Photo by Caleb S on Unsplash

Late last year, two incidents were reported in the media of young passengers being dropped off by Ola drivers onto the motorway network.

The first incident involved two teenage boys ordered out of an Ola cab on the Auckland Harbour Bridge after the driver took the wrong lane:

The passengers, boys aged 16 and 17, were said to have had to run down a motorway on-ramp to get to safety.

The two young friends had been travelling from Glen Innes to Westhaven using the Ola ride sharing service when the alleged incident happened just after 10pm on Friday.

The second incident involved a young woman dropped off on a motorway ramp by an Ola driver who insisted on following the faulty navigation system’s instructions despite her explanation not to:

Her work was on Grafton Rd, but always came up in the wrong place on Ola and Uber maps, but she explained the anomaly to drivers and got them to use Google Maps to reach the correct destination.

She had explained this to the Ola driver this morning, but she said he didn’t listen.

“I was saying, ‘you’re going the wrong way’, but he said, ‘it says to drive you here, so I have to’.”

Clearly the drivers were breaking a law that anyone licensed to drive in NZ should understand and abide by, and Ola probably has good systems in place to respond to the driver misconduct:

“If drivers are found to have breached our standards, they receive a warning notice and if the incident is serious they can be immediately suspended or permanently banned from the platform.”

There’s more involved here, though, than individual driver responsibility:

  • the navigation systems – not just Ola and Uber’s, but Google and AT’s Journey Planner – have many errors that send drivers to incorrect locations and tell pedestrians to take unsafe routes;
  • the driver in the second incident hinted at a culture requiring rigid adherence to company rules rather than a culture that trusts drivers to deviate from guidelines in order to make the safest decision;
  • wrong turns and faulty navigation systems put stress on rideshare drivers because their income depends on completing jobs and moving swiftly from one job to the next;
  • in a safe system, performance-related income is only utilised if it pushes people to always choose the safer option, not if it pushes them to cut corners.

I was immediately reminded of a Streetfilms interview from 5 years ago.

In this interview, Claes Tingvall, then Director of Traffic Safety at the Swedish Transport Administration, talks of “Moving Responsibility Upwards,” and describes the Vision Zero approach to improving the safety of commercial services:

The other thing… is to talk with the management of taxis, of those who are setting up the bus companies here, those who have big haulage fleets, big passenger car fleets. It’s up to the management to ensure that the taxi is driving in a decent way… Of course, if a taxi is driving very aggressive towards me, I thought about the driver in the old days. Today I think about the taxi company, the CEO behind the wheel…

Given of course the right environment… given the right advice, and empowerment, but also getting the right technology… because of course it’s the CEO who takes the decision on what kinds of vehicle you should buy… So it’s moving responsibility upwards, for things that should be moved upwards. I mean, of course, an individual shouldn’t be driving drunk and things like that… But a lot of decisions can only be taken at a higher level in the community. An individual driver cannot go out and change the street. You can’t change the taxi driver. There are others who need to do that, and of course, it’s the power of leadership…

And we as a government of course can do a lot of things. We only today purchase taxi transports that can guarantee us, that – without saying anything when I walk into the taxi – that that trip is done in a safe and an environmentally sound way. And we don’t pay for it – if the driver is speeding, we don’t pay to the taxi company through the contractor, because that didn’t happen in the way it should do…

But in the end, it’s going to be the leadership who really pick up all those norms first and say, no this is a matter of sustainability. This is how a good company works, with good citizens in shaping the community.

Clearly he sees there’s room for government to establish a safe environment and a safe system, so pressure on drivers can be appropriately targeted to ensuring their actions are also focused on safety. I thought I’d see what responsibility our agencies accepted for tracing the reported incidents to the underlying causes.

First I contacted Auckland Transport:

We have referred your query to NZTA as the motorway is a part of their boundary. Your contact information have been provided to them so the team will be in touch with you directly.

I also contacted the Police:

For Police to initiate the investigative process, credible evidence is required that a described criminal offence has been committed. In situations such as the events in your request this would need to be in the form of a complaint made by the victim. Media reports are not considered credible evidence for Police to investigate.

To the best of our knowledge, Police has not been contacted by members of the public, Auckland Transport, or the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) regarding this alleged situation…

It is worth noting that NZTA is responsible for the driver licensing of passenger services vehicles and any perceived breach of obligations applying to drivers operating passenger services vehicles should be made to NZTA.

