Auckland is currently short about 500 bus drivers and the shortage is resulting in thousands of services a day being cancelled. It a major factor towards making public transport in Auckland beyond a joke right now.

In response, yesterday Auckland Transport announced that they will be temporarily removing regularly cancelled buses from timetables.

From Sunday 6 November, bus service trips that are being regularly cancelled because of the national shortage of drivers will be temporarily suspended from timetables to improve service reliability and customer confidence.

AT’s Group Manager of Metro Services, Darek Koper, says the ongoing bus driver shortfall means AT hasn’t been able to deliver the full scheduled service for some time now.

“We’re not taking anything away that’s currently running. We are just temporarily removing them in the timetable, so they won’t show up and then appear as cancelled.

“We will still be running around 12,000 bus trips a day and will be adding services back to our timetables as soon as bus operators are able to recruit more drivers.

“This year we have struggled to operate our full bus timetable because of the effects of the national driver shortage, which has led to far more cancellations across our network than we would usually see,” Mr Koper says.

“By making these changes customers will have more confidence and certainty, significantly reducing the level of cancellations after customers have already planned their trips.”

Ongoing driver shortage means there will still be cancellations on the network

Although these changes will make it easier for customers to plan their journeys, there will still be some cancellations to services across the network due to operational issues or late staff unavailability.

Darek Koper says that because of the timetable changes being made from 6 November, these remaining cancellations will be significantly fewer than those currently being experienced.

Temporarily suspending some services is not the answer to the driver shortage and will not help to grow public transport use.

“We will continue to work with the government to help address the driver shortage and we will promptly restore full timetables as more drivers come onboard,” Mr Koper says.

AT note that in East Auckland they’ve just restored a full timetable.

On one hand, that at least the timetables will stop giving false hope to people thinking of using PT but on the other:

  • That AT have resorted to this highlights just how bad the issue is and how poor the PT experience is right now but….
  • AT first announced reduced services due to the impacts from COVID at the start of March. Why has it taken eight months and it became clear months ago that this wasn’t just a temporary issue. So why has it taken this long for AT to finally change the timetables?
  • The whole point of a contracting model is the private companies are meant to be responsible for delivering what they promised. They clearly haven’t been delivering so what have AT been doing about enforcing these contracts. If these private operators can’t deliver, why have them?
  • The wording that this will improve reliability has me worried this is really just about making AT’s stats look better.

This news on service reductions comes on the heels of the government announcing funding to further increase bus driver wages, the third this year for Auckland drivers.

Before the middle of this year the average wage for bus drivers was $23.71 per hour, though rates varied by company with the lowest at $22.75 per hour.

In July AT announced that Auckland Council had provided funding for an 8% increase to bring the average wage to $25.62 per hour.

This was further increased in September with Waka Kotahi providing funding for a further 3.9% increase to bring the average to $26.62 per hour.

On Sunday the government announced the details of the $61 million allocated in the budget to improve wages and that the intention is to increase wages further to $30 per hour.

“Improving the conditions of drivers will make it easier to recruit and retain the workforce, allowing frequent and reliable bus services.

“The minimum terms and conditions were developed through discussions between operators, public transport authorities and unions on how best to improve conditions in the industry and stabilise the workforce.”

The $61 million allocated in Budget 22 will support the sector to standardise minimum base wage rates towards a target rate, as agreed by public transport authorities. The intention is work 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 a share of funding if they contribute to the wage increases, and continue to apply indexation wage rates in the future.

“This will help the industry transition to standard terms and conditions for bus drivers, which currently vary widely throughout the country,” Michael Wood said.

In recognition of different pay and conditions currently across the system, public transport authorities will also have the option of providing funding to operators, according to market share, to offer a penal rate for work after 9pm of 1.2x, or a $30 split shift allowance. This will deliver a level of equality between operators and regions.

It sounds like the $30 per hour rate won’t be effective immediately but once it is it will represent a 27% increase in average wages from what they were in the middle of the year. Hopefully that, as well as some of the other improvements to conditions mentioned will help the bus companies to start to fill those 500 vacancies in Auckland.

