Threats, intimidation and fear of contracting Covid-19 have some bus drivers fearing for their safety and one ready to leave the job if it worsens, drivers and their union claim.
Public transport restrictions following the nationwide lockdown have also left bus drivers feeling like they have little support in having to deal with passengers acting aggressively towards them, they say.
But Bay of Plenty Regional Council, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and NZ Bus say the safety of drivers and passengers is their priority and in line with the latest clinical advice from the Ministry of Health.
Reduced Baybus services are running throughout the lockdown to allow essential workers to get where they needed to go and people to access essential services.
NZTA has also announced public transport services are fare-free so staff did not need to handle cash.
But First Union Bay of Plenty organiser Graham McKean said drivers across the region were scared and some had used their leave to avoid going to work.
"Every time someone comes on to the bus, it's a new risk ... drivers are becoming overwhelmed.
"They're concerned about going to work ... Even though there are protections put in place, they're just frightened they're going to have to leave their job."
They said drivers were calling for sanitised vehicles and an additional layer of protection for peace of mind as well as practical health and safety.
A Tauranga bus driver, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they saw a man dig in the rubbish before getting on the bus coughing, sneezing, snorting and touching the rails.
The driver believed others were taking advantage of the free service and would act out if questioned where they were going.
"I had someone wave their fist at me and call me a (expletive) and said – I'm going to get you."
The driver said they had also had things thrown at the bus they were driving for refusing to let people on.
Aggression had increased "10-fold" since the lockdown.
They said if it was not for a love of the job they would have left by now because of fear and anxiety before each shift.
The driver said they would leave the job if it got worse.
Another driver said fear was high for drivers dealing with increased aggression of passengers and anxiety they could be spreading Covid-19.
The Tauranga driver said when a woman in her 80s jumped on board they did not pick up any other passengers after realising she was high-risk.
"I'm not going to be responsible for her death ... there's the anxiety."
The bus driver said they had not received any instructions on how many people were allowed on the bus, nor how to manage people who were taking advantage of the service.
Tape had been put up as a barrier between the public and drivers, but the driver claimed there were no instructions to wipe down the bus after each trip.
Drivers had gloves and face masks but the "eyes were still vulnerable".
They wanted a perspex separation between the driver and passengers.
Even elderly people had become aggressive, the driver said.
Bay of Plenty regional councillor and Public Transport Committee chairman Andrew von Dadelszen said while there had been suggestions to use smaller vehicles that were more easily cleaned, it would not allow passengers to keep a physical distance.
He said drivers were authorised to refuse passengers and let police or security firms know of any issue.
The Regional Council worked with NZ Bus to ensure there were clear directions both on the bus and online around the safest way for people to travel.
NZ Bus chief executive Barry Hinkley said tape barriers were set up on each bus to ensure distancing of passengers from drivers and regular cleaning took place on the fleet and in all depot spaces.
"All high-touch surfaces are cleaned regularly on the bus, and once a day a comprehensive clean of all buses is carried out in line with guidelines provided by authorities," Hinkley said.
"Each driver has radio access to our communications team to help manage any situation."
NZ Bus, Bay of Plenty Regional Council and the Ministry of Transport thanked drivers for the frontline work they were providing.
The Ministry of Transport's Brent Johnston said to ensure essential services could continue to run and to and protect frontline workers, workers should raise concerns directly with their employer. Unions should keep working constructively with operators and councils, he said.
A police spokeswoman said they were not aware of any calls relating to aggression at public transport nor of any contact made by local councils asking police to monitor bus stops.
"Our focus remains on maintaining public safety, security and order so we have enhanced our reassurance patrols and checks."
NZ Bus chief commercial officer Scott Thorne said the company was "very proud" of its staff for keeping the essential bus services going through these challenging times and "clearly want to support them with a hygienic work environment".
Thorne said as well as ensuring passenger kept their distance from drivers, the company had also decided to carry out "disinfectant fogging of buses".
"This involves a comprehensive spray throughout the interior of each and every one our buses of a carefully chosen product that provides protection on surfaces for up to three months. Work is done by professional staff and the fogging was done this week," he said.
"This treatment is complementary to our daily cleaning routine, it doesn't replace it. In other words, we will continue to complete our extensive daily cleaning of buses, including wiping of all high touch surfaces."
- The Ministry of Health website stated Covid-19 spread through droplets, which are too large to stay in the air for long, so quickly settle on surrounding surfaces.
The Washington Post reported research by Vincent Munster, chief of the Virus Ecology Section of Rocky Mountain Laboratories, a facility in the US, which looked into how long the coronavirus survived on surfaces.
Munster has been studying the novel coronavirus under laboratory conditions to better understand its viability outside a host organism.
Those experiments found at least some coronavirus can potentially remain viable for up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastic and stainless steel.
Droplet-spread diseases can be spread by coughing and sneezing, close personal contact, and contact with an object or surface with viral particles on it and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.