Wellington Scoop

No shows (unconvincing) and complaints (convincing)

The chair of the Regional Council’s transport committee is unconvincing when she explains why she has failed to attend three of the four public meetings about Wellington’s continuing bus problems.

The DomPost’s Damian George reports:

Asked why she had attended only one of the public meetings – she attended the Kilbirnie meeting on August 26 – Cr Donaldson said she found the behaviour of community members at the meeting unacceptable. “These are not Regional Council meetings and I have not been personally invited to most of them,” she said. “I went to the Kilbirnie meeting and found a lot of the behaviour unnecessary and unacceptable, especially towards our staff … My priority now is to make sure we fix all the problems.”

Bus commuters are not likely to accept her claim that their complaints are unnecessary and unacceptable. The words are more relevant when applied to the continuing bus problems which have resulted from the new systems introduced by her committee.

And what of the other three meetings?

She said she did not attend the second public meeting, in Karori, because she was in New Plymouth visiting her new grandson. She did not say why she missed the third and fourth meetings, in Khandallah and Miramar.

Barbara Donaldson may have been dismissive of commuters’ complaints. But the statistics show why she should have been treating them seriously. The DomPost’s Tom Hunt reports: that there were 1050 complaints about Tranzit in the first 11 days of the new bus system.

Tales of injuries, no-shows, and a three-year-old trapped in a door are among the complaints … between July 15 and 25. The complaints, starting from when Tranzit took over many Wellington city routes, range from no-show or late buses through to drivers asking passengers which way to go. Wellington’s other major bus operator Go Wellington generated 111 complaints in the same period.

Tranzit’s Keven Snelgrove is as dismissive as Cr Donaldson. He told the DomPost that “no one would be surprised with the number of complaints” in July given it came as part of a major overhaul. Complaints on north and south routes had reduced by about two-thirds, he said.

He may be the only person who was not surprised by so many complaints about his buses. Transport Minister Phil Twyford is reported as saying he is disappointed by the failure of the system. The DomPost’s Collette Devlin reports that he said:

“I’m disappointed that commuters have borne the brunt of this system failure. I, like Wellingtonians, expect the Regional Council and the bus services to sort it out as soon as possible.”

Devlin quotes a strangely evasive response from Regional Council chair Chris Laidlaw (who has attended only two of the four public meetings):

He said he had told Twyford there would be inherent risks in taking on a project of such a size that was a “leap into the future … We said we would not be able to satisfy everyone … we said all this from the start … it was acknowledged by everyone that it would not be easy.”

It seems Twyford wrote to the council at the end of March raising concerns about the changes. The council gave him a verbal update at a meeting on April 12. And then Laidlaw wrote to him on April 20 saying

… he hoped the meeting addressed Twyford’s concerns and helped the minister understand how the council was improving the quality of public transport and how it was planning for a smooth transition. “I trust our briefing helped provide you confidence that we are actively identifying and managing the inevitable risks in this area.”

And more – the Laidlaw letter said (back in April) that depot construction and routes were proceeding to plan, while hub construction was “well underway.” Tell that to travellers for whom hubs remain uncompleted in mid September.

August 16: Where’s Barbara Donaldson?


  1. Nora, 12. September 2018, 11:54

    Barbara Donaldson and Chris Laidlaw should have been with me at the check out counter at the New World in Thorndon this morning when the man in front of me wanted to know what I thought of the chaotic bus service. We agreed that it was not just the poor service but also the removal of so many seats so more passengers can be squashed in, with in some cases no handles to hold!

  2. Traveller, 12. September 2018, 14:23

    We pay Barbara Donaldson for failing to attend public meetings about the bus failures for which she is responsible?

  3. Jeanie McCafferty, 12. September 2018, 14:46

    Unbelievable that she has the gall to remain in the position, same with Laidlaw. Why do you think we would trust them to fix what they broke? ⁦[via twitter]

  4. Roy Kutel, 12. September 2018, 17:22

    Barbara Donaldson was paid $92,944 for 2016/17 (last financial year for which remuneration figures are available). She came in second, well behind Chris Laidlaw who was remunerated to the tune of $157,126 for ‘chairing’ our public transport and sundry regional services (like possum control). See page 187.

  5. Gary Froggatt, 12. September 2018, 18:04

    Barbara Donaldson’s comments and lack of commitment to her job as chair of the transport committee are unacceptable and she must go. Transport committee members should be made to use public transport so they can promote the product they want everyone else to use. Her payment for attending meetings is three times a bus driver’s wage, is excessive and not justified.

  6. Michael Gibson, 12. September 2018, 18:09

    Barbara Donaldson is working like mad to keep my subject (“the advantages of applying to the Minister of Local Government to have a Commissioner appointed to administer the Council’s transport responsibilities”) off the Order Paper for next Wednesday morning’s transport meeting which she is chairing. This is in the face of her failures so far, especially with her backing for the removal of seats from buses. Not to mention her failures to come to our meetings.

  7. Gary.Tram, 13. September 2018, 8:51

    Tranzit owner Snelgrove has the cheek to say that he expected a number of complaints. What an attitude. It appears the dude just does not care. No effort was made to train drivers or show them the new routes. [via twitter]

  8. City Lad, 13. September 2018, 9:56

    Where will the transport committee meet next Wednesday? And will Chris Laidlaw who is responsible for this bus transport mess be in attendance to support his embattled transport chairwoman Barbara Donaldson? [15 Walter Street at 9.30 a.m.]

  9. Wellington Commuter, 14. September 2018, 8:30

    All the regional councillors representing Wellington City (Council chair Laidlaw and Crs Ponter, McKinnon, Kedgley & Blakeley) were at last night’s Churton Park bus meeting. Also local MPs O’Connor and Hudson as well as WCC Crs Sparrow, Day and Gilberd). [via twitter]

  10. Woodburner, 19. September 2018, 12:33

    There is an assumption here that councillors are in control of the organisation, and I think that assumption needs to be challenged. Yes it does reflect a failure of governance, but that is a broader question of local government. What is often the case is that councils are symbolic and make peripheral decisions that do not materially change the course of the organisation, rather modifying or tweaking it to give the impression of change. The decisions are usually made by long standing executives and are masked to look like they reflect the current council’s intent.

    In the case of GWRC, it is fair to ask whether councillors were presented with full and accurate information to make decisions upon? And were they “allowed” procedural space to properly reflect on the implications. Councils can be easily manipulated by their own processes and it is worth understanding if and how this may have occurred here. It doesn’t excuse the no-shows, but does contextualise it in that councillors may feel they have been misled or hung out to dry by the organisation.