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What’s Really Happening At ACTION?

July 2nd, 2006 at 09:18am

Regular readers would recall that in April I brought you the news that ACTION were set to shake up the timetables and driver rosters in August, and then a couple weeks later I informed you that the changes were being pushed back to September, and I made the observation that it was much more likely to occur in mid October due to school holidays.

Well a lot has happened since then, but nothing has been eminating from ACTION insiders…that is until June 24 (just over a week ago) when The Canberra Times published a story which outlined the October changes (confirming October as the month), and showed that the ACT Government’s budget crisis extends to ACTION.

In my original article I mentioned that a change to the driver rostering system was likely, admittedly this was vague and could have meant almost anything, and as such I dismissed it as being a minor detail, but the details which have since emerged are downright alarming. Here’s what The Canberra Times published:

Transport Workers’ Union official Klaus Pinkas said members had been left incensed at the proposals spelled out by ACTION chief executive Peter Wallace, and emphasised they would be fought over in bargaining during the coming months.

Of most concern were suggestions to have 60 per cent part-time and 40 per cent full-time staff – a reversing of existing ratios – end rostered days off, limit full-timers to 38 hours a week with most overtime gone, remove supervisors from the four interchanges, increase split shifts and hack away at weekend and midday bus services.

Those two paragraphs paint the picture of the October bus changes, however the keyword is “proposal”. Read into that what you will, it seems even the Transport Workers Union are a tad confused about it all, spokesman Klaus Pinkas told Mike Jeffreys on Wednesday (28 June):

I’m looking at the minutes at the moment, and all those issues that you raised were said as what is going to happen, not on the table, but this is what’s going to happen under a proposed new network…nobody’s jumping to conclusions, this is what was put to a delegations of drivers and transport officers.

Klaus was referring to the minutes of a meeting between drivers, ACTION Management, and Transport Workers Union officials. Unfortunately the transcript of what Klaus said doesn’t convey the message clearly, but Klaus was implying that ACTION plan on making these changes in October, and it is not negotiable…something ACTION drivers seem to be echoing in my discussions with them.

As it stands at the moment, ACTION drivers, for the most part, have shifts which contain overtime and plenty of it. Most full time drivers also have a “single shift”, in other words, a shift which is a block of continuous hours (8am-6pm for example). The “proposals” would see the majority of drivers move to part time roles, and quite a few take up dreaded “split shifts” (7am-10am plus 3pm-7pm for example).

In the process, the timetable would be overhauled to cut non-peak services to the bone. At present many reasonably popular weekday services are sporadic during the day, with some (the 36 for example) coming every 50 minutes during the middle of the day. Many services which have traditionally come every 15-20 minutes during the day are now coming every 30 minutes.

ACTION also has a problem servicing shift workers at the moment. Where I work I am covered by two busses which, on their way to other places, pass through the semi-town centre near my work, and travel along the main road near my house. These busses provide a good coverage during peak hours (one coming every fifteen minutes, the other every twenty minutes), a decent coverage during the middle of the day (one coming every 20-30 minutes, the other every 30-50 minutes) and a terrible coverage during my commute time for my earliest start (7am) and my latest finish (7pm). For my earliest start I have to walk to the civic bus interchange and catch an entirely different bus which goes an entirely different way at a time which is either too early or too late. For my latest finish, I have to stand out in the cold for at least half an hour before I can even catch a bus…which makes my trip home at least 45 minutes…on something which would be a ten minute drive!

And weekends? If you’re not travelling to and from a major interchange, you better have all day on your hands.

ACTION’s plan would see these services cut even further. I’m lucky where I am to have multiple busses to choose from, which means I have a better service than most of Canberra…now that’s scary!

ACTION also plan to get rid of supervisors at interchanges, effectively meaning that drivers with faulty ticket machines will not be able to get a replacement at the next interchange and will instead lose revenue by being forced to give customers a free ride all day. A lack of supervisors also means ad-hoc cleaning services (people do occasionally become sick on busses…and you can’t expect people to use a bus which contains the end result and stench of such a thing) and various other essential services will disappear. This probably also means there will be less people on hand to assist confused passengers.

A spokesman (somebody by the name of Mr. Sizzler…or something like that) from Urban Services told Mike Jeffreys on Wednesday that they would “remove supervisors from four interchanges”. He said it in such a manner to make it sound like a small number…he omitted the fact that we only have four interchanges.

ACTION also plans on reducing driver numbers from 810 to 796, whilst attempting to increase boarding numbers by 197,000 to 17.1 million.

