Wellington Scoop

Complaints and cancellations

Above: Five minutes of tweeted news about Wellington’s bus service on Tuesday

Nine months after Wellington’s new bus system was introduced, things seem to be worse than ever. Here’s what a city councillor reported this morning:

Yesterday Dave Armstrong reported that Metlink had received twice as many complaints during February this year compared with February last year. On Monday, he wrote sadly, Metlink tweeted 27 bus cancellations before 7am.

It was the same last week. Last Thursday, here’s what regional councillor Roger Blakeley reported, trying his best to be optimistic:


The shortage of drivers is being given as an excuse for so many cancellations. But as Dave Armstrong wrote:

NZ Bus is in the middle of a sale to an Australian company. Because NZ Bus is so bad at public communication, there is little we can do but speculate about its lack of drivers. Maybe it’s not in its interest to pay drivers more – as the balance sheet won’t look so good to the new buyer? Maybe its contract with GWRC, which we’re not allowed to see, is so badly drawn up that it is cheaper for NZ Bus to pay penalties for cancelled services than to pay a wage to attract more drivers? It’s sad seeing Metlink trying to busplain contractor problems. Apparently, it’s very difficult to attract low-wage drivers to work only a couple of hours during the morning and afternoon peak shifts. You don’t say.

In the early days of the bustrastrophe, there was an occasional apology from the Regional Council and from its chair Chris Laidlaw. None lately. Instead, as the failures continue, there are expectations that he should fall on his sword and resign, as should his transport committee chair Barbara Donaldson. She has been almost invisible for the last nine months, leaving engagement with the travelling public to be carried out by two of her fellow councillors – Roger Blakeley and Daran Ponter, who are admirably active in their efforts to fix some of the worst problems.

They both deserve voter support in October for their continuing efforts at trouble shooting. Not so for some of their colleagues.

There’s no reason to vote for anyone who has chosen to stay uninvolved as the months of trouble on the buses have gone and on. And certainly no reason – should they stand again – to vote for those who are directly responsible.

Five minutes of tweeted news about Wellington’s buses on Thursday


  1. greenwelly, 27. March 2019, 18:43

    Just in case there needed to be more evidence of this disaster:
    “Figures released to Stuff reveal NZ Bus was stung 17,663 times in five months after Greater Wellington Regional Council began penalising operators not meeting their contract requirements from October. The infractions included 3207 cancellations, 8451 late services, and 6005 instances of using buses too small for the route.”

  2. Eddie Clark, 27. March 2019, 21:05

    GWRC gave custody of part of our public transport system to a company so incompetent it’s been fined more than 17,000 times in 5 months for failing to deliver contracted services. Awful by NZ Bus, yes, but also shows how incompetent GWRC’s procurement process was. [via twitter]

  3. Steve Biddle, 27. March 2019, 21:07

    Nothing is going to change with NZ Bus until the sale of the business is complete in June. They simply don’t care. [via twitter]

  4. Paul Eagle MP, 27. March 2019, 22:00

    I’m calling for Wellington’s buses to be given back to the ratepayers and run in-house by the WCC and the Regional Council. [via twitter]

  5. michael, 27. March 2019, 22:54

    It shows you how desperate the GWRC are getting when Roger Blakeley tries to convince us it is good news when “there were only 4 unplanned cancellations today”, and only “21 ‘planned’ cancellations”, which is better than the previous 26 – 29 unplanned cancellations. Really!! Good news is when there are no planned or unplanned cancellations!

  6. michael, 27. March 2019, 22:56

    Paul: Please not the GWRC and WCC – they have made a big enough mess of things already. Can we have a dedicated Wellington Transport Authority run by experts.

  7. Paul Clutterbuck, 27. March 2019, 23:16

    @Eddie: under PTOM, GWRC didn’t have a choice about NZ Bus retaining the directly appointed units, which were a feature of PTOM and were supposed to provide some continuity. Blame Steven Joyce for that.

