Media release

Media release: ORC increases bus driver rates from living wage to median $27.76 – starting tomorrow

Friday 30 September 2022

The Otago Regional Council (ORC) has committed to working on solutions to address the acute driver shortages, which have caused major disruptions to services across Queenstown and Dunedin in recent months.

A key issue for the ORC is increasing bus driver pay rates, says ORC Interim Chief Executive Dr Pim Borren.

While the ORC agreed recently to increase drivers’ pay to the $23.65 living wage, Dr Borren notes this was always considered a “first step”.

This week ORC agreed to increase all its contract driver pay rates even further to the median wage, of $27.76 per hour from tomorrow; 1 October.

“This will start to attract the qualified NZ bus drivers who currently reside in Otago back into driving buses since this rate of pay will allow operators to compete more effectively with trucking companies, taxis, and uber drivers,” says Dr Borren.

“Secondly, this is also the minimum hourly rate of pay required by Immigration NZ to allow bus operators to recruit offshore. NZ has been reliant on migrant bus drivers for many years although this labour force has dried up as a result of Covid-19,” he says.

Dr Borren says he is taking “direct responsibility and accountability” for improving service levels, highlighting the current status quo “is not an option”.

He will take several options to the incoming ORC Council, including consideration for potential joint governance arrangements with Dunedin City Council and Queenstown Lakes District Council, if those councils were agreed.

The focus will be to consider what is affecting services and timetables and how driver shortages, pay rates, driver recruitment and retention and localised issues, such as accommodation, can be addressed to help meet the public transport needs of our communities.

“We want to synchronise some of our efforts to tackle these ongoing issues, because it’s affecting so many communities across Dunedin and Queenstown on a daily basis.”

He says the reduced timetables in both centres originally planned for the short term have now remained in place “indefinitely”.

“However, on the basis of our actions and working with our two bus operators, we anticipate a return to full timetable services after the December and January summer period,” Dr Borren says.


Need to deliver reliable and consistent service

Both Dunedin and Queenstown services went to reduced timetables in July, with services holding up better in Dunedin, but in Queenstown, there is on-going, widespread cancelations daily, says ORC’s Dr Borren.

“We acknowledge and apologise for the severe impact on passengers in Queenstown especially, and the need to return to delivering a reliable and consistent service as soon as possible.”

“The Covid-19 pandemic has created a perfect storm for public transport operators across the country, prompting the nation-wide driver shortage,” he says.