Passenger Rail, Workforce, Certification & Training

Auckland Transport under fire from union for train crew changes

Photo: Auckland Transport

New Zealand’s Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMTU) has accused Auckland Transport (AT) of misleading the public in claiming that the hiring of new “transport officers” will boost safety on the network.

The first of these transport officers began work this week, with an eventual 230 expected to be hired and trained in the role to gradually take over from 168 train managers currently working across Auckland’s trains.

AT has claimed that the new transport officer role will provide improved passenger support and safety on trains. Alongside duties such as managing fare evasion through fare inspections and issuing infringements, they are to be trained in how to de-escalate situations caused by anti-social behaviour.

“The introduction of transport officers will give our customers more assurance on trains and around stations that they will be safe. The placement of transport officers can be tailored to when and where they are needed most, which makes the service not only more robust but also more efficient,” AT’s group manager of parking and compliance John Strawbridge said.

However, the Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMTU), which represents drivers and on-board crews that staff Auckland passenger trains, has voiced its doubts over the new hiring plan.

“We are in no doubt that the deployment of transport officers are the first step in removing on-board train crew off those trains,” RMTU organiser John Kerr said.

“AT are spinning the introduction of transport officers as a boost to passenger safety when in fact they are nothing of the sort.”

Kerr said that the transport officers would be unable to stop bad behaviour on public transport as they don’t have sufficient legal powers to enforce order, or to arrest or detain troublemaking passengers.

Moreover, according to Kerr, AT had not provided enough information regarding the future of the current permanent on-board staff for passenger trains.

“AT are not denying that the transport officers are the first step in a plan to remove permanent on-board crew off each and every train. They know that even with over 200 of these transport officers on their payroll there will not be enough to guarantee that any given train, bus or ferry will have a Transport Officer on board, “ he said.

AT spokesman Mark Hannan admitted that some train services would have to do without on-board crews.

“That’s because we’ll be targeting trains with known problems — such as night services,” Hannan said.

But he defended the move by saying that the new transport officers had more safety qualifications than train managers.

“Managers basically walk up and down trains, checking tickets, whereas transport officers will have more training, akin to policemen,” he said.

“They’ll be able to kick passengers off trains and have greater powers to enforce fare payment.”

Kerr said that AT’s narrative about the train staff situation was “a sop to the public”, an attempt to distract from the fact that there will be fewer uniformed staff on Auckland’s train network.

“Our union believes that transport officers will only boost safety if they are deployed as well as safety critical permanent on-board train staff. What would be even better would be if transport officers were to be given the kind of powers that transport police exercise in other countries, and there is no likelihood of that under current law,’’ he said.