 on page 25 which deluded the public into thinking there was plenty of room for buses.

    Please check your balance…..

  8. On of the fine Wellingtonista people brought a post to my attention, discussing safety for women, student access and disability issues. Have a look:

  9. Yes we went to one of those meetings and it seems they want to have a interchange by the hospital where emergency services need access to A&E 24/7 not to mention the proposed John street intersection changes due to the Countdown Supermarket.

    A meeting with the Newtown Residents Association recently revealed the emergency services have not been consulted either by WCC or GW.

    Safety simply is not about bus lanes and how wide they are, it is complicated and must be addressed at planning not after. When your house is on fire you want the Fire Service to get there quick smart the same with your ambulance.

  10. […] newest issue of Metlink News is out. There are bits on Matangi deployment, the Wellington Bus Review, integrated ticketing, an upcoming fare-structures consultation and […]

  11. […] between the aspirational mode-share targets and what gets implemented. We’ve had the Wellington Bus Review, but implementation was delayed. We’re still waiting on integrated ticketing that allows […]

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