Wellington Scoop

Regional councillors told: bus problems are “regrettable”

A staff report to Wellington regional councillors today says the bus problems were “expected” and are “regrettable.” It blames driver shortages and route changes. The report states:

The most recent transition of Wellington City units has, as expected, been the most challenging and problematic. This transition was aggravated by some systemic challenges, including:

Driver shortages and drivers getting used to new routes

The extent of the route changes and associated customer reaction — both to the changes generally and in situations where service levels were considered to be reduced

Operational challenges associated with the changes

These factors have caused frustrations and disruption to Metlink customers, which is regrettable. An operational team remains in place dedicated to quickly resolving residual issues and the results of this work are beginning to show with generally improving performance.

Here is more from today’s report:

As with any major bus network change there will be a period of settling in as customers find their way around the new bus routes and adjust travel patterns to take advantage of the new routes and timetables. As a result, despite all best estimates, it is possible that more people may be on some services than expected and less on others. Also where new routes, timetables and connections are introduced schedules may need to be adjusted based on actual operations of the new services. Review and adjustments of network performance is being carried out in the following stages:

Short Term (0-3 Months)
Immediate short term reactive adjustments to capacity based on customer and bus company feedback to ensure all passengers are being carried; may involve adjustments to bus types used or addition of capacity through measures such as banker buses if demand exceeds expectations on specific services (i.e. extra buses on heavy us services). Work with bus operators to ensure connections between services are being adequately managed and issues addressed.

Medium term (3-12 Months)
Monitor timetable adherence, patronage demand and customer feedback to identify and prioritise the fine-tuning of timetables and capacity in order to ensure services are operating reliably and capacity is optimised to demand.
Review changes in demand after new services introduced to identify any
services that are likely to need additional capacity from March 2019 above what has been planned for.
Long Term (12 months plus)
Review of full year patronage data, customer satisfaction and customer feedback to identify any specific services that have performed poorly compared with the rest of the network. Analyse issues and options for addressing poorly performing services and address customer feedback issues raised. Undertake community consultation on any suggested network changes to address issues; consider resource costs and trade-offs.


The Public Transport Transformation Programme (PTTP) has been supported by a dedicated team and has delivered 116 deliverables in over 20 work streams. Now the changes are in place, Metlink delivers about 3,600 bus services during each weekday and about 22,000 a week across the region in partnership with four operators (Mana, NZ Bus, Tranzurban, Uzabus). In addition to a new contracting system supported by the ability to reward good performance and disincentives for poor performance, PTTP has also delivered:

New weekend and evening services in areas not previously covered

Reduced duplication of services and less congestion along the Golden Mile

New bus stops and improved information at transfer hubs

Over 75 transitional AmBUSsadors and Bus Buddies to help people on their way

100% new fleet of buses for Tranzit, including 3 electric double deckers in
service (with the remaining 7 entering service in coming weeks)

Double decker buses on high use routes

Removal of old buses (all Euro 2s and below); with the continued removal of older buses as new buses arrive

Bike racks on the front of buses (with more added as more new buses arrive)

Reduction in the number of fare products by over 65% (750 to 250)

Fares increase across the network and introduction of concessions, e.g.
tertiary concessions have 8,000 students signed-up

Introduction of free bus transfers if using Snapper

Snapper rolled out across all buses in the Region with over 8,500 card swaps

Implementation was achieved on schedule for all three delivery tranches.
Technical changes were implemented successfully and on time, working to
tough schedules given the overnight transitions from one contract to another. The most recent transition of Wellington City units has, as expected, been the most challenging and problematic…

… Bus service punctuality across the Region
Punctuality is one of the biggest drivers of customer satisfaction. Previously, punctuality was self-reported separately by each operator. Changes to
technology and contracts mean that now Metlink has access to its own
information on punctuality… Work is now underway to understand how punctuality can be improved through a combination of fine tuning bus operations and confirming that the timetable is achievable now that it is able to be tested in live operating conditions.

Total cancellations in the last week are about 0.8% of timetabled bus services, a rate that has decreased from a high of about 1.4%. Metlink is actively working with operators to significantly decrease cancellation rates and expect the number to be lower in coming months; for example, operators are working on improved yard organisation, back-up fleet and staff.

Metlink’s ability to measure patronage has been greatly increased by the introduction of new contracts and systems. It is possible to discern a small week-on-week growth. Further monitoring of patronage is required before conclusions of sustained growth can be confidently made.

Customer enquiries and feedback
Wairarapa did not experience much change in its daily call volume of one or two calls to the Metlink Contact Centre as a result of the changes made there on 30 April; similarly Kapiti and Porirua call volumes are low. However, as predicted, Hutt Valley and Wellington both experienced a spike in complaints that has now reduced closer to BAU levels and trending down in Wellington. This cycle of feedback and complaints is common when there are changes in public transport systems as operators work to bed down their operations and commuters become familiar with the new network.

