SkyBus services between Auckland Airport and the city face the axe, as the operator is in last-ditch talks to save it.
Up to 23 jobs could be lost but Go Bus, which runs the service, says it hopes to redeploy the staff to other parts of its operation.
It relies heavily on international visitors and border restrictions and five lockdowns in Auckland have made the unsubsidised operation uneconomic.
SkyBus is still in talks with Auckland Transport and Auckland Airport about financial support for the service, but an end to the service looks likely.
It has already been suspended during the current prolonged Auckland lockdown caused by the latest border failure and exacerbated by the delayed start of the Government’s mass vaccination and rapid testing programmes.
The Herald has seen some details of a consultation pack sent to staff who are now in consultation with the company.It was hoped they would get jobs with Go Bus or its Johnston’s Coachlines operation.
Patronage has plunged by 80 per cent since pandemic hit what was previously asuccessful business which ran during airport operating hours and transports airport workers from the city.
When contacted by the Herald,Go Bus chief executive Calum Haslop SkyBus said before the pandemic they had been operating the highly successful business.
“We’re currently running a restructure process with staff which would be premised on the basis of not re-establishing services.”
A decision would be made next week.
The group has more than 2400 staff and about 1800 vehicles.
Haslop said ending the service was not a decision taken lightly.
“There’s been a service out to the airport since the 1960s and the SkyBus service is an internationally well-known brand with dedicated buses and its a shame to see it go but it is about to,” he said.
“Unless it is subsidised by local or central government then it doesn’t have a future.This has been a commercial service for decades and it’s never been a stellar supporter on a financial basis but it’s been able to wipe its face.And then Covid comes in and it’s just impossible to maintain.”
Auckland Airport charges SkyBus to access the airport and AT charges for the service to be part of the Metro network, and doesn’t provide the usual subsidy all other bus services receive.
Bus services throughout the country are generally subsidised by localcouncils and Waka Kotahi by around 70 per cent; passenger fares make up the remaining 30 per cent.
He said there was an indirect service between the airport and the city.
“I don’t think its a good look for an international city to not have a dedicated airport service.”
SkyBus hadmade several efforts to keep the Express service going including suspending the North Shore service, reducing frequency on the remaining CBD service, dropping fares (to $15 one-way) and changing the city route to improve speed and reliabilitybut it hadn’t been enough to make the service sustainable.
In Wellington, the Airport Flyer -which was run by another company -was suspended in April 2020 and is unlikely to return until July next year at the earliest.
SkyBus will continue to operate the Airside terminal bus services at the International Terminal, which is contracted to Auckland Airport and not affected by the proposal.
An AT spokesman said Sky Bus was a commercially operated service which was not part of the AT Metro contracted network.
“Auckland Transport is not supporting any other commercially operated services and we are not in a position to extend support to Sky Bus at this time.”
The spokesman said the recent opening of the new Puhinui Station provided much-improved public transportand improved travel times for bus and train commuters, particularly those heading towards Auckland Airport and the neighbouring businesses.
The best option on public transport to the airport is a southern line train to Puhinui then transfer to the airport bus.
Journey time from Britomart was about 58 minutes and the cost was $4.86 for an adult with a HOP card or free if passengers had a SuperGold card, the spokesman said.
Right from the outbreak of COVID-19, Auckland Airport has been proud to support our stakeholders, who like us, have been seriously impacted by the pandemic.
Auckland Airport .said it had helped businesses in its precinct and had made almost $190 million in rent reductions to tenants in the 12 months to June 30..
We are disappointed to see Skybus suspend its services, but we understand the challenges of operating in a business environment with few international travellers. We will continue to work with Skybus to explore ways to support the company’s future return of services,” said a spokeswoman.
The contract with Skybus relates to dedicated facilities they have at the international and domestic terminals – kiosks and bays which are located directly outside the terminals.
”From the outset of the pandemic, Auckland Airport has suspended all of Skybus’ charges whenever we have been in lockdown and Skybus has been unable to operate.”
Go Bus provides urban, school and charter services throughout the country. Most are provided through long-term contracts with organisations such as Auckland Transport, local councils and the Ministry of Education.
Go Bus is part of the Kinetic group, Australasia’s largest bus operator.
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