Wellington City Cheated by Public Transport Performance

* When it is finally working, is the new Wellington bus network better than the previous?

* This post compares the pre-July 2018 bus timetables with current timetables, and evidence shows that the new peak bus service is often less frequent and slower than it was before.  Even when the regional council finally gets the current bus service fixed, the service will be no better than the one Wellingtonians had before.


Wellington City is the one part of the Wellington Region that is primarily dependent on bus services for its Public Transport (PT).  In fact, by patronage, the Wellington City bus service carries over half the entire regions’ PT daily patronage.

Just before the bus service was implemented in July 2018, the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) described “the end result … will be a public transport system that is simpler, easier and more reliable”.  It also claimed “The system will be based on a simpler network of core routes, supplemented by extended or express services at peak times … The network will take people to ‘more places, more often’” – The DomPost 30 June 2018.

Since then the new “improved” Wellington bus service has suffered from late buses, overcrowding or too often, no buses at all.  But this post is not about the lack of drivers or the “wrong-size” buses being used by operators … these things will eventually be fixed, although it IS simply unbelievable it will take more than a year to do so.

Instead this post looks at how our new bus timetables compare with the previous bus service. We will look at whether the new “hub-and-spoke” bus service design will deliver a better PT service than the old “direct bus service” when it is finally working to plan.

This analysis compares bus timetables before July 2018 and current timetables for morning peak services (i.e. leaving between 6:30 – 8:30) to the “far side” of the CBD from a range of suburbs in Wellington City.  The data for this post is from a spreadsheet of previous timetables provided by the GWRC and the current bus timetables on the Metlink Website.  Two key areas of performance that are analysed:

  • scheduled bus travel time and
  • scheduled bus peak time frequency

Scheduled Bus Travel Time

The following outlines the travel times from a range of suburbs to the “far side” of the CBD.  The travel times shown are the longest scheduled in peak time:

Table of Wellington City Peak Bus Travel Times
Table of Wellington City Peak Bus Travel Times

As seen above, the new bus service has slower travel times from many suburbs compared to the previous bus service timetable. The redesign of the bus network has failed to deliver improved bus reliability. Overall, the peak of the peak bus service is just as slow as before.

Even worse is that the new bus service cannot run earlier than it is scheduled for, and operators are penalised for doing so.

Under the previous direct service design, buses travelled as fast as congested conditions allowed.  When there was less traffic on roads, such as during school holidays, the buses could and did run early.

However, the new hub-and-spoke design requires the bus to not leave the hub any earlier than the scheduled time to enable people to interchange between routes.  This means that buses that arrive at a hub like the Railway Station or Courtney Place early must stop and wait until they are scheduled to leave.

Note: if you are on a bus that has stopped for a minute or more, ask the driver how long they are schedule to wait. If it’s more than a few minutes, you could Snapper off and try to get another bus if there is one available.

Schedule Bus Frequency

The following table outlines the number of peak-time buses that depart from a range of suburbs to the far side of the CBD:

Table of Wellington City Peak Bus Frequency
Table of Wellington City Peak Bus Frequency

The table above shows that although most hubs have more peak services, most outlying suburbs now have fewer peak time bus services than under the previous bus service timetables.

Eight buses over a two-hour peak is an average of one every 15 minutes.  Any frequency less than this means a long wait for anyone who misses their bus or has a cancelled bus.  Four of the above suburbs used to have a frequency of eight buses during peak time, or better, but now have a bus frequency that is not on par with the previous bus system; thus, their service is inferior.

The time impact of a cancelled bus is much greater on commuters when there are fewer buses.  As you well know, when a suburb only has a bus every 20 minutes, a cancelled bus will add this time onto the travellers’ journey.  As most bus journeys are around 40 minutes, a cancelled bus will add 50% to the travellers’ journey time.


The GWRC has put Wellington City bus users through a massive upheaval with the promise that “The network will take people to ‘more places, more often’”.  The GWRC has also  put a huge effort into getting the current unreliable bus service up to contract performance levels.

However, there is clear evidence that even when the bus service is performing to the timetable, many suburban peak time bus commuters are getting a service that is less frequent and/or slower than before July 2018.

When the GWRC finally gets to claim the bus service is fixed it will likely claim we are all better off.  But the majority of Wellington bus riders need to know the Metlink Public Transport service is, at best, no better than the bus service they had before.

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