Some good news from Auckland Transport yesterday that the bus driver shortage is officially over.
At the peak of the driver shortage just eight months ago, Auckland was 578 drivers short.
Auckland now has three more bus drivers than the required 2,306 to operate Auckland’s buses.
Richard Harrison, AT’s Metro Optimisation Manager says that for passengers, this means more buses and more reliability across Auckland’s bus network.
“We are extremely grateful for the patience of Aucklanders while we have worked hard to get our buses back to where they should be.
“We’re delighted that the bus driver shortfall is cleared – we now have more active drivers in the workforce than the full requirement, and there are more in training to build resilience.
“The operators have done an excellent job of attracting and retaining drivers over the last ten months, and it’s great to see passengers return as services become more dependable.”
Despite the challenges, Mr Harrison says Auckland’s public transport has bounced back strongly since COVID, with patronage at around 83% of 2019 levels.
“Our patronage recovery is on par or ahead of many places (the US is notably lower) and we are still working on ways to make public transport even more attractive to Aucklanders.”
- Cancelled bus trips have been consistently below 3% over the past month.
- In July, all previously suspended buses were added back into timetables
- Bus driver shortfall is now resolved, with three more drivers in the workforce than the full requirement.
- Ferry skipper and deckhand shortfall remains at 25, with training and upskilling of the workforce due to start soon.
- Last week patronage was 1.72 million boardings, another week at the highest level since March. This is 83% of the comparative week in 2019.
This is great news, reliability is critical for giving people the confidence to use PT and the bus driver shortage resulted in thousands of services a day being cancelled at its peak, resulting in a significant impacts on bus users.
With buses now sorted, average weekday usage is up around 30% on last year and back to around 80% of pre-COVID levels,
Interestingly, weekend usage is now actually tracking slightly above what it was pre-COVID highlighting that weekday numbers are impacted by changes in working/commuting patterns. Many of these are of course in the city centre where AT focused much of it’s public transport attention pre-pandemic.
Looking at usage by mode, we can continue to see the impact of the rail network rebuild and significant ongoing reliability issues continue to be a major drag on usage. At a rough estimate, if rail use had recovered to the same level as buses, we’d be seeing an extra 20,000 PT trips per weekday, which would add around 6-7% extra total trips, putting us much closer to pre-pandemic levels.
It’s also interesting to see that the removal of half-priced fares doesn’t seem to have had any real impact on usage.
However, I’m not sure I fully agree with AT’s statement that “recovery is on par or ahead of many places”. Yes, we’re ahead of American cities but they’re typically not the best examples to compare ourselves to in the first place. I track a number of cities and while we’re tracking similar to Sydney, cities like Vancouver and London are in the high 80’s – where we’d be if our rail system wasn’t letting us down – others like Wellington and Perth are in the low-90s and cities in Spain are now ahead of pre-pandemic levels.
On the issue of disruption, in a report to the council’s Transport & Infrastructure Committee today, AT note:
- KiwiRail Rail Network Rebuild funding requirement increased to complete works following scope adjustment; initial advice is there is insufficient funding
- Risk to ferry services provision with training requirements.
Does this suggest were going to see the rail network rebuild drag on even longer?
And for ferries, this slide seems to suggest we’re about to see some service cancellations.
They also highlight reliability of each mode
Finally, it turns out AT have two different PT Satisfaction surveys and they give wildly different results.
AT explain that the first one uses a methodology prescribed by Waka Kotahi and is based on a paper survey taken quarterly by Gravitas onboard PT services that are running on time and anything 6+ out of 10 is classed as being satisfied. Meanwhile, AT’s online survey is smaller in scope but is more frequent, being taken weekly and done online. They say it reports 8+ out of 10 as being satisfied.
However, even if compared the same way, it seems the AT survey gives lower results.
The Waka Kotahi prescribed one seems out of touch to me.