On Monday, the government announced they will be changing how public transport is delivered, with the launch of the Sustainable Public Transport Framework (SPTF). This follows a review of the Public Transport Model (PTOM) and will replace the PTOM.
PTOM certainly wasn’t perfect, but it was a far sight better than what we had before. It improved how PT services are planned, and removed the ability for bus companies to rort the system.
I think PTOM is often unfairly maligned, simply because it was delivered by a National Government with Stephen Joyce as minister. The main criticism – primarily from drivers’ unions – is that it resulted in a race to the bottom for driver wages. That’s not actually the result of the model. It comes from the fact Auckland Transport and regional councils were trying to achieve other goals, such as increasing the number and quality of services to cater for and encourage ridership growth – often without any material increase in funding.
Labour could have fixed this years ago, by requiring that minimum wage levels be set in new (and existing) PTOM contracts – but they didn’t. They also allowed Waka Kotahi to pull projects like the Northern Busway extension and SH20B widening out of the State Highway budget, to use up the increased funding they did provide.
That first part is now being addressed as part of SPTF along with a few other changes. As the media release says:
Our new approach to public transport will:
- Support ‘on-demand’ public transport services
- Allow councils to own and operate services in house
- Improve pay and working conditions
- Deliver routes and services that reflect community needs
- Incentivise the decarbonisation of the fleet
Workers and public transport users are at the heart of the new Sustainable Public Transport Framework, Transport Minister Michael Wood announced today.
“We are rolling out a new public transport model, that will prioritise fair and equitable treatment of employees, mode-shift and improved environment and health outcomes,” Michael Wood said.
“For too long, the public transport model has encouraged operators to squeeze worker conditions, pay and opportunities, preventing public transport from living up to its full potential.
“The current model that was meant to lead to better public transport is causing operators to wind back services and timetables, because they can’t get drivers. Public transport is too important to our environmental, social and economic goals to allow this to continue.
“The new Sustainable Public Transport Framework will help to create a public transport system that is reliable, an attractive career opportunity and a credible alternative to using cars to get around.
“Improving the conditions of employees will make it easier to recruit and retain the workforce, allowing frequent and reliable services. This will also provide job security by allowing drivers the opportunity to maintain employment if there is a change in operator.
“The new model will also give local authorities more flexibility and control over how public transport is planned and delivered, so they can have a solution that works for their communities.
“Public transport authorities will have the option to own assets and operate services, if they feel that’s a better solution for their community than outsourcing to an outside provider. This will make it easier to plan networks and services, to set fares and policies, and encourage innovation in how services are delivered.
“Our Government recognises that public transport is a lifeline that connects people to work, to school, to recreation and to their friends and family. These changes will mean that we have an effective, reliable and sustainable public transport system well into the future.
By far the biggest change with SPTF is that it allows local authorities to bring bus operations back in-house. This is how most public transport services were delivered until the National government in the early 90s required all operations be outsourced.
As you can imagine, bus companies aren’t thrilled at the idea while unions are.
I wonder which regions will do this, and how they’ll do it. Will they wait and bring operations in-house when current contracts expire, or will they buy out the the local bus operators? Either way it won’t be cheap: with the first option they’ll still need to buy buses and depots, as well as hire drivers and other staff. The announcement doesn’t include funding for this, so it may not be as cut and dried as some may hope.
As for the actual changes this is a list the government provided
Establishing the Sustainable Public Transport Framework will result in the following key reforms:
- Establishing new objectives for the planning, procurement and delivery of public transport services, to be embedded in the Land Transport Management Act 2003
- Enabling in-house delivery of public transport services (public transport authorities will be able to operate public transport services, e.g. own buses, employ bus drivers, and run services themselves)
- Requiring services to be procured, contracted and/or delivered in such a way that ensures transparency of operating costs, service performance, the vehicles or vessels used to deliver services, aggregate employee terms and conditions, and financial performance of operators.
- Enabling different asset ownership arrangements, including public transport authorities owning assets directly
- Encourage greater collaboration between regional councils and territorial authorities in preparing regional public transport plans
- Changes to the framework for exempt services (including commercial and inter-regional public transport services)
- Including on-demand public transport services (services like ‘MyWay’ in Timaru and ‘AT Local’ in South Auckland) in the Sustainable Public Transport Framework.
The reforms will be implemented through a combination of amendments to the Land Transport Management Act 2003 and through the development of operational policy.