    In my view, having some units negotiated with incumbent operators is a weakness of the system, as we’ve seen with NZ Bus. I agree with Paul Eagle that NZ Bus should give up what remains of its Wellington services, and I also think NZ Bus CEO Zane Fulljames should resign.

  8. steve doole, 28. March 2019, 3:28

    GWRC people measure performance against timetables they set in conjunction with outsourced data providers, who appear to have been allowed to eclipse GWRC expertise in timetabling. Yes, this is a ‘tail wagging the dog’ scenario. Their approach to timetabling is very data focused, and not helpful when things don’t go according to their plan. Of course taking the high-risk approach of changing so many aspects of bus services last year (route lengths, streets used, terminus, drivers, ticketing systems, operators, bus types, and passenger knowledge of all those), the July timetables proved far too optimistic. No better than you or I could guess at really.
    Last year some timetables were relaxed to allow more time for normal disruption events that delay buses to be recovered from timewise. And while you and I might be able to interpret timetables ok, bus companies have the more complex task of scheduling buses and drivers to meet the timetables, including rest time, welfare breaks, lunch breaks, switch to different routes, and refueling stops, as well as collisions and other show stopper events, staying within driver hours regulations, vehicle law, staff employment agreements, and not upsetting staff.
    I’m no great fan of NZBus, but the GWRC approach of running public transport almost entirely from within an office using a detailed data approach to timetables continues to fail.
    Chris Laidlaw may well be correct about driver shortages, but there are impediments within GWRC to be cured as well.

  9. IanS, 28. March 2019, 8:29

    It is time to take these services back into (local) public ownership.

  10. Michael Sutton, 28. March 2019, 9:13

    It was a political decision that led to this fiasco and politicians will be held to account. [via twitter]

  11. michael, 28. March 2019, 12:15

    Unfortunately the only ones trying to hold those responsible accountable are the long suffering ratepayers.
    It is well past time the government stepped in, sacked the GWRC, and introduced a Wellington Transport Authority to take over and sort out this mess. It is hard to believe we are the capital city of NZ.
    Also time to consider getting rid of the GWRC.

  12. Gillian Tompsett, 28. March 2019, 13:23

    @ Steve Biddle: The situation will not improve once NZ Bus sells up. The new owners of NZ Bus are corporate raiders.

    Paul Eagle is right that Wellington’s buses should be run in-house by the WCC and the Regional Council, but only as an interim first-step measure towards establishing an independent regional transport authority, removed from the vested interests of regional councillors.

    In the short-term: NZTA funding of public transport MUST be increased from 16c in the $ back to 25c to pay for some more drivers AND some decent buses on the No.2 route while they’re at it, instead of the mangy old dogs currently in use.

  13. Peter Dunne, 28. March 2019, 17:24

    The last thing we want in Wellington is the government taking over the buses – the thought of Transport Minister Twyford taking over and renaming them Kiwibus is too much to bear. There would be no buses at all then! What we need is an independent Transport Commissioner in charge. [via twitter]

  14. Alan, 28. March 2019, 19:27

    Can someone explain to me why the dollar amount of fines imposed on NZ Bus is “commercially sensitive”?
    A fine is a fine not some sort of commercial advantage over another company. The public has a right to know how much the company is being penalised for its shortcomings.

  15. Alana, 28. March 2019, 23:38

    What can we do to support Paul Eagle’s suggestion – as well as Gillian’s that the in house management be followed by a real local transport authority?
    Surely the government can stop the sale of NZ Bus to foreign ownership?

  16. Michael Gibson, 29. March 2019, 7:27

    Alan – some months ago, when I asked GW for ” the dollar amount of fines” they replied under the O.I. legislation that it was “commercially sensitive” and I regret that I didn’t challenge this. Since the Ombudsman is in the middle of a special investigation into GW’s approach to “secrecy” it would be a good idea to express your concern directly to the Ombudsman’s Office.
    You could also say that it is of the greatest concern that the number of these fines has not been recorded in any Council Order Paper – GW is adept at boasting about various dubious figures such as the number of journeys but has never even mentioned a monthly figure for fines let alone disclosed their existence. This is wrong and a disgrace for a public body.

