ORC to discuss bus tenders in private

The Otago Regional Council is maintaining secrecy around its procurement of public bus contracts, despite pressure from the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) for the council to adopt national guidelines.

The council will discuss in private the recent tenders for Otago's public bus services during its meeting today.

Tenders closed on February 8 and a contract was expected to be awarded by the end of this month.

But the council has refused to follow national guidelines, set by the NZTA, in respect of public bus standards and accordingly the NZTA has threatened to withhold funding.

Existing bus contracts expire in June.

Those who had tendered for new contracts were cautious about commenting on the situation publicly, at least until the council had made a decision.

ORC chief executive Peter Bodeker did not return calls yesterday.

In December last year, the council called for public bus service tenders under its new regional public transport plan, which included standards contrary to those approved by the NZTA.

The council's policy required public buses to be replaced after 15 years, as opposed to 19, and comply with higher emissions standards.

NZTA planning and investment general manager Dave Brash wrote to Mr Bodeker in late December, notifying the agency's intention to withhold funding for any services procured under the council's new tender process.

Mr Brash said the higher standards could adversely affect bus users and ratepayers, through higher fares and reduced competition.

''The NZTA has worked closely with council staff for several months to help them make improvements and develop an approach to procuring public transport services that will ensure that every dollar invested will deliver good results for ratepayers, taxpayers and bus passengers in the city.

''Despite our best efforts, the council has decided to continue with a process that, in my view, will not do this,'' his letter stated.

- rosie.manins@odt.co.nz

What is the ORC doing?

NZ Transport Agency spokesperson, Dave Brash, is right in saying that these higher than accepted NZ standards for buses currently required by Otago Regional Council will have adverse effects.

Yes, bus passengers benefit from more modern buses and everyone benefits from reduced fuel emissions.

However, it also needs to be taken into account that buses are very expensive items and that it is unreasonable to bus company operators for the ORC not to allow realistic phase-in times.

Is the underlying (and improper) reason for these ORC requirements to benefit  private interests in the lucrative Otago tourist market? In other words, to ensure that very high quality buses are available for longer tours and cruise ship passengers in a way which effectively results in urban bus users subsidising the capital investment.

It is hard to see any sound, straighforward reason for such strangely stubborn and secretive behaviour on the part of the ORC.

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