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The Dunedin City Council is considering a possible takeover of the Dunedin public transport network from the Otago Regional Council, which could pave the way for an overhaul of the service.
The news was confirmed by Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull yesterday, as results of the council's Your City, Our Future survey sent to households across the city showed strong public support for such a move.
Mr Cull said the survey results and other feedback meant the community had "obviously signalled" itsdesire for a better service, beginning with a transfer of responsibility for the network, and "we're considering it".
Preliminary discussions with ORC chairman Stephen Wood- head about a possible takeover had been under way for several months, Mr Cull said.
No decisions had yet been made and public consultation would be essential to consider any transfer and the costs that could follow.
That meant any switch, if it proceeded, was at least one year away, but "we want to go into this with our eyes open".
"It's a big thing.
"It's very important to a lot of people ... some of the options involved could be quite expensive.
"I think what both councils would agree on is if we're going to change anything, it has to be demonstrably to the advantage of the community.
"The community's got to get a real benefit from switching it over."
Mr Woodhead said the regional and city councils were in regular contact about passenger transport issues, but the status quo would remain until "we get a formal request".
"We haven't had one of those."
However, the idea of transferring responsibility would be "open for discussion", he said.
"The discussion would be based around ... what serves the people of Dunedin the best."
The news came as a report detailing results of the Your City, Our Future survey were released yesterday.
The survey's 4340 responses showed strong support for an enhanced public transport system, including a takeover of the network by the city council, as well as the return of passenger rail services, trams and cable cars.
This followed a flood of submissions to annual plan hearings earlier this year, many calling for the council to take over the city's public transport network and consider initiatives to improve the service and boost patronage.
The survey asked respondents 84 questions designed to help point the council in the right direction for future planning.
Results included a top 20 list of spending priorities over the next decade, and a top 20 list of activities the council should consider.
Public transport scored highly on both, coming in third on the list of top 20 priorities with 439 responses, only slightly behind "employment and jobs" and "reduce rates and spending", which tied for first place with 445 responses each.
The second list of other considerations prompted a bigger response on transport, with 749 people ranking an improved public system as the number one priority. The next highest was a rail service, with 314 responses.
Respondents urged the city council to work with the ORC to improve public transport, and wanted cheaper fares and improved bus timetables, routes and shelters, as well as bus sizes.
While overall responses heavily favoured those initiatives, the highest mean scores - calculated from responses on a five-point scale - came in other areas.
Work to retain the city's hospital and medical research capabilities earned the highest mean score (4.56 out of 5), followed by encouraging employment opportunities (4.25), protecting Dunedin's education reputation (4.22) and promoting Dunedin (4.16).
Mr Cull said the results gave the council a "steer" on possible discretionary spending in the future, but did not mean large sums would be invested in each area.
Instead, like low-cost work on the council's draft strategic cycle network, they helped the council plan towards a vision for the city.
A takeover of the public transport system would force up city council rates, but would "presumably" be offset by a corresponding drop in ORC rates, after the regional council handed over responsibility for the network, he said.
The extent of extra cost would depend on the extent of any overhaul of the public transport network, upgrades like electrification or the addition of cable cars, for example.
The sale of Citibus for financial reasons earlier this year also meant the council avoided the conflict of being both a bus company operator and network manager, should the transfer take place.
Neither council yet had a "firm position" on transferring the network, but any agreement would still require consultation through next year's annual plan hearings or a special consultative procedure.
The councils would also need to determine how best to split responsibility for Dunedin's public transport from the wider regional transport responsibilities of the ORC, Mr Cull said.
What we like:
• Retention of hospital and medical research services.
• Employment opportunities.
• Education reputation.
• Promoting Dunedin.
What we don't like:
• Partnering with Tangata Whenua.
• More public art.
• Art in new infrastructure designs.
• Reducing income inequality.
Top 20 council spending priorities / responses:
• Employment and jobs 445
• Reduce rates and spending 445
• Public transport 439
• Supporting businesses and industries 432
• Learning and education 378
• Economy 375
• Roading 360
• Transportation 325
• Reduce debt 310
• Health services 309
• Cycleways 290
• Sustainability and resilience 284
• Sewerage and drainage 282
• Safety of people in public spaces 275
• Natural environment 255
• Healthy, warm and affordable housing 252
• Safe and healthy people 251
• Maintenance and renewal of infrastructure 248
• Water quality 235
• Focus on core business and essential services 227
Top 20 other activities for consideration / responses:
• Improve public transport services 749
• Improve railway services 314
• Support homeowners to make homes warmer, healthier, cheaper to heat 195
• Improve parking 176
• Improve safety in public places 176
• Improve cycleways 166
• Improve look and feel of suburban centres 150
• Introduce traffic free zones or days 135
• Complaints about the teeth/molars on Portsmouth Dr 132
• Improve health services 130
• Lobby to retain businesses in Dunedin 125
• Not role of council to provide large sporting facilities 119
• Encourage employment opportunities and investments 116
• Provide more rubbish bins 114
• Improve affordability of recreation 111
• Pull down what is beyond repair or too dangerous 108
• Discourage the use of cars 107
• Encourage landlords and homeowners to maintain their properties 100
• Increase support of arts in Dunedin 100
• Not role of council to provide education services 95