  17. michael, 29. March 2019, 9:32

    Alana I support getting a Wellington Transport Authority up and running as quickly as possible. But I am very much opposed to GWRC and WCC taking bus management in-house. If that were the case we might as well leave things as they are. Otherwise we would be leaving the same people in control who have already shown they do not have the expertise and ability to operate an effective transport system.

  18. Gillian Tompsett, 29. March 2019, 15:55

    Leaving things as they are is not an option. It was laissez-faire, ‘trickle-up’ economic ideology applied to an essential public service that got us to where we are now with the buses. It’s symptomatic of a political culture that’s been entrenched in NZ politics for well over 30 years. That’s one helluva supertanker to turn around in one go.

    The fact we’ve got a politician from central government in support of the view that the assets of NZ Bus – which we paid for – should be back in public ownership, is a clear indication of a long overdue and welcome sea-change at the top.

    Establishing a Wellington Transport Authority is the goal, but it will still require oversight from elected local councillors, so we need to make sure that come September we elect candidates who support that view and offload the people (including the CEO) who have been party to this fiasco.

  19. Dave Armstrong, 30. March 2019, 14:53

    Whole lot of bus cancellations in the Hutt Valley just announced. These are not NZ Bus services so we can’t blame them. We have a serious problem Wellington. And that problem starts with G and ends with WRC. [via twitter]

  20. Graham C Atkinson, 30. March 2019, 16:35

    Tranzurban did cancel some services in the Hutt Valley earlier this afternoon due to an unforeseen problem however an outstanding effort by staff on duty ensured all bar one have been reinstated and will be running as scheduled. It appears there is a time lag in deleting updates on the Metlink website – efficient in communicating cancellations automatically but requires human input to withdraw the notifications.

    Every transport operator in the world encounters unplanned problems that result in services being cancelled or rescheduled at short notice.

  21. Steve Doole, 1. April 2019, 8:33

    Be careful what you wish for – transport authorities can be incompetent too.

    Public Transport is a people business, more so than most.

  22. David Mackenzie, 1. April 2019, 9:09

    The Wellington bus disaster is killing me. On Friday I took a number 2 bus to go to Kilbirnie Park. By the time we got to Courtenay Place the bus was so crowded that people found it difficult to exit. Three times the driver was beginning to drive off before passengers had reached the door and had to be called to a halt with a sharp complaint, including when I got off at Kilbirnie. I was so stressed that any inclination to exercise had left me. As I walked up Crawford Road, I was bumped from behind by a cyclist who told me very firmly I should not be walking in the middle of the foot-path. I pointed out the cycle lane. He gave me a rude sign. I crossed the road and continued safely up the centre of the cycle lane without encountering any more cyclists. I can still feel the stress and anger taking over my whole being. The chances of my being killed by hypertension have greatly increased. Thank you Council for shortening and making my life miserable.

  23. Will Howard, 1. April 2019, 9:28

    Tranzit/Transurban has cancelled a heap of Wellington and Hutt services this morning (Monday). It seems the driver problem is no longer restricted just to NZ Bus. The halo of Tranzit/Transurban – the anointed provider of Wellington’s buses – has well and truly fallen off!

  24. Keith Flinders, 1. April 2019, 12:59

    Steve Doole: A Wellington transport authority might at least get the travelling public away from the parochial interests of 13 GWRC councilors who can out vote the Wellington City ones 8:5.

    In the past few years Hutt Valley and Kapiti got new electric suburban trains, and track/infrastructure upgrades. Around $0.7 billion spent.

    Was just a co-incidence that the 2014 – 2016 Sustainable Transport Committee chair was an Upper Hutt resident? The current bustastrophe was planned under his stewardship, and inherited by the new chair, also not a Wellington City resident, who has failed to get it sorted nine months on.

