Public transport crisis in Auckland: nearly 270,000 regular bus journeys have been canceled this year

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Auckland is facing a shortage of around 500 bus drivers. Photo / Jason Oxenham

New statistics have revealed the scale of Auckland’s public transport crisis, showing nearly 270,000 scheduled bus journeys have already been canceled in 2022 – a significant increase on previous years.

Cancellations represent 8.6% of total scheduled bus services, or just over 3 million, in the first nine months of the year.

But this is a sharp increase from previous years, which saw 1.3% of trips canceled in 2019, 0.7% in 2020 and 0.6% in 2021, all over a period of 12 month.

National Party transport spokesman Simeon Brown said Aucklanders would be “shocked” to hear that more than 269,000 bus services have been canceled this year.

“This is a significant increase on previous years and shows how totally unreliable public transport has become in Auckland this year.

“Every canceled bus service can mean someone is late for work or misses an appointment, which is stressful for them and undermines their confidence in public transport. It tells people that to get there on time, they have to drive a car,” Brown said.

A spokesperson for Auckland Transport (AT) told the Herald it’s “working closely with Waka Kotahi [NZTA] and the government on further wage increases for our drivers to address the shortage.”

They promised to “quickly restore full schedules” as more drivers board. There is a current shortage in the Super City of 500 bus drivers.

“We are very grateful to all the drivers – who are the backbone of our city,” the spokesperson said.

Transport Minister Michael Wood told the Herald in a statement, it was “clear that there are currently difficulties in recruiting bus drivers in many of our cities in New Zealand, which is impacting service delivery”.

He said the government recognizes that improving the conditions of drivers will facilitate the recruitment and retention of the workforce, enabling frequent and reliable bus services.

“The government came to the table by providing an additional $61 million to increase the pay and conditions of bus drivers,” he said.

“Poor wages and conditions have been one of the reasons for the shortage of bus drivers, and the industry as a whole has welcomed our recent announcement as an important part of stabilizing the workforce. We We also announced a major overhaul of the public transport operating model, which exacerbated many of these issues.”

The government is spending $61 million to raise the salaries of bus drivers, which it says will help address labor shortages nationwide.

Last month, Wood said the money – allocated in this year’s budget – would be spent over four years to raise base pay rates to $30 an hour for city services and $28 per hour for regional services.

Michael Wood, Minister of Transport.  Photo / Georgina Campbell
Michael Wood, Minister of Transport. Photo / Georgina Campbell

In a recent statement, AT also announced that 1,000 bus services in the Super City will be suspended in response to a shortage of bus drivers. AT said it would “give customers more confidence and certainty when planning their trips.”

However, some 12,000 bus services across Auckland will continue each day, which AT says represents more than 85% of the network. The routes most affected by the cut in services included the City Link, the Inner Link and the Northern Express, with between 26 and 53 scheduled buses cut for each route each day.

Buses make up 74% of public transport journeys in Auckland and they are promised to fill the gap when trains come to a standstill for years during a major rail upgrade.

Darek Koper, AT Group Head of Metro Services, said: “This year we have struggled to operate our full bus schedules due to the effects of the global driver shortage, which has resulted in much more cancellations on our network than we would usually see.”

Despite these changes, last-minute network cancellations should still occur, but at a lower rate.

“With the revised schedule in place, we expect to achieve approximately 95% reliability for our services, with daily cancellations expected to drop from 2,000 to between 500 and 800,” Koper said.

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown said it was time to move to an “emergency basis” to maintain public transport services for the city.

Commuters face three years of disruptive closures from Christmas on the Southern, Eastern and Onehunga rail lines. KiwiRail is undertaking a $330 million rail network rebuild on all three lines to pave the way for more commuter trains when the City Rail Link opens, starting in 2025.

Sections of the West line will also be closed in 2024 and 2025.

Public transport problems also threaten to affect next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, which is expected to attract tens of thousands of visitors and showcase Auckland to a global audience.

National Party transport spokesman, Simeon Brown.  Photo/Brett Phibbs
National Party transport spokesman, Simeon Brown. Photo/Brett Phibbs

Streetcar Union president Gary Froggatt told the Herald that in addition to wages, working hours are a major contributing factor to the shortage of bus drivers in New Zealand.

Under the Transport Act, companies can register drivers to work 13 hours plus two half-hour meal breaks, making a 14-hour day regardless of their commuting time to and from work .

“We pushed the government to change the Transport Act to a maximum 12-hour day, which we think is more than reasonable, giving an employer half your day,” Froggatt said.

Froggatt also said there needs to be more compensation for drivers who work an “interrupted shift”, which sees them working from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and then from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., covering peak hours.

“The four-hour gap between shifts is unpaid and frankly quite archaic now,” Froggatt said.

Despite three pay rises this year, taking the hourly rate from around $23 to $25 to $30, there is a national shortage of 800 bus drivers, including 500 in Auckland.

Froggatt also explained that since Christmas last year there have been 40 to 50 assaults on AT drivers, causing drivers to reassess their careers in public transport.

Brown, MP for Pakuranga, claimed Labor ‘talks a lot about public transport’, the government’s record is ‘a system that doesn’t have enough drivers, hundreds of thousands of services canceled and tens of millions wasted in working groups for cycling”. bridge and light rail that came to nothing.

“Workers must heed calls from Auckland Council and Auckland Transport for immigration policy to allow more bus drivers into New Zealand so this public transport crisis can be addressed.

“The government needs to focus on making public transport reliable, so people can use it before it goes on to propose spending up to $29.2 billion on a light rail vanity project that hardly anyone knows about. Auckland don’t want,” he said.

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