Wellington Scoop

Transport executives tell councillors about shortage of drivers for buses and trains

Report from RNZ
Hopes of resolving Wellington’s public transport woes were derailed at yesterday’s meeting of the Wellington Regional Council’s sustainable transport committee. Bus operator NZ Bus, and Wellington’s regional train operator Transdev fronted the committee on what the companies said was an industry-wide shortage of drivers.

NZ Bus chief executive Zane Fulljames said that its company was short of 20 drivers in Wellington because it couldn’t get any drivers to show up.

“It went from 10 or 12 candidates [in training] a week and it actually took a dive to zero. Currently we have two people.

“The environment has changed so rapidly – particularly for us as the incumbent – that we’re now competing within a limited pool.”

Council figures show that the shortage of drivers has led to the cancellation of almost 5 percent of NZ Bus’ services over the last two weeks.

Mr Fulljames said he could not compete with other companies in the region where people may prefer to work as it is closer to home.

The company also had a shortage of 60 drivers in Auckland, Mr Fulljames told the regional council.

Auckland NZ Bus driver Nathan Whare said many experienced drivers were leaving the profession because it was no longer attractive. “There’s not much time left for people to bond with their families and you want to couple that with what we get paid – it’s really low and you could go Monday to Friday doing whatever job and get similar pay.”

Transdev has a predicted record-high turnover that is expected to reach 12 percent in the next three months – a shortage of 107 drivers.

Its chief operations officer Mike Fenton said there were not enough people coming through to replace leaving drivers.

“Our drivers take about a year from advertising the job to when they’re fully trained and can be used. They’re required to give two weeks’ notice; so we’re getting two weeks’ [to replace leaving drivers].

“We will have a reasonably significant driver shortage until late this year, likely to be about November, before our training catches up with that very intense recruitment.”

Mr Fenton said that at least eight of its drivers had resigned to work for KiwiRail, as the heavy freight train operator expanded its operations.

It now only has eight trainees.

Both NZ Bus and Transdev told the council committee they were pushing to recruit more drivers but record high employment and competition with the freight industry was making it difficult.

Mr Fulljames said the company was lobbying government to get drivers declared a national skills shortage.

It was not good enough for regional councillor Daran Ponter, who said that other companies had managed to get enough drivers.

“The Regional Council will be on this company’s case in terms of ensuring they up their game. The bottom line here is that for Wellingtonians, we’re leaving people stranded on railway stations and bus stops because we don’t have enough drivers.”

Because of the shortage, there will be bus replacement services on the Johnsonville train line in the afternoon starting from Monday.

In the meantime, the regional council has been looking to give school bus services to another operator until NZ Bus can find drivers.


  1. David Mackenzie, 22. February 2019, 9:02

    A novel and original idea: give drivers better pay and conditions. Perhaps then they might be attracted to the job. Of course they would have to overcome the anxiety about public scorn caused by recent disastrous mismanagement of reforms.

  2. greenwelly, 22. February 2019, 9:58

    @David, That would require the Regional Council to increase what it paid the contractors, (Bus and Train operators,) after trumpeting huge “savings” over the past few years due to the new contracts….

    The new performance-based contract, awarded to Transdev Wellington Ltd and expected to start in July, will deliver savings of around $100m over the next 15 years.

    The outcome of the tender is expected to reduce operating costs by several million dollars a year.

    Although seriously, where did they expect all of the “savings” promised to come from,

  3. michael, 22. February 2019, 10:10

    “The outcome of the tender is expected to reduce operating costs by several million dollars a year”. . . . and how many millions has been lost to date?

  4. Dave B, 22. February 2019, 14:46

    “Bitterness of poor quality remains long after sweetness of low price is forgotten”. . .

  5. KB, 22. February 2019, 23:45

    @david Mackenzie: you are exactly right – it’s blindingly obvious why they are short of drivers: they pay crappy wages. Easily solved by increasing pay rates.

    @greenwelly: the companies are fully responsible for paying their drivers enough so that they have enough staff to adequately fulfill their contractual requirements. If those companies low balled their tender offers on the belief they could pay drivers less – that is their own fault and they have two options: either pay more to drivers (cutting their profits), or lose their contracts with the regional council due to a failure to deliver services.

    It is a completely disingenuous position that these companies have taken that the government needs to change bus drivers into a “skill shortage category” (ie allow them to import cheap staff from poor countries to work for minimum wage) when they would have zero issues finding plenty of staff right here in New Zealand if they paid adequate wages.

    The skill shortage category is quite rightly reserved for jobs that can’t be filled in a reasonable time regardless of how much money is offered to locals, usually due to the long period of training required (things like doctors, pilots, teachers, specialized builders etc). Bus drivers absolutely are NOT in that category: it only takes a few short months to train them, and many kiwis would want to do it if the wages were good.