What IS that Bill about? Well it is quite simple. The Auckland Regional Council has long been upset that so many of Auckland's bus services were commercially provided by the private sector. In others words, people paid fares, companies ran buses and they were all happy - except the ARC of course, which has long wanted to regulate fares, frequencies and plan Auckland public transport endlessly (and shut down commercial bus services competing with its own highly loss making rail services).
The ARC has long missed owning and operating Auckland's buses, ignoring that it did such an abysmal job at it. When the ARC and its ARA predecessor ran most of the buses in Auckland, patronage had its longest continuous decline in patronage from the late 1960s through to the late 1990s. At the same time, the bus fleet progressively aged, services were planned endlessly and Aucklanders continued to drive, and subsidies increased. After forced privatisation (which by the way helped create the assets of what is now Auckland Regional Holdings (formerly Infrastructure Auckland)), Stagecoach Auckland invested heavily in new buses and commercial services thrived, and patronage grew.
However it wasn't trains.
You see the bus companies would sometimes drop routes and frequencies of services operating commercially, upsetting the ARC which believed it needed to subsidise services to plug such gaps. This happened more frequently after millions of dollars were poured into rail services, as subsidised trains undermined unsubsidised bus services.
The ARC is not forced to subsidise any bus services. When it chooses to do so it is required to competitively tender them, so like any business seeking a contractor, it faces choices. It can also set terms and conditions for those tendering. Rudman's claim that "As the law stands, despite these huge subsidies, ARTA cannot inspect operators' books to check whether they are gouging the system" is only true if you think ARTA's contracting processes are robust and it seeks the best value for money.
ARTA could deny increases in subsidies, but it wants to deny increases in fares and to increase services beyond those commercially sustainable. Reality is that fuel prices put up the price of providing services, subsidising rail services undermines the fare revenue of certain bus services, so subsidies rise if fares don't rise.
This bill aims to dodge reality. It means that commercially provided services can now be more heavily regulated - services that get no subsidies may be forced to integrate with a ticketing system specified by ARTA, and which may not deliver any benefits to the companies, because it wont attract enough passengers to pay for the cost of the system. It means that regional councils can contract over commercial services, so that instead of a mix of subsidised and unsubsidised services by different companies, you get subsidised services by a single one.
Rodney Hide has made a mistake. He has voted for local government control over private enterprise and central planning of public transport over entrepreneurship, and incentives to minimise subsidies. National voted against it, it would be nice if it promised to repeal this legislation which would only increase what ratepayers pay to subsidise public transport.