Cancellations and Extra Trips as Driver Shortage leads to Service Changes

Since 30 January 2023, there have been changes to service levels for bus services across Sydney due to driver shortages. Despite the media narrative, these driver shortages have not lead to simple cuts to services. Instead, a complex web of changes have occured, which has left some routes with higher levels of service and others facing major cuts.

Routes including the 350 have seen increases to service levels despite driver shortages – Transport NSW Blog Collection

According to Transport for NSW, it is dealing with “an unprecedented bus driver shortage” and timetables have been reduced “rather than cancelling services ad hoc”.

Last month, a spokesperson for Transport for NSW noted that “We will continue to work with operators and scheduling experts to ensure timetable adjustments are as efficient as possible and are working towards reinstating suspended services as soon as possible.”

In response, Rail, Tram and Bus Union NSW spokesman Peter Grech said the comments were “blatantly untrue”. “Since they privatised the buses they’re struggling to attract and retain enough drivers to do the job,” he said.

“As a result hundreds of trips are being cancelled on an ad hoc basis every day. The decision they’ve made to just cut thousands of trips permanently reflects the fact they simply can’t keep up with the quality service commuters deserve.”

These reduced timetables have primarily affected the operating areas covered by the former State Transit, Regions 6, 7 and 9. Services in these areas are now operated by Transit Systems, Busways and Transdev John Holland.

Whilst it is true that many services across these areas have been dropped from timetables, some routes have actually seen an increase in services since the ‘reduced’ timetables were introduced at the end of January.

In the Eastern Suburbs, Routes 313, 339, 350 and 374, connecting the areas around Clovelly and Coogee to Bondi Junction and Central stations, have all received increased levels of service.

In the AM Peak, Route 350 now operates every 5 minutes between Maroubra Junction and Bondi Junction, up from every 10 minutes previously. In the PM Peak, Route 313 now operates every 10 minutes in both directions, up from every 20 minutes previously. Route 339 now operates every 10 minutes in both directions, with inbound trips previously on a 20 minute frequency. Similarly, Route 374 now operates every 10 minutes in both directions, with inbound trips previously on a 20 minute frequency.

Over on the North Shore, Route 120 between North Willoughby and the CBD has received 20 extra trips each week. Meanwhile services on other major corridors, including Routes 115, 288, 292, 500X, 501, 533, 545 and 550 have all been slashed. Similarly in the Inner West, trips on major corridors such as Routes 438X and 440 on Parramatta Road have seen reductions.

Transport for NSW and the private services operators are both attempting to source more drivers to allow services to return to their normal levels. Busways has over 100 driver positions open across its Ryde and Willoughby Depots. Despite this, it is yet to be seen when there will be enough drivers to return to regular timetables.

The End of the Small Family Operator

Earlier this week it was announced that Transit Systems had been successful in gaining the contracts to operate Regions 2 and 15 in South-West Sydney. This follows on from the December announcements that Transit Systems would gain Region 13 alongside its Region 3 and 6 operations, and that new entrant U-Go would be the new operator in Regions 5 and 10 from later this year.

These announcements mark the end of the era of small family owned operators in Sydney. Interline in Region 2, Punchbowl Bus Company in Region 5 and Busabout in Region 15 have all been unsuccessful in retaining their contracts, which will see them exit the Sydney bus market.

Transit Systems have been successful against small family incumbents in winning contracts across Sydney – Transport NSW Blog Collection

Small family operators have been disappearing since the start of this century, both through buyouts from larger multinational companies and through loss of contracts under the current Sydney bus service contracting system, currently referred to as the Greater Sydney Bus Contracts (GSBCs). This new contracting model introduced as a result of the Unsworth review in the early 2000s, made it hard for smaller operators to compete with the larger players.

This leaves Busways as the last incumbent historical operator remaining in Sydney. However, with their successes in gaining former State Transit operating territory as well as major contracts interstate, they cannot be classed as a small family owned operator these days.

As a result of these new contracts, Transit Systems will become the largest bus operator in Metropolitan Sydney. Transit Systems will have more than 1,200 buses in operation carrying more than 50 million passengers a year across a network stretching from Bondi Junction in the East, Wollongong in the south, Kingswood in the West and Macquarie Park in the North.