There have been a few bits of bus news recently

The first and most interesting is last week NZ Bus announced that that they hadn’t been short-listed for any of the routes as part of the new South Auckland bus network due to roll out in October.

NZ Bus advises that it has been informed by Auckland Transport that it has not been selected as a preferred tenderer for any of its South Auckland public transport services which were tendered for in late 2015. The NZ Bus services currently comprise 153 vehicles out of the total NZ Bus fleet of 1,070 buses.

NZ Bus Chief Executive Zane Fulljames said “Not being selected as a preferred tenderer in one of our incumbent locations is a disappointing outcome, particularly for our staff who work hard every day to deliver a high quality service and are part of the South Auckland community. However, as an incumbent we understand clearly the costs of operating in the South Auckland market and submitted a strong, high quality tender to reflect this.”

The tender outcome will have implications for NZ Bus staff operating in South Auckland. There is a 9 month transition period to the implementation of the new South Auckland contracts, and NZ Bus will be taking this time to work through options for minimising the impact on staff.

Mr Fulljames said it is important to keep this outcome in perspective. “While a number of contracts are being tendered across Auckland, other contracts are being renewed with incumbent bus operators through a direct negotiation process. NZ Bus has rights to negotiate a number of these contracts, representing in scale around 50 percent of its existing business in Auckland.”

A map of the south Auckland routes being tendered is below. They are split up into eight groups – called units – that were tendered for.

New Network - South Auckland

That NZ Bus didn’t make it to being one of the preferred tenderers from any of the eight is fascinating given they are the incumbent for the area. I’m told that AT are still negotiating with operators so there has been no decision yet on just who will run services so all we know for sure is that it isn’t NZ Bus.

There are a few thoughts I had upon hearing the news.

  • I think this is good news as it suggests there’s competition for services occurring and likely suggests we’ll be getting better value for tax/ratepayers out of the new PTOM contracts. This is some ways is expected because as I understand it, AT have been rolling over existing contracts for some time meaning bus companies are likely amortising their costs over a short time frame. As the PTOM contracts are longer term it will allow fixed costs to be spread out more easily.
  • It likely signals that companies will have to be more competitive for future tenders, NZ Bus have stated in the past that they want to about retain their overall market share so they’ll have to up their game to do so. Again this is good as it likely means we’ll get better value for money meaning either costs reduce or we can get more service for what we pay.
  • NZ Bus seemed to use their most clapped out buses for use in South Auckland. A new operator should mean newer buses – especially as we know AT had some fairly detailed requirements for bus quality under the new network. This will be good for people using buses in South Auckland.
  • It was interesting timing for NZ Bus to come out and say now that they hadn’t won the tender. I suspect part of that might be related to being owned by a publicly traded company while also them wanting to be able to tell their staff before they hear the news through other channels.

Stuff reports the Union claiming that Ritchies and Hamilton based Go Bus have won and that Howick & Eastern have also lost some routes but we’ll have to wait to see if that is actually the case.

The other piece of news is that Ritchies are now rolling out an additional 15 new Double Deckers to the Northern Express, adding around 15% more capacity – they may even be on the road already and join the 3 existing double deckers in service.

NEX Double Deckers

Other bus companies are getting in on the double decker act too. By the end of the year NZ Bus will have 23 of them and Howick & Eastern 15 of them.

Update: Auckland Transport have advised that due to a union meeting, there will be no NZ Bus services operating between 9 and 2:30 – although disruption will linger for longer than that (based on the last one there were still delays in the afternoon peak)

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  1. “Journey Planner will continue to show Metrolink, North Star, Go West, Waka Pacific and CityLink options during this time but these services will NOT be in operation. ”

    What is the point of Journey Planner if you can’t rely on it to plan your journey? Will the real time boards show buses that will never arrive?

    1. Poor. Yes. But also Google Maps transit will also show non-running buses. Is it poor design, if disruptions like that cannot be implemented, or it is our implementation of these tools that doesn’t allow for that?

      1. It’s a bit of both – Google Maps uses the same underlying data as AT’s Journey Planner (and the schedule times on the real-time boards). It’s technically possible to make exceptions for disruptions like strikes and weather, although they have to be defined manually, and some PT systems do exactly that. After Hurricane Sandy, New York was getting daily updates showing the state of various transit services. Auckland Transport could, in principle, do so too.

        1. It would be a huge amount of work to do manually (by the time it was all done, the strike would probably be over) and the actual buses being cancelled aren’t well defined at the start or end of the time frame. A message on the Journey Planner and the displays at stops is probably the best that can be done with such short notice.

