Wellington Scoop

Waiting at the bus stop?

by Mike Flinn
The front page of the Dominion Post on April the 1st was headlined “Hundreds of buses face the chop,” quoting bus owners who claimed that changes to bus drivers’ rest breaks and meal breaks would result in 2,500 bus trips being cancelled nationwide, with their “worst-case” scenario for the Wellington region being a further 62 delays each day.

The Bus and Coach Association’s monthly Circular for March advised its members of legislative changes to come into effect on 5 May as:

For a 6 to 8 hour shift, two 10 min breaks & one 30 min break
For a 4 to 6 hour shift, one 10 min break & one 30 min break and
For a 2 to 4 hour shift, one 10 min break
“These breaks are not optional and you will not be able to pay employees in lieu of them taking these breaks.”

The DomPost report suggested that a separate agreement between employer and employees could allow a change to these requirements, but that was not covered in the Circular.

Then on 4 April, Chris Laidlaw of the Regional Council said he believed that as many as 80 extra drivers and up to 30 more buses would be needed to meet the changes to break times.

Such extras are completely unnecessary.

I am concerned about where the advice to the Regional Council is coming from, as there is an obvious shortfall in practical experience of urban transport in Wellington, which the break times issue has again shown.

Urban bus operations with over 100 drivers and buses and multiple routes require experienced, well trained schedulers with good remuneration to ensure extra buses and drivers are kept to a minimum.

The Bus and Coach Association members are primarily private enterprise operators, some of whom have expanded from charter and school bus work to tender for urban transport contracts under the Public Transport Operating Model (PTOM). It is the conditions of the agreements between these operators and employees’ groups or unions that has concerned the Government, leading it to apply these new conditions to the urban transport and other industries.

Wellington City bus services are already suffering from trip cancellations, particularly in the weekday morning peak period between 7AM and 9AM where up to 30 trips are cancelled. Most of the cancellations are trips run by NZ Bus as a direct legacy of the revised services introduced on 1 July last year.

In the lead up to these new services, the Regional Council devised the routes and timetables that it wanted the contractors to operate. However, it either did not properly analyse the trip requirement for the major corridors or, like the Karori Park services, it kept trip numbers too low to cut costs.

After 1 July, there was a shortage of trips on many busy corridors. “Banker” buses were introduced to reduce long waits for passengers. Having lost a major contract and with the Regional Council reducing its anticipated requirements, NZ Bus had slimmed down through redundancies to a lower driver level. Now that more realistic trip numbers have been introduced from 3 February, NZ Bus needs more drivers to perform its contracts but it has transferred its driver hiring to its Auckland office and unsurprisingly has had recruitment difficulties; it now has a shortage of drivers which will take months to overcome.

The new rest and meal break legislation has brought posturing and face saving from all the parties involved. But for the passengers (the biggest stake holders) the Regional Council should clearly understand that NO trip cancellations from the changes will be acceptable.

In Wellington City, the highest number of buses and drivers are required for the AM Peak period. This halves quickly after 9AM and rises again after 3PM for school bus trips and the PM Peak between 4PM and 6PM. The total number of buses needed for the PM Peak is at a lower level than the AM Peak. Drivers mainly sign on between 6AM and 7AM for the AM Peak (7AM to 9AM) trips, so if a ten-minute break is mandatory after 2 hours and there are no alternatives available, the Regional Council will need to get the operators to have no rest breaks between 7.30 AM and 9AM. This is to ensure that no more buses and drivers will be needed than now.

After 9AM, drivers will become available to cover for rest and meal breaks. The changed rest break requirements will no doubt lead to some extra cost where shift times are extended. But extra drivers and buses are not needed and there should be no need to cancel any trips because of the changes.

The contractors and employee representatives need to come to an agreement on how the breaks will be organised (for example at the Railway Hub or Kilbirnie Hub) and it is the Regional Council’s role, on behalf of passengers, to check and ensure that the arrangements are suitable, not only for normal conditions and minor delays but to ensure there are agreed steps to be taken if there are longer delays through reasons such as congestion, weather events or earthquake.

Bus passengers have now had to put up with poorer bus services for nine months and GWRC needs to ensure that the legislative changes from 5 May have no more impact, so that its intended Review can take place soon and real improvements for passengers can quickly start later in the year.

Mike Flinn was Deputy General Manager of Wellington City Transport from 1985 to 1990. He has a lifetime interest in Transport.


  1. Paul, 15. April 2019, 12:57

    “I am concerned about where the advice to the Regional Council is coming from.” Per today’s story on stuff it’s coming from highly-paid but utterly useless consultants. $1.6m worth since July for zero improvement.
    And Greg Campbell has gone very quiet on his personal commitment to devote all his time fixing the buses before Xmas. How did that work out? It got him a two year contract extension, but that seems to be the only outcome.

  2. Gary Froggatt, 15. April 2019, 22:54

    Mike Flynn offers very practical advice that nearly mirrors offers made by employee representatives to help bus drivers get their much needed rest breaks. Suggestions included waiving the requirement to have the break in the middle of the 2 hour period, no requirement to return to a depot, waiting till after the peak periods, arranging the break at the end of a trip and working with timetable schedulers to fit in the 10 minute break.
    Then we learnt that the bus compay owners had been campaigning to stop drivers getting any rest breaks at all!
    The reorganized bus network has come at great cost to bus drivers. Shifts up to to 14 hours, 5.5 hours without a break,poor pay rates, few toilets and poor facilities for drivers sitting out their 4 hour unpaid break when on broken shifts.
    Now we learn that the bus owners are threatening to cancel trips unless the Government pays them more to provide rest breaks that they themselves enjoy along with all other non driving staff in their companies.

