Campaigners want ombudsman to investigate bus problems

July 31, 2018

by Gilly Tompsett

Community group ReVolt Wellington is calling on the government to appoint an ombudsman and hold an inquiry into widespread chaos and disruption on Wellington’s public transport network which it blames on the failure of bus contracts signed by the Regional Council that took effect on July 15.

ReVolt says responsibility lies with the government agency NZTA and the Public Transport Operating Model legislation passed in 2013 that forced competition onto public transport routes to reduce government subsidies – and an overly-compliant and complacent Regional Council.

It says current legislation has resulted in a dysfunctional new public transport network and a punitive compliance culture that poses a direct health and safety risk to the travelling public:

• Tranzit drivers’ inferior wages and conditions have led to experienced drivers familiar with Wellington’s challenging topography being replaced by large numbers of inexperienced new drivers
• Metlink’s practice of fining bus companies for falling behind schedule, combined with unrealistic timetables (59 stops in 59 minutes on the No.2 route between Karori and Seatoun – described as “generous” by one exasperated driver) has seen a surge in drivers’ stress and fatigue levels
• Double-decker buses are slow to load/unload, holding up buses unable to pass
• Passengers are left behind by “not in service” buses trying to get back on schedule
• Travelling times for passengers have increased compared to pre-July 15, leading to frustration and increased car use
• Fares have increased despite the substandard service

ReVolt Wellington also found that cost-cutting has seen bus companies encouraged to cut costs, without having to consider environmental and health impacts in their cost-benefit analyses:

• NZ is the first country since the Paris Climate Accord was signed to remove sustainable electric public transport, when progressive countries are moving in the opposite direction
• Our quiet and non-polluting trolley buses have been replaced by a 95% diesel bus fleet for the next decade – a monumental step backwards for our city given that there are no concrete plans in any of the Regional Council documents to bring on the “electric future” promised, beyond vague, aspirational statements in PR media releases
• On some high-density routes, the trolleys have been replaced by a 50% Euro 3 bus fleet – an 18 year old standard totally unfit for purpose
• Increased pollution and noise is being experienced in built-up residential areas from 6am-midnight (later at weekends) for the first time, despite Metlink claims to the contrary

The deterioration of Wellington’s once reliable public transport network since July 15 has shaken residents’ confidence in political institutions at the local and national level. Outraged residents who have spoken with ReVolt believe their political representatives are not listening and have either ignored their concerns, or are hiding behind spin doctors.

They are angry that the NZTA can continually override Wellingtonians’ desire for a well-run public transport network despite funding less than 20% of the city’s public transport costs; and that only five out of 13 regional councillors making decisions that affect city life are based in the capital.

ReVolt believes this imbalance must be corrected without delay, to remedy and prevent more flawed policy from politicians who are out of touch with the consequences of their decisions.

A group of concerned residents have called a public meeting for anyone inconvenienced by changes to the bus network to be held at:

The Newtown Community Hall
Sunday August 12 at 5pm.

All concerned members of the public are urged to attend.

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Rostering and safety on the buses

July 8, 2018

by Gilly Tompsett

The war of words sparked by Trevor Mallard’s non-attendance at the launch of electric buses at Parliament this week has obscured the willingness of Tranzit and the GWRC to risk public safety by cutting transport costs to the bone.

Community group ReVolt Wellington, which is campaigning for a faster transition to electric buses, says the claims by the managing director of Tranzit Paul Snelgrove that some drivers “milked” callback rates and “get paid more than you or I put together for coming back on a day off” distract attention away from the corporate practice of undermanning rosters and disregard the need for people who operate machinery to have days off in order to maintain safe operating standards.

The practice of undermanning rosters is a deliberate policy which reduces costs and helps win contracts. Companies like Tranzit build a flat rate into their contracts so they don’t have to pay their drivers extra to bring them in to work on their days off.

The consequences of undermanned rosters are a work force who are overburdened, fatigued and vulnerable to accidents, which in turn endangers the safety of the travelling public.

ReVolt attributes this situation to the introduction of the Public Transport Operating Model ( PTOM ) passed in 2013 by the previous government, which through the NZTA forced regional councils to introduce competition onto public transport networks throughout NZ.

By driving down costs without adequately protecting the safety of the public, and disregarding health and environmental considerations in their cost-benefit analyses, bus companies have been incentivised to downgrade drivers’ wages and conditions; and introduced a fleet of noisy, polluting diesel buses on to Wellington’s roads for the next decade.

By 2021 Wellington will have just 32 electric buses and 420 diesel buses, less than half the number of electric buses on our roads in November 2017 when the trolley buses were decommissioned.

ReVolt says that the social and environmental fallout from PTOM in its current form is unacceptable, untenable and not fit for purpose in 2018. Urgent reform of the law is essential without delay.