All of this has led to ACTION drivers deciding to have a stop work meeting. Originally this was planned for last week, but ACTION management threatened drivers with $300+ fines if they stopped work (one driver said the exact figure was $680), the Transport Workers Union stepped in and somehow managed to get ACTION to agree to pay (I smell industrial blackmail) drivers during a three hour stop work meeting, now scheduled for Friday July 7 between 10am and 1pm.

The ACTION website is painting a rosy picture about the stop work meeting, it says that the meeting is for “employees to be consulted on the establishment of the Territory and Municipal Services Department .” Hmmm, I can guess which person in ACTION dreamt that up…the lady (I use the term loosely) from the ACTION’s department of information which, just like the old Iraqi one, is nothing more than a propoganda spinning machine.

From previous experience I can tell you that the stopwork meeting will disrupt services from around 9am…you can expect services from remote parts of Canberra to stop running around 9am, and for services to start terminating early at interchanges from about 9:30. Current information says the meeting will be held at the Tuggeranong depot, so for example, I wouldn’t expect to see a bus in Gungahlin after about 9:10am, and I wouldn’t expect to see one in Weston Creek after 9:40. Basically, make alternate plans between 9am and 1:30pm. (especially in areas a long way from Tuggeranong).

Two other interesting things which are currently affecting ACTION…ACTION is about to become part of the department of Territory and Municipal Services (formerly known as Urban Services), and it would appear will no longer be a semi-independent government corporation. Whether the ACTION statutory authority remains is unclear at this stage.

The other interesting things is that ACTION fares go up from tomorrow…interesting thing to do prior to a cut in services…

I spoke with Mike Jeffreys on Wednesday about the changes, click here to hear the news story about the changes and my call (3 minutes, 1.2MB) Mike raised some interesting points about convenience of cars compared to busses (and the effect on passenger numbers), and of government economics.

Here is the full story from the Canberra Times

ACTION plan to cut costs angers unions
Kanchan Dutt
Saturday, 24 June 2006

Bus services will be slashed and interchanges left unstaffed if proposals for drastic cuts to ACTION are followed through, unions have warned.
Rostered days off would end, part-time staff form the majority of employees and most overtime stopped under further considerations put forward by management to staff, the Transport Workers’ Union said.

Budget cuts have forced managers of the public transport provider to consider ways of clamping down on costs while maintaining a service that has seen passenger numbers increase.

But the severe nature of the measures outlined at a meeting of bosses, staff and unions has led to a warning that rough times are coming as the battle over conditions intensifies. One person present said, “This looks like an almighty s### fight.”

Transport Workers’ Union official Klaus Pinkas said members had been left incensed at the proposals spelled out by ACTION chief executive Peter Wallace, and emphasised they would be fought over in bargaining during the coming months.

Of most concern were suggestions to have 60 per cent part-time and 40 per cent full-time staff – a reversing of existing ratios – end rostered days off, limit full-timers to 38 hours a week with most overtime gone, remove supervisors from the four interchanges, increase split shifts and hack away at weekend and midday bus services.

“The guys are going ballistic at this stage,” Mr Pinkas said.

The plans were made public by Labor MLA Mick Gentleman during yesterday’s budget estimates hearing.

He asked Transport Minister John Hargreaves, appearing before the committee, how he intended to help ACTION maintain growth in the face of such cuts, but was told no comment could be made as negotiations were ongoing.

The minister did say, though, that across the Government, spending was being brought back to national averages having been way in front of this for long periods.

Shadow transport minister Steve Pratt said he had no difficulties with axing head office admin staff but that doing so to frontline numbers was “not on” and a “totally inappropriate measure”.

The purported blows to buses were reported after Mr Hargreaves told the committee his department was to spend $1.4 million fitting CCTV to the 80 per cent of the fleet without the cameras.

And perhaps to head off any concerns about the possible absence of staff at interchanges, he also said it was planned to put security cameras at the locations.

The ACT budget showed ACTION’s employee expenses are expected to drop by about 8 per cent, or $4million to $47.3million in 2006-07 from $51.5million in the previous financial year.

Over this same time period, the head count is to fall from 810 to 796 while the target for passenger boardings increases by 197,000 to 17.1 million for the year.

A spokeswoman for ACTION said it was not able to comment on the union claims as negotiations were ongoing.

Mr Hargreaves, whose transport role comes within his Territory and Municipal Services Department, said about 100 full-time equivalent posts were to be lost from the new ministry.

But this number was a very rough approximation as work on towards the final result was still being done.

Samuel

Entry Filed under: Canberra Stories,General News,Samuel's Editorials

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