Wellington Scoop

Blaming everyone else

by Lindsay Shelton
We learnt last week that the Regional Council is blaming everyone except itself for the continuing problems with Wellington buses.

RNZ reported from a parliamentary hearing that the council’s chief executive Greg Campbell told MPs a national bus driver shortage and a lack of bus lanes were the two biggest road blocks to fixing Wellington’s bus system. Which would make anyone wonder: why didn’t he deal with the driver shortage and the road blocks before introducing the bus networks?

He said, seemingly without embarrassment, that there was nobody to replace drivers who called in sick.

“This leads to cancelled services, often in the peak morning commute … 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.”

However we shouldn’t be upset, because he says Metlink has a joint recruitment campaign underway with bus companies “to deal with” the shortages. To solve the shortage … when?

National MP Nicola Willis wanted to know who was accountable for the problems, when around 30 bus services are cancelled each day. She asked:

“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.”

The regional council’s acting chair (who is also chair of the much-criticised transport committee) Barbara Donaldson made her excuses, again, and talked about monitoring “them” and working hard:

“… 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.”

After the hearing, the Regional Council issued its own version of how its chief executive had spoken about the problems when he was facing the MPs:

“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 …”


“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.”

(Anyone hearing this would be bound to ask: why didn’t he fix things before the new networks were launched?)

And he did his best to be optimistic:

“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.”

Many electric buses?

After the hearing at Parliament, the two local Opposition MPs continued to speak critically about the Regional Council and said they were not persuaded by what they had heard.

Nicola Willis:

“The ongoing lack of accountability for Wellington’s bustastrophe was on clear display this morning. Here we are almost one year since the problem-plagued changes were introduced and still the buck-passing continues.”

Chris Bishop said the Regional Council’s briefing did nothing to quell concerns about continuing network failures:

“It is time for Transport Minister Phil Tywford to reconsider appointing a Crown Observer to oversee the network repairs and get the level of service back to where it needs to be.”

And more from Nicola Willis:

“I regularly hear stories from people waiting in the rain for buses that are delayed, overcrowded, or just haven’t shown up. I have had Wellingtonians tell me they have purchased cars for the first time in their lives due to the unreliability problems. The continued buck-passing between regional councillors and city councillors is growing tiresome, with Barbara Donaldson saying ‘bureaucracy moves slowly’. That’s not good enough.

“Cr Donaldson appeared blind to what is going on around her, telling the committee that ‘Wellington’s bus service is in pretty good shape’. This is despite the council’s own data showing 37 bus services are being cancelled each day and more than 10 per cent of Wellington buses are running late. Buses in outer suburbs are also failing to meet on-time targets.”

A few days later, Guy Marriage proposed a tough solution:

What needs to happen is for the Regional Council to be stripped of responsibility for organising transport for the region, and a new body set up that can take ownership of transport, with qualified people who know what they are doing. This is the model that the Auckland Council has followed, with Auckland Transport making plans, making decisions, and generally getting things done. AT are both organising the roads in Auckland and running the Rail, the Buses, and even most of the Ferries. Co-ordinated planning, integrated ticketing, and a vision for Auckland that has seen them go from hopeless basket case to NZ’s leading solution providers in just a few years. We need to do this too.

He is one of many who do not accept the Regional Council’s wishful thinking that our bus service is in pretty good shape.


  1. michael, 1. July 2019, 9:39

    Wellington must be the laughing stock of NZ as our local politicians keep blaming everyone but themselves.
    The worst thing is we are likely to be stuck with the same bunch after the elections, unless there are people willing to stand against them. Of course being re-elected will give them the opportunity to pat themselves on the back and say they have the backing of Wellingtonians. I would vote for ‘Donald Duck’ or ‘Goofy’ in preference to the sitting councillors.

  2. Conor, 1. July 2019, 10:40

    I think some of bustastrophe has been a while in the making: https://conorhillformayor.wordpress.com/2019/06/26/bustastrophe/

  3. David Mackenzie, 1. July 2019, 11:58

    I understand at the time of the letting of the contracts, Go Wellington was compelled to make redundant and pay out 60 more drivers than it would have wished. Of course they cannot now be rehired, and have moved on to other things. Are you able to investigate this?

