28 May 2023

Driven to despair: Patrons the biggest losers as Government misses the bus again on weekend services

| Ian Bushnell
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Time to get in the driver’s seat, Minister. Photo: James Coleman.

Once again, the Transport Workers’ Union has thwarted the ACT Government’s attempts to do something about the ridiculous situation of inadequate weekend bus services in Canberra.

The problem is an entrenched one – Canberra bus drivers do not work a seven-day roster, with weekend work optional, meaning there are hardly ever enough drivers to service the timetable, which the government reduced in 2019 because of the continued cancellation of buses due to a lack of available drivers.

READ ALSO Transport Canberra bus drivers accept pay rise, reject ‘tokenistic’ offer to increase weekend work

The year-long enterprise deal negotiations wound up last week without any agreement being struck on weekend work.

The Government offered a two-year trial of incentives for weekend work – once a driver had worked 12 weekend days during the year, they would attract a 15 per cent penalty, and a new part-time weekend category.

The new pay category would have meant ordinary hours limited to weekend work only and to a maximum of 15 shifts per depot. These shifts wouldn’t start before 12 pm, and part-time workers would have access to annual and personal leave on a pro-rata basis.

But it just wasn’t enough, it seems.

Union boss Klaus Pinkus said the offer was tokenistic, insisting that if the government offered more pay for weekends, “they will come”.

But he wasn’t about to say how much.

Despite recruitment drives over the past four years, Transport Canberra still did not have enough drivers, Mr Pinkus said.

Some are working so much overtime during the week that weekend work is out of the question.

Like every good union leader out for the best deal for his members, Mr Pinkus says the Government just needs to find even more cash to wave at potential drivers.

This is despite Canberra drivers already being on a pretty good wicket, pulling among the highest driver salaries in the country.

Under the new agreement, their annual base salary (excluding superannuation) will increase from $82,733 or $41.72 an hour, as of June 2022, to $93,592 or $47.21 an hour by December 2025.

Throw in all that overtime and we’re looking at take-home pay in the six figures.

Let’s not begrudge drivers for getting the best deal they can, but that kind of pay deal should include a seven-day roster for what is supposed to be a seven-day service.

How long can the Government and Transport Canberra put up with a public transport system it is desperately trying to sell as a genuine alternative to the car but which leaves passengers in the lurch?

It becomes a self-perpetuating spiral – the less reliable the system is, the fewer people tend to use it, then services will have to shrink and so it goes on.

And those left taking the bus will have no choice in the matter.

Transport Minister Chris Steel says he will keep working with our drivers on how to provide more frequent and reliable bus services in the future, including yet another recruitment drive starting today.

But the Public Transport Association of Canberra believes Mr Steel and Transport Canberra have run out of excuses.

“Either Transport Canberra moves quickly to implement a new weekend timetable with at a minimum an hourly local bus service all Saturday and Sunday, or the Minister needs to start finding new leadership for Transport Canberra,” PTCBR deputy chair Damien Haas said.

“Thousands of Canberrans rely on weekend buses to get to where they need to be. It’s not acceptable to leave these people waiting at bus stops for up to two hours.”

Mr Haas said the latest pay deal was another missed opportunity to modernise the system.

He said drivers received a 25 per cent composite allowance on top of their base salary, which accounted for payment for public holidays, shift penalty rates, overtime rates and related allowances.

“If Transport Canberra is paying an allowance for drivers to work weekends, but we can’t find any weekend drivers, then it’s worth questioning whether we should have the allowance at all,” he said.

Canberra taxpayers will ask the same question.

They may also wonder whether a Labor Government is capable of pulling the drivers’ union into line and convincing it that a reliable, effective bus service is more in their long-term interests than squeezing as much as possible out of the Government.

The options on the table under a different government may not be to the union’s or drivers’ liking, such as going to a private operator.

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The Barr Government has shown recently that it can play hardball when it wants to. It needs to put the interests of Canberra commuters ahead of any internal political considerations and put the interests of Canberra public transport users first and not be such a soft touch.

It is committing millions of dollars to new electric buses and supporting infrastructure, as well as light rail, to create the hoped-for integrated public transport system.

The drivers’ intransigence is putting all that investment at risk with their short-sighted and outdated stance.

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A few driver-less buses can be part of a solution, especially along the main routes between the city and southern town centres. We have bus lanes that are good for this.

Capital Retro1:14 pm 04 Jun 23

That would mean that the buses would be totally empty.

