It’s been a tough year for public transport users who have had to suffer through thousands of service cancellations, delays and rail network closures.

There is now some home that there may be a little bit of light at the tunnel, it won’t be a train as there’s still a heap of work to do on rebuilding the rail network, but it may well be a bus.

After endless cancellations every day, bus bosses say an end to public transport woes may be in sight.

An “intense recruitment campaign” will deliver 559 new bus drivers across Aotearoa in the coming weeks – with more than 300 to be stationed in Auckland.

Kinetic Group, owner of NZ Bus and Go Bus Transport, said the mass recruitment will “solve the nationwide post-Covid driver shortage”.

“We are now in discussions with all the regional councils we serve on dates for the return of full timetables,” said Head of Kinetic in New Zealand Calum Haslop.


Haslop said the two companies had spent the last six months conducting a campaign that’s targeted at both overseas and local drivers.

“Through the enormous efforts of our Auckland recruitment teams, we have recruited enough drivers to enable a return to full services over the coming weeks.

“We’ve made a large investment to bring in drivers quickly from the Philippines, India and Fiji to supplement our local recruitment endeavours,” Haslop said.

Auckland Transport’s Richard Harrison said the deficit of drivers had halved from its peak of 570 drivers to 295 today. He isn’t expecting to be back at full capacity until September.

“In order to achieve this we need to reinstate suspended services as well as significantly reducing the volume of unplanned cancellations,” Harrison said.

Haslop said that since November, Kinetic had recruited 327 drivers for Auckland, 82 for Wellington, 57 for Tauranga, 31 for Hamilton, 50 for Christchurch and 12 for Dunedin.

The company will ensure all drivers coming from overseas have their accommodation, banking, tax and transport needs met until they have a chance to make their own arrangements, he said.

“Training, of course, is super important, and getting all the licences and permits sorted can take some time.

“Fortunately, all the authorities we work with, such as Waka Kotahi and VTNZ, are mindful of the need to get bus drivers on the road and have been very helpful.”

This is fantastic news and combined with the government’s budget announcement of $140 million to restore public transport services that had been cut in the wake of the pandemic, it could mean we see bus services largely back to normal soon. Though there are probably still some shortages with other operators

And we’re going to need it too. This year average weekday bus ridership has largely been at or over 80% of the same time pre-COVID, which is somewhat impressive given how appalling the service has been.

Now if we could just get AT rolling out more bus lanes and other improvements, we might just get back to 100% sooner than we thought.

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  1. I visited Auckland and stayed out at Manurewa in the weekend. With the rail/bus replacements in the weekend it took me just under two hours to get to Britomart. Then one day I added a trip to Pt Chev to visit friends. Waited half an hour for an Outer Link bus then two turned up. I was looking forward to heading off on the Nothern Explorer on monday. But that got cancelled due to flooding in the south. The usual cheap Tranzit bus replacement, no onboard toilet (despite the KiwiRail call centre saying there would be), no wifi and afternoon tea stop outside a BP station being told we could only buy cold drinks. Trying to use low emission PT in New Zealand is a real challenge.

  2. So train’s running at half the peak? Amazing it’s even managing that, tbh.

    Three classes of Western Springs College students travelled to Manukau for a school trip by bus and train yesterday. This practice has been slowly building at the school, with students attending competitions and multi-school get-togethers, as well as going to class field trips by PT. Well done.

  3. Ritchies have 54 new drivers coming on board from the Philippines. I’ve seen them learning routes on the 861. Doubt it’ll be enough to solve all the North Shore cancellations – let alone getting back to original schedule.

    But at least it’s a start.

  4. Why drivers has been reduced by half? What’s the reason behind? Wish they were not die due to COVID. Without knowing the reason and find out the solution, the problem of cancellation will happen again and again. Besides, the so called plans to find drivers is still a DREAM in the sky! Until drivers refilled, can’t believe what you say, sorry!

    1. What? We do know why the bus drivers left, of course we do.

      What do you mean the plans to find drivers is still a dream in the sky? We have already begun recruiting people from overseas and that’s what this entire article is about…

    2. The reason is we blocked immigration entirely for two years during the pandemic, and had a deficit of 100,000 workers as a result. Many bus drivers came from that migration pipeline.

      And because there was such low unemployment many existing drivers moved on to other jobs, while people continued to retire and stop working as usual.

  5. Bus drivers are the best people we have at the moment, obviously trains are a bit easier to drive, so all public transport workers are amazing people, but bus drivers have the most difficult job. They face lots of traffic, bad drivers, bikes etc, plus strange ways to move (around Onehunga Station in particular), not to mention the odd difficult person, particularly at night. They deserve more money, less hours, and AT could easily help by making all the private companies be nice to the most important people in the city at the moment. Hope is eternal!

    1. If trains are so much easier to drive, why is it taking 2 years to get train drivers certified for carrying passengers.

      I think the safety regime for trains is much more robust than what is required for driving on the road.

      1. Driving buses on the road without those 2 years of training and without a robust safety regime must make the job even more stressful.

