Cascade of bus cancellations due to driver illnesses

Passengers wait at the Bus Hub on Tuesday after a rising tide of cancellations. PHOTO: PETER...
Passengers wait at the Bus Hub on Tuesday after a rising tide of cancellations. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Dunedin residents are giving up taking the bus and driving instead while the Otago Regional Council considers cutting back bus services as it battles unprecedented driver shortages.

Otago Regional Council transport manager Doug Rodgers apologised for the situation — which led to more than 140 cancellations across the city yesterday — and asked the public to prepare for continued disruption in services as the situation continues.

The level of disruption was "unprecedented" and was caused by both seasonal illness and drivers isolating or recovering from Covid-19, further exacerbated by a national driver shortage, Mr Rodgers said.

He revealed the council had developed a Covid-19 contingency plan, which involved a reduced timetable in Dunedin and Queenstown, in March.

The plan would be implemented if a threshold of cancelled services was reached.

The council and bus operators were monitoring the situation and bus users would be told what the reduced service would comprise if that threshold was reached.

If it was implemented bus services would be prioritised for peak times and school hours.

Asked if the council was worried the ongoing disruptions would turn people off using public transport, he said the situation was difficult across New Zealand and thanked passengers for "bearing with us".

It comes as a pair of Dunedin residents told the Otago Daily Times they had gone back to using their cars because the bus system was so unreliable.

Samantha Addington (25), of North Dunedin, tried to take the bus to work yesterday morning and waited 30 minutes before realising it was not coming.

She then walked home and drove to work.

Ms Addington said because the bus service had been so unreliable over the past two months, she had largely stopped using it.

"I just don’t think it’s a viable option for workers."

One man, who did not want to be named, estimated that buses in his area ran less than 50% ofthe time.

His daughter had been left stranded in the cold while waiting for her bus to and from school.

His family was now resigned to driving her.

North East Valley resident Peter Ruhen (81) was stranded for an hour on Monday when his local bus did not turn up at the 3.30pm scheduled time.

Mr Ruhen eventually called the council.

Staff looked up the online timetable and told him the service was cancelled.

Mr Ruhen said he found the situation frustrating and said the level of communication with bus users about cancellations was not up to scratch.

Tramways Union secretary Philip Mathews said the situation would not end any time soon, because many staff were recovering from Covid-19.

Bus drivers were doing as much as they could, but the only way to relieve the situation would be to get more drivers.

"We could use 20 drivers by tomorrow."

cas.saunders@odt.co.nz

 

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