Bus service plan unlikely to be funded

A vision for growing Dunedin’s public transport service would struggle to secure national funding...
A vision for growing Dunedin’s public transport service would struggle to secure national funding, forcing Otago regional councillors to consider lower-cost growth options. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Tens of millions of dollars could be pruned from an investment proposal for Dunedin public transport growth because of pressure on national subsidies.

The Otago Regional Council had planned to ask the public for feedback about a 10-year package worth more than $460 million, based on a business case about fares and service frequency.

However, the council has been told the likelihood of receiving endorsement for the business case is "very low in the current funding environment".

The NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi (NZTA) advised there was significant pressure on the national land transport fund, the council said.

Councillors will decide today whether to rescind a resolution they made in December and instead endorse a lower-value package for the council’s draft 2024-34 long-term plan.

Council staff characterised the revised options for the Dunedin bus network as focusing on "staging of frequency and service span enhancements that can be delivered most efficiently" and "a step in the full investment package ... previously endorsed".

They would be "highly affordable" and still support growth in patronage, a report for today’s meeting said.

However, the dollar value of each option is well down on what was supported in December and not far off a scenario where services would remain much the same, albeit with a decarbonized fleet. The cost of this 10-year programme would be about $276.2m.

Staff recommended new timetables and longer service hours, which would push up the price to $283.4m.

Adopting more frequent services for Pine Hill to Calton Hill and Opoho to Shiel Hill, recommended by staff from the second year, would nudge up the cost to $285.2m.

Implementing a full service on those routes, in line with the business case and recommended by staff from year five, would take the cost to $291.2m.

An alternative package featuring an all-day frequent service for Mosgiel would cost about $278.7m.

This option was not recommended by staff.

Services to Mosgiel are well patronised and have had significant growth already.

The report said an all-day frequent service might support further patronage growth, and could start in year four after further study.

However, there was weaker alignment with both the business case and a regional public transport plan.

A report to the council in December noted that more than half of the funding would come from NZTA.

Without endorsement of the business case, the proposals could not be included in the agency’s national land transport programme for 2024-27.