All aboard! Shortage of Christchurch tram drivers

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This is no ordinary job description: you have to enjoy having your picture taken, chatting with strangers, and learning about the city’s history.

Christchurch Attractions is calling on those who think they fit the description to come aboard and become its new tram operators.

While the tram is company-owned, the trams have been leased to the Tramway Historical Society and have run through the central streets of Christchurch since 1995.

Five new conductors are needed to replace those lost due to natural attrition, according to Christchurch Tramway chief executive Sue Sullivan.

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Currently, 23 drivers work various shifts on the city’s historic streetcars, but each year Sullivan remains on the lookout for new talent with a “unique skill set.”

The job offered flexible working hours and had suited many retirees, she said.

Tom Vavasour has been roaming the central business district for five years.

Never a tram enthusiast, Vavasour grew up with machines on his parents’ farm, before becoming a dairyman himself.

Christchurch tram driver Tom Vavasour has been driving trams for over five years and loves his job.  Now the company running the attraction is looking for more drivers.

Peter Meecham / Stuff

Christchurch tram driver Tom Vavasour has been driving trams for over five years and loves his job. Now the company running the attraction is looking for more drivers.

But after the earthquake devastated his home in Beckenham and his former job as an events manager, Vavasour successfully applied to become a tram driver.

In his late 50s, he has no intention of quitting when he reaches retirement age, as he enjoys meeting the myriad of tourists who frequent his shifts.

“It’s better than working for a living.”

For him, watching from inside his tram as the city rebuilds day after day has been the most rewarding part of his job.

“Every day I see changes.”

He is proud of Christchurch and enjoys showing it off to visitors and his grandchildren, who were initially afraid of eclectic transport.

Now they love it, as do the many preschoolers he often takes with him.

Since going public with the need for more drivers, Sullivan had already asked many people to contact her to express their interest.

Although contestants don’t have to exhibit an encyclopedic knowledge of the city, they should deal with regular shooting, she said.

Drivers also had to be culturally aware, physically able to get on and off the tram, and able to use an eftpos machine once trained.

Although Covid-19 has wiped out the international tourist market, Sullivan said the trams have been “fantastically” supported by locals.

“It’s been amazing.”

The iconic attraction had already seen the first trickle of international tourists, with grandparents visiting from Australia, she said.

“We also had several people from the United States.”

Vavasour is one of 23 tram drivers currently working in the city.

Peter Meecham / Stuff

Vavasour is one of 23 tram drivers currently working in the city.

As the borders reopen, next summer is expected to be busy and avid boaters will likely also be needed to punt on the River Avon, Sullivan said.

Coupled with an increase in tourist numbers, the tram track was lengthened and later this year it would run a further 500m along Lichfield St, down Poplar St and up High St – eliminating the need to backtrack.

The long-awaited $3.6 million extension had been well received as the route ended abruptly at the intersection of High and Manchester streets from the earthquakes.

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