There are two key central government public transport policies which are causing considerable discontent for bus users in particular around New Zealand. These are the Public Transport Operating Model and the farebox recovery target.
The Public Transport Operating Model was brought in by National in 2011 and its aim was essentially to increase cost efficiency and commerciality in the provision of urban public transport services. There is not much in the legislation itself that impacts this; the detail is found in things like procurement models which are essentially the domain of NZTA to determine the aspects of. So the approach has been two-pronged: change the LTMA legislation and then change the parameters or criteria for NZTA staff to apply to the procurement (or purchase) of contracted services from bus operators.
The farebox recovery target is a policy of NZTA that relates to fare subsidies on public transport services. This used to be 40%, meaning that 40% of a service’s operating costs were to be met from fares, with the remaining 60% met from subsidies. This was raised during the term of the National Government to 50%, meaning that fares now had to make up 50% of service costs.
The farebox recovery target applies to all PT services, while the PTOM only applies to bus services, as it classifies the rail passenger services and and some others (ferries?) as exempt from its coverage. The FRT had the most immediate impact on PT services as from around 2012 there have been wholesale bus service cuts across all the main centres (Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin) which have resulted in a change to hub-spoke networks becoming more prevalent in all these areas.
Christchurch was the first city to bring in FRT service adjustments back in 2012 as there was a big impact on bus services following the quakes and so the service alterations done then were a combination of the disruptions to transport flows across the city from the 2011 quake and the implementation of the new FRT. Auckland and Dunedin have adjusted their networks since then Wellington has taken the longest and has really only implemented the FRT adjustment this year, the result of which has been the headline grabbing chaos of the past couple of months.
The change to the PTOM model of service contract procurement has taken longer to be felt because of contract expiry deadlines but is now becoming more prevalent and has been an issue particularly in Auckland and Wellington where established operators have been undercut by newer PTOM led procurement. The information coming through is that PTOM procurement mandates that drivers’ wages and conditions and service standards and quality can be reduced and are not given priority as they once were. This is essentially a throwback to the 1990s when National first implemented the contracting out of PT services and required the lowest tendered price to be accepted. The result was a lower service standard with fly by night operators running old dungers of buses on the routes.
We have had a lengthy period in the 2000s where service standards have steadily increased because regional councils were given governmental support to be able to specify for example modern low floor buses meeting higher emissions standards and able to carry wheelchairs and buses. National’s changes threatened all of that and are at least responsible for some of the anger over service changes especially from drivers who have found their wages and conditions being attacked and reduced by some new operators.
NZTA funding that has just been announced by the government does not appear to increase the level of subsidies and/or address the FRT which has been set too high by the previous government. Nor is there any mention of review of the PTOM environment. Regional fuel taxes are only available as a funding mechanism in Auckland and no other region can implement them for at least three years.
In summary the government appears to have dropped the ball on public transport (bus) services with the continuation of the current environment for the next three years.