Wellington Scoop

No news is bad news

by Mike Flinn
Now that Easter has ended, it is of great concern that there’s no news about how the changes to bus drivers’ rest breaks are to be implemented from May 6. All the arrangements should be in place now for an orderly implementation, particularly regarding the requirement for a 10 minute break every two hours.

That there is no news is either the result of poor communications – or no agreement has been reached and even if it has been, it will not be ready in time.

In this case no news is bad news, so be prepared to be stranded at the bus stop on 5 May. Unless a solution is available on time, passengers will find a shambolic bus service on 6 May in the AM Peak and afterwards, continuing for several weeks and even months. Images of Wellington’s poor bus service from 1 July come to mind and the break period solution will not be quick. If the aim is to increase bus passenger numbers, this is the wrong way to do it and confidence, which has been knocked back since 1 July in Wellington, will take even more months to recover.

It seems that the changes to bus drivers’ hours have been on the statute list for some time and the question that has to be asked is: why had there been no action before the Bus and Coach Association reminded operators of the coming changes ? B & C Association members seem to be resisting, but this is 2019 and political and social opinions are that change is needed to bring this industry into line relative to other areas of employment. I can only presume that for the urban transport trips, cost increases will be met by GWRC under the PTOM contract terms.

To get the new break hours introduced, a number of steps need to be agreed and implemented. In the background, the Government has to understand the ramifications of its “10 minutes break after two hours driving” edict where the AM Peak particularly will require extra drivers and possibly extra buses if this policy is not modified. (This is because the 7AM to 9AM period requires the maximum number of drivers and buses during the whole day.) Bus driving is time related which is a very different scene from an office or factory situation and variation for the AM Peak is needed to minimise the need for extra costs of which fare payers and rate payers can expect to meet up to 75%. (A change such as one 15 minute break after 3 hours driving, once a day, for a shift over 4 hours could help to get better conditions but avert the worst ramifications from the initial proposal).

Does the Minister of Transport understand the result of the impact from this change? What advice did the Minister receive from either the Ministry of Transport or the Transport Agency on the likely impact from the intended change?

At this very late stage, a smooth transition seems impossible. So there should be a 3 month deferment of the starting date for change, with a timetable for each month setting out where progress has to be, with the rescheduling of drivers’ work to be completed at the end of the second month. There has been too much delay and passengers should expect all parties to smarten up their act and streamline timescales to achieve a good transition with minimal disruption for passengers. After that 3 months there should be a tripling of fines by GWRC and other funders if operators then have cancelled trips.

At the local level, the first agreement to be reached is what is a “10 minute break”? Is it a 10 minute period out of the bus, or a 10 minute period out of the bus at a place with toilet facilities available or a 10 minute break with toilet facilities and facilities for tea or coffee making etc.? The latter is the usual industry standard and this should be expected as standard unless there is agreement between parties for restricted variations.

While 10 minutes is the quoted break period, the time a driver is unavailable will be longer. If a bus route passes a depot with facilities, at least a 15 minute break will be required between the time the driver leaves his bus and the time when he can board another bus which is passing the depot. This will set up the real time requirement.

If a bus route passes an interchange (eg: the Kilbirnie “Hub”) but the depot is 5 minutes walk away the minimum time for the break will be 20 minutes and will be longer depending on the arrival time of later trips. Then there are situations where there are no facilities and the depot is far away (eg: the John St/ Hutchison Rd “Hub” and the Rongotai Depot. The last thing we need from these changes is to have more “Not in Service buses” on the road consuming diesel and pouring out extra CO2 emissions. Agreement will have to be reached in all these situations. The end result is that a relief driver must be present to ensure every trip is continued with minimum delay.

GWRC’s role is to ensure agreements have been reached by Operators and employee representatives and that their intentions will not disadvantage passengers.

Unless a miracle happens, the outlook for passengers on 6 May and afterwards looks bleak. As I wrote in my previous article, I have concerns at the lack of practical knowledge of urban transport in Wellington, and this is another example.