    East – west Wellington City residents and public transport users got an old diesel bus fleet, set to ply the routes for the next 9 years. As well, the quieter and pollution free trolley bus fleet was withdrawn with the promise to a new electric future. Thus far no sign of this electric future. This is an embarrassment to this Capital City which now seen as a third world backwater when it comes to protecting the environment and its citizens.

  25. michael, 1. April 2019, 14:00

    Steve Doole: I agree with you. It is indefensible how Wellington City Transport has been highjacked by parochial politics within GWRC and the sooner this is changed the better as it is clearly not working. We urgently need an independent Transport Authority that is not made up of politicians more concerned about votes than the reality or consequences of their decision making.

  26. Lim Leong, 1. April 2019, 14:51

    I think it is important to see this drama in context. This debacle is about a severely degraded customer experience for Wellington public transport customers. It is not really about which is the worst performing operators (NZBUS or Tranzit).

    GWRC owns the network design, implementation and contractual framework. What we have is a network design in which is impossible for operators to meet the on time arrival service level because Wellington does not have the necessary underlying infrastructure to make a hub and spoke model work. Currently buses can’t even arrive at a stop on time (that is if the bus shows up at all) and chance of making transfers work is fairy tale territory. And then we have a botched implementation and roll out with little (if any) risk management and contingency plan. Lastly the contractual framework is adversarial and rigid which makes everyone a loser (customers, operators and GWRC itself).

  27. steve doole, 2. April 2019, 11:20

    Lim Leong: you’re right. There was no contingency plan, or planning, according to the GWRC staff I asked. Risk management was limited to a part time person, who indicated that risks to Public Transport as a whole (such as those resulting in reputational damage and poor customer outcomes eg driver shortages) were not recorded in the risk register (commonly called RAID for short).
    Many other projects report changes in total Risk each week, commonly considering all risks to all participants. Some may even put a value to risks, so boards can monitor what outcomes are likely.
    Also in a brief query to the top person about the lack of scoping and resourcing of Assurance, I was told that it was ‘detail’. So yes, as you say, the result was botched.

  28. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 2. April 2019, 22:28

    Took a phone call from a lovely and very patient constituent from Maupuia today. She says cancellations of two route 24 buses in a row, in the morning peak today and a fortnight ago, have left her afraid to trust the buses for commuting to work.
    😟 [via twitter]

  29. Will Howard, 3. April 2019, 14:41

    NZ Bus has received a caning for all its cancelled services and now it seems that Tranzit/Transurban is suffering the same problem due to a lack of drivers. Every day now Tranzit/Transurban is cancelling peak hour and evening services – even on the weekends. I guess you can only work people so hard for a time before they start to leave or refuse to do 14 hour days. Our “market economy” prices everything on supply and demand except low paid workers’ wages.

  30. michael, 6. April 2019, 9:34

    Yesterday I had to wait 13 minutes for my bus as it was late and then lo and behold another one going to the same destination turned up behind it.

  31. aom, 6. April 2019, 11:04

    And …. now we discover that the CEO who was responsible, then charged with sorting out the GWRC’s diabolical mess, secretly had his tenure extended by two years on Laidlaw’s casting vote. It’s hard to know which is more dysfunctional, the bus service or the Council.

  32. Will Howard, 8. April 2019, 9:50

    That’s Laidlaw for you – he knows he’s out in the October elections but he wants to give the gift that keeps on giving – Chief Executive Greg Campbell for another two years!

  33. Paul, 8. April 2019, 10:39

    So the reward for Greg Campbell’s failure to sort out the buses prior to Christmas – an undertaking given to Parliament no less – is a two year contract extension. How long would the extension have been if he’d achieved something! Thank goodness Laidlaw and many of his colleagues will be gone soon. A new council may hold staff to account for their incompetence and repeated failures.

  34. Roger Blakeley, 10. April 2019, 21:30

    The Minister of Transport is tonight convening a meeting of regional councils from across the country, unions and bus operators to talk about actions to address NZ-wide bus driver shortage. GWRC has advocated for this. [via twitter]