Auckland train workers are threatening full-day strikes on top of refusing to work overtime as Auckland Transport moves to cut train managers from its rail services.
Industrial action is due to commence tomorrow. It coincides with the first day of "March Madness", which is set to cause commuter chaos across the city.
Commuters on affected services can expect delays for the next 19 days, sparking a warning from Auckland Transport for commuters to make alternative travel arrangements to avoid delays.
It comes as tens of thousands of tertiary students prepare to head back to class tomorrow. In a statement tonight, Transdev apologised to Aucklanders for the looming disruptions and said it was disappointing the union had chosen to launch industrial action during March Madness, "as it has targeted commuters and the many thousands of tertiary students returning from summer break".
"We believe Aucklanders want the safest and most enjoyable train journey and we are working with Auckland Transport to achieve this, Transdev managing director Michel Ladrak said.
"Transdev is also working to end the Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMTU) industrial action as swiftly as possible."
Auckland Transport wants to transfer responsibility for opening and closing train doors from train managers to train drivers, with specific safety controls, and to replace train managers with a larger team of roving transport operators.
The industrial action will affect the more than 30,000 people who travel by train around Auckland on an average weekday.
The move to cut train managers has drawn ire from the union who said cutting the staff would jeopardise passenger safety.
"Train managers are the first responders in medical emergencies; they ensure all passengers, including those with disabilities, can safely board and disembark; they're a deterrent to anti-social behaviour," organiser John Kerr said.
"With train managers on every train, the public can feel safe knowing a skilled, uniformed member of staff is never far away."
Last week the union had a positive meeting with Auckland Transport and Transdev, and would talk again on Wednesday, Kerr said.
"If we make progress we can call off the overtime ban, if not our members are also willing to take full-day strikes."
Preliminary results from a survey by the Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) revealed nearly all passengers supported keeping "critical" staff on trains.
According to PTUA's survey of 242 people, 89 per cent of voters said it was not a good decision by Auckland Transport to remove train managers.
Some 90 per cent of voters held concerns if there was no one there to help them "in case of emergencies, violence or threatening behaviour" on their train.
Eighty-five per cent of respondents currently felt safe on board trains.
PTUA organiser Jon Reeves said the association was calling on Auckland Mayor Phil Goff to stand up and defend train passenger safety.
"The PTUA believe this is putting passengers' safety in jeopardy for what certainly looks like cost cutting."
The PTUA was the public transport equivalent of the Automobile Association for cars, representing public transport users' interests, he said.
The PTUA felt there had been inadequate public consultation on the move, so would bring the public to key stakeholders at a meetings sometime next week.
Reeves said he'd been subject to abuse while riding the train in December. A man demanded money from him but was quickly thwarted when a train manager intervened.
Removing train managers would leave women and the elderly alone and fending for themselves, he said.
Auckland Transport warned peak services on Southern, Western and Eastern lines from Monday would be affected and wait times between trains would be doubled.
"Customers can expect Southern, Western and Eastern line weekday peak train services at 20-minute intervals, with inter-peak and off-peak services running as normal.
"Many trains on these services will run with six cars, which can hold 900 passengers, to help reduce impact."
That was dependent on the level of disruption caused by the industrial action.
Services on the affected lines usually run at 10-minute intervals during peak hours.
Ladrak said 90 per cent of services would run as normal.
"We should be able to accommodate most of them, if not all.
"We regret that this is happening."
Using an overtime ban was a "blunt tool", he said to Newstalk ZB.
"It affects passengers but it also affects their own staff, some of them need overtime."
He did not agree removing train managers would jeopardise commuter safety.
"This is an internationally tested model. In our model we will actually employ 70 people more than we have train managers today."
It was a matter of opinion from the union rather than facts, he said.
"It is a little bit disingenuous of them to say that drivers will be solely responsible for everything on board the train. That is factually not true."
There were transport officers, wardens, security guards and gated stations.
"There is a lot of people involved to keep this railway safe."
Auckland Transport chief transport services officer Mark Lambert said currently, train managers were not encouraged to intervene in incidents and could not leave a train service to manage "antisocial" behaviour off board.
"Transport officers have warranted powers for fare enforcement and can also be deployed in larger patrols to focus on trains that need additional assistance.
"Transport officers are trained to manage anti-social behaviour, security and medical incidents. They have the flexibility to move any antisocial behaviour from the train on to the platform where additional assistance can be provided, without stopping the train service," Lambert said.
The changes would improve safety and security on the rail network and reduce fare evasion and antisocial behaviour.
Buses and ferries will continue to run as normal but AT expected them to be busier.
A link to the temporary timetable can be found here.