Concern over nationwide bus driver shortage

There's concern a shortage of bus drivers across the country is set to reach an all-time high.

The Bus and Coach Association says it's struggling to find drivers, and it's meaning managers and workshop staff are getting behind the wheel.

Ritchies transport director Andrew Ritchie is normally behind the desk, but even he's been getting behind the wheel.

"At the moment it's sort of starting to hit a peak, it's just getting very very difficult," Mr Ritchie says.

"Managers out driving, workshop staff driving, I've been driving myself this morning."

Mr Ritchie says the driver shortage is making it increasingly difficult to put on enough buses for big events - like the recent Adele concerts.

"Lots of different companies and AT (Auckland Transport) got involved with assisting that. But certainly going forward it's going to be harder and harder to staff them."

It's a national issue, but in Auckland it's expected to have the biggest impact.

"Our urban operators would be at least 120 bus drivers short, as they roll out new services in Auckland this year we expect this to roll out to 200," Bus and Coach Association CEO Barry Kidd says.

The Bus and Coach Association says immigration rules are making it even tougher.

Around a third of driver are from overseas - many are on temporary work visas.

"What we're seeing is Immigration New Zealand not renewing these visas, drivers resigning from positions, creating another vacancy, which we're struggling to fill," Mr Kidd says.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse says bus drivers aren't part of the skilled migrants category and that's not going to change.

"If it can be demonstrated that there are New Zealanders available to do that job or be trained to do that job, it is possible that those temporary visas won't be renewed and those workers would be required to return to their home countries."

But for Mr Ritchie, finding local drivers is easier said than done.

Companies have been working with the Ministry of Social development to train unemployed people, but they say that won't fix the shortage - they want Immigration New Zealand to help.