Solway School pupils boarding their Tranzit bus at the end of the school day. PHOTOS/TOM TAYLOR
Tranzit’s school bus routes stop after 73 years
In a “devastating” blow, coach company Tranzit has lost its Wairarapa school bus routes to an Australian-owned operator.
From Term 1, 2022, Go Bus – owned by Australian parent company Kinetic Group – will take over school bus routes from Pahiatua to Pirinoa.
Go Bus will more than double its contracted services after being selected as the preferred supplier for 679 school routes in new regions Wairarapa, Manawatu, and Marlborough.
Tranzit Group sales and marketing director Jenna Snelgrove said the loss of the Wairarapa routes was “devastating”.
Jenna Snelgrove was part of the fourth generation of the family company started by Albert Snelgrove as Grey Bus Service in 1924.
The company had provided its first Ministry of Education [MoE] school run in 1948.
According to Tranzit, that run along Western Lake Rd was the longest school run in New Zealand at the time, at 106 miles.
Since then, the company had strengthened its hold on Wairarapa’s school bus services, winning successive contracts to deliver MoE school runs in the northern, central, and southern parts of the region.
Snelgrove said that made the loss all the more shocking.
“The outcome of the tender result came as a huge shock to our team. It was pretty devastating to lose it when we’ve invested so much into the Wairarapa community.”
Tranzit senior communications adviser Katie Farman said Tranzit’s diversification into other areas of tourism and its sub-brands such as Cross Country Rentals meant it could withstand the loss of the Wairarapa school bus routes.
“The company hasn’t put all their eggs in one basket.”
Tranzit had also won new contracts in other areas, including Napier and Hastings, which Snelgrove said would offset the loss of the Wairarapa routes.
“We’ve retained our other areas, and we’ve picked up some fabulous new areas, but we’ve lost where it’s hurt the most because this is our heart and soul in Wairarapa.”
Solway School principal Mark Bridges said he was “gutted” to learn that Tranzit had lost the contract.
“As a principal, I have found Tranzit an incredible company to work with. In all my dealings with them, they come across as an organisation that puts our tamariki and community first. This type of commitment to people is as rare as hens’ teeth in the corporate world.”
Bridges said a testament to the company’s success was its low staff turnover, with some bus drivers manning the same routes through generations of school kids.
Bus driver Ian Henderson had been driving a route that stopped at Solway School for 11 years. Before that, he had driven a school route in Eketahuna for 12 years.
“They’re great,” Henderson said of Tranzit. “It’s like a big family. We really look forward to coming to work.”
Tranzit would continue to cover the majority of Wairarapa schools until the end of the year.
“We have a good partnership with the ministry, but that’s the outcome of the tender process. It’s a really competitive market,” Snelgrove said.
Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty said the MoE tender system was independent of MPs and ministers.
“The system has been in place for many years. It takes into consideration things such as pay rates, workers’ conditions, and total cost and delivery of the service. But as the local MP, I had to stay right out of it.”
McAnulty said he was disappointed for Tranzit on a personal level.
“The Snelgrove family have served this region for generations, and I know that despite picking up more routes in other places around the country, they will be hurting to lose Wairarapa.”
However, he said he was confident the new service provider would continue to meet the region’s needs.
MoE’s contract with Go Bus would last for an initial term of six years with two three-year rights of renewal, meaning it could be 2034 before Tranzit had an opportunity to reclaim the school bus routes.
Tranzit was working through what the changes would mean for its 54 school bus drivers.
Snelgrove said some drivers might choose to retire once the company’s contract expired. The average age of Tranzit’s school bus drivers was 61 years.
However, Snelgrove said the company would support drivers who wanted to move over to their competitor.
“We will help to make this a seamless transition for the schools … my job is to support our team – that’s number one – so if they are needing to move to the new operation next year, then we will be supporting them in that journey.”