Buses try to keep up as full timetable returns

by Lauren Pattemore - Jun 13, 2023

It's two weeks since the full bus timetable returned in Queenstown, and service providers and public transport riders alike report it's working well, despite some cancellations.  

The Otago Regional Council's transport manager Lorrain Cheyenne says she's happy with how increased services have been running since it went back to a full timetable on June 1.

"Services experienced some issues with increased traffic volumes around LUMA weekend, as predicted, but there were very few cancellations.

"Feedback from the operators (Ritchies) has been positive all round."

There's still a way to go before it's completely back on track, with 41 busses cancelled today, mainly the Number 1 route, which goes between Sunshine Bay and the Remarkables Shopping Centre.

Daily bus users Collete Lynch (left) and Gabby Nagel (right) rely on the service.

It's an improvement from having 80 busses cancelled in a day, which occurred on January 30, when there was an already reduced timetable. 

In Queenstown today from the United States as part of a teaching exchange programme was Collette Lynch and Gabby Nagel - they've been getting the bus everyday, twice a day, for the past three weeks.

 Ms Lynch says the busses have been her "lifeline" to get around, relying on the Number 5 bus to get to her teaching practicum each day.

She says it's been consistent and reliable in that time. 

Ms Nagel agrees, saying although it's been a few minutes late on a few times they "haven't been left stranded". 

Seeing people stranded at bus stops had been a familiar sight at the start of the year, so much so that locals in vehicles had starting picking would-be bus passengers up and ferrying them around.

One of those Good Samaritans was Kaari Schlebach, whose also noticed the services improving - no longer seeing crowds of people waiting at the bus stops.

However, she stopped picking up passengers a few months ago, she says, after receiving four infringement notices from the council for stopping in a bus lane. 

Kaari Schlebach regularly picked up passengers before it got too expensive paying the resulting fines.

She didn't realise this was an offence until the tickets came in the mail, and was "flatly refused" when asked if they could be waived.

"The council was adamant that we had to pay them."

But the Queenstown resident says she has no regrets.

"When I reflected on it, I don't regret stopping and helping people."

She says some of the people she picked up were distressed and one woman was crying, anxious about missing an airport flight.

Last week, the ORC took to social media to welcome bus operator Ritchies latest Queenstown hires, many of whom were recruited from overseas.

"We're grateful that Ritchies have secured so many experienced drivers - with more still on the way - who are excited to be making Aotearoa New Zealand their new home.

"Let's show our support and appreciation...don't forget to thank your bus driver."

ORC's Ms Cheyne says that new staff members were heartened by "welcoming and encouraging feedback" on these social media posts from members of the public. 

The council is cautioning that even on regular timetables, staffing issues can throw things out last-minute as drivers call in sick, buses break down and traffic stacks up.

Ritchies says successful offshore recruitment means Queenstown's bus service is now back to a full schedule with more drivers onboard (Image: Facebook/Orbus Queenstown).

Plus, winter weather can create another scheduling headache, with the operator regularly assessing road and driving conditions on the district's coldest days.

Information is shared with bus users via regular bus alerts on the ORC's website, the Transit App and the Orbus Queenstown Facebook page.


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