Traffic nightmare looms: More than 1000 Auckland bus drivers to go on 24-hour strike on Friday

By Amelia Wade

Nearly 100,000 commuters and about 120 school buses will be affected. Photo / Richard Robinson
Nearly 100,000 commuters and about 120 school buses will be affected. Photo / Richard Robinson

Auckland is expected to descend into chaos on Friday as drivers on 70 per cent of the city's bus services strike.

Nearly 100,000 commuters and about 120 school buses will be affected by the 24 hour work stoppage and people are being told to find other means of transport or ask their bosses if they can work from home to avoid the congestion.

And included in Auckland Transport's official advice is "not travelling".

More than 1,000 NZ Bus drivers and 70 Howick & Eastern drivers issued their employers with a strike notice yesterday morning and are planning to picket with placards and whistles at depots.

The strike comes after almost two months of industrial action by drivers, including a week of continuous "work to rule" action and stop-work meetings.

NZ Bus northern chief operating officer Shane McMahon said the strike was "bitterly frustrating" for commuters and all parties concerned, especially as he thought they had been making good progress in discussions.

He said while drivers are emphasising the long working hours, these are outside of the company's control. Work time rules for the industry are set by the NZ Transport Agency and are the same for all operators and concerns should be taken up at a central government level.

NZ Bus has offered drivers a 1.7 per cent wage increase, taking hourly rates to $20.75 an hour. However, the union is asking for $21.

Tramways Union president Gary Froggatt said drivers were ramping up industrial action because NZ Bus has told them they won't be able to negotiate until the end of the month are also having with individual employees which takes away the union's bargaining power.

The drivers are also protesting against Auckland Transport because it is not including in their tender documents that employees being transferred between the city's 10 bus companies will have the same protections and rights as their original employer.

"While we regret taking this action, something has to give," Mr Froggatt said.

For 15 days over the coming months, drivers will refuse to accept anything but Hop cards meaning anyone trying to pay cash will get a free ride. The action is to urge Auckland Transport to better inform the public about cashless payments.

"We've asked them for pamphlets, so if anyone pays cash, they also get a flyer telling them that the Hop card is cheaper and faster."

Auckland Transport spokesman Mark Hannan did not respond to questions about the cash free days but said on Friday, people should consider other options like taking other bus services, using trains or ferries and "not travelling", particularly in peak time, walking, cycling or sharing rides.

Meetings were held yesterday to work out whether they could provide additional services but Mr Hannan said their main focus was on ensuring school buses continued as normal.

Auckland Chamber of Commerce chairman Michael Barnett said people should be starting to make alternative plans now to ensure they don't get tripped up on Friday. As well as increased congestion, parking would also be at a premium.

"I think if they go ahead with it, there is going to be chaos. But to what to degree? We can mitigate it now through making arrangements."

Editor of the Transport Blog, Matt Lawrie, said about 50 per cent of people arriving in the city centre each day use public transport and so the impact of the strike will be significant for many people.

"What I will say is that it's a shame the public are being dragged into this dispute. Confidence in public transport has been improving a lot in recent years in the back of improvements and we've seen substantial growth as a result.

"There are a lot of big improvements in the pipeline and it would be a shame for that increased confidence and therefore uptake of public transport to be knocked back as a result."

- NZ Herald

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