With changes in travel patterns since COVID, hopefully one of the other things that AT could do to help improve conditions is to reduce spread out some of the peak time services. Those extra peak services are the most expensive to run as each one requires a bus and driver at each end of the day, often resulting in unpopular split-shifts. Spreading out peak services improve conditions by allowing for more single-shift jobs, it also reduces the total number of buses needed and helps to make PT more useful off-peak for the public.

Bus numbers recorded on 31-Oct vs a day in Dec-22
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  1. I am seriously concerned the AT board has no idea the scope of the issue. I had a look through their board meeting agenda and there is *one* sentence about reliability of turning up (sitting at around 86%). The headline number the report has is ‘punctuality’, which excludes cancellations. This is the one reported on multiple times.

    1. Considering AT’s actions and in-actions over the last 5-10 years, I wonder whether they *have* a board (which does more than rubber stamp and get fees).

      In fact, it seems one of the more ridiculous aspects of the whole “CCO” thing. We pay a senior executive at AT to provide transport leadership. We pay councillors and mayors to provide transport leadership. We pay a board to provide transport leadership. That’s at least one layer too much, and the outcomes imply we don’t get our money’s worth for two layers either. I’m not a fan of Wayne Browne taking control, but I do think there’s a case to abandon the whole experiment and let *Council* take control again.

      1. The better approach would have been to keep the individual councils but give transport over to the regional council. Instead we got the worst of both worlds: pretty much no local representation and some useless CCOs.

        1. I disagree on that. I think the super city has worked well on many things, and the “local representation” issue could easily be fixed with a few more councillors to reduce the “councillor per head” issue (ideally with two-councillor wards, please).

          Also, in your proposal, can you not see that this would be just a different dysfunction? With, say, a North Shore Council screaming bloody murder about the decisions of a Regional Council on Onewa Road or Penlink (no matter which way one leans, the temptation to “play politics” and blame “those nutters at the regional council” would be too great for the local Council).

          Nah, I think transport should stay very much a combined, super city matter. What hasn’t worked (except to add cost) is the “at a remove” for transport. It gives AT far too much option to pick what they like – they like what the Council / Mayor wants of them? They jump like they do now with Wayne Browne, ignoring their own policies! They dislike what the Council / Mayor wants of them? They stall and insist on their independence, ignoring their own policies.

          Basically, the current setup allows unelected people (currently mostly dinosaurs) at the head to define Auckland’s transport decisions in an inacceptable way. I’d rather have our transport agency do what Council (not the mayor!) wants, and take the risk that occasionally the Council steers things into a direction I don’t like personally, than have our transport agency just do whatever the F they like doing, like now.

        2. We all know Rodney Hide wanted to privatise the CCOs and designed the Super City with that in mind. If ACT had their way AT and Watercatre would be privatised natural monopolies by now and they’d be merrily looting the public & the public purse at every turn.

          Since they won’t be privatised, it is time to abolish them and take them back into council control.

        3. Our ward, Albert Eden Roskill, has two councillors. Until now those councillors have represented Albert and Eden, and that is completely obvious when you look at where all the money has been spent. So the poor area gets no money because the rich areas vote more. The whole thing is so completely broken IMO.

        4. Sanctuary: A properly privatised AT would be great don’t you think? Imagine it trying to turn a profit on all that expensive road land! I think there would be some very big changes, PT would not need to be subsidised if cars had to pay their real costs.

        5. The whole supercity has been a disaster. We pay more to watercare each month than we paid for six months under the old system. Our rates went up each of the first three years at the capped increase and have gone up more than inflation every year since. We receive fewer services than we did before.

        6. “The whole supercity has been a disaster. We pay more to watercare each month than we paid for six months under the old system. Our rates went up each of the first three years at the capped increase and have gone up more than inflation every year since. We receive fewer services than we did before.”