          For the Google Maps journey planner, I’m not sure of Google’s turn around time for new data being pushed in either.

          1. > For the Google Maps journey planner, I’m not sure of Google’s turn around time for new data being pushed in either.

            Depends on how much they care. Pretty damn fast if they want, several months if they don’t want. (Most feeds are published for several months in advance, and Google generally doesn’t update them until the schedule is getting close to running out).

          2. read the information given, a union meeting IS NOT a strike, most awards have one or two paid meetings a year for union members to discuss their legitimate business, how otherwise are they to gather for discussion? after midnight with a 5:00AM start? stopping work in the lowest demand time of day for a meeting is not striking

          3. “the actual buses being cancelled aren’t well defined at the start or end of the time frame” – perhaps not at the end, but what happens before the meeting will be defined very clearly.

          4. From my understanding prior to when this happened in December the meetings would take place at individual depots. Drivers would go there, have the meeting and get back on the road. Meetings between depots could also be enabled by video conferencing. From December the union has decided to have everyone in the same place which means drivers have to go back to depot, get to the meeting, have the meeting then get back to depots and back on the road. So while they’re allowed their meeting they are making it worse for bus users by having all drivers go to one place

  2. If NZ Bus doesn’t get any south Auckland contracts, what is going to happen to their South Auckland infrastructure, like their depots,etc.? Possible lease to their depots to the new operators?

    It will Interesting to see what happens.

    1. In London the depots are owned by TfL making changing operators much easier, and therefore finding operational efficiencies through competition more likely. Permanence of routes is also a feature of good Transit service so perhaps acquiring depots should become a long term aim for AT?

      1. AT would love to own everything – they just don’t have the cash. Same will be true for the properties.

        I think it is very unlikely NZB will sell their depots to the winners. They will want them to bleed cash to improve their chances in other areas.

  3. Interesting that according to the Union, Drivers working for the other companies are paid “a lot less” than those working for NZ Bus,

    I have a nasty feeling that AT (Council) are gonna get dragged into ensuring that any drivers that transfer over retain the T&C they have at NZ Bus, –

    (Similar to the requirement that the Wellignton Regional COuncil is imposing on TranDev, when they take over the Wellington Rail operations contract from TranzMetro)

  4. As a bus driver I can tell you that it is not all good news. The tender winners seem to have won on price with some having no experience at all in public transport, only running school buses and charters at present. Also AT is maybe effectively bringing down wages and conditions to rural rates for city drivers; hardly great actions of a local government organisation who gets most of its income from these same workers via rates etc. Do they do this for IT workers, planning executives contracts, road engineers?

        1. “AT does not run competitive tenders for executive hires.”
          In effect of course they do. What is a job advertisement if not a de facto tender for services?

          1. Do you understand what a tender would look like?
            “AT is seeking a manager to provide X, Y, and Z. Provide information about how much you could do this for.”
            The absence of salary negotiation at the beginning of the period means it isn’t a tender

          2. Early Commuter – you don’t seem to understand what a tender is.

            A request for tender simply specifies the rules of the game and invites submissions. The “rules of the game” do not have to involve competing on price. Many tenders – such as executive hires – are structured such that they are (more or less) fixed price, with respondents expected to compete on quality.

      1. right of centre mayoral candidate Victoria Crone seems keen on driverless buses “Her pitch is that Auckland may miss the [driverless] bus unless it has a leader who is chasing the future.”

        but if there’s no driver, who’s going to answer the question “does this bus go to (the place shown on the destination display) or “how do I get to . . . . ?” a significant proportion of the driver’s role is to provide information, assist elderly on and off, settle school kids etc. who will check the bus for lost property if there’s not driver? driverless buses seem like a bandwagon where the only musician is playing a kazoo (badly)

        1. No problem Steve, AT can just reposition the drivers job from “Bus Driver”, to “Bus manager”.

          He can “patrol” the bus aisles, ensuring they are free of obstructions, kicking off any free loaders at the next stop etc, just like their cousins, the Train Managers do now.

          1. Greg, that sort of defeats the purpose of driverless buses, i.e. avoiding the cost of the driver, I doubt that there’s one train manager per carriage so the ratio of customers to manager is quite different

  5. Funny I’ve always found that NZ bus has the best buses (although I’ve never used south Auckland ones). The howick and eastern look like something from the seventies, maybe it’s just the colour.

    1. Just the colour, their buses are usually better than all the NZ Bus ones that run the Britomart-Symonds Street-New Market-South routes. NZ Bus fills those routes with extremely old clapped out buses. If that’s what they were tendering with then they deserved to lose.

      Regardless the existing liveries will soon be a thing of the past, all PTOM contracts stipulate consistent AT branding and colours.

