Bad process makes for bad decisions

On Thursday morning I attended one of the worst meetings I have seen in a long long time. It was the Wellington City Council's Strategy and Policy Committee which was trying to make a decision about buses using the Hataitai bus tunnel.

The tunnel is supposed to be just for buses - cars, bikes and pedestrians are barred, although they do sneak though.

Trolley buses use the tunnel to connect to Hataitai, and the residents have no problem with that. Out of service trollies  also go through the tunnel to return to the depot at Lyall Bay. Again no problem. Out of service diesels were the issue for residents.  They are noisy, shake houses and move through early in the morning and late at night.

So how many diesels are going through the tunnel? No one could say definitively. The council had one figure; NZ Bus had another (which was close to the council's) and the residents had reports of much greater numbers at times.

At this point the two greatest threats to good decisions came silently into the room; distrust (born of paranoia from bitter experience), and deep suspicion (sired by conspiracy out of self interest).

When the Mayor said that the new by law simply legitimised what was happening already, was that the council sanctioning NZ Bus to send any number of diesels through the tunnel whenever it wanted; or did that mean just a few diesels when the Mt Vic tunnel or Adelaide road were jammed up?

And what about the council's original letter to (some) Mt Vic residents seeking input on the by law. It could be read as allowing NZ Bus free rein?

NZ Bus to its credit was happy to have a limit on diesel bus movements and to develop a memorandum of understanding with the council on bus movements.

So did the new bylaw mean more out of service diesels being allowed through the tunnel or not? There was no agreement on that because there was no agreed basis of fact. Why? Because no one had done a proper survey of what was actually happening. Why? There was no good reason. No one had and that was that.

Anecdote, irrelevancy, hyperbole and their close cousins, slight misrepresentation and deliberate exaggeration were substitutes for reasoned argument. So was it possible to work out what effect the new by law would actually have? Answer: it wasn't. Did it represent any change on the present? Answer: don't know; depends who you believe.

The bylaw passed. An attempt to ban all diesels from the tunnel altogether was lost. Consultation with residents on the MOU with NZ Bus was lost, but everyone could support asking the drivers to slow down in Pirie Street and to discuss moving the pedestrian crossing. But work out what effect the bylaw would have on the residents? Far too hard.  There have to be better ways to make important decisions than that.