Greater Wellington failing regional economy

The roll-out of real time displays — screens that tell passengers when their bus or train will arrive — has been delayed yet again, Greater Wellington Regional Council reported yesterday. This is yet another setback in a long line of setbacks and broken promises stretching right back to the year 2000.

European bus and train riders have been enjoying real time information displays since the early 1990s. Christchurch rolled out their real time displays for buses in 2001. Hamilton in 2005. Why can’t the Council deliver this significant enhancement to bus and train services that commuters elsewhere have been enjoying for years?

The way I see it, the Council has lost sight of any kind of ethic of customer service. The Council continues to raise bus and train fares, but struggles to deliver a modern, reliable transport service in return.

I’d be interested to know when the last time a councillor (besides Paul Bruce) tried catching a train to make an important appointment on time. There seems to be no urgency on the Council’s behalf to sort out the gross deficiencies of our bus and train services.

Unless there is a significant shake up at Greater Wellington Regional Council, it seems Wellingtonians will have to put up with second-rate public transport services, low ridership growth, and greater congestion on our roads. This ultimately hurts our region’s economy, because every minute spend waiting on a cold platform for a late train is a minute lost to a more productive use of time. Multiply those lost minutes across the entire region and you’ll suddenly realise why it’s so important to get our public transport services right.

Here’s the long long line of broken promises on real time information systems (PDF).

 

 

23 thoughts on “Greater Wellington failing regional economy

  1. Is Wellington only going for the signs, or is there a plan for an online system for people to check when away from platforms?

    My brief experience in Melbourne so far, which seems to have a below-average train system for its size but does have real-time signs on major platforms, is that I can get to the platform and discover the trains are late or cancelled or redirected…, but I’m still stuck on the platform and it’s freezing or raining or whatever else. It’s the punctuality problems that are the real killer, as they make it impossible to plan switches between trains (necessary for many commuters here) since the timetables are often meaningless. From an economic perspective, a place like Melbourne is probably losing well into the millions of dollars per day just through people wasting time getting tired and frustrated standing on platforms that they arrived at much earlier than they needed to, and I’m sure Wellington’s very similar, if on a different scale.

    Platform signs are good if you just want to know how long you’ll be waiting when you get there, but the most useful thing here, sadly only available with trams, is the TramTracker iPhone app (and an Android equivalent that someone whipped up independently) which gives real-time info about the trams at every stop, apparently similar to what Auckland has for its buses though I’ve never tried that system. It’s equally useful at obscure stops with no signs and it’s useful before you even leave home or the office… or I can just go to that website and enter stop 3204 to see the trams showing up outside before I leave work.

    Metro (the Melbourne train operator) and its predecessor have had this real-time data about trains for years because it’s on all the signs, but I think if it were published openly, there would simply be waves of frustrated people, including journalists, making objective charts and analyses that prove just how much worse the trains’ punctuality is than what Metro claims. This is ironic because I think better access to real-time data would alleviate at least some of people’s frustrations. (As a back-story, Metro is already fined roughly $1 million every month for not meeting punctuality and cancellation targets. Passengers are also meant to be compensated but that’s a whole new story of insane bureaucracy.) Hopefully TranzMetro doesn’t have those kinds of politics that would discourage it from doing such useful things.

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  2. As a back-story, Metro is already fined roughly $1 million every month for not meeting punctuality and cancellation targets.

    Adding to that back-story, I personally believe that it is unfair to Metro – many of the issues that Metro are facing are outside of their control; for instance, there has been insufficient rolling stock coming on stream, and some of the rolling stock that has come on stream in recent years has apparently had issues and thus has speed limits imposed on them.

    What I personally find shocking is that Auckland has Real Time Indicators at many places. Surely Wellington cannot fall behind Auckland!

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  3. No argument there, the problem’s much bigger than Metro. Like Wellington (and Auckland) it’s a consequence of decades of underinvestment in the infrastructure and favouring roads. Signal failures and overhead problems seem to be the most common reasons for delays. A few months back, Metro crashed two trains in a month, both running off the end of tracks either because the brakes were inadequate or because drivers weren’t following speed restrictions — accounts vary. In the second case, the train ploughed through the wall of a bank. More than a few times now I’ve been sitting in the Siemens trains (the relatively new ones) and a driver’s come over the PA to complain about the crappy train they’re driving. (They say it very politely but make their point clear enough.)

    The operator doesn’t help itself in many ways, but the system and the way the government here is treating public transport seems to have been devolving for a long time. They can’t even do basic things like build an airport train — not because it’s too expensive, but because a contractual agreement with Citylink, which operates the toll roads, puts some crippling restrictions on the government’s ability to do things that might reduce its profits, including discouraging parking in the CBD.

