Wellington Scoop

Fixing the buses – the union’s view

by Kevin O’Sullivan
There have been recent political calls for the Wellington bus network problems to be solved, with one suggested solution being the sacking of NZ Bus and passing the work over to the Regional Council and the Wellington Council to organise. But other than the Minister of Transport, no politician has asked for the union’s view.

If we had been asked, our advice would have been that the mess has been created by the Regional Council, not any of the Wellington bus companies.

Until there is a tripartite meeting of the Regional Council, the bus companies and the Tramways Union to thrash out solutions, the problems will continue and even worsen. Certainly from 6th May, when requirements for paid rest breaks come into effect, the situation will get worse

The problems experienced by all bus operators stem from the Regional Council’s timetabling. Timetabling impacts on hours of work arrangements. It also creates a far more stressful service for drivers to operate. These two factors combined, along with the changeover to lower paying new entrants, has created a shortage of drivers with many opting out of transferring employers or leaving the industry altogether.

The Tramways Union repeatedly requested the Regional Council to engage with the union and companies together to make sure the transition to new operators went smoothly. The Regional Council refused.

In collective agreement negotiations with all companies these problems have caused conflict and created immense difficulty in reaching an agreement.

NZ Bus has an established hours of work provision that accords drivers rights to a say on what shift they will work, that sets hours of work most at around 8 per day, provides penal rates to discourage those hours being exceeded, and penal rates for weekend work to encourage availability of drivers for those shifts.

NZ Bus tried to make new timetables work that were introduced in February, by ignoring provisions of the collective agreement. This they were unable to do. They declined to engage with the Tramways Union to sort the issues out, I guess figuring that they couldn’t sort it out with the Regional Council being involved.

At Madge, the union has had constructive negotiations for a collective agreement. But the big issue holding up a settlement is the hours of work and allocation of work provisions. Madge’s current IEAs that commenced in July 2018 give the drivers no rights. This allows Madge to respond to the Regional Council’s timetable with more flexibility than is possible at NZ Bus. However it does nothing for the welfare of drivers. This creates problems including

· Full time drivers guaranteed only 35 hours per week with an hourly rate of $19.50

· Drivers have to be available and work six days per week, not the statutory default position of five days

· Shifts are split with actual hours worked often being around 6 but spread over 10-14 hours of the day

At Tranzurban, negotiations have not gone well because that company is anti-union. Their IEAs give employees no right to have agreed hours of work and agreed start and finish times. The agreement says:

“The company may at their discretion vary the days and hours of work in accordance with business needs and operational requirements. Variations where possible will be mutually agreed by the Company and the employee”

In negotiations, it was agreed by the employer it would bring a proposal to change the hours of work provision to one that provided employees with more certainty as to their rosters. After a gap of three months, when negotiations resumed Tranzurban failed to bring any such proposal. Their explanation was that they could not operate with a prescriptive hours of work and work allocation provision as applies at NZ Bus and they would discuss the problems of timetabling with the Regional Council and get back to us.

Blaming any or all of the companies for the chaos in the Wellington region’s bus service is wrong and counter – productive. The responsibility should be sheeted home to where it belongs – the Regional Council.

It is the Tramways Union view that the Government should intervene by requiring the Regional Council, all the companies and the Tramways Union to meet to sort out how timetables and hours of work will be arranged. This will remove the need for open hours of work provisions, reduce driver stress and fatigue, and ensure all legal requirements are met and ensure a return to a reliable and efficient public transport service in the Wellington region.

Kevin O’Sullivan is Secretary of the Wellington branch of the NZ Tramways & Public Passenger Transport Employees Union.


  1. David Mackenzie, 1. April 2019, 13:31

    Good advice, Kevin. The buses can’t drive themselves. Drivers are the essential part of any plan to provide reliable and quality service. They must be involved in the process of finding a solution.

  2. Paul, 1. April 2019, 17:23

    @Kevin, but it suits GWRC’s needs to point the finger at the bus companies rather than constructively work to sort out this mess. They are hoping if they fling enough mud at all and sundry for being responsible; the bus companies, PTOM, WCC for delayed hub consents – anyone apart from the wonderful GWRC who didn’t make any mistakes and wouldn’t have done anything differently. then they might be able to keep their snouts in the trough come election time.

  3. Diane Calvert, 1. April 2019, 19:03

    Govt needs to empower a governance group to take control of the bus service. GWRC have lost the right & the city’s patience to lead. [via twitter]

  4. Michael Gibson, 2. April 2019, 7:11

    Diane, I hope it wasn’t just politics which stopped Minister Twyford from agreeing to Nicola Willis’s very reasonable suggestion about appointing a Crown Observer. If he had done this he would have a better idea about what was really going on.

