Media release

Media release: Improving bus schedules as ORC beds in return to regular timetable in Dunedin

Friday 3 February 2023

Bus scheduling and patronage is improving with the Otago Regional Council having moved back to its regular bus timetable in Dunedin last Wednesday, but passengers are being asked to exercise patience.

The Orbus passenger services in Dunedin and Queenstown remain short of about 25 drivers, but in coming weeks about 16 are scheduled to start work across both centres, says ORC’s Interim Transport Manager Doug Rodgers.

“If our contractors could employ 25 drivers to start tomorrow in Dunedin and Queenstown, Orbus bus services could be returned to normal in a matter of days,” he says.

He says about 97% of scheduled buses in Dunedin have run over the past three days,involving 1100 daily trips on average.

“This is significantly higher than the period prior to the reduction of the timetable [last June] where daily cancellations reached between 10% and 12%,” Mr Rodgers says.

“It’s also very pleasing that patronage on our services increased by 11%. Our operators are doing a great job in a challenging environment,” he says.

“Despite hitting 97% of scheduled buses, we will for some time continue to have teething problems as more drivers arrive.”


Dunedin Bus Hub and bus passengers


Drivers being abused

Mr Rodgers says a “new and disappointing aspect for drivers to contend with” has been the issue of abuse from passengers.

This has resulted in the recent resignations of three newly recruited drivers in Dunedin, he says.

“We would ask passengers to be respectful and patient with our drivers as they navigate through these difficult times,” he says.

Drivers have the right to deny people carriage, as per the conditions of travel for the public transport service in Otago, Mr Rodgers says.


Recruitment drives continue

Our bus operators are continuing their recruitment drives, despite there still being a driver shortage nationwide of up to 800 public transport bus drivers, he says.

“We have four drivers coming to Dunedin in coming weeks and an extra 12 for Queenstown, arriving in March with further drivers in the pipeline arriving from that point onwards,” Mr Rodgers says.

“[However] there is a period for drivers to get through immigration processes and be trained.

New drivers are arriving over the next few weeks to bolster our operators,” he says.

Mr Rodgers emphasised however, that the lead in time required for many drivers to actually be available to start work was dependent on the visa approval process and licensing, as they are from overseas.

Aside from the constant issue of driver shortages expected for the short term, mandatory driver leave requirements and sick leave are also taking a toll on providing services, says Mr Rodgers.

“We thank the drivers, who are working to full capacity to service routes, but their long hours also require mandatory breaks, which puts further pressure on services.”


Port Chalmers to Dunedin service

The Dunedin to Port Chalmers route continues to pose problems, on the days when cruise ship passengers opt to take Orbus services, as opposed to buses provided by the cruise lines, he says. 

That route on a normal day has one bus in each direction, but for cruise days the operator has been providing up to five buses.

“We’ve been putting on more buses on the busier days, but ask that the public to be patient,” Mr Rodgers says.


Queenstown bus services

Mr Rodgers says the bus service in Queenstown have come under increased pressure recently, with the return of tourists over the Christmas and New Year period.

“Attracting drivers to Queenstown, which has a critical shortage of housing rental stock, remains the key issue behind postponing the return to full timetable service until 1 June.” 

“Public transport is also in competition with the tourism sector around Queenstown for the same drivers,” he says.

“Our operator around Queenstown has had some success in recruitment recently and continues to advertise positions in a challenging and competitive market”.

On the question of pay rates, Mr Rodgers says Orbus rates are currently $27.76 p/h, but ORC is already factoring in future adjustments, in line with Government expectations.