Sonia Hornery bus fight with Keolis Downer steps up

HUNTER commuters have been left waiting for 170 services in six weeks that never arrived, a shortfall the network’s new operator says is driving it to ramp up its recruitment effort.

Wallsend MP Sonia Hornery’s figures are the latest chapter in an ongoing stoush between Ms Hornery’s office and Keolis Downer, the private operator that took control of inner city buses and ferries in July. Ms Hornery said her office had been inundated with complaints about services not running to their timetable since the privatisation, an issue Keolis Downer earlier this month attributed to driver illness. 

Ms Hornery said she had tallied 170 scheduled services that had been cancelled in the first six weeks of Keolis Downer’s tenure.

Sonia Horney

Sonia Horney

“Rostering issues, not sick drivers, seems to be the biggest cause of cancelled trips, with drivers not knowing when they are next working until they finish their current shift,” Ms Hornery’s office said in a statement. 

Keolis Downer Hunter chief executive Campbell Mason did not dispute Ms Hornery’s numbers, instead pointing to the company’s fresh hirings as proof they were fixing the problem. 

“We are in the process of recruiting more drivers to our team,” Mr Mason said. “We have welcomed eight new drivers to the Newcastle Transport team in the past week, with more to come.

“We are looking forward to employing local drivers and supporting the Hunter economy.”

The Newcastle Herald has reported Ms Hornery’s office was following up after numerous complaints about disappearing services on the 100, 222, 225, 224, 267 and 230 routes, among others. 

Mr Mason said earlier this month there had been no cuts to services and the company had been a casualty of a savage flu season, forcing “last resort” cancellations. 

”Of the hundreds of bus services provided for customers each day, only a very small number have been cancelled,” he said on August 17. “Unfortunately this has been a particularly bad year for colds and flus, and more of our drivers than usual have called in sick.”

Ms Hornery on Tuesday said drivers would bear the brunt of commuter frustrations. “Drivers are doing their best but the management of the network is failing the workers and the general public,” she said. 

“The government needs to restore a functioning public transport network.”