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.