I eventually followed up with the NZTA, (who could find no referral from Auckland Transport on the subject):

It is illegal for members of the public to stop on a motorway. Only emergency services are legally permitted to stop on the motorway network and this is enforced by the New Zealand Police.

In an event where a member of the public has stopped on the motorway and it is reported via the Police non-emergency 105 line or via *555, the event is detected and verified by CCTV cameras at the Auckland Traffic Operations Centre (ATOC), the procedure is to report it to Police for enforcement action.

All Ola drivers must hold a Passenger endorsement licence (P licence) granted from the NZ Transport Agency, all those who hold a P licence must undergo a fit and proper person check and a background check.

These checks are repeated every 12 months to ensure that the person remains fit and proper. A fit and proper person check looks at matters such as traffic offending, previous complaints, serious behavioural issues and always includes a Police check to check for criminal offending, including overseas convictions.

The Transport Agency is unable to intervene in an enforceable matter and is satisfied that current motorway infrastructure and existing traffic laws are safe and fit for purpose. To make a complaint regarding specific events, I would suggest contacting Ola directly.

Individually, each one of these responses seems reasonable. Collectively, do they produce a safe system?

In both cases, the passengers reported it to the media, but apparently not to the Police. Do the public feel contacting the media is more likely to achieve a better outcome than a report to the Police? Ideally, the media would be trained to encourage the victims to report the incident to the Police, but they too will need to feel the typical Police response warrants giving such advice.

And while the Police say there’s not enough evidence to initiate the investigative process, surely these reports are sufficiently serious for the Police to wish to follow up seeking a statement from the passengers concerned? Also, the Police response suggests they think you need a victim before a traffic offence is committed, which is clearly not true.

AT, in turn, has an interest here, surely? Both the errors in the navigation systems, and drivers dropping passengers in unsafe locations, are phenomena that impact users of the local road network, too, and need addressing.

The NZTA’s annual “fit and proper person check” and “background check” system relies on someone reporting the incident – if not to the Police then at least to the passenger services company – and on the company keeping complete records. If NZTA regularly undertakes random checks on record-keeping, or if they had used my query as an opportunity to undertake a rare verification check, would this not have been mentioned in the response I received from them?

Is the NZTA’s approach to managing safety for passenger services set up to allow companies or the Police to respond punitively to driver misdemeanor, but not to try to identify and improve sector culture, technology shortfalls and other systemic problems?

The government’s new Road-to-Zero Strategy says:

Adopting Vision Zero means committing to safety as a critical priority for investment and decision-making, and a greater focus on system changes rather than on addressing human error alone.

If both the driver licensing system and Police enforcement are fit for purpose, the Agency should be urgently curious about what else is required to achieve a safe system, not “satisfied that current motorway infrastructure and existing traffic laws are safe and fit for purpose”.

Last year, the Regulatory Review of the NZTA found:

the NZTA did not have a full appreciation of the wider capability it required to operate as a well functioning, risk-based regulator (e.g. regulatory intelligence, research and evaluation, operational policy and practice, risk and assurance)…

The review concluded that the most significant aspect of regulatory failure has been the combined failure of NZTA to provide oversight and leadership over the regulatory system and deliver on its role and functions within this system…

The new Road-to-Zero Action Plan barely touches on safety in small passenger services. These words are probably more focused on issues like driver fatigue:

Our regulatory framework needs to incentivise the right behaviours in commercial transport, apply obligations at the right level, and ensure that we can enforce these obligations in a responsive and risk-based manner…

Key challenges in the passenger transport sector (e.g. small passengers services – taxis and shuttle services, and buses) include pressures caused by the operating environment, the age of parts of the bus fleet, driver skills and experience, and driving hours and fatigue.

Is it possible for AT, NZTA and the Police to:

  1. Seek information from passenger service drivers, passengers themselves and other road users, about what pressures result in passenger service safety concerns being overridden.
  2. Implement systems to remove these pressures, and/or to provide opposing pressures that ensure safety is always the top consideration. Consider Claes Tingvall’s idea of an easy way to refuse payment whenever safety is compromised.
  3. Improve the navigation systems themselves.
  4. Establish clear guidelines for a healthy safety-first passenger service sector culture, and regulate companies to ensure their systems are fit for purpose.
  5. Provide comprehensive and ongoing driver education.
  6. Prioritise following through on all safety concerns reported to Police and agencies. A process that relies on reporting from the public requires that the public can see a point in doing so.
  7. Ensure all decision-makers and communicators at the Police and agencies receive full Vision Zero training.

