By WAYNE THOMPSON
Auckland bus drivers say they are bearing the brunt of public anger over peak-time delays of up to an hour.
Stress levels are becoming intolerable for some of the men and women in charge of buses carrying up to 78 passengers, said Tramways Union secretary Gary Froggatt.
"There has been a dramatic increase in patronage and traffic gridlock is causing massive delays in bus movements," he said.
"Drivers are coming under pressure from passengers. My plea to the passengers is that delays are not the driver's fault. It's because the roading system has not kept pace with modern-day Auckland's traffic."
Mr Froggatt said it took him 25 minutes to travel 2km on a bus from Customs St up Queen St as far as Karangahape Rd yesterday afternoon.
"The driver was abused twice by people for not letting them get on the bus at the traffic lights, which he was not allowed to do."
Another driver was called into his supervisor's office to explain a letter from a passenger who complained he was "incompetent" because he was 10 minutes late.
The upset driver said the bus was held up by congestion at one of several roadworks sites in the city.
Mr Froggatt said one in four drivers dropped out of the industry every year because of long hours and broken shifts. Some could not cope with verbal and physical abuse from passengers and the stress of trying to guide a large vehicle along choked city streets and around tight corners.
The union, which represents 750 of the 900 Auckland drivers, was pressing Stagecoach to make changes because drivers could not meet timetables, he said.
Drivers were legally required to take a 30-minute break after five and a half hours at the wheel but felt pressured to shorten the break.
The union believed trip times on some routes could be shortened by introducing conductors to take fares while the bus was moving. Conductors were phased out on Auckland routes when trams stopped operating in the mid-1950s, he said.
Stagecoach management is looking at the suggestion and at other ideas to speed boarding, including a new ticketing system.
It's not just drivers being abused.
Stagecoach has written to Counties-Manukau schools threatening to withdraw services at two days' notice if they do not stop pupils damaging buses.
Marketing manager Russell Turnbull said vandalism in southern Auckland was costing the company $100,000 a year.
Abuse, bullying and intimidation of other passengers were also concerns.
Drivers tried to deal with misbehaviour because they were responsible for the safety of all passengers but they were unable to put a child off the bus.
They had a radio link to the depot for calling on a supervisor for help.
Letters from Herald readers yesterday were even-handed in their rating of drivers on their bus routes. A selection is printed below.
Rideline, the Auckland Regional Council's transport information service, fields 20 to 30 complaints daily.
A copy of each complaint is sent to the bus company, which is expected to provide an explanation to the council's transport department within 24 hours.
Transport committee chairwoman Catherine Harland said the regional council relied on the public to complain because it had only four staff monitoring the quality of service, and they could not be everywhere at once.
By WAYNE THOMPSON