    I agree about the $1 million fine, which doesn’t really seem to help, anyway. Metro (allegedly but hard to prove without raw commercially sensitive data) do shifty things like cancelling trains when getting too close to the monthly Late quota. The time I tried to claim my 2 days of free travel to which I was entitled, I had to first discover I was entitled (I only knew through Twitter), find a PDF buried on their website, print it out and fill it in, buy an envelope (because I’ve not sent anything snail-mail in years), then post it. I waited 2.5 months with no communication whatsoever before getting a letter telling me I was ineligible, with no specific info. Which was verifiably false because my smartcard keeps a full statement and proves everything. They might’ve screwed up with me, but my wife got an identical letter. It’s just the kind of crap they pull and there’s little incentive for them not to do so. If anyone was serious about this, compensation would just be credited to all eligible cards automatically whenever that were possible.

    But yeah — try not to do what Melbourne’s done, I suppose.

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  4. But yeah — try not to do what Melbourne’s done, I suppose.

    Sorry to keep up with the off-topic tangent, but at least the situation is better in Melbourne than it is in Sydney. There, the trains are packed and there is only one more CBD corridor that can be developed – once that has been developed, then City Rail has a permanent capacity restriction; all because they didn’t plan for the future when they had the opportunity and skyscrapers have sprung up since then.

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  5. Melbourne has the luck to be sited in a wide flat Basin.
    The City by now, would be roughly a hundred K wide and even longer(@150k-200k)
    Trains and Trams can all run at 90degree angles and meet waiting buses, one ticket does for all, and apart from NYC I have seen no transport arrangement to equal the effective economic, safe and fast Public Transport systems these Cities offer – and I’ve been paid to study a few dozen…..
    Sydney has the NZ problem – hills, bays, rights of way, private property issues etc etc.

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  6. Yeah, wide boring basin packed full of suburban bleaugh and golf courses. (That’s just my impression having lived in Wellington for so long… I still haven’t gotten used to Melbourne.)

    That’s true to an extent, and I liked the Melbourne trains when I first showed up because there actually were trains when I needed them. Then we started wanting to get to places other than work in the CBD. I can’t speak for your experiences, but we tried living here without a car for 4 months and decided it was impossible if we wanted any kind of long term life in evenings and on weekends. Most public transport here operates radially — buses go around the edges slightly if you have a clue where they’re going and where to get off, but they take forever. They also tend not to run terribly late if you have any interest in going to something in evenings. For us, simply going up and down the Frankston line is very limiting. When we first arrived it took 2 hours to get somewhere on a train, most of it in a moving train, which now takes about 20 minutes sideways driving time. I know very few people here who don’t own a car, and we’re meeting increasing numbers of people who’ve never ever considered public transport — it hasn’t ever been on their radar. Certainly nothing like NYC where it’s quite unusual to own a car if you live somewhere like Manhatten, practical to live near a subway line, get cheap taxis short distances when necessary, and maybe rent a car for a few days if you want to go on a road trip further out. But yeah, if you happen to be near enough to a Melbourne train line which goes past where you work, they’re a cheap way to get there (infrastructure problems aside). I guess that’s like anywhere with trains.

    It’s just frustrating that the infrastructure’s been run into the ground so much over the last few decades, not just in favour of roads and driving, but in ways that now seem to be contractually cripple the future development of public transport. There resistance or indifference for improvement from so many people who’ve already organised their lives around driving. I’d imagine somewhere like Auckland has similar problems with rallying support, though I’ve never lived there.

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  7. Have sympathy with that Mike – where there are roads – you probably need a car – certainly all my late-nite diversions for paella etc etc…Gambero’s, would not have succeeded by Public Transport

    Though if you’re into nite life – get a place in Nth Melbourne – it’s better than New York!

    I had the fortune to work in Public Transport’s Head Office there (with a free pass on all) and a fair say on what went where and why – the plans for the next 20 years were beyond the scope of a mere mortal mind.
    But I might say, the Public Servants I worked with were well-paid, honest dedicated and educated in a way that NZ does simply not enjoy.

    Auckland, like most NZ landscapes is broken geographically – normal practicalities face an immediate problem.

    Take the train South to Frankston Beach, lie down in the warm winter sun and give it some thought!
    I’ll miss my years of same (Courtesy a big ex-cop BMW Bike) if that’s any consolation.
    By comparison – I wouldn’t dream of using PT in NZ – have sold my motorbike – think the place blinkered and backward.

    (PS; or the train to th Dandenongs is a mighty guarantee – be thee a millionaire, or in poverty – go see William Ricketts Sanctuary, and know you have seen one of this world’s few remaining wonders)

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  8. Melbourne has more happening than Wellington and Christchurch combined. Seriously buzzy palace for a young person to live.

    Actually found public transport excellent compared to Wellington and much more to do. Just compare Williamstown to Frank Kitts park.

