Wellington Scoop

70 NZ Bus cancellations “not good enough”

Opinion from Metlink
Passengers travelling on Metlink services operated by NZ Bus experienced almost 70 last-minute cancellations on Wednesday. Metlink General Manager Scott Gallacher said the recent service from NZ Bus simply wasn’t good enough.

“Cancellations are never a welcome sign but it’s doubly disappointing for passengers who get hit with last-minute cancellations,” says Scott Gallacher.

“Obviously, we’re working with NZ Bus on how they will address this situation. It is very disappointing and everyone is working to try to remedy the situation.

“Metlink successfully operates around 22,000 bus trips each week and we pride ourselves in delivering a great public transport network for our communities.

“Over the last 12 months, as we have operated in a COVID-19 environment, our drivers have been at the forefront in providing an essential service throughout a pandemic response.

“Our drivers do an amazing job and provide an excellent service for the region’s communities.

“Ultimately, the onus is on operators like NZ Bus to ensure they have drivers available to continue to provide great services to Metlink passengers.

“I want to thank all passengers for their patience as we continue to work with our operators and I want to assure them that we are taking every necessary action to turn around this disappointing trend of cancellations,” says Scott Gallacher.

March 28: Roger Blakeley answers the question – why so many cancellations?


  1. Rebecca Matthews, 1. April 2021, 9:23

    They would throw NZ Bus under the bus, but it was cancelled. [via twitter]

  2. Claire, 1. April 2021, 9:30

    Is there a clause in the NZ Bus contract for a monetary penalty each time a bus is cancelled?

  3. Toni, 1. April 2021, 9:36

    Apologies do not help those who miss appointments, arrive at work late, cannot get back home etc., and end up unable to trust public transport. I for one am sick of listening to people banging on about less cars in the city when there is not a reliable suitable alternative for those who rely on public transport. Time to focus on serious intervention as how much longer are we expected to put up with sub-standard services?

  4. Conor Hill, 1. April 2021, 9:39

    Is it not NZ Bus’s fault? Contract someone to deliver a service and they don’t do so, it seems pretty straight forward? If NZ Bus looses a tonne of money cause they bid too low that is their problem. [via twitter]

  5. michael, 1. April 2021, 9:42

    People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones Rebecca. WCC has nothing much to be proud of either, having ramped up our rates to pay for their mismanagement of Wellington infrastructure.

  6. Eddie Clark, 1. April 2021, 9:43

    NZ Bus was awarded the contract by GWRC (i.e. Metlink), and this remains a council-funded *public* service. The people responsible to us as Wellingtonians are Metlink. It’s *their* job to ensure compliance with contracts, not ours. [via twitter]

  7. Georgina Campbell, 1. April 2021, 9:44

    Oh so Metlink is “disappointed”. They say they’re “taking every necessary action to turn around this disappointing trend”, but don’t elaborate on what those actions are. Happy to throw NZ Bus under the bus though. [via twitter]

  8. Daran Ponter, 1. April 2021, 9:46

    Yes, when you see Metlink calling out specific operators, you know things are serious … and in this case likely to get worse. [via twitter]

  9. Greenwelly, 1. April 2021, 9:50

    I have a funny feeling that it is related to this, reported in the DomPost:
    “NZ Bus wants to move Wellington drivers on to the same collective agreement as its Auckland drivers, which has a higher base rate but lower penal rates and one week less annual leave. Tramways Union declined the offer outright, refusing to even put the offer to its members.”

  10. Concerned Wellingtonian, 1. April 2021, 10:26

    I can’t understand why the Council’s Metlink people are “working with” NZ Bus to fix the problem. Don’t they have a contract which puts the onus on NZ Bus? Or is it the same problem that let the Airport Bus fall by the wayside?

  11. Greenwelly, 1. April 2021, 12:25

    Concerned. If being slapped by WRC 17,663 times in five months during the bustastrophe didn’t hurt, I can’t see this tongue lashing being any more effective…

  12. GK, 1. April 2021, 14:29

    Wellington bus chaos will worsen: drivers warn of ‘surprise’ strike.

  13. Kara, 1. April 2021, 14:56

    What many bus users may not be aware of is that the new owners of NZ Bus may want to get the maximum possible profit out of “providing service” while giving the minimum to the drivers.

