The Greater Wellington Regional Council has spent the last couple of years or so reviewing all its commuter bus services. It has sought public input, held public meetings across the region, placed large advertisements in local papers, and kept up a steady stream of publicity about what the changes will mean for commuters, but has still managed to bungle the process at every stage. Why? Well, what is now clear is that the GWRC rushed ahead to implement a pre-determined agenda, without listening to any of the public feedback it had been receiving. In so doing, it turned the whole process into a sham.
First, came the saga of the removal of the trolley buses. That eventually took place in October 2017, some time after the original intended date. People who argued for the retention of the capital’s relatively modern, environmentally trolley bus fleet were ridiculed by the GWRC as out of date and behind the times. Besides, the GWRC smoothingly reassured people, the trolleys would be replaced by new hybrid diesel electric buses that would be far more flexible than the trolleys (because they do not rely on overhead wires) and just as environmentally friendly. What actually happened was a little different. The trolleys were replaced all right, but with old diesel surplus buses from Auckland because the new hybrids were not ready in time.
But rather than learn from that stunning triumph the GWRC felt emboldened to move on with the rest of its changes. A new fleet of double decker buses has been unveiled - while they may be environmentally friendly, they cannot serve the populous eastern and western suburbs because they will not fit through the tunnels connecting those suburbs to the city. Never mind, said the GWRC, we have other buses available to serve those suburbs, and newer routes and timetables besides.
This week it launched these new routes and services, supremely confident that any teething troubles would at best be minor. Yet even a casual reading of social media commentary over the few weeks beforehand would have shown it that local commuters remained far from convinced about the new services being proposed, their routes and timetables. And so it has proved to be. Now the GWRC meekly says that it probably launched the changes too soon, and that realistically at least six months more work was needed to get things right.
Two responses to this excuse for incompetence immediately come to mind. First, nothing is being said now by disgruntled commuters that has not been said over the past couple of years. It might have been prudent for the GWRC to have actually listened to its constituents, rather than just given their concerns lip service. Second, the GWRC controls the time frame. Saying the hybrids were not ready in time for the cancellation of the trolleys which was they had to get the surplus diesels from Auckland was not good enough. If they were so hell-bent on removing the trolleys, it was in their hands, no-one else’s, to time their demise to coincide with the availability of the hybrids. Similarly with this week’s disaster. Saying the timetable changes needed another six months’ work is fatuous. The GWRC could have decided as late as the end of last week to have deferred the changes, if that was what it really believed. Instead, they are left this week looking bewildered and more than a little desperate.
Regional Councils across the country have important responsibilities for the provision and co-ordination of public transport services. Those responsibilities are set to become far more critical in the next few years as our national response to climate change and shift to carbon neutrality ramp up. Public support will be vital to reaching those goals. The only good thing to come to date from the GWRC’s attempt to restructure Wellington’s bus service is that it is has become a template of ineptitude for others to learn from.