Return of full Orbiter service signals end of driver shortage

Published 6/06/2023

Environment Canterbury is pleased to announce that Metro’s Orbiter route will resume its regular timetable from 3 July. All routes on the Greater Christchurch Metro network will now be operating at full service levels.

The Orbiter will return to its original timetable, with buses running approximately every 10-minutes between 8am to 6pm on weekdays, and 10am to 6pm on Saturdays. Since December 2021, the Orbiter has been operating to a 15-minute schedule, due to a driver shortage.

The Orbiter is the most popular of Metro's 29 bus services in Greater Christchurch, connecting communities to major shopping centres and schools. It is also an important service for customers transferring between routes.

As well as Orbiter changes, Metro express services, 1X, 5X and 95X, are now also running without additional stops, as originally intended. Prior to this, some express services picked up and dropped off passengers at non-express stops during the driver shortage disruptions.

Collaboration for better results

Stewart Gibbon, General Manager of Public Transport, said that the return to full service is thanks to the combined efforts of Council, operators, and central government.

"It has been a challenging time for customers and operators, and it's great to have our public transport network returning to full service. We acknowledge the disruption and frustration that cancellations have caused customers and thank them for their patience.

"We also thank our operators for working closely with us to minimise disruptions throughout the driver shortage and being active in recruiting new drivers.

"The number of cancelled bus trips peaked in October 2022 with 4,300 for the month. Over the last few months, this number has dropped rapidly as our operators have recruited and trained new drivers. Since mid-May, we've had zero missed trips which is a fantastic outcome, demonstrating the results of actions taken by Council over the past year to resolve what has been a complex issue."

In October 2022, we increased driver wages in Greater Christchurch from $22.75 to $28 per hour. This was followed by central government increasing wages to $30 per hour.

Looking to the future

Our Council also sent a joint letter with Auckland Transport and Greater Wellington Regional Council to the Minister of Transport asking for a review of immigration settings. In December 2022, the Minister of Transport announced a sector agreement for bus drivers that would provide a two-year time-limited pathway to residency.

"We appreciate the Government listening to us and coming to the table on this issue. Increased wages and changes to immigration policy have really helped our operators recruit new drivers," said Gibbon.

"It has also been extremely encouraging to see our patronage consistently climb over the last 12 months, despite the disruptions our community has been experiencing.

"As a result, we are now looking forward to implementing enhanced services on the Port-to-port and Northwood to Huntsbury route, which were signalled in the 2022/23 Annual Plan. We are planning to launch these services in September and will be adding more electric vehicles to our fleet to accommodate the expansion."

Further updates about these new services will be publicised as details are confirmed.

This media release can also be viewed on the Environment Canterbury website.