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  9. Wellingtonians have serious delusions about their city.
    Hobart, Tauranga, West Auckland, S Adelaide, Port McQuarie and Launceston, even Burnie have much more going on than Wellington. And much better weather!

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  10. Hi Gareth,

    I’m a regular commuter between Waikanae and WGTN… (Formerly between Paraparaumu and WGTN) and after some initial issues associated with bedding down the new track/time table/signals… I gotta say, I’m as grateful as hell for what we now have.

    Yes, I have encountered issues:-

    1- Electrical Fire Pre-Matangi Units
    2- Smoke fm Faulty Brakes inundating the Cabin Pre-Matangi (Three times)
    3- Generator failure Capital Connection (but there was still a Beer in Buffet Car for me).

    These issues are Age of Plant and/or Repair and Maintenance issues…delayed access to “Real Time Information Displays” would not have changed outcomes for me in any of these events.

    Maybe my expectations are low, but I would support completing the Track/Signal/Rolling Stock upgrades before attempting the nice to haves.

    The Biggest risk to all of this is a road of Significance to National delivering a traffic volume to Wellington that it won’t be able to cope with and it will destroy the Vibe and Vision that makes WGTN a Special place.

    Kia Kaha.

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  11. Kerry; my own life is very much what I make it – I can lament the shortcomings of provincial NZ endlessly – or choose to regard the sunlight, whacking up offa the river.
    Sometime I have to search for a half-smile – not every day is a laughing day.
    That is as true here as it is in outer Mongolia.

    However – I don’t argue the point – San Francisco Bay – Vienna – Toledo – the world has charms to calm us all…..

    Wellington has a definite Centre in a way that few Cities do…coming to see her again, with nothing but joy, cold and all….

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  12. Immediately after talking about Wellingtonians being delusional….Kerry says “even Burnie have much more going on than Wellington.”

    Oh..the irony.

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  13. Just saying Wellingtonians need to get out more. And I do not mean bouncing around Cook Strait.
    The only problem with Burnie is every one looks the same. BUT have you ever watched the crowd coming out of Wellington railway station at 0835.

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  14. Oh I’m probably looking at it backwards from how many people would. In general I dislike city life and I’m not one for night-life at all. I’m extremely biased but the main reason I liked Wellington was for how walkable it is, and I’d happily go back if it were an option right now. Public transport was nothing special and expensive enough that I tried to avoid it like the plague if I could ever walk anywhere. The evening things to which I referred were mostly stuff like club and society meetings, which often tend to run late and be buried in suburban places that aren’t very accessible at night. I think my impression is just that Melbourne doesn’t have a system anywhere near as cohesive or coordinated as I was expecting before I arrived. I should probably get a bike, still working on that one. Flat just isn’t my thing, though.

    Anyway…. real-time public transport info. It’d be nice to know that Wellington’s planning to make it available in more places than just platforms.

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  15. Kerry; Think I know what you’re saying and I agree
    One visit to Wellington I distinctly recall everyone being pale and confused – a reflection if you like – I would say, NZ’ders need to get out more.
    There was a stage in my young life where conversations ended with
    “When are you going to get Your OE Mark?”

    Though somewhat affronted at the time – I now think it salutary, almost compulsory advice…..

    But then you gotta have courage, money, and a whole lotta help (to make it on yr own)

    Photo is probably funded by the Taxpayer to Jibe you….ignore him….mention those Italian Cops never missed Jesus with his BANG BANG BANG theory.

    It’ll take a few days but he’ll get it eventually…

    Met a woman I could have easily married in Burnie – probably should have…

    MikeM….tell me where you are and I’ll put you in deep within 30 minutes….using public transport or not – him story plenty here…Melbourne Good!!

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  16. your blog just crashed my browser AGAIN. This has been going on for months now. can’t you fix it?

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  17. wot lucy said…

    it is bloody tiresome frog..

    and it only happens here..

    ..so plse don’t again tell us it is somehow our fault/shortcoming…

    ..how about seeing if you can get someone to fix it..?

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  18. Gareth says ” every minute spend waiting on a cold platform for a late train is a minute lost to a more productive use of time”

    The problem is that a sign that tells you the train is five minutes late….won’t actually put the train back on time.

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  19. I’ve never had my browser crash whilst being on this blog

    [frog: Only older versions of Firefox have the problem, as far as I know. Upgrading to version 4 should resolve it.]

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  20. Photonz1, real time won’t make the train come on time, correct, but it does empower the waiting commuter with information enabling them to make some choices about how they’re going to get where they need to on time.

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  21. Though it’s often even more useful to have the real-time information before leaving home (via phones, ‘net, etc). Then it’s possible to do something useful with your time rather than standing on a platform waiting.

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