I give up on Wellington buses

By Bill Kaye-Blake 15/10/2012

I drove to work today. I parked in my new dedicated parking space. My Snapper card did not leave the wallet.

Why did I not bus to work? Because I’ve given up on Wellington buses.

I have calculated that it takes me an average of 40 minutes to get from home to work (or the reverse). That’s about 15 minutes of walking, 5 minutes of waiting, and 20 minutes on the bus. Times vary a bit for each component and for the overall time. I’ve made it in under 30 minutes, and sometimes it takes nearly an hour.

By car, it takes me 15 to 20 minutes. That’s a savings of 20 to 25 minutes each way, or about 45 minutes per day (3.75 hours per week, 172.5 hours per year — less the days I don’t go to the office).

As it happens, I can monetise the time savings. I’m on salary and bonus, which means my income is variable and depends on how much and how hard I work. That 45 minutes a day doesn’t just represent time spent with family, as it would if I were on a fixed salary. It represents cold, hard cash money. And it means that taking the bus is actually really expensive.

Why am I bothering to tell you all this? I don’t really think you’re interested in my commute — my narcissism is not so grand as that. No, my reason is this: Wellington buses don’t work very well, and it is only by seeing their failure at the individual level that we understand how they fail us systemically. I’ll tell you my individual story and hope that you tell me yours. Then, we’ll all patiently explain to the Council and the bus system that their product is junk.

I don’t know why public transport in Wellington is so difficult. If we take the point of view that the bus company has optimised its objective function subject to constraints, then we can only conclude that their incentives do not align with mine. I’m trying to get around town with the lowest cost (time + money). I don’t know what they are trying to do. Sometime I think someone somewhere has just dreamt up a system, and now the job of the bus company is to run that system regardless of its efficiency or efficacy.

If that’s the case, the proposed light rail to nowhere makes perfect sense.