My concern is now even greater when the proposals for improved transport in Wellington refer to “Trackless Trams” as a possible aim. Trackless trams were the earliest name for trolleybuses which GWRC has, in my opinion, wrongly got rid of prematurely. Clearly there is a lack of background knowledge and understanding (and I suspect ability) by both politicians and advisors if such a basic error in the name of progress could be made.

As a Postscipt, the frustrated proposers intending to hire buses to improve the PM Peak bus service to Karori should save their money and insist that GWRC stop dithering and procrastinating and run the Karori West and Karori South trips to or from Courtenay Place, not Brandon St, immediately in both Peaks to better share the loads between all the trips to and from Karori Road. This situation would have been brought up in the Review of the 1 July changes promised by GWRC but after nine months there is no information on its timing that I can find. It is well overdue.

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

UPDATE from Regional COuncillor Roger Blakeley (via twitter)
Ministers Twyford and Lees-Galloway convened a recent meeting of Regional Councils, bus operators and unions re rest and meal breaks from 6 May under the Employment Act and agreed a transition period for implementation and to minimise disruptions.

April 30: Drivers and operators reach agreement on rest and meal breaks


  1. Lim Leong, 23. April 2019, 11:12

    I agree with Mike Flinn’s analysis. Notwithstanding GWRC made a complete shambles of the design, implementation and BAU operations of the new network, it also does not appear to have any risk management or contingency plan for the upcoming legislation changes. The only action that I can see from GWRC is advertisements in newspapers and commercial radio asking customers to install the Metlink apps. This is a sure sign that there will be random cancellations and many people will be caught off guard. The advertising must have cost ratepayers many thousands of dollars. This is a an expense which would not be incurred if the new network was running well. In addition, asking everyone to install the MetLink apps is to further disadvantage a segment of the society who could not afford a smartphone and a data plan to start with, and public transport is their only means to get around.

    I concur with Mike’s concern that there is a serious lack of practical knowledge in urban transport design and planning right through the GWRC organisation.

  2. Haul Penry, 24. April 2019, 17:25

    GWRC should have had safeguards in place BEFORE the transition back in July. We’re sick of the debacle of NZBus and their tomfoolery such as cancelled services esp late at night.

  3. Cr Daran Ponter, 26. April 2019, 18:57

    Hi Mike, As a regional councillor, I can only echo your concern. There are four primary parties involved in the current negotiations on the rest break changes – the Government (Min Transport and NZTA); bus Operators (led by NZ Bus and Coach Association), Unions (led by Richard Wagstaff from NZCTU); and Regional Councils (including AT). I understand that progress has been made but it is still a line call about whether all parties will agree a solution by 5 May. If a solution cannot be found then your worst fears will be realised – there will be more cancellations on the network – not just on Infratil-NZBus routes, but across other operators as well.

    This situation was foreshadowed in submissions to the Select Committee, but MBIE, the Ministry of Transport and NZTA pointedly ignored these – see the Departmental Report to the Select Committee – http://www.parliament.nz/resource/en-NZ/52SCEW_ADV_76257_3573/4e8ba21974efb6d004db979b76b371508dea790a

    While I agree with the new provisions, there simply has not been enough time for operators to respond, especially in an environment where there is already a shortage of drivers – a problem that has been with us for approx 5 years now.

  4. Helen, 27. April 2019, 9:05

    Need to get rid of the Regional Council now and bring in some experts like Mike Flinn to take charge of a dedicated PTA.

  5. James S, 29. April 2019, 7:57

    I notice that neither Wellington Regional Council nor Metlink bothered to make a submission on the Bill when it was before select committee. Did they not appreciate the issue until it was too late?

  6. Guy M, 29. April 2019, 21:05

    re Lim Leong’s statement : “there is a serious lack of practical knowledge in urban transport design and planning right through the GWRC organisation.”

    Totally agree. So what are we going to do about it? Seriously – Transport needs to be taken off GWRC at the very least – and certainly the heads of GWRC need to be rolled down the street before the elections. Resign now or be forced out.