  6. And the screens on the Ritchies buses don’t work. None have worked since the first double decker arrived. I wonder why Ritchies can’t make them work when NZ Bus can in the Links? I heard a rumour it is because AT haven’t yet decided upon which system to install… and want the bus company to fork out for the hardware.

  7. I know it’s a touchy subject, but if Auckland wants to get people out of cars and onto PT, then the service needs to be reliable, and having regular disruptions due to union meetings and strikes simply isn’t acceptable. Having seen what’s happened with the station dwell time situation, I’m very concerned that any progress made on improving PT services could be put in jeopardy by frivolous industrial action. Without getting into the politics of it, is there any way AT can stop this happening?

    1. > Without getting into the politics of it, is there any way AT can stop this happening?

      There’s no way of not engaging with the politics of it. But there’s not a lot AT can do – they’re required to tender competitively, and pretty much have to accept the lowest bidder. The lowest bidder gets to bid low by paying their staff the least and giving them the shittiest conditions. This is a recipe for industrial action. There are systems like compulsory arbitration that deal with the disruption that can be caused to public services by strikes, but that’s up to central government and their industrial policy – an inherently political question.

      Disruptions due to strikes are simply a fact of life when it comes to PT. More reason not to design cities with all their eggs in one basket when it comes to transport, whether it be motorways that come to a standstill whenever there’s an accident, trains that can’t move when a cable to a signal gets cut, or buses that need drivers willing to drive them.There’s only two things in this life you can trust – your own two feet.

      1. > Disruptions due to strikes are simply a fact of life when it comes to PT. 

        Hence why the majority of people will never fully embrace PT…it’s going to be impossible to convince people that PT is a viable alternative to auto dependency if there are regular disruptions. It’s a sensitive issue, but if we’re committed to improving PT then we need to be willing to be open about it and find solutions.

          1. But a strike has much greater effect than congestion…If a road is gridlocked drivers can take an alternative route and just arrive at their destination late. If someone relies on PT and there is a strike then they are limited to just walking and cycling to the destination (which is not possible for some…especially the elderly and children) or getting a taxi (which is prohibitively expensive for many). This means that some people would be physically unable to go where thy need to go if there is a strike, which I why there are extremely few people who are willing to permanently ditch their car and rely solely on PT. If we want to encourage more people off the road and onto PT then addressing peoples’ concerns relating to strikes is going to be necessary.

          2. I hate to repeat myself, but a union meeting IS NOT a strike, most awards have one or two paid meetings a year for union members to discuss their legitimate business, how otherwise are they to gather for discussion? after midnight with a 5:00AM start? stopping work in the lowest demand time of day for a meeting is not striking

            so the unions know that having a stop-work meeting in the peak in just not on, so they don’t do it

            can anyone remember when the last legitimate bus driver STRIKE was in Auckland? possibly more than ten years ago, get your terminology right people!!!!

          3. I was mostly referring to a hypothetical future strike rather than the meeting tomorrow, although I’d still count the meeting as an example of a disruption that discourages people from relying on PT. I’m not suggesting that the council/government take ridiculous action like preventing unions from holding meetings, but we shouldn’t just accept that passengers should be left without a PT service. A quick fix would be to have other bus companies cover those routes (at a reduced frequency) during the meeting or to arrange a charter bus company to run the routes during the meeting. A long term solution would be to tender a contract for a company (obviously one that does not hold contracts for any regular bus services for AT) to provide backup services during meetings/strikes to prevent disruptions to passengers.

      2. splitting the meeting over 2 sessions would seem to make the most sense so that everyone can attend without causing disruptions.

      3. “AT … pretty much have to accept the lowest bidder” – the lowest *compliant* bidder;
        “The lowest bidder gets to bid low by paying their staff the least and giving them the shittiest conditions” – not if that’s part of compliance with the tender.
        “There are systems like compulsory arbitration” – are there?

      1. I’m not suggesting that any PT industrial action in NZ has been frivilous (yet), but if you’re familiar with the situation in certain international cities, I think it’s fair to label some of it as frivilous and opportunistic.

        1. It depends on your definition of “frivilous”(sic). Wanting better pay and conditions for workers? Well according to the current economic orthodoxy, that is frivolous. Workers should shut up and be grateful for what they are given.

          1. PT is not like a normal business…If workers in a business strike then management has to choose between meeting the workers requests or putting up with the lost income. Thus, frivolous industrial action is fruitless as management can choose to not accept the requests and put up with the lost income. But in PT, the dynamic changes completely because the lost income is replaced by untransported passengers. Unlike a normal business, the council can’t just wait out a strike with unreasonable requests because these untransported passengers get angry and put pressure on the council. Thus, you can end up with situations where the council is forced to accept every request demanded by the workers due to the political consequences of not doing so, and this is what I would define as ‘frivolous industrial action’.