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Diesel buses, noise and pollution – thwarting local democracy

July 2, 2018

by Gilly Tompsett

In two weeks, Wellingtonians will start to feel the full environmental impact of a new, high-frequency, predominantly diesel bus network. That’s thanks to a government agency’s ability to override the Wellington Regional Council’s publicly consulted Long Term Transport Plan (2014) that identified diesel as “the cheapest” and least desirable option for the city.

Community group ReVolt Wellington – which is campaigning for a faster transition to electric buses – is calling for an overhaul of the Public Transport Operating Model ( PTOM ) and wants to rein in the influence of the New Zealand Transport Agency, which is dictating regional transport policy despite funding only 20% of the region’s public transport costs.

Campaigners says the NZTA is stalling the introduction of an all-electric bus fleet, along with regional councillors sympathetic to the PTOM.

According to the council’s own figures, Wellington’s electric bus fleet will comprise less than 5%
of the total fleet by 2023, well below that of November 2017 when the trolley buses were decommissioned.

The PTOM was introduced by the previous government in 2013, aiming to reduce government subsidies by forcing regional councils to introduce competition on public transport networks. It focused only on reducing costs, offering no incentives to mitigate the environmental or health impact of increased diesel emissions and noise on residents.

The PTOM failed to incentivise operators to provide better quality buses above the minimum requirement of 50% Euro 5. (California maintains the most stringent emissions standard in the world, not Euro 6 as has been widely reported in NZTA and GWRC public statements)

Bus and Coach spokesman Barry Kidd told RNZ in November that in reality the PTOM “forced bus companies to reduce all costs, including wages.” Mr Kidd said he would welcome “a more cooperative model” unimpeded by a “harsh penalty regime”, which includes performance-based league tables.

The GWRC sustainable transport committee has revealed it needs NZTA approval before it can bring forward the timetable for the introduction of electric buses and has to find the money in its budget line to pay more than the minimum contract amount. This highlights one of the unintended consequences of PTOM: regional councils are forced to compete with each other for the latest bus technology using ratepayers’ money.

The NZTA wants to reduce the government’s subsidy even further.

ReVolt Wellington says residents in suburbs across the east-west corridor will experience a doubling in harmful emissions and an increase in bus noise of up to 6db compared to the trolley bus era, due to the age of the buses servicing those routes and lack of provision in contracts to introduce electric buses within 10-12 years.

ReVolt says that PTOM is not fit for purpose in 2018 and needs to be urgently overhauled or binned.

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Citizens tell councillors of growing concern about noise and pollution from diesel buses

June 15, 2018

by Gilly Tompsett

A group of Wellington regional councillors and Wellington city councillors have backed the damning findings by campaign group ReVolt Wellington on the impact of public transport changes on people living along routes that have been switched from trolleys to diesel buses.

ReVolt Wellington have identified a 200 percent increase in carcinogenic diesel pollutants for the next decade, a 300 percent increase in noise compared to the trolley bus era, and a drop in property values across the east-west corridor when the GWRC’s new high-frequency bus network is phased in during July.

At a meeting convened by the group on Wednesday night at the Seatoun Village Hall, GWRC councillors Sue Kedgely, Daran Ponter and Roger Blakely, together with WCC councillors Chris Calvi-Freeman, Sarah Free and Rongotai MP Paul Eagle, met with concerned citizens from across Wellington who expressed their mounting concern about the massive increase in noise and pollution they have been exposed to by the change to a predominantly diesel bus fleet.

Hataitai resident Lex said that the noticeable increase in noise past his home in Moxham Avenue is driving him “crazy”. Since January he has closely monitored the number of buses going past and in one hour logged 32 buses - one every 2 minutes (including 15 ‘not in service’).

The debate over bus noise is gaining traction on social media with concern being voiced in other parts of Wellington.

Houghton Bay resident Graham Smith said at the meeting that the prospect of homeowners along bus routes having to spend thousands of dollars of their own money to sound proof their homes against noise was “disgusting”.

Seatoun resident and small-business owner Jen Taylor said the GWRC were breaching community health and safety laws and Seatoun resident Tim Dryburgh countered the assertion that the WCC’s hands were tied by comparing the council’s inaction to regulate transport noise with the legal requirement for the airport to sound-insulate surrounding homes, reminding the councillors that noise insulating rule-making sits with the WCC.

Currently, the only rule that governs noise abatement concerns boy racers.

Councillor Kedgley advocated strengthening local body rules to limit harm to the population and said there was nothing to stop putting money into electric buses now with cities around the world already recognising the harmful affects of diesels and putting laws in place to remove them.

Since removal of the trolley buses pollution measuring equipment in the city has shown a rise in nitrous oxide levels since the trolley buses were removed - a key indicator of diesel pollution.

With mounting public concern over the number of diesel buses on the road expected to increase dramatically next month, Paul Eagle said a change in thinking was needed at the national level and offered to get a local group together to meet the Minister of Transport.

