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Demand for public transport; but who pays?

Demand for public transport; but who pays?
Environment Canterbury’s MyWay on-demand trial in Timaru is proving popular.

Timaru’s mayor believes his town’s model of public transport could work well in Ashburton.
Canterbury Mayoral Forum chairperson and Timaru Mayor Nigel Bowen made the trip north to talk forum business at a recent Ashburton District Council meeting, only to be quizzed on public transport.
Bowen was asked about how the MyWay trial of on-demand buses has fared in Timaru.
“It’s absolutely amazing. The challenge with it is it has a higher cost,” he told them.
“It’s so successful that everyone wants to pick it up across the country and it’s going to add a cost from the national funding, but also the local rates funding.
“It’s a great model and if you had something similar here I’m sure it would be well picked up.”
The grilling of Bowen on public transport followed a recent council discussion around the growing demand for public transport in Ashburton.
A lack of public transport has been identified as a major barrier for youth, migrants and the elderly.
Whether the council has a desire to fund it could be part of the upcoming long-term plan (LTP) conversations.
The council has asked Environment Canterbury to consider public transport options, Ashburton Mayor Neil Brown said.
But he warned evidence shows public transport requires significant ratepayer subsidy.
“I requested they work with us on investigating and seeing if there is a need for public transport – of what description I don’t know – in Ashburton town, so we have planted that seed.”
The regional council is “open-minded and happy to facilitate it”, ECan councillor Ian Mackenzie said.
“When they come to us saying this is what we would like, ECan would go back with the costs and funding models.”
Brown said whatever option the district comes up with there will need to be “some innovative ways of how it would work and how it would be funded”.
“What Christchurch has is not going to work here and what Timaru has down there is probably not going to work here,” Brown said. “It needs to be some real thought and discussion around it and that’s what we have asked to have with ECan.”
Councillor Carolyn Cameron had raised the issue of a lack of public transportation impacting migrant communities, the elderly, and youth in Ashburton as a big concern.
It is not the first time it has been raised, as councillor Lynette Lovett said the issue pops up every year.
Lovett proposed looking at a localised option, seeking a local transport company to get a mini-bus and do a trial, but also questioned “is it worth us doing something in this space.”
Any option will require ratepayer subsidy, Brown said.
“The one thing we do know is it will not sustain itself,” he said.
What’s it going to cost?
The annual operating cost of the MyWay on-demand service in Timaru is $2.7m, which is made up of $1.1m from rates, $1.3m from Waka Kotahi grants, and $0.25m from fare revenue.
On top of that is the additional costs for supporting services such as IT systems, marketing, and contract management, an ECan spokesperson said.
Ashburton had requested to be part of the MyWay trial but ECan wanted to undertake the trial in a bigger urban centre that already had public transport.
“Our intention was always to trial the service in Timaru first, however, disruptions due to Covid have made analysis challenging.
“We will continue to monitor and assess the Timaru trial before we consider similar services elsewhere,” an ECan spokesperson said.

  • By Jonathan Leask