About half of the complaints are about operational performance (e.g.the bus was too full, the bus drove past me at the stop). The rest of the top topics are about service design and staff. Changes to the network on 15 July generated a large number of queries, but they have been decreasing as people get more used to the new network. Active management is occurring in areas where there are common trends in complaints, and we know that improvements in operational performance will result in decreased complaints.

Known issues and solutions underway
Since 15 July the focus has been on actively identifying issues and implementing solutions as quickly as possible. Customers expect buses to run to the timetable and transport them to their destination as expected. Factors that negatively impact customer experience include poor punctuality and cancellations; these factors in turn are caused by factors such as delays in dispatching the bus from the depot, driver navigation, poor matching of bus size to route requirements and bus bunching (i.e. where two buses on the same route arrive very close together). Each of these operational factors has been discussed with operators and mitigations in play.

For example, driver navigation has proven a challenge for both new and
experienced drivers. As a result, operators are working on route refresher training and where requested, some drivers have been supported by Bus Buddies who had the role of assisting drivers with navigation on the new network.

Routes 2, 3 and 36
Customer feedback and Metlink’s own information has identified that services on routes 2, 3 and 36 are sometimes overcapacity, run late and cancelled. This performance makes it particularly difficult for customers trying to transfer
services as the Hutchinson terminus or board at stops closer to the centre of town in the morning peak (e.g. Southern Karori, Hataitai, Mt Cook).
The greatest cause of issues on routes 2, 3 and 36 has been identified as occurring as a result of the operator not running buses as large as those contracted for those times on those routes. Metlink is working actively with the operator to remedy the issue as fast as possible through improved fleet allocation and operational practices in the yard. There remain more large vehicles to join the fleet in about six months, and at that time fleet capacity will exceed current needs. Until the fleet is fully right sized, Metlink will require the operator to prioritise their largest buses on these routes and/or use additional buses where needed – both solutions are accompanied with operational challenges (e.g. bus stacking yards, staff allocation).

Routes 1 and 7
Customer feedback and Metlink’s own information have identified that services on routes 1 and 7 sometimes run late or are cancelled. On 28 July the operator made changes to staff and route allocations that resulted in an uplift in punctuality of the services. Work continues on improving performance on these routes.

Other routes
Metlink is monitoring performance of other routes in order to assess whether there are capacity issues in other areas.

School buses
Customer feedback and Metlink’s own information has identified that there have been some concerns about school children not being receiving a dedicated service and needing to use public bus services in the new network. Since implementing changes, visits are underway with various schools to understand issues they have been experienced and to aid working with bus operators to improve performance.

Undocumented service diversions
In some cases Metlink has discovered undocumented service diversions (i.e. driving routes that were not formally part of the school service). Some services that fall into this category are St Patrick’s and St Catherine afternoon service R775 to Owhiro bay, Bishop Viard Route 220 school ground extension.
Resolution: Working closely with operators to add previous diversions back into the route as appropriate.

Some dedicated school buses have been found to have insufficient capacity, e.g. Aotea College, school buses from Karori and Island Bay.
Resolution: Review patronage on each service and work with operators to add extra capacity by term 4. An interim solution has been put in place for Aotea College to add capacity in the short term until a long term solution is developed.

Changed nature of service
Metlink’s communications and engagement team will work with schools to help customers better understand:

Transfers – some students may need to transfer (especially in Wellington)

More standing room – greater focus on an accessible fleet (low-floor
vehicles with fewer seats) means that in some cases customers need to get used to fewer seats, even though the capacity of the bus is the same


  1. Katie, 8. August 2018, 10:33

    A masterpiece of bureaucratic speak in the ongoing delusion that everything will be ok. It was very hard not to laugh reading this.

  2. Michael Lee, 8. August 2018, 20:09

    Have just read the report .. what a preposterous idea to have fewer seats and more standing room – like a cattle truck. Poor senior citizens…
    Larger buses? Many already have a problem now negotiating our narrow streets.
    What a conglomeration of official-speak and self- gratification nonsense.

  3. Chris Jackson, 9. August 2018, 8:00

    After a while it just gets too much. I just want to get home and it used to be easy. What’s the plan Justin Lester? (Please don’t say it’s not our problem, it’s greater wellington). [via twitter]

  4. Justin Lester, 9. August 2018, 8:02

    Public Transport is essential for Wellington to function. I’ve given Greater Wellington my feedback and they’re responding. They’re putting on more buses and higher capacity on problem routes, that is the best response. They’re also amending routes where required. [via twitter]

  5. Ross Teppett, 10. August 2018, 14:11

    How many “ring-in” drivers is Tranzit using to run its bus services in Wellington? Need to know to prepare for next week’s Regional Council meeting. [via twitter]