- Wellington.scoop.co.nz - http://wellington.scoop.co.nz -

Pink-stickered and off the road: the safety faults, and cancelled bus services

bus2 [1]

An apology seems a less than adequate response to the disruptions of Wellington bus services which are now in their ninth day, and continuing. The explanations from the people in charge of the buses seem less than adequate, too.

Twenty-six peak hour services have been cancelled this morning. Compare this with last Thursday when 18 buses were cancelled, and it gets difficult to believe the claim that daily disruptions “are expected to reduce progressively.”

MetLink was slow to acknowledge that there was a problem. It didn’t mention the disruptions when they began on Tuesday last week. Its first and only explanation wasn’t published on line till the second day’s cancellations and no-shows were causing unhappiness all over town.

But MetLink is only one of several organisations which share responsibility, and the others were even slower off the mark.

It’s taken eight days of disruptions before an explanation (of sorts) and an apology [2] was issued by the Regional Council and NZ Bus, in a joint statement which also named Go Wellington, a fourth player in the current mess. The fact that it’s taken them so long to say something is perhaps an indication that they may also have been lacking in rigorous supervision of the safety standards which have now been challenged by random police checks.

Till now, passengers would have expected that all city buses were being properly maintained (apart of course from the ones that are stranded after their engines have failed). It’s alarming, therefore, to learn that the disruptions have been largely caused by buses failing to pass police safety checks, with eight buses still out of service yesterday.

It’s also alarming to learn that so much work has to be done that “bus depot staff are working through the night and weekends.” Why was this work not carried out as part of a regular health and safety programme?

The discovery of safety faults points to lack of adequate management by NZ Bus and inadequate performance measures by the Regional Council. But the council is trying to pass the buck. Here’s an excuse offered by Wayne Hastie, the council’s public transport general manager. He says, somewhat defensively:

“The Council’s contracts with public transport operators require companies to meet general operational, safety and accessibility standards. And we monitor this regularly at a reasonably high level. But our role, and level of authority, is not to drill down to the level that the Police Commercial Vehicle Investigation Unit does in terms of all the regulations and legal requirements that commercial vehicle operators must comply with. Our expectation when we enter into contracts with operators is that, as a matter of course, they comply with all the relevant operational and safety regulations.”

The Infratil-owned NZ Bus is a substantial company – with revenue of $216 million last year, and earnings of $9.2 million. It receives a substantial subsidy from the Regional Council for providing public transport in Wellington. More than enough, one would have thought, for its safety measures to be beyond challenge.

But no. Faults have been found. And with disruptions likely to continue for “a few more weeks,” it’s clear that the subsidised service is not delivering the value that ratepayers and taxpayers are paying for.