          You pay a whole lot more for Watercare? What about the fact that there’s lots of evidence that Councils prior to the supercity were constantly deferring necessary investment for growth, quality improvement – or even basic maintenance? Maybe what you pay now is actually the real cost of water / stormwater / sewage? Especially in a sprawl city.

        7. @Miffy The first year my rates went down, so much so that they were capped on the downside. I think they went down the second year as well. There were always going to be winners and losers in the process of sorting out a range of the issues with amalgamation.

        8. That is bollocks Harold. NSCC paid for and built an treatment plant and outfall that had enough capacity for years. When Watercare took over they built a massive pipe to take West Auckland’s crap across to Rosedale. so we paid for Watercare to have capacity and then paid through the nose for water and sewers we had already paid to build.

        9. Nik I think it boils down to the scope of services we are happy to accept. Some Councils didn’t see any need to keep animals in cages or have a building full of paintings. Some thought their role was to employ a lot of people doing ‘policy’. Unfortunately the Super city adopted the worst of the previous Councils and spent a lot of money on things that made them feel important. An underground railway which will give benefits of 60 cents for every dollar of the old costings doesn’t help. Goodness only knows how bad it is now. they are not saying. Expect a press release just as people go on holiday.

  2. “The wording that this will improve reliability has me worried this is really just about making AT’s stats look better”
    I think this is exactly what it’s about. Would it be possible for GA to track the number of cancellations and add those numbers back in, and therefore publish the real stats?

  3. I’m glad that they have finally come to their senses and will stop giving us false hope. I prefer less buses in a more reliable timetable than heaps of buses of which half don’t show up.
    But it does amaze me that it has taken so long to realise that the problem will not go away on its own.
    What AT should also do is to temporarily suspend services like 22A, 24W, 252, 253, 27T – they’re the most expensive ones to run and require a lot of additional drivers.

    1. I agree with the first part. It is much better to know in advance if and when a bus service is available then arriving at the bus stop and waiting for hours.
      I may be naive, but I also hope that these cancelled services will be recorded and the data analysis will not just show ‘great’ in reliability.

      1. And close all the roads to cars at the same time, since you’ve clearly established there’s no travel demand at that time. Be nice and quiet, anyway.

  4. In the Herald article both Jon Reeves and Simeon Brown are crying big crocodile tears about the cancellations.

    However I don’t notice them giving up their current jobs to drive buses

      1. I’m retired and at 73 years and 8 months I’m too old to get a bus licence. Besides, I left Auckland 12 months ago

        1. Plenty of 70 something bus drivers, grab the opportunity with both hands, you still get your pension handout plus $30/hr.

        2. @ Zippo Not so because of personal circumstances. Besides I don’t feel capable of driving anything bigger than a class one

  5. So we need bigger buses to double or triple the passenger / driver ratio?

    Or maybe we need trams? Or trains?

    Once again we get stuffed because our Council et al can’t plan ahead!

    Or will the new CRL suddenly release 100s of bus drivers?

    1. My view is that the CRL will and won’t be the saviour it’s talked of as.

      It will because it provides a model for breaking the project down into chunks and getting it started. When the Key government signed on for building the cut and cover section, the project started and is now progressing to fit out, so will happen. This is what probably frustrates everyone so much about light rail that would solve some of the constraint and capacity issues around the isthmus and buses.

      It won’t because we can’t get over the hurdle of building the first components of another rapid transit project. The example I like the most is Light Rail on the Gold Coast, initially a small section that continues to be expanded and is now linking up parts of that suburban hellscape that make PT usable for a wider range of users.

      1. That’s nothing new even in Auckland, the original tramway, the trolley bus system and the motorway system were all built incrementally. I have no idea why light rail can’t be staged in sections. It’s makes sense for a whole lot of reasons, not the least politically.

        1. It doesn’t provide immediate effects I guess? Is the reason that’s given.. and it causes obstruction and disruption for longer. But like you say, that’s how everything is developed, and it seems to be a necessary cost for the development of effective PT infrastructure.

