Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bus drivers suspect ambassadors are 'spying'

Appeared in the Hutt News and on Stuff.co.nz

A new initiative to deal with passenger enquiries on Valley Flyer and GO Wellington buses has upset local drivers, who feel they are being "spied on".

Last week a fortnight's trial of 'Transitwise Ambassadors' on five percent of the buses started. Any extension of the scheme will depend on the success of the trial.

Wellington Tramways Union President and bus driver Nick Kelly says the scheme has been met with disdain from drivers. He believes the role of the ambassadors will soon evolve into auditors and inspectors.

"We are being spied on by security guards."

The drivers were told of the initiative just a few days before it started. There was no proper consultation, Mr Kelly says. "A lot of drivers resent what is being imposed on them."

Presently drivers print out the number of passenger's trips at the end of their shift and keep a copy of the day's earnings. They do this so if takings do not match, they can refer to their print out. Mr Kelly is concerned the ambassadors will have the power to take earnings and print outs of daily transactions.

"It means that we would not get to check the balance and have proof if it shows short," he says.

While drivers welcome help with problem passengers, Mr Kelly believes ambassadors' powers will eventually include checking tickets and monitoring driver behaviour.

The drivers have been "given the heads up" that these changes will happen in the future, Mr Kelly claims. If they are given these powers, changing the driver's employment contract, the union will take NZ Bus to court, Mr Kelly says.

Zane Fulljames, GM for Southern Region NZ Bus disputes Mr Kelly's claims.

"They (the ambassadors) ensure passengers trips are as easy and hassle free, allowing drivers to concentrate on driving." Having the ambassadors onboard will relieve anxious bus users and seniors using their SuperGold card for the first time, he says.

Mr Fulljames says drivers were consulted.

"We spoke at length with driver representatives. Generally, they were very supportive of the scheme."

He said ambassadors would not be counting money on buses but they would check the validity of bus passenger's tickets.

Mr Fulljames says they would also be trained to assist drivers with a range of issues, including problematic passengers.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bicycle cops leap at opportunity

Nelson Mail, stuff.co.nz

Nelson police officers now know how to fall off a bike.

Cycling coach Marianne Draijer has been putting police through their paces, teaching them how to dodge cones, do repairs, and something Senior Constable Garry Dunn likes to call "speed and tactical dismounting" or, in Mrs Draijer's words, how to fall off a bike.

They have had two practice sessions so far, which police must pass in order to use new bikes that were introduced in August.

Police currently have one bike in Nelson which is equipped with flashing lights, a loud siren, first aid kits and ticket books, and plan to eventually add another three for Stoke and Nelson.

"It's twofold --we will use them to enforce cyclists' behaviour and for covert and overt urban control," Mr Dunn said.

Yesterday police completed their bicycle training at Saxton Field.

During an earlier training session, while practising how to "tactfully dismount a bike at speed" around the Nelson courthouse, Mr Dunn "played the bad guy" while Senior Constable Hamish Blanch learned how to jump off a bike and tackle the role of pursuer.

After dismounting and chasing Mr Dunn around the grounds, Mr Blanch "got a bit carried away with the enjoyment of it", and tackled him to the ground, Mr Dunn joked.

New uniforms, essential to complete the bobbies on bikes look, are awaiting approval. So far, it's cycle shorts with police polo shirts and the police logo on the helmets. Mr Dunn said the look was important because "the policeman's authority comes from the uniform he wears".

However, the bike officers would also be "an approachable face for the public", he said.

The new bikes had already been used to catch a bike thief and school truants who would not have been caught if the police were in a patrol car, Mr Dunn said.

The bikes give officers a better view of what was going on on the streets, such as pedestrian behaviour, he said.

Eighteen officers signed up for the training, with seven completing it so far.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Property values continue to drop

Residential property values have dropped almost all over the country and the market is well off its peak, according to QV Valuations.

There was a 2.2 percent decline in national property values in the past year in the data which compares the three months ended in July with the same period a year ago.

Invercargill was the exception to the drop in values in main urban areas. It had year-on-year growth of 5.4 percent but this has dropped from a high of 36.4 percent last October. QV Valuations said at the current rate of decline Invercargill will join the rest of the main centres with falling property values within a month or two.

Blue Hancock of QV Valuations said the market was now well off its peak of late 2007, early 2008 and many sellers had accepted the state of the market and had dropped their expectations accordingly.

