Bus drivers keep to the straight and narrow

Last updated 05:00 07/08/2014
bus driver
MAARTEN HOLL/ Fairfax NZ

LOOK AT ME: Go Wellington bus operator Barry Williams says having a surveillance device on board has improved his driving.

electronic devices
CHRIS SKELTON/ Fairfax NZ
I'M WATCHING YOU: The electronic devices that change from green to red when a driver does something wrong.

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Wellington's bus drivers have dramatically cut back on speeding, slamming on the brakes, and pushing the accelerator too hard in the past 12 months.

NZ Bus, which operates the Go Wellington and Valley Flyer services, attached surveillance devices to the engines of its 382 buses last August as part of a $3 million investment in driver training.

The devices record a driver's performance in real time and connect to lights on the dashboard that turn from green to amber to red when they do something they shouldn't.

Drivers instantly know when they are speeding, braking too harshly, taking corners too quickly, revving the engine too hard, or leaving the motor idling for too long.

Before NZ Bus turned on the dashboard displays, 11 per cent of its 322 drivers were performing to the standard expected of them.

About 56 per cent were breaking the rules enough to warrant retraining, while the remainder were sailing close to the wind.

But after 30 days with the surveillance devices, those numbers had almost completely switched around. And by the end of July this year, they had improved to the point where 69 per cent of drivers were performing to the highest standard and 9 per cent were causing concern.

Bus operator Barry Williams said the devices were a helpful addition to his dashboard.

"A lot of passengers now come up and say thank you for the smooth ride." A small number of drivers were struggling to embrace the new technology but most welcomed the devices picking up on bad habits they did not realise they had developed.

"We had one driver who took the initiative and asked to be reassessed, and he'd been with the company for about 15 years," Williams said.

"He'd been driving a shift for so long that he'd just fallen into a pattern [of bad habits]."

Over the past year, NZ Bus had seen incidents of hard braking reduce 62 per cent, from one every 37 kilometres of travel to one every 100km.

Harsh acceleration has reduced 57 per cent, from one incident every 84km to one every 194km.

Speeding compliance levels have improved from 98 per cent to 99 per cent.

NZ Bus duty manager Murray Simonsen said drivers who consistently underperformed were called in for a chat about ways to improve.

If that did not work, a senior staff member would shadow them as they drove and provide feedback.

A full retraining programme was the next step but, so far, no drivers had needed that, Simonsen said.

NZ Bus southern chief operating officer Tonia Haskell said the devices had been worth the cost to improve safety as well as staff culture.

"We wanted to really embrace this as a learning tool for drivers but it also allows us to reward those who show good performance."

WHAT BUS PASSENGERS SAY

 

Has the quality of your bus ride improved over the past year?

Geoff Burch, 32, Island Bay

Rides the No 32 bus, has noticed a real improvement. "Going around the Basin Reserve, everyone's face used to be pressed against the windows but not any more."

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Michael Jones, 28, Kilbirnie,

Rides the No 2 bus, hasn't noticed much change. "My bus driver is always pretty good, I get a smooth ride."

Helen Lee, 49, Brooklyn

Rides the No 7 bus, says some drivers are better than others. "The one yesterday was speeding a bit. Some of them still don't wait for you to sit down before they take off."

Jodi Barraclough-Coates, 27, Mount Victoria

Rides the No 20 bus, says her driver is consistently fantastic. "Her driving is great, especially coming down that hill. She's never late, knows everyone's names and is always happy."

Thatcher Rea, 36, Melrose

Rides the No 23 bus, hasn't noticed much change. "It varies from driver to driver. Mine is quite conscientious, but I used to take the No 3 and 11 buses and it was quite the opposite."

Krystal Bewley, 22, Brooklyn

Rides the No 7 bus, has noticed her driver taking more care lately. "The bus is on time most of the time and there haven't been many erratic drivers. Other buses I get do go a bit fast."

- The Dominion Post

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