Wellington Scoop

What they’re saying about the buses

Allegations and counter-allegations. There’s been tough talking from both sides, and an apology too, as Wellington’s bus dispute continues.

“It’s a trumped up action. Everything the union’s claimed has been proven to be untrue – our drivers are paid and treated well. That’s always been our way and it’s why we’ve been in this industry for close to 100 years….it’s a real shame that the union seems intent on punishing commuters.”
– Paul Snelgrove of Tranzit on July 22.

“We have spent the last year and a half trying to talk to the regional council chair Chris Laidlaw, to try to get the Council and Tranzit to have an adult conversation about drivers’ terms and conditions and how to have a smooth transition of services between the old and new providers. They have refused. Instead we’ve had Tranzit running its operations out of makeshift depots, and squeezing drivers with schedules that are unlawful and unsafe. And when we have tried to talk to members about it the company has threatened to issue us with trespass! By refusing to protect drivers´jobs and incomes, and by contracting a company that has no respect for its employees at all, the Greater Wellington Regional Council has created a situation where drivers are exhausted and the transport system is in chaos.”
– Tramways Union secretary Kevin O´Sullivan on July 20.

¨If there is a breach of the requirements then the company will have to make sure that doesn’t happen again. But that’s a matter between them and the government. We let out the contract but didn’t specify hours.”
¨- Chris Laidlaw, chair of the Regional Council, on July 20.

¨Chris Laidlaw Paul Swain – you guys failed in your basic duty to protect low income workers. Time you got off your backsides, showed some integrity and sorted your mess out.¨
– Trevor Mallard (on twitter) on July 23.

¨It’s all good for the Regional Council to say issues over bus driver pay and staffing are out of its hands. The truth is they selected the new bus network operators. GWRC are fully implicated in the shambles currently affecting bus passengers.”¨
– Public Transport Users Association coordinator Jon Reeves on July 22.

“it’s a real shame that the union seems intent on punishing commuters. We’ve said we’ve got no issue discussing a possible collective agreement for union members. What we won’t do is engage with people who think scare-mongering and intimidation of our staff is the way to get what they want.”
– Paul Snelgrove, on July 20.

¨We´ll get there in the end but this is a bumpy ride and I apologise to anybody who’s been disadvantaged by this … and they’re right to complain and we accept the complaints… All I can say is be patient.”
– Chris Laidlaw on July 20.

“This Council and its Chair have repeatedly told citizens that decent employment provisions and quality services would be protected under the new bus contract with Tranzit. But this [bus] company has dragged its feet on negotiating a collective agreement and on honouring employment provisions from the old providers. We are frankly putting this vital public service at risk, even though our city is so dependent on public transport, because the new operator is acting in such a murky and aggressive manner towards drivers who are now out of work. Meanwhile, they have put people on individual agreements that are worse than the terms and conditions they held under the last provider – despite the Council Chair publicly reassuring us this would not happen.”
– Richard Wagstaff, CTU, on June 8.

By driving down costs without adequately protecting the safety of the public, and disregarding health and environmental considerations in their cost-benefit analyses, bus companies have been incentivised to downgrade drivers’ wages and conditions; and introduced a fleet of noisy, polluting diesel buses on to Wellington’s roads for the next decade. By 2021 Wellington will have just 32 electric buses and 420 diesel buses, less than half the number of electric buses on our roads in November 2017 when the trolley buses were decommissioned.
– Gilly Tompsett on July 8.

And this morning, via twitter:


  1. Jonny Utzone, 23. July 2018, 9:05

    The ride didn’t have to be so bumpy. GWRC should have staggered the tender changes and introduced them one corridor at a time. This would have made the changes more achievable and minimised disruption on passengers.

  2. Citizen Joe, 23. July 2018, 10:36

    Looks like the WCC will have to contract some arborists in to prune the trees along Willis – Courtenay Place as their branches are banging into the upstairs windows of the double deckers. Its not just a tickle either but quite a thumping!

  3. Kerry, 23. July 2018, 10:53

    Jonny. The tender changes were staggered. Not one route at at time but one area at a time, just as Auckland did (with probably larger areas).
    One route at a time would be chaotic, because the new timetables require some passengers to make new connections.

