ORC working on Orbus fixes

Queenstown's rental housing crisis appears to be a primary driver in the uplift in cancelled Orbus services.

Of late, there’s been a noticeable increase in buses not turning up at all, advice of which, at the moment, is being posted on the Otago Regional Council (ORC) website, instead of via notifications on the Transit app, across the Whakatipu network.

ORC transport manager Lorraine Cheyne says that’s because Queenstown’s "a few drivers short" at present, noting it’s a "situational issue", rather than the systemic driver shortage experienced across New Zealand last year.

But ORC transport committee chair, Queenstowner Alexa Forbes, says having spoken to staff, who’ve spoken to Ritchies, the service provider, she’s "convinced that this is more a housing issue than a management one".

"For example, the operator has some six drivers currently in Auckland that they could bring in, but cannot find accommodation for in Queenstown.

"While they are hoping to bring some locals on board, at best they are aware of only three interested new drivers.

"All we can do from where we sit is look at improving our management."

While Transit app users used to get notifications of cancelled or delayed services via the app, that’s not possible at the moment.

An Orbus driver shortage is being blamed on Queenstown’s rental housing issues. PHOTO: ODT FILES
An Orbus driver shortage is being blamed on Queenstown’s rental housing issues. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Cheyne says that’s because they changed the service provider last year, though "we are currently working to have automatic updates go to the app".

Forbes says she’s "so disappointed" about the service failures, and their inability to communicate those failures in a timely, effective way.

"[I] have been working to understand why we are in this situation, and how the issues might be addressed."

Things that "can and will be done" include prioritising the first and last services, ensuring two services in a row won’t be missed, and making sure the app and website are working, she says.

"But until there’s housing available for drivers, that’s about it."

Cheyne, who expects Queenstowners to "see our usual service reliability resumed very soon", is asking users to be mindful of the pressure on drivers.

"As with any workplace it’s always tough when there’s a few people down.

"Please be patient with the drivers who as well as missing a few colleagues are also having to deal with delays due to roadworks and high levels of congestion in Queenstown at present."