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Numbers steady: Whakatipu Orbus users are sitting about 70,000 a month, half the number using the $2 bus last January

By MATTHEW MCKEW

Limited opportunities for tour bus drivers could prove just the ticket for Orbus contractor Ritchies.

Although fully staffed right now, there’s been a history of driver shortages for the $2 flat-fare public service across the Whakatipu basin.

In 2019, Ritchies, which runs the service on behalf of Otago Regional Council (ORC), found ‘‘significant challenges’’ in recruiting when trying to add a direct Lakes Hayes Estate service to the Queenstown route.

Ritchies Otago transport manager Cesar Costa says there are currently about 15 drivers on sponsored work visas, and the firm’s benefited from the government extending all employer-assisted visas expiring between January and June for another six months.

Beyond that, he says it’s too much of an ‘‘unstable scenario’’ to make predictions on how easy it’ll be to staff the network.

‘‘I believe that a full stop on the tour industry means a significant influx of tour drivers available that might look into new driving opportunities — still, we cannot predict, at this stage, how these numbers will play out in the future,’’ Costa says.

Meantime, ORC recorded the 40,000th Bee Card registration over Waitangi weekend, making it the most successful of the nine regions across the country to introduce it.

Latest figures show patronage is ‘‘relatively steady’’ at 70,000 trips a month, half the number recorded last January.

matthew.mckew@scene.co.nz