Transport

Cost-cutting measures cause unsafe buses

Bus drivers have detailed shocking safety issues with buses as another symptom of cost-cutting driven by the public transport tender process.

Bus drivers who have spoken to Newsroom say they are concerned cost-cutting – a flow-on of the cost-based public transport procurement process - has led to maintenance and safety issues, putting drivers and passengers at risk.

Two Auckland bus drivers, who have asked not to be identified, spoke of issues ranging from broken demister and electronic destination signs, through to more serious safety malfunctions.

As well as the testimonies from drivers, Newsroom has seen a list of issues documented by drivers and reported to NZTA.

The list raises issues with Ritchies Murphy buses, including worn and slipping brakes and problems with the door not opening.

In some cases, the buses were on school runs.

One driver noted an incident from March when the bus brakes failed.

The bus was parked and the brake was on, according to the driver’s written report.

There were eight children on the bus, and the driver was outside cleaning the windscreen and mirrors when the bus started rolling away.

The driver said they managed to stop the bus as it rolled into an intersection in a 100kmh zone, before hitting the house on the other side of the intersection with the children onboard.

The drivers who spoke to Newsroom spoke about a raft of issues with their employer Ritchies Murphy in Auckland.

Company director and shareholder Andrew Ritchie did not respond to requests for comment.

Lucy (not her real name) said drivers often complained about issues with buses.

Things like dents, broken electronic displays, and heaters or demister often led to passengers getting frustrated, with bus drivers bearing the brunt of that discontent.

However, reports from drivers did not lead to changes, she said, adding that if it got to a point where a driver refused to take a bus out, they would be sent home without pay and another driver subbed in.

Lucy said she encouraged passengers to make complaints directly to the company, as that was more effective.

John (not his real name) said he had also experienced safety issues with the buses he had driven.

“There have been situations where the brakes have been dodgy,” he said.

The driver, who had been working in the industry for more than two decades, said if there were any issues, he would make sure they were fixed immediately.

“But I’ve got to be diligent.”

Lucy and John have detailed wide-ranging issues with cost-cutting measures in the passenger bus industry.

As well as the safety issues, Lucy has described a “revolving door of drivers”, and the two drivers have spoken about poor pay, poor management, and poor work conditions.

NZTA did not respond to request for comment on these specific bus safety issues, or bus safety issues and audits more generally.

Drivers and FIRST Union say the safety issues are just another symptom of New Zealand’s Public Transport Operating Model.

The model, which came into effect in 2013, dictated how councils awarded public transport contracts.

Currently Ritchies Transport (under Ritchies Murphy and Birkenhead transport) holds major Auckland Transport contracts.

FIRST Union divisional secretary Jared Abbott said the model needed to go in order to fix the "crisis" plaguing the sector.

The model emphasised the importance of achieving “value for money” when awarding contracts, with 60 percent weighting on price in the procurement process.

Those cost cuts were passed on to drivers, with 50 percent of costs going into wages. Drivers and unions say it was also manifesting in unsafe vehicles.

The union would like councils to have more of a social procurement policy, which looked at the ethics and the history of some of the operators.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford has launched a review of the model, which will be completed next year. The model will be replaced at some point from 2021.

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