Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Speculations and Diversions.

Is the earthquake being used as a diversion from other factors in old bus debacle?

My spurious attempt to drag Brian Souter in as the woo-er of CBS, for the sake of a corny pun and to raise awareness of Souter Holdings buying into public transport in NZ appears to been in the best/worst traditions of journalism - floating speculative leads merely to incite greater public interest. A bit more research (which I should have done first)also reveals Souter Holdings is indeed the private arm of Brian Souter, apparently quite separate from Stagecoach.

In this case it appears utterly without foundation - all the goss I've heard seems to back "The Press" suggestion that Waikato and Central North Island emerging giant Go Bus is the company most keen to take over Christchurch Bus Services, and this is not necessarily a new thing. Indeed the possibility exists that the Christchurch Bus services came in low enough to under-cut Redbus in the last tender round deliberately to get sufficient number of route contracts to make CBS suitably plump and attractive for the plucking by those companies big enough to buy the whole kit and caboodle (who probably wouldn't set up office south of the strait for only a couple of routes). CBS owner Clive Peters told The Press (10 No 2010) "As a result of our increased market share we have been of interest to a number of companies and held discussions with them." It seems unlikely to me that this is just co-incidental or was not forseen, or indeed not intended, not least because readiness to hold discussions implies openness to selling is already on the agenda. Nor can it be ruled out that talks had been held with one of these larger companies prior to the tender round, which would hardly be illegal but does shift the ground a little. Did Metro know about this possibility?

Also I wonder what can be read into the Metro media statement of November 4th;
"Both companies ordered new buses to enable them to deliver the agreed standard of service. However, due to circumstances beyond their control, including earthquake damage to the bus-building factory at Rolleston, they have had to source temporary buses"
It is not the first time that earthquake damage at Rolleston is specifically referred to about delayed Leopard buses but the reasons for the failure to arrive of the Chinese buses (for Christchurch Bus Services) is curiously missing, glossed over. There was some mention earlier about floods in China being a factor but there is a growing "credibility" gap when these reasons have received no mention since. Is there other reasons these buses have not been delivered?

By not being more specific about why both sets of buses are delayed - let alone expressing concern on behalf of the public about delays over and above earthquake issues - it does appear to me Metro is trying to fluff the issues and is thus potentially complicit in supporting one company against another. If one company had just invested millions in upping the standard of buses - as Infratil/NZ Bus recognise as so imperative in re-establishing the credibility of public transport in the public mind** - would that company not have very good reason be pissed off if contracts were given to a company potentially up for sale, whose fleet is inferior, is possibly not expecting to fulfill the three year terms of the contracts, and whose motives for tendering for so many routes may be related more to a business strategy than public service? Do public authorities (or Transport Agency NZ or somebody ) do "due diligence" in depth sorts of investigation, require open books, etc to ensure that it is absolutely certain the firm tendering for routes can meet its committments, is not just playing the public process as a strategy, is not to coin an old phrase "mucking the public around". (I remember the Cesta mess in Christchurch back in the 1990s, and the - same outfit - Eastbus farce in Otago about five years ago; a company unable to meet baseline criteria for service supply and that even had some buses ordered off the road by Min. of Transport for safety reasons.)

Where does Environment Canterbury, Metro, Transport Agency New Zealand or commercial or any law stand upon this issue?

Should this be investigated by some sort of equiry - what are the ethics and legal situations in cases like this that fall on the boundary of business and public service? I am not alleging any criminal acts are involved here, but asking where the ethical divide falls. What best serves the public interest according to good old fashion standards. Let us please remember this is Canterbury, chaps!!

Underneath the specific earthquake factor - which is obviously beyond the power of human change - I think a lot of people feel as I do, something very odd is going on here, more than meets the eye. It seems Metro may be being caught with egg on its face and yet were nowhere near an egg carton on earthquake day!

All very sad. And it is is doing incredible damage to the credibility of public transport built up across a decade - ironically when some very improved schedules and new services such as the Selwyn Star should be taking centre place.
**Infratil, owners of NZ Bus explains its approach to public transport on the Infratil website ........The transition from the “poor cousin” form of urban mobility to the preferred mode will require a comprehensive change in all aspects of the service, its regulation and its relationship with users.Under the previous owners, NZ Bus was very efficient and low cost. While it is apparent that efficiency is a necessary feature of a successful bus service, to be successful it must also be popular with users. For public transport tobe the preferred mode of urban transport, it isn’t enough to be cheap, it must also be liked.

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