  14. Andrew, 1. April 2021, 15:07

    It’s time to call a halt to this neo-liberal experiment in lining the pockets of Australian shareholders in the hopes of getting a better and cheaper bus service, and to call on the government to roll back the reforms which caused this catastrophe in the first place. The privatisation of public monopolies hasn’t worked and it’s time to re-nationalise urban bus services.

  15. Greenwelly, 1. April 2021, 15:36

    @Andrew, many bus drivers would argue it doesn’t matter much whether the shareholders come from Australia or Masterton.

  16. Concerned Wellingtonian, 1. April 2021, 16:02

    Greenwelly, given the choice I would pick Masterton.

  17. Andrew, 1. April 2021, 17:30

    There shouldn’t be any shareholders. Why channel the money from fares and subsidies into the pockets of people who have no stake or interest in the operation of a public utility? Transfer control back to the ratepayers and their elected representatives, remove the profit motive and channel profits back into improving the service.

  18. Mike Mellor, 1. April 2021, 22:11

    The focus on NZ Bus performance on Wednesday rather obscures the fact that there were also over 20 cancellations of Tranzurban-operated services notified on that day – not as many as NZ Bus, but still too many.

  19. Katrina Bennett, 1. April 2021, 22:49

    I find it hard to fathom how 70 buses could be cancelled in one day … that must be a lot of drivers calling in sick, or serious mismanagement/staff shortages. [via twitter]

  20. Cr Daran Ponter, 2. April 2021, 10:14

    @ Claire – yes, penalties apply – in this case they are called abatements.

    @ Toni – yes, frustrating….that we can’t just get stuck in and take this whole thing over. But PTOM does not allow for this, so we end up having to rely on the unions and NZ Bus coming to agreement on terms and conditions – and usually they do. Metlink/NZTA has made the offer to all operators to lift standard driver pay rates to living wage.

    @ Conor – not quite as simple as that. If NZ Bus end up vacating the contract there is no B Team in the wings. And even if there were, this could spell the end of Tramways and the terms and conditions they have fought hard for over the years.

    @ Eddie – I quite agree Eddie. But our hands are tied as to how far we can go. Metlink’s contract is with NZ Bus, not the drivers or the Unions. Welcome to the Public Transport Operating Model.

    @ Georgina Campbell – I think you know that “disappointed” is diplomatic speak for a few more colourful phrases.

    @ Greenwelly – yes, it is becoming clear that there there is an increasing correlation between bus cancellations and driver disconnect over workplace relations and employment negotiations. Tramways have now confirmed their intention for what appear to be “wildcat” strikes.

    @ Concerned Wellingtonian – yes, there is an extensive contract with all PT operators, and that puts in place an abatement regime (penalties). So, if drivers strike, the drivers won’t get paid, NZ Bus will be fined for cancelled services and Wellingtonians will be walking to work. The Metlink approach is to encourage Tramways and NZ Bus to stay at the negotiating table so they can hammer out a solution.

    @ Katrina – one driver who calls in sick could impact say 3-6 services, so it doesn’t take many sick drivers to push up the number of cancelled services. If wildcat strikes come in to play, then it is the Eastern and Western suburbs, where NZ Bus services predominate, that will be most affected.

  21. michael, 2. April 2021, 12:59

    Surely the government can step in to help as this situation is crazy; but they only seem to be concerned about Auckland these days.

  22. Kara, 2. April 2021, 13:00

    Could the Regional Council ditch the use of the PTOM? It’s almost 10 years old now and not really applicable to this decade.

  23. Tony Randle, 2. April 2021, 14:05

    Bus services under PTOM started in July 2018 based on 18 Unit contracts with bus operators. We are now over 2 ½ years into these contracts and some of them contracts are 9 years long. (You can view these PTOM contracts here. )

    The Regional Council repeatedly says that it is up to bus operators to get enough drivers, but every day we have bus cancellations. The fact that cancellations are getting worse indicates new drivers are not signing up. The council says it is fining bus operators for cancelled services but this obviously is not enough of a financial penalty for operators to increase the pay/conditions offering to their bus drivers. And fining operators does not help the dozens left waiting at the bus stop for a bus that either doesn’t come or is packed full because the previous bus was cancelled.

