Duynhoven to fine-tune bus law

By Simon O'Rourke

Transport Safety Minister Harry Duynhoven is promising to take a leadership role in revisiting a controversial law that from Monday will see up to 400 bus and taxi drivers lose their right to transport passengers.

The livelihood of hundreds of bus and taxi drivers is being taken away as the new legislation precluding certain criminal offenders from holding a passenger transport licence ("P" endorsement) comes into force.

The Bus and Coach Association and Taxi Federation say many of their members will be unfairly punished.

People who have committed rape, murder and serious assaults will not be allowed to gain the licence.

But Bus & Coach Association deputy executive director Dave Smith said there were a number of "fish-hooks" in the law that were clearly unfair to drivers.

For example, it was harsh that a bus driver who was convicted as a teenager for having sex with his girlfriend a few days before her 16th birthday more than 34 years ago was about to lose his job.

The parents at the time had found out about the couple having sex and were so angry that they pressed for the man's conviction for having underage sexual connection.

Mr Smith said homosexuality was an illegal act about 20 years ago, and in the past 14-year-olds who committed indecent acts such as exposing themselves were criminally prosecuted.

"If they did that today they'd go through the Youth Court system and not be convicted."

Mr Duynhoven told the Herald that he planned to revisit the legislation when Parliament reconvened on February 7 and would consult the transport spokespeople from each party about what changes, if any, were necessary.

The select committee responsible for drafting the law - which he was not a member of - had ignored officials' advice on the retrospective nature of the law.

"We [transport spokespeople] will talk about some of the issues that have been exposed. I don't think anyone realised where this was going to go."

However, he said he could not "unilaterally" determine or promise that changes to the law be made.

The Bus and Coach Association and Taxi Federation met yesterday to discuss the law, and will meet Mr Duynhoven next week to discuss some of the anomalies and concerns they have.

The law provides affected drivers some grounds for appeal, but not if their convictions relate to sexual crimes or murder.

Two weeks ago the Herald reported the case of Huntly man Raymond Totowera, who was convicted of rape in the 1980s.

A Stagecoach worker for nine of the past 10 years, Mr Totowera said he would lose his passenger transport licence and was therefore paying the price for his crime twice.

He said it was unfair because he had been "totally rehabilitated," was a Christian and was a good member of the community who had not broken the law for more than 20 years.

Thirty-six thousand people in New Zealand hold passenger transport licences.

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