The government-run NZTA, who contribute less than 20 percent of the public transport operating budget are writing the rules that dictate the type of transport we get and trumps our democratic local transport planning process and imposes the country-wide standard on Wellington.

GWRC chairman Chris Laidlaw - who actively campaigned for the removal of the trolley buses during the 2016 election - was unable to attend last night’s meeting due to prior commitments and sent his apologies.

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Rattle and vibration - noise problems in Seatoun since the demise of the trolleys

June 10, 2018

by Gilly Tompsett

Since the end of the trolley bus era and the introduction of a diesel fleet by Wellington’s regional council, getting quality sleep has become difficult and at times impossible for residents living near the Seatoun bus terminus, in the heart of the suburb. From 6am until midnight, the rattle and vibration of idling or departing diesel engine buses reverberates throughout homes.

After 35 years of flying passengers safely to their destinations, fatigue is an issue that Seatoun resident Herwin Bongers, a long-haul pilot, monitors closely. In the past, taking an afternoon rest to prepare for the duty ahead was easy. Not any more.

For Herwin the problem has become untenable.

“On a recent trip to Hong Kong, I felt unusually tired, and was forced to file an aviation safety report – the second one this year caused by the disruption,” he says.

“The issue of disruptive bus noise in our residential neighbourhood has been raised numerous times, but no material change has been enacted.”

“The situation will get worse once the new timetable starts in July, with buses departing every five minutes during peak times and every 10 minutes off-peak.”

Seatoun resident Jayshri Dayal says the disruption is affecting the health of her four young children.

“The buses wake us up early in the morning” she says. “Because our bedrooms are at the front of the house, it impacts our sleep. Especially the ones that come through late at night around midnight that don’t turn off their engines. By the end of the week the children are exhausted.”

Kathleen Bulatovic’s three young children are also woken up in the middle of the night by the buses. But her main concern is the effect of carcinogenic diesel pollutants on her family, with no concrete plans by the regional council to introduce electric buses on the new No.2 route between Seatoun and Karori for at least a decade.

“We keep hearing claims of a 30 percent reduction in ‘emissions’, but that’s a false claim because it doesn’t include carbon emissions, which will increase total emissions by 15 percent a year” says Herwin.

“That’s totally unacceptable in 2018.”

ReVolt Wellington – a community organisation dedicated to bringing non-polluting electric buses back to the capital – will hold a meeting at the Seatoun Village Community Hall on Wednesday at 7:30pm with councillors in attendance. All citizens concerned by the noise and pollution are urged to attend.

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Fears about increasing pollutants and noise as result of new bus plan

June 6, 2018

by Gilly Tompsett

Wellington residents living on former trolley bus routes on the East-West corridor are facing a 200 percent increase in carcinogenic diesel pollutants for the next decade, under Greater Wellington Regional Council’s new high-frequency bus network due to be phased in from July.

Research by ReVolt Wellington - a community organisation dedicated to bringing non-polluting electric buses back to the capital - also found residents along the routes will experience a 400 percent increase in noise compared to the trolley bus era. (Based on published timetable information)

Hundreds of millions of dollars are also expected to be shaved off property values on the routes. A
GWRC-commissioned report by Price Waterhouse Cooper forecast a seven percent drop as a result of the new diesel-powered network.

The council decommissioned the trolley bus network to meet operating requirements brought in by the previous government. The Public Transport Operating Model (PTOM) forced New Zealand’s regional councils to introduce a competitive business model to public transport networks and reduce their reliance on subsidy.

The council’s tender process failed to provide enough incentive for a change to electric buses and actively discouraged a fully electric fleet - in contradiction of its own long-term transport plan It describes diesel buses as “the worst performing option on carbon emissions” which reduces harmful local emissions “by a smaller amount than either battery electric or diesel hybrid options.”

The GWRC awarded 50 percent of its bus routes to NZ BUS - which owns the trolley bus stock and a fleet of ageing diesel buses - and to MANA. The remaining 50 percent were secured through tender by TRANZIT, which bought 238 new buses. 95 percent of those are diesel, with 10 electric double-decker buses on trial.

Residents are especially concerned that the west to east city corridor will be operated by NZ Bus using a fleet of ageing Euro 1, 2 and 3 diesel buses until the end of this year. Even the latest Euro 6 standard buses emit very small 2.5 micron particles which lodge in respiratory tracts and are known to cause cancers and asthma. In 2012 the World Health Organisation classified diesel as a group one carcinogenic equivalent to asbestos.

NZ Bus recently signalled that the 57 ex-trolley buses which are being tested with full electric conversions could possibly be sent to other cities where they have recently won new contracts.

ReVolt Wellington will hold a meeting at the Seatoun Village Community Hall, on Wednesday 13 June at 7:30pm with councillors in attendance. All concerned citizens are urged to attend.

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