Transport Workers Union said there is no quick solution to Canberra’s shortage of weekend bus drivers and is calling on the ACT Government to start cutting services.
Nearly a fifth of Canberra’s bus services did not run on the past two weekends due to a shortage of drivers, which comes as no surprise to the union.
Transport Workers Union ACT spokesperson Klaus Pinkus said the ACT Government was told two years ago there were not enough bus drivers for the new network but failed to hire more. Mr Pinkus said the notion that this is a surprise to the Government is “rubbish”.
“I think the ACT Government is looking at cutting weekend services pretty seriously,” Mr Pinkus told Region Media. “We think the Monday to Friday service is pretty good and overall it’s working pretty well.
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“The weekend service is a problem and we flagged that when we first heard about how much they wanted to grow the service two years ago. We haven’t got the staff to do it.
“We could have everybody working at full capacity and you still probably would not be able to fill the weekend. They need to recruit but that takes time.”
Transport Canberra said that on average over 91.30 per cent of services have been delivered on the weekends since the beginning of May, but during the past two weekends only 82 per cent of services ran.
Bus drivers are not forced to work weekends and are instead required to work a “reasonable number” of weekend shifts. If they choose to work weekends, they are paid the same as if it were a weekday.
“There have been plenty of discussions about penalties on the weekend,” he said. “In the end, it was decided that they didn’t want to go that way. It is what it is.
“The fundamental problem isn’t the pay rates, it isn’t the compulsory or non-compulsory weekends. The fundamental problem is that we do not have enough drivers.”
Canberra Liberals spokesperson Candice Burch said the Government needs to make weekend travel free until the service was fixed.
“Since the commencement of the new bus network, we have seen hundreds of service failures every weekend,” Ms Burch said. “People are waiting at bus stops up to an hour for services they don’t know are not going to show up.
“We are calling on the Government to make weekend services free until at such a point where they have resolved all of these issues. It is unfair that people are paying for services that are unreliable.
“The Government is making very little progress to fix this problem and they are still referring to it as teething issues. Free weekend services are not a solution to the problem but it will increase the incentive to find a solution.”
Transport Canberra said that patrons should check the NXTBUS app 90 minutes before their journey, as Ms Burch criticised Transport Minister Chris Steel for not releasing a list of bus services that will fail to show up.
Ms Burch said Mr Steel should consider paying drivers penalty rates on weekends.
“Recruiting bus drivers is not going to solve this problem,” Ms Burch said. “We think that the Government needs to look at all options here and whether that is including penalty rates or some kind of financial incentive for bus drivers to work on weekends.
“The Government should have seen this coming before they promised all these weekend services under the new network. More frequent weekend services were one of the Government’s key promises under the new network and it is something they have failed to deliver on.”