    A big part of the real problem is a Thatcherite ‘Public Transport Operating Model’ (PTOM), introduced to ‘improve competition’ in a natural monopoly. It really happened in Britain. Where two operators competed on the same route, passengers caught whichever operator’s bus came first. Guess what happened to the timetables, let alone the connections.

    NZ avoided that trap, but didn’t think through the change from one operator to another.
    – If the old operator owns the depot, the new operator needs a new depot. Stagecoach were onto this: they acted as a bus operator but saw themselves as a property company.
    – Three quarters of operating costs are driver’s wages.
    – The best bus drivers are those working for the old operator, but nothing was done to facilitate any changeover. Some old drivers took other jobs, and some new drivers are on short-term secondment from other cities.
    – Regulations require a 30 minute break after 5.5 hours driving, up to a 13 hour daily maximum (is that really safe?). Peak-hour and school bus shifts are very short, pushing up costs and encouraging operators to run shifts as close to the wind as possible. Or more.
    – If the contracts are for ten years, new operators will base their tenders on scrapping all buses after ten years, to be on the safe side.

    Auckland managed it somehow, and Trevor Mallard seems to think GW should have done better. Might be something in that.

  4. Jonny Utzone, 23. July 2018, 11:27

    Kerry – my understanding is that around 70% of the bus contracts got re-tendered in one go and that Tranzit and Uzabus beat NZ Bus and Mana. My point is that the introduction of the new contracts should have been staggered like John Major’s rail contracts in the UK (say 15% lots). By the way I didn’t and don’t support rail privatization.

    Oh and PTOM is certainly not Thatcherite as Maggie let the bus market rip in 1980 allowing anyone in so long as your bus and driver met the necessary standards. Worked a treat in the express bus market with Brian Souter (Stagecoach / Mana) getting his big break but not so in the urban market with cowboy driving tactics.

    Maggie would have axed GWRC as she did the Met Counties in the UK!

  5. Chris Horne, 23. July 2018, 19:29

    The PTOM system which requires bus services to be put out to tender is an unmitigated disaster. The Wellington, Hutt Valley, Porirua and Kapiti areas were very well served for years by NZ Bus (Go Wellington, Valley Flyer, Newlands/Mana Coach Services). Greater Wellington Regional Council was forced by PTOM to put the bus services out to tender. This is as unwise as was the de-regulation of another natural monopoly, the Post Office, now NZ Post. This crippled NZ Post, because freight companies, offering slightly lower costs for posting a letter, under-cut NZ Post in the urban areas which were crucial to NZ Post’s profitability, given that it is required to service all NZ’s far-flung rural areas and small towns.

    The PTOM system has crippled NZ Bus, a good operator of bus-services. It is another victim of 1980s-style neo-liberalism. Will we never learn from past follies?

  6. Ross Clark, 23. July 2018, 21:26

    Chris, am not sure what you mean? Bus services have been put out to tender since the early 1990s, with the former Wellington City Transport and Mana initially picking up most of them; although at a significant cost saving over the previous regime. WCT was bought by Stagecoach and later Infratil.

  7. PT user, 23. July 2018, 21:38

    @Chris Horne:- Mana/Newlands was not owned by NZ Bus (it was/is owned by InMotion group, a British company that also owns Howick&Eastern in Auckland).

  8. Neil D., 24. July 2018, 8:50

    @PT User, Chris Horne is partly right as Infratil, which owns NZ Bus, has been an owner of Mana Coach when they acquired a 26% share as part of buying Stagecoach NZ in 2005. They tried to buy the rest of Mana but got stopped and fined in 2006 by the Commerce Commission who wanted to ensure competition in the urban bus market(?!).

    Scotsman Sir Brian Souter, who got his chance at running a bus company (Stagecoach), when Margaret Thatcher deregulated the express coaches in the UK, started buying up urban bus companies and came to NZ after the market was deregulated in 1990. Souter bought Wellington City Transport (WCT) the Council’s bus operation in 1992. He also got Auckland, Hutt Valley and north Wellington suburban bus operations because WCT had recently bought them from New Zealand Railways Road Services (CityLine). Souter sold Stagecoach to Infratil in 2005. He purchased Mana in 2009 as a result of the Commerce Commission stopping Infratil buying the lot.