Call for cheaper bus fares

Robert Wyber calls for more co-ordination of bus services as Otago Regional Council staff listen during the draft regional public transport plan hearing at the regional council's council chamber yesterday. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Robert Wyber calls for more co-ordination of bus services as Otago Regional Council staff listen during the draft regional public transport plan hearing at the regional council's council chamber yesterday. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Calls for public transport to be more affordable and accessible for the ''walking poor'' dominated yesterday's public transport hearing.

''Heart-wrenching'' tales of parents walking with young children from Corstorphine to Dunedin Hospital or walking up steep hills carrying bags of groceries while buses zoomed past were made to the panel of regional councillors Sam Neill (chairman) and Michael Deaker, along with Dunedin city councillor Aaron Hawkins, as they sat through the second day of public submissions on the draft regional public transport plan.

About 330 people and organisations made submissions to the draft plan that contains sweeping changes, expected to lead to faster and more direct routes away from smaller residential streets.

Dr Lynley Hood said low-income families struggled to afford the service.

''It's obscene. People like me have a Gold Card for free off-peak travel when these people struggling to put food on the table have to walk up the hill or to get their kids to medical appointments.''

Suburbs such as Corstorphine, which had no medical services or pharmacy, no school, limited recreational options, only one store, which did not sell fresh vegetables, and a takeaway business, rated highly on the deprivation scale, she said. It was important for those suburbs to have public transport links to South Dunedin, where those essential services and supermarkets were located.

A shuttle-type system which ran in the evenings or weekends between bus services that dropped people off at the door could also be considered, she said.

Cr Neill said Dr Hood's presentation was ''rather heart-wrenching'' and the panel was unsure how it could address the issues.

Public Health South suicide prevention co-ordinator Paul Martin said most people who used public transport had low disposable incomes and no vehicle, so it was important any transport plan focused on making buses affordable in communities such as Brockville and Corstorphine, so their residents could access essential services such as shops, health, education and employment.

Research had shown decreasing fares increased bus users so a pilot in Dunedin exploring the cost of doing so would be useful, he said.

Bus Go spokesman Peter Dowden said a $5 Go Card and then $10 to top it up was beyond some people's means.

''The walking poor can't afford to travel by bus; they can't scrape up $15 for a card.''

He proposed a trial of a 25% discount for community service card holders similar to that done for students.

South Dunedin Labour MP Clare Curran said there was deep concern in the community that the fare increase proposed in the plan would increase the barriers to bus travel.

''It's taxing those who can least afford it.''

Brockville residents, who did not have alternative forms of transport, also spoke about the importance of the bus service to their daily lives.

''I will not be able to pick up my granddaughter from daycare, not babysit for my son-in-law and daughter or visit friends at Yvette Williams [rest-home],'' Teena Henderson said.

Cr Neill reiterated the panel's statement from day one of the hearing that it would reconsider proposed changes to Brockville's service.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council and Wakatipu High School, by teleconference, asked the panel to keep in mind the Ministry of Education's review of school bus transport when finalising the draft plan as the need for more children to use public bus services would require consideration of safety, fare prices, capacity and reliability.

Other issues raised included a concern the Heritage Bus Society's Christmas and Easter bus services might no longer be able to run under the draft plan and the need for easier transfer options for Otago Peninsula bus users and more visually dominant bus signs and kerbing at bus


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