Mass brawl on Wellington bus sparks calls for police on public transport

An alleged mass brawl on a Wellington bus has sparked calls for a dedicated team of transport officers to keep commuters safe. 

The fight broke out on a bus in Lower Hutt on Friday at around 5pm. Police said six people were taken into custody after an aggravated robbery on the bus and several people were treated for minor injuries. 

Five of the offenders will be referred to Youth Services and one, a 19-year-old woman, appeared in the Lower Hutt District Court on Saturday. She is due to reappear in court on January 26. 

The fight has prompted calls for a dedicated team of police officers to patrol public transport to keep people safe. 

Public Transport Users Association New Zealand (PTUANZ) national coordinator Jon Reeves told Newshub he has noticed an increase in violent and anti-social behaviour recently and immediate action is needed. 

"I've travelled a lot on the Auckland trains and Auckland network trains and I have seen, over the last year, probably seen a dozen instances with aggressive people on board. 

"I've seen that personally and I think we have got some social issues within the country and that's, unfortunately, venting out on the public transport, and that's a concern because right now the Government is trying to get people into public transport. But having these sorts of issues appear keeps people driving their single occupancy vehicles, which is not good for the New Zealand environment or traffic jams," he said. 

Reeves said PTUANZ wants the Government to immediately set up a dedicated team of police officers who will regularly ride public transport to keep passengers safe. 

"What we'd like to see is a dedicated team of police, both in uniform and in mufti, travelling on buses, trains and ferries, not only in Wellington but also Auckland, to deter and catch offenders who either are being anti-social, being aggressive to other passengers or committing graffiti."

Reeves said countries like Great Britain, Switzerland, France and Germany already have transport police and it's time New Zealand introduced them.  

"We'd like to see something happening very soon. The Government should set up a police public transport policing unit pronto. They've got to be dedicated to public transport not being pulled off to do burglaries or anything else." 

Acting Area Commander for Hutt Valley Inspector Haley Ryan said the safety of the community is of the utmost importance to police.

"Not only should every member of our community be safe but they should also feel safe," she said.

"What happened on Friday evening was very distressing for the victims involved in the incident, as well as for our community as a whole.

"Police would like to reassure the public the despicable behaviour conducted by the youths involved in this incident will not be tolerated, and Police are making every effort to ensure each youth offender are being held to account for their actions."

Greater Wellington Chair Daran Ponter told Newshub the bus driver intervened in the fight but wasn't seriously injured. 

Ponter said Greater Wellington is grateful for the police's swift response and is providing support for the passengers and driver. 

It comes after Auckland Transport was forced to introduce safety screens on buses to protect drivers in December last year after a "startling" increase in violence towards them. 

AT's executive general manager of safety Stacey van der Putten told Newshub last month the increase in violence is making it difficult to hire drivers. 

"Levels of harm that we've seen this year are over five times more than the previous four, five years," van der Putten said.

"We are going to be trialling some bus driver protection screens. Now that is a fundamental change in mindset getting to that point."