  4. Vermicious Knid, 1. July 2019, 12:29

    The irony being that the state of the bus service has created the worsening traffic situation. A vicious circle now. The more congested it gets the slower the buses the more people stop using them and so it goes on. There didn’t seem to be any driver issues etc before they changed the bus system.

  5. CPH, 1. July 2019, 12:30

    Methinks Greg Campbell and Barbara Donaldson are mistaking cause for effect. Road congestion has definitely increased (particularly in the Eastern suburbs) because more people are taking cars because the bus service has become a joke. Congestion will go back down once the bus service becomes reliable again, and not a moment sooner.

    Guy Marriage is right – GWRC should be fired.

    P.S. And where was Chris “I can’t think of anything I’d do differently” Laidlaw when it comes to the parliamentary hearing?

  6. Ruth, 1. July 2019, 13:29

    The road congestion has increased noticeably in the Eastern suburbs as a direct result of the bustastrophe. There are queues on all exits from the Peninsula now, including through the airport. Fix the buses and you’ll fix the congestion.

    It’s surprising how out of touch with the facts the GWRC are and how impossible it is to call them out on it. Please you MPs – follow up your comments with some action because we’re desperate for something to be done.

  7. Michael Gibson, 1. July 2019, 13:30

    GW consistently fails to mention that it is the Council itself which is responsible for signing the transport contracts. The Council is therefore responsible for the way in which those contracts are operated. It is clearly not doing its job in this respect.
    Is it, for instance properly penalising the bus companies for deficiencies such as the shortage of bus drivers?
    How is the Council conducting its much-vaunted penalty system?
    Since GWRC refuses to answer all questions relevant to the bus contracts (on the grounds of “commercial sensitivity”) Wellingtonians need to rely on somebody to do the job for them. Hopefully the Parliamentary Select Committee can help get to the bottom of this and save me applying to tell the next meeting of GW’s Transport Committee that they should formally ask the Audit Office to report to Wellingtonians on the bus contracts and the way in which GW is operating them.
    A pity that the said Committee does not meet until August 7th.
    Any help gratefully received.

  8. Goofy, 1. July 2019, 13:34

    Michael I an sorry I wanted to run a far better candidate but did not have the funding. Totally agree it is repugnant to feel unrepresented. I have no one to vote for and I have no confidence in the Council’s lack of vision, agenda and even its shaky foundation. But lots of people like me are not allowed our vote choice which would be a non confidence vote.

  9. Gary Froggatt, 1. July 2019, 16:34

    To attract more bus drivers, GWRC needs to improve conditions of employment, reduce 14 hour days, eliminate split shifts and the resulting 4 hour unpaid breaks, and reduce the 5.5 maximum work period before a break.

  10. michael, 1. July 2019, 16:55

    Goofy – I shall be putting a huge black cross through my ballet paper as … “Rather than simply not showing up to vote, voters can cast a spoilt ballot to express their dissatisfaction”. I hope a lot of people do the same thing to get the message across.

  11. Joanne Perkins, 1. July 2019, 19:26

    I can assure you that the GWRC have not been lax in applying penalties, at least on one company. While I am unable to give figures, I can tell you that it is a large sum. Personally I think it ludicrous to penalise a company because they are unable to find enough people to do a job that is underpaid, with long hours and unfriendly to family and life in general shifts. Still that’s the way the GWRC have chosen to go and so far the result has been lots of money going into their coffers and lots of unhappy commuters and drivers who are working harder than ever in a vain attempt to run as many shifts as possible. Many drivers have been working so many hours that, after a year, burnout is starting to occur and many will no longer take on extra work. So the problem continues and increases. Yes the buses weren’t perfect prior to the changes but they sure was hell were better than they are now for the vast majority of users.

