Environment Bay of Plenty, the regional council which all Tauranga residents pay rates to, has scrubbed the Tauranga-owned Bay Hopper bus service in favour of Hamilton-based Go Bus Ltd.
When the yellow buses depart Tauranga streets in June they will take about 60 Tauranga jobs with them. Bayline Group has operated the yellow Bay Hoppers since the bus service was started in April 2001 and employs 35 drivers, plus mechanics, cleaners, and administration staff to run them.
“We worked as a team with EBOP to create the service. We are quite disappointed with it (the decision),” says Bayline Group managing director Tony Lugg.
Three companies bid for the fixed price contract, with a spread of $3 million between the lowest and highest bidder, says EBOP general manager of strategic developments, Mary-Anne MacLeod. The lowest price bid was accepted. Go Bus will receive $7.2 million a year for six years.
“We know what the real costs are,” says Tony.
“We just put in what we believed was the cost, with a modest margin. For a family owned business we only need a modest margin.
“We have built up a great team of people that make this work every day. You can’t carry more than a million people and not have the team behind it to make it happen. We have grown into it.”
The new contract is a gross contract which requires all fares to be collected by EBOP and the regional council to provide administration staff. None of the regional council staff contacted were able to say how many staff would be required, or what the additional costs to the council would be.
The Bay Hopper buses operated under a net contract. The bus company kept the fares and received a subsidy from EBOP. It was a system that encouraged the company to operate more efficiently, says Tony.
Mary-Anne says the new contract gives the regional council more control, making it easier to make changes to the service routes and timetables, and to keep up with Tauranga’s population growth. As a result of the new contract, Tauranga passengers will get Sunday services, later week day buses and a service on all public holidays except Christmas Day.
There will also be more accessible buses, with a view to the new operator running a full fleet of modern low-floor buses. This will be more comfortable for all bus users as well as improving accessibility for people with disabilities, parents with prams and people who may find it difficult to negotiate steps.
“Our desire is to work with the incumbent and their drivers to ease the transition,” says Go Bus commercial director Craig Worth.
“The drivers in particular deserve the reassurance that we will be hiring locally for the local knowledge and our door is open to them.
“We pride ourselves on the quality of our buses, and run the youngest fleet in the country, which means they are comfortable and reliable. We also ensure the service is operated and run by locals, as a local business, even so far as all servicing and maintenance needs given to local outfits so we are plugged into the needs of the community we are serving,” says Craig.
In Tauranga, Environment Bay of Plenty funds the bus services with the support of Tauranga City Council. The tender decision was made in line with New Zealand Transport Agency guidelines, which deputy chairman Phillip Sherry says requires the council to take the lowest bid.
The council’s transport committee chairman Andrew Von Dadelszen defended the decision to award the contract to Go Bus, saying although it is Hamilton based the business is partially Tauranga-owned.
The change of contract was made because in a growth area the rewards of a gross contract were greater for the ratepayer.
“We can change the routes and we can change the price, do all sorts of things without having to renegotiate the contract. If you are on a net contract, you have to renegotiate the price and go back to the Transport Authority,” says Andrew.