Bus strike thoughts

Our transport agencies and media spent much of the last week working themselves up about the strike by bus drivers affecting around 70% of Auckland’s buses. Traffic would be terrible they said, it’s going to be carmageddon.

Then Friday turned up, the bus drivers went on strike and for many the opposite happened.

Auckland has survived the first hurdle of the bus drivers’ strike with commuters reporting “dream runs” and lighter than usual traffic thanks to many opting to walk or take alternative forms of transport.

Of course this immediately led to calls from some to ban buses permanently.

Ludy Colenbrander drove from Mission Bay to Albany and said he arrived in record time because it seemed there were no buses “to clog up the roads”.

Matt Hancock said it was a “wonderful day on the roads” this morning. He rides a motorbike and his wife drives a car and both noted traffic was lighter than usual.

“We didn’t use the motorway, but if a bus strike can clear the roads of Ellerslie, Remuera, Newmarket, Mt Wellington, Kohimarama, and Grafton I suggest a ‘bus free day’ once a week for Auckland?” .

This was all actually fairly predictable and I had even said to some journalists earlier in the week that this response is exactly what would happen.

The reason of course is that the whole point of talking up carmageddon was to get people to change behaviour. It’s a tactic that’s been used all around the world to manage disruption. Some of the most notable have been in LA when they’ve needed to close freeways for major works. Perhaps the aspect that surprised me the most wasn’t that we saw people calling for buses to be removed permanently but just how well our media reported it, like in the first quote making it clear that the free flow conditions were a result of people changing behaviour.

But while the bus strike was hopefully a one off, I think it probably provides some really useful information for the agencies planning and running our transport system as well as exercises like ATAP.

On Friday the NZTA were reporting that traffic built up earlier than normal and lasted for longer but was less severe. It’s not a fully fair comparison though as it appears that a lot of people took one off leave but many others worked from home. It’s not clear whether they could do this on a regular basis but in many ways the outcome is exactly what we would expect to see with a road pricing system that charged more during more congested periods to deliver behaviour change.

This is all quite interesting timing seeing as ATAP will be considering road pricing as a demand management tool (as opposed to a pure revenue gathering one).

Also on the bus strike, it was interesting to see reports of police officers enforcing bus lanes. I don’t think I’ve heard of them doing that before. Those on bikes reported it being surprisingly pleasant to ride on.

From some reports the afternoon congestion was much worse than the morning congestion. Perhaps having good runs in the morning people were lulled into a false sense of security about congestion and all tried to travel home at the same time.

Overall it seemed Auckland coped fairly well but that might not be the case if the disruption became a regular event or lasted for multiple days

Bus Strike Maps

With bus drivers set to strike tomorrow and throwing travel for thousands into potential chaos it’s worth remembering that not all buses are affected. After my post was published yesterday AT published a list of all routes affected. You can see them here:

NZ Bus routes

School Buses

Howick & Eastern where some but not all services are affected.

Reader Stephen Davis has helpfully put together these maps showing the routes that will have services (green), the ones that don’t (red) and the ones with partial service (orange).

As you can see, a lot of Auckland is going to be affected. The areas that aren’t are mainly the North Shore (except for the East Coast bays), the Northwest, and the areas around Titirangi/Green Bay, with a few other pockets around.

Bus Strike 16.02.19 - Auckland

And some more detailed versions:

Bus Strike 16.02.19 - Isthmus

Bus Strike 16.02.19 - East

Bus Strike 16.02.19 - SouthWest

Bus Strike 16.02.19 - Papakura

Bus Strike 16.02.19 - West

Bus Strike 16.02.19 - Upper North Shore

Bus Strike 16.02.19 - Lower North Shore

Looking at these maps, one of the things that sticks out is just how much we need the New Network rolled out to simplify the route structure. There are quite a few places that look like they have service but actually don’t due to all of the overlapping patterns. Something that would be nearly impossible to display well on any sort of legible map.

Great work Stephen.

Bus Drivers to Strike on Friday

After weeks of increasing unrest, a large number of Auckland’s buses will be off the road on Friday as large numbers of drivers from both NZ Bus and Howick & Eastern strike for the day.

