AT STOP treating bus drivers like shit.
Public transport is no strange place for most University of Auckland students. Although not always the fastest mode of transport into the city, buses and trains certainly are the cheapest choice especially when gas prices are becoming every broke student’s worst nightmare. For many of us, they are without a doubt a transportation saviour. It really makes you think: what would we do without them?
This question has unfortunately become increasingly important. The public transport industry is experiencing uncertainty, but the bus service and its drivers seem to be getting the worst of it. Everything from bus driver shortages and terrible pay to poor treatment of the facilities have put the bus service and its workers through a stressful time.
Let’s start at the core of most societal issues: money! For a long time now, Auckland bus drivers have been paid $23.71 an hour on average. Keeping in mind that the current minimum wage is $21.20, this isn’t much at all. Not to mention the physical and mental toll of driving all day long, sometimes all throughout the night. With that shit pay, most drivers would need to sell their bus for a chiropractor to correct the knots their bodies’ acquired from sitting in a ragged-ass chair for hours. No wonder one driver would do “full Chloe Ting booty workouts at every main bus stop”, as one student told us. You would too if your time, mental energy, and health were being spent on a socially and financially thankless job. So, it’s no surprise there aren’t many people accepting a couple of dollars above minimum wage to drive a bus.
The shortage of bus drivers has been somewhat of a wakeup call for the government; they’ve recently announced an all-mighty pay increase of 8% for all Auckland bus drivers. The luxurious salary on offer is now $25.62 an hour. Is that really much of an improvement? That’s like an extra Blue V every hour. Truly fuck all! Think of how crazy the prices are getting for literally everything (and the living payment ain’t cutting it). But the most hard-hitting of reasons for changes on public transport is the behaviour of passengers and treatment of bus drivers.
Most of us have witnessed at least one weird or off-putting incident on public transport. You’ll see the odd bickering match between a bus driver and a passenger on the 27H, or perhaps that intoxicated person stumbling to take their seat on the 70. Lately, however, these incidents have escalated to a whole new level. Bus drivers have reported various accounts of assault. Earlier this year, a bus driver heading to Queen Street was punched in the face by a man who refused to get off the bus. Earlier this month, a Tauranga man was arrested after he brought a machete on to the bus. This incident instilled fear amongst passengers and bus drivers, who are now fighting for better security at major bus stops. With public transport feeling increasingly hostile, the general public, especially students, are starting to question our dependence on these essential transport services.
With violence and the possibility of more crime, can students like us feel safe on buses? We need to consider how we are looking after ourselves in these conditions, and how we are treating our bus drivers and public transport workers. Public transport is vital to so many students studying in the city—most of us don’t have a choice to prioritise our safety by skipping the bus.
So, given that poor uni students and cheap transport go hand-in-hand, there’s no shortage of gritty tales from our own student body. Everyone who’s been a student at the University has at least one story to tell about a bus-related experience gone wrong. These range from the hilarious to the downright appalling. With fuck-all structural support we’re seeing less experienced bus drivers (and less drivers, period) and an increasing apathy towards service in the profession. What we end up with is passengers experiencing the fall out of the poor working conditions rife within the public transport system.
Many students have recalled a time where bus drivers have just straight up driven past their stop despite a very obvious (and alarming) brzzp signal. One student remembered how a bus driver ignored their get-off button pressing and kept driving, forcing them to jump off at a random stop, making the potentially dangerous walk home at night even longer. We’ve heard stories of passengers being dropped at the bus depot because the bus driver forgot people were still on the bus. Our buses or trains have been cancelled or delayed without any warning at all, not even a friendly CANCELLED on the AT HOP app.
The antics we’ve all witnessed on bus journeys would be funny if they weren’t so concerning. One student recalled someone on their bus “started yelling about how he was Jesus”. Another, remembered a time they saw a drunk passenger fall on their driver while the driver was at the wheel. Count your lucky stars that your bag (or arm) doesn’t get caught in the door while beginning or ending your bus journey—unlike some poor students. And then there are the serious incidents: inappropriate touching from strangers, racist rants and slurs, fights, all while passengers look away and the bus drives on.
All these stories aren’t just random, one-offs you dismiss once you finally make it off your AT HOP hellhole. They’re the flow-on effects of a labour system that treats bus drivers as disposable—workers to be used up and discarded. Our drivers are under the pressure from an employer that cares little for their health and wellbeing, and we as passengers are feeling the effects of this systemic neglect. We don’t always help this cause either. People are rowdy on buses. We hassle, swindle, and scam our drivers. Bus drivers often have to step into the role of crisis negotiator, peace-keeper, and law enforcer—responsibilities well above their pay grade. The occasional transport officer shows up and dicks around on their phone—and never when they’re needed, it seems. However, we can’t really blame unruly passengers for their behaviour; most of the time they’re also victims of an uncaring social system. To the detriment of fellow passengers, drivers often turn a blind eye to poor bus etiquette—but wouldn’t you too keep your eyes on the road, since you’re being paid fuck all to get from point A to point B?
Public transport is becoming a darker and scarier place for students and bus drivers. But it’s not like we should or can avoid it at all costs. For those of us who rely on the system, it’s crucial we’re aware of its issues before we curse it (or the employees) too loudly and jinx ourselves with another delay. Let us remember to be kind. Thank your drivers on the way out, it’s the least we can do.