Passengers on a busy Auckland commuting route fear the city's public transport system is slipping into "Third World" territory after no-shows by three express buses in Friday morning's rush hour.
Ann Fernandes and Cloyd D'Mello, who are both from India but live at different addresses on the route from Lynfield to central Auckland, were among scores of passengers made late for work by what they say are increasingly erratic services.
Their problems worsened after NZ Bus and Auckland Transport changed the 267 route schedule in February, reducing express trips in favour of more "all-stops" buses.
Expresses previously left Lynfield every 10 minutes from 7am, but now there are none before 7.30am - too late for commuters rushing to 8am job starts.
What Auckland Transport says were mechanical and "priority problems" meant there was no express until after 8am on Friday, leaving passengers to catch what became a crammed all-stops service which took until about 9am to reach Queen St.
"Earlier it was a pleasure travelling by bus but now every day there's a different story," said Mrs Fernandes, a finance worker for whom reliable public transport played a large part in her choice of home eight years ago. "But now it is totally unreliable and sometimes I feel like I'm in a Third World country - most times it feels like we are back home in India, all cramped up together in a bus."
Although problems with late and missing buses had dragged on for months, Friday morning's debacle escalated passenger concerns to "boiling point".
"It is not like we are not paying for it - we're paying $140 a month."
Mr D'Mello, a music teacher training for New Zealand accreditation, said his early enjoyment of Auckland bus travel was short-lived.
Another Lynfield passenger, Laboni Haldar, said she had given up complaining about the "deteriorating service" after failing to get anywhere with Auckland Transport's call centre.
Once, after she complained about homebound buses failing to turn up in Symonds St on a Sunday, an official said they had been delayed by traffic.
"But there was hardly any traffic - I think it was a long weekend."
NZ Bus did not respond directly to a Herald inquiry, but Auckland Transport spokesman Mark Hannan said it had told him it missed two express trips "due to priority problems" and windscreen wipers failed on a third bus.
"There was a lack of serviceable vehicles," he said.
"Auckland Transport apologises to any passengers who were affected by the cancellation of the services - we are investigating these issues with NZ Bus."
Some buses were converted from express to all-stops runs in February because passengers were getting left behind north of the Mt Roskill shops.
"The all-stops were suffering from a capacity issues whereas the expresses were being under-used. But, having said that, we are at the moment reviewing the whole thing," Mr Hannan said.