New statistics have revealed the extent of Auckland’s public transport crisis, showing almost 270,000 scheduled bus trips have been cancelled already in 2022 - a significant rise compared to past years.
The cancellations make up 8.6 per cent of the total scheduled bus services, just over 3 million, in the first nine months of the year.
But it is a large increase compared to previous years, which saw 1.3 per cent of trips cancelled in 2019, 0.7 per cent in 2020 and 0.6 per cent in 2021, all over a 12-month period.
National Party transport spokesman Simeon Brown said Aucklanders will be “shocked” to learn more than 269,000 bus services have been cancelled this year.
“This is a significant increase from previous years and shows how public transport has become completely unreliable in Auckland this year.
“Every cancelled bus service could mean that someone is late for work or misses an appointment which is stressful for them and undermines their faith in public transport. It tells people that to get somewhere on time, they should drive a car,” Brown said.
An Auckland Transport (AT) spokesperson told the Herald it is “working closely with Waka Kotahi [NZTA] and the Government on further wage increases for our drivers to help address the shortage”.
They promised to “promptly restore full timetables” as more drivers come onboard. There is a current shortage in the Super City of 500 bus drivers.
“We are so grateful to all the drivers – who are the backbone of our city,” the spokesperson said.
Transport Minister Michael Wood told the Herald in a statement it was “clear that there are currently challenges recruiting bus drivers in many of our cities around New Zealand, which is impacting the delivery of services”.
He said the Government recognised that improving the conditions of drivers would make it easier to recruit and retain the workforce, allowing frequent and reliable bus services.
“The Government has come to the table by providing an additional $61 million to lift bus driver pay and conditions,” he said.
“Poor pay and conditions have been one of the reasons for the bus driver shortage, and the whole sector has welcomed our recent announcement as an important part of stabilising the workforce. We have also announced a major reform of the Public Transport Operating Model which has exacerbated many of these issues.”
The Government is spending $61 million to lift bus driver wages, which it said will help address nationwide worker shortages.
Last month, Wood said the money - allocated in this year’s Budget - would be spent over four years to lift base wage rates towards $30 an hour for urban services and $28 an hour for regional services.
In a recent statement, AT also announced 1000 bus services across the Super City will be suspended in response to a bus driver shortage. AT claimed it would “give customers more confidence and certainty when they plan their journeys”.
Some 12,000 bus services across Auckland will continue every day, however, which AT said accounts for more than 85 per cent of the network. The routes most impacted by the removal of services included the City Link, the Inner Link, and the Northern Express, with between 26 and 53 scheduled buses cut for each route every day.
Buses account for 74 per cent of public transport journeys in Auckland and are being promised to plug the gap when trains stop running for years during a major rail upgrade.
AT’s group manager of metro services, Darek Koper said: “This year we have struggled to operate our full bus timetable because of the effects of the worldwide driver shortage, which has led to far more cancellations across our network than we would usually see.”
Despite these changes, last-minute cancellations across the network are still expected to occur but at a lower rate.
“With the revised timetable in place we’re expecting to be hitting about 95 per cent reliability for our services, with daily cancellations expected to drop from 2000 to between 500 and 800,” Koper said.
Auckland’s Mayor Wayne Brown has said it’s time to move to an “emergency footing” to maintain public transport services for the city.
Commuters face three years of disruptive shutdowns from Christmas on the Southern, Eastern and Onehunga rail lines. KiwiRail is undertaking a $330m rail network rebuild on the three lines to pave the way for more commuter trains when the City Rail Link opens, sometime from 2025.
Sections of the Western line will also be closed in 2024 and 2025.
The public transport issues also threaten to affect next year’s Fifa Women’s World Cup, which is projected to attract tens of thousands of visitors and showcase Auckland to a global audience.
Tramway Union president Gary Froggatt told the Herald that as well as wages, the hours of work are a major contributing factor to New Zealand’s bus driver shortage.
Under the Transport Act, companies can roster drivers to work 13 hours as well as two half-hour meal breaks, which is a 14-hour day without taking into account their travel time to and from work.
“We have been pushing the Government to amend the Transport Act down to a maximum day of 12 hours, which we think is more than reasonable, giving an employer half of your day,” Froggatt said.
Froggatt also said that there needs to be more compensation for drivers who work a “broken shift”, which has them working from 6am to 10am and then again between 2pm to 6pm, covering the rush-hour periods.
“The four-hour gap between shifts is unpaid and frankly quite archaic now,” Froggatt said.
Despite three rounds of pay rises this year lifting the hourly rate from about $23-$25 towards $30, there is a nationwide shortage of 800 bus drivers, 500 of those in Auckland.
Froggatt also addressed that since Christmas last year, there have been 40-50 assaults on AT drivers, which has caused drivers to reassess their careers in public transport.
Brown, MP for Pakuranga, claimed while Labour “talks big about public transport” the Government’s track record is “a system which doesn’t have enough drivers, hundreds of thousands of cancelled services, and tens of millions wasted on working groups for a cycling bridge and light rail which have gone nowhere.”
“Labour needs to listen to Auckland Council and Auckland Transport’s pleas for immigration policy to allow for more bus drivers to come into NZ so that this public transport crisis can get sorted.
“The Government needs to be focused on ensuring that public transport is reliable, so that people will use it before it keeps proposing to spend up to $29.2 billion on a light rail vanity project which pretty much no one in Auckland wants,” he said.