Importantly, the government released for consultation in December a Land Transport (NZTA) Legislation Amendment Bill – the NZTA Bill to respond to the NZTA’s regulatory shortcomings, which would create:

a statutory Director of Land Transport (the Director) who is responsible for carrying out the NZTA’s regulatory functions and powers.

To allow for a swift change to a safe transport network, It would be helpful if the Director receives comprehensive training in safety from someone like Claes Tingvall.

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  1. Reminds me of a trip in the USA I made a few years ago, where the navigation system in my rented white van repeatedly insisted that I took a route through a particular road, which was sadly out of date. In the intervening years the road had been stopped, and a police station built where the road once was. The cop on guard on the gate with a semiautomatic got particularly agitated when this foreign guy with a beard (me) kept turning up at his gate in an unmarked white van….

    I would dearly have liked for the satnav makers to be able to be quickly contacted for an update. They need to add a button that just simply says “No” so that it can navigate a different route. Very difficult to convince the machine otherwise.

  2. Stick to well established riding sharing services that are members of the NZ Taxi Federation. I never use non branded digital economy based ride sharing services.

    1. Kris – i’m puzzled. What exactly do you mean by “non branded digital economy based ride sharing services”? Surely any digital economy services would be heavily branded? Or is there a dark web, unbranded, alternative eco-system of unlicensed ride-sharing that will grab people off the street and force them to share a ride without their permission?

      1. Non branded digital economy based ride sharing services (Uber, OLA, etc) do not use branded vehicles unlike branded ride sharing services – (Auckland Co-op, Corporate Cabs, Gold Band, Green Cabs, Supershuttle, etc) are.

    2. Sure by all means pour your money into NZ Taxi Federation cabs if you want, I’ll stick to the cost savings I get with Uber etc.

      1. I prefer NZ Taxi Federation ride sharing operators, at least I know I am going to get my destination, I can make a compliant to the ride sharing operator and support drivers who operate their own legitimate business that pay GST and income taxes, commercial insurance, who have Certificate of Fitness for the vehicles, keep driving log books and who are vetted by the Police and their respective ride sharing operators.

        Jezza, if you want to use a non-branded ride sharing operator like Uber, OLA, etc who use doggy drivers, where most don’t pay GST and income taxes, don’t have commercial insurance and Certificate of Fitness for the vehicles, don’t keep driving log books and who may not be vetted by the Police, go for. Please don’t complain if your Uber, OLA, etc ride goes pear shape.

        1. I think you’ll find the rules of what *should* be done are broadly similar, but as always, there will be people who don’t play by the book.

          Also, if you can tell me where I can get a rideshare lift using a doggy driver, I will be forever grateful. Possible money-spinner for the SPCA?

        2. The drivers are often the same person. My neighbour drives for a taxi company at times and at other times takes the signs off and operates as an Uber.

        3. Buttwizard – *doggy* is dodgy driver 🙂

          A ‘doggy’ ride sharing service for pet owners does have merit. Suggest you contact the SPCA.

        4. Jezza – “The drivers are often the same person. My neighbour drives for a taxi company at times and at other times takes the signs off and operates as an Uber.’

          If a driver is driving for a NZ Taxi Federation ride sharing branded operator, that can not ‘moon light’ as a Uber, OLA, etc driver. You will find this driver ‘moon lighting’ is common in 3rd level of branded ride sharing operators and to a lessor extend in some 2nd level of ride sharing brand operators.

          In Hamilton, I have heard of incidences of where there are some Red Cabs/Alert part time drivers have signed off and do drive using their own personal vehicle for Uber especially at night, as Uber drivers in Hamilton are not making enough income to live on. Hamilton Taxis has strict policy that a driver can not sign off and become an Uber driver after hours.

        1. “non-branded ride sharing operator like Uber, OLA, etc who use doggy drivers, where most don’t pay GST and income taxes, don’t have commercial insurance and Certificate of Fitness for the vehicles, don’t keep driving log books and who may not be vetted by the Police”

          Which part makes them worse than those extortionate taxis?

        2. KLK – If you are using a NZ Taxi Federation ride sharing ‘branded’ operator, their would not have the various incidents that has been outlined in the post.

          Using a non branded ride sharing service, there is no guarantee that the vehicle and/or the driver is compliant. If you want cheap rides, you get what you pay for and don’t complain that your ride goes pear shape.

          I prefer my rides to be with a fully compliant ride sharing operator.

