The Greater Wellington Regional Council is calling for a rethink on how bus services are run across the city, wanting to take it back from private ownership.
Woes of the city’s bus services have been rising to the surface in recent times, with industrial action over pay and working conditions of drivers that left thousands of commuters stranded.
Now, the sale of a key depot in Kilbirnie is leaving a large portion of NZ Bus’ fleet without a home, creating a logistical gap for the network.
Mounting issues have been made worse by a shortage of bus drivers, forcing the suspension of an as-yet-unknown number of bus services from the end of next month.
It’s been enough to prompt the council to lobby the Government for more sway in how the region’s bus services are run.
Council Chair Daran Ponter is wanting a rev up of the current rules of the Public Transport Operating Model (PTOM) which encourages tendering the bus services.
“It’s no doubt that in the past few years, we’ve experienced our difficulties running out a new operating model that’s required by the government,” he told Breakfast.
“Now we’re asking the government to take back or have the opportunity to take back what we used to have in Wellington – a city where they do take public transport to their heart.”
The model was rolled out in an effort to reduce the reliance on subsidisation by the Government to keep services operational.
First introduced under National in 2013, Ponter says it was “quite frankly chaos” for commuters, drivers and councils alike.
“There are so many things that went wrong, some of them are at the doorstep of the regional council and some of them are the model.”
While their proposal would “probably still use the operators to deliver services,” it would hand back control of the networks to the council channelling elements of the old public model.
“I think those [bus assets] need to be brought back into ownership,” he said.
“As one bus company transitions to another bus company over the years, we don’t all want to be fighting for a new space for our buses to sleep and be maintained.”
Porter is welcoming a review by the Ministry of Transport into the model which begun in May, delving into whether PTOM is still fit for purpose.
“It now provides a real possibility for us to have some genuine conversations… to perhaps some hybrid models for perhaps a purist model that’s been a little bit rammed down our throat.”
Public consultation in regards to the model closes today.
“There has been a high level of interest in the review, with councils, transport advocates, bus operators, unions and members of the public making submissions,” Ministry of Transport Mobility and Safety Manager, Helen White told 1 NEWS.
The discussion paper into the Public Transport Operating Model is considering options that “reduce or remove barriers” towards decarbonising public transport.
Some of the options under consideration are the ownership of assets including that of vehicles like a city’s bus fleet and depots according to White.
In a statement, NZ Bus confirmed to 1 NEWS that it is "finalising arrangements for a new bus depot for its Wellington buses,
which are currently housed at Onepu Road, Kilbirnie".
"The Onepu Road depot was not included in the original sale and purchase agreement between Infratil and the owners of NZ Bus in 2019, as it was not viewed as an appropriate longterm location for NZ Bus’s operations."
An analysis conducted from the submissions will help inform the Ministry's advice when it's put forward to Transport Minister Michael Wood later this year.