          2. There’s a word for workers who’re not allowed to withdraw their labour or negotiate collectively. It’s called “slaves”.

            It is awful when people try to guilt workers out of having MEETINGS, for heaven’s sake.

          3. I’m not suggesting that workers get stripped of their rights…I’m just saying that the matter should be solely between the workers and their employer and (if we want more people to use PT) we shouldn’t accept that passengers need to be affected. The logical solution is for AT to get other bus companies to cover the routes during a meeting or strike, so a strike becomes purely a financial issue (like strikes are supposed to be) instead of a game of chess involving innocent passengers and the reputation of the entire PT system.

          4. Daphne absolutely the drivers should have their meeting. They are making more disruptive then it needs to be though – see my comment above.

          5. @Tony Umm. Is there an effective difference between “put up with lost revenue” and “put up with unhappy people”? Lost profit also puts pressure on a business.

          6. @Roger Yes, because a PT system isn’t driven by profits (it makes none); the most important thing is service reliability which is largely a perceptual thing.

        2. yes London Tube Drivers come to mind as being completely selfish greedy pricks (they’re on over NZ$100,000pa, work about 30 hours a week and strike several times a year on average).

          1. Tube drivers work 36 hours a week; the strikes last year were about working hours, not money ; in several recent years (eg 2011/12/13) there have been no tube strikes.

            So your only accurate statement is that they are paid over $100,000 a year, which is not at all bad (but is in expensive London), and your gratuitous (and completely irrelevant) insults are based on 75% rubbish.

      2. It all just comes down to the basic law of supply and demand. If the new company can find enough drivers with the required qualifications, skills and experience etc with the lower pay rate ,then so be it. I doubt they will as there’s always a constant shortage of bus drivers (let’s face it, it’s not a very desirable job), so market forces will probably mean they’ll have to match what they were getting anyway, or they win this contract with insufficient drivers.

    2. There will be public transport disruption tomorrow, like it or not and AT has no control of it.
      The anti-TPP lobby is arranging a march from Aotea square at 12.30 down Queen St and on to Victoria Park. That means all bus services in Queen St and surrounding areas will be disrupted. A separate programme of ‘civil disobedience’ is being arranged for the sky city Convention centre, I have no idea what is planned but it is not likely to improve public transport in Albert street.

      If I was a bus driver particular on a route covering Albert street, I would be very happy with my union for organising a meeting over a period where various groups have threatened civil disobedience. By returning at 2.30 or so then they will be in a safer position to identify what will happen over the rest of the afternoon.

  8. While I feel for the bus drivers, I don’t really care for the NZ Bus management who seem to have difficulties managing and delivering a reliable service. Yesterday I received a response to an OIA I made to AT regarding on-time performance on certain NZ Bus routes. On some NZ Bus’ routes less than 40% of their services run to within 5mins of schedule, frequent delays of up to 45 minutes and cancellations to up to 5% of scheduled services. I can’t wait to see the back of NZ Bus and I hope the replacement offers a better service. Though I suspect we won’t ever see a decent bus service until it is brought in-house with AT owning and operating bus services directly.

    1. “I can’t wait to see the back of NZ Bus and I hope the replacement offers a better service.”

      NZ Bus is just its predecessor in Auckland, Stagecoach, writ smaller, but just as bad with the industrial relations and customer service, despite protestations from Zane Fulljames that they’re different, they’re not really. Only some of the buses look newer even if they’re not.

      “Though I suspect we won’t ever see a decent bus service until it is brought in-house with AT owning and operating bus services directly.”

      Possibly, it could be the (Yellow) Wheel turning full circle. But then we’ll have a sequel “Yellow Buses: Part 2” – “They’re back! and this time they mean it.” [maybe].

      As I recall when we had a Yellow Bus Company running the buses, everyone bitched and moaned loudly to all and sundry how bad they were. And how often the buses were not running ‘cos the drivers were on strike.

      Turns out after privatisation, when everyone thought it couldn’t get any worse, that they were wrong, very wrong.

    2. Greg’s right: Bringing service delivery in-house has it’s own problem, which is why the services were tendered in the first place. Our main problem was that (in the 1990s) we implemented the wrong contract model, and we’ve been extracting ourselves from that mess ever since. If we’d implemented the TfL contracting model then things might have been different/better …

      Whether we like it or not we have PTOM contracts for the next wee while. And even if PTOM is not perfect. it is at least shaping up to be better than our current ones at providing the risk balance between risk/incentives, so we should see some improvement in costs and performance.

