Wellington Scoop

Cutting costs, by cutting bus drivers’ incomes

The Tramways Union secretary says that Wellington bus drivers are facing a “massive cut in income” because of the Regional Council.

Writing today in the NZ Herald, Kevin O’Sullivan says:

I’m … one of the 700 bus drivers in Wellington facing a massive cut in income because the regional council has tendered its public transport service on cost.

This is a mature industry where the buses, the depots, the fuel, all cost more or less the same regardless of provider, which means there are only two ways for bus companies to compete. Reduce the payroll or reduce the service.

For more than a decade we’ve worked with the current provider, NZ Bus, to increase safety, to grow our drivers’ terms and conditions and to increase efficiencies. The pay off has been that we’ve been able to maintain good solid middle incomes.

He goes on

It used to be that [while] you were never going to get rich as a bus driver you could pay the mortgage or rent, afford a meal out now and then, and make sure your kids had what they needed to do well — hopefully to do better than you.

Competitive contracting has taken that away for nearly every bus driver in New Zealand. Over and again, modest terms and conditions that were slowly and carefully built up over time have been taken away with nothing more than a change of contractor, leaving us to start building from scratch again.

… If the current new contract in Wellington goes ahead it is likely to mean two or three million dollars a year coming out of drivers’ incomes, out of their families’ budgets, out of our local economy. I think that’s crook.

O’Sullivan commends a Herald editorial calling for prosperity for all, but he says New Zealand needs more than a growing economy to get there – it also needs to make sure people and their families can get their share of that growth.

That’s not just about wage minimums and safety nets and government top-ups like Working for Families. No, it’s going to require changes to the way we do business. One big change we need is to stop competing by lowering Kiwis’ incomes.

Kevin O’Sullivan has been a bus driver for 38 years.


  1. TrevorH, 11. January 2018, 7:24

    What a sad commentary. The Regional Council, a sinecure for left-wing politicians past their use-by-date, beggars our bus drivers through ruthless neoliberalism. And the radical reduction in services to come. Shameful.

  2. Tony Jansen, 12. January 2018, 11:44

    Trevor…left wing politicians? Predominately right wing apart from ex 1980’s Labour Party types well past their use by date I would have thought. Pretty hard to tell the difference between a National Party neo liberal and a Labour Party neo liberal isn’t it? The point is the last National government saddled the councils with this tendering model and now we are stuck with new contracts that will impact on the regional transport landscape for the next decade. Thanks National. Yeah right!

  3. luke, 12. January 2018, 12:34

    the blame from what I can ascertain comes with the PTOM act brought in by the previous government. The Regional Council is really just the middle man.

  4. Jack, 12. January 2018, 17:28

    This is typical of neoliberalsm. This is happening through out the world. Change the game and screw the bus driver who worked for 38 years. Saddens me to see all this still happening and I am self employed but to see neoliberalism show up its ugly face, I blame the politicians, Labour and National.

  5. Mike Scott, 12. January 2018, 22:28

    What is needed is new legislation: the law about passenger transport has to be changed. Who will help to do this?

  6. Katie, 15. January 2018, 8:31

    Although I’m totally dependent on the buses to get everywhere, I 100% support any strike or other industrial action taken by the bus drivers over this appalling treatment, as do many others. Good luck.

  7. Marion Leader, 15. January 2018, 9:52

    Luke what is the PTOM Act & what does it do or not do?

  8. Cr Daran Ponter, 15. January 2018, 19:12

    Hi Marion: The PTOM Act that Luke is referring to is a new framework for the provision of urban public transport services introduced by the National Government through the Land Transport Management Amendment Act 2013 which came into force on 13 June 2013.

    The model contributes to the government’s goal for public transport which is to grow patronage with less reliance on subsidy. The model required the regional council to adopt a tendering approach to the selection of public transport operators (bus, train and ferry operators). Regional Councils across the country are required to apply the PTOM model.

    The PTOM model either needs to be binned or be significantly amended. Alternatively there needs to be a national award for bus drivers and similarly affects employees so that wages and conditions are not reduced through the tender process. The new government has PTOM in its sights.

  9. CC, 15. January 2018, 20:56

    So is it true that PTOM enabled the GWRC to spent $6m on legal fees to screw the drivers and to make sure an anti-union employer got the lion’s share of the contracts? Let’s hope there are plenty of Katies around to screw the system so that a fair day’s work earns a living wage and that the lawyers, council administrators and a few councillors suffer the consequences of their obsequiousness. Seems the French once had a pretty nice solution.

  10. Cr Daran Ponter, 16. January 2018, 19:03

    Hi CC, There did seem to be a lot of lawyers involved, noting that these are multi-million dollar contracts which span many years and where all manner of circumstances need to be foreseen in relation to the delivery of services by contracting companies.

    I would hope that we can get to a situation where strike action is not necessary. Negotiations between the unions and the bus companies are ongoing, as you might expect in this situation. I have to hold some hope that these discussions will result in a positive outcome for all parties.

