Wellington Regional Council spends $9.7m on flawed e-bus signs, could have spent $80 for real time apps

What we could have had for $80
What we could have had for $80

Following on from yesterdays article in the Dominion Post about public transport costs increasing, another article today about the $9.7 million dollars spent on “real time” bus stop signs that are anything but. Not that we needed to be told that, if you’ve ever stood waiting for a bus you’ll appreciate that “real time” might relate to the dinosaur’s and ice age, but not much else.

The idea behind the bus signs is sound, if a little dated. When you stand at the stop you know when the next bus is coming. However the cost of the system, the fact that they are still pouring cash into it, the fact that is is unreliable, and won’t be finished until 202o shows, once again, the dinosaur thinking of the GWRC.

“Wellington’s $9.7 million “real-time” bus information is proving a misnomer, with half the city’s signs displaying nothing more than timetable information.” – Source

Here’s the travesty. This could have been done for nothing (almost nothing). Technology already exists to supply this information directly to the end user via Smartphone, in true real time, and its been there for years. They didn’t need to spend $9.7 million on this at all.

It works like this. The buses already have a GPS system that tells the company where they are, whether the driver has a heavy foot, or brakes too hard. All kinds of information that is pumped out in real time in a standard format. You put that data on the Cloud where anyone can read it. Then, you let the local tech entrepreneurs loose on it to create the smartphone apps to turn that data into something useful. Like how far away your bus is.

The cost providing that disk storage is, by my estimation, about, zero, if you are smart about it. If you wanted to make it a little more robust, then it would cost about $80 a month (for the geeks out there, that’s high speed Amazon disc for a total of 1TB, way more than probably needed.)

The tech community would build the apps for nothing as part of the sheer challenge and getting there name out there. I know. I’ve asked them.

So for a maximum of $80 a month, we could have a real-time application on everyone’s smartphone in the city in less than two months.

So how on earth do you spend $9.7 million dollars on signs that aren’t real time and you have to visit to get information?

And yes. And it’s been done overseas in cities vastly larger than ours. Multiple times, for all kinds of transport from taxis, to buses, trains, planes, ships, and anything that actually moves people around.

The other advantages are that you have a lot of data that can be mined by the tech community to analyse better use of public transport. You don’t have to find a sign to see when your bus is coming. You can rely on it. Later on you could see how congested buses were and estimated times of arrival.

So why isn’t it happening really?

  • Money. $9.7 million dollars is a lot of money and someone is benefiting somewhere.
  • Privacy. This is why they will tell you they can’t do it, and its rubbish. The taxi companies are already doing it in Wellington and they would have far more to worry about in terms of privacy.
  • The bus and train company don’t want you to know how their services actually perform.
  • Dinosaur thinking.

While the rest of the world moves to Smart Cities, unlocking data and building smart applications, the GWRC is stuck in the past, and we are paying for it.


  1. AND of course this is small compared to the waste of $40M being spent on installing ticket gates on the rail stations just so that they can automate the ticket ‘punching’ service. This stupidity adds to the problems of not allowing ‘all-door’ loading of buses. The problem is that the law in NZ requires the transport company to ensure that every passenger has a ticket. In EU the law is that it is the responsibility to have a ticket is the passenger. For example this allows for the range of affordable tickets to be much higher – monthly tickets are cheap and monthly ticket holders are allowed to take the family for free during the weekends. All-door loading speeds up transfers – but penalties for not having a ticket need to be high. In EU it can be Euro100 if you were caught without a ticket by the mufti inspectors.

    And yes – many NZers will try and cheat. So a culture change is also needed to match the cheaper ticket options. Young people in EU are not buying cars, the change in culture is already happening (in NZ too). Why are we determined to use dinosaur techniques – change the law in NZ and avoid all that stupid ticket barrier technology.

  2. An updated Regional Transport Plan and draft annual plan are now going out to consultation. Please make sure that you make
    submissions. We will not get any changes without public support.

    I share your enthusiasm for sharing the high tech that is already available. I was also appalled about the time it took to acknowledge the fault in the real time information delivery. I contacted the GW Transport division in the first week of January after I realised that something more was amiss. However, I wasn’t able to see a proper identification of the problem till this months Council meeting. Some staff were on leave, but I felt that more resources could have been shifted into resolving the problem more expediently.

    I am also very concerned to get the law changed so that every passenger has responsibility for his own ticket – as in Europe. Gating will indeed be a major component of integrated ticketing, so it is really important that we get this changed, before introducing integrated ticketing.

    Look forward to hearing more on these issues. You can also cc ideas to myself at paul.bruce@gw.govt.nz

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