      Something to look forward to, methinks!

  9. As a ratepayer I do not want to see drivers and support staff getting rogered by this tendering system as it appears to be. Drivers are abysmally paid as it is working awful split shifts doing a relentless stressful job. Paying peanuts always gets monkeys and as we have seen over and over, as it seems with Ritchies drivers, having very worrying incidents reflects just that (recall the driver going onto the Harbour brige in the wrong direction not all that long ago?) .

    According to the First Union 29/01/16 “Auckland Transport has selected Ritchies and Go Bus as the preferred tenders but both companies pay poorer wages to their drivers than NZ Bus and Howick and Eastern Buses”.

    AT need to see the bigger picture, not just the bottom line that means ripping off the worst paid when deciding on tenders!

    1. to be fair, that Harbour Bridge incident had a medical cause and NZTA are being much more proactive with driver licensing w.r.t. that particular issue

      second, I wouldn’t blame AT alone for taking the lowest price, unless there are good reasons for rejecting the lowest price tender (proven historic lack of safety and performance for example) AT are legally required to accept the tender

      1. Is it not possible to stipulate requirements in tenders around things like driver conditions? This would seem quite useful as driver pay may well be a proxy for quality, which I imagine AT would be quite interested in.

        1. Yes – but I think AT were more interested in ensuring USB charging points on every seats that driver conditions.

          I think they are leaving wages upto the free market. I think this is where the unions should come in. It seems weird that a unionised workforce would not be requiring a ‘market’ wage and that there are differences between two (or three or four) companies working in exactly the same area.

          If NZBus drivers are having a stop work meeting and stuffing up Auckland for a day, you would think that Ritchies drivers etc would also be ensuring they got paid the market wage. Imagine the chaos on the Shore if the northern bus lane was closed!

    2. If AT can improve PT in Auckland so that more people use it overall and particularly off-peak then there will be more services off-peak (meaning less split-shifts) which in turn will encourage more use of PT (particularly off-peak) so more services again…virtuous circle.

  10. Actually the semantics of strike vs meeting don’t matter; at the moment my reptilian brain hopes they all lose their jobs and get replaced by migrants who’ll do it for less than half the wage (my actual brain is just a bit ticked off). Signed, person who read this yesterday and still forgot about the industrial action and is now waiting for a train that’s just been delayed…

    1. So on your planet workers’ don’t deserve rights. AT should have based the tender on drivers receiving the Living Wage as a minimum, instead of bothering with USB ports.

      1. I don’t have a problem with the high-level concept of a “living wage”, but I don’t think it should be something that AT determines and subsequently imposes on private companies and individuals.

        Instead, *if* New Zealand society feels like a living wage is desirable, then this should be a benefit paid by way of taxes, i.e. finances by the public sector. By increasing people’s “outside option”, i.e. what they receive when they don’t work, it would place pressure on employers to increase pay so that they were able to attract the labour they needed to run their businesses.

        So I disagree that AT should not have based the tender on drivers receiving a “living wage”.

        P.s. What makes you think AT knows what a living wage is more so than the drivers themselves?

          1. I don’t think there’s univeral agreement on the living wage. Someone has calculated 19.25 per hour but that obviously depends on assumptions about hours worked and cost of living, plus number of dependents. My point is: AT would have to form a view on what assumptions were reasonable, when it seems easier to leave it up to potential drivers as to whether they accept contracts or not.

        1. “Campaigners for a “living wage” say it now costs $19.25 an hour for a mother, father and two children to “live with dignity” in New Zealand.” The official definition.

          1. There’s still not universal agreement on 1) what a “living wage” is and 2) how it should be delivered.

            As per my earlier comment, I do not believe this is something that should be foisted on private sector. Instead is would be better delivered via public sector transfers to people who need it. Under such transfers, households with 4 dependents can get more than households with none. That seems to make sense and is fairer than paying a flat wage based on assumed number of dependents (2).

            To put it in simple terms: A wage is paid for the value of the work, not based on need. The latter is what benefits (i.e. tax and transfer) are designed to remedy. So if bus companies can get enough drivers paying $15 per hour then so be it. Some of them won’t subsequently receive transfers while some of them will.

  11. Does anyone know when GoBus’s contract expires with AT? It’s been 2 years since GoBus took over from NZ Bus. I can say that their service is much worse than what NZ Bus offered, regarding reliability and efficiency – at least in my area. They may have started out with brand new buses, but they don’t look new now because people vandalize them.

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