Wellington Scoop

MPs told of bus improvements; problems blamed on congestion and driver shortage

News from Greater Wellington Regional Council
Progress on stabilising Wellington’s bus network was reported to the Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee at Parliament today. Regional Council Chief Executive Greg Campbell detailed improvements in bus performance across the region but outlined congestion and the nation-wide driver shortage as the remaining roadblocks to uplifting performance in Wellington City.

“The shortage of drivers is still impacting some Wellington commuters. This is our greatest concern and priority focus to resolve. While not large in absolute numbers, any cancelled service is not just frustrating to commuters, but can cause subsequent services to be overcrowded or be too full to pick up all passengers. I publicly acknowledge the distress this has caused our customers at times,” said Mr Campbell.

Details of a joint Metlink and operator led recruitment campaign to deal to the shortages were shared alongside the fresh challenges the Employment Relations Amendment Act 2018 puts on resources.

In relation to congestion, Mr Campbell detailed an agreement between the Regional Council and the City Council to work together to deliver new bus priority measures.

“Congestion is a major obstacle in Wellington City. We have limited and congested road spaces and, compared to other cities, a lack of dedicated bus priority lanes. Operator tests show there can be vastly different travel times when running the same bus route at the same time from one day to the next. The result of this is lack of reliability for our customers. Wellington has fallen well behind in providing bus infrastructure. This has to be resolved urgently to ensure reliable levels of service.”

Mr Campbell also noted that the Regional Council is moving into a period of intense community led reviews of the new bus network.

“This work will determine what changes are still needed for the network to address customer feedback and requests, social benefits and what can be afforded. We started this work last week, working with people in Strathmore Park, and we’ll be going suburb to suburb over the coming months. Changes have been progressively implemented in response to customer feedback since launch. ”

The report to select committee showed growing use of the network, with the majority of growth coming from Wellington City. In May, growth in the city reached 6.3%. year-on-year.

“The growth in patronage is not surprising. While much of our conversations have been around the problems experienced with transition to the new network, what has been delivered is a huge range of benefits. There are 45% more services at weekends now, 26 more suburbs have more regular off peak services, we have free transfers, better tertiary and accessibility concessions, and many brand new buses including double deckers and electric vehicles.”

“We, and our operators, are committed to continue working to lift the whole network to perform to target levels. Gradual improvements will eventually add up,” added Mr Campbell.

Mr Campbell was presenting the update alongside acting Chair Barbara Donaldson, and General Manager, Strategic Programmes, Wayne Hastie.

The GRWC submission can be found at: https://www.metlink.org.nz/gwrc-presentation-to-the-transport-and-infrastructure-select-committee

Report from RNZ
Wellington’s Regional Council is blaming a perfect storm of new operators, buses, routes, driver shortages and design failures for the shambolic introduction of new bus services a year ago. While reliability has since improved to 92.5 percent of services leaving on time, it is still just 89.2 percent in the east and west of the city.

The regional council’s chief executive, Greg Campbell, told Parliament’s Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee this morning the national bus driver shortage and a lack of bus lanes in Wellington were the two biggest road blocks to fixing the capital’s bus system.

He said there was nobody to replace drivers who called in sick.

“This leads to cancelled services, often in the peak morning commute and it always seems to be – not on a day like today – but on a wet and windy day,” Mr Campbell said. “While not large in absolute numbers, any cancelled service is not just frustrating for commuters, they can cause subsequent services to be overcrowded or too full to pick up passengers.”

Metlink had a joint recruitment campaign underway with bus companies to deal with the shortages, he said.

The challenges around bus priority and dedicated lanes would be addressed as part of the early delivery of the Let’s Get Wellington Moving programme, but that work was complicated due to Wellington’s hilly geography and constrained layout, he said.

National list MP Nicola Willis said she wanted to know who was accountable for the problems, when around 30 bus services are cancelled each day. “What accountability measures have you had on your management for failing to deliver on [previously agreed] targets [of 95 percent reliability]? ‘Cause let me be very clear it has had a significant impact not only on Wellingtonians everyday, but on the reputation of the bus service and the reliability of it,” Ms Willis said.

The regional council’s acting chair Barbara Donaldson said “that’s part of their performance but what we expect them to do is to be working very hard, reporting to us and we’re monitoring that all the time”.

“We’re working with all our partners, so that includes the bus operators, to help them overcome issues in driver recruitment… and we’re working with Wellington City Council on bus priority measures, so we’re all accountable but we certainly are just working as hard as we can,” she said.

While the focus was on fixing the problems rather than attributing blame, “staff are in no doubt that this is part of their performance,” Ms Donaldson said.

If everyone was accountable, that meant nobody was actually accountable, said Ms Willis.

Mr Campbell told Ms Willis he rejected that the region was still in the situation that she described.

“You’ve told a story several times today already about the state of the bus network. I’m afraid you can create a story, I don’t have that luxury as chief executive. I have to work within the facts, and I’ve presented the facts today,” Mr Campbell said. “I do accept dismay at particular circumstances customers experience, and if you really focus it, it comes down to driver shortages and congestion.”

