3 Sep 2020

Some Wellington bus commuters face long waits due to physical distancing rules

6:56 am on 3 September 2020

Some commuters in the capital are facing frustratingly long waits for buses this week as mass masking became mandatory.

A new double decker bus

Metlink says the numbers taking public transport in Wellington are about 70 percent of pre-Covid levels. Photo: RNZ / Emma Hatton

Buses are not able to pick everyone up because of strict physical distancing rules - but it is not clear what is causing the problems to peak this week.

Wellington commuter Jenny has watched her bus sail past again and again.

What should be a 20 minute direct trip from Newtown to Victoria University then becomes more than an hour-long journey requiring three separate buses.

She said it was frustrating.

"People have meetings and classes and things that they actually need to get to on time."

On social media and on the streets of Wellington people shared similar complaints about trying to get to school and work this week.

Alert level 2 social distancing requirements mean buses are running at about a third capacity.

But these have been in place in Wellington for more than three weeks now.

So what has suddenly sparked the delays this week?

One commuter has a theory.

"Maybe people feel more confident getting on buses now that everyone is wearing masks, because I feel like maybe people were ... worried about it before."

Others said that masks becoming mandatory this week was a visual reminder making bus drivers more vigilant about how many commuters they were allowing onboard.

Scott Gallacher from Metlink said the numbers taking public transport are about 70 percent of pre-Covid levels - which is about 10 percentage points higher than the first time the country was in alert level 2.

He said he was not sure yet why the numbers were up.

"We think it has got to do with the fact we have moved into alert level 2 from alert level 1 and people are more comfortable.

He said it could also be that fewer people were working from home this time around.

Gallacher said there is nothing to suggest there is a widespread problem of longer wait times for commuters.

They are putting on extra services where needed but it was changing each day.

"Throughout the whole response I think ultimately we need everyone's goodwill and patience and understanding.

"We are throwing as much [additional] capacity as we can on the routes under pressure."

In Auckland, the number of people taking public transport is only about 40 percent compared to this time last year - which is about 5 percent up on the first time at alert level 2.

Stacey van der Putten from Auckland Transport said capacity issues are affecting only a tiny number of bus trips.

She is heartened the city has embraced mass mask wearing - with compliance at around 95 percent.

"We haven't seen any kind of negativity with it yet.

"Of course as patronage builds and then capacity becomes further compromised people do get annoyed at having to wait for an additional service.

"We just put the message out there to be kind to our customer facing people."

Public transport operators have until the Friday to display the QR code for the government's Covid Tracer app.

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