Big bucks luring drivers off buses

Christchurch may face a bus driver drought as they chase bigger money driving trucks for the earthquake rebuild.

An Environment Canterbury report says the city's bus operators will struggle to keep their drivers due to the money being offered by the trucking industry.

Industry experts say truck drivers can earn $60,000 a year compared to $40,000 for a bus driver.

Trucking firms Ready Mix Concrete and Firth told The Press that they had increased driver numbers 50 per cent since the September 2010 earthquake. They expected that to rise further. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment added truck drivers to their Canterbury skills shortage list last month.

Go Bus and Red Bus, which both have ECan bus contracts, said they faced a tough market for drivers.

Go Bus commercial director Craig Worth said: "I think we can endorse ECan's comments and say we are always recruiting for drivers, but it isn't quite at crisis point yet."

He said the rebuild had put pressure on the availability of drivers. Red Bus chief executive Paul McNoe said it had identified the issue of driver recruitment early on but the delayed central city rebuild had helped avoid big problems to date.

"It's what we thought might happen. But the central city rebuild hasn't hit high gear yet and we think the situation may not even happen. It's been three years now and we have monitored where our drivers are going and why, and we haven't seen any change."

ECan public transport manager David Stenhouse said yesterday it had flagged the supply of drivers as a potential "moderate" risk but its operators had not reported any "significant" issues yet.

The Amalgamated Workers Union, which represents bus drivers, said there was no doubt drivers were jumping ship.

"Of course it is happening. We have even had bus drivers from Dunedin asking about opportunities [truck] driving in Christchurch," said secretary Calvin Fisher.

Leopard Coachlines said it lost several drivers to the rebuild before selling its urban bus service to Go Bus in July.

"We had a number of drivers leave to go into truck driving but we had a few that came back, too," said managing director Brent Early.

"Certainly the pay was attractive to them - it's a free and open market in the trucking industry, so they can raise wages to meet demand, whereas with Ecan you are locked into a certain amount."

Ready Mix Concrete acting chief executive Brian Grant said bus drivers had been applying for work with the firm.

"We have hired bus drivers, but it would be fair to say it is hard to integrate them into the industry, especially if they have been driving buses most of their life," he said.

Fisher said it was not just pay but better conditions bus drivers sought.

He criticised irregular hours, job security due to change in operators, "unsociable hours", stress associated with managing passengers and having to drive on badly damaged post-earthquake roads.

"Wouldn't you move on if you had a choice?" he said.

Resilient Organisations spokeswoman Dr Erica Seville said other industries faced similar rebuild recruitment challenges.

"Basically what a rebuild creates is pressure on the workforce.

"As it ramps up, it starts pulling people from other sectors. A great example is the construction industry.

"One of the market responses is to increase wages, and that creates an imbalance and shortages in other sectors.

"The key message here for an organisation is to really think about people and resourcing.

"I suggest organisations do some horizon scanning."

The Press