Time for Canberra’s bus drivers to deliver a reliable weekend service

Ian Bushnell 10 May 2019 50

Commuters expect Transport Canberra’s buses to turn up, on time. File photo.

Everybody in this town will have their own now apocryphal stories about Canberra’s weekend ghost buses, the ones that never arrive because of a lack of drivers, despite what the timetable might say.

For my son, it was being left stranded in the city and Woden after visiting a friend in the north, and trying to make it home to Weston Creek. It was an experience that galvanised him to get his driver’s licence as soon as possible so he didn’t have to gamble on a notoriously unreliable service.

That was a long time ago now and yet with Canberra, as we are so often told, maturing into a city proper and the Government touting a new integrated public transport network, the evaporation of weekend services is still happening.

Last weekend (4-5 May) Transport Canberra had to cut 4 per cent of services due to not enough drivers volunteering for shifts. With 36 driver duties not covered, 148 out of the scheduled 3721 services did not happen.

It’s a situation that has been the bane of governments over the years who have tried to wrangle the ACT’s bus drivers into a compulsory seven-day roster but have met consistent intransigence from the Transport Workers Union, which is prepared to go to the picket line over any threat to voluntary weekend shifts.

Late last year Transport Canberra backed away from demands for compulsory weekend work in its Enterprise Agreement negotiations with the TWU in the face of industrial action, something the Government would have been eager to avoid in the lead-up to launching the new transport network.

Meegan Fitzharris at the now-operational ticket vending machines. Photo: Transport Canberra.

Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris. The voluntary weekend roster is undermining her attempts to establish a reliable and efficient service. Photo: Transport Canberra.

Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris insists the TWU had committed under the terms of the new Enterprise Agreement to ensure that all weekend duties were covered at all times.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the TWU and their members to help ensure they deliver on their commitment and help us deliver a seven-day network for Canberrans,” she said this week.

But TWU ACT branch secretary Klaus Pinkas has dashed any hopes this is the case by declaring the relevant clause was but a hangover from agreements from the 1990s and meant nothing.

What he wants are more drivers recruited to cover the increased services of the new network and Ms Fitzharris says Transport Canberra is busy doing just that.

She said more drivers for both buses and light rail were being recruited and ‘we hope that over time we can meet the community’s expectations with our weekend services’.

This is not the nineties and the community’s expectation is that the buses turn up as per the timetable, unless there is a mechanical reason why it cannot.

It is simply not good enough for a Minister to have to rely on the goodwill of drivers when she is trying build a reliable and efficient public transport network in a growing city where the car remains king, partly due to attitudes like the TWU, which refuses to join other service industries where weekend work is not optional.

Every cancelled service translates into the loss of long-term customers, and continues to damage public transport in the ACT, something the TWU should consider when it next thinks about holding commuters to ransom.

Yes, the loss of a worker condition and potential overtime pay is a serious thing but for the overall health of the public transport system and its future in Canberra. Which is why it’s time for the TWU and Transport Canberra to get creative for a win-win solution.

Then the long-suffering weekend commuter will be a winner too.


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50 Responses to Time for Canberra’s bus drivers to deliver a reliable weekend service
Michael Blythe Michael Blythe 4:33 pm 13 May 19

Flat rate of pay, with no incentive to work more than Monday to Friday. This is why no public entity should be in charge of public transport. All should be privately run, with appropriate rates for weekend work and overtime.

    Anura Samara Anura Samara 5:13 pm 13 May 19

    Have you seen how bus services are run in the UK? Outside of London, fares are high and on weekends there are barely any services for small villages and towns.

    Michael Blythe Michael Blythe 5:32 pm 13 May 19

    Anura Samara fares should be proportionate to cost for the company, as are many goods and services.

Charlie Reid Charlie Reid 4:20 pm 13 May 19

So I assume that the government can also declare that any “relevant clause was but a hangover from agreements from the 1990s and meant nothing” and introduce a 7 day roster. I could be mistaken but I thought if you signed off on an agreement then you agreed with all conditions, not just the bits you choose. That’s why there is a negotiation phase before you form an agreement surely.