  5. John Smith, 2. April 2019, 11:05

    What is Madge? [Madge Motors was founded in Palmerston North in 1920 and now seems to have merged with Uzabus.]

  6. Peter Kerr, 2. April 2019, 11:47

    “What is Madge?”, I hear you ask. I think Dame Edna might put you on the right track.

  7. C Dawson, 3. April 2019, 16:05

    Thanks for the article. Wgtn bus drivers do a significant job in trying conditions; moreover our narrow windy roads must be so hard to handle.

    Can anyone point to a website or news item that explains how the funding parameter shifts under the previous government may have contributed to the present issues? I recall there was a change to public transit NZTA funding in 2016 or so? Thanks.

  8. Roger Blakeley, 4. April 2019, 10:26

    i agree with the Tramways Union suggestion of a tripartite meeting of the Regional Council, bus companies and the Tramways Union to thrash out solutions. It needs to go further and involve Govt and other regions – these are national issues relating to bus driver shortage. [via twitter]

  9. Ashley, 6. April 2019, 16:03

    How can it be GWRC’s fault that the bus operator is failing to deliver the services that they are contracted to deliver. NZBus should not have said that they can deliver services that they cannot deliver.

  10. Gillian Tompsett, 11. April 2019, 9:50

    I agree with Kevin that the current leadership at the GWRC is largely at fault but PTOM is a government issue and it’s at the government level that change also needs to be made. An immediate increase in public transport funding from the NZTA, rather than the current cost-cutting setting inherited from the previous government, is an urgent priority.

    Returning to the Eastern suburbs this morning from the airport, there was a queue of cars from the roundabout all the way up Broadway to Scots College. I hate to think what’s happening at the Karori end.

    This is a re-run of what happened in Auckland in the 1980s/90s when the ARA lost control of the buses and the service became steadily more unreliable. People voted with their feet and moved en masse into cars – never to return. Unbelievable to see the same thing happening in Wellington which had the highest uptake of public transport use in the country.

    In a local body election year this is an unacceptable situation.

  11. Tony Jansen, 11. April 2019, 11:21

    The reason why we are seeing people turning to cars en masse is because the National Party has always been ideologically opposed to public transport. The new funding model put in place by the previous government had this exact goal in mind. The ineptitude of the GWRC has only made this worse. But it is the fault of the last Government and now the existing government for deliberately being “hands off” on this issue.
    Labour might be considered less neo liberal than National, but in this instance they seem happy to let this disaster play out with devastating long term consequences.

  12. Ruth, 11. April 2019, 13:30

    @gillian – The queues off the Peninsula in all directions are really bad since the bus change. And yet GWRC say patronage has lifted and more people than ever are using public transport. Where are they getting their figures from?

  13. Kara Lipski, 11. April 2019, 13:42

    Well said Gillian. The PTOM is at the base of the public transport problems we now experience in Wellington. The GWRC was obviously a willing user of that legislation with the result that we now have an operational ratio of 5 electric double deckers to 73 diesel buses. And that includes the “new” double deckers being operated by NZ Bus.

  14. Mike Mellor, 11. April 2019, 15:21

    I don’t think that PTOM itself is the real issue – Auckland has changed its entire bus network, much more complex than Wellington’s, with a fraction of the issues that we’ve had here. Rather it’s how PTOM has been implemented that’s the real issue.

    For example, GWRC has said it can’t do anything about the Airport Flyer no longer taking Snapper or being tracked by RTI – but in Auckland, the similar SkyBus continues to take the AT Hop card and is tracked by RTI. The reason is because the two authorities have interpreted differently the legislative framework that includes PTOM: Auckland specifically includes such commercial services in its network, while GWRC (for whatever reason) excludes them – and then denies all responsibility for the consequences!

    I know which approach is better for the travelling public, and it’s not GWRC’s.

  15. Gillian Tompsett, 14. April 2019, 10:51

    That’s a great analysis Mike, but the question remains: how do the public affect change when unelected technocrats like CEO Greg Campbell and Metlink CEO Wayne Hastie, who are responsible for this cock-up, are rewarded by contract extensions and pay increases and we get a rates increase in exchange for a poorer service?

  16. Mike Mellor, 14. April 2019, 13:00

    Gillian, the way that the public exercises control is the same as for any local body, through the election of councillors – the council appoints the CEO.

    It’s election year this year, and it would be very interesting to know how councillors voted on the reported re-appointment of the CEO (apparently still not publicly acknowledged by GWRC).