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Auckland mayor Wayne Brown calls for ’emergency footing’ from agencies in face of public transport ‘crisis’

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First published on NZ Herald

Auckland mayor Wayne Brown at a campaign debate

Auckland mayor Wayne Brown.
Photo: Stuff / Ricky Wilson

Auckland’s new mayor is calling on transport agencies and the government to move to an “emergency footing” to maintain public transport services, which comes after Auckland Transport yesterday announced almost 1000 scheduled bus services would be cut.

Wayne Brown said AT, Waka Kotahi, the Ministry of Transport and Immigration Minister Michael Wood, who is also the Minister of Transport, needed to work together to find a solution to what he called “a public transport crisis”.

AT announced the reduced services to lower the number of cancelled buses and said it would give public transit users “more certainty”, a decision which was called a cynical and terrible move for commuters and users by the Public Transport Users’ Association.

Brown said he supported AT’s decision to cut services for which buses were not available, “in the interests of clarity and reality”.

“Auckland bus users don’t want to be told buses are going to turn up that then don’t,” he said.

While Brown acknowledged he had been “one of AT’s biggest critics”, he primarily blamed the government’s immigration settings for not allowing bus drivers to be recruited from overseas, and KiwiRail for what he claimed was “badly planned” maintenance projects.

The 125X at Westgate's interim bus hub

Buses will replace trains during a network rebuild in 2023 and 2024. File image.
Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

Buses would also replace trains amid a major $330 million rail network rebuild in 2023 and 2024 to pave the way for more commuter trains when the City Rail Link opens.

When asked by the Herald for specific solutions to the problems, a spokesperson for Brown said: “Auckland needs more bus drivers, right now. How that is achieved is something the mayor thinks [transport agencies and the immigration minister] need to get onto today.”

AT had already asked the minister of immigration to “urgently” review immigration settings to address a nationwide bus driver shortage in a joint letter with Environment Canterbury and the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

“As you will be aware, we continue to face chronic bus driver shortages across New Zealand, leading to multiple recurring service cancellations,” the trio of organisations said last month.

“We believe that these shortages demonstrate an underlying gap in our New Zealand workforce, and therefore we must provide for overseas drivers to help meet our current and future demand.”

The government announced on Sunday it was spending $61m to lift bus driver wages to address nationwide worker shortages.

Wood said the money – allocated in this year’s Budget – would be spent over four years to lift base wage rates towards $30 an hour for urban services and $28 an hour for regional services.

He said there were about 800 drivers needed across the country. AT needed 500 of those drivers. Recruitment of drivers in east Auckland had already enabled a return to full timetabled services since their removal there in May.

Wayne Brown

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown said more people need to use public transport to ease congestion.
Photo: RNZ / Lucy Xia

Brown has previously pushed for a “complete change in approach” by AT to public transport amid recent encouragement from the previous council and Government to shift people out of their cars.

In a letter to AT’s acting chairperson Wayne Donnelly in October, Brown said, “you appear to have been focused on changing how Aucklanders live” and said the agency was using transport policy and services as a tool.

“Instead, AT must seek to deeply understand how Aucklanders actually live now, how they want to live in the future, and deliver transport services that support those aspirations.”

Today, Brown said Aucklanders wanted to use public transport, especially with several major events planned for the city over the next two years, and more people needed to be using services to reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.

“Auckland is a car city and a public transport city. We need more Aucklanders using our public transport system, to lessen congestion, lower household transport costs during the economic and fiscal storm, and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions,” Brown said.

“Over the next two years, we also have major events like the [Women’s] FIFA World Cup and concerts and festivals that Aucklanders want to get to using the train or bus, to enjoy now that Covid restrictions are behind us.”

Brown said he expected everyone at Auckland Council and AT to be firmly focused on the immediate crisis and not be distracted by “fanciful projects that will never happen”.

“Waka Kotahi distracts both itself and Aucklanders by wasting everyone’s time and money on fantasy projects like the $30b light-rail project, that Aucklanders don’t want and taxpayers elsewhere in the country don’t want to pay for,” he said.

Brown said he would offer further comment on light rail in the future, but in the meantime called for AT, Waka Kotahi, Kiwirail and the Minister of Transport to solve the current bus crisis and train disruptions.

“Forget about that sort of nonsense [light rail] for now and instead get around the table, pull their business continuity and emergency plans off the shelf, and work together urgently to find a solution to the immediate bus crisis and the risk of two years of train disruptions.

“Aucklanders should not and will not accept two years of rail disruptions and ongoing cuts to bus services, and our transport agencies must do much better.”

This story was first published on the NZ Herald.

Story Credit: rnz.co.nz

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