Many Auckland bus services won’t run on Friday because of industrial action so people should plan ahead.

Drivers employed by NZ Bus are taking industrial action from 4am on Friday until 4am on Saturday. In a separate dispute some drivers employed by Howick & Eastern will walk off the job from 5.30am on Friday till 5.30am on Saturday.

Services affected are Metrolink, Go West, North Star, Waka Pacific, CityLink, InnerLink, OuterLink, Howick & Eastern and school buses operated by NZBus.

All other bus, train and ferry services will operate as normal. There may be other bus options available in some areas including: Ritchie’s, Birkenhead Transport, Tranzit (Airporter), Bayes, SkyBus, Murphy, Northern Express, Urban Express, Waiheke Bus Company as well as train and ferry services.

Auckland Transport’s Bus Services Manager, Brendon Main, says: “We are sorry but services will be limited on Friday, the roads will be busy and there will be delays. People should consider options such as travelling outside peak times, sharing rides, cycling or walking. People should also talk to their employer about their work situation on Friday.”

Mr Main says AT staff will be on duty at some busy locations to assist customers with information and advice. Updates will be provided on the AT website, Twitter and on radio and TV traffic bulletins on Friday.

Customers are advised to check with the Auckland Transport call centre (09 3666400)

Separately AT have said to me

NZ Bus industrial action will commence 0400 Friday 19 February – concluding 0400 Saturday 20 February

  • No NZB urban or school services will operate during this period
  • NZB operate approximately 240 school services per day (list here)
  • NZB union membership approx. 85%. Remaining employees are unlikely to be able to get vehicles from depots due to picket lines
  • Indications are that work to rule action will continue post Friday with drivers electing not to accept cash fares from customers over the coming weeks :note this will not impact AT as fare revenue, whether from cash or HOP, under existing contracts and commercial services flows to operators

Howick and Eastern industrial action will commence 0530 Friday 19 February – concluding 0530 Saturday 20 February

  • H&E union membership approx 30%.
  • During peak this will result in approximately 50% of scheduled service on Botany and Howick services being cancelled (this is still to be confirmed)
  • All other H&E services including school buses will run as per normal

I’ve already seen some suggestions that without buses on many routes that people should be allowed to drive in bus lanes. AT have confirmed that the bus lanes are still in operation even if the buses aren’t running so if you drive, stay out of them. One of the reasons is that while NZ Bus are the main operator on many of the routes with bus lanes across Auckland, other buses do use them too. However, given those lanes will be much quieter they might for once make for ideal bike lanes.

NEX Double Deckers

The Northern Express and it’s new double deckers will still be running and will likely very busy.

There seems to be a lot of conflicting information on all sides as to the causes of the strikes and both the Union and the bus companies are obviously playing to the media and public to get support. As I said to the Herald, it’s a shame the public are being dragged into this dispute (which is obviously the point). Especially as confidence in public transport has been improving for some time and that has been showing through with the patronage growth. This year we’ve got both Simplified Fares in July and the new bus network for South Auckland rolling out in October and it would be a shame if this knocked the confidence of potential bus users once the changes go live.

One interesting aspect this time is that once the drivers go back to work they’re saying they won’t accept cash.

For 15 days over the coming months, drivers will refuse to accept anything but Hop cards meaning anyone trying to pay cash will get a free ride. The action is to urge Auckland Transport to better inform the public about cashless payments.

“We’ve asked them for pamphlets, so if anyone pays cash, they also get a flyer telling them that the Hop card is cheaper and faster.”

I wonder how many HOP users will just pretend not to have a HOP card on those days.

This seems to be almost a carbon copy of the action taken about four years ago which was the last time a strike was threatened. Back then the strike was averted with some last minute talks and I still hope the same can happen this time to avoid any additional chaos – although it wouldn’t surprise me if so many people changed or cancelled their travel that issues like congestion don’t become such a problem. If the strike does go ahead I’m sure AT and the NZTA will be watching the impacts with great interest. It could become a case study like the Wellington Rail network did following a storm that washed out tracks and shut the rail network for days.

NZ Bus pay dispute resolved

Yay some good news at last in the long running pay dispute between NZ Bus and their drivers. The two parties have finally come to an arrangement which means no more threats of strikes or industrial action.

