Bus user boost sought

Otago Regional councillors have asked staff to come up with a range of options which could halt declining bus patronage, although Cr Sam Neill says the move is a "knee-jerk" and "political" reaction to the figures presented.

The council was considering its quarterly financial report yesterday when Cr Michael Deaker raised the bus patronage issue, saying while the report indicated the council's target was 4% growth in people taking public transport, in reality for that time span, numbers had dropped 3.8%.

It was also noted in the report the public passenger transport project was underspent by $335,000.

However, revenue was also below budget by $284,000.

Cr Deaker suggested staff should prepare an option paper looking at implications of increasing the 10% discount to GoCard holders to either 15%, 20% or 25% and what impact that would have on the council budget.

"I seriously want to see some options addressing the issue."

He believed the cost of taking the bus was the main deterrent to people and that had been highlighted in the Dunedin City Council's peak oil report, he said.

Cr Bryan Scott said there were some "bad signals out there" about the service, which was "just hanging in there".

Cr Duncan Butcher said five or six years ago the complaints were about standards, so the council addressed the standards, then the complaints were about frequency, so it increased frequency.

Now it was about cost, but what was not paid to get on the bus would need to be picked up by ratepayers or taxpayers, as it still cost the same to provide the service, he said.

"We've put a lot of money in.

Now, you're suggesting we put more money in to make it cheaper."

Reports showed putting money in did not result in long-term increased patronage, but that was not to say the council should do nothing, Cr Butcher said.

He suggested the option paper be widened to include who it affected and who would pay for any fare cut.

Cr Trevor Kempton suggested the council increase its marketing and use the opportunity of increasing fuel costs to boost patronage, while Cr Gretchen Robertson said a holistic approach, as well as more intensive marketing, was needed.

She highlighted that earlier reports had indicated that unless car trips into town cost $5, people would not take the bus.

Cr Eckhoff said the council needed to find out where the 3.8% had gone and how they were travelling, as they would not be staying at home.

However, Cr Neill said the debate was a "knee-jerk" reaction to a couple of figures and was political and a bit far off the agenda topic.

"To me, this should be business as usual."

He did not agree to the motion, carried by other councillors that a report be prepared to have a widespread look at the options to address bus patronage.

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