Wellington Scoop

“We’re not perfect”

by Lindsay Shelton
“We’re not perfect,” says the CEO of NZ Bus, Zane Fulljames. This was after a second series of faults had been found in his Wellington buses.

His words (for some reason they remind me of the last scene in Some Like It Hot) are being widely repeated. But it’s no joke. It’s the second time his company has been shown to be less than perfect. In May, there were four weeks of disruptions after his buses were pink-stickered because they were unsafe. Wasn’t everything supposed to have been fixed by now?

Senior Sergeant Willie Roy of the Police CVIU, explains what was found last week:

The common theme among all 28 of the vehicles ordered off the road was serious oil leaks – an obvious fire hazard. Other significant faults detected on a number of buses included insecure fuel tanks and battery boxes, as well as faulty lighting. The buses ordered off the roads represented about 30% of the vehicles checked. When combined with a range of other safety faults detected, 47% of the buses stopped and checked had some kind of fault, he said.

The responsibility now lies squarely with the operator to fix these problems, so the public can be assured these services are safe and we will be working alongside NZTA to ensure this happens.

But haven’t they been doing that since the unsafe buses were identified in May?

And the excuse from the NZ Bus CEO, whose company didn’t know what it hadn’t done till someone else’s safety check revealed its oversight:

Why was the oil or material accumulation issue not fixed? NZ Bus has undertaken an examination of the faults with the assistance of independent expertise over the last 48 hours and identified a gap in our steam cleaning process that allowed these issues to manifest. What this means is that the engine bays were being steam cleaned but not the undersides of the vehicles. So what have we done about it? We have taken immediate action to close this process gap and have commenced a program to steam clean the undersides of vehicles.

Now what’s to be said about the insecure fuel tanks and battery boxes?

And when is the Regional Council going to break its very obvious silence about the buses?

Sixty buses cancelled today


  1. Elaine E, 2. September 2013, 16:51

    Proper maintenance is usually the first corner to be cut in the name of profit when public companies are privatized. The fact that so many buses have serious faults is shocking.

  2. Phil C, 3. September 2013, 0:36

    It’s all in Mr Fulljames’ bio at the NZ Bus website:

    “his ability to reengineer & redirect organizational focus in delivery of sustainable performance outcomes , creation of environments within that set people up for success … fostering stakeholder relationships by establishing environments based on trust, involvement , engagement at all levels and delivering what he says he and his team will deliver.”

    Quite incredible that the CEO of a bus company doesn’t once mention transportation. In other words, he’s perfectly suited to MBA-babble corporate clap-trap, but does not appear to have skills related to running a bus service safely.

    In fact, not one of the senior management have experience in running a public transport operation, at least according to their biographies at http://www.nzbus.co.nz/executive-leadership-team. This is, frankly, quite frightening. More importantly, it highlights the unproven assumptions at the heart of current management orthodoxy which holds that managerial skills are things that can be applied uniformly across all industries, with no requirement for specialised knowledge.

    Perhaps if they had in management someone who knew one end of a dipstick from the other this situation would not have arisen. But then I imagine all those old timers were told to take a hike when the operation was outsourced.

  3. Cr Daran Ponter, 3. September 2013, 9:36

    Perhaps the understatement of the year from Zane, especially as this is the second time that buses have been hauled off the road.

    While it is likely to be cold comfort for people left stranded on the side of the road, Go Wellington do not get paid for services they don’t run.

    I will be advocating for tighter contractual agreements around safety when the bus routes are put out for tender again in approx 18 months. A penalty system might spur greater attention to safety and a reliable bus network!

  4. Phil C, 3. September 2013, 21:26

    Daran: safety is paramount. I would say a right of termination and early RFP is the way forward for repeated, serious safety violations. This makes contractors sit up and take notice.

    The real issue, though, is that there are probably few alternatives for operators willing to run buses in a small city like Wellington i.e. no real market. I would be interested to know how many parties of substance bid last time round. It would also be interesting to know what subsidies the council pays to the operator and what the net economic and environmental benefit is of outsourcing overall. In fact, shouldn’t key terms of these agreement be made public? Or is outsourcing a means of hiding essential services behind a veil of contractual confidentiality, and pushing costs off the balance sheet?