NZ Bus spent $400,000 more than planned to fix its bus driver shortage in Tauranga.

Regional councillors, however, say the cost to the council of issues relating to NZ Bus will be much higher in both dollars and lost confidence in the service.

Senior representatives of the company, including chief executive Zane Fulljames, fronted a Bay of Plenty Regional Council Public Transport Committee this morning.

Fulljames opened with an apology for issues when the company took over operation of Tauranga's urban and school networks on December 10.

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He highlighted the "major issues" in the two weeks at the start of the school year in February when a driver shortage came to a head.

"January 27 to February 10 was just awful - awful for our customers and also for us.

"You always expect a few teething issues ... but we didn't expect the level of issues we had."

As complaints flooded in about missing and late buses, children and older people left waiting at stops and dozens of trips being dropped daily, NZ Bus and the council scrambled for urgent solutions.

Fulljames said things had since improved a lot.

NZ Bus chief executive Zane Fulljames in Tauranga. Photo / Samantha Motion
NZ Bus chief executive Zane Fulljames in Tauranga. Photo / Samantha Motion

Operations manager Clair Neville said the company had given away more than half of its school routes, which the council has contracted out to two other operators for the remainder of the school year.

The meeting heard that if NZ Bus was performing, the school routes would be returned to NZ Bus next year.

Neville said NZ Bus had fixed its driver shortage after upping its spend on recruitment and training from $870,000 to $1.2 million.

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"As a result, we now have enough drivers recruited and trained to meet our current scheduled requirements."

Fill-in drivers from Auckland were no longer being used.

Of more than 1000 trips each day, during March reliability averaged 98.8 per cent, Neville said.

After pressure from the council, the company also lifted drivers' wages to the current living wage of $20.55.

The council confirmed to the Bay of Plenty Times yesterday that drivers with the other two companies contracted for the school routes - Go Bus and Bethlehem Coachlines - were also being paid the current living wage.

Neville said, however, that NZ Bus' agreement with the council did not require it to track wages to the national living wage, which is recalculated every year.

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Councillor Kevin Winters said it was great NZ Bus had spent an extra $400,000 on recruitment.

"But I am really interested to see what was the cost to this organisation to get you to do your job properly. It will be well over $400k."

Councillor Jane Nees said the council also faced a long battle to reverse residents' huge loss of confidence in the network.

"We have got an awfully long way to go to build back that confidence."

Neville acknowledged that would be the case.

Fulljames also played down any comparison to the company's issues in Wellington, where an MP has called for the company to hand back its contract.

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Fulljames said Wellington was a "very, very different public transport operating environment to Tauranga".

Regarding Tauranga, Fulljames said he saw "no issue with us being able to deliver all services that we are committed to."


School bus solutions

• December 10 – Extra 11 school buses added
• February 18 - Four more school buses added
• February 25 – Council decides to give some school services to other contractors. Bethlehem Coachlines takes over six routes
• March 4 - Six school buses to Go Bus, dedicated school route for Maungatapu added
• March 11 - Ten school buses to Go Bus
• March 18 - Six school buses to Go Bus, leaving NZ Bus with nine school routes

Source: Bay of Plenty Regional Council