Transport Minister Phil Twyford has rejected the Opposition’s call for a Crown Observer to help solve Wellington’s bus woes. “At this stage, I have no intention to put in an observer. This thing is fixable and GWRC need to do their job,” Mr Twyford said.


  1. Conor, 27. June 2019, 11:59

    There has been a long period of under-investment in buses in Wellington, and some prerequisites for a good network redesign were not done.

  2. Benny, 27. June 2019, 13:10

    After PTOM, after NZ Bus, after Wellington City Council, after the drivers, we now bring you … congestion!!! And yes, that’s the new excuse GWRC is using to explain why the new network isn’t working as they’ve designed it…. as it should. Oh October won’t come soon enough!

  3. Kon, 27. June 2019, 14:22

    Nothing is going to happen regarding Wellington’s bus problem, because people have not organised any form of protest/street march. The Parisians and Hong Kongers let the whole world know when they’re angry……and then things happen.

  4. Curtis Antony Nixon, 27. June 2019, 17:11

    The problem is the double layer of local government – WCC and other city and district councils, and GWRC. Guy Marriage in his Scoop article ‘Why we should do what Auckland has done’ gives the right solution – a dedicated regional transport body that is directly responsible to the territorial authorities; that is I support the disbandment of GWRC and the redistribution of its powers and budget to the city and district councils, who would then form a Wellington Transport agency, along the lines of Wellington Water.
    That would give clear lines of governance and accountability without the huge fudge factor we presently have.

  5. LHH, 27. June 2019, 17:59

    I’m in the eastern suburbs and yes congestion is a problem. But it’s a problem because people can’t get buses and so they have got back in their cars. There are queues at on every road off the Peninsula. Even through the airport. Nicola is not creating a story. She’s telling it.
    And what’s with the Kilbirnie hub? It’s only a matter of time before someone is hit crossing the road in the rain.

  6. Gary Froggatt, 28. June 2019, 7:23

    Adding off peak, weekend services and free transfers will not solve the peak hour problems. Passengers do not want to transfer up to 3 times on their journey, or stand in the rain and cold waiting for no show buses. Campbell and Donaldson have no idea what’s happening on the road. They don’t even use the product they want everyone else to use. To attract more bus drivers, the GWRC need to eliminate 14-hour shifts, the 4-hour unpaid time in split shifts, and making drivers work up to 5.5 hours without a break.

  7. Ben Foden, 28. June 2019, 9:09

    It’s hard to think of a more inept, finger-pointing, denying, accusing and blaming group of local body politicians in my living memory.
    There is no real problem… You’re making it up… And if there is a problem, then it is all someone else’s fault, though we created the problem. Astounding. And not worthy of a such a position. Every aspect of the changes is shameful and given how much funding comes from national level taxation through NZTA, it is deeply worrying that the Government won’t step in.

  8. Roy Kutel, 28. June 2019, 9:37

    @Conor: GWRC Councillor Daran Ponter says GWRC spent EIGHT years planning their bus system.

  9. michael, 28. June 2019, 11:41

    If this is what we get after 8 years of planning, then sack the lot of them. If it was a private company they would have been long gone by now.

  10. TrevorH, 28. June 2019, 13:22

    The hub-based redesign is the crux of the problem. It might work in major metropolises overseas but it is a nonsense in Wellington suburbs like Miramar for example where people are now required to transfer after one or two kilometres to await another bus from another suburb which may already be full to capacity and/or late. The inexperience of the new companies who received contracts and the serious shortage of drivers aggravate the failings of this fundamental structural flaw. The new hub system must be abandoned.

  11. Newtown, 28. June 2019, 13:46

    @michael – at least they (GRWC) must’ve enjoyed the many catered meetings and bottomless flat whites during the 8 years. Yes, sack them all. Just like Auckland Transport, we need a team with experience in designing integrated transport solutions. I wouldn’t mind a central agency looking after the country’s transport needs – would be great for consistency, plus you’d have the expertise under one roof.

  12. michael, 28. June 2019, 20:26

    I agree = we do need “a team with experience in designing integrated transport solutions” and I am at a loss to understand why the government hasn’t stepped in to stop this endless waste of ratepayers’ and taxpayers’ money.

  13. Roy Kutel, 29. June 2019, 7:29

    Apparently, GWRC staff with not much to do have started planning the next bus system due 2028. Hubs will probably be out and direct services back in.

  14. Kara Lipski, 29. June 2019, 9:59

    There are just four things we residents of Wellington want.
    1. an immediate return to the pre July 2018 routes and timetables, including direct buses from both east and west past the hospital in Newtown.
    2. a single bus provider
    3. NO hubs where people are forced to change buses where in the past they did not need to.
    4. Real community consultation – not just ratepayer or residents associations. Many bus users probably don’t belong to either.
    GWRC is that too hard for you to fix?

  15. Ms Green, 29. June 2019, 12:05

    Tautoko Kara