  12. Sam Somers - GWRC Candidate, 1. July 2019, 21:19

    One of things people keep seeing is the same mistakes time and time again, and where people are loading onto the buses have changed since transferring for 3 stops is less convenient for walking up the hill. Number 2 is probably taking more load than it used to since some Northland users are catching it to the bottom of Northland Tunnel Road and walking up the Hill since that is more reliable and convenient than catching the bus from Willis Street to the Station then another bus from the Station to Northland. Another is the 12e at 740am that seems to be cancelled more often than running, during school terms. More is the 18 shuttle leaving before the connecting number 2 arrives at Miramar Hub, resulting in running around empty. One-hour waits when the 24 is cancelled 15 minutes before departure on the same service every week. If these issues aren’t sorted out or changed, users will continue to be let down week in week out and everytime they hear change or things are improving, they will be saying well it isn’t actually improving for me, it’s the same old excuses, where will it be fixed, 6 months, 12 months, 9 years. People’s goodwill is wearing really thin and there will be a point where they will say, screw it, it’s easier to drive in a single occupancy car and pay $20 a day, at least I won’t be waiting in the rain and taking 2 hours to get home for what was a 20 minute bus ride.

    Questions are going to be asked and commuters need solutions.

  13. Michael Barnett, 1. July 2019, 21:31

    Guy Marriage is absolutely right. What Wellington needs is a transport authority to take over from the ad hoc bodies including NZTA, GWRC and WCC.

    The problems Wellington is experiencing go back three decades when WCC sold off its bus fleet to a foreign enterprise, StageCoach, with subsequent changes to the operating model that focused on profit to the service providers. Public transport should be seen as a public service, not a profit making exercise and Wellington needs to return to a model where the transport authority owns and operates the service.

  14. Keith Flinders, 2. July 2019, 2:08

    Alas, Sam, no one is listening to the plight of Northland bus commuters and the grossly inadequate service they have endured for the past 12 months. For some, banding together with others and sharing an Uber taxi is not only less expensive, but far more convenient than standing at bus hubs in all weathers in the hope of getting a bus on time.

    The former 22 route needs to start in Newtown, replace the Zoo bus, loop through the railway station hub to serve those working in Molesworth/Mulgrave streets. Not only would this relieve overcrowding on the aptly named No. 2, but also serve high school pupils who engage in after school sports activities, etc..

  15. Michael Gibson, 2. July 2019, 7:20

    Joanne, you have hit the nail on the head. It is indeed wrong “to penalise a company because they are unable to find enough people to do a job that is underpaid, with long hours and unfriendly to family life … ” However, it is the company which is underpaying its drivers and wrecking their family life, etc. It is right to penalise a company for doing this when it is underperforming in terms of their contract.
    It needs the Audit Office to report to us whether the Council is playing its proper part in the operation of the bus contracts. We also need an overview of how badly the contracts were drawn up in the first place. It might be best to start again!

  16. David Mackenzie, 2. July 2019, 8:10

    I agree with Michael Barnett about the Publicly owned and operated model.

  17. Roy Kutel, 2. July 2019, 8:30

    @MB – partially correct. A PTA is needed but it MUST have strict financial targets and funding limits. The current profligacy and ineptitude of GWRC aided and abetted by the WCC must be ended. It has to be run by professionals with a proven track record and it will have to have political input from district councils which needs to be well set out in advance to stop parochialism.

  18. A.Raven, 2. July 2019, 11:37

    Many of the bus routes were organised arround Bus Hubs. When the new bus services were started last July, very few of these Bus Hubs were built. The Hub in Kilbirnie is not finished and they haven’t started the Hub at Courtenay Place yet, nearly a year after this new system was brought into place. The poor commuter for all this time has had to put up with standing around unfinished Hubs in all weathers and waiting for buses that do not connect with each other at these Hubs. The cost of building these Hubs must be a great expense for no real gain.

  19. Lim Leong, 2. July 2019, 21:36

    Bus Operators are not completely blameless on this drama. However, the main blame has to sit with GWRC.

