Wellington Scoop

Where’s Barbara Donaldson?

The fallout from the design and implementation of the bus network goes on and on. At the first of several public meetings, disgruntled bus users expressed their lack of enthusiasm for the new routes and new timetables. A majority seem keen for a return to the good old days – that halcyon time less than a couple of months ago, when it didn’t take three buses and two long waits to cross the city.

It’s safe to say that the problems stretch well beyond the teething issues that the Regional Council assured us were well in hand a few weeks ago. In fact, in a startling development, some regional councillors even proposed that their council should apologise for taking a functioning network and turning it into a mess:

Cr Adrienne Staples said that “we are all responsible for this” and pointed out that despite apologies at the meeting from individual councillors “nothing formal” was in place on this front. She asked if GWRC planned to issue a statement apologising to the public. The response from the chair and councillors was inconclusive, and no resolution was adopted.

Owning up to mistakes is clearly not the strong point of some of our city’s politicians.

There’s more to come, with more public meetings giving bus users the chance to express their discontent. Following the Newtown meeting, then-deputy mayor and now-MP Paul Eagle is reported as saying:

“Wellington used to have the best public transport system in the country and the bus service had been a big part of that. The saga has been damaging to the city’s reputation and to public confidence.”

And what’s interesting about the meeting is not who attended – Paul Eagle, plus a brace of GWRC councillors (Daran Ponter, Roger Blakeley, Ian McKinnon and chairman Chris Laidlaw) – but who didn’t bother showing up: the chair of the Sustainable Transport Committee and (presumably) the person most accountable for the shambles, Cr Barbara Donaldson.

Ms Donaldson has been keeping a remarkably low profile since the wheels started falling off the bus network.

While she may have been chairing last week’s committee meeting that was wringing its hands over the mess, she failed to champion the apology that some of the committee members were advocating. What’s more, it appears she didn’t attend the first public meeting to listen to the concerns of public transport users. And Google has been unable to find a single statement from her in response to the daily issues that Wellingtonians are experiencing.

So while our local MPs and city councillors are prepared to front up and listen and at least advocate for improvements, Cr Donaldson seems to have gone AWOL. That’s an unacceptable response from someone who is supposed to be accountable to the electorate.

Blaming the bus company or the contracts or the newbie drivers or the phases of the moon is all part of the political game – deflecting blame, covering yourself in teflon, not admitting to anything. But enough is enough. You’d think that even someone who seems as tone-deaf to the concerns of Wellingtonians as Cr Donaldson would eventually get the message that people are unhappy.

The essence of our democracy is the accountability of elected members. Sure, it’s the officers who are responsible for the designs and the detail, but it’s the councillors who get to vote and sign off, and so they are the ones who are ultimately accountable for the mistakes. And if it goes badly – as the bus changes clearly have – then they need to be prepared to admit mistakes, apologise for errors, be available for the community, and ultimately fall on their swords when it all goes horribly wrong.

It’s well past time for Barbara Donaldson to pay that price.

Her apparent strategy of avoiding the public eye has gone far enough. It’s not up to MPs and city councillors and her Sustainable Transport Committee colleagues to take the heat for her – that’s her job, and she knew that when she agreed to chair the committee (and presumably cash the salary cheque). If she won’t front up, then she should go.

Under her “leadership”, the city is experiencing a dramatically worse bus service. She is the person ultimately accountable for this state of affairs, so Cr Donaldson needs to resign.


  1. Woodburner, 16. August 2018, 11:56

    In fairness to Clr Donaldson, the bulk of the key decisions that led to this point were made under the stewardship of Clr Swain as Chair. In particular, the overall network configuration decisions go back to at least 2014.

    Not absolving Clr Donaldson of responsibility, but the net of accountability does need to be wider as this has not been an overnight programme, it goes back years and years.

  2. Marion Leader, 16. August 2018, 12:38

    I agree that the net of accountability needs to be wider and that the Hutt people are both responsible. What is needed is a new party.

  3. Trish, 16. August 2018, 14:07

    Party? What party? Where?

  4. IanS, 16. August 2018, 15:45

    I note that the Regional Council website still offers ‘hoped for’ improvements for the new bus service, including the following gems which will be the basis for judging the results:

    1. More routes, more often, means more options for customers.
    2. We’ve listened to customers and designed a network of bus routes where more people have easier access to more services when they want to travel.
    3. There are new weekend services, travel times are faster on key routes and more people have direct routes to important destinations, like Wellington Hospital and Victoria University.
    4. The New Bus Network will make taking the bus around Wellington easier and more convenient.
    5. With a more flexible service in place, more people will choose the bus for their daily travel, creating more demand and less congestion. A win-win for all who travel.”
    What scores would you give to these marketing statements?

  5. Jonny Utzone, 16. August 2018, 16:06

    Gone on holiday?

  6. Traveller, 16. August 2018, 16:13

    Did she take a bus?

  7. Lim, 16. August 2018, 20:33

    IanS. It is a Grade F (ie. Complete Fail !!). The continual denial and refusal to admit fundamental design errors demonstrates a complete lack of integrity on the part of GWRC.

  8. D Boyle, 17. August 2018, 15:30

    Changing to this wreck mid winter is unforgiveable

  9. Tony Jansen, 21. August 2018, 11:40

    I note prior to the debacle that masqueraded as implementation of the new service, Councillor Donaldson was ever present in the media. Barring a resignation which we all know will never happen, she needs to be voted out in twelve months time. [Abridged.]

  10. Trish, 26. August 2018, 16:59

    Everyone should stop fretting. Get Welly Moving will be releasing its solution very soon, then everything will be alright 🙂

  11. City Lad, 26. August 2018, 23:12

    Everything will be alright? Get Welly Moving still needs to solve this mess with recommendations better than those of a clown.🤡

  12. Jonny Utzone, 27. August 2018, 8:20

    Lim – There is no such thing as ‘F for Fail’. I think the lowest grade Local Govt NZ gives out is AA which stands for ‘Approximately Acceptable’. GWRC got this ‘title’ just recently.

  13. Casey, 27. August 2018, 11:45

    Barbara was seen at the rather heated debate in Kilbirnie yesterday (Sunday 26th), concerning the public transport bus chaos foisted upon this city. However she did not address the audience.