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Why we need more bus drivers, as well as compromises

by Mike Flinn
The decision to defer the introduction of changed rest breaks for bus drivers is welcome news for passengers.

Changes to the Employment Relations Act would have required new minimum requirements for bus drivers’ rest and meal breaks from Monday. Cabinet has now approved a postponement for one year and during this time a Steering Group has been established to work with operators, employee representatives and funders (eg the Regional Council) to oversee the implementation. A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed by representatives of these groups and the Ministers of Transport and Workplace Relations and Safety. The Steering Group includes representatives from each Ministry, the Transport Agency and each group, with the Ministry of Transport representative being the Chair.

In the transition period of one year, the Transport Agency will “monitor the scheduling of rest and meal breaks” and the Ministry of Transport will investigate “systemic issues in the industry that need addressing to grow and strengthen the industry”.

The deferral gives time for Wellington bus operators to increase the number of bus drivers so that cancellations are eliminated.

The changes to Wellington timetables introduced last July and updated in November and February have so far mainly just patched up the worst of the original shortages in peak hour trips. More needs to be done in the proposed GWRC Review to make the timetables more resilient and acceptable for passengers – which will need more drivers. Other routes need complete review and updating – which is likely to also need more drivers. Real improvements to services for passengers were few on 1 July and more are now needed to make services more attractive – and these are likely to require more drivers.

Implementation of the Act’s requirements will be difficult, and compromise will be needed. In my two previous articles Waiting at the Bus Stop and No news is good news I touched on what options could be defined as a break, depending on circumstances and also the time required to provide the specified break for various options along a route. The round trip travel time can be long, as the two cross-town frequent routes in Wellington have round trip times of around 140 minutes and 109 minutes (excluding terminal layovers).

These problems and issues will need to be discussed by all the parties in the Steering Group to get sensible solutions. It is just as well that the changes have been deferred so that all parties, including drivers and passengers, are not faced with a repeat of the situation faced since last July.

Mike Flinn was Deputy General Manager of Wellington City Transport from 1985 to 1990. He has a lifetime interest in Transport.

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