22 Mar 2023

Auckland Transport blames bad weather for derailing bus services

From Checkpoint, 5:14 pm on 22 March 2023

Auckland Transport is admitting bus services across the city are not up to scratch, after gridlock on Tuesday caused massive delays for commuters heading home.

Some waited for more than an hour for their bus to turn up.

For many, that was something they were having to get used to, as well as full buses sailing past stops and services never arriving.

Auckland Transport group manager of metro services Darek Koper acknowledged the situation needed to improve.

"It's not good enough for us. We aspire to deliver a service and at the moment we just have a challenge to work through. The bus driver shortage is the main reason for cancellations."

RNZ visited stops along the Northern Busway during morning rush hour and almost everyone we spoke to had experience of being stranded by a cancelled service.

"Usually, I try to find a friend or someone to help me, or I'll just find an alternative bus route by taking multiple buses. It's not too big of a deal. It's just a little bit annoying," one user said.

Another commuter said: "At the moment it's just been cancelled a lot, which is kind of annoying... Unfortunately, that means I'm late for work sometimes, which is a bit hard to tell the boss, how I'm late for work because of the bus. Sometimes it's not the best excuse." 

On Tuesday evening passengers crowded city bus stops desperately waiting for services that were running late.

Koper said the weather was to blame. 

"Yesterday's delays were caused by a bit of a weather event, with rain late in the afternoon, which appeared to have slowed down the traffic in general in the city centre and outer rings.

"That impacted our bus services. Some of them were delayed by up to 45 minutes to one hour. That happened about 4.30pm to 6.30pm. Most services returned to within 10 minutes of their scheduled time by about 7.30."

The large number of cancellations every other week day was not in the hands of the gods - rather a lack of hands behind the wheel.

"On a typical week, on a typical day, on average, we have about 9 percent of our services cancelled. That could be anywhere around 1000 a day. To put this in context we operate about 13,200 bus trips alone each week day. That is quite a lot of services that still operate," Koper said.

"The cancellations are mainly due to a driver shortage."

Koper said new drivers from overseas were expected to ease the burden from June, while work on terms and conditions, such as reducing split shifts, could make the job more attractive.

As new drivers hopped aboard, suspended services would return.

"People will notice a gradual resumption of the suspended services. If you remember we reported about 1000 trips being suspended in November last year. We're now down to about 500 and, progressively, they're being reinstated."

Improving wages, safety key to finding more drivers - union 

Auckland Transport's target is to have 98 percent of buses running.

To do that it needed drivers, but First Union general secretary Dennis Maga said work to attract people had to ramp up.

"For a couple of years now we've been saying to Auckland Transport, local government, central government as well, that we have a bus driver shortage in the country for two reasons. One is pay and the second one is security."

Pay rates have gone from $25 an hour to $30, but compensation for the hours between shifts still needed sorting, Maga said.

"[If] there's no proper strategy in the industry to make this a good job and attractive then it's going to be an ongoing problem. It will be a cyclical shortage problem.

"We are relying on overseas drivers. I don't think that's a solution. From what I've heard from our members they've been receiving some aggression from customers - being spat on, verbal abuse and racism as well."