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Converting Dunedin's passenger bus fleets to electric trolley buses could cost many millions of dollars - and ratepayers, rather than public transport users, might have to foot the bill, insiders suggest.
The Dunedin City Council-commissioned Peak Oil Vulnerability Analysis Report says the council must take a "critical leadership role" and take the city from oil-dependent transport to modes based on sustainable, renewable energy.
It recommends at least 50km of electric trolley bus routes be developed and says converting to electric buses or trolleys would lead to a direct reduction in fuel demand and provide an increasingly affordable alternative when fuel price spikes bite.
It also noted the people of Dunedin "are not happy with the current bus service".
Otago Regional councillor and Passenger Transport Working Group co-chairman Michael Deaker welcomed the report but warned it had "big dollar signs written all over it".
He doubted whether the Government would contribute and expected lines or rails to be provided and owned by one or both of the councils; he could not imagine private companies already operating on tight margins taking the risk on infrastructure that would take years to pay for itself.
Previous work showed it would cost about $8 million to have light rail from the botanic garden to the Exchange.
Cr Deaker imagined the cost of converting 50km of routes to trolley buses would be "significant".
Cr Deaker said the report might encourage more discussion of alternatives, such as electric buses already used in the likes of Christchurch.
It might also revive calls for the city to reassume responsibility for public transport.
Dunedin Passenger Transport director Kane Baas said no operator "in their right mind" would wear the cost of building the infrastructure to run an electric trolley service.
The lines would have to be installed and owned by the council and the routes would have to be tendered in the same way as they were in Wellington.
It all meant ratepayers would bear the cost of a service that would cost "many, many millions" to provide, before the council gave the current services a fighting chance.
"If the council wants to prepare for peak oil, if it wants to encourage more people on to public transport right now, then it should have a long, hard look at what it charges for inner city parking.
"If it wants to get people out of cars and into public transport, it should do what it can to give the current situation a chance - that will show us how much people will use public transport."
Dunedin Cablecar Trust spokesman Phil Cole was unsure how electric trolley buses would handle steep streets but believed the city was ready to start talking about an integrated public transport system of trolleys and light rail.
Moving to fixed-line, fixed-route services would make it easier to plan for, and encourage the development of, the urban villages recommended in the report.
It would also recognise public transport was integral to city infrastructure, and a vital social service.
Whatever happened, the councils needed to actively consult their ratepayers: the report said many were unhappy with the current bus services, and the same mistakes must not be made again, Mr Cole said.
The report also said surveys in Dunedin and outlying surrounding areas in August showed residents would consider the bus as an alternative to car trips for nearly 30% of travel kilometres.
It also found many people were not happy with the present bus services.