NZ Bus making progress in culture change
NZ Bus has been in negotiations with representatives of the Auckland Tramways Union and First Union for the past 6 months to agree a new Collective Agreement (CA) for their members.

“NZ Bus continues to make great progress as it moves forward with its investment programme in Health and Safety, Training, new and upgraded facilities and new fleet” says Shane McMahon COO NZ Bus

NZ Bus is pleased to announce that at ratification meetings held last week, Tramways and First Union members voted to accept the new Collective Agreement.

“ A significant effort has been underway in this business over the last few years to reshape the Values and deliver on our commitment to “RELIABILITY” to our customers, staff, partners and shareholders and this will continue at speed with a new collective agreement in place in Auckland” Mr. McMahon concluded.

NZ bus is delighted that the offer to staff has been supported and would like to thank customers for their patience and understanding.

NZ Bus and Union issues drag on

One thing that came out on the weekend was that the bus drivers once again rejected the latest offer from NZ Bus. Here is the recent press release issued today by the company.

Mediation Confirms Final Offer

NZ Bus has been involved in negotiations with Tramways and First Union since May this year to agree a new Collective Agreement.
At Mediation today the Company confirmed its final offer. It has now reached agreement with the unions twice on what terms of the new collective should be. Both those agreements have been accepted by the unions and recommended by them to the members. The CTU have also been involved and Helen Kelly has recommended acceptance.

The latest recommendation for a settlement was accepted by about half the unions’ members in a ballot last week. Unfortunately, because the unions require a 60% vote the deal was not ratified.

The unions and the company returned to mediation today to discuss how to get past the problem that the on two occasions now deals which have been struck at the table, and recommended and endorsed by the unions, have not been supported by enough of their members. There comes a point where we cannot continue to increase the offer because we become uncompetitive.

It appears that some drivers will simply not accept that a fair or final deal has been struck until they have tested the company by taking industrial action. This is frustrating for both the company and the unions.

At mediation today the company again re-affirmed that it has made its best offer. Unfortunately, it appears that industrial action may now follow.

NZ Bus appreciates the work that the unions, and the CTU have been doing. They have achieved a position for their members where they will be the highest paid in bus drivers in Auckland. The company has already said that if there is any other collective agreement offered by a major operator in Auckland, then the company would consider it instead. In fact, the company and the unions know that this is the best deal available for drivers.

“Unfortunately there is an element within the unions that sees strike action as a key element in any negotiation. They seem hell bent on following that formula again this time around, which is a real shame because it’s our customers that pay the price” says Shane McMahon, COO NZ Bus

“It is time for the members to support their unions and bring these negotiations to a conclusion without inconveniencing the public or the half of the union membership that voted to accept the deal” concluded Mr. McMahon.

Key Facts:
Average Annual Income for bus drivers = $46,000
Average hours worked per driver = 43 per week
Drivers are paid overtime rates for hours worked above 40 hours per week
Almost all drivers employed in full time roles, and over half (525) work straight shifts
Under the agreement reached between company and unions drivers pay rate would rise to $20 per hour plus allowances – making them the highest paid drivers in Auckland
In addition to hourly rate, drivers also get allowances for broken shifts, meals and certain additional duties
Total wage bill for drivers per annum = $46million

At this stage we don’t know what industrial action is planned by the union but reports in the Herald the other day suggested that it could possibly include running services but not collecting fares. While that might boost patronage for those days, I just really want to see this issue resolved.

Bus strike cancelled

Great news

Strike averted as NZ Bus and Unions reach agreement

NZ Bus, the Tramways Union and First Union are very pleased to announce that following a last ditch meeting this morning they have reached a proposed settlement for the Collective Employment Agreement covering bus drivers and service staff in Auckland.

All planned Industrial action including the strike on Monday 24th September has been called off and all Metrolink, North Star, Go West, Waka Pacific and LINK bus services including school bus services will now operate as normal.

“This agreement will see NZ Bus drivers amongst the highest paid in the industry” said Shane McMahon, Chief Operating Officer, NZ Bus.

“We are delighted that agreement has been reached and changes to the ratification process agreed. NZ Bus is committed to continue to invest in our people and resources to see public transport in Auckland grow” continued Mr. McMahon.