        3. Kris – I use branded taxis for work and Uber etc privately, the quality of driving is generally better in Ubers than taxis, my guess is this is because of the ability to review an Uber driver online.

          It staggers me that many taxi drivers are professional drivers, with the frequent tailgating, speeding and running of very late orange lights. I’m not sure I’d describe them as ‘fully compliant’. Yes, they might have passed a police check but that is only part of how safe a taxi is.

  3. Joined-up thinking is completely lacking in government (both central and local). Greater Auckland normally discusses this in the context of infrastructure provision and urban planning, however it also applies to safety regulation.

    1. Totally, absolutely no common sense used anywhere. Each ‘Agency’ Police, AT, NZTA seem to play in their own sandpit constantly.

      Case and point –

      I wrote to AT about the fact that there are a lot of cars around the Albany Park n Ride that park on the grass. And why these were’nt ticketed. They create a horrible mess especially when its wet and damage curb/pavement.

      AT advised that they couldn’t ticket these vehicles as they were parked on private land and it was a matter for the land owner. -My reaction – Fair enough…

      I then went back and said clearly these vehicles in getting to the privately owned land had to cross the pavement.
      So could they not charge them for illegally driving on a pavement.

      AT advised that they can only infringe for ‘stationary vehicle offences’. A car driving across the pavement would be a matter for the Police -My reaction- Luke warm on the reasoning… but i guess the law can be a an a$$ at times.

      I then contacted Police and have never heard back… I’m guessing petty stuff like this is too ‘small fry’ and not within their mandate of getting the bad guys.

      It strikes me as crazy that AT can’t ask the Police to go out to Albany and charge every single car that is parked on the grass. This would change behaviour quick smart… Although the Police might not catch the drivers red handed mounting the curb and driving onto the grass.

      Good luck to the defendant trying to convince a Judge that they didn’t cross the sidewalk to park on the private land.

      Just one example of where a bit of collective problem solving could lead to a good outcome. AT has installed pay and display out in Albany to try and recoup some of the subsidy currently given to motorists to park for free and now people just take the p1ss and drive onto the grass. So much wastage for society as a whole!

        1. Your comment is illustrative of the silo mentality that is the problem. Sorting this out is key to one agency being successful (AT). However AT can’t sort it out because the one agency (the Police) that can do something about it aren’t interested….

          You can’t tell me that a sweep even once a month wouldn’t deliver good societal gains/behaviour shift versus doing nothing.

          AT invested a lot of our rates putting in paid parking in the streets around the Park and Ride. Which nobody uses because they can trash the footpaths (also paid for by our rates) without fear of consequence.

          It is a breaking of the rules in the same way that an underprivileged kid not paying for the train while trying to get to school is.
          However the average Joe’s amygdala doesn’t fire up in the same way between the two transgressions.
          Because you know… paying for parking is for suckers; but those scammers on the train can go to hell.

          I also think the idea that Police are frantically running from one murder to the next armed robbery in this country is probably a little overblown. Cops cruise around all the time just being generally present and on the beat.

          About time the Head of Parking gave someone in Police a call to see if they can go and take a look. Even just once a month would be hugely helpful.

      1. Real Rob – we had a similar (sort-of) situation in Wellington at Paremata station, with people parking all over the grass and making the path muddy. Metlink have now installed a nice row of timber bollards that has stopped that behaviour flat. Grass has regrown. Problem solved.

  4. This is of course exacerbated by in-car nav systems that rely on periodic upgrades to the stored map files. For the 1st six months after the Waterview tunnels opened until I had my maps updated my car’s nav system couldn’t cope trying to send me along ever road I drove under. 🙂

  5. When we get self driving cars they will never get lost and dump their passengers of on the side of the road while the pigs fly overhead.

  6. Perhaps when they update fines (mentioned in another post) they could include demerit points against company operating a vehicle.

    Demerit points last 2 years (like others) and while points over say 1,000 points operations must cease.

    Bigger players with the most ability to influence overall road behaviour and policy would have massive incentive.

  7. Would it actually be good to literally ensure “performance-related income is only utilised if it pushes people to always choose the safer option” and “ensure safety is always the top consideration”?

    In many areas of life, always making safety trump every other consideration can lead to undesirable outcomes. That would mean no tramping, no cycling, no letting kids out of the house. 🙁

    Or does “ensure safety is always the top consideration” actually mean something a bit more nuanced than it sounds?

  8. It seems to me the real issue is people giving up their traditional map reading skills and commonsense in favour of using technology, despite most technology being flawed.

