Public transport headaches greet commuters returning to work

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A chronic shortage of bus drivers across the country has led to transportation problems in Pōneke and Tāmaki Makaurau. Archive photo
Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

People in the country’s two largest commuter cities are facing serious public transport disruptions this week as they return to work.

Driver shortages and railway works have left people in Pōneke and Tāmaki Makaurau stranded at the station, facing long waits and looking for alternative transportation.

In the capital, many weekday buses run on a Saturday schedule until the end of the month – the number of services is reduced by 20 percent.

This is in addition to the 180 services that have been temporarily parked since October.

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During rush hour at Lambton Quay, commuters’ problems included double transport time, overcrowded buses and long waiting times at the stop.

Greater Wellington Regional Council transport chair Thomas Nash said the council knew what a headache the disruptions were causing but had no choice.

“We have been forced into this situation due to a chronic shortage of bus drivers across the country and in Wellington.

“We’re doing what we can to make sure the drivers we do have get a proper rest, and this is really the only option we saw in front of us.”

Since last month, the Metlink network has had a shortage of 125 drivers.

But there may be a light at the end of the bus tunnel – even if it’s dim and flickering.

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“We are hopeful that sometime midway through this year we will be able to remove some of those suspended services and return to a normal level of service, indeed starting to expand our frequency and reach.”

That depended on the recruiting efforts, which Nash said had been intense.

The government’s new immigration rules that gave bus drivers a path to residency had helped.

One of Metlink’s operators, NZ Bus, said 100 foreign applicants had accepted vacancies so far.

The first cohort should be at the wheel for the next two months.

Another operator, Tranzit, said it was campaigning to get students and retirees involved.

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The shortage of bus drivers also caused headaches in the City of Sails, but the trains were the talk of the town.

Yesterday was the first day of a two-month closure of six train stations on the Southern and Onehunga lines as Auckland Transport works on the City Rail Link.

Commuters on Britomart said that while trains were being replaced by buses, they were taking much longer – meaning they couldn’t get to work on time unless they took a taxi.

Next in line for disruption are commuters on the eastern line, with work there starting in March, closing five stations.