Minding Your Bus Manners In Wellington (Photos)


It’s a strange business this Manners Mall bus controversy that ignites with passion when it comes up in conversations here in Wellington.

I was initially horrified that buses, which presently just poke their head around the edge of the pedestrian mall, would start roaring through -until I heard the argument that it would encourage public transport.

manners bus

It would look like this, according to the council design:

Design |Welington City Council

Design |Wellington City Council

It’s hard to get any handle on a city’s politics when you don’t live there and you have to trust locals and leave it to them to know best what’s right for their space. So I’m just wandering around the mall and pondering.

Such pedestrian spaces are a great way to stop and think, get your bearings or chat to locals. In inner city Wellington, it never seems long before someone pops by and spots a friend - I have already bumped into two Aucklanders walking on Lambton Quay and while you don’t spot a Shortland Street star, you spot familiar faces you’ve seen on the nightly news like MPs.

manners converse

And the mall seems extremely busy with a constant stream of people, as it’s a convenient thoroughfare and has several fast food places:

manners mc

When I arrived in the very comfortable airport bus (with free wi-fi - nice touch), it had a prominent notice urging passengers to text their support for buses in the mall - rather odd - or cunning- as one assumes half the people on board a bus from the airport, like me, have just arrived in the city and have no idea what Manners Mall is.

The argument was that if you wait for a bus in the area, you wait 20 minutes and then three arrive at once. This is because the buses have to avoid the mall and go a round about route. I tested the theory and they were right. On call, a threesome of buses arrived, just as I was about to abandon the experiment and continue walking. The council says opening up Manners Mall to buses is “the single most significant change we could make to improve the reliability of bus services through the central city – now and in the future.”

The then groundbreaking view decades ago of closing streets off completely, such as Onehunga Mall, didn’t always translate into the practical and the thinking has matured into a shared space concept.

In Auckland, we’re pursuing a policy of shared space, in which pedestrians and certain vehicles have to get along. That seems the 2009 way to go so that business can still operate, with passage for couriers, delivery trucks, cabs and cyclists.

Wellington’s council says the Manners Mall proposal would also provide a clearer pedestrian connection between Cuba Mall and Civic Square and the waterfront. And if the proposal goes ahead, the council’s “Urban Development and Transport Portfolio Leader,” Councillor Andy Foster, says better pedestrian links and public spaces in Dixon, Wakefield and Mercer streets will also be developed in the next few years. Wonderful. This city is so pedestrian-friendly.

There is an extraordinary amount of passion here about the mall idea. If only Aucklanders could get so worked up about public transport. The Greens argue that it’s about moving more people onto public transport is also an effective way of relieving congestion on our roads. One letter to the paper read: “If Wellington’s public transport is to have a sustainable future, it’s essential that the city’s main public transport artery be restored.” A Save Manners Facebook group felt differently and an emo felt strongly enough to write a song. Submissions to the council closed a month ago.




  1. Jeremy Harris says:

    It’s a interesting one, if the council is prepared to replace the pedestrian street nearby (and even increase it from your description?) I don’t see the problem…

  2. Greg Bodnar says:

    Nice to see your coverage of Wellington’s transport. There’s a lot going for it, but a lot of work that still needs to be done.

    When I first saw the proposal for aligning the PT route through Manners Mall, I knew it was going to become a battle between pedestrians and transport supporters, who often are teamed up against rampant road expansion. The original proposal did nothing in terms of shared space - it was only from the submissions received that pedestrian concessions were made. Even now, I don’t think the current plan is perfect, but it’s certainly workable.

    Wellington gets two Very Important things from this project: stronger connections into Civic Square and the waterfront; and a secured east-west alignment that can be used for light rail through Courtenay Place (and the hospital, maybe even the airport). However, while Wellington has nationally high PT patronage, several councilors refuse to see the city from any position except from behind their front bumper.

  3. Jon C says:

    Greg, thanks for your valuable local insight. Wellington is a beautiful city that gets things right that Auckland gets very wrong!

  4. Brent C says:

    This is a sad story of bad decision making. Why would they remove a successful public space to ram buses through? Replacing pedestrian streets shouldn’t be the priority, they should be developing more.

    “the single most significant change we could make to improve the reliability of bus services through the central city – now and in the future.”

    This isn’t going to make buses run any better than they did before. They are going through a central business district! I’m guessing they will save possibly 30seconds from this development. The only effect it will have is on the environment, with the removal of public space.

    There is an exciting mayoral race for Wellington next year with some forward thinking. Ideas such as pedestrianizing the many Wellington inner city streets, which is a breath of fresh air from current mayor Kerry.

  5. George Darroch says:

    Bret, you’re arguing that it was a successful space. Maybe Cuba sets the standards high, but it never felt properly that way.

  6. Greg Bodnar says:

    @Brent C,
    It’s easy to question the timing that will be saved from the realignment, but my empirical view, based on daily peak-hour travel along the Golden Mile, is that Mercer Street causes the worst variable delay - as much as 3 minutes of just queuing to get between ANZ on Lambton Quay and the lower Cuba stop. (It’s often faster to get off at Willis and walk to Courtenay Place than to stay on the bus.)

    However, the real advantage will be the decision to proceed with light rail. The density to justify it already exists, we’re just missing political will and mindset.

  7. Brent C says:

    @Greg Bodnar
    Buses would run a lot faster and more efficenty if they ran on dedicated bus lanes along the Quays, not through pedestrian malls. The short walk to the Quays would not put people off using the service and the improved efficency of the bus service will make up for that.

  8. Greg Bodnar says:

    @Brent C
    In an idealised world, I could see value in your proposition of using the Quays. However, Wellington has continually failed to reduce vehicle traffic along the Quays and I fail to see routing buses there being safe enough - mostly in terms of crossing to the southbound side in decent time - for continued bus patronage. Driver expectations in NZ seem to be contrary to making changes for the sake of PT.

    The long goal is for light rail along the golden mile. I would expect 5-7 minute intervals, which strikes me as much less disruptive along the Golden Mile as our current slew of buses. While I don’t consider buses through the mall to be a backward step, I’m hoping for a giant leap forward with light rail. I wouldn’t want to waste the chance by settling for a Quays compromise.


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