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Driver shortages continue to sting Wellington bus services

​Efforts to bring back buses and ease public transport pressures on Wellington’s system are being paralysed by a driver shortage.

Monique Ford/Stuff

​It’s been three weeks since Greater Wellington Regional Council chairman Daran Ponter promised to fix Wellington’s public transport system but the number of bus services cancelled every day has been stagnant since August.

The city was 35 drivers short, Ponter said, and while that number had dropped from about 70 earlier this year there weren’t enough drivers to support the capital’s bus network.

Tramways Union secretary Kevin O’Sullivan predicted suspensions would worsen, calling the damage caused by changes introduced in July 2018 “almost irreversible”.

O’Sullivan said there was no easy answer to the wad of issues that faced bus drivers – from shortages, contract conditions and tender processes.

“It’s a complete mess. There’s so much that needs to be done. The cost is huge. Everyone is hamstrung as to what to do.”

However, Ponter was a little more optimistic. He believed the council was on the right track, working with stakeholders to increase the number of drivers.

He said there were 50 new drivers in training but t only about half of drivers made it through the system.

Despite that, he said Wellington could be fully-operative in the New Year and if the number of drivers was made up it could then look at removing its suspended bus services.

“We’ve put more effort into encouraging drivers into bus-driving careers but we are also talking with the government about the measures that may need to be taken nationally to provide better pathways [for drivers].”

While it appears on Metlink’s website the number of suspensions had risen to 62 in a matter of months, that was made up of 21 NZ Bus service service suspensions and 35 from Tranzurban. The rest were linked to contracts held by other parties like taxi vans.

Metlink listed the temporary suspensions of a number routes, effective as at October 14 while another 15 services were reinstated– five from route 29 and scatterings for others such as 19e and 26.

The majority of the cancelled buses have been scrapped from peak-hour times and add to the cancellation of 21 NZ Bus services announced in February.

“We’ve worked towards only suspending trips that have capacity to take customers on the following or preceding bus … operators may cancel additional trips depending on availability of drivers,” the Metlink website said.

Ponter said the council had agreed to the providers swapping out services and reviving others to avoid “ad hoc cancellations on a daily basis”.

The driver shortage was not a regional issue but a national one which the council was working to alleviate.

 The Regional Council will consider further changes to the bus system when it next meets on December 12, based on its public consultation in relation to issues such as cancellations, transfers and additional services.

Jessica Long/Stuff