Commuting has been a challenge for Wellingtonians for several months, as Metlink struggles to meet its own targets.
Despite its efforts to boost driver recruitment, the latest Metlink monthly performance report from January 2023, indicates that the Wellington region’s public transport network has been significantly underperforming. Rail is the worst performing transport mode as it is the furthest away from meeting its two performance targets of reliability and punctuality.
The first measure that Metlink uses to evaluate its performance is reliability: Do scheduled services leave on time? Metlink considers 97.5 percent of rail services leaving on time as satisfactory, while for buses that value is 99.5 percent. A more detailed description of this measure is available on its website.
In the January 2022 – January 2023 period, bus reliability was under 95 percent for most of the time, averaging 93 percent during this period. Also, while bus reliability had a sharp increase at the beginning of January, there was a sharp drop in the last week of the month.* Moreover, rail reliability was even worse in the same period. It experienced a severe drop, going from around 95 percent in October 2022, to around 79 percent in January 2023. Metlink states that there was a peak in cancellations due to staff shortages.
*On the Metlink website the bus reliability graph stops at 23 January 2023 and does not show the sharp drop on 30 January 2023.
The other measure that Metlink considers when evaluating its performance is punctuality: Do scheduled services arrive on time? Their target for both trains and buses arriving on time is 95 percent. Again, a more detailed description of this measure is available on their website.
The bus network performed well in terms of punctuality in the whole observed period (July 2019 – January 2023), being around the target for most of the time. On the other hand, the rail network performed very poorly in the same period, particularly from January 2022.
Metlink’s bus operators have been struggling to attract and retain their workforce, especially from 2022. Metlink states in its report that this is one of the reasons for the underperformance of services. Nonetheless, operators and agencies in the transport sector are hopeful that the Government’s immigration changes, that were announced last December, will have a positive impact on their performance.
Speed restrictions, caused by slips and KiwiRail upgrade work, is another issue that Metlink states they are experiencing. This has particularly affected the Kāpiti and the Wairarapa rail lines. For instance, the Kāpiti line had a staggeringly low punctuality rate in January 2023, at only 37.6 percent. The Wairarapa line also had a low punctuality rate in the same period, at 63.6 percent.
Moreover, while the Hutt Valley rail line performed better in terms of punctuality, it was still below the target, at 87 percent. The Johnsonville rail line was the only one above the punctuality target in January 2023, at 98.4 percent. However, the Johnsonville line had the worst performance in reliability in the same period, at 65.1 percent.
On another note, the analysis undertaken in this article is limited by the availability of data. Currently, Metlink provides raw data, only for buses, by week. The public also does not have access to hourly performance data. This means that commuters do not know, for instance, the hours in which the public transport network performs the best, or the worst.
It would be helpful if Metlink provided raw data on all transport modes, and included the average of its performance in each hour by week. This would provide more transparency as, for many commuters, Metlink’s performance is more relevant during peak-hours. For instance, knowing if a certain bus route is significantly underperforming in punctuality during peak-hour would provide the public with evidence to advocate for a bus lane along such a route.
Finally, the next Metlink monthly reports should be eagerly anticipated, as they will hopefully show some improvement in performance resulting from recruitment efforts.