Auckland is currently short of around 500 bus drivers and the shortage is causing thousands of services to be canceled a day. This is a major factor in making public transport in Auckland beyond a joke right now.
In response, yesterday Auckland Transport announced it would temporarily remove regularly canceled buses from timetables.
From Sunday, November 6, bus service routes that are regularly canceled due to the national driver shortage will be temporarily suspended from schedules to improve service reliability and customer confidence.
AT Group Director of Metro Services Darek Koper said the continued shortage of bus drivers means AT has not been able to provide the full regular service for some time now.
“We are not taking anything away from what is currently underway. We are temporarily removing them from the calendar, so they will not appear and then appear as canceled.
“We will continue to operate around 12,000 bus journeys per day and will add services to our schedules as bus operators are able to recruit more drivers.
“This year we have struggled to operate our full bus schedule due to the effects of the nationwide driver shortage, which has resulted in far more cancellations across our network than we would typically see,” said Mr. .Koper.
“By making these changes, customers will have more confidence and certainty, which will significantly reduce the level of cancellations after customers have already planned their trips.”
The continued shortage of drivers means there will always be cancellations across the network
While these changes will make it easier for customers to plan their trips, there will still be service cancellations across the network due to operational issues or late staff unavailability.
Darek Koper says that due to schedule changes starting Nov. 6, those remaining cancellations will be significantly fewer than those currently underway.
The temporary suspension of certain services is not the answer to the shortage of drivers and will not help to increase the use of public transport.
“We will continue to work with the government to help address the driver shortage and will quickly restore full schedules as more drivers board,” Koper said.
Note that in East Auckland, they have just restored a full schedule.
On the one hand, that at least the timetables will stop giving false hope to people who are considering using the TP but on the other hand:
- The fact that AT resorted to this highlights just how serious the problem is and how poor the PT experience is right now, but….
- AT first announced reduced services due to COVID impacts in early March. Why did this take eight months and it became clear months ago that this was not just a temporary problem. So why did it take so long for AT to finally change the schedules?
- The appeal of a contractual model is that private companies are expected to be responsible for delivering what they have promised. They obviously fell short, so what did AT do to enforce those contracts. If these private operators cannot deliver, why have them?
- The wording that it will improve reliability made me worry that it’s just to improve AT stats.
This news about service cuts follows the government’s announcement of funding to further raise bus driver salaries, the third this year for Auckland drivers.
Before the middle of this year, the average salary for bus drivers was $23.71 an hour, although rates varied by company, with the lowest being $22.75 an hour.
In July, AT announced that Auckland Council had funded an 8% raise to bring the average wage to $25.62 an hour.
This amount was further increased in September, with Waka Kotahi funding a further 3.9% increase to bring the average to $26.62 per hour.
On Sunday, the government announced details of the $61 million allocated in the budget to improve wages and that the intention is to raise wages further to $30 an hour.
“Improving driver conditions will facilitate workforce recruitment and retention, enabling frequent and reliable bus services.
“The minimum conditions have been developed through discussions between operators, public transport authorities and trade unions on how best to improve conditions in the industry and stabilize the workforce.”
The $61 million allocated in Budget 22 will help the sector normalize minimum base wage rates towards a target rate, as agreed by public transport authorities. The intention is to move towards base rates of $30 per hour for urban services and $28 per hour for regional services. Public transport authorities and operators will be able to access part of the funding if they contribute to salary increases and will continue to apply indexed salary rates in the future.
“This will help the industry move to standard terms and conditions for bus drivers, which currently vary widely across the country,” said Michael Wood.
In recognition of the different wages and conditions currently in the system, public transport authorities will also have the option of providing funding to operators, based on market share, to offer a penalty rate for working after 9 p.m. from 1, 2x, or $30 split shift allowance. . This will ensure a level of equality between operators and regions.
It looks like the $30 hourly rate won’t be in effect immediately, but once it does, it will represent a 27% increase in the average wage from what it was at mid-year. Hopefully this, along with some of the other condition improvements mentioned, will help bus companies start filling those 500 vacancies in Auckland.
With the changes in travel patterns since COVID, hopefully one of the other things AT could do to help improve conditions is reduce the dispersion of some of the peak hour services. These additional peak services are the most expensive to operate as each requires a bus and driver at the end of each day, often resulting in unpopular split shifts. Staggering peak services improves conditions by allowing more single-shift jobs, also reduces the total number of buses needed, and helps make CTs more useful at off-peak hours for the public.