Back in August we asked: “Who’s to blame for Wellington’s unsafe buses?” At that time, no one was willing to reply. But this week the police have given an answer, by levelling eleven health and safety charges against Wellington City Transport Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of NZ Bus, which operates the Go Wellington, Valley Flyer and Airport Flyer services.
Responsibility for the buses is shared with the Regional Council and its offshoot MetLink. Last May, together with Go Wellington and its parent company NZ Bus, the organisations apologised after weeks of disruptions which followed the discovery that buses were unsafe. The apologies were not enough. In August, disruptions began again when more unsafe buses were discovered.
After the first period of cancellations and confusion, it took an Official Information Act request to reveal the extent of the problem. A letter from the NZ Transport Agency’s regional manager central Kate Styles, dated 11 July, listed faults found on 37 buses between 16 April and 9 May. Among the details: loose seats, exhaust fumes entering buses, and (on 17 April) “repeat inspection. Previous faults yet to be actioned. Additional fault: engine oil leak.”
Nevertheless, the letter said the Transport Agency “is satisfied that the issues identified in this report have been rectified, and that there are maintenance programmes being developed and enacted to ensure continued compliance.” Such optimism was shown to be ill-founded when more faults were discovered a month later.
“Given all the work we have done with the bus company, we would have hoped things would have improved,” said police spokesman Ross Henderson after a second round of checks by the police and the Transport Agency on August 28 resulted in 18 unsafe buses being ordered off the roads. Hope had embarrassingly not been enough.
The DomPost reports that the eleven charges laid against Wellington City Transport Ltd relate to investigations carried out between 2012 and 2013. They include seven counts of failing to take action to avert serious faults, and claims that safety devices to prevent back doors closing on passengers had been removed from some buses.
The bus company is due to appear in court today. Its chief operating officer says the charges “lack substance” and will be strongly defended.
A different view has been reported from the people who drive the buses. Radio New Zealand reports that the union representing the drivers “has held concerns about the buses, including safety, for some time.” The Regional Council says the charges are “of serious concern,” but – just as it did during last year’s disruptions – it insists on passing the buck. Councillor Paul Swain:
The council expects all contractors to be fully compliant with all the relevant road safety requirements. The matter is between the police and NZ Bus, but the council will be watching the proceedings with great interest.
Which is not a satisfactory response from the organisation which controls the subsidies which are paid to the bus company.