It’s felt like winter the last few days, so instead of riding my bike to work I have been getting a ride in a chauffeur-driven, high powered, stretch Mercedes Benz – otherwise known as a bus. There’s a bus stop just four kilometres from home, and the driver is so punctual he actually arrives five minutes early. It means we end up waiting at other stops to use up some of that gained time.
It’s dark, the bus is empty and the lights are off when I catch it. I read the morning news, look at the beautiful scenery, have a snooze. Sometimes I chat with other bus users. By the time I get to town, the bus is full, it is daylight and I walk the final stretch to work. It’s a relaxed, stress-free and pleasant way to start the day.
But Auckland Transport contracted bus services cop a lot of criticism – buses don’t turn up, they are cancelled or full. I’ve been stranded in the city by cancelled buses. That’s a lonely feeling when you live in Rodney and is a challenge to get home. People rightfully deserve to have confidence that their bus will get them where they need to go and in a timely manner.
Bus drivers are notoriously underpaid for a hard job done under pressure. My local bus services have gotten worse through the years, with fewer and less convenient stops, and little increase in frequency.
The route is inefficient and tortuous, and off-peak it would take me over two hours to get into town. Riding my bike to work is quicker, more direct and more convenient than the bus. It shouldn’t be that way.
Bus services were publicly owned utilities in New Zealand until the neo-liberal 1980s, when assets were corporatised, sold off, privatised and bought by offshore, profit-seeking interests. All Auckland bus services are now owned by overseas investment companies. They know a good investment when they see it – getting an AT bus contract is a licence to print money – a guaranteed income stream. Profits from fares, rates and taxes, paid to keep the inadequate network going, are taken overseas.
Public transport solves air pollution, climate change, fossil fuel dependency (especially when electrified), congestion, single occupancy vehicle travel, social isolation, the cost of living issues and, if operated properly, provides transportation! Good public transport advantages everyone, whether you use it or not, by freeing up extra capacity for non-bus users on the road. It’s a public good. Fares should not only be free but people should actually be paid to use them. The buses should be publicly owned and operated so that capacity and ridership are improved, drivers can be properly paid and services realise their full potential. It also stops all that money going offshore and being concentrated in the hands of the few. We need better bus services and bus systems for everyone’s benefit.