    2. Overseas there are double deck bendy buses. That adds about 30% more capacity to the bus while not increasing operating costs (fuel) much and decreasing driver (per passenger) costs. Wouldn’t work on every route of course but busway type routes and maybe Dom rd etc could benefit from it.

    1. Same driver and bus take a second full load (or third).
      Simple, really.
      Also, more off-peak passengers increases productivity, so services that provide for whatever people can do off-peak makes properly-paid drivers with decent shift patterns more sustainable.

  6. We need a timetable overhaul. Removing frequently cancelled busses from the schedule will leave some routes with no buses for an hour, maybe more. Surely a reduced but regular frequency e.g. 20 or 30 minutes, would be better but I guess that would take a lot of time and effort for AT.

    The trains aren’t great at the moment either. An announcement on an Eastern Line train yesterday said there may be delays due to speed restrictions. Why are we still having speed restrictions and if the speed restrictions are in place until the big work program, why hasn’t AT changed the timetable?

  7. So they are removing services so passengers won’t experience cancellations but say there will still be cancellations….

    They are reaching new peaks. Congrats

    If they are already removing it they should remove it properly so they won’t have to cancel (meaning if someones sick there is a cover available for example). But they just love to half ass everything.

    So now less service and still with cancellations…

  8. I noticed the local KFC was closed today due to staff shortages when I walked past. There really is no quick fix, even pay rises might not do it as most other businesses will just have to match them. Inflationary spiral is a definite possibility.

    1. The only guaranteed fix is to use investment / technology to decrease labour requirements. Rail would take too long, but the likes of bigger buses may be possible, or some kind of trackless tram would be ideal. I’m sure the job would be much more appealing if you got your own cabin and just had to pull a lever.

      1. Bus lanes are the obvious quick fix to get more trips out of every driver, but AT has just put New North Road bus lanes on hold ‘because of the election results’. AT need to focus on improving conditions too. Remove the need for split shifts, protect drivers from passengers, get private vehicles out of tge way, etc.

        1. Agree, all good in the short term. But in the medium term, its hard to see how we can employ so many people to drive people around, especially with many of those buses near empty. Technology moves way too slow in the transport sector, why can’t a bus be very long and steer itself these days, it seems almost trivial to me.

        2. We are going to live through the time when people in Los Angeles will look at Auckland and think OMG how is that city still so car-centred.

          About that job appeal, it reminds me of that story from Katowice, Poland where some random guy stole a tram, and started picking up unsuspecting passengers along the tram line.

      2. Bigger buses doesn’t decrease labour requirements, only running fewer buses does.
        A bigger bus might help with the effects of infrequent running but it certainly doesn’t help meet a decent timetable.

      3. We should definitely be looking to automate the busiest routes, but there ae no fully driverless vehicles operating on public roads. Auto.ation would be light rail or metro on the busiest routes

    2. You sure it wasn’t a chicken shortage? Anyway, a closed KFC is positive, long may these supposed “staff shortages” persist.

  9. Auckland’s new mayor is calling on transport agencies and the Government to move to an “emergency footing” to maintain public transport services, which comes after Auckland Transport yesterday announced almost 1000 scheduled bus services would be cut.
    “Get around the table, pull their business continuity and emergency plans off the shelf, and work together urgently to find a solution to the immediate bus crisis and the risk of two years of train disruptions.
    “Aucklanders should not and will not accept two years of rail disruptions and ongoing cuts to bus services, and our transport agencies must do much better.”
    While Brown acknowledged he had been “one of AT’s biggest critics”, he primarily blamed the Government’s immigration settings for not allowing bus drivers to be recruited from overseas, and KiwiRail for what he claimed was “badly planned” maintenance projects.

  10. And this talk of getting people to drive buses here is not a quick fix as it can take up to 2 years min. to even drive a bus ;-

    “What licence do I need to drive a bus NZ ?

    To become a bus driver you need to have held a clean Class 1 driver’s licence (a car licence) for two years. Depending on the size of bus you want to drive, you also need a Class 2 or Class 4 driver’s licence. You must also have a valid passenger (P) endorsement on your licence, which shows you can carry passengers.”

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