“We welcome this development and are pleased that the buses will be on the road to carry the travelling public this Monday” said Gary Froggatt from Tramways Union.

“Today’s meeting was positive, and we can see a way forward with some unity between the bus unions and the CTU, and NZ Bus,” said Karl Andersen from First Union

Well done to all parties for being able to come to an agreement.

Monday’s bus strike – PT alternatives

So unless there’s a miraculous fix to the ongoing labour dispute between NZ Bus and its drivers, it seems as though all NZ Bus services will not run this coming Monday and every subsequent Monday for the next eight weeks. That means no buses at all – including school buses – if your service is operated by any of the following:

  • Metrolink
  • GoWest
  • Waka Pacific
  • North Star
  • Link (City, Inner or Outer)

All up NZ Bus services account for just over half of all public transport journeys in Auckland, which I guess gives us the opportunity to look at things from a “glass half full” approach and note that half of Auckland’s public transport will still be running. So by part of Auckland, here’s a bit of advice about how you can still catch public transport:

North:

Ritchies and Birkenhead Transport buses will still be operating, as will the ferries. Birkenhead buses serve the Onewa Road catchment, both to Beachhaven and up Glenfield Road. If you’re on the western side of the North Shore perhaps try to get to somewhere on a route operated by Birkenhead Transport. The 966 bus travels via Ponsonby to Newmarket – a useful replacement for some Inner Link journeys.

Ritchies operate the Northern Express, which will still run. They also operate a number of other routes to areas like Northcote, Bayswater and  a number of other routes around Albany. The park and ride stations at Albany and Constellation are likely to be pretty packed so perhaps look at finding a different route operated by Ritchies and parking on a street somewhere along its course.

Ferries operate from Devonport, Stanley Bay, Bayswater, Northcote Point and Birkenhead Point.

West:

Two main options out here: a Ritchies bus from places like Henderson and further to the northwest – or catch the train. Ritchies buses from the west also run along Great North Road between Pt Chevalier and the city centre, which makes them a good option for people in the western part of the isthmus trying to get to work/uni.

If you’re catching the train, expect it to be pretty busy. Western Line trains only run once every 15 minutes at peak times, but this service level also runs for most of the time during the day (aside from a few hours around midday). Urban Express also run services from Green Bay and Blockhouse Bay along Blockhouse Bay Road and then Great North Road into the city – another good option for people in the western part of the isthmus.

Isthmus:

Options here are relatively limited in many places outside the catchment of the rail system, but some replacement buses will be operating along Dominion and Sandringham Road (check with Auckland Transport for confirmation about times over the next day or two). Otherwise try to perhaps get to the Great South Road or Great North Road corridors where you can benefit from Ritchies or Howick and Eastern Buses coming from the far southeast or far west areas. Some Howick and Eastern express buses pass through the Eastern Suburbs although I’m not sure whether they stop there.

South/Southeast:

Rail for the south and Howick and Eastern in the southeast are you two main options here. The 380 bus between the Airport and Manukau, via Papatoetoe train station, is generally frequent and reliable and could be useful in getting you to the rail network. Otherwise it’s fairly lean pickings unfortunately.

I’ll probably be walking. Further ideas are most welcome!

Bus Strikes back on

Now this is just getting silly. Last week the bus drivers unions agreed to a deal with NZ Bus which saw their planned strikes called off but interestingly the bus drivers who met today decided to reject that offer. I don’t know what they are now demanding but it is very odd for the union leaders themselves to agree to a deal and recommend it but then have the members turn it down. This of course leaves commuters in the lurch once again and happens at a pretty critical time for PT in this city with things like the new bus network about to be consulted on which will also mean new contracts for the bus operators. Here is the press release from NZ Bus and understandably they seem frustrated:

Bus Drivers Vote Down Offer to be Highest Paid in Auckland

In a bizarre twist today drivers voted against the wage offer from NZ Bus, which was recommended by Tramways and First Union leadership and supported by Helen Kelly at the Council of Trade Unions.

Today’s ratification meeting was attended by only 517 of the 818 union drivers with more than one third not attending the meeting.

