Free bus rides for half of Auckland, as drivers go on partial strike

Free bus rides for half of Auckland, as drivers go on partial strike
Photo credit: Getty

Many commuters in Auckland will soon be riding buses for free.

The free rides come as NZ Bus drivers, along with NZ Tramways Union members, announced they would join a partial strike by Go Bus drivers.

Some Go Bus drivers have been refusing to charge fares from passengers travelling from the Mangare and East Tamaki depots since earlier this week. FIRST Union announced that the free rides would continue until Christmas Eve.

But Go Bus HR director Kura Poulava says the strike action is endangering drivers and it does not support it.

"By encouraging the small number of union members it has in Auckland to stop collecting fares, First Union is placing the safety of the majority of bus drivers who are working normally at potential risk," she said in a statement on Friday.

"We know from experience these drivers are at risk of intimidation and even assault from members of the public who believe their rides will be free.  Promoting such a situation as this is completely irresponsible and needs to stop before someone is hurt."

On Friday, the union said that NZ Bus drivers would follow suit, with drivers stopping charging fares from Monday next week.

On Thursday, 50 bus routes across Auckland were suspended as NZ Bus drivers met to discuss their collective agreement.

The drivers voted not to accept a settlement offer from the company, First Union said, and the decision to join their Go Bus colleagues in partial strike action was made.

On its website, FIRST Union says the strikes are aimed at combating a "contracting model which rewards the worst, lowest-paying bus companies". 

"Companies winning contracts based on low wages are promoting drivers to work long hours to make up their incomes," the union says.

Jared Abbott, FIRST Union's secretary for transport, operations and logistics, says Auckland Transport - the contractee of both bus companies - will need to get involved to find a solution.

"Yesterday, drivers from the biggest bus operator in Auckland said 'enough is enough' and voted for a free fares strike to let the company and Auckland Transport know that they won’t be the casualties of a system designed to disadvantage them," Abbott said.

"A free fares strike is a positive way of drawing attention to the need to resolve the problems caused by PTOM [public transport operation model] while engaging the public and causing no disruption to passengers."

The move not to charge passengers comes after claims GO Bus managers attempted to drive over workers during a tense strike in Auckland earlier this month.

As a result of that incident, three bus drivers lodged police reports saying they were physically harmed, the union said.