    For the medium to long-term though I hold that the answer to this set of circumstances can only be found in a review of the PTOM framework. Until we do that we are in a continual race to the bottom on wages and conditions.

  11. Chris Laidlaw, 17. January 2018, 8:19

    By way of addition to Daran’s comment we have strongly encouraged the government to rewrite the PTOM prescription and the signs are good that this will happen.

  12. CC, 17. January 2018, 8:53

    PTOM or not, the Regional Council is responsible for ensuring there is a fit for purpose transport system. It is a sad commentary when a Councillor has to live in hope of a positive outcome after bus drivers have had their wages and conditions squeezed by a bunch of over-paid lawyers, driven by anti-worker groupthink. The council’s primary concern should have been the workers and commuters.

  13. Wellington Commuter, 17. January 2018, 13:20

    It should be noted that the GWRC states it was heavily involved in and supported the PTOM operating model under which PT services go to the lowest bidder. Here is what the GWRC said about PTOM in 2012:
    “Greater Wellington has been heavily involved in the development of the public transport operating model, and supports its introduction through this legislation. Stronger network coordination, collaboration, and increased competition will provide more effective services and better value for money. We support the requirement that all services other than exempt services must be provided under contract. In our view this will significantly improve our ability to provide an integrated public transport network.”
    – GWRC Submission on the Land Transport Management Amendment Bill 2012 dated 25 October 2012 (URL: http://www.gw.govt.nz/assets/council-reports/Report_PDFs/2012_476_2_Attachment.pdf)

    Back in 2012 the GWRC, Councillors and Officers were interested in “more effective services and better value for money”.

    Chris and Daran: Any comments because you were both our elected Regional Councilors at the Economic Wellbeing Committee meeting that approved this submission and where it was reported that “the Committee discussed the submission and congratulated staff on its content.” ?

  14. Jonny Utzone, 17. January 2018, 14:29

    Chris L: it’s a bit late for a rewrite of the tender rules! You’ve signed Wellington up for a 10 years of unproven battery buses (that’s after a year of confusion and chaos) and destroyed our trolley bus network. Nice ‘work’.

    I suggest you compare and contrast with NSW where existing worker conditions are simply transferred. Perhaps something along the lines: ‘drivers must be offered re-employment at their current terms and conditions’.

    Or perhaps GWRC Councillors could lead by example and compete on price too. You’d state your required remuneration as part of your election bid. We could then pick the ‘cheapest’ Councillor(s) if we so desired.

  15. Katie, 17. January 2018, 14:46

    Always someone else’s fault, Cr Laidlaw?
    There’s this small thing called taking responsibility for your own actions.

  16. Cr Daran Ponter, 18. January 2018, 22:10

    @ Wellington Commutter. Yes, at the time I believe this paper was unanimously agreed to by the Council. And yes, the Council, both then and now is interested in “more effective services and better value for money” – that is a common demand of transport users…but not, I would suggest, at the expense of bus driver wages and conditions.

    The issue of wages and conditions was not addressed in the submission, which with the benefit of hindsight was short sighted. The review of the PTOM framework and a more progressive government allows us to review this set of circumstances before the rot sets in.

  17. Stop Trexit, 19. January 2018, 0:12

    Err Daran, isn’t it a bit late for a review since the council has now let most of the bus contracts out for Wellington for the next ten years?

  18. Victor Davie, 19. January 2018, 12:33

    Cr Ponter: “the rot” you refer to on 18 January has already set in. Your Council is currently tearing down the entire trolleybus overhead cable network. The health of the public and bus drivers is now at great risk through breathing in carcinogenic diesel fumes. Precisely when are 100% pure battery buses being introduced as replacement for the trolleys? And where in the world are these operating?

  19. Cr Daran Ponter, 24. January 2018, 18:38

    HI Stop Trexit. If we don’t review and change aspects of the PTOM model the same tendering system will apply in 9-12 years time. So no, it is not too late to review the model.

  20. Car Daran Ponter, 24. January 2018, 19:00

    Hi Victor Davie – ten battery double-decker buses will start operating on the Island Bay to Churton Park route on 15 July. These buses will operate seven days a week. The fleet will expand to 32 by 2020. The first ten buses are being assembled in Tauranga. Battery double-decker buses are currently in operation in London. The same technology is deployed in omnibuses in many cities around the world.

  21. GillyB, 24. January 2018, 23:58

    @ Cr Ponter: Can you confirm when battery buses will be in use in the Eastern suburbs please?

  22. Daran Ponter, 27. January 2018, 8:22

    Hi GillyB, the Eastern suburbs routes will predominantly be provided by Go Wellington. Go Wellington have not announced any electric buses and the hybrid Wrightspeed proposal appears to have died – certainly no positive word of progress in the last six months.

  23. GillyB, 27. January 2018, 20:26

    Thank you for your straightforward reply Daran.