The parties met last Wednesday in mediation where NZ Bus, Tramways and First Union leaders agreed financial terms for ratification at today’s meeting. Both Tramways and First Union leadership agreed the offer was a good one and that they would positively recommend the offer at today’s ratification meeting.

Tramways and First Union had been engaged in industrial action ‘working to rule’ and NZ Bus had worked hard to minimise the impact on customers.

“ We managed to have the unions lift full blown strike action by giving them what they asked for in order to prevent impact on customers and today they turn around and reject an offer the union executive endorsed” Shane McMahon concluded.

“Negotiating with this group is a bit like Groundhog Day, it’s hugely frustrating – we worked very hard to see their point of view, worked constructively with them and reached agreement which they endorsed and then they vote it down”, said Shane McMahon COO NZ Bus.

NZ Bus operates Metrolink, City Link, Inner Link, Outer Link, North Star, Waka Pacific and Go West brands in Auckland. NZ Bus would like to apologise to customers in advance should the unions choose to escalate industrial action.

No Bus Strikes

Some great news has just come out that NZ Bus and the Tramways Union have come to an agreement over their industrial dispute which means that there won’t be any strikes, something that would have severely dented the reputation of public transport right at a time when we are about to start talking the most positive change in for buses in decades. Here is the NZ Bus press release:

NZ Bus wage talks reaches agreement at negotiations

NZ Bus, the Tramways Union and First Union are very pleased to announce that they have reached a proposed settlement for the Collective Employment Agreement covering bus drivers and service staff in Auckland today which will be put to union members on Monday for ratification.

Helen Kelly, the President of the CTU, who has been assisting the parties, said she is very pleased an agreement has been reached and is committed to seeing through all opportunities this settlement provides.

Both parties have been involved in constructive dialogue since May and acknowledge the significant progress made in the agreement, which will be recommended to members.

Shane McMahon COO NZ Bus said “we have built a strong relationship with the unions and we will continue to invest in the business to see public transport in Auckland grow”.

The settlement includes a commitment for the parties to work together to use the agreement to build the best bus company in New Zealand.

All industrial action has now been lifted and members will meet on Monday between 11am and 1pm for the ratification meeting.

Bus Dispute Finally Over

It was with great relief today that I read the industrial dispute between drivers and NZ Bus is finally over. ARTA seem highly relieved too, in their press release:

ARTA pleased stability returned to bus customers

The Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) says it is very pleased that stability and certainty has been returned to Auckland’s bus passengers today with notification that agreement has now been reached between NZ Bus and the Auckland Combined Unions.

ARTA’s Chief Executive, Fergus Gammie says. “This has been a long and difficult road in respect of our customers who deserve stability of service. The last financial year has seen the biggest increase in public transport patronage in Auckland for the past twenty-five years. It has been frustrating for ARTA to have such a strong achievement for Auckland disrupted by this dispute.

“The agreement gives stability of service past the Rugby World Cup which will help give our customers the certainty of service they require and deserve, and a sense of relief.”

The details of the final pay settlement are fairly irrelevant from my perspective, but it gives us a chance to look back on the whole matter as it is now definitely in the past – and we won’t have to worry about any more disruptions to our bus services of that type for a while to come. From my perspective, what is interesting is that I always thought NZ Bus’s pay offer was fairly reasonable. Of course it would always be better for bus drivers to be paid more, and I am certainly not Infratil’s biggest fan in the world by a long shot, but at this time it seemed as though NZ Bus were being fairly generous before things broke down a couple of months ago.

However, what I have never got my head around is why NZ Bus made the decision to lock out their drivers and force our buses off the road for a whole week in early October. If I had been NZ Bus, and the drivers had threatened to ‘work to rule’ I would have simply said ‘go for it’. Any disruptions would have been blamed on the drivers, and NZ Bus would have come out far better off in terms of public perception. However, they didn’t choose to go down this path – which meant huge disruption (I maintain a late bus is better than no bus) a loss of over a million dollars in payments from ARTA, and a huge knock to NZ Bus’s public image. Perhaps it even put a final nail in the coffin of Snapper not getting the integrated ticketing contract?

I wonder if NZ Bus regret their course of action. I hope they do.