- Teenage girls "selling themselves at night".
- Bus violence worst in 22 years.
- Parents too busy or unwilling to supervise children.
- Youths use library computers to organise brawls.
- Free bus travel for students restricted.
Free student bus fares have been cut back in a bid to tackle escalating violence and anti-social behaviour on Tauranga bus routes - but installing cages for drivers was rejected.
A bus company boss told a summit today that abuse of drivers in Tauranga is the worst he has seen and a top cop said parents were too disengaged or busy working to supervise young troublemakers.
The Bay of Plenty Regional Council met with representatives from its contractor NZ Bus, Tauranga City Council, Police and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency.
Bus drivers have reported being racially abused and threatened - prompting a partial boycott of three stops - alongside recent reports of street brawls, vandalism, public underage drinking and assaults on passerbys.
Youths have arrested for allegedly carrying weapons at the Willow St interchange. Another has been charged with wounding with intent to cause grevious bodily harm after allegedly attacking a worker near a major Farm St stop, seriously injuring his eye.
The regional council added extra security to the city's bus stops on Monday, adding $200,000 to the annual cost of $660,000. Waka Kotahi contributes 51 per cent.
Today it decided to chop 24/7 free fares for school-aged children back to peak commute hours after the policy was said to be enabling bad behaviour.
Former security guard Chimmyma Kiora Williams told the meeting guarding bus stops was more like "social work" than "a normal security job".
While the police were "very good", they were "understaffed" and often could not come quickly or at all.
"If police couldn't come, our security had to try to de-escalate, manage and try to control it to a certain point and make those feeling at harm feel safe. It's a lot to have going on mentally."
Many of the young people causing trouble were seeking a connection but were finding it with older people - including transients - resulting in "drinking" and "drugging".
Williams said girls aged 15 or 16 were "going to school in the day and selling themselves at night". One confided through tears to Williams that her mother was mentally ill and her father was sexually abusing a vulnerable family member.
"She's not an isolated problem. I used to go home and say 'how do we do this'?" Williams said.
Asked about quick fixes, Williams said empowering security guards more with protection vests would help, as would body cameras.
"You don't need a whole army of people but whoever you do have need skills and a place where [youth] can hang out [safely]."
Williams said there was a core group of about 15 youths causing trouble.
Tauranga's fare-free buses were part of the problem. Groups of youths used the library computers to organise fights at other stops then rode the bus there, she said.
"The free fares have been good for other young ones going home but there are more making bad use of those free fares than those taking good advantage of them."
Support for the city's "awesome" bus drivers was also needed. "They get so much rubbish going on."
Councillor Matemoana McDonald said Williams' insight was "concerning" and the situation had evolved to become "a festering time for us".
"We are entering a phase where this will escalate if we don't do anything about it."
NZ Bus chief operating officer Jay Zmijewski told the council that in his 22 years of driving and working in the bus industry in New Zealand and Australia, he had not seen such regular levels of abuse and violence directed at drivers and buses.
Zmijewski said bus routes had often had to be cancelled because the driver was still traumatised from an incident days before. There was a risk some would quit.
"I still recall the effects of anti-social behaviour when I was a bus driver. It makes you sick to the stomach."
Vandalism was happening daily with seats being cut and burned, window laminates melted and graffiti "inside and out".
Regional council chairman Doug Leeder said Zmijewski's comments were a "sad indictment" on Tauranga's situation.
Councillor Jane Nees asked Zmijewski his view on potential interim responses such as safety cages for drivers, random police checks for troublemakers, or incognito guards to help if a situation escalated.
Zmijewski responded: "Ultimately our drivers don't want to be in cages - that whole 'we'll put our driver in a jail cell because we can't manage what's happening on the other side of the fence'. I would hope to think that would be a very last resort."
He backed the other suggestions.
Western Bay of Plenty police area commander Inspector Clifford Paxton told the council parents were a key part of the issue.
"[A] thing that seems to be driving this is parents having to work long hours to pay the rent, put food on the table. They [the youths] are just not getting the supervision they should get.
"Some parents have absolved themselves of that responsibility."
Paxton backed reducing fare-free hours, which he believed impacted bad behaviour. He cited key gathering times from about 3pm to 5.30pm and 6.30pm.
A long-term plan was also needed, he said.
"I have no doubt that we can apply pressure to this group and slow them down but there will be another that will establish itself."
Paxton said the responsibility for anti-social behaviour at bus stops was shared by parents, the community, councils and police.
City council general manager of infrastructure Nic Johanson said it was adding security features such as lighting to the new CBD bus interchange on Durham St.
But he would not commit to sharing the regional council's security costs - a decision the regional council will formally ask the city council to reconsider.
The city council is responsible for bus infrastructure and the regional council is responsible for bus services.
Johanson said: "Many of our staff are passionate about this and we will do everything we can. We are at pains to explain all the initiatives we are implementing to make it safe for the travelling public."
Leeder told Paxton that he had the regional council's support to gain greater resources from New Zealand Police if he needed it.
Free fare restrictions a 'tragedy'
Tauranga's 24/7 fare-free bus trial for school-age children has been restricted to a few hours a day after reports it was enabling violent and anti-social behaviour on buses and at stops.
It started in 2019 after lobbying from parents and as a congestion-busting measure.
Today, the regional council voted to allow free travel only between 7am-9am, and 3pm-5pm daily.
The changes will come into effect from June 4.
Councillor Jane Nees suggested contingencies include a review after three months and exploring ways to support schools and families that may struggle with new bus costs.
"Because we haven't consulted on this, as far as the public is concerned, this is going to come as a big shock to those who have learned to rely on this... because of a small number of youths, there are families and their children who are going to be disadvantaged."
In March 2021, 157,107 children used the Tauranga bus network. In March 2022, this number was 122,086.
Councillors variously described the restriction as a "tragedy" and a sad and unintended consequence of the well-intentioned trial.
The regional council also agreed to begin talks with agencies regarding long-term solutions.