Wellington Scoop

Shortage of drivers a key issue causing problems for new bus service

A report to be considered by Wellington regional councillors at a meeting of their beleaguered transport committee on Wednesday tells them that a “systemic shortage” of bus drivers is contributing to the continuing problems of the new service. The report is from chief executive Greg Campbell, who is nothing if not optimistic. Here are some extracts from his report:

Overall network performance continues to improve in response to committed performance management and specific interventions. Focus has been on:

Minimising cancelled trips

Delivering bus capacity where needed

On-time departure from point of origin

Priority routes for urgent action.

On cancellations, our target in Wellington City is to achieve 99.5% of services run and we are now averaging 98.7%, with a range from 98.4% to 100% since September.

Overall capacity exceeds demand by 4.3%. More important to customer experience is the right bus capacity available on each route. This correct bus allocation has lifted to 89.8%.

We are formally targeting on-time departure of 90% with a higher aspiration of achieving 95%.

For the period 19-25 November, 92.8% of trips across the network were on-time at the first stop.

The first major reschedule was implemented on 11 November on Tranzurban routes as planned and has delivered some improvements to the network performance. For example, since implementation, Tranzurban routes have lifted to a range of 90.2% to 97.6% on-time performance.

A reschedule of NZ Bus Wellington City routes will follow in February.

The ability to achieve further performance gains of significance are being constrained by this and the ongoing systemic shortage of drivers. The shortage is affecting both primary Wellington City providers.

There have been further improvements to the Real Time Information System with tracking levels trending towards 98%.
Hubs have been completed and opened at Kilbirnie and Brooklyn.

We are focusing on addressing some key network issues including peak services to Vogeltown, improving access to the Zoo and improving access from the Miramar peninsular.

…While there have only been two weeks of data since the 11 November reschedule by Tranzurban, there are some promising signs of improvement in on-time performance. For example, for Route 1 the average destination arrival time variance has dropped from 5.1 minutes in the week before the reschedule to 0.6 and 0.9 minutes in the two weeks following. The equivalent figures for Route 7 are 1.9 minutes in the week before the reschedule and 0.1 and -0.1 minutes in the two weeks following.

Similarly the variance to schedule, which compares running times against the times allowed in the timetable, has more than halved for route 1 from an average 2.3 minutes before the reschedule to -0.5 and -0.9 minutes in the following two weeks.

Route 7 had better schedule adherence than route 1 and the figures have remained similar. The reschedule also appears to have reduced the maximum delays on route 1…

Overall the delivery of services remains strong but is still not at optimal levels. …

…The Customer Experience Team have identified the priority pain-points that will deliver the most significant improvements when resolved. These include
(i) On-time performance

The on-time performance of services, especially relating to timetabled services arriving on time and/or consistently spaced frequency between buses on high frequency services. This is a particular issue for customers on route 3.

Variable reliability continues to undermine some customers desire to establish a reliable commuting routine that fits their work-life balance, or ability to depend on public transport to meet time critical appointments.

On-time performance is the most significant customer pain-point, which also has a large influence on many other pain-points outlined below. Improving this, through planned changes to timetables and minimising service cancellations, will significantly improve the over-all customer experience.

Capacity issues, relating to full or crowded buses with many standing passengers. This issue is exacerbated by poor on-time performance – when there is a long gap between services particularly at peak times, causing passengers to wait for extended periods before a bus with available capacity arrives.

Crowding is also being observed later in the peak periods (after 9am and 6pm), reflecting the changing work patterns of people in Wellington City.

Crowded buses also reinforce perceptions of discomfort and makes it difficult for people with baggage, young children and disabilities to access buses.

Fixing capacity, through the planned changes to timetables, minimising service cancellations and introducing the new right-sized buses will significantly improve comfort levels and perceptions of dependable access.

Connecting between services is adding more time, effort and anxiety at specific locations, including between:
Vogeltown and the central city (peak only); Strathmore Park and Newtown (off-peak) and; Southern Newtown (and Wellington Zoo) and the central city (off-peak).

