The Dominion Post

Mea culpa over bus botch-up

- Damian George

Greater Wellington councillor­s have admitted they got some things ‘‘terribly wrong’’ with the region’s new bus network, and have agreed to start hitting under-performing bus companies with financial penalties.

A report tabled at a sustainabl­e transport committee meeting yesterday acknowledg­ed the overhaul of the bus network had resulted in ‘‘regrettabl­e’’ frustratio­n and disruption, with punctualit­y rates as low as 66 per cent since July 16.

The problems had been exacerbate­d by things like a driver shortage and operators using buses that were too small.

Some scheduling issues also needed to be sorted out urgently.

Councillor Sue Kedgley said she was still trying to get her head around ‘‘how we got it so wrong’’.

‘‘We need to do what everyone said and front up and apologise to the hundreds of Wellington­ians who have been affected over the past few weeks,’’ she said.

‘‘We have to admit that we got some things terribly wrong in some areas, and we need to act very quickly.

‘‘It’s been unreliable and it’s

‘‘We have to admit that we got some things terribly wrong . . . and we need to act very quickly.’’ Greater Wellington regional councillor Sue Kedgley

been extremely inconvenie­nt.’’

Councillor Paul Swain agreed that things had not gone as well as hoped.

‘‘Our intent was improvemen­t, but there are lots of things we got wrong and we apologise for that,’’ he said.

‘‘In order to get the [public’s] confidence back, we’re going to have to come back with some immediate steps to address the issues.’’

The report said the most problemati­c bus routes were the No 2 service between Karori and Seatoun, and numbers 3 and 36 between Lyall Bay and Wellington.

Those services had been plagued by over-crowding, delays and cancellati­ons, primarily caused by operator NZ Bus running buses that were too small,

and hence filled up too quickly.

That prompted the committee’s deputy chairman, Daran Ponter, to recommend fines be imposed for under-performing operators after their ‘‘grace period’’ ended on September 30.

The recommenda­tion was passed. ‘‘One of the criticisms we had of the old contracts was that we did not have enough levers to pull, we couldn’t take a stick,’’ Ponter said.

‘‘Now that we have those levers [in the new contracts], we need to use them and we need to do that urgently.’’

There were also issues with services not running to schedule at some of the new bus hubs.

Those were blamed on reliabilit­y rather than design problems.

Overall cancellati­on rates were between 0.8 per cent and 1.4 per cent since the network change, which was similar to the previous six months.

As well as imposing fines for under-performing bus operators from September 30, the council also agreed to review its timeframe for making potential changes and to urgently review timetables and capacity on core routes. The current plan for reviewing the network would not see any extra buses added until March, while any timetable changes would not take place before mid-October.

The council has also agreed to reinstate the off-peak MiramarKar­ori service, which connects to Massey and Victoria universiti­es as well as Wellington Regional Hospital, and to look at restoring the connection to Kilbirnie on the No 14 route.

Another 80 new buses will join the Wellington fleet, as planned, over the next few months.

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