    Why? A Hub and Spoke network requires on time arrival for connections/transfers to work. If you can’t ensure on time arrival due to a lack of underlying infrastructure like dedicated bus lanes, then just about the only thing you could do is to pump up the frequency on the main routes in the hope that higher frequency will have a better chance of connecting to the artillery “spoke” routes. Higher frequency means more drivers and buses. Therefore driver availability is a key design assumption. If you don’t have any underlying infrastructure like dedicated bus lanes and you can’t find enough drivers to fill the shift, then the network is doomed before it is born – which is exactly what we are seeing.

    Bus drivers are not like commodities which you can get on the open market. Low wages and harsh working conditions mean not many people are attracted to become bus drivers. Would you design a network with the underlying assumption that you need X number of drivers but in the real world you can only get less (a lot less)? The analogy is a house owner insisted on building on a piece of reclaimed land despite advice and then blaming everyone else for damage due to earthquake.

    In a hub and spoke network without the infrastructure prerequisites such as dedicated bus lanes, even if you have lots of drivers it is ultimately going to fail. This well known phenomenon is called “capacity network congestion”. When you pump more traffic through the network than the network can handle, the overall throughput deteriorates as you are going to get bus bunching (ie. counterproductive).

    Having said the above. If an operator knew that it can’t meet the contractual obligation in terms of number of drivers then perhaps it should have walked away from the contract at the due diligence phase. Doing so would mean massive redundancy. I shall leave it to readers’ imagination on whether the contractual framework is done in good faith or not, knowing that the design assumptions are not met.

  20. David, 3. July 2019, 11:30

    I reckon the Wellington public would be aghast to learn that the hourly rate for an NZBbus driver is less than that of a Wellington Street sweeper ..

  21. NigelTwo, 3. July 2019, 11:51

    It was GWRC’s job to foresee these two very major problems before they made changes to the network. Is “the commuter” now expected to support the following drastic measures to fix them:
    Driver shortage: either raise fares to provide attractive working conditions, and/or import cheap labour.
    Congestion: introduce congestion charging for private vehicles.
    Oh, oh, Central government is required here. So GWRC is blameless. All that is left is to hand out the awards for a job well done!

  22. Meredith, 3. July 2019, 13:50

    We may as well sheet the blame home to where it belongs. Was it not Fran Wilde who chaired GWRC when the PTOM (2013) and current contract proposals were first agreed? Did she and they ensure that the parameters and the policy were well in place regarding the new network and contracts? She championed Transmission Gully, and described the removal of trolley buses as “visionary” and “there was no point clinging to obsolete technology”. As a supporter of the Basin Reserve flyover, she later became a Board member of the NZ Transport Agency (appointed by Simon Bridges) and then acting chair for three months till she was replaced. Paul Swain took over promoting the new contracts as Chair of the GWRC public transport committee, and so we came to Barbara Donaldson who seems not to be able to connect with the public.

  23. Dave, 3. July 2019, 20:07

    They blame everything but themselves. The previous bus system was working well overall and there was no talk about driver shortages. GWRC chose to change the contracted companies and they designed the new bus system. They had full knowledge of Wellington’s constraints in terms of layout and the lack of bus priority lanes. They plowed ahead anyway. There is no one to blame but GWRC. They owned this from beginning to end. They have taken no ownership whatsoever. They have blamed the bus companies, drivers, the city council. They are 100 percent accountable. When they take ownership of that, then maybe we will get back to what we had before.

  24. Ben Foden, 3. July 2019, 20:21

    @Dave – the GWRC were even blaming the passengers at one point, incredibly. You name it, it’s probably been blamed.
    Except for the GWRC of course!

  25. Henry Filth, 4. July 2019, 13:24

    Why have the GWRC Transport Committee not resigned in shame?

  26. Ferdinand Hendriks, 7. July 2019, 6:31

    25 comments on the bus problems in Wellington.
    A combined analysis of all the comments should provide a solution to the problem once and for all with the Wellington bus service .
    Am I hoping for too much.?

  27. Newtown, 10. July 2019, 7:26

    Dave Armstrong is a genius. This piece of satire on the ‘flytastrophe’ is a work of brilliance:

  28. Roy Kutel, 10. July 2019, 8:49

    Self praise = recommendation?