      2. Restrictive regulations are not a good argument. Highly unionised sectors advocate for those kinds of regulations under the guise of safety, but primarily to restrict the supply of workers.

        There’s countless examples. But in the US post 2008 the new pilot training hours were raised from 250 to 1500. There was no evidence that this would increase safety, safety was far more correlated with other factors. It was largely a response to the pilot oversupply at the time which meant wages were low. It was pushed by pilots unions to protect their members. Fast forward to today, there’s a brutal pilot shortage stifling travel, and new pilots are forced to do gruelling hours, either paying piles of money, or working long hours on underpaid jobs like banner flying. This pressure is blamed for higher death / mistake rates in pilots working these jobs, and much higher financial barrier to entry.

    2. They face bikes? I think *people on bikes* get faced by very large and heavy buses (both those driven by very courteous drivers and those driven by absolute madpeople who should not be behind *any* motorised vehicle’s steering wheel).

      And after all, for over a decade, Auckland Council counted bus lanes as bike ways, so lets not put bikes on par with angry dogs for posties. They are just people trying to get places in this mess of a transport network we have created to serve the car and screw everyone else.

    3. Matthew, a quote for you from people who actually know about such things (in this case, the UK’s equivalent of NZ’s TAIC), with no rather subjective “obviously” element:

      Train driving, and maintaining full concentration on that task, is demanding.

    4. That are both difficult jobs, but for very different reasons. Bus drivers face the stresses related to driving in heavy traffic, poor driving behaviour by other road users and the small percentage of anti-social / argumentative customers. Train drivers are required to know each line of route they drive on intimately, to know their train (length, weight, braking performance etc) and to be able to stop a train precisely, day or night, no matter what the weather (and hence the rail head) conditions are. Neither job is easy but they are very different in nature and both have their challenges.

  6. The pool of new drivers are recruited from overseas. We have seen desperate requests for filippino / indian / fijian drivers come from most manning companies related to transport (serving the likes of NZ Bus etc).

    I am not impressed by this strategy, few of these new arrivals have been adequately prepared. Very few come with any form of capital (and Auckland is a pretty damn capital intensive city) and the companies have no set up ready for them, instead they are left to fend for themselves on arrival, leading to some pretty rough living. I am not ready to call it human exploitation yet, but I do think that New Zealand companies needs to act better when the source candidates overseas. Provide accommodation for the first month or three and have a program ready to support new arrivals. nothing that breaks the bank but…
    There will be money available, the recruitment companies see extreme margins on this kind of recruitment, so there is no shortage of funds…

    1. Each driver recruited from overseas as a quick fix to our problem has an “after cost ” ranging from quarter of a million dollars to a half million dollars.
      A fifty five year old bus driver from overseas who works for ten years qualifies for the full NZ pension of about $25,000. If he lives to 75 that adds up to a quarter of a million dollars. If he lives to 85 that amounts to half a million dollars. So a minimal wage quick fix has a huge after cost in the near future.

      In the 1990s bus drivers got 60% more than the minimum wage. How about we adopt the cheaper option of paying bus drivers a competitive wage. Surely out of 5 million kiwis you could five hundred Kiwis who would love to work as bus drivers if the got paid 60% above the minimum wage.

      1. Just think though, that same person spends more of that money they are paid or given in our economy supporting businesses and other workers. The big money go round.

      2. You can’t say they are essential to our economy/society and then act as if they are a load to our economy/society. Well you can, but it stinks.

        Also, I doubt that “drive buses in NZ” = “get residency and superannuition in NZ”. Sure, if it did it would be a nice recruitment carrot – but anyone actually know the conditions they get hired on? I presume it’s simply a work visa?

      3. The thing is New Zealand has a universal superannuation paid from regular taxes, not pension schemes paid into by workers who later cash out.

        Basically how long they have or haven’t been here is irrelevant, all that matters is the ratio of workers paying tax to retirees receiving it each year. We have the lowest unemployment in decades, and need workers now.

        Having ten years of workers paying taxes and supporting the economy of other taxpayers is much more important.

  7. Various comments:
    1. The article is all about pay, but I saw on tv last night that the trialled safety screens for drivers is also close to being rolled-out and that’s great news, too.
    2. In an average world (not even perfect) senior management of any kind of PT company should experience the mode they manage. Ditto, those at AT who manage the managers. Unfortunately, we tend to have very ‘hands-off’ leadership and I think if it was made part of a role to catch PT maybe once a week as a peak-time commuter, it would help get the right services established and delivered.
    3. To repeat an earlier comment, after being stuck in the great traffic jam out of the city during the recent storm, it made me realise that rail should be the last service to go down, not the first. Rail can get people out of the cbd faster than other modes. Is that comment connected to this article? You only had to see the bus driver’s faces and put yourself in their shoes in an emergency dash to the burbs to know it would help ease what they have to go through.

    1. Related, one of our councillors was talking last week about AT needing to integrate their planning with overland flow paths. Quite true. They probably already are. But then he gave an example that a bus way could be an overland flow path… sigh.

  8. All of the information I’ve gleaned from it basically has been quite useful, and I’d for the most part want to generally commend you on really your abilities, actually contrary to popular belief.

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