Frustration over the shambolic bus service in Tauranga by new provider NZ Bus boiled over at the Bay of Plenty Regional Council today.
Directors of the Company have been put on notice.
They fronted up to the Regional Council's public transport committee to put their case.
It’ didn’t go down well with the councilors.
“You are single handedly letting us down because of you non-performance,” says Councillor Kevin Winters.
“The service is not good enough.
“The Community has lost faith in you. Not engaging enough drivers is bizzare.
“All I have heard is excuses. I want solutions.
“You are not delivering what we signed up for on December 10 and we certainly did not agree to the reduced level of service you are delivering.”
The council heard about cancelled bus service, buses not turning up on time, changes in bus routes, school kids stranded because there are not enough school buses, they turn up late or not at all.
NZ Bus General Manager operations Clair Neville admitted they “didn’t anticipate the scale of the services needed when school started”.
"We did prioritise school services. The trips that were missed were urban service trips not school trips.
"We weren’t able to meet requirements and we weren’t able to closes the gaps in driver shortage,” says Clair.
She admits driver shortage is a major issue.
“We need 150 full time drivers, at the moment we have 110 (40 short), we anticipate it will take 10 to 12 week to reach the necessary staffing levels.
“It will require a minimum of 10 weeks to source, process and train drivers.”
Clair says they are paying two dollar an hour more to drivers than the previous contractor.
But concillors say their pay scale is still not good enough because drivers are already leaving.
Clair says they are filling the gap in driver shortage by engaging drivers from Auckland.
The Committee chairman councillor Lyall Thurston personally apologised to the people of Tauranga for the issues they’ve been facing with the bus service.
"I apologise especially to the aged in this community, to the transport disadvantaged and to my community of people with disabilities," says Lyall.
“NZ Bus has not delivered to the contract.
“There’s grave shortage of drivers, which has impacted directly on service delivery.
“The directors of NZ Bus have heard a high degree of anger and frustration from around the council table.
“I haven’t seen that level of anger and frustration with colleagues in my many years on the regional council.
“They’ve certainly got some take home messages to go away with.
“We will certainly be looking at how we view the contract now and what we see as instrumental in being an interim part of any interim solutions to fix this.
“Some of the time lines that are being proposed we feel are totally unrealistic.”
“We are committed to a high quality bus system for the people of Tauranga."
Councillors have agreed in principal to reinstate route 36 and the former route 70 in Matua during off peak hours while maintaining the current peak service.
A Pāpāmoa to CBD route via Maungatapu – an extension to route 36 - will also be introduced while further changes to the network will be scoped over coming weeks.
Lyall says there have been significant challenges with the implementation of the new bus contract, particularly since the beginning of the school year.
“ Many of these issues were able to be attributed to a driver shortage which then disrupted the network’s timetable.
“The Regional Council has been inundated with feedback about the network over the last two months and there have been some recurring themes which the council has prioritised to address.
“The Maungatapu community has been largely affected by not having a direct bus route to the CBD, we will be re-instating this.
“We have also heard from those in Pāpāmoa that can no longer get a bus directly to the Tauranga CBD so we hope the extension to route 36 will address this.”
“The priority right now is to resolve the immediate challenges – particularly the cancellation of some bus services due to a driver shortage, and the need for faster communication around any route disruptions.
“Transport staff are also looking at making changes to the current timetables to give some certainty for bus users during the current driver shortage.”