    Of course the reason bus operators cannot easily increase driver pay is because they only have one source of income and that is the contract payments from the council which (other than cost inflation adjustments) have never changed since 2018. Driver wages are the largest cost to provide a bus service and so increasing driver wages cannot happen without the operators being paid more by the council. It is now clear that bus operators providing Wellington City bus services seriously underestimated both the number of bus drivers and the amount they have to pay when they bid for services back in 2017. Since then I believe the council has tried everything it can under the contract to improve services (including slowing bus schedules so operators are not penalised for running late). It has also done everything it can to avoid redoing the contracts. This is really their way of saying they are committed to supporting the current operators even when they cancel 70 buses in one day. The council says “there is no B Team in the wings” but they are really saying they do not have any Plan B in the wings.

    Plan B is to terminate the bus contract for failure to deliver the service. In the GWRC PTOM bus contract a breach of the contract is called an “Event of Default” and this includes:

    “46.1.15 (Performance – KPIs) During any period of three consecutive Relevant Months, the Operator incurs Performance Deductions due to:
    (a) more than 1% of the Scheduled Services which the Operator was required by this Partnering Contract to provide in that period failing to meet the requirements of the Reliability KPI; or …”

    The council could also notify the bus operator of a “Persistent Breach” as an Event of Default. If the bus operator fails to remedy an Event of Default, then the council can move to terminate the PTOM contract and potentially re-tender it. The Plan B to end and retender bus contracts is a drastic measure but I cannot see any other way to enable the council to permanently increase its payments to operators so they, in turn, pay our bus drivers properly.

    We do not know if the council has escalated the daily cancellation of bus services with bus operators as an Event of Default under their contract (have you Daran?) All we get are apology messages that are becoming as regular as bus cancellation notices. It seems obvious to everyone except the council that the bus operators are not getting more drivers and not delivering on their contracted services to Wellington City. It is obvious bus operators need to be able to pay drivers more to attract them to work in Wellington City. So the two key questions are:
    * how can the council pay bus operators more so they can afford to pay our bus drivers properly without redoing the contracts?
    * if the bus contracts are not redone, will Wellington have a driver shortage and cancelled buses for years?

  24. Peter Kerr, 2. April 2021, 14:25

    What approaches has the GWRC made to the Local Govt. Minister to have the POTM abolished? There is something absurd about the profits from our transport services ending up in foreign hands.

  25. Cr Daran Ponter, 2. April 2021, 17:07

    @ Tony Randle – the companies now have regular driver training intakes, which was not the case in 2018. The issues we are facing at the moment are partly to do with higher driver sickness – some of which may be due to a cautious approach in a Covid environment (significant number of drivers are over 70 for example). In the case of NZ Bus, it appears that drivers may also be showing their frustration with contract negotiations.

    In the case of NZ Bus, don’t forget that none of the routes they currently run were won by tender. Under the unique and arcane rules of PTOM they were allocated units – so their circumstances did not alter in terms of their collective agreement with Tramways. Subsequently NZ Bus have been purchased from Infratil by Next Capital. They have a flatter structure collective agreement for their NZ Bus Auckland operations and are endeavouring to bring that model to their Wellington operations – but the Tramways Union contract is steeped in history and the terms and conditions are markedly different – i.e. this was never going to be easy for either party. The Metlink preference is to continue to support the Tramways and NZ Bus to reach an accord.

    We (NZTA/Metlink) have offered to take all Metlink drivers in the Wellington region to the Living Wage. Many are beyond the living wage already – this proposal has the biggest implication for NZ Bus drivers whose standard hourly rate is generally below the living wage (the flip side of this coin is that they get better penal rates, courtesy of astute negotiations by Tramways over the years).

    However, because drivers across the region are on a multitude of different collective agreements (with many on individual agreements) the reality is that as soon as there are top-ups for one set of circumstances or agreements, there are consequential effects on other operators/agreement – the answer to this situation is a national or regional fair wage agreement – one agreement for all drivers, which recognises particular circumstances and might grandparent some provisions. GWRC has requested this approach of the Minister of Transport and will do so again.