For peak time commuters the additional time added to the journey is the primary pain-point, particularly when one of the connecting services is only a short journey. In these cases, people are often electing to walk to high frequency services if they are able.

It is difficult for some vulnerable customers to practically manage transfers due to a physical and/or mental impairment, managing baggage and young children. If they are dependent on using cash for budgeting and don’t use a Snapper card, the cost of transferring is sometimes proving to be unaffordable.

The variable reliability of some high-frequency services adds time and anxiety to transferring and prevents customers developing a reliable routine or meeting time critical appointments.

Reviewing and improving the connection between the locations shown above will remove many of the negative
perceptions about transferring on the network…

…The Customer Experience team is now focused on working with the broader Metlink team to develop solutions to these pain-points. As well as continued monitoring of operational improvements, ongoing collection of customer insight will enable further analysis of issues to enable solutions that are more effectively targeted and customer-centred.

Bus complaints: Failed to appear, failed to pick up, ran late and driving continue to be the main topics of complaints.

Read the full report here. He says the council is “continuing to work with NZ Bus” on the provision of electric buses to replace the
retired trolley bus fleet.


  1. Traveller, 4. December 2018, 19:55

    The report deserves to be read in full. I discover on page 31 that the much criticised RTI system “will never be completely accurate.” Also: Wellington Zoo is on the MetLink network map (though they’ve failed to reinstate buses direct to the zoo) but Weta Cave is not shown because it is privately owned.

  2. Lim Leong, 4. December 2018, 21:32

    GWRC is being disingenuous to continue to shift blame. The new network design called for X number of drivers to make the new system work. This is a critical design assumption alongside purpose built hubs and the dedicated/priority bus lane required to make a hub and spoke system functions correctly. All these were known facts during the network design phase. Let’s not forget that this network was at least 8 years in the planning. GWRC now appears to be surprised at the systemic shortage of drivers and yet many drivers were made redundant as part of the transition to the new network.

    On the point of “Overall network performance continues to improve”- The only changes are 18E operational time gets extended, banker buses are added during peak time and more buffer has been programmed into the schedule to reflect real world lengthier journey time and to make Metlink’s so called “on time” performance numbers look good on paper.

    The flawed network design has not changed a bit since the cut over. Connections continue to fail and real world total journey time continues to double or triple when compared to the old network when transfers are needed. The failure list just goes on.

  3. Roland Harmer, 5. December 2018, 2:18

    The Council will be working with NZ Bus on the provision of electric buses to replace the electric trolleybuses for a very long time – as at the moment there is no such vehicles available.

  4. Roy Kutel, 5. December 2018, 12:29

    Well said Lim! You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

  5. Gordon, 7. December 2018, 5:34

    Lim is correct. If you look at the changes made most were just tweaking the numbers on the published timetables, not actual changes to the bus network or more buses running better routes.

  6. helen, 7. December 2018, 10:41

    Some of the connections are shocking. I asked some questions on the Metlink website, which got treated as an OIA. For the weekday evening connection at Victoria University letting people on the 21 from Courtenay Place get onto the 22 to Mairangi, (1) they defined a success as if the 22 had left the stop up to a minute BEFORE the 21 arrived. (2) Up to mid-November only about 25% of the connections were successful.

    Both those facts individually are awful, and combined they suggest a system that is fundamentally flawed.

  7. Wellington Commuter, 7. December 2018, 12:24

    At the Select Committee meeting the probing questioning from MPs was probably more interesting than the GWRC update report. In particular, MP Nicola Willis asked two key questions about the future review the bus routes that I paraphrase below:
    NW: Will the upcoming bus route review include consulting the public on either the bus service is working ?
    GWRC: Yes, the public will be consulted and be able to submit in early 2019 on the new bus service as part of the next review.
    NW: Will the review include looking at the hub & spoke design and if the public say hub & spoke design is not working will the GWRC change the design ?
    GWRC: Yes and yes

    Good on Nicola for getting these answers and so look out for the bus route review in January 2019.