Posted by: Gregory | March 31, 2015

Events: Planning to Fail

Dave Armstrong has an opinion piece about transit at events in the DomPost stemming from the quarter-final match between New Zealand and the West Indies on March 21st. Let’s dig out some quotes from his story.

Train passengers streamed down to the station and it looked as though the powers that be had made allowances for a large crowd in the same way they did when Phoenix games were relocated to the Hutt Valley.

Okay, it’s pretty good so far, although a commenter on the article had said that there weren’t enough cars scheduled and ticket collectors couldn’t actually get everyone who boarded.

After rugby games, buses will often be waiting outside the Cake Tin to take punters to Courtenay Place, but there wasn’t a bus to be seen.

I think it’s worth checking to see who’s arranging those rugby shuttles. They’re not regular services and may not fall under Greater Wellington planning or funding. (Unfortunately, FYI is currently down, which handles my normal OIA requests.)

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. Hallelujah.

Trouble was, even 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.

The story goes on, but so far, this reminds me a lot of my experience before the Wellington SkyShow in November. The only buses coming along were full buses and we had no idea when the “extra services” promised by Greater Wellington would show. After that November post, GW Councillor Paul Bruce quizzed the transport team and came back with this response:

The ability to update and include extra runs which are not regular scheduled services is difficult and the service would be unable to generate RTI predictions on those services as they have no history. Before an event like the Sky Show we agree with the operators where extra services will likely be put on but some of this varies during the event based on demand and observations by operational staff on the road.

The current RTI system also depends on schedule / runboard information being transmitted 7 days in advance.  So we believe the best way we can get information out to the customers at this time is to have the scrolling messages and for the Metlink Call Centre to hold the most up to date service information as they are in direct contact with the operators control centre staff.

While I can understand that RTI predictions depend on historical information that isn’t present, we should be able to come up with an event schedule to suit the 7-day lead time. Events are generally booked months in advance at the venues, so it’s hard to imagine why Greater Wellington can’t come up with a proposed event schedule a week ahead. Even then, if the issue is the RTI displays, why should this be a limitation on the website RTI?

The utility of the bus service is only as good as the ability for the passenger to make a valid travel decision. There’s no point waiting for a bus that isn’t coming or is already full. There’s very little point in running extra services that nobody knows about. Unless people are waiting in the right place at the right time, the extra service is useless. It’s shoddy practice for Greater Wellington to allow the bus operators to run extra service on-demand. Reliability and information is as important as capacity.

Back to Dave:

So what is causing our bus problems? Most companies would see a packed bus as both a service failure and an opportunity for more business.

For example, a theatre knows that if a show is selling out they need to schedule extra performances. Happy punters get to see the show and the theatre makes more money. It’s a win-win situation, but that doesn’t seem to happen with buses.

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?

I suspect that there’s a lack of transparency as well. NZ Bus isn’t responsible to voters. In most cases, voters can’t even see the information that Greater Wellington has on operations, due to commercial sensitivity. This is definitely a problem and I’m not sure if the new Public Transport Operating Model will solve it.

It’s not all horribly bad for scheduled services, so I’ll end on a positive note. The recent changes to the Island Bay routes have drastically improved the peak service through the Adelaide Road corridor. Those changes are slow to happen and may now be on hold until the new bus network happens.



  1. on small mitigating factor to note: a cricket game (unlike rugby or football) has a variable finish time. The quarterfinal finished at least 1.5 hours before it was expected to finish so that may have affected their extra capacity planning as well.

    • That’s a very good point. It’s impossible to perfectly predict demand for anything, but there wasn’t any extra capacity at a time when there was reasonable expectation of increased demand.

  2. Reblogged this on strathmorepark and commented:
    Couldn’t have said it better myself. Several of us have petitioned the WCC and GWRC long and hard to release the Real Time Data for buses so we can build custom applications to allow a better public transport experience. NZBus has flatly refused to do this as they see that data as commercially valuable. The signs have been outed a number of times now as not displaying Real Time information. It is scheduled information only.

    • “The signs have been outed a number of times now as not displaying Real Time information. It is scheduled information only.” – sorry, but that’s not the case. If it says SCHED it’s scheduled information, otherwise it is real time – and in my experience, usually reasonably accurate.

      • I had a repeatable failure of the predicted times on a particular Eastbourne service that related to a bus shifting between routes. According to my email trail, this was May 2014 and it’s been ages since I last saw the problem appear in that form. I’m not convinced that the system works properly for buses shifting routes, but a SCHED time is better than a wrong time.

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