  26. Cr Daran Ponter, 2. April 2021, 17:31

    @ Peter Kerr – It’s actually the Minister of Transport Peter. We raised this issue with the former Minister of Transport, who commissioned a report that came out in December 2020, which you can see here . It only has findings, which don’t really penetrate the impact on driver wages and conditions, which is our main concern with PTOM at Metlink (we have other concerns but this is the primary one). My understanding though is that the new Minister of Transport is moving on the second stage of this review.

    It is unlikely that PTOM will be abolished – and if it is, it is only likely to be replaced by a new tendering regime. Metlink’s focus is on getting a new approach within any tendering arrangement to better safeguard drivers – one that underscores a national fair pay agreement for drivers.

  27. Mike Mellor, 2. April 2021, 17:58

    Interesting last paragraph, Daran. Price is obviously an important part of the contract between the Regional Council and the operators, with drivers’ wages being a large (if not the largest) component of the cost base. If all drivers were under the same agreement the ability of tenderers to compete on price would be significantly reduced, perhaps to the extent of making such tendering – a core feature of PTOM – unfeasible.

    So PTOM, which Minister Wood has been reported as wanting to scrap, and which consultants have said has failed to achieve its core aims , looks as if it could be on shaky ground.

  28. local, 2. April 2021, 18:06

    Blaming everyone else and (non) Covid, does not get me a (diesel) bus to work, nor a bus to the airport.

  29. Cr Daran Ponter, 2. April 2021, 18:41

    @ Kara – no, PTOM is the mandated government regime for providing for public transport, which regional councils are obligated to follow. The government’s Funding Assistance depends on us following PTOM. There is no doubt though that PTOM needs to be reviewed

  30. Kerryn, 2. April 2021, 20:45

    My biggest frustration is that these cancellations are being concentrated on certain routes. I’m only subscribed to two route alerts, #22 and #24 and some days I am getting +12-15 cancellations a DAY currently. I’d rather see a service reduced where the next bus is only 15 mins away on higher frequency routes than isolating some suburbs like Broadmeadows with no alternative services. Eg #22 services which include the university as a destination can be an hour apart in some areas of the route even at peak times even when they do actually run to schedule.

  31. Cr Daran Ponter, 2. April 2021, 21:05

    @ Mike Mellor Agree that a level playing field on wages and conditions would reduce the likely range for tenders – things like past records, employment relations, quality of fleet etc would come to the fore. Remember that in the next round of tenders – in approx 5-6 years time, we will also be specifying no ICE buses – so technology options may become a more defining aspect of tenders.

    It’s good that the Minister has his sights on PTOM but he will need to have another system in place before he can replace it, remembering that PTOM was itself a replacement for an earlier tendering regime.

  32. Concerned Wellingtonian, 3. April 2021, 7:50

    Daran, if “PTOM needs to be reviewed”, did you press the Minister about this during your meeting with him and Fleur Fitzsimons? Did you ask about the Airport Bus?

  33. Claire, 3. April 2021, 9:02

    Yes what was this meeting about? Should the Mayor who is the Transport Rep have been there?

  34. Fleur Fitzsimons, 3. April 2021, 10:44

    I make no apology for meeting with the Minister of Transport re LGWM. Serious investment in transport infrastructure is long overdue, the last time was 40 years ago! Wellington needs us to achieve the aim of LGWM – to move more people with fewer vehicles. [via twitter]

  35. Conor Hill, 3. April 2021, 10:46

    A DomPost report quotes Ponter texting Wood wanting to “make sure we are on the same page re​ light rail for Wellington” – Hopefully it’s the right page! [via twitter]

  36. Claire, 3. April 2021, 10:51

    Yes Fleur but are you the correct representative to have attended that meeting?

  37. Cr Daran Ponter, 3. April 2021, 11:12

    @ Concerned Wellingtonian – no, the meeting was for me to indicate GWRC’s continued support for LGWM, despite the difficulties with the programme.

    I addressed the bus issues when we met with the Minister prior to Christmas – in fact he came to meet at GWRC.

    The Airport Bus issue is being progressed through GWRC creating a PTOM unit which will allow us to run a Metlink airport service. The hearings related to this are coming up.

  38. Cr Daran Ponter, 3. April 2021, 11:16

    @ Conor Hill – GWRC remains supportive of light rail, but the final decision will of course be influenced by the business case which is currently being prepared – the three modes being investigated are Light Rail, Bus Rapid Transit and trackless trams.