William William William William 4:04 pm 13 May 19

What a mess Fitszharris has done to the bus service is shamefully Shame on You Meegan Fitszharris . no one goes out any more as there no reliable service anymore you have completely lost corole over the network Sgame on you Fitsharris Demistration on way ? Shame on Meegan Fitszharris we the people have no trust in your authority ?

William William William William 3:53 pm 13 May 19

One week end on one weekend off ?

Kathy Franklin Kathy Franklin 3:02 pm 13 May 19

I'd be happy with a bus service that doesn't leave my kids behind at bus stops anytime.

Bek Clark Bek Clark 2:05 pm 13 May 19

Struggling with reliability during the week too I’d say

Trish Roberts Trish Roberts 1:48 pm 13 May 19

I don’t want to take the risk of being stranded out on the way to Gungahlin, waiting for a loop bus. No longer going to take public travel any time I’m doubtful.

Peter McDonald Peter McDonald 1:08 pm 13 May 19

TWU doesn’t know how to negotiate wages and penalty rates Other wise the trucking industry would have fare rates.

Peter McDonald Peter McDonald 1:00 pm 13 May 19

No penalty rates on week ends. I wouldn’t even apply for job in the first place.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 4:26 pm 13 May 19

    The penalties are rolled into the base wage. Its is pretty common thing to do, but only works properly where weekend and night shifts are non negotiable. So in essence those refusing weekend work are taking home the penalties in their base pay but not really 'earning' that by not doing weekend shifts

Kerri Hallas Kerri Hallas 11:45 am 13 May 19

What happened to the weekend warriors? These weekenders only drivers covered shifts on the weekends.

bj_ACT bj_ACT 11:18 am 13 May 19

Two of my sons soccer team turned up after half time due to the Bus not showing up on Saturday. They weren’t even allowed to play after arriving due to team list rules before kickoff.

These guys never had an issue under the old reliable (but less regular) weekend network.

Imagine the impact on young people trying to get to their weekend part time jobs? Let alone a football match. People get sacked for these things if they have had other breaches.

Andrew Bell Andrew Bell 11:01 am 13 May 19

Therecare plenty if industries where, on a fortnightly, roster 7 or 8 or 9 days straight occur.

Mine is one of them.

Grimm Grimm 9:35 am 13 May 19

Yep, keep voting Labour guys. Give unions like this more power. Force people into membership so they can get a cut of your earnings too. Great idea.

Or, you know, tell the TWU and their workers to shove it, then hire non-union drivers under individual agreements. Pretty straight forward. Let them picket all they want. I’m sure there will be people lining up to take their job if the pay is good and the conditions decent. If you want to be a bus driver in Canberra you will have to work a rotating 7 day roster. Otherwise, find a line of employment more suited to your timetable.

Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 9:22 am 13 May 19

Funny how even the liberals seem unable to suggest the obvious solution to the TWU stranglehold. The obvious answer is to put the operation out to the market.

    Stephen Matthews Stephen Matthews 11:40 am 13 May 19

    Bill Gemmell Watch the fares go up then

    Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 12:01 pm 13 May 19

    Stephen Matthews they haven't elsewhere in the country when it has happened

    Greg Miller Greg Miller 12:35 pm 13 May 19

    Surely the obvious solution is for the government to reach an agreement with the drivers through their union?

    Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 12:38 pm 13 May 19

    Greg Miller they have tried for over 20 years

    Terry Butters Terry Butters 2:44 pm 13 May 19

    Bill Gemmell fares will go up, service will go down and the Government will then have to heavily subsidise the service all in all costing the customer and the taxpayer much more money! Happens everytime a service is privatised!

    Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 3:04 pm 13 May 19

    Terry Butters just tell that to the folk left behind the last two weekends thanks

    Mat Barber Mat Barber 4:30 pm 13 May 19

    Fares won't go up if it is privatised as the fares are generally set independently by IPART, at least in NSW this is the case.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 4:37 pm 13 May 19

    The wat Action has been structured within the TC structure would make that quite easy to do. Action is already a 'contractor' to TC. TC owns the buses, owns the routes, owns the fares etc, so would be simple to contract out.

    Roger Mungummary Roger Mungummary 6:03 pm 13 May 19

    Bill Gemmell yeah because privatisation has worked do well in the power industry

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 10:33 pm 13 May 19

    Privatisation of public transport is a bit different to power. Within Australia most cities that have contracted out their buses contract out just as a services contract, where the service provider provides the workers and pays running cost, but government maintains the buses, vehicles and collects the fares. A bit how light rail is structured in Canberra.

Sarelle Woodward Sarelle Woodward 8:54 am 13 May 19

They have a strong union, and large bargaining power. If the Enterprise Agreement doesn’t require it, the govt (their employer) can’t make them work it.

Jodie Ruth Jodie Ruth 7:56 am 13 May 19

The best bit is Anzac Day. When Anzac Day falls on a Saturday, Monday is not a federal public holiday. But it is an ACT government holiday, so bus services are ‘voluntary’! Last time that happened they scraped together a Saturday timetable. If I am still catching buses next year I am going to be taking the day off, just so I don’t have to deal with that mess!

Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 7:55 am 13 May 19

You can't expect people to work 7 days straight. Hire more drivers specifically for the weekend.

    Juliane Samara Juliane Samara 8:13 am 13 May 19

    Russell Nankervis they don’t expect that, they want them to work a rotating roster. But by the way, nurses often work seven days straight.

    Penelope Zelenka Penelope Zelenka 9:35 am 13 May 19

    Juliane, well done for nurses but driving a heavy vehicle is very different to being a nurse.

    Anura Samara Anura Samara 10:33 am 13 May 19

    Penelope Smithers Yes. It's much easier. Nurses are administering potentially life threatening drugs, making diagnostic decisions and countless other judgements.

    Gabrielle Hadkins Gabrielle Hadkins 11:04 am 13 May 19

    Anura Samara totally agree - the Nurses have a much more difficult and stressful job.

    Peter McDonald Peter McDonald 1:02 pm 13 May 19

    Juliane Samara nurses arnt driving heavy bus that can nock down a house is you fall asleep. But should nurses be working such long hours with live in their care?

    Juliane Samara Juliane Samara 7:57 pm 13 May 19

    Peter McDonald you volunteering to take over? We need more nurses! Nurses are chronically overworked and understaffed, we literally work in life or death situations. No one is asking the bus drivers to work seven days straight. They are just being asked to work a rotating roster which may go across weekends, eg Wed-Sun or Thurs-Mon instead of Mon-Fri. Why is that too much to ask?

Ben Roberts Ben Roberts 7:51 am 13 May 19

Its actually astounding that it is opt-in. WTF!

Rooster James Rooster James 7:40 am 13 May 19

What a joke. Imagine if other services just decided not to work weekends because it’s inconvenient

Todd Hepworth Todd Hepworth 7:17 am 13 May 19

Could a second bus service be set up? A rival as it were? Offering alternate routes?

    William William William William 3:57 pm 13 May 19

    Todd Hepworth they were once considering to sell school runs to Deans then more drivers to do the normal services .

    Todd Hepworth Todd Hepworth 6:01 pm 13 May 19

    William William and?

    Todd Hepworth Todd Hepworth 6:02 pm 13 May 19

    What about like a minibus service, that does loops of Belconnen, Gungahlin, etc etc

    Garvin Francis Garvin Francis 8:11 pm 13 May 19

    Who pays/subsidises the other service

    James Dof James Dof 8:05 pm 14 May 19

    there are private buses, i know because they used to come through the parliamentary circle

    James Dof James Dof 8:06 pm 14 May 19

    they were often more expensive than the government owned ones

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