    I have never in my life used satnav or an app of some kind to navigate. If I want to go somewhere I’ve never been before, I look on a map ahead of time, then just use my own sense of direction and commonsense to get there. It’s not difficult.

    1. Geoff – not wanting to be rude, but I’m just guessing: you’re an older person, right? You may have noticed those young people holding flat screen devices, walking around with them? Hmmm.

      Actually, I’m the same as you – or was – until I went to New York, and tried to memorise the map and navigate my way using my sense of direction and common sense. I ended up getting hopelessly lost. I think its a hemisphere thing….

    2. “despite most technology being flawed”

      Even if that’s true (and I don’t it is), it’s nowhere near as flawed as humans beings…

    3. Most maps are printed on some sort of technology and use significant technology in the development of the map. Basically you have just decided to stop advancing and shun the latest technology.

      Like you I mostly use a static map and my own intuition, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in satnavs or google maps. Having basic intuition means you can interpret these maps better and spot anything that looks wrong.

      Even though I don’t use it often my GPS was invaluable in quickly finding my way off the tops in Westland in zero visibility a few years ago.

      People who blindly follow Google maps are those who likely couldn’t read a paper map anyway.

  9. Good post. Another example of our agencies working somewhat in silos.

    The Uber’s and Ola’s I’ve caught have allowed me to tell them which way to go if local knowledge is better or often they use Google alongside their own map system as they say it’s not as good.

  10. Typical New Zealand: Allows these mickey-mouse companies like Hola to operate without enacting & enforcing suitable & sensible regulations BEFORE these companies begin operating and begin dropping people off at motorway on-ramps. Instead, nothing will be done until there will be a tragedy and then reactionary regulations will suddenly be draughted.

  11. Regarding Number 3: Improve the navigation systems themselves.

    I have noticed that AT are making use of OpenStreetMap (OSM) for their Journey Planner navigation. Large internationals like Amazon and Uber are also turning to OSM as their map source for their navigational purposes – and accordingly they have teams of people proactively editing the map to improve its coverage and accuracy of things like addresses, service roads, turn restrictions.

    However OSM is maintained for the most part by volunteer labour – definitely when it comes to things like pedestrian and cycle access.

    AT could similarly be proactive in contributing to OSM – at least making sure their infrastructure is represented correctly (eg many bus stop locations are out of date. I recently updated all of Waiheke’s bus stops following the launch of the New Network there).

    Also – (wishful thinking here) – it could be possible to have a ‘Report a problem with the map’ feature on their Journey Planner, where a user can leave a comment on the map which becomes an OSM ‘Note’ – visible to the volunteer editors who can then try fix the issue.

      1. Thanks, Timmy. Interesting points and article. Yes, if a system needs local development, AT should be doing that, not relying on volunteers. And if they realise this, and think through the costs, they would probably be be better off with one of the systems you pay for. Although I think AT have a penchant for trying to cobble together systems using cheap or free generic stuff instead of forking out for the best systems that people have put money into developing.

        “Report a problem on Journey Planner” shouldn’t be wishful thinking. The problems are life-threatening.

  12. There is a strange inconsistency where our authorities don’t care about mobility providers which dump passengers on the motorway, but are are falling over themselves to regulate other providers of smaller, more active forms of mobility – to the point where they have required things like GPS speed limiting, and even stopped companies operating.

    This would suggest that they can act if they want to. They just don’t, or
    perhaps haven’t been given the appropriate motivation yet.

  13. You get what you pay for. Want to save money and pay peanuts, then you get exploited monkeys.

    Most of those ride share companies like Uber are exploitative. Their exploitation of desperate people is why you pay less than a taxi. So if you get a crap, unsafe service, that’s your problem. You are literally hitching a ride with a random stranger and hoping the exploitative company collecting money is going to help you out if things don’t go as expected. Good luck with that.

    I’m not saying a taxi is that much better, but you are likely to have much better recourse through that company should things not go well. That is why they cost more.

    1. “You get what you pay for. Want to save money and pay peanuts, then you get exploited monkeys.
      Most of those ride share companies like Uber are exploitative. Their exploitation of desperate people is why you pay less than a taxi. So if you get a crap, unsafe service, that’s your problem. You are literally hitching a ride with a random stranger and hoping the exploitative company collecting money is going to help you out if things don’t go as expected. Good luck with that.”

      Sounds like some/all? of the AT contracted bus companies 😉

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