This has resulted in an increase in activity in the market, but sale levels are still well below last year's and long term averages.

"The question has now changed from when will prices stop rising, to when can we expect to see them stabilise?" said Mr Hancock.

Property values are down 3.6 percent in Auckland compared to the same time last year, which is a bigger decline than the 1.0 percent reported last month. The Wellington area is now showing declining values. Wellington property values decreased 1.6 percent in the past year when they had recorded 1.1 percent year-on-year growth in June figures.

Christchurch has dropped 2.1 percent and Dunedin suffered the biggest drop in the main urban areas, at 6.8 percent. Hamilton City's property values slipped 5.4 percent and Tauranga to 2.6 percent.

QV said most provincial centres now show property values are less than what they were in the July quarter last year. Gisborne has suffered the biggest provincial centre drop at 8.7 percent. O ther drops in provincial centres were Palmerston North (5.2 percent) Nelson (2.7 percent) and Queenstown Lakes (3.1 percent) Napier (2.0 percent) and New Plymouth (4.7 percent).

Opotiki had the biggest drop in property values in New Zealand, at 9.9 percent.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bogus calls waste SPCA's time and petrol


Wanganui Chronicle

Unfounded and malicious calls are emptying Wanganui's SPCA petrol tanks.

SPCA shelter manager Val Waters said about three out of 30 complaints to the association were unfounded.

The calls had become a huge problem because of the high cost of petrol. The association was paying three times more for gas than last year. Petrol prices were "staggeringly high", she said.

Unnecessary calls, where animals were used as ammunition in neighbourhood or domestic arguments, put a strain on the shelter.

"A lot of the complaints are unfounded or malicious, and that really hits us hard the fact that we have to go," Ms Waters said.

"I feel a bit aggrieved about doing that, and it's a huge cost of petrol to go to some of these complaints. There is usually a neighbourhood squabble or even a domestic thing, and they bring the SPCA in as an extra baton." Wanganui SPCA covered the area through Marton, Bulls, Hunterville, Raetihi and Waverley, and investigated every complaint they received.

"It is a big area, and when you get called to malicious complaints, it's pretty annoying.

"We get them regularly, and you have to go because, you never know, it could be a genuine complaint of animal welfare concern."

The unfounded complaints were often to the surprise of the animal owners, Ms Waters said.

"Owners are horrified when the SPCA turns up. Who can blame them?"

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Ball season spells party problems

Wanganui Chronicle

Wanganui's high-school ball season has started. And so has the problem of trying to police the secretive, sometimes out-of-control after-parties.

Schools spoken to by Wanganui Chronicle said they had their balls under control when it came to drinking they all have an outright ban but after-parties were often beyond their control.

Wanganui Girls' College acting principal Maartje Morton said their ball, which kicked off the ball season at the end of June, had been "absolutely fantastic" without any problems. However, some students had organised an after-party which got out of control.

Mrs Morton said she had heard about the party a few weeks before it happened and had done everything she could to stop it.

"We did all we could to alert them of the dangers of the party but because it was done privately and not on school sites we couldn't take the matter any further."

Wanganui High School's deputy principal Elizabeth Spooner said her school did not condone drunken after-parties.

The school supported students having a quiet, sober gathering after the ball the August 2, but they were "totally anti any organised hoolie".

Confirming it was often hoteliers bearing the brunt of bad student behaviour, Deputy Mayor Dot McKinnon, owner of the Kingsgate Hotel, said students were unwelcome at her hotel because of past problems, but sometimes they slipped through.

"When you've got 70 rooms to sell you don't always know who is in the rooms. Often the parents ring up and put the children in the room and we don't know that they are only children in there."

Students sometimes caused problems for others staying at her hotel.

"It's really just drunkenness, being sick and loud and noisy."

Alcohol Advisory Council strategy manager Andrew Hearn said unsupervised after-balls were a recipe for disaster.

"The combination of too much alcohol and lack of parental supervision means the potential for alcohol-related harms are huge."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Put up a poster, it's election year

Appeared in the Wellingtonian and on Stuff.co.nz

Political parties are taking up hotly contested poster spots in Wellington's central business district in the lead-up to the general election later this year.

With at least four months until the general election, some political parties are already making their mark on CBD buildings, power boxes and street lamps with their campaign advertising.

In the CBD, the Workers Party and the Green Party have started visible election campaigns.

Their posters, plastered in places usually reserved for advertising music shows, are becoming prominent around the CBD.

