Christchurch Bus Scandal


How could Christchurch buses have continued to be allowed to run when their condition makes them unsafe?

The area’s regional council has announced on its site: “Bus services are disrupted this week due to safety checks. Metro apologises if this affects your trip. We are working hard with operators to resume normal services. Those travelling on Christchurch Bus Services routes in particular may be affected.”

That is an understatement.

It was up to this morning’s city newspaper, the Press to fill in the scary gaps:

Police were staggered at the poor condition of some buses when a sting operation, prompted by public complaints, resulted in 28 being ordered immediately off the street.

The investigation by the Commercial Vehicle Investigation Unit (CVIU), which inspected 114 urban buses from Tuesday to Thursday, also saw a further 34 buses allowed to finish their run, then taken out of service for repair.

“I think it was only a matter of time before we ended up with some tragedy,” Sergeant Max Newman told The Press. ”Disappointment is an understatement.”

Mr Newman said one bus had no rear brake on one side, and two had no front brake on one side - creating a 100 percent imbalance on the axle. “I was surprised at the level of the lack of maintenance.”

The regional council, in a statement, does threaten cancellation of contracts with bus companies without going into those specifics.

In the statement, Wayne Holton-Jeffreys, acting director operations, Environment Canterbury says the council takes a strong stance with any company unable to deliver the required level of service.

“Consequences will include reduced monthly contract payments through to the imposition of penalties, in line with contractual arrangements. We understand that a number of buses, largely owned by Christchurch Bus Services but also some owned by Red Bus and Leopard, have been removed from service as a result of routine checks which started three days ago by the Commercial Vehicle Investigation Unit of the NZ Police. The impact of the checks on the other contractors, Red Bus and Leopard, has been minimal.”

Mr Holton-Jeffreys said that in recent weeks Environment Canterbury had become increasingly concerned at the service being offered by Christchurch Bus Services. “There have been protracted negotiations over the sale of CBS recently. Earlier this week we gave the company until 5pm on Friday (November 19) to complete the sale. If CBS is not able to complete the sale, Environment Canterbury will be withdrawing contracts.

“The regional council requires bus companies to have safe vehicles on the road at all times. They have to have a certificate of fitness for the bus to be operating and these vehicles must be maintained to that standard at all times that they are operating.

“Environment Canterbury is doing all that it can and working hard with operators to get safety-approved buses back on the roads as soon as possible. “The removal of a significant number of buses means that Christchurch Bus Services may not be in a position to meet all their contractual obligations on some routes. Environment Canterbury apologises to bus patrons for the failure of these trips,” he said.

If I read the statement correctly, this has come to the officials’ notice only through the nearing completion of the sale of one company to Hamilton’s highly regarded Go Bus company after several months of negotiations. It takes over on December 1.

And if correct, that means it was the Go Bus company that blew the whistle. It certainly hints it didn’t find things great. This was its statement on the takeover.

Craig Worth, Commercial Director (Go Bus Transport), mentioning  Go Bus is an accredited AS/NZS ISO9001:2008  organisation and: “We recognise that there is some catching up to be done and some work ahead, but we are confident that with the imminent arrival of new vehicles, the introduction of our ISO standard quality control and operating procedures, we will quickly restore the confidence of Christchurch passengers.”

One appreciates that Christchurch’s regional council has been distracted by the quake and by its own internal issues but there simply can be no excuse for anyone not picking up on the fact buses carrying the public could become so rundown, they are operating without all their brakes.  Go Bus wins an award for euphemism of the week for saying there is some “catching up” that needs to be done. Catching up like getting the brakes to work.

I am sure Go Bus will not be running any buses until they get them into the right state. They have an excellent reputation.

The spotlight here is 100% on the regional council and the offending bus companies.

Imagine the heat and legal issues if there had been a tragedy and this had come to light only after such an event.

This observer at the other end of the country gets the clear impression that it’s just a stroke of luck that by unrelated circumstances, namely preparation for the sale and the inevitable due diligence by Go, safety issues have been raised and police got tipped off.

The government had no hesitation in moving in on the Christchurch regional council previously, and it appearsd there are still problems.

I urge the transport minister to set up an urgent inquiry into this one, through NZTA if necessary.

It would bring a wake up call for any other authority that has adopted a “she’ll be right” attitude to public transport safety, while solely concentrating on the fare revenue and passenger numbers the business is bringing.

This sort of publicity is hardly going to encourage anyone to risk their life on public transport and display confidence in the authorities charged with ensuring we are not putting our life at risk.

* The council CEO Dr Bryan Jenkins said in a statement today  he believed the new ownership would help rebuild public confidence and grow the public transport business. Go Bus Transport will begin the takeover process from CBS next week with the arrival of a specialist project team to manage the transition to ensure that for customers there is a significant improvement over the current services. “That is great news,” said Dr Jenkins.

“As of this evening, CBS was working to get all of its buses back on the roads after this week’s safety checks and was servicing close to 90 per cent of all its trips.




  1. max says:

    Funny. Points to me like some people both at Enviro Canterbury AND at the Commercial Vehicle Investigation Unit have been sleeping at the helm.

    I mean a total of 62 buses out of 114 checked means that they did NO spot checks in the past. Otherwise this could never have gotten to more than half the buses!

    How many people has the Commercial Vehicle Investigation Unit anyway? Before I blame them, I should probably ask whether they have a budget that pays for more than two people and a torque wrench. I mean, all the money has gone to motorways…

  2. antz says:

    im now getting worried about timaru’s metro buses now because they were from the CHCH metro bus system, i’ll report it on here if i see any potential problem the next time im on the bus.

  3. Andrew says:

    Timaru’s buses came from Auckland’s North Shore, Not Christchurch.

  4. max says:

    Antz, this sounds more like a “Company X” problem than a “Christchurch” problem.


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