A shortage of drivers is impacting services on the new Tauranga Western Bay of Plenty bus network with Bay of Plenty Regional Council considering reviewing weekend services until driver numbers increase to give customers more certainty.
166 drivers are needed to fully operate the new schedule and contractor NZ Bus is currently short of this target by about 25%. The shortfall has been partially offset by bringing NZ Bus drivers from Auckland to help out in Tauranga.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council Public Transport Committee Chairman Lyall Thurston says it is disappointing some services have been compromised because of a lack of drivers.
“We are sorry to those of our customers that have been affected and we are working with the contractor to find an interim solution,” Cr Thurston says.
“We may have to reduce the frequency of buses we are running over the weekend until the problem is fixed.”
On average five trips (0.5% of the total daily trips scheduled) during Monday to Friday have been missed since the rollout, however the weekends are seeing the biggest disruptions.
10.9% of trips have been dropped over the weekend since NZ Bus took over and weekend services significantly increased.
This means there could be further disruptions over coming weekends and Cr Thurston says Council is looking at the remedies available to it (including financial penalties) for not running services, as the contractual bedding-in period comes to a close.
NZ Bus Chief Operating Officer, Claire Neville, says that NZ Bus is pleased with the overall implementation of the new business, but despite a recruitment campaign that commenced well before the launch on December 10, they haven’t had the number of applicants they had hoped for.
“A shortage of bus drivers is a national problem and not isolated to the Western Bay of Plenty. It reflects the difficult labour market nationwide, with effectively zero unemployment. We have a range of driving shifts available from part-time to full-time and even semi-retirement/lifestyle options and encourage locals to consider this rewarding career. We are continuing our recruitment efforts in earnest”
Bay of Plenty Regional Council has an undertaking from NZ Bus that school bus trips will be prioritised over urban trips.