Wellington Scoop

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


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 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.


  1. Brent Efford, 15. May 2013, 10:46

    Hmmm … “flexibility” is much touted as an advantage of buses whenever NZ Bus wants to shout down proposals for light rail (though, actually, passenger-confusing route and timetable “flexibility” is the LAST attribute you want for a viable public transport system!). However, running a too-lean operation as far as over-all bus numbers are concerned seems to have destroyed the flexible fleet deployment advantages the company might have got from running a mainly diesel bus fleet.
    Proposals to further trim the operation by closing the Kilbirnie workshops for property redevelopment and, presumably, doing diesel bus maintenance on cheaper land further out of town (Ngauranga? Hutt Valley?) should also ring alarm bells at the Regional Council.

  2. Paul Bruce, 15. May 2013, 14:44

    The present contracts are inadequate and don’t cover the items the Police were checking. I am hoping that we will get a proper briefing at the Committee meeting next week.

    Our new Public Transport Plan includes new measures and standards which will be included in new contracts to be negotiated from late this year. There are also new requirements in the new PTOM (public transport operating model) which is meant to be passed in parliament this year… keeps on getting delayed. We have been briefed on the PTOM, but there are some details that are still not clear, possibly because it is a changing feast, related to accountability and what form of gross/net system is used.
    [Paul Bruce is a Regional Councillor]

  3. Ellie, 16. May 2013, 9:45

    Nerve wracking; Infratil can’t run a bus fleet competently and safely even with huge subsidy, and they are big players in the airport!!!!!

  4. Philippa, 16. May 2013, 11:52

    Just to correct the record, the Regional Council and NZ Bus did make a public apology and explanation on Wednesday 8 May, at the beginning of the service disruptions. Daily interviews with various radio stations and the Dom Post have taken place since then to let people know where they can find out what services are affected, and we issued another media release last Tuesday evening.
    Both media releases are at http://www.gw.govt.nz

  5. Mark Robinson, 16. May 2013, 17:09

    Phillipa: If the faults in the buses are as minor as Drew and the God Squad woodentop claimed in the interviews on Radio NZ, why are the buses not yet back on the road?

    The interviews are highly instructive. Neither of these people appear honest, and both should resign.


    An unrelated question: why is http://www.gw.govt.nz so so slow?

  6. Dave, 16. May 2013, 22:42

    Seems to me that the WRC has been paying ratepayers’ funds to a company which operated a fleet of buses that were apparently unfit for the purpose and operated illegally and placed the lives of drivers, passengers and other road users at unacceptable risk. If the WRC contracts were insufficient to allow monitoring and fixing of these issues, one must ask for the individuals who negotiated the contracts on behalf of WRC to be be publicly identified, and for the names of the WRC councilors who approved the contracts to be publicly released. I believe that Fran Wilde, as WRC chair must take full responsibility for this mess politically, and do the honorable thing, resign immediately. The CEO of the WRC should also do the honorable thing and resign because this disaster has happened on his watch. GO Wellington should also return all funds received for the operation of these apparently illegally operating buses to WRC, and refund passengers who paid fares in good faith trusting that the GO buses were operating legally in the first place. Next time I use a bus, perhaps I should ask the driver to show me a valid WOF for the vehicle and a valid and clean drivers licence before I pay the fare and entrust life and limb to them both. It’s time GO was gone. They should be banned from applying for any future bus contracts in Wellington because, in my opinion, they are not to be trusted.

  7. Ron Beernink, 17. May 2013, 8:45

    It’s times like this that it is great to commute to work by bicycle!

  8. erentz, 17. May 2013, 8:59

    I would love to see public transport returned to council control. This contracting private companies to run subsidized services makes no sense. What are the advantages?

  9. Dave, 19. May 2013, 10:18

    I see councillors and PR people who gather here to defend the interests of the WRC and GO Wellington seem to have lost their tongues? Faced with a brutal truth, they simply have no believable spin left. They hope this will all die down and go away. It won’t. The elections are coming up, and WRC response to this issue of, in my opinion, a fundamental breach of trust will overshadow slick spin about whether we combine councils or not. Right now, I don’t trust the WRC to manage any contracts properly, to organize a working water supply when it stops raining, or handle most other responsibilities. In my opinion, WRC is dysfunctional and it’s time for a massive clean out of expensive rubbish.

  10. Phil C, 22. May 2013, 2:34

    The wonderful thing about “outsourcing” is that when massive cock-ups like this come along, your loyal civil servants can point to the contractor and say “not my fault”. Any notions of legal or civic responsibility are trumped by this dire method of providing public services.