  3. Henry Filth, 16. April 2019, 1:48

    In a market economy, shouldn’t the drivers’ pay rates simply go up to attract new drivers, and retain the existing ones?
    Who’s stopping the market working? And why?

  4. greenwelly, 16. April 2019, 9:08

    @Henry, Because there is no market…

    The bus companies work for the Regional council on a reasonably fixed price contract, (I suspect there are permitted increases allowed for fuel and general inflation,) but the Bus companies will not be able to directly pass through the wage rises to the council.

  5. Tony Jansen, 16. April 2019, 9:10

    Typical National party playbook example. When they gutted the public service they spent even more on consultants. Often the same people doing the same work for higher remuneration.
    The PTOM is exactly the same. Get rid of existing personnel and plant and employ consultants, many from overseas, to fix the unfixable. Next we will be employing cheap labour from overseas to drive our buses because we will not pay a decent wage to New Zealanders. And on it goes.
    Meanwhile everybody wrings their hands in woe and the government sit on their hands an watch this all play out.
    Voting all the GWRC Councillors out will not fix this, but it’s a good start.

  6. Bruce Franklin, 16. April 2019, 10:06

    Well done Government, another example of fixing something that isn’t broken and spending our hard earned tax dollar doing it!!
    The existing work-time logbook rule is fit for purpose and covers the commercial driving task very well as is, 5 and half hours work activity max followed by a half rest break then another 5 and half hours work activity with another half hour break leaving a further two hours work activity to end the day IF you work the max allowed 14 hour work day. If the proposed new rule supersedes the existing work-time rule, watch the CVST unit revenue and workload explode, training material and logbook re-writes worth millions to follow for no gain to anyone.

  7. Dave B, 16. April 2019, 12:17

    @ Bruce Franklin: Credit where credit is due, and blame also. Well done local government (GWRC) and former National government (PTOM) for this misguided and idealogically-inspired mess.
    “Put Public Transport services out to tender every 9 years, introduce competition (i.e. kick out the incumbent) and everything will be brighter and sweeter and cheaper”. Unfortunately, not in the real world.
    This is not the present government’s fault, though their lack of urgency in stepping in to fix things by overriding the PTOM where it has failed is worrying.

  8. Newtown, 16. April 2019, 13:12

    Love this opinion piece by Dave Armstrong. It’s a shame that we have to wait until October elections for anything to happen. Where’s the accountability? The GWRC councillors & ceo are getting the big bucks for doing exactly what?

  9. Cr Daran Ponter, 16. April 2019, 19:25

    Hi Mike, Good article. The figures on the number of additional drivers likely to be required come from the bus operators (in the Wellington region that’s Infratil-NZ Bus; Mana, Tranzit and Uzabus). I suspect it is a worst case scenario. But even if it’s just a tenth of the figures quoted it’s a concern.

    Bus operators, regional councils and Unions have been put on notice that there will be no compromise to the application of the new employment legislation – as should be the case. This has resulted in these three sets of parties working on a collective approach – not easy as I am sure you will be aware from your past experience. These negotiations are continuing – if they fail then we face the prospect of additional cancellations across the network for an extended period.

  10. Henry Filth, 17. April 2019, 20:48

    Should I take this to mean that the bus companies don’t know much about their industry?

  11. Lim Leong, 18. April 2019, 9:54

    A lack of drivers is simply a symptom of the flawed underlying design. It is the tip of the icebergs. Everyone in GWRC from Councillors to CEO to Management Team has gone quiet on the flawed design and the pre-requisite infrastructure requirements. Instead of fixing root causes, effort is being put on patching symptoms. This once again is a flawed approach to fixing problems. Can anyone please educate me on why we have to pay GWRC rates again?

  12. steve doole, 18. April 2019, 20:29

    Paul. Yes and No about GWRC consultants.
    GWRC management ignored advice on contingency plans, assurance, risk, capability of bus companies, and driver relations according to 3 of their consultants I asked.
    Also the lack of bus hubs should have been a show stopper for the roll-out, but was treated as an issue that could be rectified later.
    I suspect the person leading bus “transformation” would also be classed as a consultant, had little knowledge of bus operations, and was probably negative value for money when the results are considered.
    Overall, management listened to consultants who were out of their depth.

  13. Kara Lipski, 25. April 2019, 17:41

    All workers (including bus drivers) are allowed a 10 minute break after 2 hours work – it is evident from seeing bus drivers going through orange and red lights that the GWRC set timetables too tightly. So a simple way of both preventing red light running AND providing for a 10 minute break after 2 hours work is to redo the timetables.

  14. michael, 1. May 2019, 16:06

    I was appalled to read that Wayne Hastie, former General Manager of GWRC public transport, who was heavily involved in the revamped network, will now (as the General Manager Strategic Programmes) be overseeing the review into the network’s design. This after independent consultants found the council team responsible was not equipped for the job. How the GWRC expects the public to have any confidence in this decision is beyond me.