Orbus drivers quitting for better pay, better hours

Reduced timetable: A shortage of bus drivers is being blamed for a reduced Orbus timetable affecting three Whakatipu routes, including Arrowtown to Arthurs Point

A former Queenstown public transport bus driver says his colleagues are leaving in droves, reverting to their for mer jobs, where there’s better pay, and better hours, on offer.

On Tuesday, Otago Regional Council announced it was reducing the Orbus timetable in Queenstown and Dunedin from this coming Tuesday to provide for ‘‘greater reliability following disruptions due to driver shortages’’.

Transport manager Doug Rodgers says there simply aren’t enough drivers to operate all routes daily.

‘‘Bus operators have been working hard to maintain a workable service, but the new wave of Covid and winter illness has created a shortage of drivers in both Dunedin and Queenstown and this, coupled with the national shortage of bus drivers, is impacting the ability to deliver a full service.’’

Three routes in Queenstown will be affected — the Sunshine Bay to Remarkables Park schedule will operate every 30 minutes, down from every 15, while the Arthurs Point to Arrowtown and Queenstown to Lake Hayes Estate routes will drop the additional peak
morning and afternoon services.

The former Orbus driver, who Mountain Scene’s agreed not to name, says he’s aware of at least 10 of his Queenstown colleagues who’ve quit in recent weeks, many going back to the
jobs they had pre-Covid.

‘‘A lot of the guys who were, or are, driving for things like Orbus in Queenstown and Dunedin and other centres around New Zealand, they came from tourism operations,

‘‘So, of course, it stands to reason once things open up … they’re away.’’

The money on offer’s also ‘‘hugely’’ better, he says — Scene understands Orbus drivers are being paid the living wage, of $22.75 an hour.

For drivers to make ends meet in the resort, many are working the maximum 13-hour shifts, which the source says is ‘‘ridiculous’’.

But the driver says he can understand why the remuneration isn’t better: ‘‘There’s no flesh in it.’’

He believes those making the decisions are afraid of putting rates up, to fund the service the same way swimming pools, libraries and sports grounds are funded.

The driver predicts Orbus will go through some ‘‘major’’ changes over the next few years, and says the public’s expectation of public transport has to change.

‘‘Either they accept lower-scale, which is rough and ready, driven by somebody who is getting paid minimal wages … or they’ve got to shell out in their rates.’’

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