    I simply wanted to be assured that Light Rail was not being pushed into the background.

  39. Toni, 3. April 2021, 11:18

    At what stage did Fleur Fitzsimons and Daran Ponter think it appropriate to meet Transport Minister Michael Wood to discuss the LGWM review, without the courtesy of advising or inviting Mayor Andy Foster and the LGWM governance reference group?

  40. Traveller, 3. April 2021, 11:19

    Daran. Isn’t it a reality that Wellington’s streets are not wide enough for real Bus Rapid Transit? If so, surely time to remove it from the short list that’s being investigated.

  41. Cr Daran Ponter, 3. April 2021, 11:21

    @ Claire – Hopefully the Peter Winder report will straighten a few things out at WCC and we can get back to BAU.

  42. Mike Mellor, 3. April 2021, 11:24

    So far today 11 cancellations have been notified: NZ Bus 0, Tranzurban 11.
    Last Thursday there were 51 notifications: NZ Bus 26, Tranzurban 24, Mana 1.
    Last Wednesday, approximately 90: NZ Bus almost 70, Tranzurban over 20.
    Totals for these three days (approx.): NZ Bus 96, Tranzurban 55, Mana 1.

    So NZ Bus is the major problem, but it’s not the only one.

  43. Cr Daran Ponter, 3. April 2021, 12:39

    @ Traveller – I certainly can’t see us having anything like the Auckland northern busway, so bus rapid transit in Wellington might look more like enhanced bus priority and high capacity buses. Will have to await the business case to see what comes out of the mix.

  44. Toni, 3. April 2021, 12:45

    How come we never had any of these problems under the “old” system?

  45. TrevorH, 3. April 2021, 13:34

    @ Claire. You raise an important question about the appropriateness of Cr Fitzsimons’ attendance at the meeting with the Minister of Transport. It appears neither the Mayor, who holds the Transport portfolio, nor other Councillors were consulted. On whose behalf did Cr Fitzsimmons speak regarding transport issues affecting Wellington?

  46. Kara, 3. April 2021, 16:35

    PTOM was introduced back in 2012. I only became familiar with its effects when the bustrastrophe hit Wellington. We hope that the present government will ditch that legislation soon and return our bus services to what we once had.

  47. Harold Rodd, 3. April 2021, 16:50

    Trevor, you raise a very good point, but the important thing is that Labour have clearly taken over the problem at last after four years of dithering. There will now be plenty of us blaming them if we don’t get an airport bus, not to mention decent terms for drivers etc., etc.

  48. Joolz, 6. April 2021, 8:30

    Daran how soon till we get some more electric buses in Wellington and on what routes? [In a comment last week Daran wrote: The current 10 double-decker EVs are doing 18 hour days, 365 days a year … The orders for 98 new electric buses were placed last year. Tranzit have ordered a batch of 31, which are being assembled in Tauranga. These buses will do the heavy lifting on Routes 1, 7, 23, 32x and are also likely to appear on Route 24 subject to some tree trimming.]

  49. Cr Daran Ponter, 6. April 2021, 9:57

    @ Joolz: 98 EV buses were ordered in 2020. They will start to come into service in mid 2021 – a few months away. The last ones will arrive in 2023.

    The 31 Tranzit buses are all double axle double deckers- like the current 10 in operation. These will be deployed on the current routes used by DDS – eg 1, 7, 23, 32x. In addition it is likely that route 24 will also be opened up to Ev DDS. The first of these buses will be rolling if the production line in Tauranga shortly.

    The 67 NZ Bus EVs are all triple axle single decker buses. These are classed as large buses – ie high capacity. These buses will be deployed largely on core routes, like the 2 and 3, and on some X services. The significance of these buses is that they will replace older diesel buses – namely the Auckland blue buses. The first of these new EV buses is already in the NZ Bus yard at Kaiwharawhara – awaiting commissioning.

  50. GrahamCA, 6. April 2021, 10:05

    Joolz the 60 electric buses on order for NZ Bus would be operating on virtually all their routes – 2, 3, 14, 18, 22, 30x (and all the associated trips out of Karori, Northland and Hataitai).
    [Comments (thank you to everyone) are now closed as our system has reached its full capacity.]


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