Wellingtonians can expect to see the city’s bus timetables return to normal by the end of January, after grappling with ghost buses and cancelled services for more than a year.
Metlink told Wellington City Council that suspended services would soon be back in action, after hiring more than 100 bus drivers from overseas, enough to reinstate all suspended bus services.
All NZ Bus services will be back up and running by the end of January, while the suspended weekday Tranzurban buses will be reinstated from December 18.
During the council’s environment and infrastructure committee meeting on Thursday, chairman and councillor Tim Brown could not hide his excitement when seeking clarity from Metlink’s Alex Campbell on when the shortage would end.
“That is the best news update I think we’ve ever had about public transport, so if I was to put it to you, ‘Would the bustastrophe be over in 18 days?’ would you be able to say ‘Yes’,” Brown said.
“Never say never, but things are looking very positive,” Campbell said.
At its worst, the city was short of more than 100 bus drivers, leading to 180 service cancellations.
But now, with more drivers behind the wheel, passenger numbers have bounced back to pre-Covid levels – much sooner than in Auckland, Sydney or London.
Wellington Regional Council transport committee chairman and councillor Thomas Nash admitted he could not be certain there would not be another driver shortage in future, but he was sure that enough had been done to increase confidence in the network.
“We’re confident we’re in a good place now where we’ve got 99 per cent reliability, world class. We know that’s where we need to be, we know that’s where we want to stay. I know there’s been a hit to public confidence in the public transport network but I also know the people who use the bus know that it has massively improved,” Nash said.
RNZ put that claim to Wellingtonians.
“I’ve still been frustrated by the bus. I don’t think it’s going to arrive most of the time,” Bridget who catches the number 17 bus to Kowhai Park, said, describing it as the ghost bus route.
“I’ve definitely noticed an improvement, it’s not without the odd glitch,” Andy Henkel, who catches the Vogeltown bus, said.
“My bus is coming on time more often now, which it never used to be,” Bryony Jane Russell said. “It used to be like 10-15 minutes late, which would eventually make me late to work.”
“With the bus that I take, not really,” said Ryan Ngoherrera, who catches the Nos 81 and 83 to Eastbourne.
The longest he had to wait for a bus because of cancellations was an hour.
Not everyone is convinced all the bus scheduling issues are fully fixed. Tramways Union Wellington branch secretary Kevin O’Sullivan said that, despite the extra drivers, he has his doubts.
Some of the new lines, including from Mairangi to Strathmore, could become inconsistent because of the length of the route.
“There’s a high likelihood that those services won’t run to time and so what happens then is the service becomes unreliable and it impacts a lot on the drivers because a lot of the shifts are 5½ hours portioned before they have a meal break and so there’s no wiggle room.”
O’Sullivan said that, by law, a driver could not work for more than 5½ hours without resting.