Legislation allowing bus companies to pay higher wages and recruit migrants has passed its third reading in Parliament under urgency.
The Land Transport Management (Regulation of Public Transport) Amendment Bill would replace the Public Transport Operating Model (PTOM) brought in by the National government in 2011.
The PTOM had aimed to increase competition and curb costs by requiring councils to contract out public transport to a separate company.
However, a 2020 review by KPMG and Mott MacDonald found it had failed to achieve its aims, with commerciality even falling by up to 12 percent in major centres like Auckland, Wellington and Otago. Driver unions had long complained it also kept wages and conditions for drivers down.
The new law would allow councils to directly own and run public transport services themselves.
It also allows recruitment of migrant drivers.
Transport Minister David Parker said the new Sustainable Public Transport Framework would provide for "long-term sustainability of public transport by ensuring fair and equitable treatment of workers throughout the system, through planning and service provision".
"Collaboration will be encouraged between councils to plan inter-regional services and better-connect public transport infrastructure and services," he said.
"A fairer and more sustainable public transport system will help improve pay and conditions for the workforce and make more liveable cities. These changes will create a more reliable system for the future."
National and ACT opposed the change.
National's Transport spokesperson Simeon Brown said it would only increase costs, would not increase efficiency and reliability, and would see services degrade.
"This government thinks everything should be operated by the government and not be outsourced to the private sector, and they don't even believe in competition," he said.
"How's it going to enhance competition when the bill removes the requirement to have regard to the desirability of encouraging a competitive and efficient market for public transport services? How can the bill even support competition when it takes away the requirement for competition to even be considered?"
The bill passed 75 votes to 41 on Wednesday night.