Nick Kelly, the Wellington branch organiser of the socialist Workers Party, says they started putting up their posters in early July, well before most other political parties.

The posters are simple in design, list the party's website and some have slogans the party support.

Mr Kelly says the small party, who are in the process of registering with the electoral office as a political party, are using this simple and cheap method to get their name out there early.

The Green Party is the only other party to have used this postering method this year.

In April the Green Party launched their campaign using pop-art styled posters of graffiti images and slogans.

The posters were visible throughout the CBD in April but have since been postered over or pulled down.
Likewise, many of the Workers Party posters up in the CBD have already been pulled down or covered over in the last week because of competition for poster space.

Mr Kelly says this is why they have a team of supporters to regularly put up the posters, some of which are done so illegally.

But the Wellington City Council says it often takes a relaxed approach to this kind of advertising, even though it is "technically illegal".

Council communications adviser Richard MacLean says postering on council-owned places is technically illegal and that most private property owners don't like it.

He says the council's approach to postering depends on where they are put and what they are of.
He says grotesque or offensive posters are usually taken down.

"It depends on the part of town.

"We take a slightly relaxed view, like if it's Cuba Street."

Mr MacLean says he does not see election advertising, especially on such a small scale as the Workers Party, as a big problem.

"Generally people go for bigger electoral hoardings.

"I don't think pasting an A4 piece of paper is that effective."

However, Mr Kelly says their campaign method of postering has been effective so far.

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"The day we put them up the hits on our website went up, off the record, and the only thing that happened was we put them up."

However, with the 2007 Electoral Finance Act, the Workers Party have already broken a national law in their postering.

While the posters have the national campaign manager, Rebecca Broad's name on them, they do not have her street address, required under the 2007 Electoral Finance Act.

Mr Kelly says the party has not yet been pulled up on these and has since made posters with correct authorisation.

He says leaving off the information, which, if the police prosecute the party could cost them $20,000, was a "genuine mistake".

Friday, January 11, 2008

Election billboard attacks grow

Nelson Mail
Last updated 12:02 01/11/2008

Attacks on election billboards continue to be a problem for Nelson and West Coast-Tasman candidates, some of whom cannot replace their hoardings.

Most candidates or campaign managers spoken to by the Nelson Mail either had billboards knocked down or stolen during the past week.

Supporters of Labour's West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O'Connor say all his billboards from Mapua to Motueka were stolen this week, just before Prime Minister Helen Clark visited Motueka.

Ruby Bay woman Chrissie Small said both the Damien O'Connor billboards on her property went missing early in the week.

Another supporter of Mr O'Connor, Riwaka woman Chris Holmwood, said she feared the stolen billboards would be re-erected on election day which is against electoral law in a bid to damage Mr O'Connor.

Mr O'Connor's campaign manager, John Kennedy, said that while he did not know about the stolen Tasman hoardings, one billboard had been defaced in Greymouth during Labour weekend.

He put it down to "bored young people" and did not think it was politically motivated.

Labour list MP and Nelson candidate Maryan Street said attacks on her billboards were "vicious" as people had smashed her hoardings around Nelson.

"I think it's just probably young hoons", she said.

Nelson MP, National's Nick Smith, had nine billboards damaged this week around Tahunanui, Atawhai and Stoke.

While the lighter type of graffiti, such as glasses painted on his face, was part of the "argy-bargy" of electioneering, swastikas continued to be pasted on his billboards, which Dr Smith said was most offensive.

The damage to his billboards had cost about $4000 to date, he said.

Green Party Nelson convener Thomas Forrow said seven of the Greens' billboards around Nelson had disappeared over Labour weekend.

The party could not afford to replace them.

One Green Party billboard had been damaged in the West Coast-Tasman electorate since the beginning of the campaign.

Kiwi Party Nelson candidate Robin Westley had one billboard knocked down and another stolen in Nelson over Labour weekend.

He said he would not replace the stolen sign as he feared for the property owner's safety if it was a malicious attack.

ACT Nelson candidate Paul Hufflett had one billboard on Rocks Rd defaced earlier in the week, but did not plan on taking any action over it, saying he would rather "keep smiling and keep replacing".

National list MP and West Coast-Tasman candidate Chris Auchinvole had one board attacked in Westport over Labour weekend and another stolen earlier in the week from Greymouth.
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Other candidates reported no damage, did not have billboards erected, or could not be reached for comment.