1 Dec 2023

Wellington 'bustastrophe' nearing end as more services planned

7:20 pm on 1 December 2023
Wellington buses.

File photo. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Wellingtonians can expect to see the city's bus timetables return to normal by the end of January, after grappling with ghost buses and cancelled services for more than a year.

Metlink told Wellington City Council that suspended services would soon be back in action, after hiring more than 100 local and overseas bus drivers, enough to reinstate all suspended bus services.

Suspended services by Kinetic - formerly NZ Bus - were reinstated in October. Tranzurbans' reinstatements will be in two tranches, with 59 weekday services to be reinstated from 18 December, before 54 weekend services resume on 28 January.

During the council's environment and infrastructure committee meeting Thursday, chair and councillor Tim Brown could not hide his excitement to Metlink's Alex Campbell when he sought clarity on when the shortage would come to an end.

"That is the best news update I think we've ever had about public transport, so if I was to put it to you would the bustastrophe be over in 18 days would you be able to say yes," Brown said.

"Never say never, but things are looking very positive," Campbell said.

At its worst, the city was more than 100 bus drivers short, leading to 180 service cancellations.

But now with more drivers behind the wheel, passenger numbers have already bounced back to pre-Covid levels - much quicker than in Auckland, Sydney and even London.

Wellington Regional Council transport committee chair and councillor Thomas Nash admitted he could not be certain another driver shortage would not happen in future, but he was sure that enough had been done to increase confidence in the network.

"We're confident we're in a good place now where we've got 99 percent reliability, world class. We know that's where we need to be, we know that's where we want to stay. I know there's been a hit to public confidence in the public transport network but I also know the people who use the bus know that it has massively improved," Nash said.

So RNZ put that to Wellingtonians.

"I've still been frustrated by the bus. I don't think it's going to arrive most of the time," Bridget who catches the number 17 bus to Kowhai Park, said, describing it as the ghost bus route.

"I've definitely noticed an improvement, it's not without the odd glitch," Andy Henkel, who catches the Vogeltown bus route, said.

"My bus is coming on time more often now, which it never used to be, it used to be like 10 -15 minutes late which would eventually make me late to work," Bryony Jane Russell said.

"With the bus that I take, not really," Ryan Ngoherrera, who catches the numbers 81 and 83 buses to Eastbourne, said.

He said the longest he had to wait for a bus because of cancellations was an hour.

Not everyone is convinced all the buses scheduling issues are fully fixed; the tramways secretary, Kevin O'Sullivan, said despite the extra bus drivers, he has his doubts.

He said some of the new lines including from Mairangi to Strathmore could become inconsistent because of the length of the route.

"There's a high likelihood that those services won't run to time, and so what happens then is the service becomes unreliable and it impacts a lot on the drivers because a lot of the shifts are five and a half hours portioned before they have a meal break and so there's no wiggle room," O'Sullivan said.

O'Sullivan said legally, a driver can't work for more than five and a half hours without resting.

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