Roger Shelton5:10 pm 30 May 23

Transport Canberra’s driver recruitment process needs to be looked at. Information published indicates it takes a discouraging and inordinately long time (around 4 months excluding training !) after application to reach the point of being on the payroll, and even longer to complete training.
Contrast this with a Canberra private employee I know whose employer supported a licence upgrade from car to heavy. The upgrade took one day and they were driving the employer’s privately arranged coach from then on. Not suggesting this is appropriate for public bus drivers, but it is clear the process can and should be streamlined to get more drivers.

Rosanna Jennusa2:55 pm 30 May 23

Full-time Driver’s already work “shift work”, that’s what the composite wage is for. 8-10 hours a day (including split shifts) Between 5 am and 1:30 am, So after working 45-50 hours plus Mon-Fri, no wonder they don’t want to or legally can’t work Weekends due to the National Heavy Vehicle Driving Hours Legislation (which states you MUST have 2 full days off in any 28 Day Period) Which is NEVER mentioned in these articles. Would it be better to have less frequent services on a Sunday or on a Wednesday?

HiddenDragon7:27 pm 29 May 23

The elected and unelected officials who have allowed things to get to this state of affairs with this vital public service do deserve a large boot up the backside, but there is clearly also a broader issue at play with essential services and other relatively low-paid workers who are struggling with costs in this town and are thus leaving or looking for better paid work –


Some of those cost of living pressures are, of course, the handiwork of the same government which is mismanaging the bus service but there others to share the blame, too.

GrumpyGrandpa6:32 pm 29 May 23

I regularly catch a bus and I’m sick of the 2 hourly weekend services and buses that don’t turn up, but I also have a relative who is a bus driver, so I asked him what the problem was.

He’s reckons it’s mostly (but not entirely), the the government’s doing. They used to be able to cover their weekend shifts, but things turned to “poo”, when the government increased the hours that buses run and how they now structure weekend shifts. On a Saturday a large number of the shifts finish after midnight with some running through to 1:30am. I wouldn’t have thought that would have been a big deal, but it seems that a late finish on Saturday prevents a Sunday morning shift and then depending on their start time on Monday, they might not be able to do a Sunday shift.

He conceded that some drivers don’t do any weekend work at all, because they’d rather take the family to the coast. But he also said that there are some like him who don’t work any weekends because the weekend shifts were too long and were hard on their bodies.

I was surprised when he thought the government didn’t really wanted a 7 day network. As it is, they only have to pay Super on “compulsory” work ie Monday to Friday. Keeping weekend work “voluntary”, saves them having to pay Super on Saturday and Sunday.

I realise I was only hearing one side of the story and it was motivated by self-interest, but part of me is thinking that if the government really wanted to fix their weekend services, they would have. Why else would they just sign off EBA after EBA? Is the TWU really that powerful?

Minister, you need to do something. Your 4 year recruitment drive hasn’t worked. We deserve a proper weekend bus service. Not all of us want to or can ride a bicycle!

ChrisinTurner2:58 pm 29 May 23

Imagine if we privatised the running of our buses and the decisions on which services could run were made in the Vatican?

The TWU runs Labor and thus the Government in partnership with other unions. The Government is not going to bite the hand that feeds it. Why can’t they without consulting the union employ drivers to cover weekends? Why do they need union approval? It they went on strike, they wouldn’t last very long with a lot of drivers with high mortgages needing their income. The whole Transport CANBERRA needs looking into.

Amanda Pinkert11:01 am 29 May 23

You paint the drivers’ union as “squeezing the government” and needing to be “pulled into line”… and yet you devote fewer than 10 words to reports of already excessive mid-week overtime which seems to be the crux of the issue.

Drivers have families, home, hobbies, and lives to lead outside of driving your bus.

They are already working more than full-time mid-week… and you want them to add another 2 days of work on top of that?

Clearly, more drivers are required and clearly wages are an incentive to that. It’s not surprising that drivers are highly paid already in the ACT; as wages generally are higher in the ACT which affects the entire economy (not just the APS).

Good article which shows what a good wicket drivers are on. They continue to extort the public and the Government.

Canberra needs a private operator for the bus service. Transport Canberra contracted a private operator for light rail, and they manage to find drivers to provide the weekend service.

Labor isn’t “capable of pulling the drivers’ union into line”, as the unions are the Labor Party. Their little Labor/Union cabal runs the city, and voters keep allowing them to do so.

Greens get elected with the policy commitment to “Improve bus services and aim for hourly weekend services”, but once elected they get pulled into line by the unionists in their ranks.

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