Regional council’s mode shift goal: 'ambitious or fanciful?' – Stuart Crosby

2:03 pm on 30 September 2022
The Bay of Plenty Regional Council Public Transport Committee has recommended increasing the public transport budget to $57m by 2032.

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council Public Transport Committee has recommended increasing the public transport budget to $57m by 2032. Photo: John Borren/Sun Media [via LDR Single use only]

A Bay of Plenty regional councillor has questioned whether the council's $38million spend on public transport is a good investment, as the council considers upping this by $19m over the next decade.

The comments come on the back of the council unanimously adopting the Draft Bay of Plenty Regional Public Transport Plan 2022-2032 at the final meeting of the triennium.

The plan has an "ambitious" target of achieving a 20 percent mode-shift to get Tauranga and Rotorua commuters out of cars and using alternative modes of transport by 2032.

It also suggests incrementally increasing the public transport spend up to $57m a year over that time. The public transport spend for the 2022-23 financial year is $38m.

The draft plan was signed off by the council's Public Transport Committee last week before being brought to council for final adoption on Thursday. [SUBS 29/9/22]

Chairman of the committee Andrew von Dadelszen told the meeting the process for developing the "enabling document" was "robust" and had been done with "the best of intentions".

He said they had "very substantive" feedback that the initial plan, presented to the committee earlier this month, was "not ambitious enough".

"To get to 20 percent is going to be an incredibly hard target to achieve", but the committee thought it needed to put "some stretch in there," said von Dadelszen.

"Whether that stretch is realistic time will tell."

According to the 2018 census just 1.3 percent of people use public transport for their journeys to work.

Chairman of Public Transport Committee, Andrew von Dadelszen

Chairman of Public Transport Committee, Andrew von Dadelszen Photo: Alisha Evans/Sun Media [via LDR Single use only]

The committee made recommendations and the council had the "ultimate responsibility" for the spend on public transport, he said.

"If we adopt all of the actions of the plan the cost to our council is substantive."

According to the draft plan $2.7m of the $38m public transport budget for 2022-23 was collected from the fare payer, $15m (40 percent) was a targeted rates and another $15m came from government funding.

von Dadelszen said the targeted rates came from "predominately" Tauranga but also "substantially" Rotorua ratepayers.

"Half of the rate for the Bay of Plenty Regional Council in Tauranga goes to public transport and there's quite a bit of disquiet about that."

He said the council had "really pulled the lever" on subsidising fares but needed to look for "better ways or other ways to get some substantive mode shift change."

The regional council subsidises bus fares and they are free for gold card users, and school students during peak travel times.

Stuart Crosby.

Stuart Crosby Photo: Alisha Evans/Sun Media [via LDR Single use only]

Tauranga Constituency councillor Stuart Crosby said the council "needed to be honest" and there had been "systemic failures" in getting more people on buses.

He said this wasn't a criticism of the public transport committee but a "New Zealand wide issue" and it had been "challenging" coming out of Covid.

"I don't wish to be critical; I wish to be honest," he said.

"You have to sit down and honestly ask yourself: has $38M [spent on public transport] been a good investment over the last three years or in the current year at least? I would say no, it's not."

He said part of the issue was two different authorities managed different parts of the public transport network and they had "different priorities".

"It's a fundamental flaw in this system, where we have two authorities trying to deliver one service."

City and district councils manage the infrastructure, which is bus stops and local roads, and regional councils manage the delivery of services.

The BOPRC contracts its bus services to independent operator NZ Bus as part of a nine-year contract.

Tauranga's bus service has also been plagued with issues including low user numbers, violence at bus stops, vandalism on buses and threats to drivers.

Security guards have been employed at the Tauranga CBD interchange and Mount Maunganui's Farm Street stop since 2020.

Crosby said council was "operating with the tools in the toolbox" but "not delivering value for money" and he did not see how council would achieve the 20 per cent goal.

"Is it ambitious or fanciful to get to 20 percent mode shift when we're at 1.3 percent?"

Councillor and public transport committee member Stacey Rose agreed the goal was "extremely ambitious" considering the current usage.

Rose said the question needed to be asked of how much longer the council "keeps feeding the carrot" and whether it "starts using the stick in the future".

Meaning, how much longer would the council continue to incentivise public transport use, rather than start enforcing it through disincentives for using cars.

The outgoing councillor said this was something the next council needed to take into consideration.

"I feel like we've been giving too many incentives and there hasn't been enough pushing to actually try and get people on there," said Rose.

Stacey Rose.

Stacey Rose. Photo: Alisha Evans/Sun Media [via LDR Single use only]

Chairman Doug Leeder responded: "The ability for this organisation to use the stick, the tools in the toolbox aren't there."

"But you're right, in terms of meeting that aspirational goal, if you were to meet it, the outcomes for the community are rather unpalatable because you will need the stick."

Councillor David Love expressed his concern about how to pay for the plan and how Tauranga ratepayers would react.

He said over the last couple of weeks many people in Tauranga had been "exposed to how much public transport is actually costing them", because they were now receiving a separate regional council rates invoice.

"There is outrage with quite a few in the electorate about a service which they don't want and never use, and what they are being required to pay for it.

"The problem we face for the future is the ability to pay for what we see as an ambitious goal," said the Tauranga Constituency councillor.

Ōkurei Constituency councillor Te Taru White said he heard "all the issues around the very ambitious 20 percent growth."

He said that "level of ambition was important" to meet the Government imperatives around climate change.

"Climate change is going to be a big-ticket item and this transport scenario is part of that.

"Let's go for it."

As well as the mode shift goal, other actions in the plan included exploring on demand public transport, resolving the public transport safety and security issues and looking at other modes of transport including passenger rail and ferries.

In May, the Government announced four transport targets to reduce carbon emissions by 2035.

This included reducing the total kilometres travelled by light vehicles by 20 percent, particularly in the country's largest cities.

As well as increasing zero-emissions vehicles to 30 percent of the light fleet, reducing freight transport emissions by 35 percent and reducing fuel emissions intensity by 10 percent.

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