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.